Ben Matthews

Freelance digital and content marketing, PR and social media consultant

Time Doctor Review: Time Tracking Software for Freelancers

The good people at Time Doctor have given me access to an account, so I can try out their time tracking software for Freelancers. This is a sponsored post, but the Time Doctor team have given me complete editorial freedom, so I can write what I like.

Just to add to the fun, I’ve used Time Doctor to track how long it took me to write this post. Scroll to the end to find out how long it took.

time doctor time tracking software

An example of how Time Doctor tracks your time

Back when I worked in agency land, I used to have to do weekly time sheets, accounting for how much time I’d spent on which client accounts. It was a massive pain in the arse and I’m sure most people who work in agencies that require time sheets will tell you the same.

It’s not that the time sheets themselves are hard. It’s the tracking of where you spent your time. Most people I knew would be too busy delivering on the actual client work to track at the same time how long it would take them to do said work.

Fast forward to my current role as a director at my freelance agency, Montfort, and my need for time tracking has changed somewhat. I’m in the somewhat fortunate position where we don’t deliver time sheets to clients.

Of my retained clients, we have an agreement based on trust, where I commit to a certain amount of hours a week and they trust that I do them. It’s essentially a “use it or lose it” approach, but I would guess that I do often spend as much time on each account as I said I would.

This shows that I don’t accurately know how much time I spend on each client. I could be over serving one client and underserving another. It also means I can’t track the time spent on one-off projects, e.g. not retained but just delivering on a set project, so I have no idea if these work out to be profitable projects or not.

When the guys at Time Doctor got in touch, it sounded like a great opportunity to try out a time tracking system and if this had a positive (or negative) impact on my freelance work. Here’s my experience of using the Time Doctor software for the past few weeks.

What is Time Doctor?

Time Doctor’s main feature is time tracking, providing a breakdown on how much time you spend on which projects, clients, and tasks. Time Doctor’s data is accurate to the second, so you easily bill clients based on tracked time.

For the purposes of this review, I was using the more basic Lite version, although there is a Pro version that has many more features for power users.

Easy to set up

First off, the sign up and installation process for Time Doctor was quick and easy. It took about 5 minutes to sign up, download and install the software before I was up and running tracking time on client work. I would have a more accurate idea of how long Time Doctor took to install, but I don’t think the software tracks how long it takes to install itself.

That said, you can tell that the Time Doctor team have worked hard on streamlining the installation of those software and optimising the on boarding experience for first time users.

You’ll need to refine

Although it’s easy to get going, I got a few days through tracking time and realised that my project description either weren’t accurate enough or I wasn’t setting up the projects appropriately.

This is an easy fix though and I was able to amend project descriptions and correctly assign projects to different clients in a more rational way than when I first used the app.

An unexpected productivity bonus

This was the biggest plus of using Time Doctor for me. Every time I went to switch back from taking a break, Time Doctor asked what I was working by popping up at the front of my screen. This was annoying at first, but it took just a few clicks or the simple tap of the “Go” button to tell that I was getting back to work.

Having the screen pop up in your face when you’re thinking of procrastinating is a fantastic incentive to get back to work. I must have had a more productive week by several hours a day due to this nudge to back on with my work.

Helpful digest emails 

At the end of every day and the end of every week, Time Doctor sends you a digested summary of what you’ve been spending your time on.

The biggest realisation for me was that I live and work on my inbox. Processing email was the number one task of most of my days an definitely the task I spent most time in over an average week. This was a big wake up call, as I’m aware how unproductive spending time in your email inbox can be.

This triggered a positive change in me, where I started to batch process email by only logging in every few hours to check email and instead spent time tackling other tasks for longer period so. This move away from living in my email inbox definitely made me more productive and I was able to tackle bigger projects and tasks in a shorter amount of time.

Better client billing

As I was now better able to assess where I was spending my time, Time Doctor actually made me a more profitable freelancer by letting me know if I was spending the right amount of time with the right clients. I could easily see where I was over servicing or under servicing client and at the end of the month or billing period I was able to provide a more accurate I vice to client did I felt they needed it.

If the client asked for a breakdown of what I had done for them that month and how long projects took, then I had the information at hand when needed and could be confident that I’d provide them with an accurate picture of where their budget went.

Time Doctor mobile app

Time Doctor does have an iPhone app that can be used in conjunction with the desktop software. I admit that this was something that I didn’t fully explore but from the limited time I spent in the app I could tell it was a good companion to the desktop software.

For example, if I’m checking mail in the move, then I can open the Time Doctor app and let it know what I’ve been working in. This then syncs with TimeDoctor’s desktop software, so that time spent working while travelling is included in my digest and overview.

One thing I could see the mobile app is useful for is if you don’t enjoy the way Time Doctor’s desktop software pops up in front of you whenever you return from a break or look switch task. Instead of getting distracted while in your desktop, you could simply switch tasks using your mobile app.

As it syncs with the Mac app and online versions,  the  mobile app provides an alternative way to track your tie. Think of it almost as a egg timer on your phone that happens to give you details time tracking reports at the end of the working days.

Overall impressions of Time Doctor

I’m going to keep using Time Doctor as part of the freelance tools I use. I’ve found real benefits in accurately tracking my freelance work and where I spend time, most notably in a productivity gains and a more confidence in the reporting of where I spend time in client’s projects, both of which are especially important to a freelancer.

How long did it take me to write this post? Well according to time doctor I took a grand total of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 27 seconds. Not too shabby for a 1,300 word review.

Now back to the email inbox. I mean, back to that chunky client project. Thanks for the reminder, Time Doctor!

How social media has changed and how you can benefit

how social media has changed

Social media has changed a lot over the past few years and continues to changes at a rapid pace.

As a freelance social media consultant, it’s my job to keep up to date with those developments – from a trend and strategic view, right down to a macro and tactical level.

So when an old friend who I worked with at a digital agency got in touch to find out what has changed in social media over the past few years, as he was looking to get back into social media consulting, I was happy to help him and answer his questions.

We worked together from 2008-2010, just when platforms like Facebook and Twitter were taking off for brands. I remember when we ran the first Twestival that if you had over 200 followers on Twitter you were a pretty big deal.

Things have definitely changed since then.

It was an interesting exercise to take a step back from the day-to-day, remind myself of what social media and digital consulting used to be like, and what it looks like now. So interesting, I thought it was worth sharing here in case it was useful to you – and more importantly if you disagreed or had something to add.

My friend’s questions about how social media has changed and my answers

1. What are the main similarities between social media now and in 2010. It appears that organic, as opposed to paid for, campaigns seem to do less well as a result of sponsored links etc. Does this mean that organic is dead or that it needs to be targeted better to overcome this?

The core principles are the same: get the right message to the right person at right time. You can’t polish a turd with a tweet.

The difficulty now is that it’s much harder to reach those people organically, as social media is a lot more professionalised. Bloggers are more savvy now and will generally only take sponsored posts from brands that pay (unless the offer is really compelling or is for a cause they associate with). Vloggers are huge now and there are whole agencies that manage YouTube talent.

That means that paid media (Facebook ads, Twitter ads) are increasingly being used to boost campaigns and get some guaranteed numbers.

The good news is that these ads can be so targeted and are so easy to measure that you can get some really good results from a targeted approach, even if the budget is relatively small – much better than casting the net far and wide anyway. We increasingly recommend that some budget is set aside for paid media to benefit from this targeted approach, even at the cost of losing some of the fee we’d take home as consultants.

Even if you do get a top tier piece of online media or blog coverage, this really does not guarantee click throughs or other ROI measurements. You’ll be surprised at how little clicks media like the Guardian or the Telegraph get you. Even a tweet from Stephen Fry is not quite what it was.

In fact, paid media and social media (compared to PR) probably generate better results, which is why I’ve broadened my specialism to include paid media. Brands increasingly expect you to be able to do that as well.

That being said, content marketing is huge at the moment. Those brands who can get their content marketing strategy right and give the right resource to it over the long term will see massive benefits (in terms of traffic) that last a lot longer than paid media. Once you stop paying for advertising, all that traffic stops too – unless you generate lots of organic traffic through SEO and content marketing.

Everything is much more strategic now. There’s a lot of pre-written content that’s being scheduled using tools like Buffer and Hootsuite, which means you can plan a lot further ahead and don’t have to be manning the channels the whole time.

Everyone can do social media now as more brands have needed it, plus it’s a part of everyone’s job description if you’re in a comms, marketing or advertising role. That means that there’s been a race to the bottom in terms of what you can charge for social media or community management – plus a glut of people who claim they can “do” social media.

The difference comes from those who can deliver real results that affect the bottom line, while being able to give solid, strategic client consultancy, which only comes from excellent training that many agencies give or experience working with brands that really excel in the space.

Two last things:

  • Campaigns rely on images a lot. Facebook and Twitter need to have images with every post really, plus they’re useful for Instagram and Pinterest, so most brands need to invest in at least basic visuals.
  • Mobile accounts for 40% of traffic at the moment for most campaigns I run, so any campaign needs to be mobile optimised and have responsive websites.

2. What brands are you most impressed by in terms of their social media presence?

Others that you might not normally consider:

3. What is your main channel for communicating with audiences or is it targeted dependent on the brand?

Depends on the brand, but overall:

  • A Twitter profile for community management and influenced engagement
  • A Facebook page to mainly run ads and competitions through, unless you have a very large (100,000 fans+) base as organic reach is so low (just 2%!)
  • A company blog for content marketing and general news updates
  • Email newsletters are getting important again. With so much noise in social media, getting someone’s attention right in their inbox is extremely valuable and savvy brands realise this.
  • Google+ is largely irrelevant, unless your a gadget or car brand
  • Instagram and Pinterest are good for fashion, design, interiors, food – basically anything visual
  • Hacker News, Reddit and Product Hunt for start up news

4. Are your campaigns mostly proactive news seeding or reactive fire fighting or something else entirely?

Mainly brand building, awareness raising, community management – but the objectives are much more specific now.

Social media is a lot easier to measure than it used to be. There are a lot more benchmarks and case studies to refer to, so clients are rightly being more specific on campaign ROI and expecting more from their campaigns – and being more realistic in what campaigns can achieve.

What do you think the main changes to social media have been? Has the approach needed or main strategies changed? What has improved? What do you miss about the good old days of social media?

Freelance info you need for 2015’s Massive Monday

freelance info 2015

Today is #MassiveMonday, the most popular day of the year for people looking for a new career, according to Metro and the Times. For many, Massive Monday is a time that they seriously think about going freelance and they’ll be looking for freelance info to help them make the jump to freelancing.

If you’re thinking the same, then you should use your Massive Monday to get the ball rolling. But what is freelancing actually like? And how do you find work, win clients and get paid?

To get to the bottom of what it’s actually like to freelance, PolicyBee ran a survey of 2,000 freelancers. Here’s what they found:

  • 17.3% revealed they had problems with accounting or other paperwork
  • 41.8% of our freelancers had experienced problems finding clients at some point.
  • Two thirds of freelancers spent more time at work than their full time employed equivalents.

That’s a lot of challenges.

To help address these challenges, I’ve pulled together the best articles on freelancing in the past year, containing tips, ideas and advice from some of the best of the best from the freelancing world.

Want to go freelance but not sure how? Take my 7-day course on going freelance, delivered free straight to your inbox.

Win more clients

Retain great clients

Generate recurring revenue

Freelance tools and services

General freelance info

That should be enough freelance info to get you started in 2015!

Got a link you think would be useful for others? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll add it to the list.

2014 Year in Review

2014 Year in Review

I’ve been enjoying reading various 2014 Year in Review posts, including Stephen Waddington, Nathan Barry and Patrick McKenzie, so thought I’d share my own mini review of the year, concentrating on this blog as my main source of online activity (outside of work).

Here are the main stats for this blog in 2014:

  • Number of published posts as of Dec 2014: 100
  • Total Views: 43,171
  • Unique Visitors: 29,518
  • Comments: 252

A bit of context: I started this blog in 2010, but have only been posting regularly since August 2014. As proof of this, here’s how my organic search rankings have improved over the past few months:

benrmatthews organic search keyword ranking

And how much traffic is coming through organic search:

benrmatthews google organic search traffic

What’s also changed is that rather than writing about whatever takes my fancy, I’ve been focussing around freelancing and running a consulting business. This has led to much more productive blogging and better feedback from readers, so I’ll definitely be writing more about freelancing in 2015.

This focus has also led to the publication of my first book, Freelance in 30 Days. I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing in the past few months, as well as how to optimise various parts of the blog, so I’ll be writing more about that too.

It’s been exciting producing a digital product, the first source of income outside of my consulting work and the first source of passive income. I’m looking to build on this in 2015.

A few insights into the blog in 2014:

  • The top 4 posts are from 2013, not 2014
  • Longer blog posts (1000 words+) perform better than shorter posts
  • August 2014 had 50% of the best posts from 2014, which is when I started writing Freelance in 30 Days

With all of this in mind, here are the top 10 posts for this blog from 2014 and a little about why they were popular.

Japan on a Budget for 2 Weeks

Japan was always a must-visit country in my travels. And my two weeks there was everything I’d dreamt of and more. But many people are put off from travelling to Japan because of the expense. Yes, it is expensive, but there are ways to visit Japan on a budget and still see a lot of the top attractions that this amazing country has to offer. This post looks at how we did Japan in two weeks on a budget, including tips from fellow travellers.

View Count: 10,679
Word Count: 1,756
Published: April 2013

How to Become a Freelance Consultant

Becoming a freelance consultant is a dream for many. I’ve been lucky enough to have a successful freelance career as a social media and digital PR consultant for the last few years. There’s been some bumps along the way, but advice and encouragement from a wide range of people enabled me to go it alone and have a good time while doing it. This was my first long-form post and the foundation for Freelance in 30 Days.

View Count: 7,279
Word Count: 2,294
Published: March 2013

Where To Find London Tech Events, Meetups and Hack Days

A friend asked if I knew of any upcoming London tech events, so I sent them back a list of the sites I use to keep updated with the latest Tech, Startup and Hack Day events in London. This was more me jotting down what I knew so I could refer back to it at a later date, but it clearly proved useful to others too.

View Count: 2,208
Word Count: 658
Published: September 2013

Suggestions for When That Perfect Domain Name or Twitter Username is Taken

My top list of alternative domain names (which can also be used for Twitter usernames), sparked by a question posted on Twitter. Similar to the London Tech Events post, this one was useful to me but also useful to share knowledge.

View Count: 2,096
Word Count: 510
Published: May 2013

Freelance Consultant Rates: How To Work Out Your Hourly, Daily or Project Rate

Another lengthy post and has been one of the top posts this year, despite only being published in August. Setting your freelance consultant rates is difficult. Set your day rate too low and you have to work longer and harder to make a decent income. Set your day rate too high and you risk putting off potential clients and not seeing you have a full portfolio of work. I’ve got a feeling that this post will be well read for the next year at least.

View Count: 1,732
Word Count: 2,634
Published: August 2014

29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer

A summary of tools and services in different areas of freelancing that are worth taking a look at. To kick things off, I listed my freelance stack – the tools I use everyday as a productive freelancer. But the list grew to 29, with even more in the comments, so is a great place to find the best in breed freelancing products.

View Count: 868
Word Count: 1,486
Published: August 2014

Freelance Statistics 2014: The Freelance Economy in Numbers

I spent time on several different occasions looking for freelance stats, so I’ve pulled together freelance facts from the US, UK and further afield to get an idea of how freelancers are faring across the world.

View Count: 825
Word Count: 827
Published: September 2014

Why I learned to code

There’s plenty of posts out there on “How To Learn To Code in Just One Month!”, but not a lot for why you should learn to code. This was my why.

View Count: 662
Word Count: 1,216
Published: August 2014

How to build long-term client relationships as a freelancer

If you are consistently delivering above and beyond you’re remit, whether that’s through suggesting new ideas or delivering particularly high quality work, then your client will appreciate your consultancy and keep you as their go-to consultant. This post shows you how to do exactly that.

View Count: 561
Word Count: 1,480
Published: August 2014

8 simple steps you can take to get the confidence to go freelance

Starting your own freelance business can feel like a big risk. There are lots of unknowns and you’re going to have to rely on your own knowledge, experience, judgement and plain hard graft to make your freelance business a success. But by putting the right plans in place, taking a few steps to be prepared for whatever hits you and having an ongoing plan, you’ll be able to keep your confidence levels up as you turn freelance. This post shows you how.

View Count: 531
Word Count: 1,490
Published: August 2014

Self-publishing a book on freelancing in 100 days

Self-publishing a book

Freelance in 30 Days is the first book I’ve written. It’s self-published and I wrote and published the 200-page book in around 100 days, starting late August and finishing in early December.

Along the way I’ve learnt a lot about the self-publishing process and gathered lots of information about how to make it work for you.

Here’s my experience on what worked and what didn’t go so well in the self-publishing journey.

Self-publishing advice from published authors

One thing I did do before I even put pen to paper was to email several contacts who I know had published books in the past few years. This was a great way to find out more about what I was letting myself into and how I should approach writing the book itself.

While the three people I contacted gave varied advice, they all didn’t regret writing the book – a good sign! – but they did say that I should approach writing the book for the right reasons.

Stephen Waddington, author of Brand Anarchy among other books, gave me loads of good advice before I even got going:

  1. “My best advice is don’t write a book for any other reason than profile and lead generation. You won’t make any money from it.”
  2. “Writing a good book takes loads of research and time to write and edit. You need to spend a third of your time on each. I’d hire a good virtual admin and even consider someone to help with research.”
  3. “I’ve always gone the traditional route. Bloomsbury and Wiley are massive badges of credibility.”
  4. “I’ve always gone direct to the publisher, but I’ve got an agent for my next book predominantly to nail overseas deals.”
  5. “To get it written takes discipline. I’ve increasingly started thinking out loud on my blog as I explore topics for my next book. That’s useful as other people jump in and help develop ideas. It also provides the basis for a community for the finished product.”

I’d say that points 1 and 5 are most relevant to me.

With point 1, getting Stephen’s advice before I had even planned out the book was great, as I was heading into the process with the right aims in mind (profile and lead generation) rather than the wrong aims (making money). That also means I won’t be disappointed if my book doesn’t sell so much that I can retire. That’ll take a few more books at least.

With point 5, I took to writing as a discipline well. I’ve been blogging on and off for years, as well as regularly writing articles for clients as part of my client work, so I was used to the hard work needed for writing. But a 40,000+ word book? That took a new level of discipline and dedication.

Along the way, I have built up a mini-community. People like Zoe Amar, Hannah Goff, Damien Clarkson and Jenny Lowthrop have all chipped in with ideas for chapters or topics I should cover. Plus I’ve had a couple of readers email me with their freelancing questions, which I’ve answered on this blog and then turned into chapters for the book.

Stepehn also suggested I contact Sarah Stimson, author of How to get a job in PR. I went to Sarah’s book launch and even blogged about the book when it first launched, so it was great to chat to her about how she went about publishing her book.

Here’s what Sarah advised:

  1. I found the whole process pretty easy, although it can be time consuming.
  2. There are lots of benefits to self-publishing beyond earning more cash; you have control of EVERYTHING, you get to see instant sales figures rather than waiting for your publisher’s statement, you can decide exactly where and when you want to sell the book.
  3. The cons are that it’s down to you to do ALL the marketing and PR and that distribution in bricks and mortar stores is almost impossible – but not completely.
  4. The other thing is that getting translated copies is v difficult so if you want it in other languages that can be a bit of a hurdle.
  5. Audio books also v difficult as a self-publisher in the UK, although that’s now changed in the US and I suspect will become easier here in the next 12 months.
  6. If you sell mostly online, then self-publishing is definitely a good option.
  7. In an ideal world you’d have what is known as a hybrid deal with a traditional publisher – they’d publish the physical book and do all the foreign translations and distribution for both hard copy and e-books, and you’d self-publish the English language e-books.  My understanding though is that deals like that are very very hard to come by as publishers don’t want to give up the rights to e-books – as that’s where the money is, frankly.
  8. I’ve also listed the book on Smashwords, which is an e-book distributor which then sends it out to Apple, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, WH Smith etc etc.  They then take a cut.  You *can* upload it directly to most of those sites but to be honest it was such a faff I didn’t think it was worth it.

I certainly agree with point 1. The process of self-publishing (that is, the uploading of the relevant files, categories the book and adding the descriptions, etc) is relatively straight forward, but is time consuming. This can be slightly frustrating when you’re excited about getting your book up on to the internet and out there in the world as soon as possible, but taking the time to get this part right is worth it.

The pros and cons of of self-publishing that Sarah outlines are spot on. I’ve been in charge of everything  (for better or worse…) but I’m having to put a lot more into Marketing and PR (more on how I’ve found that later).

Sarah did go into more detail about pricing and editing options, but these are the most relevant points for those getting started. She also recommended two books to read – Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible – but I’m yet to buy copies of those. I plan to over the Christmas period, both to learn how to improve my own self-publishing journey, but also to help other self-published authors.

Lastly, I spoke to Will McInnes, author of Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business.

Here’s what Will had to say:

  1. I wanted to: learn more about traditional publishing, gain credibility as a consultant / ‘expert’ and set myself up for a possible breakout success
  2. But self-publishing is going to be faster, more profitable per book and is the way the world is heading.
  3. I did learn about traditional publishing, and that was good for me, but I’m not sure how valuable that is.
  4. When I tell people I wrote a book, they often assume it was self-published. Being published has much greater cachet, and you see that in their reaction.
  5. I didn’t have a breakout success, and never saw my book in a book shop (though others did).
  6. I had a powerpoint master deck that I configured all my talks from. That body of work essentially became the framework for the book, with a bit of massaging and iterating. I’d find it harder to start from scratch, and have that research phase get in the way of me just cracking on.
  7. I found it to be one of the most satisfying work things I’ve ever done,. So I recommend writing a book :)

Gaining credibility as a consultant or expert is one of the main reasons I wrote a book. I’ve already got a few paid consultancy gigs around my freelancing experience, which I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t written a book about it. I expect there’ll be much more to come too, so writing a book about freelancing has definitely made a positive impact on my consultancy work.

While going the self-publishing route is definitely a faster way to get published and I do get to keep more profits per sale, I do have to do all of the marketing and PR for the book myself. I’ve heard that even if you do get a traditional publisher to publish your book, you still have to do a lot of the promotion yourself.

While I don’t have the resources or reach of a traditional publisher, I do have the advantage of building up my own audience for my writing, which will come in useful for later updates. If I went through a traditional publisher, they would keep my audience.

And finally, if Will found writing a book to be one of the most satisfying work things he’s over done, then that was a big reason for me to do the same.

How I planned and wrote the book

I originally has the idea for the book after looking through my blog stats. How to become a  freelance consultant was my most popular posts in the past year or so, both in terms of traffic and comments. It seemed a natural step to expand on that blog post and turn it into a fully fledged book.

Nathan Barry, author of Authority, stresses the importance of writing regularly. In fact, he went on a 650-day streak of writing at least 1,000 words a day. Nathan even built is own habit building app to help others reach the same consistency of writing.

While I wasn’t planning to match that length of consistency, I was planning to write regularly and at length. If you write for quality only, it can be hard to reach the quantity I had in mind for the book. But if you aim for quantity, then quite often the quality comes with it. Or I could go back and edit that quantity to make it more quality, such is the power of the online publishing tools that we have available.

Writing a string of lengthy blog posts was a good approach. Rather than settle for the 300-400 word average as I had previously, I spent more time covering each topic in-depth, racking up 1,500 word plus posts on several occasions.

When I had written 25 or so of those posts, I divided the articles up into sections that seems to flow naturally, e.g. finance and accounting, finding clients, registering your business, etc. This formed the sections and chapter outline for the book.

One of the biggest advantages of writing the book in this way is that the SEO value of the blog increased substantially, all with relevant keywords related to the subject of the book.

Here’s a graph of organic search traffic to this blog from when I started writing to the book up until the week it was published:

benrmatthews google organic search traffic

And how I’ve improved the rank for freelancing keywords over the last few months:

benrmatthews organic search keyword ranking

If I keep building up the organic traffic in this way, supplementing that with posting to the various social networks I’m active on, then this is a solid foundation to build my credibility as a freelancer from and get more people viewing the details of the book.

One person I have to mention is Amy Hoy, whose book Just Fucking Ship is just published, was the perfect way to give me that final push to finish the book.

 

I could have quite easily procrastinated in finishing the book, making up lots of excuses about why it wasn’t ready to be published yet. Just Fucking Ship changed all of that and gave me the confidence to publish the book as is. Using the tools I discuss in the next section, I could always update the book if there were any major errors or typos.

The most important thing was to get the product out there for the world to see and feedback on.

Thanks Amy, for getting me over the finish line.

Publishing and promoting the book

Leanpub is a great service that allows you to put up a landing page for the book you plan to write, so you can send those who are interested in your writing over to that landing page and get them to register their interest, even before you’ve started writing the book itself.

While I set up my landing page on Leanpub when I was about half way through writing my book,  when I did set it up I was able to add regular updates about how the book was progressing, before it had been published. This was a great way of building up an audience ahead of publication – or would have been if I’d promoted my Leanpub landing page properly.

Instead, I mainly used Leanpub for what I think is it’s most powerful feature: importing a blog’s RSS feed into a Dropbox folder. I simply gave Leanpub the RSS feed from benrmatthews.com and it pulled all of my posts about freelancing into a Dropbox folder. From there, I was able to directly edit the posts into a logical flow, with a table of contents, sections and chapters. This meant my blog posts were quickly turned into what you would expect from a traditional book, not just a series of blog posts thrown together.

The book is available to buy through Leanpub, but the main publishing channel I used was Gumroad, mainly because it had much better integration options for this website. You also get a landing page, which you can see for Freelance in 30 Days here.

The Leanpub team says they don’t mind people using their service just to pull their book together but publish elsewhere, but I can’t help get the feeling that they could be looking at some of Gumroad’s publishing features and try to include these more closely in their own offering.

For example, Gumroad lets you add a “Buy now” button to your website, so that people can buy your digital product straight from your site. It does take a little bit of technical know how and the button isn’t customisable, but it is a great way to encourage people to buy your product without leaving your site.

Here’s what the button looks like:

Buy the book now

Give it a click too to see how it works. You don’t have to buy the book, but I won’t blame you if you do…

Leanpub allowed my to create a PDF, epub and mobi versions of the book, so I downloaded these, zipped them up and then uploaded the final file to Gumroad. So now if you buy Freelance in 30 Days through my site, you’ll get the exact same book as you would have if you had bought it via Leanpub and Gumroad directly.

Another nice feature is that you’re able to take pre-orders for your products. I actually sold two copies of Freelance in 30 Days before the book had been published, which gave me a great boost of confidence to get the book finished and out there.

As for editing, I had a fantastic editor in my wife, Jaz, who has previously worked at the Guardian newspaper. In a massive editing session, she managed to read through the whole book and send my typos, grammatical errors and other suggestions to make the text of the book flow better.

Thanks to her, I could be confident that the book would be high quality, not full of typos like some of my blog posts are!

And to back that up, when I uploaded the book to Amazon, it scanned through the book to heck for spelling errors and typos. The result is testament to Jaz’s editing skills:

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 10.53.27

Yes, Freelance in 30 Days is available on Amazon in their Kindle format. I think the reach of Amazon’s marketplace is too much not to list it there. It does cause pricing issues around selling through my own site (the price on Amazon is a little less than on this site), but I think the added value of buying the book through my site (it’s available in more formats and I plan to add extras like worksheets and templates) will be enough to justify that.

I plan to write more about my experience of self-publishing through Amazon, but there’s lots of similar posts out there already and I’ll come back to the subject later.

Around launch, I knew that my email list would be key to getting the word out about the book. Unfortunately, it’s a little on the small side, at a couple of hundred people, as I only started the list in August.

I’m happy with the growth rate of my email list and I know this specific areas doesn’t make or break the launch of a book, but I know that the launch suffered as I didn’t have an email list in the several thousands.

I’ll continue to add to the email list, which will pave the way for future updates to the book, added extras for the book, and any other products I launch in the future.

Next steps and goals for 2015

Now I’ve got Freelance in 30 Days out there, I could take a step back and let this website and the listing on Amazon do the selling for me. But I know that it takes a lot of marketing and PR from the author’s side to make a book visible online, so in the New Year I’ll be giving the book more promotion.

This is also a great time for promoting the book, as people may be looking to change careers in January and my book is the perfect way to help them.

Here’s what I’m planning to do in the next few weeks to add to the book:

  • Hire a designer to redesign the front cover (I’ve already got Hannah Goff lined up)
  • Create a template to remove the header and navigation menu from the book’s landing page (best practise is to remove any extra links that might make people click away before they buy the book)
  • Optimise the copy on the landing page and test what copy works best
  • Add links to buy the book in older blog posts
  • Add information about the book to my Mailchimp email course on freelancing
  • Create worksheets and templates to go with the book (invoice template, example contract, rate calculator spreadsheet)
  • Record a podcast version of the book
  • Optimise the listing on Amazon
  • Add the book to Createspace (print-on-demand publishing from Amazon)
  • Email relevant freelancing and small business websites to offer guest articles in return for promoting the book
  • Scope out an idea for a competition to give away free copies of the book in return for people’s email addresses

I’m sure there’s more, but as you can from the above there’s plenty to keep me busy already.

I could have spent more time on any number of items on this list, but I felt that getting the book itself written and published was a big milestone in itself, since this was my first book, and the rest of the promotional elements around it could wait until I’d got that finished.

I’d love to hear from you about my experience in this post and the book itself. Any feedback would be useful, so I can continue to learn and improve.

And if you’ve read this far, thanks for being part of my self-publishing journey. I hope it encourages you to start your own journey too.

P.S. you can buy Freelance in 30 Days now!

Freelance book now available

Freelance Book

I wrote a book about freelancing! It’s called “Freelance in 30 Days” and you can buy it here.

This book aims to get you excited, inspired and absorbing insight into what it takes to go freelance, attracting your first clients, standing out as a high-profile freelancer, and building a valuable pipeline of new business for your freelance consulting business.

I believe you can make it as a freelancer. This freelance book will help you along the way.

Here’s a bit about the book in numbers:

  • 42,562 words
  • 210 pages
  • 100 days to write and publish the whole book
  • 42 chapters
  • 10 interviews with freelancers included in the book
  • 3 convenient formats – PDF (for Mac or PC), EPUB (for iPad, iPhone, Android, and ebook readers), MOBI (for Kindle)
  • 0 spelling errors (according to Amazon)
  • 100% happiness guarantee (if you buy the book)

I’m planning a follow up post to let you know how I went about writing the book and how I’ve found things since the book launched.

I’m also going to add the book to Amazon and a print-on-demand service, but for now you can get the book on this site.

Please do take a look at Freelance in 30 Days and share with any friends or family you think would appreciate a book about freelancing (it would make a fantastic Christmas gift…)

 

 

Today is my birthday, here’s a present for you

Freelance in 30 Days

Today is my 30th birthday.

Yes, I’ve reached the big three-oh.

I can already see wrinkles appearing by the minute…

To celebrate, I’ve been whisked away for a surprise trip and I’m writing this from the cosy bedroom aboard a boat. One of the advantages of freelancing is that you can take a trip whenever suits you and you can work while you’re there, if you’ve set yourself up for mobile working.

I’ll be writing more about travelling as a freelancer and how to make it work in the coming weeks. This year I’ve been to Japan, India, Germany, Spain , and the US, all while still running my freelance consulting business.

While I’m on this particular trip, I’m planning to put the finishing touches to my book, Freelance in 30 Days.

And to celebrate my 30th birthday, I’m giving you a present (that’s how generous a guy I am!)

From now until December 30th, I’m offering 30% off the normal book price. Simply enter the code ‘happybirthday’ when prompted.

That’s 30% off Freelance in 30 Days until the 30th to celebrate my 30th.

That’s a lot of 30s…

The book itself is being published later this week on December 19th, but you can preorder it now. And I’ll be sure to tell you again when the book itself has been published so you can get yourself a copy.

It would be a lovely birthday present if I could sell a few copies of my first book, but an even bigger present for you if you buy the book, follow the advice and then make the transition from employed to self-employed. That would be worth celebrating for me.

Ok, I’m off to open some birthday presents, but don’t forget – it’s 30% off Freelance in 30 Days until the 30th to celebrate my 30th (just use the code ‘happybirthday’).

Get it now!

Freelance HR Consultant Q&A: Soraya Haffar, Love HR

This is the tenth in a series of interviews with freelancers, telling us their stories on how they went freelance. The aim is to help others who are thinking of becoming freelance learn more about what it takes, as well as get advice and inspiration so they can get the confidence and understanding to find out if freelancing is right for them.

If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story

Love HR Logo

Name: Soraya Haffar

Freelance area: HR

Freelancing since: August 2014

Website:  lovehr.org.uk

Twitter: @lovehrltd

What made you decide to become a freelance HR consultant?

It was an epiphany moment. I had always been an employee of a company but over the past 5 years took on fixed term roles for a range of different companies from small manufacturing to international media.

The crunch point came when I was offered a permanent (very well paid) job at a global finance organisation and had the lightbulb moment; what if I went it alone? I could potentially work with a range of different companies and cultures and even create my own way of working.

From that moment on I could not stop thinking about my idea, it took over most daily thoughts and I decided that if I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I owed it to myself to give it a shot- if anything to take back control of my sanity!!

What steps did you put in place before you went freelance?

With hindsight, not enough. Once I decided to create my business, which was whilst I was still in employment, I began looking into how to set up a limited company. I was put in touch with Companies House and used useful resources such as the GOV.UK website.

I also visited the local library and read up on business start ups, networking and finance. I also read a lot about entrepreneurs to get the confidence that I could do it too.

I started networking whilst I was still in full time employment as well. I simply googled business networking in my area and found out about some of the most popular events, to see if I could start talking to other companies about the business I was setting up, ahead of time.

How did it feel before you went freelance?

The day before I left full time employment, it felt exhilarating. I practically bounced in to the office on my last day, knowing that from that day on, most things that happened in my career were of my doing and influence.

No other feeling compared to imagining being your own boss.

It was also terrifying – no other feeling is as worrying as being your own boss!

How does it feel now you are a freelance HR consultant?

I would say on the whole I feel very positive. I think in every freelancers career there are highs and lows, particularly when you start out.

You face concerns about where you will get work from, whether your rates are competitive etc but once you start to build up your client base and understand how people like to work, it becomes more interesting and rewarding.

For me, it’s a passion that I can’t flick the ‘off switch’ to. I’m also a perfectionist so can’t rest until I feel like something is as good as it can be, and love that I get the final say in what “perfect” is!

 

What are the positives of freelance life?

Freedom – I can start my day at 6am if I can’t sleep and be done by 2pm to enjoy the rest of the day.

Job satisfaction- you get a real buzz from winning a new client or setting up your own website. Everything you do that you have never done before gives you a kick.

Although at times it can be hard, once you’ve learnt a new skill you feel an immense proudness, it’s a great feeling.

 

What are the negatives of freelance life?

It can get lonely. I’m quite a sociable person and at times I have felt very isolated.

All of a sudden the people that you used to connect with, you don’t seem to make that connection anymore because as an employee, it is difficult to understand how much there is to think about when setting up your own business.

You no longer just do your job, you’re the Finance Director, you’re in charge of marketing, HR, you have to be a jack of all trades and enjoy that.

 

Any advice for others looking to go freelance?

Be kind to yourself and make sure you celebrate the small things. If you’ve just set up your first company Twitter account or written your first article – congratulate yourself because without a team of people around you, you need to make sure you are your own biggest supporter.

Finally, toughen up- people may try to put you off, to take business from you or perhaps put your ideas down but so long as you remain professional, positive and open to feedback, it shouldn’t impact you or your business.

 

Thanks for taking part, Soraya, and for sharing your tips and advice. Make sure to check out her website at lovehr.org.uk and follow her on Twitter at @lovehrltd

If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story.

 

Want to get more advice on how to be a happier, confident and successful freelancer? Get tips and ideas delivered straight to your inbox:

 

Free freelance invoice templates and generators

free invoice generators

Presenting yourself as a professional freelance consultant is important and there’s no better chance to give this impression than when invoicing your client, as it’s a great chance to finish your freelance project on a high.

There are loads of free freelance invoice templates and generators out there, but which ones are the best for you?

Do you want a slick, professional looking invoice for your freelance business, but will be encouraged to sign up to other premium freelance services?

Or do you just want to generate a basic looking freelance invoice, using an editable invoice template, without being sold to while you create your freelance invoice?

I’ve looked through the options available online to help you create a professional looking freelance invoice – for free.

(Where possible, I’ve listed if the invoice generators are completely free or if a paid freelance service is behind the site. If I’m wrong in any case, or you’ve spotted one I should add, then let me know!)

Crunch’s free editable PDF invoice templates

Free editable PDF invoice templates

Crunch’s range of sleek, simple invoice templates are created especially for freelancers, contractors and small business owners.

These templates include options for VAT and are even editable in Excel or Google Drive.

If you’re looking for an accountant, I recommend Crunch’s  freelance accounting services as well.

Invoice to me

Invoice to me

One of the free invoice generators that doesn’t seem to be trying to sell you another service, Invoice To Me lets you create and send professional looking PDF invoices online. Plus it automatically calculates taxes and totals for you.

Simple and free, with no advertising or attempts to upgrade you to a paid service, which is quite refreshing after looking through the others.

Invoice At Once

Invoice at once

InvoiceAtOnce.com is a 100% free, no registration needed online invoice generator for freelancers.

You don’t need an account and it comes with added features compared to Invoice To Me. For example, you can upload your company logo, choose currency, types and colours.

Probably the nicest looking freelance invoice template and they’re not trying to upgrade you to another freelance service, although the site does carry advertising.

Invoiced Lite

Invoiced Lite

Invoiced Lite generates quick, attractive invoices that you can print and email, for free.

Invoiced Lite gives you the ability to save invoices inside of your browser’s local storage, eliminating the need for an account, meaning you generate invoices straight from the landing page.

You can also upgrade to Invoiced.com’s unlimited package, which lets you accept credit card payments online from your customers, using payment processors like Stripe and Paypal.

Freshbooks’ free invoice generator

Freshbooks free invoice generator

Create, download, and send professional invoices with Freshbooks’ free invoice template and get paid hassle-free.

If you’re a freelancer, consultant or small, but growing company, Freshbooks’ invoice generator helps you create professional looking invoices.

Paydirt’s free Invoice Template

Paydirt's free invoice generator

A freelance invoice generator that’s so good, it even makes one of their freelance clients “not hate invoicing”.

Much the same as the other freelance invoice generators, but you can upgrade to the full Paydirt app and it will help you to track payments, accept credit cards, and be automatically notified of late invoices.

A great feature is that Paydirt can create invoices in 47 currencies and 16 languages. Need to send a Rechnung, or a Facture? Paydirt has got you covered.
 
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Managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant

Managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant

Unless you’re a freelancer who has a long-term client relationship, you’re likely going to be managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant.

Working with many different businesses has its plus points, from spreading the risk of losing clients to building up a body of work and knowledge that can be adapted and shared between your separate clients.

But managing numerous customers also comes with its stresses and strains. One minute you have everything under control, the next you get a series of competing client demands that all seem to come at once and that they all need to be delivered right now (or even better, that they want delivered yesterday). It’s easy to see how freelance projects go wrong.

The advice below will be of most relevance to new to freelancing or freelance consultants that have previously been working in-house or have been working at one job for a while.

If you fit this category, my main piece of advice is that you might find this aspect of freelancing tough for a while. It takes time and practice, and mistakes will be made. What’s more important is what you learn and how quickly you can take on board better ways of working that will help you avoid those mistakes in future.

If you’ve come from an agency or service background, you might be used to managing multiple client accounts. If so, the advice below might serve more as a reminder of best practises when working across clients.

But remember, as a freelancer you’ll be less likely to have someone to call on or get advice from when things get tough, so it might event take you a bit longer to get used to juggling client demands as a freelancer.

Whatever your freelance background, these tips and tricks will help you to manage multiple clients as a freelancer with ease.

Make contact every day

I love this rule, which is why I’ve placed it right up front.

There’s no better way to manage your clients well than by regularly keeping in touch with them, ideally on a daily basis.

Not only is this a great way of making your client feel that you’re focused on their projects, it also makes sure you keep on top of the work you’re doing for them as you’ll be consistently pushing that work forward.

Even if it’s simply a link to an article relevant to the project you’re working on, an update on the project status, or notes from a meeting earlier in the week, contacting your client daily will help build up a valuable relationship with them.

Remember who is paying what

With many different clients, you need to remember who gets priority. And there’s no better way of making that clear than by keeping in mind how much each client is paying you.

Sure, there’s one client that’s isn’t paying you as much as the others, but they’re easier to work with, the work is straightforward and you’re keen to avoid the more difficult work and client elsewhere.

This is an easy trap to fall into, but you want to make sure that you’re prioritising the work and your energy around the client who is either paying you the most or who has paid for most of your time.

They may be harder work than the other clients, but they’re your priority as they are your most valuable client at this time. Prioritise towards those clients that are paying.

Different to do lists for different clients

This is basic and related to the above point, but I’ve seen some people who still lump all of their to dos into one long list, no matter how many clients they have.

This makes the work under way impossible to prioritise, leading to important tasks being missed or you running out of time to complete tasks further down the lists.

A better way to manage your tasks is to split each client’s tasks into a separate to do list. This could be as simple as dividing your page into different sections for different clients, or having a new separate page for each client. You could even go as far as having a new notebook for each client, but choose whatever works for you.

Under each task list for each client, prioritise the ordering of the tasks or highlight the most important tasks. Just because you’ve split out your client work, this still means you need to prioritise the most important tasks first.

Even easier than the above is to use an online project management tool. Take a look at my list of 29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer.

Different clients work different ways

This is more difficult to implement, but even working out how your different clients work will make your life easier.

Do they prefer to speak on the phone? Make sure you choose to call them over emailing them.

Do they like a regular weekly report to track progress? Put it in your diary to make sure you get that report, every week, without fail.

Are they too busy to speak on the phone or reply to your emails? Make sure your communicative, keep in touch, and arrange a face to face meeting every now and then. Even if they’re busy, you still need to be working to their ways.

You don’t have to go as far as remembering their partner’s or kid’s names (though that would help!) but you can see how fitting into your client’s working practices will make working with them much easier for you and build your relationship with them.

The other point to remember here is that if the client’s working practises are unreasonable (I’ve heard of some clients asking for short notice and bizarre requests from people during the weekend) then you should be able to push back on your client. Keep communicating, set clear expectations and you’ll be fine.

Every client is number one

When you are lucky enough to have lots of work on the go for different businesses, there will eventually come a time where there is a clash in what each client needs and what you can deliver – whether in actual work, in being on a call or meeting face to face.

You might feel split three ways or feel pressured to be in two different places at once, but the way you handle these situations can decide your relationship with not just one client, but two or more.

If you have a client conflict, you need to keep in mind that each client will expect to be treated as your number one priority, never mind how much you’re charging them compared to the others.

You can help alleviate the stress of these situations by making sure you communicate clearly with each client, manage expectations well by being clear on when work can be delivered, and if it’s a clash of meetings then try to come to a time and date that suits you and your client – without mentioning that you needing to change the date is due to another client meeting.

Most clients are understanding and are aware that you will be working with other businesses, but following the above advice keeps you in good stead with them. “Managing expectations” may be business jargon, but it’s a useful phrase to remember if you ever find your self in a situation like this.

This is perhaps the most difficult point here, but if you master this then you’ve definitely got the hang of managing multiple clients as a freelance consultant.

 
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