2015 Year in Review

Travel Selfie by Seth Eckert

 

As a freelancer and small business owner, I find it vitally important to take a regular step back and look at what I’ve been working on for the past year, to help shape the year ahead.

I’ve had my head so buried in work in recent months that it’s taken the Christmas break for me to come up for air and look back at what’s been achieved in 2015.

These annual reviews are more for me than for you, but some of the thoughts / lessons here might be useful for you as well.

This is my second year doing an annual review post. You can read the previous year here.

Other reviews of 2015 I’ve enjoyed reading at include Nathan Barry, Stephen Waddington and Neil Perkins.

Highlights

Blogging

Here are the main stats for this blog in 2015 compared to 2014:

  • Number of published posts:
    • 2014: 100
    • 2015: 115
  • Total Views:
    • 2014: 43,171
    • 2015: 123,654
  • Comments:
    • 2014: 252
    • 2015: 748

The second half of the 2014 was the most time I’ve ever spent consistently blogging, racking up around 30 posts at over 1,000 words each in a 6 month period. The end goal in mind was to pull those blog posts together into an ebook, which turned out as Freelance in 30 Days. This meant that a lot of 2015’s traffic come from 2014’s work.

2015 itself was a slow year for me blogging wise. I published just 15 posts of varying quality, with only 2 of them making my top 10 most viewed posts for this year (see below for a summary). However, I tripled the traffic to my site in 2015 and now get over 13,000 views comfortable in any given month, with little input on my part.

I’ve also generated quite a few new business leads through this blog, so well worth picking up the blogging more in 2016 to drive even more.

I saw a big jump in views around June 2015, which may or may not have been down to a Google algorithm update, I don’t know.

benrmatthews blogging figures 2015

Top Posts

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

Views: 29,765

Word Count: 2,634

I predicted that this post would be well read for the next year at least and I was right – jumping to the number 1 position in 2015 from number 5 in 2014.

 

2. Japan on a Budget for 2 Weeks

Views: 21,723

Word Count: 1,756

My most read post of 2014 has also been well read in 2015. The post definitely reaches its target audience – people who want to know how to travel to Japan on a budget from someone who has already done the same trip. Adding “2 weeks” into the title also helped, as it seems that’s how long many people go for – perhaps 1 week is too short if you’re travelling all that way, but more than 2 weeks in Japan makes it too expensive to stay longer?

 

3. Freelance Statistics 2015: The Freelance Economy in Numbers

Views: 10,306

Word Count: 827

A shorter post, but with good content sourced from multiple sources. This post has become a go-to for anyone looking for up to date stats on the freelancer economy, so I may well update this post for 2016 as well. Not to mention the likes of Mashable have been linking through to this post as well.

 

4. How to Become a Freelance Consultant

Views: 6,564

Word Count: 2,294

This was my first long-form post and the foundation for Freelance in 30 Days. Loads of great comments from freelancers I know as well, so worth a look.

 

5. Where To Find London Tech Events, Meetups and Hack Days

Views: 4,298

Word Count: 658 words

A post from 2013, but still a useful one.

 

And the best of the rest:

6. Suggestions for When That Perfect Domain Name or Twitter Username is Taken (Views: 2,421)

7. Free 7 day freelance course (Views: 2,269)

8. 29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer (Views: 2,232)

9. Find freelance work online with these freelancer job sites (Views: 2,145)

10. 28 tips from freelance job sites that you can use to be a successful freelancer (Views: 1,889)

Travel

2014 was a big year in travel for me, with trips to:

  • Berlin (Germany)
  • Seville (Spain)
  • San Francisco (US) to pitch at Y Combinator
  • Tokyo and Kumamoto (Japan)
  • New Delhi (India)
  • Amsterdam (Holland)

2015 was just as good for travel, with trips to:

  • Lisbon (Portugal)
  • Havana (Cuba)
  • Istanbul (Turkey)
  • Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Barcelona (Spain)

Most of these were a mix of work and pleasure, where we were still on call for client work but just happened to be working from a different country. Thank you AirBnb, Skype, Google and other companies that helped make this happen!

I’m planning to write an extensive post on how I’m balancing travel with freelancing, taking into account all of these above trips to give real life examples of how we did it.

Reading

A good year for reading, with the below being my favourite books from the year, in no particular order:

  • A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
  • The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  • Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel
  • The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  • The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Good Terrorist, Doris Lessing
  • Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Currently Reading:

  • Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  • City On Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Work

This has been a very productive year for work and looks set to continue for 2016.

Montfort continues to grow, with a brilliant set of clients that we’ve really enjoyed working with, including UNHCR, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPCA, Reader’s Digest, Harper Collins, 10:10 and many more.

We were shortlisted for Best Use of Twitter at the Social Buzz Awards, following our work with British Future on the #WalkTogether campaign.

Montfort also became a Recommended Agency on the Recommended Agencies Register.  It’s particularly exciting for Montfort to be awarded this, as it means we’ve been highly rated by our clients for the great work we do for them – a good sign for anyone who might be looking at working with us.

We’ve worked with some excellent partner agencies, including Ruder Finn, The Romans and GOOD Agency, all of whom have been fantastic to work with.

We’ve expanded our service offering to include WordPress website design and digital transformation, with our first projects in these areas seeing great results and more clients lined up for early 2016 in both of these areas already.

The Montfort team has also grown, with a larger network of freelancers working under our name. If you like the look of Montfort and want to find out more about working with us, head over to the Mates With Montfort page for details of the kind of people we’re looking for.

I joined the PRCA’s Independent Consultants group as its youngest member, also speaking at a recent event about 10 Digital Trends for Freelancers.

Lastly, I came runner up on the IPSE Freelancer of the Year Awards 2015. Need to write up a post about the award, so that’s one blog post for next year.

Plans for 2016

I’m planning to write more about my plans for 2016, but to summarise:

  • See more of friends and family
  • Continue to take great care of our fantastic Montfort clients
  • Get back into blogging by publishing at least 30 longer posts
  • Evolve the Freelance in 30 Days book to include additional material and resources
  • Build the internal PR tool I’ve been working on and make it client facing
  • Improve how Montfort works with freelancers to establish this way of working
  • Keep on travelling to new places

All of that sounds achievable, right?

How was 2015 for you? What are your plans for the year ahead?

Here’s to a fantastic 2016!

5 Reasons Freelancers Love The Way They Work

freelancer love

People choose to take the leap into the world of freelancing for many reasons – choosing your own hours, being your own boss, operating in new locations, and having the opportunity to earn and keep all your profit being just a few.

When IPSE released their latest research to coincide with National Freelancers Day, the annual event celebrating the UK’s 1.9 million people who make the brave step to work as independent professionals, I thought it was worth pulling out the most important reasons from the research that freelancers choose to work in this way.

1. Being your own boss

79% of people work as a freelancer because they like to be in control of their own work. As a freelancer, you don’t have to answer to anyone but your customers and yourself. Working for this way frees you from the employee mind-set as you can choose the people that you work with. And making the tough decisions is your responsibility: Freelancing is effectively like being in charge of your own business, except you are the business, you are in control.

2. A better work/life balance

69% of freelancers choose to work this way because it provides them with a better work/life balance. As a freelancer, you choose how you want to work, whether this working from home or on the move. You’re no longer constrained to a nine to five office environment. Finding the way you work best can be a real boost to productivity.

3. Flexible Hours

61% of freelancers work this way to gain greater control of their work hours. When you’re a freelancer, you choose how, where and when you work. Greater flexibility means that if you want to work at home you can, or if you need time off for a holiday or to just take a break, you can do that. Freelancers can work during their most creative and dynamic hours, and that doesn’t have to mean regular business hours.

4. Keeping the profits

59% of freelancers are motivated by the opportunity to keep their profits, maximising their earning potential. As a freelancer, you get to work at your own skill level, where you can allocate or keep all the profits from the work you do. This provides freelancers with the freedom to then use that money to save for their future and secure their finances.

5. We choose to freelance

Freelancers are sometimes cast as a vulnerable group, but IPSE’s research found only two per cent are actively looking to make the switch to becoming an employee. And only one in ten responded that they turned to freelancing because they had no other option.

It’s clear the vast majority of freelancers prefer and enjoy this way of working. Not only that, but IPSE’s research has also shown the growth in the number of freelancers has come in professional and highly skilled sectors.

Overall, freelancers just love the way and would encourage anyone else to do it.

Isn’t it about time you went freelance?

 

Freelancer of the Year Finalist

freelancer of the year

I’ve been shortlisted by the nice people at IPSE as a Freelancer of the Year finalist in their Freelancer Awards. This is mainly for my work at Montfort, but also for other initiatives like Freelance in 30 Days. It’s a lovely surprise.

The other 2015 finalists are:

I love learning about how other freelancers run their businesses, so it’s been interesting to look at the stories behind and how they’re setup. I’m looking forward to meeting the other finalists in real life, as ‘ useful when freelancers get together and share insight on what is and isn’t working for them.

There are also some fantastic examples of younger freelancers going it alone at a relatively early stage in their professional careers. I’ve had several conversations recently about the rise of freelancing as a choice among people leaving university in the UK, which I’ll expose in a later post, but for now it’s well worth checking out – and supporting! – the shortlisted young finalists:

The results of the award will be announced as part of the celebrations around National Freelancer Day on 12th November. I’ll be sure to let you know how I got on then.

As part of the award judging process, I was interviewed by the IPSE team about my journey as a freelancer so far, as well as what I love about freelancing and my thoughts on the future of freelancing and self employment.

I’ve copied the interview below so you can share in my thoughts. I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

IPSE Freelancer Awards 2015: Interview with Ben Matthews

Describe your business

Working along with my wife, we run a digital agency, Montfort, which runs digital, social and contenting marketing campaigns for some of the biggest and brands in the world. We offer senior strategic counsel and honest independent advice to the biggest brands around the world.

Together we work with the likes of the UN Refugee Agency, The Guardian and Harper Collins, bringing in a wide range of trusted freelancers (AKA Mates of Montfort) to work alongside us.

What is your greatest business achievement?

I was recently appointed as the youngest member to the panel of Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), which represents the interests of PRCA members operating as independent consultants. I’ll be working alongside people ten years my senior, a daunting but rewarding prospect.

For Montfort, I’d have to say one of most recent campaigns, for the Twitter hashtag #WalkTogether. A wide group of organisations, co-ordinated by British Future, were looking to engage the people of London and across the UK on social media in a public commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. Montfort were asked to manage key social media channels on 6 and 7 July, engaging with supporters of the #WalkTogether campaign, encouraging people to take more photos, retweets, favourites and likes. The results were outstanding. For a small team, we were able to have #WalkTogether trend worldwide for the day.

What made you want to work for yourself?

I felt like I was stuck in a rut and wasn’t stretching myself enough as an employee. I initially hadn’t considered freelancing until I met with a former colleague who had taken the jump years previously, and told me how much more joy it brings to his work life balance.

Taking the leap into freelancing after having a steady job was probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. But I survived (and thrived!) and haven’t looked back since.

Why is self-employment so important?

The freedom and opportunity to create new projects is particularly exciting, especially as it hasn’t been readily available in my industry until now. It’s made it an exciting time to be a freelancer.

Get more details about the IPSE Freelancer Awards at ipseawards.co.uk

Digital Trends For Freelancers

digital trends

Speaking about digital trends for 10 minutes is hard enough. Speaking about digital trends for 10 minutes to a group of around 50 independent consultants is harder. Speaking about digital trends for 10 minutes to a group of around 50, slightly soggy from the London rain, eager to get back to networking, independent consultants was the fine audience I spoke to tonight.

I was invited by the PRCA Independent Consultants Group to speak on 10 digital trends in 10 minutes, so here I am replicating that talk in digital form, which should take you – hopefully less soggy, less eager to get back to networking – digital person about 10 minutes to read / consume.

Here are my slides and notes. Enjoy.

10 Digital Trends in 10 Minutes for Independent Consultants

To get thing started, here is the Slideshare of my slides from the digital trends talk. Pretty to look at and will give you the gist of the talk, but you’ll probably need to read on to get the full impact of my talk.

And for those of you who want the short version, here’s a GIF made using the simply brilliant gifdeck.in, that has made my 10 minute long talk into a 3 second, 10 image gif.

10 digital trends in 10 minutes

For those of you with the thirst for the full digital trend experience, here’s my rundown of the 10 digital trends I picked out and my notes from the talk. Keep scrolling to the end for questions – and answers – from the question and answer part of the talk.

1. Your network is still key, but is increasingly dispersed
Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.33.30

Slack has been a runaway success since opening for business just over a year ago: it now has 1.1 million daily active users, with 300,000 of them paying for premium tiers of the service bringing in annual recurring revenue of $25 million.

We’re working with a client whose team is based in London, New York, Geneva and Copenhagen. Slack holds that team together.

Airbnb is a website for people to rent out their homes. It has over 1,000,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Airbnb offers more rooms than many of the largest hotel groups in the world–Hilton, InterContinental and Marriott—which each maintain just under 700,000 rooms.

Next week, I’m going on a working holiday to Turkey, using Airbnb. Good wifi, cheap flights and my clients don’t care where I work as long as the work gets done.

2. You’ll face increased competition, but have more opportunities.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.33.52

Freelancers are already changing the face of the economy.

Here are a few stats to let you know about the competition.

There are 1.4 million British freelancers working across all sectors, a growth of 14% in the past decade.

The flexibility offered by Britain’s freelancers is worth £21 billion to the UK economy in added value.

The number of businesses hiring freelancers online increased 46%.

Payments to freelancers increased 37% year on year.

The average hourly rate for UK freelancers increased 6.7%.

There’s more competition for freelancers, but that also creates more opportunities as clients come to recognise the value that freelancers bring to their businesses.

3. Trust is vital. Earn it, then keep it.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.00

To compete, independent consultants need to be trust.

From the Guardian in a recent article on how their journalists establish trust;

“Trust in the authenticity and reliability of our sources is essential. Digital communications and a fast-moving news environment present special challenges for verification, and scepticism should therefore be the starting point”

More experienced consultants should already have this trust and know how to keep it

The Edelman Trust Barometer states that “Trust is built through specific attributes, which can be organised into five performance clusters”

integrity

engagement

products and services

purpose

operations

These attributes apply to brands, but in the digital age they apply to consultants as well – especially as reputation can be more easily share online

4. Digital by design, not digital by default.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.32

Digital is growing, but is not always the right answer.

Offline interaction still works wonders for the right campaigns.

Take a look at the number of events, photocalls and conferences that happen.

If traditional means of getting a client’s message out is the right one, then have confidence in that.

But if digital is the right medium to get the message out, then make sure that your campaigns have the right assets for digital – video, photos, text content.

5. Content is still king. Distribution is queen.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.39

Content marketing is the creation and sharing of digital content, such as articles and videos, that informs, educates, or entertains you.

Content marketing allows brands to attract customers through articles and videos.

Instead of interrupting your online browsing with an ad, content marketing gives you valuable information through articles and videos that you choose to view.

While digital advertising focuses on promoting a brand, content marketing focuses on giving you helpful information that you want to see online.

6. Think mobile first, then work back from there.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.45

Including the way you work, the content you create and how people consume it.

Ensure that your content is optimised for smartphones.

Ensure all media materials are succinct and engaging.

Use images and video to maximise campaign reach.

7. Paid social is becoming the norm. Understand its value.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.52

Understand its value, even if you don’t use it yourself.

Run a few Facebook ads. See what works. Begin to learn what can work for your clients.

8. Video is on the rise (again). Facebook is challenging YouTube.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.34.58

Fuelled by Facebook, vloggers and fast mobile data.

Zoella: 25 years old, born in 1990, has 8.5 million subscribers.

Facebook and Twitter both have native video players where video content is hosted and viewed natively within Facebook and Twitter.

Before this move, users who wanted to watch videos were sent off to YouTube, Vimeo or wherever the video was hosted. Now users can just watch the video natively where they are.

The end result? Twitter users stay within Twitter longer and use Twitter more.

Jason Calacanis:

“Within 18 months of releasing their YouTube competitor, Twitter will at least double their monthly users, double their time per user, and triple their revenue.”

Some more social video stats:

Facebook video views every 24 hours: 4 billion

Video uploaded to YouTube every minute: 300 hours

Facebook unique video viewers: 85.59 million

YouTube unique video viewers: 162.14 million

Facebook counts a view as: 3 seconds

YouTube counts a view as: 30 seconds

9. Plenty of new digital tools. Use them wisely.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.35.06

Go take a look at PR Stack.

PR Stack is a crowd-sourced catalog of 250+ public relations tools, many of them free, all of them useful.

The tools are there, use them wisely.

10. Remember why you are a freelancer. You are ahead of the game. In terms of financials, flexibility and freedom.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 22.35.12

Every year, thousands of people have the confidence to start their freelance career. You can do it too.

You can have the flexibility and freedom that comes from running your own freelance business – and enjoy it.

You can make a decent income from your freelance business – often much more than your previous job.

Anyone that is already freelancing or operating as an independent consultant is already ahead of the game, whatever digital trends come next.

The final slide had my contact details, so here they are again.

You can tweet me at @benrmatthews.

Or better yet, email me at ben@montfort.io

Let me know how these digital trends are affecting you and your business, or what you see are the next digital trends that I’ve missed and we should be aware of.

Questions About Digital Trends

These are the questions I remember getting asked at the end of my presentation.

Answers to follow soon, but I did answer them well on the night (I promise):

  • How does social reach affect the KPIs of a client’s business?
  • How will the Facebook dislike button affect businesses on Facebook?
  • Our business has a target audience of people aged 55+. How can we use social media to reach them?
  • I read that Google now ranks long form content higher than other less wordy content. How can PR consultants address this?
  • I run a small business on a small budget. What social media tools and channels should I be concentrating on?
  • How have politicians reacted to changes in social media and how do they relate to social media now?

I remember the questions about digital trends. Now if only I could remember the answers…

Freelance Inspiration (#Infographic)

Inspiring Quotes from Leading Freelancers

Calin from Freelance Business Guide invited me to contribute to his Freelance Inspiration Infographic and I was more than happy to help inspire other freelancers on their journey.

Being called a “leading freelancer” was a great compliment, given the other names appearing alongside me on the infographic.

The likes of Sara Horowitz, Justin Jackson and Paul Jarvis are freelancers that I’ve been following, learning from and getting inspired by ever since I can remember being a freelancer.

It’s also great to discover new inspiring freelancers to check out, such as Julie Elster, Kai Davis and Brent Galloway.

The quotes themselves are copied underneath the infographic and it’s worth checking out Freelance Business Guide for even more inspiration.

What quotes give you the most inspiration as a freelancer? Let me know in the comments below!

The Freelance Inspiration Infographic

Freelance Inspiration Infographic

11 Inspirational Freelance Quotes

“The biggest challenge I overcame while growing my consulting business wasn’t convincing my clients to pay me more money or chasing after invoices. Rather, the biggest challenge was internal — convincing myself that I was worth the rate I wanted to charge and raising my rates from $25/hour to $100/hour, $1,000/day, and $5,000+/week. And you know what? As I’ve increased my prices, the clients I’ve worked with have turned out to be better, more receptive to my advice, and see us as partners instead of viewing me as a laborer on their project.

So, dear consultant, know this: the easiest way to get paid more is to raise your rates. And the only person in the world who can stop you? That’s you.”

Kai Davis
DoubleYourAudience.com/free-course/


“Don’t ever be afraid to pick up your phone. Seven figure business owners don’t survive unless they pick up the phone and make that real connection to their clients. Email can be a crutch in client communication. If you need something, call.”

Julie Elster
JustTellJulie.com


“To truly excel in a consulting career, you need to sell your brain. Your strategy, knowledge, and advice will always be more valuable than your hands. Help your clients reduce risk, and build value, not just complete tasks. Don’t sell your time, sell clients a better version of their life.”

Kurt Elster
KurtElster.com


“In order to shape the industry for the better, you have to create high standards and stick to them no matter what.

As a business person, it’s your responsibility to know your core values and to pass them along to anyone that works with you. You might feel obligated to give in to a client’s request for the sake of landing the job or to get paid. You might fear that you have to do absolutely anything to stay ahead of your competition. But the secret is – you don’t have competition! As a freelancer, there will always be someone beneath you charging next to nothing for the same services you offer, but the clients that go to those people aren’t clients you should want to work with.”

Brent Galloway
YourFreelanceCareer.com


“You can think of freelancing as volatile and risky, or as flexible and opportunity-rich.
Doesn’t having multiple sources of income and multiple moneymaking skills sound less risky than putting all your eggs in one employer’s basket?

Freelancing lets you shift gears when the world does.”

Sara Horowitz
Freelancers Union, Author of The Freelancer’s Bible


“Start with a tiny project and start now.

Making and selling things is quite hard. You can’t just show up and win; you need to ramp up slowly.”

Justin Jackson
JustinJackson.ca


“Position yourself as more of a consultant and less of a freelancer. Freelance work tends to be transactional, where you’re delivering directly on a service that a client had asked you to provide. The client asks you to complete a project, you deliver on that project. The difference with being a consultant is that you are looking to deliver value to a client. This approach can mean a large difference in the value a client sees in your work and the fee you get paid.”

Ben Matthews
BenRMatthews.com


“Most reasons to delay are invalid if you get right to the core: no time, no money, no audience. These are all future concerns, which make it hard to start anything. Worry about those things later or not at all. Make small decisions at first, and start moving in a direction that feels right.”

Paul Jarvis
CreativeClass.io


“Remember, nobody is hiring you just because you can design, write, market or code… they’re hiring you because they have a business problem. Your service (in their mind and yours) provides the solution to that problem, so focus on that rather than skill-jargon, buzzwords and vague lists of qualifications.”

Liam Veitch
FreelanceLift.com/1m-Freelancer-Book


“As a freelancer your biggest advantage is that you only need a handful of clients to succeed. Most companies need to find thousands of customers. You only need to find one at a time.”

Robert Williams
LetsWorkshop.com


“Don’t freelance to make a living – freelance to make a life. Money is important – but when you hit ruts, work 16 hour days and get that tough feedback, it’s going to be something else that motivates you. You need to remember why you started and keep it in focus.”

Joel Klettke
BusinessCasualCopywriting.com