How To Go Freelance

Freelance Job Advice and Work Tips for Freelance Writers, Designers and Consultants

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29 essential freelance tools you need to be a productive freelancer

freelance tools

I’ve been looking at the products and services I use as a freelancer, so wanted to get some advice and other opinions on what freelance tools are the best to use.

I’ve become a big fan of the Freelance Subreddit, which has a whole community of freelancers, so I asked “What’s your freelance stack?” to try to get an idea of what other freelancers use in their work.

I got a ton of responses – not just from the web development crowd. There were some popular apps, products and services that came up time and again – Gmail, Dropbox, Trello – but the discussion highlighted lots of services in different areas of freelancing that are worth taking a look at?

My freelance tools

To kick things off, I listed my freelance stack – the tools I use everyday as a productive freelancer:

  • Computer: Mac Air 11″
  • Email: Gmail
  • Word processing: Google Docs (or Open Office if I know the client uses Microsoft Word)
  • Accounting software: Crunch.co.uk
  • Project Management: Trello
  • To do list: Clear App (and good ol’ pen and paper)
  • Website / blog: WordPress
  • Hosting: A Small Orange
  • File sharing: Dropbox / WeTransfer

Many of these apps you will have heard of, so it’s a pretty standard setup and there’s not too many surprises in there.

Recommended freelance tools

Here’s the tools the freelance community on Reddit recommended using. And if they’re established freelancers, you get the confidence that you’ll enjoy using these tools as well.

(Click on the name of the app go to their website, pricing based on freelancers or small agency rates – where available, prices in US dollars because that’s where most of the services are based)

Time-Tracking / Invoicing

  • Harvest (Free-$99 per month): Simple time tracking, fast online invoicing, and powerful reporting software. One of the most recommended tools, Harvest simplifies timesheets and billing so you can get on with your freelance work.
  • RescueTime (Free-$9 per month):  Freelancers need  as there’s no one on your back telling you to do work. RescueTime helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be a more productive freelancer.
  • ManicTime (Free-$67 for a full license): ManicTime sits in the background and records your activities, so you can just forget it is there and focus on your work. It’s Windows only, but a good alternative to RescueTime.
  • Toggl (Free-$5 per month): Toggl is a simple time tracking tool, which has many similar features to RescueTime, but not with the added features of Harvest, so is a happy medium. They also offer free timesheet and mobile apps for Android and iOS.
  • Pancake (Free-$179 for a full license): Pancake is a tool that handles not only the freelance basics (time tracking, invoicing) but includes more features like project cost tracking, proposal generation and estimates.

Project Management

  • Trello (Free):  Infinitely flexible. Incredibly easy to use. Great mobile apps. It’s free. What more could you want?
  • Basecamp ($20-$150 per month): Is “the number one project management tool”. Easy to get started with if you’re looking to get up and running quickly.
  • Asana (Free-$100 per month): Billed as Teamwork without email”, Asana puts conversations and tasks together, so you can get more done with less effort.  A good alternative to Basecamp.
  • Pivotal Tracker ($7-$175 per month): More suited to web developers, Pivotal is lightweight, agile project management tool for software teams.
  • Breeze.pm ($29 per month): Breeze shows you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, where things are in the workflow and how much time it took. A new entrant, but well worth a look.

To Do List

  • Todoist (Free-$40 for a full license):  One of the best online task management apps – and it’s free (if you don’t want the extra features). Plus it runs on just about anything you own – Web, iPhone, iPad, Android, Chrome, Outlook and more.
  • Wunderlist (Free-$4.99 per month): Whether you’re sharing a grocery list with a loved one, working on a project, or planning a vacation, Wunderlist makes it easy to collaborate with anyone. Won App of the Year in 2013.
  • Clear ($4.99 iPhone, $9.99 Mac):  Only available on iPhone and Mac, Clear makes productivity fun again with an innovative swipe interface. Clear might just be the todo list from the future.
  • Omnifocus ($39.99): If you’re a keyboard shortcut king then Omnifocus is for you. Why waste time with a mouse when you are even more productive by keeping your sticky fingers stuck to the keyboard?

Accounting

  • Freshbooks ($20-$40 per month): With FreshBooks, you can create professional-looking invoices complete with your own logo. When you’re ready to bill your client, simply send your invoice via email and the system takes care of the rest. Slick.
  • Quickbooks ($15-$40 per month): Very similar to Freshbooks, but lets clients pay you faster via credit card or bank transfer and the system will track it. Still does all the usual as well invoicing and accounting as well.
  • Crunch ($80 per month): The UK equivalent of US giants Freshbooks and Quickbooks. Plus with added phone support, so you know you always have an accountant waiting at the end of the line (which is why it’s slightly more expensive)
  • Saasu ($15-$50 per month): Pretty much the same as the above, but is well linked in to a range of ecommerce providers and let’s you integrate with your stock levels, so brilliant for freelancers or small business selling products online.
  • Freeagent ($25-$40 per month): Recommended by 99.5% of their users, so must do something right.  From expenses, payroll, to estimates and invoices, FreeAgent helps you nail the daily (and boring) admin.
  • Wave (???):  With invoicing, accounting, payroll and even payment processing in one application, Wave keeps you organised and up to date. Impressive integration with third-party apps, but no pricing info available on their site.

Contracts

  • HelloSign (Free-$13 per month): Printing out and sending on paper copies of contracts is a pain. HelloSign’s secure electronic signatures are business-caliber, easy-to-use, and legally binding. And it integrates with Google Apps and Gmail. Thumbs up.
  • WP Online Contract ($18): Allows you to create, manage, and save contracts online through WordPress, giving your clients a way to view and sign your contracts online in one place. A one-off cost, so perfect if you also run your freelance business website on Wordpress.
  • Turboscan (Free-$2.99 for a full license): Snap, scan and send your documents with Turboscan. The free option is fine for taking quick photos and emailing them on, but too open up the full feature set you only have to pay a small price to upgrade to the full version.

Other Essential Freelance Tools

  • Google Apps for Business ($5 per month): Previously a free service, but now with a small cost, Google Apps is still the daddy of running your business in the cloud, with email, word processing, spreadsheets and more all available on your own domain.
  • Open Office (Free): The open source alternative to Microsoft Office. Great if your clients send you MS Word docs and you don’t want to pay the license fee, but beware of formatting issues. “Export as PDF” is your new best friend.
  • Dropbox (Free-$10 per month): Store your photos, docs, and videos in the cloud, o you never email yourself a file again! A firm favourite of designers everywhere, given the large files that they have to send to clients.
  • Calendly (Free-$8): A great find and highly recommended for freelancers and small businesses that need to schedule appointments. Quite a few freelancers mentioned this tool.
  • Slack (Free-$12.50 per month): The new hot thing in Silicon Valley, Slack brings all your communication together in one place with chat, file sharing and more. Fun to use as well. No excuse to slack off now!
  • Mailchimp (Free-$10 per month): Simple but powerful email marketing.  Up to 2,000 emails and 12,000 contacts for free, so unless you send a serious amount of email this is a great marketing option for freelancers.
  • Thumbtack (???): Helps you find new customers and grow your business. Clients tell Thumbtack about their needs and they send you the details of the client’s requests (for free). If it looks like a fit, you respond with a custom quote and work out the details with the client. Not sure what the pricing is, but assume that the client pays a percentage for finding the right freelancer for them. One to try for new business leads.

Wow! There you go. A range of freelance tools for you to try, or get reassurance from that you’re using the best of breed.

What essential freelance tools I missed out? What apps, products and services do you recommend to other freelancers? What’s your freelance stack? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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

Freelance Consultant Rates

One of the main things people ask before they go freelance is how to work out their freelance consultant rate.

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.

There are several strategies you can take to find an hourly rate, day rate or project rate that your clients are happy with and enables you to make a comfortable income.

Before You Set Your Freelance Consultant Rates

There’s a few things you can do to get a good idea of what to charge as your rate before you start to take on freelance projects:

  • Get comfortable talking about your rate: There’ll be situations where you’ll have to negotiate with a client on your fee. You have to get comfortable at discussing this with them and not be afraid to push back on a price to get your true worth from a project. Negotiating with clients on your rate takes confidence, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be more comfortable having that discussion with them.
  • Ask other freelance consultants what they charge:  You’re probably nervous about sharing how much you get paid with other freelancers. What if you’re charging too much? Too little? What if others copy or undercut your rate? Sharing what you make with other freelancers can have a huge impact on your rate. If you’re new to freelancing and try to set your rate without knowing what other similar freelancers have set theirs at, you will probably price at a low rate to play it safe. This pushes rates down and means that you won’t earn as much as you potentially should.
  • Ask an HR professional what the going rates are: I’m luck enough to have a friend in Soraya, who is a freelance HR consultant at Love HR. She gives great advice on what others are charging for similar projects, so I can always ask her when I’m not sure what I should set my rate at. Don’t be afraid to ask any friendly HR contacts you have, or get out there and make a friendly HR contact if you don’t have one already.
  • Ask the client for a budget: Although you shouldn’t use this as the basis for your rate, you can use the budget set by a client as a figure to get started with. You can either negotiate this figure or use it as a benchmark for future projects.
  • Set a benchmark: Read books and articles related to your industry that contain information about pricing. Some freelancers do talk about their rates online and that is a great place to begin. Also check forums and networking sites in your industry, as posting for advice on these sites can lead to you getting lots of helpful advice back on where to set your benchmark.

See also: Get the confidence to go freelance

Pricing Strategies for Setting your Freelance Consultant Rate

There are several strategies you can take for setting your freelance rate, each with their own benefits and disadvantages:

  • Time-Based Pricing
  • Project-Based Pricing
  • Value-Based Pricing

Time-Based Pricing

Time-based pricing is a rough way to work out your day rate, although it is different for every freelancer depending where they are in their career, their skills, demand for their ability, state of the job market, demand for freelancers, and more.

Time-based pricing is also how professional services businesses work, as a lot of the work output is directly proportional to the amount of time that goes into producing it.

This is also the easiest to manage, which is why it’s so appealing for most people who are new to freelancing. You work an hour, you invoice the customer for an hour.

The simplest way to work our your day rate using a time-based pricing strategy to add a third to the salary you were receiving before.

This is to account for the fact that you are doing your own HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, IT, Offices Costs and anything else that normally takes care of for you in a company. In England and Wales there are 252 working days in the year, assuming that you work 5 out of 7 days.

Once you have this worked out on an annual basis, take off 20 working days from the total. This equates to a month of work (including weekends) and accounts for time off for holidays, sick days, and a few days where you might not have work on.

Obviously, adjust this amount if you think you might not get that much work in or want to take a few more holidays that year, or if you’re very confident or feel that you are worth more (one of the main reasons that people go freelance!).

So, if you earned £30k in your job, adding a third on equals £40k. Dividing £40k by 222 days equals just over £180. This would be your day rate.

Oh, and make sure you always add-on VAT to this (20% in the UK), so £180 per day excluding VAT, £216 including VAT.

There are a lot of rate calculators out there, with most of them basing their formulas around giving you a steady stream of income that you can live comfortably on.

This is why as someone new to freelancing, hourly rates are the only way to go. This is how I started and still often do price my projects this way.

Other more experienced freelancers may say that there are other ways of charging more, but you need to be comfortable with what you’re earning and charging. Time-based pricing gives you a sure and steady freelance rate to work from.

As you become more efficient, you can raise your rate and so charge clients more money for working similar hours. And as you become a better freelancer, you can eventually start using day rates, and then weekly – or move on to the freelance pricing models described below.

The Problem with Time-Based Pricing

If you are charging hourly, then you will always be limited to making only as much as the hours that you can work.

You effectively give yourself a price ceiling that can only be raised by working more hours.

If you want to scale your time-based pricing strategy, you need to a) hire employees or b) switch to a product-based business model – both of which bring whole new levels of time, money and experience.

Project-Based Pricing

This strategy involves estimating how much time and resources a project will take, then giving the client a project fee based on that estimate.

One of the benefits of taking this approach is that the client can have a fixed costs in their mind, which won’t spill over if the scope of the project stays the same. With time-based pricing, any extra time spent on a project will incur extra costs.

You may find that you’ll win more business this way, as you’re working to the client’s budgets.

The benefits for freelancers means that you can avoid some admin work (tracking hours, progress and daily reporting) and if you;e efficient enough and give good estimates, you get a much high per hour rate (without the client even knowing)

A project-based pricing strategy takes experience to set, as there isn’t really a simple recipe and you’ll need examples of other project costs to understand what you should cost new project at.

Once you have built up some experience, you’ll have a ready-made list of old bids and project costs that you can use to compare with news projects come in, to make sure you’re pricing in the right area.

The Problem with Project-Based Pricing

The main issue with project-based pricing is that you need very accurate estimates of how long a project will take and setting the price appropriately.

If you get that wrong,  you could put potential clients off from your high prices, or end up working a lot more hours than those you are paid for.

You should always expect projects to take longer than the plan and always include a contingency for any changes to the original project brief that the client might ask for.

If you choose project-based pricing as your model, allow for surprises.

Value-Based Pricing

There is a more strategic way to set your freelance consultant rate. Looking for the value that the project will bring to your client’s business and charging them and right rate based on that value.

Value-based pricing as a strategy is often used where the value to the client is many times the cost of producing the product or service.

For example, the cost of producing an e-book is around the same no matter  what content is found inside it. But the price of those ebooks differs depending on the perceived value the readers think they will get.

As my good friend Stephen Davies, a freelance digital health consultant, says:

“Your job is to help a client improve its current situation by using your skills, knowledge and experience. Your value shouldn’t be judged (and thus costed) on how many hours you are prepared to work but on the outcomes of the work you’re doing.”

The perceived value depends on a few factors: the alternatives open to the customer (using competitors’ products or services, adding a manual work around, or simply doing nothing at all.

In order to use value-based pricing you have to know your client’s business, their costs, and the alternatives available to them. Using value-based pricing, you can charge at a perceived value, rather than the time it takes to actually complete the project.

Say a client wants you to build them a mobile version of their site that will bring them in £100,000 in extra sales a year. Charging them £10,000 or even £15,000 would be reasonable charge, given the added value and income it will bring to their business.

The Problem with Value-Based Pricing

The main difficulty in using value-based pricing is that the client will want to pay different prices between agencies or freelancers, between regions or  countries, and even for the same freelancer in different scenarios (depending on whether the freelancer is available now or later when others are available), so that a highly accurate value-based price for a project is pretty impossible to get.

Despite being difficult to get a value, any sales messages you use should consider the value a product or service brings to the client, which will enable to you to set proportionately higher rates.

Alan Weiss has written extensively about Value-Based Pricing and gives excellent advice about what you should use value-based pricing in setting your freelance consultant rate:

Many consultants fail to understand that perceived value is the basis of the fee, or that they must translate the importance of their advice into long-term gains for the client in the client’s perception. Still others fail to have the courage and the belief system that support the high value delivered to clients, thereby reducing fees to a level commensurate with the consultant’s own low self-esteem. “

Ultimately, Weiss believes that freelancers, not clients, are the main cause of setting their freelance rates too low.

You need a very solid reputation in a niche industry to consistently use a value-based pricing strategy. It takes decades of experience to get there,  but once you do switch over the added project fees become extremely valuable.

When To Raise Your Freelance Rate

  • If you’re at capacity, raise your rate: Your time has become limited, so in order for a client to work with you they have to meet the higher rate. If you keep raising your rate when you’re at capacity, you’ll eventually scale up your rate across all your clients and projects, upping your total freelance income in the process.
  • If the client has a short deadline, raise your rate: This is known as a “rush job” and demands a premium in top of your normal rate. You have to drop what you’re doing for other clients or prioritise your work, sometime working evenings and weekends, to deliver the job. The client should pay the price for this.
  • If you learn a new skill, raise your rate: You should always raise your rates as you get better. Learning a new skill means you can also expand your offering as a freelancer and clients don’t have to hire two separate freelancers to get the same job done.
  • If you’ve freelanced for another year longer, raise your rate: The experience gained over that year is worth more than you might think – and you can charge accordingly.
  • If you don’t like working with a particular client but need the income from the project, raise you’re rate – a lot: This way, the client can pay a premium for your services, which balances out the negative side of working with a client that you’re not fond of.

When To Lower your Rate or Work For Free

You can always raise or lower your rates depending on the client and project.  Here are two good scenarios when it is beneficial to lower your rate – or even work for free.

  • Portfolio Pieces: If an instantly recognisable brand comes along that might not have pots of cash available, but do incredible work and would be a delight to work with. If they can’t afford your normal rate but you can take this project on at a lower rate, then you should ask to see if you can use this project as a case study of example of work for your portfolio. I took this approach when working with LOCOG – the organising body behind the London 2012 Olympic Games. I was approached to work on their website and produce some digital content, with a day rate below my normal fee, but the brand name was too big to turn down and has opened the door to many more clients ever since completing the project
  • Charity Work: I do a lot of work with charities and happily work pro bono (for free) or at a reduced rate for them. I often find this kind of work most rewarding and the client’s more appreciative of your efforts compared to for-profit clients, But remember, a lot of charities have large reserves and resources so should pay full rate for your service . They’ll often get your best work out of you if they pay you’re full rate, so don’t be afraid to charge charities as you would any other business.

Ready to set your freelance consultant rate?

Everyone has a different opinion about what model is best, what works and what doesn’t when setting their pricing strategy. Some people insist that hourly or weekly is the only way to go. Others insist that “value-based” is the only way to go.

The best way to figure out your own pricing strategy is to figure out what works for you and go from there.

There’s definitely going to be some trial and error while you figure things out. You may under charge for a particular project, but that will give you the experience you to charge more next time. You may overcharge a client and lose out on a new piece of business.

What other strategies do you use to set your freelance consultant rate? What has worked well? What hasn’t worked and you’d recommend avoiding? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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

 

How I Went Freelance: Art Anthony, Copywriting is Art

This is the seventh 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

Print

Name: Art Anthony
Freelance Area: Copywriting
Freelance Since: Couple of years! (Not exactly sure when my cake day is…)
Twitter: @artcopywriter
Website: copywritingisart.com

What made you decide to go freelance?

One big reason was that I wanted to stop living in cities. I had started to feel like I was in a bit of a rut working 9-5 and, between the commute and the inflexibility, it was wearing me down.

I’m a country boy at heart, and freelancing has allowed me to get back out into the wild. I do some of my best thinking on hikes or camping out!

I was also tired of working ‘for’ people instead of ‘with’ people. The ability to pick and choose my own clients and have control over my own working hours was very appealing.

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

To be honest, not very many! I built a simple site, emailed a few contacts to see if they had any work for me then took the leap.

I have some savings, but not anything close to the six months worth of rent and expenses that people recommend before going freelance.

It was sink (if you consider re-entering the full-time workforce sinking!) or swim, and I was lucky enough to swim.

How did it feel before you went freelance?

Terrifying. Going freelance is still something that maybe 70% of people would never even think about doing, and actually going ahead with it is daunting.

But I just couldn’t see myself doing the things I really wanted to while working a full-time job for someone else, and that was the push I needed.

How does it feel now you are freelance?

Fantastic. The more clients you work with and experience you get under your belt, the more natural it starts to feel.

Barring a very attractive offer to work remotely from a company I really love, I can’t see myself going back to a 9-5.

What are the positives of freelance life?

  • Being able to work when I feel inspired and take breaks when I’m feeling burnt out.
  • I get to travel more than I did before – I’m ticking off European countries like nobody’s business.
  • Taking a long lunch to go to the gym and it being EMPTY.
  • You get to be the captain of your own ship!

What are the negatives of freelance life?

  • Chasing unpaid invoices. ‘Nuff said.
  • Demanding clients (but they only serve to remind you what having a boss is like!)
  • Quiet spells with little or no work on *tumbleweed*

Any advice for others looking to go freelance?

Don’t wait until ‘the perfect time’ to do it, because there will never be a perfect time.

But think very hard about whether it’s what you want before making the move – it can be a lonely business if you’re a social animal!

You also need to be prepared for the fact that the lines between your work and personal life can become very blurred, and ask yourself if sleeping in some mornings makes up for answering client emails at 11pm!

Thanks for taking part, Art, and for sharing your tips and advice. Make sure to check out his website at copywritingisart.com and follow him on Twitter at @artcopywriter

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

More from the How I Went Freelance series:

 

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

 

How to win new business pitches as a freelancer

How to win new business pitches

There are many ways to win new clients as a freelancer, but you’re more than likely to come up against a new business pitch process as one of them at some point in your freelance life.

You’re name is added to a shortlist of freelancers or small agencies that a client wants to see about a new project or campaign. Then you’ll be expected to respond to a specific brief and outline how you’d approach the client’s project.

This often ends in a presentation to the client, which in a competitive situation is a nerve-wracking experience.

It’s a big opportunity to win new clients, but the competitiveness of the pitches means you’ll need to put lots of time in to crafting the perfect pitch – with that time being unpaid of you lose the pitch process.

I’ve been on both sides of the table, giving the pitch and listening to agencies present to me. Here’s what I’ve learnt, as an agency consultant, as a freelancer and as a client, on how to win new business pitches.

Qualify the lead

Before you spend any time preparing for the pitch process, spend time looking through the client’s brief and researching their business to make sure that it’s a good fit for you as a freelancer.

Is the project rate too low for you? Do you have capacity to take on the project? Do you have the skills and knowledge to tackle the issues you face? Does your research raise any red flags or concerns about the client or from others who have worked for them?

If the project isn’t a fit or you don’t feel like you would want to work on the project, then better to cut it off at the start and politely decline taking part in the pitch process, and not ploughing time into the pitch and wasting the client’s time as well.

Win the pitch before you walk in the room

Personally, I prefer having won the pitch before I even have to give a presentation to a client.

How?

By being the only freelancer in the running for project.

If you’ve been a good freelancer and delivered high-quality work, on time and on budget, then the client should turn to you immediately as their trusted freelancer in that area, and not looking anywhere else.

Of course they may invite other freelancers or agencies to pitch to get a range of ideas and see what else is out there, but if you’ve delivered excellent work and offered outstanding consultancy, then you should minimise that happening.

When this happens, rather than handing the project out to tender, you’ll be the first – and only – freelancer on the list.

A lot of our new business come from existing client referrals to other parts of their business or new projects from their team. That means we don’t have to spend time researching the client and writing a large deck for the pitch.

We know the client. We know their business. We know how we can deliver value from the project.

If that’s the same for you and your existing clients are referring you new projects, then you’re doing something right.

If not, try to consistently deliver value to your client and work out how you can improve you’re offering to them.

See also: How to build long-term client relationships as a freelancer

The pitch is about them, not you

If you do have to pitch, make sure your pitch deck is about the client and how you’re going to help them, not all about your agency and the cool offices you work in.

The client wants to know how you’re going to tackle their brief and add value to their business. That means minimising the slides about yourself.

If you want, send across a credentials document ahead of the pitch outlining everything you want to get across about you as a freelancer and the case studies and examples of projects you’ve completed before.

Frame this as a way of your new business prospect getting to know you without wasting time in the pitch shows that you’re thinking about them and valuing their time already.

Then, when you walk in the room, they know who you are and what you’re about, so you can get straight down to talking about how you’re going to help them.

Listen, ask questions and build a relationship with the client

The new business pitch process is just the start of a new relationship between you and the client. After all, you’re going to work together for what might be a long time, so you need to make sure you have a good working relationship.

Avidan, a marketing consulting firm, asked consultants for their opinions on what it takes to win new business pitches. 96 percent of the sample pointed to “chemistry” as the key reason for winning.

So how do you build chemistry?

One of the keys to building empathy is to get the client talking about the challenges they are facing – and listen. You create empathy with the client by listening and show how you understand the issues they are turning to you to solve.

Back this up by asking questions that delve more into these issues. Interacting through asking questions is much more engaging than being presented to as a passive audience and ensures the client doesn’t feel they’re being shown a presentation that you roll out time and again.

Lastly, show passion for the client, their business or their industry in general. Passion is contagious and shows that you want the work.

(As an aside, the same Avidan survey found 61 percent say that winning agencies have a  “confident, articulate team”, 39 percent believe that “demonstrating passion for the client’s business” helps winning and that “a seamless link between strategy and creative” is crucial)

Cover the basics

Whatever you do in the pitch, make sure you cover the basics.

Before you even step in the room, make sure you’ve followed their RFP (request for proposal) process, read the client’s brief closely and ensuring that you’ve covered all of their major points in the presentation.

If you miss out a key area of the brief, it is a red flag to the client that you haven’t read the brief properly, don’t pay attention to detail or even have a weakness in that area.

While you won’t be disqualified for “breaking the rules,” it can the difference to a final decision on who to award the project to.

If they’ve set out some key questions in the brief, answer them in the pitch. If it helps, use their question as the headline of a slide, then put how you’d approach the answer as the main content of the slide. This way, you’re guaranteed to cover everything they asked of you in the brief.

You don’t have to spend long covering the basics, but setting these foundations in place and giving the client the confidence that you can do the job means they’ll be more likely to trust you with the project.

You’ll be amazed at how many people or agencies miss out on some of the basics asked of them in the brief. Don’t make the same mistake.

Standardise the deck

I’m not a perfectionist, but I do like to see a nice clean deck that is consistent all the way through.

That means using the same font, text size and colours throughout.

Don’t use different fonts – stick to whatever you normally use fall back to Arial if you’re unsure And never use Comic Sans.

As for text size, you need to make your writing clear to read from the back of a large room. That means at least point 20, otherwise people aren’t going to be able to read the magic words you gave on-screen.

You shouldn’t be relying on too much text in your pitch deck anyway, but if you have to make sure that people can read it no matter where they’re sitting in the room.

Standardising colours should be a default. Black text on a white background is the most legible, so is a good default to use.

I’m not saying that you need to be good at design or hire a designer to sharpen up your pitch deck. You just need to make sure that the decks are consistent and legible enough that it doesn’t distract from the words you’re saying or the points you’re trying to get across.

Even the default theme on the software you use to create presentations is probably going to be good enough for most of your clients. Use it, and sue it wisely.

If you’re pitch deck looks sloppy with mismatched font, styles and colours, how are they going to trust you to take the same care of your work when you’re representing them?

Add some creativity

Once you’ve covered the basics, now you can add some flair to your pitch.

What little extras can you come up with that will make you – and the client – stand out from the competition?

Adding creative ideas to the pitch shows that you’ve been thinking above and beyond for how their project or campaign can really fly.

You don’t have to have completely thought through these creative ideas, but make sure at some basic level you can talk through how the idea might work if they ask you.

A word of warning: You are presenting creative ideas, but make sure these are presented clearly and compellingly. There is a lot of cringe worthy terminology out there, most of which doesn’t make sense and will put the client off.

Stop using jargon. Be seen as straight forward and sincere, not full of nonsensical rhetoric.

Follow up promptly

Once the meeting is over, follow-up promptly after the meeting with an email thanking the client for their time.

This is also a chance to add in any things you missed out in the pitch or didn’t get time to cover. Don’t go overboard – it’s still better to keep the follow-up email short and sweet.

You should also create a “leave behind” – a version of your pitch deck that they can take away to look at in more detail or use to jog their memory of what you proposed.

If you’re pitch deck relied heavily on images, you can make this more text heavy.  They’ll be reviewing this leave behind without the benefit of having you in the room to explain the context.

I’m sure there are many more tips and tricks to win new business pitches as a freelancer. Let us know in the comments if there are any further strategies you bring to the pitch process.

If you’re client side, would love to hear your stories and examples about what makes successful pitches stand out among the others.

 

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

Confidence to go freelance

Lots of people dream about going freelance, but getting the confidence to go freelance is something else.

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.

As you grow more confident, the risks will melt away and you’ll begin to wonder why more people don’t go freelance.

Here are eight ways you can get the confidence to go freelance.

1. Create a business plan

All best laid plans go to waste, but the very act of writing out a business plan will give you a better idea of how your current business stands.

What product or service are you selling? To who? How are you going to reach those people? What marketing are you going to do? What resources do you need? How much will it cost to run your business?

There are loads of free resources to help you, but these are just a few of the more helpful resources when I was researching my own business plan:

While you may not need your business plan after a few months, this will give you great foundations for your business and identify the strengths and weaknesses of how you freelance business currently stands.

2. Give yourself a runway

In the world of startups, your ‘runway’ is how long you can survive as a business with the amount of money you currently have. For a startup in Silicon Valley, they’re looking at a runway of at least 18 months to give their team and tech the time and space to fully reach their potential.

But you’re not likely to have tens of thousands in the bank, so 18 months would be a true luxury. You’re more looking at 2-3 months as you’re runway, which is needed for a number of reasons.

There’s the costs of setting up your business. Company registration, hiring an accountant, building a website, getting business cards printed, buying yourself a laptop to run your business on – and more. There will even be hidden costs that creep up on you at the beginning of your business, so be prepared and have enough cash to last you a good few months.

This is especially important at the start of your freelance career. Many client’s payments terms are several weeks long, often 28 days and often even longer. So by the time you’ve worked a month, invoiced at the end of that month, it can be 2 months before you get paid for that piece of work. No last Friday of the month pay check for you.

Once you start to invoice clients regularly and have payments coming in, you’ll be able to relax (a little!). But having made a solid start will benefit you in the long run.

3. Perfect your pitch

Who are you? Give yourself the time to sit and imagine your to write down who and what you are.

What’s your ‘product’? What are you selling? What are your values? Why are you different to the next freelancer or small business?

This will be one of the main things you are asked – who you are and what you do. It’s sometimes known as an elevator pitch, called that because you should be able to say your pitch from the time it takes to get from the bottom floor of a building to the top while riding in an elevator.

Check out these (very literal) elevator pitches on Tech City News for an idea of how you could structure your elevator pitch.

If you can get this nailed down to a short and sweet few sentences, without sounding like you’re just rolling out a rehearsed script, you will get yourself across quickly and clearly to anyone you meet.

This means you can spend less time explaining your freelance business and more time explaining how you can help a potential new client.

4. Win that first client

I’d highly recommend that you use your old job as your first client (it’s how I started as a freelance consultant). But if you’re not in the position to make that happen, then winning your first project is a big step.

Nothing will give you a confidence boost for your freelance career than winning that first client. If you know one organisation wants to buy your product or service, then others out there will want to as well.

Some people are lucky enough to have a client in place and that acts as the springboard for them to set up as a freelancer, but not everyone is that fortunate.

Even if you do have that first client in place, it can be really beneficial to go out and win a second or third, so that you’re not relying on the income of that first project.

So get out there and win that first client. After all, it’s the lifeblood of your business.

5. Surround yourself with trusted advisors

Just because your a freelancer, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If you surround yourself with a range of people from different industries, you’ll be able to tap into their knowledge and experience for your own benefit.

Need to know how to structure your company? Ask your accountant. Got a finance question? Ask your bank manager.

These people are professionals. A short question to them will save you lots and lots of stress and worry over issues you don’t know about.

Even if it costs you a little bit to pay for their time, this will enable you to concentrate on running your business and keeping your clients happy, so will be more than worth it.

As a freelancer, you will likely be called on time and again for your expertise. Give it generously – after all, there’s lots of people out there who have given their time to help get you where you are today.

6. Check in with other freelancers

Your network is one of the most vital parts of your freelance business – and often the key determiner of how well you’ll succeed as a freelance professional. Do you have a large and well-connected network?

Arrange to go for a coffee with a trusted contact who you can have an open and honest conversation with about how they’re fairing. Are they finding work slow, or getting it in abundance? Where are they getting their new leads from? Which areas are they finding success in? Which areas are more difficult?

You’ll be surprised at how helpful other freelancers can be – there’s plenty of work to go around, you might be able to work on projects together, so sharing a few ideas and nuggets of experience isn’t a big deal.

And you’ll pay the favour back when you’re an experienced freelancer, just as I’m doing here!

7. Have an escape plan

If it all goes wrong and you’re finding work hard to come by, or freelance work is proving more difficult than you first imagined, all is not lost.

Having an escape plan can be as simple as getting your CV up to date and looking for a job to go back into.

There’s no shame in having tried and failed before going back to a full-time job. The experience you will have gained from setting up your own business and going it alone as a freelancer will set you apart from other candidates of jobs you go for.

8. Be Proud of Your Achievements

After you’ve been freelancing for a while, take a moment to look back at how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved.

You may not realise it, but you’ll have made much more progress than you might have believed possible.

Be proud.

You built up the confidence to go freelance and made it happen.

All you’ve learnt, the new people you’v met, the projects you’ve worked on. All of this is down to you.

And if you haven’t gone freelance yet? Just imagine how proud once you do and start running your own successful freelance business.

Can you imagine how good that feel? If you can, what are you waiting for?

If you do have any doubts or concerns about going freelance, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

 

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Freelance Accounting: Get Fantastic at Finances as a Freelancer

freelance accounting

Oh man. I hate doing accounting. So writing a whole article about freelance finances might be the undoing of me.

But as a freelancer, your finances are one of the most important parts of your business.

If you don’t keep on top of your income and outgoings, your invoicing, your tax returns and everything else that comes with running your own freelance business, then you could dig yourself into a big hole – a hole that’s difficult to dig yourself out again.

I don’t want to scare you. But I do want to emphasise the importance of keeping on top of your freelance finances.

How I learned to take finances seriously

A few years ago, I was running a small voluntary organisation called Bright One. We matched small charities that needed PR and Marketing support with volunteers who wanted to learn more about PR and Marketing or to give something back.

We did well as a small volunteer-run organisation, often punching above our weight and delivering millions in value to out clients, some of the worthiest causes out there.

What I didn’t do very well was keep on top of the organisation’s finances.

Accounting always fell to the bottom of my to do list and I made the mistake of not constantly keeping the books updated. So whenever I fell behind, I put the finances off even more and only got back in track through spending all-nighties getting everything up to date.

Bright One was a small organisation with little running costs, so the accounting was a relatively simple affair. But I still missed tax deadlines on several occasions, having to pay fines for late submissions.

Working with a brilliant accountant, we were able to get everything in order and had our finances running smoothly, but these stressful periods taught me several lessons and hammered home the importance of keeping finances in order.

Now I’m running a freelance business, here’s how I keep on top of my freelance finances.

NOTE: These points below are based on my own individual experience. If you any financial concerns about your business, please consult a professional accountant.

Hire a good accountant

You can save yourself whole heaps of stress just by hiring a good accountant to help you stay tax-efficient and compliant.

They don’t need to be expensive (check for local accountants for example) but they’re worth every penny. They know all the ins and out of accounting law, so will save you a lot of time, money and stress by handling your freelance accounts for you.

The best way to find a good accountant is to ask for recommendations from other freelancers or small businesses you know. If they are happy with their accountants, then it’s sign that you will likely be too.

If you can’t get a recommendation, look for local accountants in your area. By going to meet two or three different accountants, you’ll be able to find out more about what’s involved, ask questions about what’s involved and find the accountant that’s best for you – both budget wise and in your relationship with them. After all, they’re one of the most important business relationships you have, so it’s important to find an accountant that fits.

Another option is in the new wave of online accountancy options. These take the old notion of accounting software and bring it up to the modern age, with the backup of accountants being available on end of a phone call if you do need to speak to someone about an accounting issue.

I’ve been using Crunch accounting for 3 years now and am delighted with their service. If you’re looking for an online accounting service, then I (and lots of other freelancers I know) highly recommend them.

Of course, you’re business might be small enough that you just want to keep track of your own finances, then send them to an accountant to prepare for filing. This is more cost effective, but does require more effort on your part.

Whichever option you choose, getting an accountant in place is one of the first things you should do when setting up your freelance business.

Understand the basics

In the UK, the HMRC has a great guide for what you need to do when you start a business, including guidance on what you need to do for tax and National Insurance purposes when you start a business, return filing and paying deadlines and what records you must keep.

You don’t need to go into the full details (your accountant can help you with that), but here are the main sections you might like to spend some time reading through:

In the US, the IRS has listed basic federal tax information for people who are starting a business, as well as information to assist in making basic business decisions.

They also helpfully include information about specific industries and professions, as well as state-level requirements for starting and operating a business.

 

Little and often

 
Accounting doesn’t have to be a once-a-year fight to the end to get your books in order and our tax return in time.

Just spending a little amount of time on it, say once a month to get everything up to date, is enough.

Even better, updating however you track your finances as you go along will save you even more headaches in the future.

Make a note of everything

 
At the very minimum make a note of every sale you make an everything you buy through the business.

Keep all receipts in a separate folder and make a spreadsheet with all information – date invoices, date paid, product or service purchased, amount, who (company and party).

If you’ve got an online software package for your accounting, then this might be overkill. However, it can be handy to practice the above in case you need to go back and review specific items.

There are also a few important dates in all companies’ financial years, no matter how big or small you are.

It can be helpful to make a note of these dates in a calendar, so you’re aware of any upcoming deadlines and can prepare accordingly, avoiding a last minute rush.

Here are a few suggested dates to keep track of:

  • Year end
  • Annual return due
  • Tax returns due
  • Payments in tax returns due
  • Self assessment tax returns due

Make a note of these dates in your calendar and it’ll help you keep to deadlines.

Keep some income back for taxes

When you get a client payment, it can look really nice to see that lump sum in your bank account. But some of that isn’t yours and needs to pay for taxes.

Keep 20% (or whatever you tax rate is) stored safely away, preferably in a separate bank account.

You’ll thank me when the time comes to pay your tax and you saved that money, rather than splurged it on nice new shiny things.

Keep a separate bank account

Having a separate bank account for your business means that you can keep track of your income and outgoings easily, without complicating it with your personal transactions.

Plus, it’ll be easier to keep money aside for tax purposes and other expenses. You won’t be so tempted to dip into your business funds when you see a large client payment come in.

Keep some back for slow periods

Every freelancer goes through slower times of work. That’s why freelancing is known as a “feast or famine” culture – you’re either too busy, or not busy enough.

For this times when you aren’t busy, it can help to have saved a little for when you where working plenty. This stashed away cash will help you through the slower period and means you can still live a normal life and pay your bills.

Most people recommend that you try and save 2 months worth of living expenses, just to be on the safe side.

That can be tough to save for, so plan for whatever’s comfortable to your circumstances. But do make sure you put a little aside for rainy days.

If you get in trouble, shout for help

There’s nothing worse than not facing up to the facts when you’re in trouble. I learnt that the hard way.

If you’re behind on payments or don’t have enough to pay your tax bill, facing be inevitable sooner rather than later is the best thing you can do.

There’s plenty of ways to get help, so start by discussion with your accountant about your situation and they can advise on the options are available.

You can also contact your local tax office to discuss your circumstances. You may be able to stagger the payments on anything you owe, which will make the cash flow easier.

These are just the main points I’ve learned to keep my freelance finances in a healthy condition.

However, this is just my own experience, so make sure you consult with a professional accountant for any financial concerns you have about your business.

 

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How I Went Freelance: Nick Nicolaou

How I Went Freelance: Nick Nicoloau

(This is the sixth 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)

Name: Nick Nicolaou
Freelance Area: Mobile apps development (Android)
Freelance Since: 8 months
Website: nicknicolaou.me

What made you decide to go freelance?

Two months after graduating from University, I was lucky enough to get a job at a small software company, 5 minutes away from home. A few months in though, it was clear to me that it wasn’t for me. I don’t like office politics, working 8-5 and working on things that I didn’t feel passionate about. Soon enough, I had taken the decision to start planning my exit.

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

My plan was to start saving a portion of my salary every month and freelance a bit on a side while I get a solid emergency fund until I start getting serious income from my freelancing business.

I started reading everything I could on freelancing, getting clients, managing a business and so on.

My plan worked for a couple months, and I had saved close to £1000; a decent amount, but a solid emergency fund it was not. Around the third month in though, it was obvious to me that working 9-10 hours a day and then coming home to put another 2-3 hours in side projects while having a relationship wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped.

Still, having my eyes on the prize, I tried to keep at it. After all, the sooner I have enough money, the sooner I can finally do what I wanted and go freelance full-time.

On a sunny Friday afternoon though, an “incident” at work was the final push. I decided that I would put in my resignation and would have to make it work with what I had saved. Sure enough, on Monday morning I put in my resignation and was finally free to do what I wanted to do.

How did it feel before you went freelance?

Exciting. I’m not risk-averse. Not by a long shot, so I was really excited to finally start doing what I always wanted.

How does it feel now you are freelance?

Awesome! Even though it hasn’t been that long, I honestly thing it was the best decision of my life. Err, sorry honey. I meant the second best decision of my life!

What are the positives of freelance life?

Freedom. You’re free to work whenever you want to, on whatever projects you like and with the people you like working with.

What are the negatives of freelance life?

1. It can be stressful.
Depending on one’s financial situation, knowing that you’re not going to make meets end at the end of the month if you don’t find a client soon, can be nerve-racking. I was/am lucky enough to have the support (both emotional and financial!) of my SO to make things way, WAY easier.

2. It can be lonely.
Working alone from home gives you freedom but it can also be lonely at times.

3. Achieving a work/life balance.
If you’re not careful, you might find yourself working 12-16 hours a day, especially if you have clients from all over the world.

Any advice for others looking to go freelance?

Make sure this is what you want to do. If you are absolutely sure, try and find ways to minimise risk: Save up some money.Lower your expenses. If you can, start looking for work on the side.

Build relationships with clients.

Get a few testimonials and try to start working towards a solid portfolio.

Or just do what I did, and jump in with both feet :)

It worked for me so I’m sure that if you work hard enough and put your mind to it, it will work for you too.

Thanks for taking part, Nick, and for sharing your tips and advice. Make sure to check out his website at nicknicolaou.me. If you want to take part in the series, simply head here to tell us your freelance story.

More from the How I Went Freelance series:

 

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How to build long-term client relationships as a freelancer

Build long term client-relationships

How to build long-term client relationships is a follow up to yesterday’s post on finding freelance work  in the summer slump, and a longer term goal to write more about freelancing in general.

I’ve written quite a bit about what I’ve learned from freelancing, but if there’s any topics you want to cover just let me know in the comments.

The next few posts that have been suggested are on winning pitches, how to close deals, freelance finances and building lists of contacts.

This post was suggested by the brilliant Zoe Amar. I severely doubt she has trouble building client relationships, but I hope some of these ideas and advice help other freelancers looking to build long-term client relationships.

Constantly Deliver Value

The number one rule of building long-term client relationships is to deliver added value wherever you see the opportunity.

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 is backed up by research, such as this 2014 benchmark of creative agencies in the UK:

“The top performing agencies in the UK are masters at delivering strategic value to their clients. They charge more for doing so and require less people to deliver it. Clients love them for it and are happy to pay the extra fees.”

This may sound like simple advice, but it’s easier said than done.

When you’ve been working with a client for a number of months, complacency often sits in as you carry out the same work you’ve done time and again before.

Trying to step outside of that routine and see the opportunities for offering just that little bit more is more difficult than you’d expect.

Of course, you should always keep an eye on billable hours and charge your client fairly, but adding the occasional added value work will add dividends in the long run.

[Tweet "The more value you offer as a freelancer, the more a client will come to depend on you"]

Be Honest and Open

One of the reasons that clients bring in external support is to benefit from your experience and knowledge gained from working with a range of clients.

Working in-house or client side means that clients will get embedded in their organisation’s ways and practises, making it difficult to look outside of their own organisation and see how other organisations work.

Being honest in your consultancy, even if it means delivering critical insights, is better than covering up bad news or telling white lies.

Or, even worse, just being a “yes man” who simply agrees what the client says and carries out what they want without challenging their views when needed or offering your honest consultancy.

Be honest in your dealings with a client. The long-term trust gained beats any short-term wins you may get from manipulating the truth.

Be Consistent, Avoid Surprises

Being consistent and avoiding surprises goes hand in hand with being open and honest.

If you say you are going to deliver work at a certain time, stick to it.

If you’ve outlined how much a project will cost, stick to it. Don’t add hidden fees or extra costs at a later date.

If something has come up that may affect the project they’re working on, communicate well and keep clients in the loop. Don’t hide unexpected problems from the client and then regretfully surprise them with the news later.

No one likes surprises, whether in time or money, so sticking to the basics and delivering what you said you would, when you would, at the cost you said you would is highly valued.

Taking away your client’s worries means that they’ll prefer to work with you, a freelancer they can trust, rather than waste time looking for someone else.

[Tweet "Consistency is key in building long-term relationships with clients"]

Place Yourself At The Centre

Advertising agencies have for a long time sat at the head of the table for marketing communications (able marketing, PR, SEO, PPC, etc) because it is their big creative idea that leads the campaign, with everything filtering down from this big idea.

There may be audience insights and research behind this creative, but marketing activity across the business often filters down from this big idea.

That doesn’t mean that advertising agencies always have to come up with the big idea. Marketing, PR, Digital or Social agencies can also come up with the big idea, but they often don’t have the knowledge, experience or resources to come up with and then sell that idea to the client.

I was having coffee with an old boss of mine, who landed a major blue-chip client for what was a new and relatively-small agency.

They started with a small project of a few months that they delivered well, but nothing particularly spectacular. They did another project, then another, all going well – in the classic project management way (on time, on budget, on spec).

He told me that the real breakthrough came with the client when they asked to pitch to lead a new marketing campaign for the company.

This was a big pitch. Several 0s on the end of their current project fees.

So rather than pitching with a small project-based idea, they pitched a big creative idea. And this agency wasn’t an advertising agency, it was a mix of PR, Digital and Social.

As you might have guessed, they won the pitch – based on the strength of the creative idea, but with the foundation of the previous projects they’d delivered on to back it up.

Not only did they win the account and the large fee that came along with it, but they also got to brief in the other agencies – advertising, paid, social and digital – on the various parts of the campaign.

They were at the centre of the campaign.

They had earned the trust of the client through delivering project after project.

Then they built on this relationship by coming up with a strong creative idea for the new campaign.

And now they had solidified their long term relationship with the client by being the lead agency for the campaign, briefing and project managing the other agencies.

Having done this once with one big client, I’m sure they’ll be looking to repeat the process and win another few big ones. That kind of approach can change the future of any company – from a freelance outfit to an established boutique agency.

Anticipate Your Client’s Demands

When you first start working with a client, you’ll be so busy getting to know what exactly they need from you, how they like to communicate, how they like to receive work, etc, that you’ll be spending most of your time delivering on the work.

After a few weeks, you’ll begin to learn more about your client, the kind of questions they ask of you, and which parts of your work they particularly like.

Use this learning to your advantage:

  • Can you anticipate their questions before they are asked?
  • Can you deliver them a short report on a particular area of your work that you’re aware they’ve been interested in before?

You’ll stand out from the crowd by meeting their expectations – if not before they’ve asked, but at least very promptly when they do ask you for something.

Keep In Touch

I love this advice from an article in Smashing Magazine:

“As a project is wrapping up, one of the final things you should do is schedule a follow-up meeting — or better yet, a series of follow up meetings.

Regularly scheduled meetings between you and your client allow you to discuss not only how the website is performing and what feedback they have received from their audience, but also what changes may be happening with their company.

It is a rare instance that I sit down with a client to discuss their business where some kind of work doesn’t come out of it.”

This is a great insight and a smart way to become a trusted partner to your client’s organisation.

In fact, the whole Smashing Magazine is worth a read as there’s tons of advice in there. The article is geared towards web projects, but there’s plenty of useful advice and ideas for other areas too.

By being honest, adding value and placing yourself at the centre of their business, you not only build that long-term client relationship but you can also develop new business opportunities.

How do you build your long-term client relationships? How do you add value to your client work?

 

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Find Freelance Work in the Summer Slump

Find Freelance Work

Finding freelance work can be difficult during the summer months.

When school is out and the kids are at home many clients take time off for their holidays, meaning new projects and work is put on hold until the autumn.

There’s a reason why freelancers call it the “summer slump”.

But finding freelance work while the sun is hot doesn’t have to be hard. Here’s how to take the heat out of the summer slump and keep you busy through the holidays.

1. Email your contacts

If you’ve been freelancing for a while, you should have built up a network of other freelancers or previous clients that you can email and enquire about possible work. This may sound scary, but your existing network will be friendlier and more helpful than you think, especially compared to cold emailing people.

Other freelancers might not have capacity to take on more work, so can bear you in mind and refer you work if anything comes their way that they can pass on.

Getting back in touch with previous clients is a good way to keep up relationships and be front of mind for the next time they have a project come along, but this needs more subtlety than just straight out asking for work. Clients want to work with busy freelancers as it shows that their skills are in demand.

Even if you don’t find new projects straight away by emailing your contacts, you’ll be more likely to be remembered in the future – even if it’s a few weeks down the line when work picks up again in autumn.

2. Spend time developing other areas of your business

If you’re finding work a little slow, that gives you more time to work on other less important areas that may have fallen off the bottom of the to do list when you were busy.

Here’s a few ideas of what you could spend time on to boost your business:

  • Could your website do with an update?
  • Could you write several blog posts for your own blog? Or approach relevant blogs and online sites in your industry and offer guest posts for them?
  • Could you approach previous clients for testimonials and write up case studies of previous projects?
  • Could you be making more of your online marketing, using tools like Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with new people and potential clients in your industry?

You may not be working on paid work, but by always improving on your business you’re more likely to pick up work in the future.

3. Convert projects to retainers

Most projects start off with a set time period, say 2-3 months. The client needs to get a project completed, so calls in you as a freelancer to help complete that project. But it doesn’t need to stop at the end of that project.

If the client likes the work you’ve done, you could suggest (before the end of the project!) that you could carry on doing the same work for them or carry out maintenance on that project for longer, at a reduced fee.

This way, the client gets the peace of find from knowing that a reliable freelancer is looking after that part of their business, that they’re paying a smaller fee for the privilege and that the project that they started is going to be maintained for the foreseeable future.

Converting projects to retainers is easier for web designers and developers, as maintaining a website is an area that often needs small adjustments and improvements. This suits a retainer more.

This can be difficult to do and you will have to drop your fees to account for the ongoing retainer, but if you pull it off you’ll have a more steady income to rely on.

4. Write a training course

Running training days and training courses can be a very lucrative source of income for freelancers. But finding the time to write the materials to cover a half day, a whole day or even a few days can be daunting when you have client work to deliver on.

But if you’re finding your freelance work slowing down, this is the perfect time to write a training course and prepare training materials.

Research an area you know a lot about and see how others are selling training in that area. What is the structure of their course? Could you offer something similar?  How have they priced their training? What kind of clients have taken their training?

Once you’ve written the materials, approach a few clients who you think would benefit from your services and outline your offer to them. A lot of companies have professional development programmes and will bring in outside consultants to run their training sessions.

After the first time delivering the training course, you can repeat the process and offer training to similar companies. Make sure to get feedback from those first sessions, so you can make improvements to the training course you offer.

5. Write an ebook

Standing in front of a group of strangers and teaching them what you know isn’t for everyone.

But you’ll have a lot of knowledge built up over several years that lots of people would love to know about. And an ebook is a perfect way to deliver this.

You don’t have to think of writing a full, 30-page ebook all at once. Note down what areas you think would make an interesting subject, write underneath each of these subjects a list of different areas you could write about, then you should be able to identify which ones will be easier or more engaging to write.

Take each item of the list and commit to writing 500 words about them. If you publish these 500 word articles as blog posts first, then you’re also adding to your blog portfolio and building up your blog readership.

Once you’ve written 5-6 articles, you should be well on the way to creating a full ebook.

When you feel like you’ve reached the end of your list about that subject area or have written a sizeable body of content around the subject area, then package those articles into a full ebook and offer it as a download on your site.

If you put the ebook behind a newsletter signup form, then you’ll capture an audience for future articles and ebooks, which can then be used for future updates on your work.

It takes time, but this may well lead to more client work, through demonstrating your expertise and making yourself more visible in your industry.

6. Take a training course

You may not feel confident enough to deliver a training course or write everything you know around a subject to publish an ebook, but there are still plenty of ways to differentiate yourself from the pack of other freelancers.

There is an initial cost, but taking a training course is a great use of the spare time you have.

  • Could you develop and advance on an existing skill you have?
  • Could you learn a new skill that will lead to new service offerings for your clients?
  • Is there an area of your industry that you always wanted to learn more about?
  • Has you ever been in a situation where a client asked you about an ara of their business that you wished you knew more about?

There’s plenty more reasons to take a training course, but as a freelancer you should always be developing your skills anyway, to keep up with client demands and to make sure you don’t get left behind as other freelancers develop their skills

Not only will you learn new skills, but you’ll also see how other business offer their training and consultancy services, which you can learn from and apply to your own freelance business.

7. Try freelancing online

Take some time to browse through online freelancing sites, such as freelancer.com, Elance and oDesk, you’ll see plenty of opportunities to offer your consultancy services online.

If you’ve never tried freelancing online before, you can use this quieter time to educate yourself about the benefits and challenges involved, before deciding if you want to give it a go yourself.

Here’s a few guides you can read to get you up to speed on what it takes to make freelancing online a success:

If freelancing online proves successful for you, then you have another area to explore and find work if you find yourself facing a quieter period again.

8. Contact agencies to offer support

You will likely know about agencies in your industry and location that offer the same services as you. Over the summer months, they may be in need of support as their team go on their summer holidays, but there is still client work to deliver.

Even if they don’t have enough work to offer you straight away, it’s good to get on their books for when the right project comes through and they do need your help.

Polish up your portfolio, update your CV and get contacting those agencies. It could lead to some brilliant relationships that will you see get work for months to come.

Always Be Closing

always-be-closing

These are just some ideas and I’m sure there are plenty more ways to find freelance work and stop the summer slump.

The biggest take away is that you should always be developing your new business pipeline. Even if you’re overwhelmed with client work or have plenty of potential projects coming through, that situation can change in matter of weeks. As a freelancer, you need to constantly be looking for new opportunities.

What are your top tips? How have you coped the “feast and famine” of freelance life?

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Why I Learned To Code

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.

One of the problems is that you get articles like this,  with the following unhelpful insights into how others have learnt to code:

“I slept an average of 5 hours a night, had enough energy drinks to last me a lifetime and never felt more confused or exhausted in my life. Thus, this was the life of a beginner coder, a venture that took up most of my day.”

(Aside: How long before we see a post called “This Squirrel Learned to Code in Just One Month – You’ll Never Guess What He Built Next”?)

“Learning to Code” is not a one-size-fits-all affair. You don’t have to pull all nighters, down energy drinks just to stay awake and feel like that will be your life from then on. It doesn’t even have to take up most of your day.

Coding can be as small as making minor html changes, all the way up to building best-in-class apps using the latest technology.

You might want to build the latest and greatest apps, but there are plenty of smaller reasons for want to learn to code:

  • You might just want to learn how to host your own blog and a custom domain, like I’ve done here.
  • You could just want learn how to strip out the formatting errors that come with copying and pasting a document from Microsoft Word into a WordPress post.
  • You might want to be able to format a nice looking email newsletter in Mailchimp.
  • You could want to make small changes to your company website, without having to get support or ask someone else to do it.

Here’s my own personal reasons for learning to code.

1. Get Comfortable With Code

Lots of the examples listed above are small tasks. You’d only need to know a little bit of html to be able to make small code changes.

As someone who works in digital marketing, I’m working with blog posts, email newsletters, Content Management Systems and other digital forms on a daily basis. When I see something wrong or want to make a quick edit to something, I don’t have to send the work off to someone else and wait for them to make the necessary changes. I can do it myself.

Likewise, if someone sends me something they’d like me to do or feedbacks changes to a piece of content, I’m able to make those amends there and then. No more being scared of being asked to do something in code!

2. Build Your Own Websites

When I was running Bright One, we worked with a web development agency to build the organisation’s website and also what became Bright Works, a microvolunteering platform.

The agency did a great job and we were happy with the results, but we did spend quite a bit of budget on them,  funds that could have been used elsewhere – especially as we were a voluntary organisation.

Looking back, it frustrates me that we couldn’t build the websites ourselves or even find a volunteer to build is a  basic WordPress-with-theme site. We may not have had a slick looking a site, but it would have served its purpose and we’ would have been able to grow in other areas.

In between then and now, I’ve learnt to code. Well, enough that I can buy a domain name, setup hosting for it, install WordPress, add a WordPress theme and amend that WordPress theme to look how I want it to. This is what I’ve done with the Montfort website.

Sure, it’s an easy form of “coding”, where most of the heavy lifting is done by the Content Management System (WordPress in this case), but it’s saved me time and money.

I can also repeat the process and help others set up their own WordPress sites, which is not to be sniffed at.

3. Open Up New Career Opportunities

I stepped up with my code learning by taking Michael Hartl’s much loved and referenced Rails Tutorial. It’s a free online tutorial to help you learn Ruby on Rails, a web framework that many modern website use and gives you the ability to create Facebook and Twitter-esque sites and apps.

Hartl has created a fantastic tutorial that is mentioned as the place to start when learning Rails, so I went through that tutorial a few times. Once finished, I added to the basics by working my way through Railscasts and other online tutorials, so now I had a basic understanding of Ruby and Rails.

At the beginning of this year, an opportunity came up at FutureGov to product manage one of their new prototypes. Dom knew that I’d been learning to code, so asked me if I’d like to give the position a go.

Being a Product Manager was a great way to test how far I’d come, working at the intersection of the project managers and clients, who wanted something built, with the rails development team, who were building the prototype.

My coding experience came in useful here, being able to translate ideas, issues and challenges between the two teams and understand where each team was coming from.

It was a great experience, working on a live project with a real team and real objectives, and the project is still live today.

Since then, I’ve also volunteered with Sunday Assembly to help product manage their new digital platform. It’s taken me all the way to San Francisco and back,  plus I’ve met a whole load of great people along the way.

So learning to code has opened up several career opportunities already. Who knows what other opportunities will come up in the future?

4. Bring Your Ideas To Life

This has been a bigger step up. Taking the ideas I have in my head, writing them down on code, then putting them live on the internet.

I’ve had some starter projects that have helped me learn new areas of code, but I haven’t yet released any of them as a ‘formal’ project.

Communities Finder is the current prototype I’m building. Terrible name, terrible code, terrible design, but it’s there, it’s live and I made it.

I’m not even saying it’s a good idea, but it’s an idea I’ve brought to life, without having to pay thousands to an agency or freelancer to build it for me.

What ideas do you have that you want to bring to life, but haven’t been able to?

I think more and more that those people who do want to bring a (digital) idea of theirs to life will go ahead and learn to code, even at a basic level, so they can understand how that project is built.

There are plenty of free and cheap courses out there (Code School, Codecademy, Treehouse) and I hope I’ve given you a few reasons for you to start learning to code yourself.

And would be great to hear about your reasons for learning to code too!

 

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