Top Ten Places Where Freelancers Should Move Their Home Office

Posted: March 31st, 2009

This is definitely debatable, but many freelancers have come to despise working out of their homes. While there are obviously huge benefits, such as working naked with a Budweiser in hand, the isolation and need for a change of scenery often overcomes us. So here we have the top ten places to move the home office (if need be):

10. Your old job. Tell your old co-workers you were on vacation all along and mooch all the free coffee and donuts while you can.

9. Raid some kid’s treehouse. Seriously… how cool would an office be in one?

8. Your local church. They surprisingly hook you up, plus you get a free bible! Those Sunday meetings can drag on though.

7. Your local bar. Huge benefits: no commute to happy hour, beer within reach and free peanuts.

6. The nearest Taco Bell. You surely won’t be distracted by ordering anything from the place.

5. A nearby Holiday Inn. Get there early, find a checked out room, sweet talk a housekeeper in letting you in and you have a few hours of free office space. One tip: don’t touch the bed.

4. Break in the neighbor’s house. Surely they are not a freelancers and are away until 5 PM. You can raid the fridge while you’re at it.

3. Truck stops. You wouldn’t believe how equipped these places are. That is, if you can fend off the creepy truckers that live there.

2. The Caribbean. That’s where I moved my office to and it’s the bomb. OK, OK, it’s really in Hawaii. Um… Florida?  Stop shaking your head!

1. Aw hell, just move it to the next room over!

Freelancing Links: Week of March 23

Posted: March 26th, 2009

It’s the middle of March Madness for those of you in the States. The rest, just an ordinary week without the insanity of college basketball. These should keep you busy in the meantime:

Copyblogger: Stuck on a writing topic? How about writing about the easiest topic possible?

Elance: Some people want to create a blog as a medium for expressing themselves. Others want to eventually profit from one. Here are some tips to do the most important thing… getting readers to read the blog.

Freelance Folder: Interesting post on the ten types of bad clients and how to steer clear of them. Sadly, you may get to know at least one of them in your freelance career.

Geekpreneuer: Here’s a type of freelancer you don’t hear a whole lot about. Presenting the virtual assistant.

Guerilla Freelancing: You hear all the time of twitter being used more and more as a marketing tool. This can especially be useful to help promote your freelancing business or blog if twitter marketing is done correctly. I recently got on the twitter train, trying to overcome being an online introvert. Mike from Guerilla Freelancing happened to be my first follower, so thanks Mike!

Indexed: I couldn’t say this better myself.

Mashable: If you are from the States and are a fan of college basketball AND work online, then surely you caught the on-demand March Madness from CBS Sports. There are some pretty gaudy numbers as far as numbers of online viewers. Let’s hope this trend jumps ship to other sports worldwide.

Mashable: For all you web developers, here’s a great list of useful development tools. The XenoCode Browser Sandbox is a life-saver.

NorthxEast: More on helping you blog better… some rules to help develop the habit of adding content. Since most people blog apart from their jobs, it is often difficult to keep up with them.

oDesk: I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of hearing about layoffs and the economy. Its depressing and creates fear and we’re all vulnerable to fear. That’s why this post was a refreshing breath of fresh air.

The Onion: Was this you that got “layed off” recently?

Wall Street Journal: The WSJ interviews Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union (USA). She’s fighting for our rights as freelancers by creating a health care plan (although only in the state of New York) and lobbying the White House for stimulus money to go towards other benefits for freelancers.

Planning, So Your Project Doesn’t Kick You In The Ass

Posted: March 25th, 2009

Today, after a week and a half of balls-to-the-wall work to get a project done by today (on time!), I learned a valuable lesson which I repeated as a fledgling freelancer. One single word: PLAN.

Normally, new freelancers do not give much consideration to the planning stages before bidding or starting on projects. The misconception is that time spent planning is not time spent working. The truth is that even a few hours of planning, or however long you need, can help you find and uncover those important details to help you make accurate estimates. By an accurate estimate, I mean you don’t severely underprice which is often the case when you hurry through this process.

Surely, you create a project agreement or project specifications (I’ll save this for another post) for every project you undertake. If not, lots of luck to you. Before creating an agreement or spec, though, is an exact outline of what you will do to complete a project has to be done. This is where the details come in. You have to list every last one of them.

The following is a good procedure for outlining your project:

1. Break your project down into smaller tasks. If necessary, break them down further into even smaller tasks. Write down these tasks in an outline form. By breaking down you can usually find parts of a project that are more time consuming than others. Others may be new and not have been done before which leads to. . .

2. For those “new” tasks, do the research and come up with a method to complete them. Don’t just wing it. Be 100% sure you can do them.

3. For smaller projects, create a calendar and set a goal to complete one or more tasks on a particular day and chart this until the end of the project date you set. For larger projects, this could be done on a weekly basis, but I highly recommend charting it daily even though it is cumbersome.

4. After charting your project tasks on a calendar, you should be more able to calculate the time required for the entire project. A pretty reliable rule of thumb is to add an extra 15% overhead time to this since poop happens.

If you follow the above, it can be time consuming but you come out ahead in the end. From what I learned, though, is that even if you spend an entire day planning a project down to the last day, you can probably save anywhere from a few days up to a week in added time completing it. Projects that drag on and on end up costing you time and money, WAY more then the planning time, itself.

Which leads me to my last point. Your time planning is also a part of any project. Include this time in any project estimate.

Odds are you’ll repeat my mistake of not planning carefully but better to learn sooner than later.

The Little Things That Matter The Most – Part II

Posted: March 22nd, 2009

Part II: The Phone Call

This is the second post in a three part series of some of the most simple, overlooked things that are important to freelancers. This week, I’ll explain an important building block in the freelancer-client business relationship: the simple phone call.

For starters, it is probably safe to say that the majority of freelancers out there work over the internet. In fact, it is pretty common to never even see the face  nor talk to your clients… ever! Communication is done almost exclusively through email and instant messaging. Sticking to this level of rather impersonal communication right from the start is not a healthy way of building client relationships, though.

Before writing this, I thought about all of my clients that I still have today and all of those “one-hit-wonders” who I did a project for and never heard from again. What I did notice was that for all of those that I still retained, I had talked to them at least one time by phone. I had never talked to the one-hit-wonders at any point. While not talking to a client is probably not the single smoking-gun reason why I was not retained, I did notice that bridging that communication gap with a call was a big part of why I am still retained by some of my other clients today.

All that has to be done is to have a single conversation, by phone or Skype, with any new client before starting any project. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to BS about the weather, sports or look for common ground, but lay down the framework for your business relationship. For instance, explain yourself, methods, deadlines and reassure the client that you can do the job they ask of you. Then ask of their expectations of you (if theydont’ tell you first).

It is also possible that clients have had bad experiences with other freelancers in the past which they will definitely let you know about. This knowledge paves the way for you to fill in where others couldn’t. When the client finally has a trustworthy freelancer in you, that is where a business relationship begins and steady work starts to flow.

One common fear of talking with clients over the phone is that they might continue to call knowing you are always available by phone. The truth is that most clients are busy individuals like freelancers and would rather email or IM in future communications.

What I’ve noticed, too, is that future calls are usually for important matters and the client respects your time and keeps these conversations to a minimum anyway. For the client that does get chatty, however, all that has to be done is politely explain that you are busy and have to keep the calls short, which they normally oblige to.

Taking the one extra step of getting to know your client before you start working with them can prove useful in establishing a long-term relationship. It is not necessary and not a deal breaker, but it is a little step that can go a long way.

See also:

Part I: The Search For Stability
Part III: The Search For Stability

Freelancing Links: St Patrick’s Week

Posted: March 16th, 2009

Yes it’s that time again… time to go to your local overcrowded Irish bar, drink disgustingly green beer and do things you’ll (hope to) forget about the next morning. Check out these beforehand:

Biznik: Not too long ago I wrote a post on what makes a $100/hour freelancer. One secret is to do away with the hourly rate. Explained by Chris Haddad:

So it always shocks me when business folks new and old demean themselves anddevalue what they do by working based on time. Why? Because if you say “I’m a designer who works for $X dollars per hour” you’re basically saying that while your effort(the time you spend on the project) is worth something, the end result of what you provide (a beautiful and powerful design that will serve your client for years) has no actual value of its own.

Basically you’re saying that your time is worth something, but your product is just another cheap and easily obtainable commodity.

Copyblogger: Many freelancers are turning to blogging as a side project with the intent of earning money. Not all will succeed at making money though.

Geekpreneuer: Blogs can earn you a living, though. Despite the number of bloggers who actually are successful in this, it doesn’t mean it is easy. It is wise to learn the blog marketing strategies and adopt one of them.

David Airey: For freelance designers, spec work is ruining the industry, not to mention, hurting the industry.

Freelance Folder: Ever work in tech support (my hand is up)? Though most probably hated it, it does teach you lessons you need for freelancing.

Freelance Switch: New career move… empty job freelancing. Ethically it is wrong, but Jody makes a good case for it here.

LifeDev: Freelancers, once they are busy working, can often overlook the reasons why they got into it in the first place. Here’s a little refresher.

Mashable: Can social media actually be good for your health? Definitely so.

oDesk Insider: It’s hard for a freelancer to pass up work. In fact, it is practically a built in instinct to accept everything that comes our way for fear there may be no work beyond that. It’s OK to say no and should be something to get in the habit of doing.

Self Made Chick: Great story of how the average freelance writer followed her own idea and now earns a six-figure income. We should take her example and pursue those ideas that come to our heads. That’s how people find their “niche.”

Zen Habits: Get to know the 5% rule to get to where you want to go in life. Your biggest dreams can be accomplished in small, simple steps.

Spec Work: Taking Advantage of Freelancers

Posted: March 15th, 2009

Sooner or later creative freelancers, or those who are writers, designers, photographers, and those in marketing, will face a dilemma of doing spec work for their services. In a nutshell, spec work (also known as pro-bono work) requires that you submit sample work, often a completed project, to a potential employer in order to compete with work submissions from other freelancers. The “winner” gets compensated and the rest are out of a paycheck for their efforts.

Here’s the real puncher. Sometimes the work of  non-winners gets used, regardless.

This type of work arrangement raises several issues that hurt the freelancing industry:

  • Legal fraud. Some employers ask multiple freelancers to submit a project or design and utilize non-winning submissions without compensation. If an unsuspecting freelancer happens to sign away the rights to their work, then an employer can use it for free. It is, unfortunately, common practice by some companies to not even compensate for ANY work submissions.
  • It creates the illusion that freelancers have a good opportunity to get their foot in the door. Meanwhile, employers quietly benefit by receiving and using high-quality work for free or low cost.
  • It creates intense competition for projects, placing freelancers in a position where they have to win some of these projects in order to survive in their careers. It doesn’t help that promises of future employment and recognition (often unfulfilled) adds to the competition.

It is extremely important that freelance designers are aware of this type of practice. Keep in mind that not all employers are fraudulent in nature and do compensate project winners. This is, however, seen as a cost-cutting move while receiving high-quality work in the process. Basically, it is a practice not surprising given these hard economic times.

On that note, here is a way spec work offers should be handled, by Lindsay Berger of Freelance Switch:

Alternatively, “I’ll decide which freelancer to use after I review several projects.”

Let’s address spec work first. If a client wants you to submit a completed project to compete with other freelancers, I would walk away in most cases. A potential client is only going to pay you if they choose your project (in other words, you’re gambling with your paycheck). When declining, be polite: “Thank you for the opportunity, but my schedule does not allow for spec work at this time. My current contracted clients demand most my attention.”

Here’s evidence that  politely declining can even get your foot in the door. Bottom line: you are gambling your paycheck for recognition or promises that may never be fulfilled anyway.

Do your part to bring down this practice by not participating if you are a freelance designer. There are plenty of willing employers who will pay a premium for your services. Your portfolio will look just as good and your bank account will be a lot healthier. Not just for you, but industry wide, too.

Top Ten Reasons To… Just Leave It For Tomorrow

Posted: March 12th, 2009

I think its safe to say that freelancers are workaholics or at least develop workaholic tendencies. Sometimes when you are working on that project you  like to keep going until the batteries drained. Well, I’ll give you the following reasons to step away from the keyboard for once and give yourself a well deserved rest:

10. You haven’t slept in, oh, 30 – 40 hours.

9. Gotta leave something to do tomorrow, don’t you?

8. It already is tomorrow!

7. You have been up all night, watched the sunrise and DIDN’T GO OUT AT ALL!

6. You ran out of coffee (or other stimulants).

5. You could use the time to say, go on a date?

4. Tomorrow is a Monday.

3. Did someone actually tell you that can’t?

2. It already is tomorrow.

1. Work isn’t a 24 hour event my friend.

The Little Things That Matter The Most – Part I

Posted: March 11th, 2009

Part I: The Search For Stability

Freelancers often take a lot of things for granted. This is fairly normal and is primarily due to there being an endless number of things to learn while you actually are freelancing. We do learn the basics pretty fast: find work, do it fast, collect and repeat. There are essential lessons we need to learn, however, so our freelance business doesn’t go under which can happen faster than you think.

This will be the first post in a three part series on the simple, typically overlooked things that a freelancer should pay attention to. Today’s post covers an essential business lesson that a majority of freelancers, not just newer ones, often overlook: the source of your income. Wendy Piersall somewhat outlines this in her article in Sparkplug CEO:

You may be thinking to yourself – I don’t run a blog network, and I don’t sell text links or paid reviews, so this story has nothing to do with me or my business. And you’d be dead wrong.

The story of KMM [Know More Media, who went out of business] isn’t about networks or selling page rank. It’s about having all of your eggs in one basket.

Even if you are a one-man or one-woman show, this is an absolutely critical lesson you must learn. My freelance business ended because of two reasons – lack of work-life balance and lack of diversification of my income. I started my business at the end of the dot-com heyday. 4 years later the market was so saturated with laid-off freelancers that I couldn’t find work at half of my old rate.

I was kind of surprised at the number of conversations I had at BlogHer with people who were struggling with this same issue – that the economy was starting to take a bite out of their income, and that it was getting harder and harder to find clients. These people were still thinking of how to grow their business by finding more clients. They are making the Know More Media mistake.

Now, this post refers to entrepreneurs who have businesses in blogging, yet the same principles apply to us as freelancers. The typical freelancer has a varying client client base but depends only on a few clients for steady work and income. One problem with this is if the main clients are the wrong type,  you may fall victim to a sudden loss of work in the event of, say, an economy collapsing into despair.

To counter this, freelancers need to be on the lookout for clients with stability. That is, clients who are in established and successful businesses. These clients are typically ones that you will have a long and profitable relationship with, even in troubled times. If you haven’t paid attention to this, you may be surprised to find that most of your clients don’t fit the stable type. The following are signs of a stable client:

  • Client has continual growth in their business
  • The business is well managed down to the fine details (i.e. communication)
  • There is a contingency plan in the event of unexpected emergencies (or recession!)
  • Professionalism in everything they do

Now we have the following signs of the client who exhibits instability:

  • Start up businesses
  • Businesses or individuals constantly “trying new things” instead of sticking to one idea and riding it
  • Has you starting, stopping and scrapping way too many projects
  • Your instinct tells you that you don’t honestly see their business going anywhere

Does this mean you should leave your clients if they fit the above criteria? No. A client that appears to be unstable may, in fact, give you reliable business for a long period. The tendency is, however, that your business relationship will be short-lived with cost (yours) almost always being the determining factor. Cost issues arise due to lack of funding or income, poor business decisions, or sudden economic change which typically afflicts “unstable ” clients.

If these types of business or individuals make up your major clients then its not time to panic yet, but actively search for those clients that have a record of  stability. Do the research and see how long they’ve been around the block, ask them questions on their business and get a feel of their stability before you agree to work with them.

While, personally, I’ve had my share of unstable clients in the past, I am lucky to work for a small company who met all of the criteria for stability. They are currently laughing off the recession, while supplying me with enough work that I can’t remember if I actually signed a treaty with the devil for it or not.

The point is to KEEP LOOKING for clients who fit this type. They are out there and they will be the ones who keep you in business for the long haul.

See also:

Part II: The Phone Call
Part III: Document Everything

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