Freelance In 40 Days [Day 19]: Why You Need To Blog As A Freelancer

Posted: September 30th, 2009

Photo by Will Lion (Flickr)

Photo by Will Lion (Flickr)

This is Day 19 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today I’ll give you reasons to start blogging in your freelance career.

You Mean I Need To Start Writing?

Well, let’s begin by saying that if you are not freelancing as a writer nor inspired to be a writer then the motivation to start and write in a blog of your own probably isn’t there at the moment. Who can blame you either? If you are like me then those English classes weren’t your favorite in school either.

Just hear me out on this one though.

Personally, I started blogging because I got caught up in the idea that you can make a few dollars out of it. When I realized it was a very bad reason to start, I still continued on writing and noticed some major benefits blogging had on me as a freelancer: (By the way, don’t ever start blogging with the intent of money from it. Trust me.)

  • You stay focused in your career
    Putting your thoughts into typewritten words makes you realize you have those thoughts in the first place. You may not realize but often times those very thoughts do not get put into practice. I’ve noticed myself even going back to my old posts and recalling my own advice. There is no reason it won’t do the same for you.
  • You become a voice to the world
    Though this takes time and growth in your writing, you will eventually develop an audience which becomes empowering and gives confidence to you as a person and a freelancer. Keep on writing and writing and it will improve, too. If that isn’t enough for you, read The Simple Dollar’s article on developing 1000 true fans. Every blog has a beginning.
  • The flow in your work improves, not to mention your writing
    The hardest part about blogging is continuously keeping up with it. Sometimes a post can take hours to write. Guess what though? Master these and you begin to notice your flow of thought and creativity in your work improve as well. How many times have you sat in front of the computer screen with a “block” trying to get work done?

If you still have your doubts about starting a blog then I’ll answer for you the most common ones.

  • There’s already a million other blogs out there
    That’s true, but do you ever notice how those blog you read and like could be better or suited more to you? That alone is enough reason to start your own.
  • I can’t write
    You need to keep in mind that your English teacher is not looking over your shoulder. Blog posts can be as short or as long as you want and don’t have to be in that stupid introduction, three middle paragraphs and a conclusion format. Truthfully, your blog posts will suck in the beginning but, post and post often, and you will notice an improvement and writing becomes much easier.
  • I don’t know what to write about
    The easiest way to write posts is to write whatever is on your mind, taking a freestyle approach. There’s no requirement on what the subject has to be. With time, your writing becomes more focused and topics will be easier to come up with.
  • No one will visit my blog
    I won’t sugar coat this one. It will probably take anywhere from one to two years for your blog to appear anywhere meaningful in the search engines. Don’t let that be a discouragement, though. Many of the best bloggers out there have done their time and are reaping the rewards of high traffic.

    There will be a future tutorial on how you can use Twitter and Stumbleupon to promote your blog that can drastically cut the search engine wait.

Your Homework For Today

Create a blog and write your first post. Visit Day 29 which will show how to set up your own blog.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 18]: The Grand Opening To Your Career

Posted: September 29th, 2009

Photo by love not fear (Flickr)

Photo by Love not fear (Flickr)

This is Day 18 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today will be the grand opening for your freelance business and you’ll see easy ways to spread the word.

Open For Business

Everybody’s excited… your business has officially begun. Rather than sit there as an anonymous freelancer, though, its time to get the word out and get people talking about you. We’re not talking about big expensive advertising campaigns and relentless marketing either.

There are several easy ways you can generate a buzz about your new freelance business and possibly attract a new client or two in the process.

Do You Have Promotional Materials?

Its difficult to promote yourself if you don’t have at least business cards to distribute and a website. How else are other people going to remember you? Have business cards made and hand out one to each new person you meet. Also, review Day 10 for simple ways to promote your business.

Many people save those business cards and you never know when a good referral might come out of it.

Throw an Inauguration Party

There’s nothing like free food and drinks to help others remember who you are. So a party is a no-brainer for business promotion. Don’t just stop at inviting friends either. Invite other freelancers and business contacts to come as well and encourage them to bring other friends. This is a great way to network with others while being in a casual atmosphere.

Spam (well not really) Your Contact List

For each persona in your Outlook or Gmail contacts, craft an email (personalized “Dear [So and So]…”) with a logo, a simple message of what you do and that you are open for business. Personalizing each email will take longer but will nearly insure that it will get read and get past spam filters.

Contact Relatives, Friends and Co-workers

For those you see on a regular basis, let them know about your freelance business and give them four or five business cards. If your friends and family happen to know of someone that can use your services, you will always be their first referral and they won’t hesitate to dish out that extra card.

Have An Opening Day Special

Everybody loves a sale, especially in these tough economic times. So offer, for example, a 25% sale discount on your services or come up with a special package at a discounted price. Then have these printed on flyers and give one to everyone you know and meet.

Your Homework For Today

Get going and spread the good news! Get that keg for that inauguration party, send out those emails and be sure to tell everyone what you do and that your are open for business. This will likley take more than a day to plan and do one or more of these but it may be worth a brand new client in the end.

Be sure to review Day 10, too, and have those promotional materials handy. Promotion is hard without them.

The Week In Freelance: September 25th

Posted: September 25th, 2009

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 17]: Invoicing, The Polite Way To Ask For The Cash

Posted: September 24th, 2009

Photo by Litherland (Flickr)

Photo by Litherland (Flickr)

This is Day 17 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today will be a quick crash course on invoicing clients.

Invoicing 101

So you just completed your first project (or you will soon). Now its time for the fun part, collecting payment. Since you are a business, though, you have to adopt the business practice of invoicing so you (and the client) can officially record the transaction for bookkeeping purposes.

Also you give your client the options for payment and a due date so you don’t have to keep sending “Hey, where’s my money?” emails.

Invoicing is simple, too. There are invoicing services specifically catered to freelancer that can automate this for you or you make your own template. If you decide on the do-it-yourself route, an invoice should contain the following elements:

  • A unique invoice number
  • A date for the invoice
  • Your business address and contact information (a logo here would make it look nice and pretty too)
  • The client address and contact information
  • An itemized list of costs being billed
  • Tax, if applicable
  • The amount due, or total of itemized costs plus tax
  • Methods of payment (including instructions if necessary)
  • Payment terms (can be “Due on Receipt” or “NET X” where X is the number of days from the date of the invoice, the business standard is NET 30)

You can create an invoice easily in Word, but it is best practice to convert the Word document into a PDF format so it cannot be edited further. If you use Adobe Acrobat, you can use the print function in Word to generate the PDF or you can use a free online Word to PDF converter.

There are online services, though, that can make the invoicing process much easier while generating professional invoices. Plus they are free or have a low monthly cost. A few are:

  • Paymo Timetracker: In addition to time tracking, this can be used to manage clients and send customized invoices. Free to use.
  • FreshBooks: Generates professional invoices and even sends automated late payment reminders. Free to use for up to 3 clients and 19 USD – 149 USD per month for advanced features.
  • SimplyBill: Handles time tracking and customizable invoices. 5 USD per month for up to 25 invoices (monthly) and max 10 clients. 15 USD – 25 USD for advanced features.

Your Homework For Today

Create you own invoice template or sign up for one of the recommended online invoicing services.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 16]: A Document That Will Save Your Ass

Posted: September 23rd, 2009

Photo by Jk5854 (Flickr)

Photo by Jk5854 (Flickr)

This is Day 16 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll be introduced to project agreements and using them with your clients.

The Project Agreement

New freelancers often believe that working in freelance is finding projects, doing them and collecting a payment shortly after. One critical step is often missed, however, that is important before even starting any project: drafting a project agreement and have your client sign and return it.

Why is it important? Here are a few reasons:

  • It outlines in detail exactly what you will do on a project so the project scope is well defined.
  • It sets a deadline (or milestones) for completion on your part and payment on the client’s part.
  • It keeps you and your client on the same page as far as expectations are concerned
  • You will have a case if a client demands additional work without compensation.

A project agreement does not have to be a perfectly legal document drafted by a lawyer either (we’ll get to why later). It’s main purpose is to align you and your client on the scope of a project so you know exactly what you are to do and the client knows exactly what he will receive.

To create your own project agreement for your freelance business, here are a few resources to get started:

The best method is to look at multiple sample contracts and adapt them into one that suits your business the best. Remeber that not all project agreements will be the same for all freelancers.

The Legality of Project Agreements

Since much of the freelance work done is over the internet, an issue arises when freelancers are working with clients from other states or countries. In the event a dispute arises across borders, does a project agreement document hold a client legally accountable to any funds owed to you? How do you enforce it?

The truth is,  unless you know a collector who lives locally to that client, you’re shit out of luck. There may be some legal avenues you can take but any legal fees, plus the time it takes away from your work, are not likely to make it worth pursuing. Does this mean working over the internet becomes a risky business?

It may surprise you but, no, it doesn’t have to be. There are ways you can protect yourself and even prevent disputes from happening in the first place.

The first is always require an up-front deposit before starting any project. It is common to ask for between 30% and 50% of the project fee before starting and, if your client is serious about the project, it will be paid unconditionally.

Those that decide not to pay an up-front fee or would rather pay upon completion should be a red flag to you. This is a sign that they could stiff you in the end (though not in all cases). Still, you never want to put yourself in a position where a rogue client can take your work and run, not paying a cent.

A second option to protect yourself is to utilize an escrow service. An escrow service is a third party company that holds the project fee paid by the client then releases those funds to you when the project is completed. This could be offered as a second option for clients not wishing to pay the up-front deposit.

The third option is to utilize a major paid job board to search for projects. Within their systems, they provide project agreements you can give to clients on projects you win. Plus, they have measures to virtually guarantee payment upon completed work including escrow services.

Some of the most reliable major job boards are Elance, Guru and Odesk.

Disputes

In the event a dispute does happen, the most important thing you can do is try everything you can to diffuse it. Disputes most commonly happen due to misunderstandings in your agreement with the client, where they wanted X and received Y.

Unfortunately misunderstandings do happen on occasion. Sometimes they are your fault and sometimes the fault of the client.  If the client is at fault, it will tend to smooth out matters if you give in a little and sacrifice a little extra time on a project. Taking a hard stance is more likely to result in a hard stance by the client (i.e. no payment).

Of course, if you are at fault for a dispute, do whatever is necessary to make the client happy again.

Your Homework For Today

Using the resources above, draft a project agreement you can use with your freelance business. Then remember to give it to each client and have him return it signed before starting any project.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 15]: Time Tracking… Proof You’re Not Goofing Off

Posted: September 22nd, 2009

From Yukon White Light (Flickr)

From Yukon White Light (Flickr)

This is Day 15 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today we’ll cover time tracking and evaluating your freelance business.

Tracking Time (Yes, You Need To Do It)

Every freelancer needs some measure of how their own freelance business is doing. After all, you need to know if you are operating in the red or are making enough for that steak dinner and pints on Friday. The first step to this is keeping track of your time spent in all aspects of your work.

I know I have bad memories of having to punch in into that little box on the wall each day at my old job. God forbid if you forgot to do it! I hate to break it to you but for freelancers it is a little more involved. All your time working and everything you did during that time has to be logged so you can evaluate your business to see if you are meeting income goals.

Don’t worry either. After a few weeks, you get the hang of it pretty quick.

To give you a breakdown on time tracking, your time spent working can be broken down as follows:

  1. Administrative Tasks: Non-billable tasks related to your business such as emailing, invoicing and customer support to clients.
  2. Promotion: Non-billable time you spend promoting your freelance business.
  3. Client Searching: Non-billable time hitting the job boards, following up on leads  and sending out project bids/estimates.
  4. Your Work: The billable time you actually spend working which generates your income.

To track your time, you could write it down on pads of paper or whip up an Excel spreadsheet, but there is software available that can make it far less of a chore. They’re even free to use:

  • Paymo Timetracker: This is one I personally use which is web based but also offers a desktop download for easily entering time data and downloadable reports.
  • SlimTimer: Similar to the above. An easy-to-use web based time tracking utility with useful reports.

Evaluating Your Business

After a few projects under your belt, a little income in the bank account and your freelance business rolling, an evaluation needs to be done to determine if you are on track with your income goals. These should be done on a monthly basis from here on out.

In the last tutorial we calculated your total billable hours to be roughly 1,800 and non-billable hours to be around 200 for the year. Also, it was explained that you are not likely to spend all the billable hours working on projects if you are new to freelancing. The reason being that time has to be spent promoting your business and developing a client base.

So, initially your billable time spent on projects will be lower than expected due to spending more time searching for work and promotion. This should improve over time, however, but evaluating your progress is the only way to make sure of this.

For starters, we’ll need to have handy the following:

  1. Your desired hourly rate, calculated from the last tutorial
  2. Your calculated billable hours for the year divided by 12 to get billable hours for the month
  3. Your income for the current month
  4. Your business-related expenses for the current month

Each month, take the income total and subtract from it the business expenses for the month. Then divide this result by your monthly billable hours to get your average rate for the month. Compare this result to your desired hourly rate.

Is the average rate for the month about the same or higher than your hourly rate? If so, congratulations, you are right on par with your business. Keep doing what you are doing.

Is the average rate for the month significantly lower than your hourly rate? Then there is no need to panic. It is common for new freelancers to spend more time searching for clients and bidding on projects.

Even for freelance veterans, there will always be some months where this is the case, too. It is important, however, that you make sure your average monthly rate is steadily improving so this doesn’t carry on month to month.

Eventually, with enough projects done, you will notice that repeat work and referrals will increase which will mean spending less time promoting your freelance business and searching for clients. This comes with experience so be patient.

Your Homework For Today

The purpose of today’s tutorial is to get you started with time tracking early on as a freelancer so you are using it with your first projects and develop the habit of using it on a consistent basis.

Set up an account on one of the free online softwares mentioned above and kick the tires familiarizing yourself with it. If you opt to use Excel or another method that suits you, then perfect. Just don’t skip this though.

You may or may not already have projects started and, if you don’t, that’s fine. Refer back to this tutorial, though, since it will be important down the road in your freelance career.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 14]: Project Pricing, Not Quite An Exact Science

Posted: September 21st, 2009

Photo by LU5H.bunny (Flickr)

Photo by LU5H.bunny (Flickr)

This is Day 14 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today we’ll go in depth on pricing projects and optimizing your earnings.

So What Should I Be Charging My Clients?

This is probably the biggest question a new freelancer has when starting out. The simple answer to that is whatever your clients are willing pay. You see, it is not just settling on a fixed hourly rate and taking it from there since you could actually be leaving money on the table or find no takers for your services.

I’ll try to explain the science of pricing here as best I can. We’ll first start from square one.

The Billable Hours

Your billable hours for the year can be simply broken down with the following:

Working a 40 hour week, 52 X 40 = 2080 total hours.

Minus two weeks of vacation, 2080 – 80 = 2000 remaining hours.

Minus 10% of time spent on administrative tasks (emailing, billing, estimates, etc), 2000 – 200 = 1800 remaining hours.

Your billable hours may vary but we’ll use the 1800 hour total as a rough estimate.

Your True Hourly Rate

Coming up with an estimate for a client is simple, right? Just figure out the hours it will take to complete then multiply by your hourly rate. Well, not quite. It is quite a large misconception that project pricing has to be done this way.

First, your hourly rate calculation should not be used for pricing a project, but should instead be a guide to determine if you are in fact earning what you want to. Let me explain further with an example:

We calculated the total billable hours in a year to be 1,800 which averages out to 34.6 hours/week. We’ll round up to 35 hours/week for simplicity. Now let’s say that in one particular week, you worked 20 of those hours on a project and earned $500 (charging your rate of $25/hour) and the other 15 hours were spent on marketing your business and client searching. With a little math you can determine your true hourly rate for this week of work:

$500 earned / 35 billable hours worked for the week = $14.29/hour average for the week.

Now can you see that the hourly rate you charged doesn’t reflect your true rate per hour? In this case the $14.29/hour is a huge difference from the $25/hour you thought you were earning. That’s why the $25/hour you determined as your rate should only be a guide to how much you should be earning rather than an actual rate you set for any given project.

Keep in mind you probably won’t spend such a high percentage of time searching for clients (though a new freelancer will). It’s essential to know the time, however, that is spent on billable tasks and on non-billable work for your freelance business. The goal is to minimize non-billable time and maximize the income per project.

The Break-Even Rate

The break-even rate is simply the minimum you have to earn per billable hour in order for your freelance business to stay afloat. This takes into account all your business and personal expenses including taxes and those beers on Friday. In the above example, if your break-even rate happened to be $15/hour, then you either need to step up your business or cut costs somewhere (lowering your break-even rate) in order to keep on trucking as a freelancer.

The Myth

It is a common misunderstanding that you need to figure out an hourly rate and multiply it by those 1800 hours to come up with a yearly income you desire. For instance, if you decide to charge $25/hour:

Continue Reading »

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 13]: How To Win Projects And Influence Your Piggy Bank

Posted: September 16th, 2009

Photo by Only Alice (Flickr)

Photo by Only Alice (Flickr)

This is Day 13 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today you’ll learn the tricks of creating a winning project bid.

When on the job boards and bidding on projects, freelancers have the tendency to save time and create a single bid template. Then they use that same template for bidding on all projects they come across.

Big mistake.

Tailoring your bid to suit the project (and employer) will go a long way in helping you win a much higher percentage of the projects you bid on. Its not rocket science nor do you have to be an expert writer either. It is simply taking steps to make your bids stand out from the rest.

Let’s say for a moment, put yourself in the mind of an employer looking for a freelancer. You probably have to look through anywhere from 50 on up to 100 bids and they will probably fall under one of three types:

  1. The Canned Response: A single universal template for all bids unchanged for any project and not at all personalized to the employer. Odds are about 99.9% it will be deleted and laughed at.
  2. The Typical Response: A bid which gives the usual details… Hi, I’m interested in your project. Here is my experience and contact info and this is what it will cost. Bla bla bla. It probably is a little wordy from detailing all your experince and just doesn’t stand out from the fifty others just like it.
  3. The Winning Response: The one that gets the project, not by luck, but by telling the prospective employer exactly what he wants to hear and in as few words as possible.

So what exactly does make a winning reponse? Let’s go back to the propective employer’s mind again and imagine him reading your bid but after reading another fifty beforehand. You can bet he is not going to read it like an action thriller, but rather scan it through for a few seconds. Then if it strikes him as a viable candidate, he will probably read it again slowly.

Add to this the fact that bid selection isn’t a face to face interaction and you can see that anything done to make your bid stand out will greatly increase your odds of catching his eye and winning the project. There are several steps that can make this easily happen.

The Essentials of a Winning Bid

  • Use bullets (ahem… like these). Rather than write out paragraphs, utilize bullets which forces a read-through.
  • Be concise. You can summarize your experience but you do not need to go into detail of any previous work. That’s what your portfolio is for.
  • Mention ONLY the skills you have that are needed to complete the project. More than that becomes wordy.
  • Sell yourself. Briefly give reasons they should hire you or expectations they will have of you (bullets work here too).
  • For complex projects, explain your solution. Briefly explaining your methods of completing a project in a short paragraph reinforces the fact that you will know how to get the job done.
  • Give a cost estimate. Sometimes project details are too vague to give an estimate but I’ve noticed that it does help to have this, even if it is a ballpark figure or a price range.
  • Ask questions. It’s important to ask (smart) questions if any details are unclear, but it also initiates communication with the employer which can give you the upper hand on other bids if the employer answers back.
  • End the bid by giving your email, an instant message, phone number and location. The likely contact will be by email but by giving the impression you are easily available and are, in fact, a person, you won’t be so anonymous as the other hundred applicants.

Your Homework For Today

Go back to those job boards you created a profile on, look for projects and submit a bid on them. Remember to take the time to tailor your bids to the project. It will be slow at first, but you’ll get the hang of it by, oh, the 20th bid or so.

Also, refer back to the sample bid used in the previous tutorial.

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