Are You Still Doing One-Dimensional Freelancing?

Posted: December 9th, 2010

Photo By Marcus_JB (Flickr)

Photo By Marcus_JB (Flickr)

For many years, I’ve worked as a solo freelancer. It’s perfect. I set my own rules and do the work the way I want it to be done. Plus I wouldn’t have lasted this long if the work I have done wasn’t top-notch (sure, I take pride).

But during those eight years, I’ve come to realize a major limitation of being the soloist freelancer.

You’re really one-dimensional.

That’s not saying your skills don’t match up to your other counterparts in freelancing. You’re unique, have your own style and likely do a hell good job. Focusing only on your own work, however, gives you tunnel vision for what is really available for yourself to learn and accomplish.

In other words, it’s time to branch out and work with others.

Recently, I’ve had the fortune to team up with a good friend of mine, Juanjo (say hwan – ho), a graphic designer, and the result has been an absolutely fantastic working relationship. Ironically, we’ve worked together in the past and butted heads somewhat so my initial apprehension level was rather high.

Not to mention, taking on a partner-in-crime means losing some of the control you have on your own work and business. And we all know that control is the milk that is poured into our Wheaties every day.

It doesn’t matter if you believe your directional control is making you reach for the stars. Having  this manner of thought unfortunately keeps you one-dimensional and focused on only you. Maybe you are successful and sleep on a mattress full of greenbacks but there is always room to improve, right?

So what keeps us from being one-dimensioned? In a good working partnership, the whole is greater sum of its parts. Period. Imagine where that will take your business and quality of work you do.

Personally, I’ve always believed I was a good programmer, however, I’ve changed some of the ways I work as a programmer having recently teamed up with Juanjo. There is no reason this couldn’t be you whether you’re a writer, designer or whatever.

Just be sure to follow a few caveats.

Find someone you trust

This is obvious, but if there is any kind of second-guessing about whether or not you have trust in a work partner, then you don’t. Or you have trust issues. Trust has to be absolute and reciprocated.

You must share the same values

Having similar work and personal values is also needed if you want to avoid the typical head-butting that can affect partnerships. If your values align then it makes it so much easier to work for a common goal, creatively and financially.

It’s worthy to note that it is nearly impossible to partner up with someone with exactly the same values. Discussing any differences beforehand can eliminate any impending trouble down the road though.

Trust me. At some point, differences in values will rear their zombie head if they are not confronted prior.

Each partner must compliment each other

It should also go without saying that each partner must bring something unique to the table in order to succeed. If one does not have a skill set outside of the other or is typically carrying the load of the other, well, what’s the point then? One + one should not equal one.

You must let a partner do what he or she does best

In an effective partnership, each person does what he or she does best. No one likes to work with someone always over their shoulder so critique but don’t interfere. If you do like control over work, it takes a heavy effort to give it up in favor of letting a partner’s creative talents shine through.

This works both ways, too. A partner who is highly controlling isn’t likely to make things easy on you which is a sure sign to go another direction.

Friends don’t always make the best partners

I had the luck of having a friend that made a great partnership but this isn’t always the case. While friends are often the first people we always look to, if they don’t adhere to the above criteria, then the partnership will fail. In worst cases, even the friendship, too, so choose wisely.

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Have you partnered up with anyone in freelancing? Do you believe you’re better off staying solo? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

How To Royally Screw Yourself In Freelancing

Posted: August 23rd, 2010

Photo by Sancktime2007 (Flickr)

Photo by Sancktime2007 (Flickr)

A big part of earning the real income in freelancing is maximizing the time on work that generates it and minimizing the rest of the time that doesn’t.

Well, that thought can sometimes leave you in a bind and end up costing you dearly, too. How? In just one word.

Details.

We’re not talking about the actual work you do either. If you are good at what you do, this will never be an issue. No, the details I’m referring to are in the planning stages before starting the actual work.

I’ll admit that I tend to get a sudden onset of attention deficit disorder when it comes to contracts and specs to carry out before starting on projects. This is especially true due to my belief that time not working on projects is money lost.

Guess what though? Sooner or later you’ll run into a client who pays more attention to detail to specs than you do. If you’re caught off guard, that means he can leverage more work out of you. You left to either bite your tongue and do it or put up a fight which can get ugly and put a dent in your reputation should the client protest as well.

I’ve known these for a long time but, along with my onsets of ADD, I do tend to get bouts of  “short memory,” too, so remember the following before you dive into any project. Yes, it does take extra time and, in some cases, way more than you would like it to but, trust me, it’s well worth it.

1. Understand what the client wants.

Knowing exactly what your client wants means knowing exactly the work you have to do. No more, no less. Nuff said.

2. Document everything.

You’ve probably heard it time and time again. Maybe you do use contracts or never had to use them since your clients are “easy going.”  Either way, it is extremely important to channel your inner lawyer and pay attention to every word you document with your client.

With everything, I mean everything: payment terms, milestones, credit history (ok, maybe far reaching) but, most important, project specs. Then with the project specs, document it with, you guessed it, everything you’ll do. The whole point is to cover yourself in case the client tries to get more work out of you because they will try. Believe me.

Have a visit at one of my older posts for help on documentation and check out Kyle Weiber’s post on bulletproofing your freelance contracts.

3. Spend the time.

Yes, creating and going over your contracts and specs are time consuming and really eat into your work time. There are even days where the only thing you do is create contracts and specs. Personally, though, I’ve lost several days of work completing a project in overtime due to a single bad contract I made.

So as time consuming as it is, you’ll thank yourself later when a client demands another redo and the contract specifies he doesn’t have one left without that extra charge. If it eases things further, creating contracts and specs will become easier and quicker over time.

Have you had experiences where you’ve had to do more work than you had thought you documented. Let’s hear it in a comment below.

4th of July Homework For Freelancers (After Your Barbecue)

Posted: July 2nd, 2010

Photo by Space Pirate Queen (Flickr)

Photo by Space Pirate Queen (Flickr)

Yes, it’s one of those few celebrated holidays of the summer. So before you’re about to scarf down your allotment of barbecue and potato salad for the year or head out to Yosemite for a nice hike and a picnic, you may have already realized you’re at the midpoint of the year. Already!

While you’re resting and recharging, it’s also a good time to reflect on the past year so far. Is your freelancing business going how it should? Is there anything you want to change or haven’t begun to do yet? What can you do better?

Those are a few questions a serious freelancer would think about throughout the year. So I’ll leave a few compiled posts here to get you started for the holiday break.

Happy 4th of July!

Hopefully Solved: Freelancing Hourly Vs. Fixed Pricing Debate

Posted: June 1st, 2010

Photo by Dave Morris (Flickr)

Photo by Dave Morris (Flickr)

Last week, I read an interesting post on why you shouldn’t charge an hourly rate as a freelancer. I thought it was spot on and gave great insight on how freelancers can make a comfortable income.

What was really of interest to me were the comments though. While some appeared to understand the concept that an hourly rate can hold you back, it still didn’t grasp many. It even became hotly debated in parts with the author, Amber, having to justify her (rather enviable) pricing to clients.

So, in case you’re not convinced fixed pricing is for you or you don’t understand its real advantage, here is a little explanation.

The Hourly Rate Pricing Concept

If you charge by the hour, then consider that there are 2,080 billable hours available in the year to work (40 hours/week X 52 weeks). What you are doing, though, is essentially trying to sell each one of those 2,080 blocks of time to your clients. There are several disadvantages with this:

  • There is no way you will spend those 2,080 hours on projects. You are running a business, so there are those non-billable tasks such as searching for clients, promotions, invoicing and emailing that have to be done. Plus there will always be some downtime.
  • There is a cap to what is accepted as an hourly rate. Therefore, as your experience grows you’re rate will not necessarily increase.
  • You become vulnerable to fluctuations in your work. Since hourly rate pricing depends on you filling in your billable time slots available, periods of little or no work take a hit on your income.
  • The only way to grow as a business is to increase your hourly rate. Increasing your rate can turn away potential or current clients, though.

The Fixed Project Pricing Concept

Now, for example, let’s say you charge $600 to install a custom theme design for a WordPress blog. It’s safe to assume that the next time you perform the same project, it will take you less time. The next time, even less.

Putting this project to (sample) numbers, it may take you 15 hours for the initial project, 10 the next and, ultimately, 4 hours as you become a pro at this. Your hourly rates are then broken down as follows:

Initial: $600/15 hours = $40/hour
Second: $600/10 hours = $60/hour
As a Pro: $600/4 hours = $150/hour

This is all while charging the same price for the same exact service. The only difference is the time involved but, as your expertise increases, so does your “hourly rate” as it takes you less time per project.

A huge plus is that the resulting hourly rate never even has to be revealed to a client.

Not All Projects Can be Fixed Price

The whole idea behind fixed pricing is that you understand the entire project scope. In other words, you know exactly what to do and how long it will take. With experience and repetition of similar projects, this is done without a problem.

In some projects, however, the scope is so large or the scope can’t even be determined so giving a fixed price becomes risky. Extra time(and a lot of it) is often the result.

This is where pricing can get tricky but, again, this is where experience comes into play. A large project can always be broken down into milestones and charged per each one. The more experience you gain, the more it will guide you in determining the scope of more predictable milestones.

Sometimes there is no choice but to charge an hourly rate. If a new client has a broken website, there is no way to determine a price without taking time to diagnose then fix the issue.

Why You’re Not a Better Freelancer

Posted: March 29th, 2010

Photo by Dave Jones (Flickr)

Photo by Dave Jones (Flickr)

These days, with all the information out there to help you with freelancing, it should be no problem at all to become successful in a short period of time.

You would think so at least.

Actually, freelancers are lucky to have a wide range of resources available to them. I’d say you’ve been hiding under a rock if you haven’t visited the massive archives at Freelance Folder or Freelance Switch yet. If you followed all the advice in their posts, you are virtually guaranteed success.

The problem is that freelancers have to work. There is that income thing, you know, and learning doesn’t exactly pay the bills. Working and learning is similar to holding a job while attending night classes. You have to work overtime to get both done and sacrifice your free time and even sleep in the process.

In other words, it’s not easy. But here’s a question for you. Are you putting in that overtime to learn on top of your freelance work?

If  I hear a ‘no’, don’t worry. You’re not alone. In fact, these are the likely scenarios when it comes to improving as a freelancer:

  • No time. You have your project deadlines to worry about or you’re working your butt off looking for clients.
  • You have some “game-changing” articles bookmarked collecting dust, still waiting around to get to them (see above).
  • You’ve tried some of that advice out there, but eventually fall back into your old habits.

The truth is we can balance our work and learning without severely cutting into our our precious free time and sleep. All it takes is a more organized approach in four easy steps.

  1. Realize that you won’t get to everything you read. There is simply too much information out there for a freelancer to use. Plus new information is constantly outdating the old. Just be selective and pick out those articles you want to concentrate on the most.
  2. Pick one or two topics a week you want to work on; something that won’t take more than a few hours a week. Remember, you don’t have all the time in the world to learn everything.
  3. Evaluate what you just learned. Is it working for you and is something that will make you better down the road? Then keep doing it!
  4. Repeat the above with new articles.

Sound simple? Well it is actually. We’re not going to learn everything in a single day, nor week. Just taking baby steps to apply what you read and learn, though, adds up over time. Before you know it, you’ll begin to see results that may surprise you.

Some Tax Help For All You (U.S.) Freelancers

Posted: March 10th, 2010

Photo by Andrew Whalley (Flicker)

Photo by Andrew Whalley (Flicker)

For those freelancers in the States, there’s a little over a month left to go search out those receipts and get your tax returns filed on time. Plenty of time but, if you have been freelancing a while, you then know that the sooner done, the better.

No, freelancers don’t have the option of filling out that one-page 1040-EZ form either. So say hello to the “long form” 1040. I recently received the 1040 form with instructions by mail, too, just the other day which contains about 200 pages of forms and IRS business jargon.

Fun reading.

Good thing there is a lot of tax information available that specifically apply to freelancers. These have helped me out quite a bit and will help you get the most out of your deductions and reduce your tax liability. Or in other words, save you some cash you can use to replace that broken desk chair.

Filing The Tax Returns

The best option is to utilize a tax service such as H & R Block and have a professional accountant help you out with your returns for a nominal fee. A tax professional will be able to identify deductions that passed you by, and end up saving you more on taxes than the fees of their service. Not to mention, your risk of an audit is drastically reduced.

If you decide to go on your own, there are plenty of online tax services which make this task easy. Did you know, though, that, if your adjusted gross income (income minus expense and other deductions) is $57,000 or less, you can use a number of services for free?

If you qualify, the IRS website has a list of “Free File” websites to do your taxes. I personally recommend TurboTax since it’s incredibly easy to use and includes a check to reduce your chances of an audit.

Tax Deductions

It is almost guaranteed that there are deductions you can take that you probably haven’t considered. Did you know even PayPal fees are one of them? Check out these for a comprehensive list:

  • Freelance Switch: A list of ten common (yet not-so-known) freelancing related tax deductions.
  • WiseBread: Talk about a big list… 101 tax deductions for freelancers and bloggers.
  • ProBlogger: There is a list of 46 deductions here, some of which overlap the above but will round out the possibilities.

The “Making Work Pay” Tax Credit

Every freelancer in the U.S. is eligible for a credit of 6.2% of his or her earned income, up to $400. All that has to be done is to file a Schedule M along with your return. For more information on this credit, visit the About.com page.

Other Tax Resources

For any other questions, advice or general curiosity in dealing with taxes, the following are very helpful in getting the answers you need.

  • TaxGirl: A blog dedicated to just taxes with very informative articles. Try a search for any topic which you have questions on.
  • H & R Block “Get It Right”: A community forum where you can look up tax questions by other users or you can ask a tax professional one of your own.
  • Turbo Tax: Handy tax calculators plus comprehensive guides to taxes.
  • IRS Self-Employed Tax Center: Normally I try to avoid anything IRS related, but there is great information on anything tax related for freelancers here.

Do You Have Other Suggestions?

Have any other tax tips not mentioned here? Leave a comment below and let us freelancers know!

7 Things You Can Do Today To Be A Better Freelancer

Posted: March 1st, 2010

Photo by Keraoc (Flickr)

Photo by Keraoc (Flickr)

Every freelancer could use a tip or two to become a little better in their careers. I know this isn’t the only list out there but I compiled my own of seven tips that have really helped me out personally and wished I learned a lot earlier. Oh well, live and learn.

1. Follow and interact with other freelancers in your field on Twitter.

After being on Twitter for about a year, I’ve come to realize one thing. There is always someone that knows how to do what you are doing, but a thousand times better. That’s not to say you aren’t good at what you do, but there are some really savvy freelancers out there who will amaze you with the work they do.

Those exact same users are more than willing to share their “secrets” if you follow and tune in. Make an effort to seek out and follow other freelancers in your field, check out their websites and other work and don’t hesitate to strike up conversational tweets.

Sure, not all will respond but the majority on Twitter are sociable. After all, that’s what it is about.

2. Limit your free time on the internet.

Yes, freelancers need to email, use Twitter and other social media, check their readers and visit blogs every day. When you add up all the time you spend on the internet related to freelancing, though, does it make sense to spend any free time you do have surfing around?

OK, we do have to keep up with our news, sports and whatnot. Try this out your next work day though:

  • Make a log and record the times you are on the internet throughout the day. Then add up this time.
  • Does this number surprise you? Could some of this time be better spent, say, outside in the sun?
  • Can you really go without visiting those websites, games, etc. or reduce the time to a half hour or hour most a day?

Personally, I found a new hobby during my internet reduction… reading. Beats eye strain I say.

3. Record all your business related expenses using Outright.

At the start of this year I ran into an online accounting app, called Outright, that records all your expenses and  categorizes them for taxes. It is free, easy to use, and can be used in a number of currencies. Plus, it will keep you from scrambling to find those receipts come tax time.

Trust me on this one because I’m currently having brainstorm sessions to recall those expenses and find those receipts from last year that I need for my taxes this year.

4. Learn and apply something new each month.

I’m sure I share this situation with other freelancers but, when I’m busy and have a steady line of projects lined up, I have a tendency to complete them as quickly as possible. What’s the problem with this you ask?

While we are trying to be efficient, by finishing a project quickly to move on to the next project, we usually stick to only what we know when completing our projects. Over time, our knowledge grows stale and it becomes harder to grow in our fields and as freelancers.

Now, I’m not saying each and every project must be unique and has to be developed from new ideas. You can develop your skills further, though, just by setting aside a half hour to an hour a day to learn something new in your field or a new skill entirely. Then slowly incorporate this new knowledge into your new projects.

5. Blog

I can’t say enough on what blogging has done to my freelance career but I can say that if it has this effect on me, then it can for you too.  Here’s what it has done for me:

  • It’s a creative outlet that clears my head so I can focus on work.
  • I have to put into practice what I write. Being a hypocrite doesn’t bode well with me.
  • It’s empowering to know people read what I have to say.
  • Sometimes I forget my own advice so I check back here for it.

6. Have daily work goals.

I tried a bit of psychology on myself to see if it would improve my productivity. To my surprise, I was gullible enough to fall for it, but it worked out. Here’s the skinny:

  • Each workday, write out your task list. Go a step further, though, and write, specifically, everything has to be done in detail for each task.
  • Give yourself a time limit to do it all.
  • Give yourself a little reward if you complete the list, say, an import beer or a pizza (or both).
  • If you easily complete your tasks in the time you set, set the bar higher the next day with more tasks.

What I noticed was that on the days where the tasks weren’t completed, I would work harder the next day and complete the tasks I set out. This eventually becomes a habit which is the real purpose of this.

7. Work on a personal project.

Every freelancer has some kind of idea for a new app or novel, so why not start it.

Now.

Don’t worry if it will be a success or not. That’s not the point. Your passion in your career will grow with any personal project you do. Not only that but you may learn a thing or two along the way which only helps in your career.

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What are tips you have to be a better freelancer… right now? Share one a comment below.