Uh Oh! What To Do When Motivation Runs On Empty

Posted: June 18th, 2009

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Freelance just long enough and you eventually experience cycles of ultimate productivity followed by bouts of ultimate unproductivity. Its actually quite normal and inevitably occurs at some time or another. Our lives are not lived solely as freelancers (most of us anyway) and we have other external forces that affect our work such as sudden events, our general mood and the dreaded summertime distractions.

It is at that point when these forces can affect our motivation to work enough to cause us to get off track, or in the worst case, cease it altogether. This can be despite even having projects to do and upcoming deadlines to meet. Normally this isn’t fatal to a freelance career, though, since we eventually right the ship and move on. This isn’t always an easy task.

Luckily, I’ve been through enough of these cycles to recognize them and take appropriate action to get back on track. The following are steps I’ve used with success and could be adapted in some form should the cycle hit you too.

Go Back To Your Purpose For Freelancing

We obviously became freelancers for certain reasons whether it be flexible hours or being your own boss. It’s very easy to lose sight of these reasons, however, when we’re busy as hell and when we don’t feel like working. So this is the perfect time to dust off your purpose for being a freelancer which will help you focus on the tasks ahead and fulfill that purpose.

Take it a step further and write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it everyday.

Plan

Set up a schedule over the next week of the exact hours you plan on working and the exact work you will be doing during that time. Then here comes the hardest part: commit to the schedule as if your life depended on it. A schedule acts your blueprint to getting back on track schedule but isn’t any good if it is not followed.

It is also important to take it one day at a time. Remember, you are essentially rebuilding the habit of working productively. A good habit takes three weeks to happen but gets easier day by day. A good habit can also be destroyed in a day, too, so keep the focus on your tasks for the day at hand. They eventually will all add up.

A Half Hour of Concentration

When starting your work, focus your attention on the first half hour which will set the tone for the rest of the day. If that time is spent working diligently, then it is easy to continue working that way throughout the day. Conversely, if it is spent being distracted from work, then the rest of the day could become unproductive.

Resist Distractions

It won’t matter how focused you are in your work, there will always be the temptation to give in to whatever distractions, even as small as checking the news update on CNN. The slightest distraction has a tendency to balloon into a bigger one and throw you off for the day.

It helps to think back to the times when you were most productive and worked hours straight without even a potty break. Keep this in the back of your head when resisting the need to wander off from working.

Reward Yourself

If you are finally now able to go back to working a productive day, do yourself a favor and reward it with a Guinness down at the pub or going out for a nice meal. Then reward yourself after a full week back of working hard. Trust me, it works the same as when you were a kid and got ice cream for raking up the leaves in the yard.

What’s Your Story?

Have you ever had to deal with bouts of unproductivity and how did you handle it? If you have a great method, please drop a comment below and explain. I’d love to hear your replies.

Do Your Project Bids Sell Or Smell: Part 2

Posted: June 16th, 2009

Photo by Angelltsang (Flickr)

Photo by Angelltsang (Flickr)

The last post of this series went through a rundown of what makes a successful bid. Now, we’ll break things down even further with a sample bid and each essential part explained. For this sample bid we have the following project:

Project Description:

I need a talented, creative, efficient, organized, self-starting ghost-writer who can help me create web and published content for a variety of different topics.

I will provide the outline and ideas to which I’ll basically need website copy review, tweaks, and edits. Also, I will be needing a feature article for my next newsletter.

I need someone that is marketing minded not just a great writer. Someone that knows how to sell, write good ad copy, etc. I’m looking to outsource a few projects in order to find the right long-term relationship.

Subject Line

If you are sending a bid by email, it is important to catch attention with a catchy subject line. Some job boards, though not all, allow a subject line as well.

What luck! Now you have an expert ghost-writer published in successful websites!

Opening

Greetings, [or if you know a specific name Dear Xxxx,]

Thank you for the opportunity to bid on your project seeking a ghost-writer to create web content. I’ll be more than excited to take on the challenge and you will find all information relating to my skills and experience as well as my cost and time estimates contained in this project bid.

This is a fairly straightforward introduction but its good to begin with a mention of the project at hand.

Skills/Experience

I have ghost-written several ebooks including the sales copy on the websites used to promote them. A few of which are, “Search Engine Secrets You Never Learned,”  “The New Atkins is Here,” and “Million Dollar Jobs From Your Home.”

Here is what you can expect from me as your new ghost-writer:

  • Expert in writing content for ANY subject
  • Will meet all deadlines. Guaranteed or no charge.
  • Will accommodate urgent requests

Notice that this is as brief as possible, yet highlights only the experience that is relevant to the project, which is very important. Wordiness can be fatal here. Also, explain where the employer can find your portfolio and relevant samples of your work such as follows:

Please refer to the attached portfolio and work sample files.

OR

For more information of my skills and work samples please view here:

Portfolio: http://www.myname.com/portfolio

Work Sample (New Atkins is Here): http://www.myname.com/newatkins

Work Sample (Million Dollar Jobs From Your Home): http://www.myname.com/million

Cost/Time Estimate

I have a quick turnaround time for completion of sales copy which is three days for each 500 words of copy. Turnaround for newsletter articles is roughly one day for every 500 words of text. My rates are $0.50/word for search engine optimized sales copy and $0.10/word for articles.

Note that sometimes project descriptions do not have enough information for you to give an exact figure. In this case, it is beneficial to state “I can give you a ballpark estimate of $x” or a range of $x – $y. Then follow up this part with no more than three questions to the employer. More than three questions may be too much of a hassle to answer.

Contact Info and Closing

I am located in New York City and am able to begin working on this project right away. Feel free to contact me anytime at example@example.com, in MSN Messenger under screen name example or by phone at (555) 555-5555. I look forward to working with you and turning your ideas into dollar signs like I did for my previous clients.

Best regards and I look forward to working with you soon.

John Doe

Don’t forget to give your email, instant message screen name (and IM type), phone number and location. You give the appearance of being an easily accessible human being.

Now Your Turn

I hope this sample provides a useful example of what it takes to create a winning bid. If this post was helpful or if you have a particular strategy that has worked wonders for you not mentioned here, please send a comment below.

Here you can download the sample bid used in this post.

Happy bidding!

The Client Is Always Right… But If They Are Wrong?

Posted: June 10th, 2009

Personally, I like to pride myself in the fact that I really take care of my clients. Just doing the little things, such as communicating every step of the way on projects and doing high quality work, go a long way in keeping you, your business and your client happy. More importantly, clients also reciprocate with respect and usually nothing but positive things to say to you and others.

Recently, despite good services provided to a particular client, I had one that decided to suddenly send an email going off on how I messed up on a project pointing out to issues that were beyond my control or I had nothing to do with. Without going into details, I became enraged and reached a decision point: do I fight back with a scathing email and drop this client like a ton of bricks or do I bite my tongue and give in?

The knee-jerk reaction is, of course, to come out swinging. After all, if you are in the right, you have the right not to tolerate such disrespect and continue working with those that show it to you. But is it really the smartest thing to do? There are major drawbacks to “getting even” and ceasing all business with these types of clients:

  • You lose business
  • Any pending payments may be difficult to collect
  • There may be a possibility of backlash that can damage your reputation

Well, I’m proud of the fact that, for this particular client, I went through the following steps that brought everything under control without sacrificing my own pride nor losing the client:

  1. No contact for a day. Take a full 24 hours to calm down and think rationally and without communicating to the client. Giving in to the urge to send an immediate response stating your case isn’t the smartest thing to do, even if you are right. Remember, being right doesn’t always pay the bills.
  2. Respond with an email to contact you immediately by phone or instant message. Keep it to just that and no response to “get a jab in there.” Any grievance by a client is best handled by a phone call or, if a call is not possible, a session on the IM. The reason is that the client will most likely be calmed down and not likely to lash out.
  3. Talk over the client’s differences and be diplomatic. Being nice and calm helps the client be nice and calm, too.
  4. Explain that you will not tolerate future insults or angry emails. The key to this is be polite, acknowledge their frustrations and tell them, if any issues arise in the future, send an urgent email to call or IM you immediately.

This isn’t to say that all clients will be able to be dealt with in this manner. There are rare cases where a client could turn out to be a jackass, in which case, better to cease all activity with them (politely here too). The majority, however, who show a bad side of themselves are actually good people who are venting when a real person isn’t right there to speak to.

Its just up to you to set the rules when potential arguments are about to take place.

Do Your Project Bids Sell Or Smell: Part 1

Posted: June 3rd, 2009

Photo by Jekert (Flickr)

Photo by Jekert (Flickr)

Many of us freelancers have a routine down well of sifting through project job boards and sending out project bids for those that interest us. Surely, we won’t win them all. Have you ever wondered, though, if it is possible that your bids could be a little bit better and win you more projects?

The answer is following a few guidelines can really go a long way in helping you win a much higher percentage of the bids you send out. 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.
  • 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 against 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.

Now, I wouldn’t be so mean as to not give you an example so in the next post of this series, I’ll break down the bid further and add a winning sample bid to view.

3 Deadly Traps of Bid Pricing

Posted: May 26th, 2009

Last month, I did a series on what you should be charging your clients, however, I forgot to mention some pitfalls that freelancers frequently fall into when coming up with a price for a project. Methods aside, other factors such as fear of not finding work or perceived work shortages tend to cause us to resort to desperate pricing in order to win projects.

This couldn’t be a bigger mistake. To come up with a fair price on a project for both you and a client, you have to keep three things in mind at all times.

#1 Deadly Trap: Not knowing Your Market Price

Your clients are likely do do some shopping around plus they can get a general idea of what price they will pay just from the bids they receive from any project. Its your job to do the same also. Keep in mind that we are not talking about your hourly rate here, but an X dollar amount for a particular service you offer.

By not knowing the pricing in your market, you essentially guess at your pricing which may cause you to underprice and potentially leave money on the table. You may also overprice and virtually guarantee you will not win any bid. It pays to do the research and know exactly what your services are worth on the market. You can view the previous post on how to do market research here.

#2 Deadly Trap: Not Believing in the Law of Averages

For those unfamiliar with the law of averages, you will notice over time that a fairly fixed percentage of bids will be won. For example, after bidding one hundred times, you may win ten, twenty or even thirty of them. While the actual percentage of bids won is irrelevant, it is important to keep number in mind when determining your bid price.

The reason is that you may eventually hit streaks where seemingly no bid you make is accepted. What most often follows is that pricing is lowered on successive bids in hopes that a new client will bite and accept. Big mistake. The proper reaction to a cold period is simply look for more work and make more bids. The slow streaks tend to be followed by a return to bids being accepted and even hot streaks.

Of course, the percentage of your bids that are accepted are dependant on other factors such as how you write the bid and shifting market conditions for your type of service. The law of averages, however, does tend to hold true to its meaning when it comes to the number of bids you make. So use it to your advantage.

#3 Deadly Trap: Settling For Less Than Your Market Price

Most freelancers are aware that there are other freelancers that offer the same services you do for far less than you are willing to accept. It doesn’t have to be said that there are also many companies, individuals and small businesses seeking them out.

What many freelancers do not realize is that, while they do have an effect in lowering the general market value, many times they do not provide the quality of service that businesses need. Many of those hiring for cheap services have even been burned by cheap freelancers and end up paying more in the long run to get the service they want.

Bottom line is that there are many out there who do know the value in what they are getting by paying more for freelancers adhering to the old saying “you get what you pay for.” Sure, you will have to work a little harder and submit more bids to overcome the cheap freelancer seekers. You eventually will find those clients that will pay your price though.

When It Is OK To Lower Your Rates

There are times when lowering your bid pricing can actually be a smart business move such as:

  • A prospective client that may have the potential to be a long term client
  • A project comes along that would be impressive for your portfolio
  • Offers on your services to drum up more business.

Of course, use your discretion here. A discount of 50% may be pushing it but 10% – 20% will keep you earning a reasonable amount.

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 4

Posted: May 1st, 2009

This is the third of a four part series where we explain the science of determining your freelance rates. Today’s post will cover ways of measuring your progress so you are reaching your income goals.

By knowing your desired yearly income, hourly rate and billable hours you plan on working in a year, you still are not guaranteed of knowing if you are on track unless you start crunching numbers and evaluate what you are doing. This way you can make adjustments if you are not meeting your income goals (likely) or you know you’re right on track if you are meeting them (not quite as likely).

Tracking time and income

All of the previous steps are useless if you do not take the time to track your time and income. In order to know if you are meeting your income goals, accurate records must be kept. For time tracking you need to keep track of all time spent working which can be broken down as follows:

1. Admin Tasks: Non-blillable tasks related to your business such as emailing, invoicing and customer support.
2. Promotion: Non-billable time you spend promoting your freelance business.
3. Client Searching: Hitting the job boards and sending out estimates that is preferably done on non-billable time you allocate yourself. You generally have to dip into the billable hours here.
4. Your Work: The billable time that generates your income. The time you spend on each project should also be tracked to see if you are on track with your project estimates.

A good web-based software that I highly recommend and use is Paymo Timetracker which is free of charge.

You must also keep track of all the income you receive and every last cent you spend, whether personal or business, so you know if you are in par with your budgeted expenses and your yearly income goal. Although it is recommended you utilize an accountant, this can add additional expense, though it does tend to pay itself back relieving you of this time spent on crunching numbers (and headaches).

If you do decide to go the do-it-yourself route, I recommend Quickbooks which has a free edition available. It does require some learning and getting use to, but it accurately (and least painfully) accomplishes your accounting chores.

Evaluating your results

After a few projects under your belt, a little income in the bank account and your freelance business rolling, an evaluation should be done to determine if you are on track with your income goals. We’ll need to have handy the following:

1. Your hourly rate, calculated from the last post
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 (do not deduct expenses)

Each month, take the income total and divide it by your monthly billable hours to get your average rate for the month. Compare this result to your 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 you are taking steps to increase your billable hours spent on projects so this doesn’t carry on month to month.

Eventually, with enough projects done, you will notice that repeat work will increase which will enable you to spend much less billable time on searching for new work. This comes with experience.

How about a little feedback?

I know these series of posts has covered quite a lot of info and there may be some questions still lingering, so I encourage you to post your questions or comments below. I’ll answer them and will likely have a new post for you for issues I didn’t cover here.

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 3

Posted: April 28th, 2009

This is the third of a four part series where we explain the science of determining your freelance rates. Today’s post will cover putting a competitive price on projects and maximizing your earnings.

Alright, now we get down to the nitty gritty on pricing your projects. This will be a little complex but I’ll try to simplify things as best I can in Layman’s terms. Putting a price tag on a project can be broken down into three parts. I’ll explain each one in detail which are as follows:

  1. Research in your market and finding a price for your services
  2. Analyzing your income potential and determining a project price
  3. Optimizing your pricing

Research in your market and finding a price for your services

In the last post, we determined your hourly rate and your break even rate. We’re not ready to start pricing just yet though. One thing I want to remind again, too, is that we want to steer clear of coming up with a project price by multiplying our hourly rate by the time we think it will take to complete it (the reasons are explained in part 1).

What we want to do instead is do some research into what others are charging for the similar services that we are doing THEN calculate if this will be profitable for us by keeping in line with our hourly rate. First, we’ll take on the research.

The best places to research what other freelancers are charging are the major freelance job boards such as oDesk, Guru and Elance. Instead of searching the projects available, you can actually search for freelancers that work in your field and by keywords of the type of project you are doing (i.e. tech writer, PHP programmer). The really handy part is that these profiles have available the projects that these freelancers have completed along with the amount they charged for each one.

Also don’t just settle on the first project that matches yours and think this is what you should be charging. The point is to keep digging and find up to ten similar projects (from different freelancers) and come up with an average from all of them. Though this may be a little time consuming, you can more accurately gauge your market price this way.

Now we can take this result to the next step…

Continue Reading »

The Great Mystery Revealed: What Should I Charge My Clients? Part 2

Posted: April 24th, 2009

This is the second of a four part series where we explain the science of determining your freelance rates. Today you’ll see the true definitions of the hourly rate and calculate a competitive price for yourself.

Hourly Rates Explained

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. I’ll explain to you an essential use of an hourly rate calculation along with another important rate calculation, the break-even rate.

Your True Hourly Rate

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:

In the last post 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.

Determining Your Rates

The first step in determining your project pricing is to know your desired hourly rate and your break-even rate. Freelance Switch has a great rate calculator to help you find both of these. There is also one other method you can use to figure out a desired hourly rate to compare with the rate calculation:

Go to CBSalary.com and enter your job title to find an average annual salary for the work in your field.

Divide this amount by the 1,800 billable hours estimate to get a rough estimate for a rate to charge.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t reflect the current market in your field and is limited to the U.S. market but it should give you a rough estimate.

Now that we have your hourly rate and break-even rate figured the next step is to figure out how to give an accurate estimate on a project while keeping your earnings consistent with that hourly rate. In the next part of this series, I’ll explain this process without having to do the dreaded guessing.

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