Is Boredom Hurting Your Freelance Career?

Posted: June 22nd, 2009

Photo by AliceNWondrlnd (Flickr)

Photo by AliceNWondrlnd (Flickr)

One of the greatest perks of being a freelancer, if not the best, is the ability to control the direction of our careers. After all, we are the CEO of our own business and it’s success and our happiness depends strictly on the decisions we make. Unfortunately, it is easily to lose sight of this as we become busy with our day to day work.  The tendency is to fall into a routine of working just to pay the bills without really enjoying what we do. In essence, the passion in our careers begins to wane.

If you ever had a regular job at the office, doesn’t this pattern sound familiar? In most jobs, this is fairly common since your work is controlled by a higher being, namely a supervisor, leaving you to do what someone else tells you. Many have left their jobs to become freelancers for this very reason. They see themselves as a slave to their job.

The irony for freelancers is that we tend to take for granted our own directional control and fall into a comfort zone where, if we have work and are busy, we should be happy with that. What results, though, is that the work eventually becomes monotonous if it doesn’t challenge our skills. A reality is that in order to be happy in our careers, we have to grow and evolve our skill set. A conscious decision has to made to do so, though.

This is where the dilemma arises. To evolve our career, we usually need to take time off our work to take classes or learn on our own. If we’re lucky we might be able to find a “learning” project where we can learn new skills while completing it. These opportunities don’t always knock our door, though. So usually the case is that the time we use to work and make money is sacrificed for learning new skills and opting to work is done.

So what is a freelancer to do?

Ask yourself what you want to be doing one year from now? Nearly every freelancer envisions themselves being the best in their field yet find themselves doing work that once challenged their skills, but now no longer. Think about what skills you want to aquire and what type of new challenging work you want to perform.

What do you need to do to get there?  There are a million ways to learn new skills, from taking classes to finding the experts in your field and seeking their advice  or even learning on your own with solo projects. Whatever it is, there is always a way.

Create a plan of action. There is always a path to greatness yet it takes commitment on your part to go down it. That commitment requires a plan set in stone and you to actually fulfill it. Skip a few hours of TV time week and take that class down at your local college or find one of the limitless amount of tutorials over the internet. Create your own projects utilizing these new skills for your portfolio.

To go about growing in our careers and eliminating our work boredom, we have to go that extra mile and work for it. The best freelancers go out there continually advance their skills and take on new challenges. There’s absolutely no reason, though, why you can’t be one of them.

The Week In Freelance: June 15th

Posted: June 19th, 2009

  • Mike Smith from Freelance Folder: How do you build your portfolio without doing spec work and with no clients? Its simple: create it for yourself. “The benefit to creating work you like and enjoy is that your work will be great. The quality will be awesome because it’s what you like. Not only that, but you’ll attract the type of clients where you can create even more work like that. What’s not to love about being able to do what you want, when you want? Thats one of the biggest benefits to being a freelancer, right?”
  • Laura Spencer from Freelance Folder explains how to make potential clients choose you over others: “Don’t forget a final method for discovering what makes your freelancing business unique — ask your customers. That’s right; ask your customers why they chose your freelancing business over your competition. The answer might surprise you and could point directly to what makes your freelancing business better. [...] Once you determine the unique points about your freelancing business, don’t keep it to yourself. Make it part of your central business message.”
  • Karl Staib from Zen Habits with 6 techniques to staying happy during a stessful project. One in particular: “During my break I do something a little weird like take a short walk and hang from a tree branch. I find that it’s tough to worry while hanging from a beautiful tree. Plus, my creativity almost always starts flowing again. [...] There are so many ways we can pull ourselves out of a stressful state if we just take a moment to be creative.”
  • One little teeny tiny word that can change your motivation. [from Goodlife Zen]
  • And if the above doesn’t work, there is always nuero-linguistic programming you can try to improve motivation.
  • Celine Rogue from Web Worker Daily: Do email newsletters have a place in freelancing? The answer is an emphatic yes. One useful purpose is to provide useful information to our clients. “Educating our clients is always a good thing. It’s not enough to just give them our work output — I have to teach them how to use it well. But this often burdens me with hours of repetitive tech support. With the use of email marketing services, I can keep clients updated with the latest industry trends, as well as what they can do to adapt.”
  • Should you sign a non-disclosure agreement? Its probably ok, but  read and understand it before signing. [from Bizzia]
  • Johnny Truent from Copyblogger has the real secret to being a better blogger: “To be popular, you need to be likable. For the most part, you’ll need to rely on your writing (whether as text, in a podcast, or on video) to do that. But luckily, learning to write personably is actually more about unlearning how to write like a stiff. “
  • Some nice charts and graphs showing that your earnings tend to increase with longer tenure and more training. [from oDesk]
  • Georgina Laidlaw from Web Worker Daily: Its generally difficult to build a rapport with clients  when you work remotely over the internet. It doesn’t mean it is not important though. “So you need to see that each point of contact is an opportunity to build rapport. I promise: This is what makes the difference between remote workers who are fun to work with and really part of the team, and remote workers you’d happily never work with again.”

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.

Top Ten Reasons Why Freelancers Freelance

Posted: June 17th, 2009

If you freelance, have you ever stopped and wondered why the hell you are in the first place? Yeah, me too on occasion. So here we have the top ten reasons we freelance so maybe you can find one and put it to rest:

10. You now get to put CEO title in email signatures.

9. You no longer have to sit by that same smelly dude on the bus while commuting to work.

8. You had been in an entry-level position for, oh, nine years.

7. Because freelancers have it soooooo easy. The lucky bastards.

6. You already had a water cooler at home to hang out at.

5. You prefer not to have to explain those background and credit checks done while applying to jobs.

4. You went postal at old job. Probably not wanted back.

3. You can’t get fired anymore for being on Twitter and watching porn online while working.

2. You can now go weeks on end without giving a shit about hygiene.

1. Two words: Mo’ money! What? Really? Uh… nevermind then.

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!

Top Ten Fastest Money Makers in Freelancing

Posted: June 11th, 2009

Freelancers are always open to making the quick cash fast so we have you some of the fastest money makers.

10. Pawn off prized laptop, desk and chair. Buy cheaper laptop, desk and chair.

9. Spend a shift or two down at the IHOP stealing tips.

8. Add a shipping charge on all project deliverables.

7. Bet it all on black. Or the Lakers to win it all in six.

6. Find a contact in Nigeria to show you how that one scheme works.

5. Fuck it. Splurge for that thing in the email I keep getting about making a six figure income doing absolutely nothing.

4. Cash in that 50 pound jar of pennies.

3. Sell soul to devil. Hope a few bucks come out of it.

2. Moonlighting as a freelancer at the No Tell Motel.

1. A real job.

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.

The Week In Freelance: June 1st

Posted: June 5th, 2009

  • Martha Retallick from Freelance Switch has arguably the best advice I have ever heard on marketing yourself: Quit trying to perfect your portfolio, website, sales pitch, whatever and just get going. “The trouble with perfectionism and creative types is that it sucks up a lot of time that we could use for building our businesses. It’s all too easy to delve into endless tweaking of our websites, designing an award-winning direct mail piece, or creating a knock-their-socks-off HTML newsletter. [...] Meanwhile, business opportunities are flying by. And our competitors are jumping on them. So, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just. Get. Going.”
  • Cindy Krischer Goodman from TampaBay.com on freelancing as an option in a tough economy: “For some, the stigma of working at home as a free agent has them mumbling apologies. ‘They tell people,”I’m just doing this until I get a real job,”‘ says Kate Lister, co-author of Undress for Success, a soon to be released book on working from home. But more and more, people who are willing — or are forced — to give up the benefits of a 401(k) or corporate-sponsored health insurance are getting comfortable shunning the pointless meetings and annoying office politics: ‘They are sick of the rat race and they discover this as a way to take control of their lives.'”
  • Some more evidence that freelance work is booming in the bad economy (Wall Street Journal): “Between January and March, employers posted 70,500 of these work-for-hire positions on Elance.com and 43,000 on Odesk.com, which represents increases of 35% and 105%, respectively, from the same period in 2008. Sologig.com, which lists remote and on-site freelance jobs, says its average monthly postings have more than doubled to around 13,500 per month in the past year. In March, there were 750 jobs listed on VirtualAssistants.com, versus 400 in March 2008.”
  • Bookmark this page from Sparkplug CEO: Online legal resources for the home business.
  • Darell Etherington from Web Worker Daily: Achieve your goals publishing them online. “The web is a great place to publicize your professional goals, especially if that’s where you do the bulk of your work. But just tweeting your aim doesn’t mean it’ll come through. As with most things, a plan will help increase your chances of success.” Smart idea!
  • States of Mind has an interesting interview with freelance journalist Dan Baum on what it takes to succeed in this field.
  • For those who may try to sell anything online, whether it be your services or an ebook or anything else, do you know the golden rule of online marketing? [from Copyblogger]
  • Mason Hipp from Freelance Folder on using Twitter to get clients: “The first, and perhaps most obvious way to get clients from twitter is to respond to people who are asking for help. If one of your followers posts a tweet saying that they’re looking for a web designer, then all you have to do is Direct Message them saying you’re interested and offering a link to your portfolio or website. You would be surprised at how effective this can be.” The best part is that he mentions two other ways too.
  • Looks like some freelancing websites are getting noticed more and more to find programmers [from Inc.].
  • Some of the top web designers give the pros and cons of going freelance. [from Noupe]
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