5 ways to make people take your freelance status seriously

This post is inspired by an event that occurred last week. One of many similar ones. It’s Tuesday morning, 10.20 am. I am halfway through an assignment, racing towards an early afternoon deadline. This is my second deadline of the day and it won’t be the last – I have another assignment to complete by 5pm before I pick the kids up, and shall probably do more work in the evening.  Right in the middle of my particularly taxing creative process of trying to make my Norwegian client’s new range of paint emulsion sound utterly must-have fabulous in English, the phone rings. It’s a family member. Wanting to know what I want for Xmas. In July. Try as I might, I can’t get them off the phone. “I’m sorry but I’m working” doesn’t seem to cut it. Because, of course, freelancing from home isn’t a ‘proper job’. To them I spend my days pottering around, staring at my navel, waiting for them to call, or receive parcels on neighbours’ behalf, or babysit for those who do ‘work’. In fact, my entire ‘freelance career’ is treated with much suspicion by family members, friends and my children’s school alike. “But you’re not really working are you,” says a friend who pops round impromptu for a coffee to offload all her, at that point, utterly irrelevant problems.

I get disapproving looks from teachers when I say I can’t make every single netball/hockey/football match my kids happen to be in. Heavy tutting from non-working friends when I say I can’t just skip off and join them for whatever it is they do all day. And yet here’s the thing – other friends who work for much less money in much duller jobs are treated with the utmost respect when it comes to personal call invasion. After all, they have ‘jobs’. Well, enough is enough. If you suffer from similar disruptions due to ignorant attitudes about your career, here’s a few retorts and tactics to hit back with:

  1. Obviously screen ALL calls – and only answer work-related ones (and calls from/about your kids) during your working hours.
  1. Whatever you do don’t answer the door. However much they bang it down. If you were ‘at the office’ you wouldn’t be in anyway. So act like you aren’t there. If you really can’t avoid it, pin a phone to your ear and as you open the door whisper “I’m on the phone to the foreign minister about an urgent assignment – is this really important?”
  1. Educate people about what you do. Big up your job and sell the importance of it and the implications for you (and them) if you don’t meet your deadlines. “Want me to join you for that family week-end this summer? Then let me get on with earning my living so that it might actually happen!” Don’t focus on the fact that you  ‘work from home’ either. This is just an open invitation to disruption. Instead keep repeating the sorts of clients you work with (especially the big ones) and the types of assignments you have to deliver, your working hours etc. In fact bore them to tears with it. Eventually the penny might just drop and they’ll leave you alone. If only to get you to shut up about work.
  1. Blatantly lie. Pretend that you are in fact ‘at the office’. You’ve got a terribly important contract for a local client and will be based at their offices Mon-Fri. If someone happens to spot your car in the driveway, tell them you had a ‘rare day working from home’.
  1. Tell people your hourly rate and that you are on a client’s time with whom you have already agreed a set amount of hours for your assignment – so if they want to interrupt that time you will have to charge them for it in the same way you charge your clients, otherwise you will be operating at a loss. Harsh, but you’ve got a living to make after all. And probably unlike your friends/family etc., if you don’t work you don’t get paid.  If all the above fails, this one usually does the trick. Funny that.

Have a productive week!

6 ways to make sure you’re charging what you should be

Ever come across clients that want your valuable service for a song? Freelancers often find themselves in a vulnerable position of agreeing to ridiculous rates just to get the work – and avoid famine! So here’s how to fight back and make sure you are getting what you need and what you’re really worth:

1)    Know your numbers!

Above all else, do you know what you actually NEED to earn – as in the minimum you need to earn to survive and put food on the table? If you know your absolute bottom line you will be less tempted to make silly deals. Write down your minimum earnings and your ideal earnings per annum – then work backwards to calculate what you need to earn per billable hour and how many hours you need to work a week to achieve it. That is your lowest possible rate – any lower and you won’t sustain your freelance career. Now add what you need to live comfortably – then you have a genuine margin to play with in negotiations.

2. Don’t be cheap – learn to sell better

Don’t allow yourself to be negotiated down to stupid rates. Instead know your worth and learn how to sell it. Write down everything you have had to go through to be able to offer your clients what you do today: University degree? Specialised qualifications? Lengthy industry experience?  Additional training?  Perhaps you can offer something different to the competition, or perhaps you are just really good at doing the basic stuff well. You might be more flexible than Mr. Big Corporate, you might have an in-depth knowledge that few others have. Always have your unique benefits to hand and gently remind clients of them if they try to haggle you down.  Always be selling and let them know what makes YOU stand out from the crowd. In short, never sell on price, always sell on value!

3. Undercut at your peril

Occasionally lowering your price to beat the competition and get a deal you really want, because it might result in long-term business, is one thing. Permanently undercutting your competitors to get business is something else – and just plain wrong. You might get the deals now, but long-term all you are doing is devaluing your own business, your service and the industry. There are certain types of freelancers who are guilty of this. I call them the ‘dabblers’. They’re the part-timers out there who always walk around boasting that they don’t really need the work as they don’t need the money thanks to hubby’s/wifey’s big fat monthly salary/large pension.. They charge what they like just to keep their hand in. And ultimately do no service to their industry. Don’t be one of those guys. In the end you will teach your clients that your industry is worthless – and you will end up scrounging off your spouse. True professionals are hungry, which makes them creative at ways of earning money and makes them better at selling their worth. The less you NEED or WANT to earn, the less pressure, the less wolves at the door, the less imagination you have. And the less you earn.

4. Tier your rates

Do you have different ways of charging for your services, even if it’s just one service? Just think of EasyJet and how they manage to charge extra for the most basic of items. They’ve even turned bringing luggage with you on holiday into a perceived added value and they charge you £35 per suitcase for the privilege – and people  pay it! Ditto if you want to board the plane first. If someone wants something quickly from you, meaning you have to set aside other work to complete it– add a premium. Have a standard rate and a rush fee. Equally, offer discounts for large volumes or repeat business. Think of ways to ‘platinum, gold, silver’ your service – thus making parts of your business more valuable.

5. Don’t give too much stuff away for free

Learn the difference between a taster and plain giving away your service and thus devaluing it. No solicitor is ever going to give you two hours of their time for free. But most offer a free 30-minute session.  Apply this to your business – limit the amount of time or advice you give a client for free (if any) and stick to it. That way you come across as professional, you offer them a taster of what they might get if they were to do business with you, but you also teach them that if they want more, they have to pay for it. Never get into a position where you are offering your service entirely for free.

6. Remind your clients how brilliant you are:

If you’ve done a good job for someone, shout about it. Get some testimonials and pass them round. Let other potential clients know what you’ve done for businesses in their industry.  Keep a ‘brag file’. The more experience and the more positive feedback you have, the greater your perceived value.

Happy selling!

Taking the ‘free’ out of freelance: 10 ways to boost your productivity

Welcome to the first edition of The Freelancing Post, a blog for all those who march to the beat of their own drum.  Here you will hopefully find tips, comments and inspiration from someone who has been freelancing for over 12 years and is still surviving. You can find out more about me in About. And if you’re thinking about freelancing, check out “Is freelancing for you?”.

This first post is all about being productive.

Do you ever wish you could claw back some extra time?And achieve more in the time that you do have? Freelancers have the ‘freedom’ to live without the constraints of the corporate 9-5, but this often leaves ample opportunity for timewasting or filling your hours with the ‘wrong’ kind of work, leaving you wondering why you aren’t earning enough.

Increasing your productivity is all about doing the right things at the right time for you and your clients. It’s about working when you are at your best, and eliminating procrastination by saying no to time stealers and the wrong customers, and saying yes to more of the sort of work that made you turn freelance in the first place. Everyone likes feeling productive. When you are productive you feel enthused. And your clients notice it. So here are my top 10 tips that have worked for me in my business. Feel free to add your own!

1)   Start every day with 3 wishes: At the start of each day imagine how you’d like to feel at the end of it. What 3 things do you need to achieve to end the day feeling positive, productive and energised? Whatever they are, give them top priority in your schedule. Don’t expect success every day, sometimes the unexpected happens. However, by putting 3 ‘successes’ in your mind at breakfast time, you greatly increase your chances of actually achieving them by dinnertime.

2)   Be there: Make it easy for your clients to do business with you. I am often amazed at how hard it is to get hold of other freelancers during regular business hours – often the very hours their clients work. If you want to establish yourself as a productive professional make sure you are present and contactable when your clients are likely to need you – and operate a 30 minute max. response rule for getting back to them with emails and messages.  In my experience clients usually want an answer to something straightaway – if they have to wait too long, they go elsewhere. Act how you want to be treated – perhaps 10.30 on a Tuesday morning isn’t the time to switch your phone off and go shopping, ‘just because you can.’

3)   Establish a routine: Always try to work at set times of the day, preferably around your clients. The more you stick to a routine, the more likely it will become ingrained as your ‘work time’, and the more likely you will be to start turning down tempting distractions during that period.

4)   Work smarter: Being busy doesn’t mean being productive. So only work when you feel at your most productive. Save your most important jobs for when you know you are at your best. Within that time try breaking your work into manageable chunks and make this your ‘achievement time’. Avoid all time stealers in that period.

5)   Eliminate time stealers: What are your biggest time stealers? Facebook?  Odd jobs staring you in the face? Try noting down every time you do something that isn’t work related – and time it. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to lose 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, and more importantly, how your mind then becomes defocused. If you find your mind wondering, take a proper break instead. Save the ‘fun’ stuff for outside your achievement time and avoid scheduling in odd jobs during your working day ‘just because you can’. You will only become stressed from achieving neither of your jobs effectively by trying to do both at the same time.

6)   Take proper breaks: Your working day should ideally consist of several small breaks and one longer one. A proper break means time completely away from your work environment. So if you work in front of a screen, playing Candy Crush for ten minutes does not constitute a proper break, it constitutes a time stealer. Too much screen time does not rest your mind. Instead, set the timer and do something different, far away from your work environment. When your time is up, go back to your work, no detours.

7)   Love your work environment: Is your work environment as optimum as it could be? Do you have a dedicated area, the right desk, chair, tools, lighting? Or are you working from a sea of clutter and half empty coffee mugs? I don’t know anyone who isn’t seduced by a comfortable, clean, light and minimalist workspace. Add a couple of nice plants, a print on the wall, some new stationery to bring order to your paperwork and you’d be surprised at how many people actually want to ‘go to work’ and stay there.

8)   Prioritise the ‘right’ customers:  At least 80% of your day should be doing paid, satisfying work for your top customers. If you are enjoying your work and are getting paid reasonably for it, you will naturally become more productive because you will want to retain the customer who gave it to you. Make them your priority. Gradually eliminate the wrong customers – the ones who don’t pay enough, who don’t pay on time or give you work that doesn’t use or stretch your skills. We all have them – they are the ones we often say yes to during slow periods, or because we need the money. Sometimes it’s worth spending an extra bit of ‘unpaid’ time to get more of the ‘right customers’, the ones who make us love our work and want to be productive.

9)    Look after yourself:  You can’t be productive if you’re ill, tired, hungry, hung over or sluggish. Get enough sleep, eat well, don’t overdose on caffeine and take regular breaks and exercise. Pulling sickies when you freelance hurts your business because if you ain’t working you ain’t getting paid. And there’s no corporate health scheme to support you either. So make a point of investing in yourself, and ensure you feel on top form when you work.

10) Ten minute marketing:Spend ten minutes a day marketing your business. Even if you’re inundated with work. Because you never know what’s round the corner. These days there’s no excuse not to market yourself – we are spoilt for choice on the options available. A little bit of regular marketing goes much further than a panicked big hit during a dry spell, and helps you get enough work to stay productive. Even if you’re just joebloggs.com, you’re still a business – and all those ‘right’ customers need to know that!

Your turn: What are your tips for boosting your productivity?