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Now displaying: 2019
Dec 30, 2019

TL:DR: You need legal contract templates and disclaimers. Mariam did the work for you. Check out her store here.

So you know you need a contract with most of your freelance clients. But you get tripped up when the client provides you with their contract.  I know you may be concerned about having to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars working with a business attorney to create a template you can use now and in the future.

Here’s the good news. Just listen to this episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast with my amazing guest. She has a background as a freelancer and as a practicing attorney.  And she has templates that are available for you to download and easily customize to your freelance business.

But even if you're not yet ready to purchase the template, you're going to learn a lot from her about what to look for in contracts, what things can be negotiated, and what terms and contracts should never be taken out. No matter what, today's guest is Mariam Tsaturyan, a licensed and practicing attorney in the United States.  She also blogs full time.  And she realized that there was a real need for legal guidance for bloggers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.

Why Do Freelancers Even Need Contracts?

Mariam loves helping out others to avoid mistakes, especially when it comes to legal matters because many people ignore just how important it is until it's too late. And she's created several products to help freelancers and entrepreneurs stay legally compliant. You can find information about her store in the show notes for this episode, which will be at betterbizacademy.com/podcast.

Mariam goes into a great amount of detail into common mistakes that freelancers make with contracts, ones that you can't afford to make, and some of the other legally required materials you need to have if you're using a website. So that's important. It's often overlooked.  But you can bundle a lot of those templates in together to get website disclaimers and other relevant policies in addition to contract templates you can use again and again that are perfect for your freelance business.

I hope you love this episode of the podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. This is probably one of the most requested topics. And something that I get the most questions about with the freelancers that I work with one on one.  It's also a sticking point for new freelancers who are just getting started and are either being provided contracts by their clients or get stuck on this whole idea of ”I don't have a contract I'm not making money yet should I pay an attorney to create one when I don't have any revenue.”

So my guest today is Miriam and I am so excited to talk to her because she's got expertise in the freelance world and with contracts.  We're going to talk a little bit about what you should know about contracts and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls.

How did Mariam’s shop come about?

By profession, Mariam is an attorney. So she was just a regular practicing attorney initially. And then some family issues came up.  She has a son. And she had to make a decision to stay home and raise him. And they didn't have anybody helping them at that time.  So that is how the whole idea of starting the blog and starting the shop was created. She actually started as a freelancer.

So what kind of freelance work were you doing when you first got started? Was it legal or something?

She started off as a freelance writer and was doing legal freelance writing for other attorneys.  That was her way of making money initially as a way to contribute to the family finances since She was home now and she wasn't working anymore.

This is so cool!  Because that's 99% of what I write for my clients and I very rarely come across anyone who has done legal writing for other attorneys. It is not an over-saturated niche, which is kind of good when you're doing it. But it's definitely not something that everybody wants to do.

But she obviously has the perfect background to be speaking about contracts. She’s worn that hat as a freelancer and she’s an attorney. So this is something that just trips a lot of people up this whole idea of presenting contracts to a client or what to look for when a client gives you a contract that they want you to sign.

Why do you think most people get confused over contracts with freelance work?

Mariam says that this is true for any profession, not necessarily freelance writers. But for some reason when they hear the word contract, whether it's the person hiring you or it's the actual freelance writer, they get booked.

She thinks they don't understand that the contract is there to protect both sides. When they hear contract, they think it's going to be favoring one side over the other. Whereas a good contract should be a balance of both. So she thinks that's where it's coming from because they think they're going to be at a disadvantage if there is a contract instead of looking at it as a positive thing that's gonna put everything in writing and clear terms so there's no misunderstanding later on.

I think one of the other common misconceptions along with that is that most clients, at least in my experience, expect you to negotiate something if it's in the contract, and it's questionable. So you don't necessarily have to just sign the document as is.

Do you think that there's any harm in asking for adjusting things inside the contract as an entrepreneur or freelancer?

It's been my experience that if I see something that's unreasonable, I'll ask to have it taken out. And I don't think I've ever had an occasion where the client didn't take it out. I was curious to hear Mariam’s perspective.

Mariam said not at all!  Contracts are all about negotiating and compromise. Mariam said that there are certain kinds of policies and rules that you just have to abide by if they're part of the law. But as far as the actual terms of the contract, what's expected of you what you have to do, what you want to do, and compensation deadlines, all of that these are things that should be negotiated between the parties. 

There is no one size fits all approach. That's why when contracts are created, you can't just have one ready made contract and have the client sign because otherwise everybody would have the same exact agreement.

There's always room for negotiation. And you should definitely negotiate, if something is unreasonable, or if it doesn't seem fair.  Always raise that issue with the client or the clients can raise that issue with you if it's in your agreement.

Exactly. And I think that a lot of people feel like the contract has been presented, this is what I have to sign. These are what the terms are. But if you're working with a company as a freelancer, their legal team or their attorney for their business has probably drafted that contract for them. And of course, it's going to favor them as much as possible. But that doesn't mean those are the terms you have to agree to.

And I really encourage freelancers to read between the lines on any contracts that are presented to them by clients.  Because there's a lot of things that could show up that you're agreeing to that you don't necessarily realize you're agreeing to at that point in time.

Mariam said if you pay attention, generally any proper does have a clause in there that says this is the final agreement and it can only be changed or added to by the agreement of both parties. So the option is always there. If something's bothering you, if something's not sitting right with you, you can always raise the issue with the employer or the person who hired you.

But of course, it's always a better idea to read everything very clearly and carefully before signing it.  Because it's a lot easier to change things before you sign them, rather than after the fact.

Yes, that's totally true. And it’s also fine to ask if there's something where you're not sure exactly what it means.  When I signed my contract with my literary agent when we first started working together, there was one line in there that just the way the language was presented to me made it sound as though I was signing away from my life that any book I ever sold had to be sold to her.  And I was like, ”Is that what that saying?” And she said, “No, but let's change the language so that you're totally comfortable that we're only working together for this one book.”

When I do major contracts or like when I did my contract with the publishing house, I paid an attorney to look over that, make edit requests and come up with some things that could potentially be negotiated.  Because sometimes we're in over our head.  Especially if you're with a big company that's a fortune 500 or something and you're coming on as a freelancer.  They might have a pretty extensive contract!  You want to make sure that you fully understand everything.

So on that note, what are the key elements of a contract that are most important for freelance projects?

I have a feeling it's probably deadline, pay revisions, and ownership of copyright. What are the other things that freelancers should be aware of when either creating their own contract to give to clients or signing a client's contract?

One of the key sections of a freelancer agreement contract that Mariam always urge her clients to pay attention to is the services provided and the services not provided or not included section in the agreement. Specifically this last section, services not included, can get overlooked because a lot of people don't cover that. They just put down what kind of what services are going to be provided and that's that. 

They forget to kind of go over the services that are not going to be provided. And one thing that Mariam has  noticed is when you talk about the services provided, many people tend to put down freelance writing or writing an article on blog topic for client.  They put it very generally.  There are no details or bullet point details as to what that articles entails. For example, how many words is it? What topic is it on? Does it require you to do sons social media work or any promotional work? Do you have to do any revisions on it? How many revisions do you have to do? These are details that are important needs to be stated explicitly in the services provided section.

And then, at least to Mariam, she thinks what's more important is services not provided or not included in the agreement. Because when you don't mention something specifically, a client can keep asking you to do it even though you didn't agree to it beforehand. And especially if you're a beginner freelancer, and you haven't established yourself in the market yet, you might be willing to go along with anything at that point.

But when you clearly state what’s not going to be included in the agreement, then you're very much limited your services and you're putting a price that. You are saying, ”If you want this, it is an additional negotiation or additional pay that we need to agree on beforehand.”

Obviously, a deadline is very important. And deadlines needs to be very detailed also. So you need to take into account that the length for finishing the project and then the deadline for delivering the work. So if there are any revisions in place was the absolute last day that the client needs to have this work with them so everything can be ready for publication. You have to have in mind your own deadlines and you have to have in mind the client’s deadlines.  And make sure that you're leaving enough wiggle room in there not to get into trouble.

This is one of those points that you need to negotiate with the client or the person who's hiring you very carefully because you don't want to go back to this client later and ask them for more time because you didn't prepare in advance.  And you don’t want the client to come to you and suddenly say,“Oh, now you don't have one week, you only have two days.” You want to make sure everything's there so that you're covered.

Those are great points. And I feel like the contract is your final chance to make sure that you and the client are on the same page.

Because this becomes your written document that you can refer back to when clients try to do things like expand the scope of the project beyond the terms that you agreed to.  It becomes the way beyond the verbal agreement when you can go back and say like, “Hey, if you go and check out page two of the contract we signed, we clarified that these blog pieces were 1000 words each, so an additional rate of blah, blah, blah, you know, 100 words will apply because you want me to make edits and make them 1500.”

Clients sometimes forget too.  Especially if they're new to working with freelancers or if they have never worked with freelancers. So when you send over your contract, and that's what I'm taking away from what Mariam said, is to be as specific as possible when you send that over.

That's their final chance to review it and say, “Yes, we're on the same page about all the details in this project. And if we're not, then let's read rework through the rates and come up with a new version.”  It becomes a lot harder for a client to argue that they were under the impression that you were going to provide something that you never were when you have that in writing.

I love having things in writing, because kind of takes the pressure off of you and saying, “Well, hey, we talked on the phone that I was going to spend three hours on this project.” And if you have something like that in writing, it's a lot easier to just say, “Oh, per our conversation, per our contract.”  It gives you more of a ground to negotiate from.

It gives you the ability to call them out if necessary because some clients, whether intentionally or not, they will take advantage of the fact that you didn't get specific enough. They may be like, “Well, you said you would do blog writing. And so I was thinking that was 16 blogs a month with unlimited revisions.” And it's like, “Well, you know, our contract doesn't really say anything beyond that.” So now, it weakens the whole relationship. Because from there, the client is upset and you're upset. It's very hard to repair that relationship. It's so much easier to just start off on the right foot and say, “These are the terms we both agree to it.”

Another one that comes up a lot is this idea of an escape clause or a kill fee.

This usually applies to bigger projects like a website designer building an entire website or a writer is working on a book or a really big piece. The whole idea behind it is, if the client decides not to do the project, for any reason, the freelancer is owed a certain amount of money, usually a flat fee or a percentage. What do you think about these kind of kill fees or escape clauses that allow clients to get out of contracts and what should freelancers know about those?

Mariam said this kind of falls under the right to terminate. The person who hires you always has the right to terminate the project. However, if you've done any work for that project, doesn't matter whether you've completed the work or not, then you have to get compensated. Mariam thinks freelancers in general have to get in the right mindset. That's their business. They’re a  business owner, and any service that they provide should be compensated.

You don't expect any brick and mortar business to provide you any free services. That never happens. So you have to protect your rights. You have to come to an agreement in advance when it comes to that. If a client decides not to go ahead with the project or if they decide to terminate it before you're finished with the project, you either have to have a flat fee that they have to pay you. Something like a deposit that the client gives you in advance for the work.

This is up to you how you want to negotiate it with the client, how you decide to word your contract, and how you work. Some people decide to work on flat fees before the project starts based on a percentage.  For example, the client may have to give you a $200 deposit for this project. And if the project is terminated, you get to keep that. It's non refundable amount. And if it's not terminated, then it counts towards the total. 

You can also work with a percentage.  You’ve acquired a certain amount, in advance, or even as you're working, if you can itemize basically the amount of work that you've done.  You would have to figure out the percentage of work that you've done and you need to be compensated, then you put that down. For example, like, “Okay, he's terminated this project, but at this point, I have completed 65% of this project, and 65% of this amount that we've agreed on. You need to compensate me for that.” Specifics will depend will be up to the individual freelancer as to how they decide to work. But there absolutely needs to be some kind of clause in their contracts, protecting them against such outcomes.

I think for some of you listening who might not have ever seen something like that in the contract, you might be wondering, “Well, why would we have a clause in there about canceling the contract because my intention is to work with this client from the beginning of it until the completion? That's what I quoted for that's what I expected.” So what you're doing with these kinds of clauses is protecting yourself in the event that there are circumstances outside of your control or possibly even the clients control where you've done work on the project, but they are deciding to pull the plug on finishing that project for whatever reason. It means that you are not left out in the cold.

I've also seen this used when people start working together and then they realize it's not really a good fit. It's a fee that the client ends up paying to say, “Hey, this isn't going to work out. But you know, we were essentially paying a canceling the contract early fee type of thing.” So of course, you don't want to cancel your contracts with your clients.

But as Mariam mentioned, this helps to protect you if you spent 10 hours working on something for a client, and then they say, “Oh, well, we're not going to be able to finish this. Our business is closing or something has changed.” You can still be compensated for the work you've done.

And that's probably a case where it makes a lot of sense to do milestones in the contract too.

That's what I like to do with my clients if it's something big. It's like this amount of money is due at every phase.  Then I'll break down exactly what those phases are. If it's a book, when the first two chapters are turned in X amount of money is due within 14 days. And that helps you too!, If they were to suddenly cancel the project, you will at least get compensated for the work that you did.

Now, another one that comes up a lot is late fees. 

I feel like a lot of freelancers don't put in their contracts and it ends up costing them paying an administrative time later. It’s important to have a late fee for when the client has not paid their invoice on time.  What do you think about adding late fees and contracts as a as a freelancer? Whether you intend to use them by actually charging the client or as more of a leverage point and saying, “Hey, your invoices late.  It's been 14 days and for our contract, I'm going to charge you X percent.”

Mariam is all for that. Her freelancer contracts all have late fees in them. And she thinks that's just good practice to have it. Because number one, as she already mentioned, it speaks of the fact that you're a business. You're a service provider and you take things very seriously.

Number two, it serves as a deterrent.

Whether you actually enforce this and charge late fees or not, it serves as a deterrent for the hiring party to not pay you in time. It's in their best interest to pay you in time because they know that you're going to keep adding late fees. And Mariam has learned this particular clause the hard way.

She’s an attorney. She should have known better! But when she started out as a freelance writer, after she became a stay at home mom, she did not have this in her agreement. She had a very simple agreement because she figured they were all attorneys and there's no reason for her to have a very detailed contract. She thought they would respect each other. But that wasn't the case.

And this late fee became a huge issue for one of her clients. And essentially, if she charged late fees, she would have been owed over $300 or more. But because that wasn't in her agreement, she never got compensated. So now late fee provision is an absolute must in every contract.

I found that some clients like to give you the runaround.

They’ll say, “Oh, well, it's in accounting.” And then you contact accounting and that person's out on vacation for three weeks. Then it ends up being like two months that you're chasing down a check. And especially if it's something like $500, it's a huge waste of your time to have to send multiple emails and make multiple calls.

What I found with late fees is, even when it's a small amount, even if it's $25 or 15% of the total amount, people don't want to pay extra money. And so when you've exhausted all your other options, and you've contacted all the people, I like to send a reminder a couple of days after it was originally due.  If I gave them some amount of grace period to get things sorted out, I'll say, “Hey, by the way, in about three business days, I'm going to have to charge a late fee as per our contract. I'm sure this was just a misunderstanding and maybe my invoice got lost in another department. But I just want to give you guys a heads up.” And 9 times out of 10, your invoice gets paid because they don't want to pay the extra money.

One thing Mariam tends to do with her contracts, when it comes to the fee provisions, whether it's the late fee, whether it's invoicing, or the amount that the client needs to pay you for the work done.  At the end of the contract, aside from having the actual signature lines, for these provisions, she puts a small line for initials. Because she wants to make sure that the client read these specific provisions in detail. And she wants to see their initials in front of it.

So she doesn’t want them to come back later and be like, “Oh, yeah, I signed the contract. But I didn't actually see this provision that you had in there or I skipped over it or skimmed it. I didn't read it all the way.” She doesn't want to deal with that. So what she does is she has an initial place in the contract for them to initial specifically for the provisions that have to do with fees. So that way they could come to me and say, “I did read this.”

I love that. And I do the same thing with a piece that I add in my contracts born out of a bad personal experience as well.

I asked my clients to initial that they have read my writing samples and accepted that what they will receive will be substantially similar in tone and style. And that's the guard against those clients who go, “I just don't like it.” And they can't give you any more feedback than that. And it's like, if you hire me as a writer, I'm assuming that you have already reviewed my writing samples and you like my style. Otherwise you wouldn't hire me.

But unfortunately, I had one client where that wasn't the case. And they just didn't like my writing style. So now I have that in there.  I ask clients to please initial here that they've reviewed the samples that I sent them. And then we're not going to be way off base. Obviously, it's going to be personalized to that client. But you’re going to see the same things like an Oxford comma, adverbs, and other things about how I write so you can't complain about it after the fact.

So I love that and I love the idea of having them initial and call attention to it.  A lot of this goes back to protecting yourself.

So when somebody says, “Oh, I didn't read that, Oh, I didn't know that. Oh, well, I thought you meant XYZ.” The contract is the gold standard to be able to go back to. Because above any conversation you've had or any misunderstanding to say, “Well, hey, our contract says that this project was $1,000. And you initial next to the late fee section, which is 15%. And so now we are 10 business days past it being due per the contract.”

You have a lot more ground to stand on in that type of position when you have called it out and made them sign it. And again, remember that whatever clauses you put in your contracts, the client might try to negotiate those two. So be prepared for that. You're not going to have unreasonable clauses in your contract. But if you did, be prepared that the client might bring that up.

Speaking of that, when it comes time for negotiation or compromise, there are certain clauses that no matter how much the client wants to negotiate for you to remove it from the agreement, you shouldn’t and a late fee is one of them.

For example, you can negotiate on the amount of late fee that you're charging. Let's say you're charging $35. And the client says, “Let's make this $25.” That's reasonable. But if the client says, “Remove the late fee provision from the agreement.” To Mariam, that's a red flag. She would not do that. Because that plans right off the path is telling you that they're going to be late. She wouldn’t want to deal with that.

And that's a really good point. What other clauses would you say are in a contract that should stay in no matter what even if you negotiate the finer details?

Mariam said intellectual property and ownership of intellectual property or copyrights/trademark depending what you do as a freelancer.  And since you are a freelancer, your work is yours. You own the intellectual property. And you own the copyright on the trademark.  There's only very limited situations where if you do something and it can be considered a work for hire when the employer or the hiring party would own the copyrights to that. But it's very rare.

There are a whole bunch of requirements that you have to satisfy before you can be considered a work for hire freelancer. Therefore, a lot of the time you own your work. And if the client wants to own the copyright, if the client wants to have exclusive rights, and be the owner of copyright, be the owner of trademark, then that's an additional term that you have to have in your contract. You have to make it very clear to the hiring person and say, “Hey, I own this!”

For example, they had you write a piece or they had you design a website or whatever it is that you're doing as a freelancer. You own the copyright to that.  And you sell them an exclusive license to use it.  You're not going to sell that same thing to another person. And it won't be ethical either since the client paid you for that. But you own the intellectual property to that work. And if the client wants to own the intellectual property, whether it's copyright or trademark, then you have to make room in your contract for additional compensation so the client cannot own the IP for the same amount of price that they're paying you to get the work done.

Let's say you wrote a $2,000 blog post, or you wrote a book for them, or whatever you did for them. And they paid you let's say, $2,000 or $3,000.  There's no way that the client will own the intellectual property to that work for that same amount. So there has to be some form of additional compensation if the client wants to own the intellectual property as well.

That's a really interesting point because I had not thought about it in that way.

It's not automatic.  And 99% of what I do is ghostwriting work. And we have it listed in the contracts that the copyright goes to the client. And the rate includes that. Where I see a lot of people getting tripped up with that is, let's say you do have that clause in there where they're being paid because they're going to own the intellectual copyright.

One thing you want to clear up with your clients is whether or not you still have permission to share that as a work sample. I think that comes up a lot with ghostwriters where companies don't really want to divulge that they're working with somebody else to write their content. That it's not their CEO or their marketing manager. And you don't want to be directing other potential clients to that work saying, “Oh, hey, I wrote so and so's website or I wrote that book for somebody.” if you don't have permission to share that as a work sample.

So I've seen some contracts specifically with book ghostwriters as well where it will say that your name is not going to be on the front of the book because you're the ghost writer. But if you are in the negotiation phase with another potential ghostwriting client, and they're looking for references, that person is willing to receive a phone call and say that they worked with you. In some cases, you're allowed to share part of the manuscript for what you worked on. But that's something you want to clarify for sure.

In this particular case of ghostwriting falls under a different category when it comes to rights and intellectual property and ownership.

Because ghostwriting, the theory behind it is that the client pays you.  Ghostwriters get paid higher than regular freelancers because the amount of money that they get for that project kind of includes the ownership of the intellectual property. The whole idea behind it is you write it, but to the outside world, it's as if I wrote this piece which means they own the rights

This is one of those situations where you do have to put your negotiator hat on and try to come to an agreement with the client. Because when you do go throughit, the client is completely within their rights to not agree to let you share the piece that you've worked on. Whether it's a book, whether it's an article,  or whatever it is, because it's a ghost written project.

When you're ghostwriting, you have to be a little more understanding as a freelancer of the client

because they're pretending to the outside world that it's their piece. And if they don't want you to be able to showcase that, then that's within their rights. But obviously there are ways of approaching that.  Maybe you can make some concessions. You can say, “I'm not going to reveal a name. I'm not going to reveal a company. Can I just show like a small section of this work without disclosing who it's from?” 

From Mariam’s experience, some are willing to do that. Some are willing to let you showcase it as a work product or a sample of your a piece of your portfolio for later projects. But at the same time, a lot of them aren't willing to do that. And unfortunately, there's not much that can be

done with that.

That's a really good point and important distinctions to consider all with relation to intellectual property and what you can share and what the differences are with ghostwriting versus other types of freelancing.

So I know Mariam has quite a few templates.

I know she has an online store with different contracts. I asked if she would mind walking through some of these different templates that might be applicable to freelancers. Because I know it's not just contracts. A lot of us have websites. And I know she’s got some of the important and legally required things that we need to have on our websites and other marketing locations.

To begin with the simplest of things, if you have a website, Mariam said you have to have a privacy policy, that's non negotiable. And with the current laws, your privacy policy must be GDPR compliant. And now your privacy policy has to be CCPA compliant.  That’s California Consumer Privacy Act.

If you have any kind of monetization going on your site like ads or if you have affiliate relationships with different companies or even people, then you want to have a disclaimer. If you're a freelance writer, for example, you still want to have a disclaimer because you want to make some kind of disclaimer in there that these are work products.  These are your work samples. You cannot make any guarantees.

And especially in a situation if you have testimony on your site, let's say you're a freelancer who has a portfolio and then you maybe have some testimony by a few satisfied clients who said that they loved your work, or you were the best writer they hired. So you want to have some kind of on time warranty or anti guarantee clause in there and your disclaimer policy that says that it's not guaranteed that they will get the same absolute results as the other people who gave you testimonies. Each person's satisfaction is dependent on different factors.

A lot of freelancers fail to have this. A lot of professionals fail to have this kind of disclaimer in there. It's essential because of course then they can come and say, “This person was saying that they took this online course from you, or they read this ebook that you made for them. They followed the steps and they were able to make $5,000 in three months. And your course was saying make $5,000 in a short period of time. Well, it's been four months, and I still didn't even make thousand dollars.” I mean, it's not very often but it's a possible scenario where somebody could come after you for something like that. So you want to have a disclaimer somewhere in there where you talk about results may vary and  you can't make any guarantees.  You want to talk about all the different circumstances and situations.

So Terms of Use is not mandatory by law, but it is highly recommended. Especially if you have any kind of products that you're offering. Service would be considered the product. It's a service, but it's still a product. If you have actual things that you're selling digital items, ebook templates for printables like designs, or anything like that, you want to have Terms of Use where you state your intellectual property rights. Where you specifically state how others will use your services and more importantly, how they're not allowed to use your services.

So those three policies are kind of a staple bundle policy that every website owner should have. Obviously, they're going to differ. You're going to customize it based on your needs, but those three things you should have on your site as a freelancer. Obviously there's a freelancer legal agreements, the writer agreement, designer agreement, which is all dependent on what you do. This is the more official contracts that we kind of talked about throughout this interview the different clauses that are included sections and all of that.

There's also something called letter of agreement for freelancers.

This is a lot simpler. And this is a lot less official looking. Iit literally looks like a letter. And the idea behind it is the people or the clients who are spooked by the idea of signing a formal contract, this is for them. Because it still lays out the important terms that you're supposed to have or pay attention to, but it's not in as much detail.

Mariam wouldn't recommend a letter of agreement with somebody that you've never worked with before, if it's somebody who doesn't have a very good reputation, or you don't know anything about them.  If that’s the case she would always try to get them to sign an actual law contract instead of this. But if this is your last resort, the letter of agreement is a good, good way to go if the client doesn't want to sign anything.

Yeah, that's all really important.

I feel like thinking about some of these other policies that you might want to have, even if you're at the beginning of your freelance career, is important. Because there's a good chance that at some point in the future, you're going to include testimonials on your site. I'm even thinking about when you expand into other things like books and courses,and you're selling other things., It's something I recommend to my freelancers. Get that social proof as soon as you can.

But the flip side of that is you have to protect yourself from people who would attempt to use that social proof against you. And so just knowing that you've got all the necessary policies out there and that you've got a solid contract template is super important.

Where can everyone go to learn a little bit more about you? And what you do?

Mariam’s website is freelanceandmarketing.com. And once you're there if you're looking for contracts, you'll see a tab that says “Legal Shop.” She provides legal audits to people who want to make sure that their websites are properly set up or if they're being compliant with a certain policy or if they just want me to audit their contracts.

There's an About section where you can learn a little bit about Mariam.  One thing Mariam wanted to mention is that she’s putting together an entire bundle for different categories of people

like entrepreneurs.  It wasn’t ready at the time of this interview, but she was working on it.  And she was working on an entire bundle for freelancers. It will include all the different policies that freelancers need. It will not necessarily be for a beginner freelancer, because a beginner freelancer pretty much just needs the legal agreements to start with. But as you progress, you might want to hire somebody to help you.

Because you're a business owner, and you yourself might hire people out for different projects that you get. So, the freelancer bundle is going to have a whole bunch of different agreements, policies, helpful videos, and all of that in there for you to begin with. Basically a bundle that you can get to start your freelancer business the right way and it's coming up. It's not there yet, but hopefully by the time this episode is published, it will be available.

Having looked at Mariam’s store, she has a great variety of things to help freelancers get started.

I know some of you are listening and going, she's an attorney. That means I'm paying hundreds of dollars. I have to contact a business attorney and they're going to charge me $200 or $300 an hour. Mariam’s contracts and templates and policies are very, very reasonably priced. So this is perfect for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced freelancer.

I know that this is definitely a hot ticket item that I am happy to refer people because I get that question all the time. So it'll be great to finally have a resource to direct people to. But I just want to thank Mariam so much for coming on the show and providing all of this amazing expertise on what to know about contracts.

Mariam Tsaturyan is a licensed and practicing attorney in the United States, who also blogs full-time. Mariam realized that there was a real need for legal guidance for bloggers, freelancers, & entrepreneurs. She enjoys helping out others, especially when it comes to legal matters because many people ignore just how important it is until it's too late. For this reason, she created several products to help freelancers and entrepreneurs stay legally compliant.

Want to grab Mariam’s Awesome Templates? Click here.

Affiliate disclaimer: If you click on the link above, I’ll receive a small commission for referring you.

Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more

Dec 23, 2019

One of these questions I see coming up all the time for people who are just thinking about making the leap into working from home is whether working remotely and freelancing are the same thing. It can get really confusing because plenty of freelancers do work remotely. But that's not necessarily the same as someone who's working on an hourly, part time, or salaried, full time basis as a remote worker.

In this episode, I was so happy to be able to invite my guest Maryellen Stockton to chat about what it means to work remotely, successfully. We talked about a lot of things including how to be successful with a remote job interviews and tips that can help you be successful and effective with potential clients and employers in this digital world we live in today.

About Maryellen Stockton

Maryellen Stockton is the co-founder and CEO of Work Well Wherever. She is a People Operations Consultant who has worked for 15 years encouraging individuals to achieve positive work/life experiences and helping companies create inspired work cultures. Six years ago, she began working remotely for a virtual staffing firm and quickly became an expert in company culture, employee engagement, and building teams outside the traditional office.

She lives in Atlanta with her husband Matt and her two kids, George and Winnie. The things that make her happy usually include coffee, people she loves, and mountains. And to that, I say I feel the same!

I hope you will find this episode helpful for learning more about why remote work has become so popular.

We're living in an amazing time as freelancers or as remote employees where companies are finally opening up to the idea that they can have very effective, efficient, and great teams with excellent communication in locations all over the country or even the world. So use that to your advantage. Make sure you file away the tips in this episode and avoid some of the pitfalls we discuss that are costing people remote work opportunities.

I was thrilled to be able to chat with Maryellen because I think she has such a unique background with remote work. She is also, in a sense, like a consultant herself running her own business. So she has this really unique blend of both of those backgrounds.

I'd love to kick things off by talking a little bit about the difference between remote work and freelancing.

Sometimes we're talking about the same things.  But increasingly, these words are  getting their own definition. So I really wanted to hear her perspective on what that difference is.

Maryellen’s thoughts on on freelance work is that you are usually not working full time for one employer.  You are usually working full time maybe for multiple employers or maybe you're working part time for multiple companies or on multiple projects. And you are not necessarily like a part of a team.

With remote work, and especially with the growth of this full time, remote work, the difference is that you're usually devoted to one company or organization. And it is a company that is either distributed where they have offices all over or they have teams that are.  Everyone works from home or maybe it's a combination of both.

Maryellen shared that you are seeing increasingly more and more companies hiring freelancers to do certain projects and also they have remote teams. That actually worked for the organization. And that's increasingly more common.

I totally agree with that. I think that the confusion for a lot of people is because most freelancers today are working remotely. Now, that's not true for everyone. There are definitely some freelancers who still go into the office and things like that. But most of them are working remotely.

So when someone is thinking about getting started working from home, it's actually quite different working for one company, or maybe two companies that you're working remotely for part time versus running a freelance business where you may have multiple clients at the same time. And there's not always that expectation that it's ongoing. Like if you take a full time, or part time remote work job, unless the person has told you that this is temporary, there's that expectation that it's like a traditional form of employment. It's expected to go on unless there's a reason for either party to decide to end the relationship. Whereas, freelance work is so much more flexible. It might literally be that someone needs you to do something this week and then never again. I still have some of my clients from years ago. So it's all over the board.

One of the things that's cool about the time period that we live in is that remote work is becoming more and more accepted by companies of all sizes.  Employees are wanting it. So it’s a great time to be either a remote worker, an aspiring remote employee or a freelance. Because this whole idea of working with people who are not in your office is so much more accepted.

What other trends have you seen in the last couple of years around remote work?

Maryellen shared that there are employers who have a corporate team that is fully remote. And then they also hire freelancers. So they have contractors all over the US. So they are all under one company. The contractors are 1099.   These freelancers are 1099. And it's a lot of part time.  Then they also have these corporate team employees that are remote. So it's interesting to see.

Maryellen has seen a rise of wanting to incorporate the freelancers more into the company.   She has some thoughts and ideas around it. But it's like that is something that you have to figure out as you go along.

She said that in Atlanta, there are companies that staff assistants, bookkeepers, or marketing team members. And then they also have a remote corporate team. So it's just interesting trying to bring them into the fold. And especially when they're thinking about how they want these freelancers to be a part of their culture and have better communication.   How do you do that?  How does that happen?

That is a really unique challenge.

And the way that I have come across that topic is when I'm coaching freelancers, who are in some of these teams, but they're being brought in on a short term basis or even on a long term basis. But as independent contractors, there's a really fine line that employers have to walk between legally with how they treat freelancers.

So it's this big gray area where sometimes companies don't even realize that they're doing it. For example, you want to bring this freelancer into the fold of your company culture.  And you want them to feel like they're part of a team. You want to have great communication channels. But at the same time, the way that you treat an employee, you can't always necessarily just assume that the freelancer is another employee and that that's okay.

So I think that's a challenge that's really facing both freelancers and companies that are trying to leverage their talent right now is figuring out like, “Okay, we have someone who's not really part of the team, but we'd like them to feel like they are without crossing the line. How do we get that perfect Goldilocks situation there?”

Maryellen thinks it definitely starts with the communication and how you are tracking things.

How often are you bringing the freelancers into the discussions if they're working on a certain project? Because sometimes she thinks the common thing with with freelancers and with teams, whether they're remote or in the office, is that they have a meeting in the office or they have a meeting on video. And since the freelancer is only working on one part of the project, they don't loop them into that conversation. She sees that happening a lot. And so the freelancer is actually missing out on the valuable information by not being involved.

I didn't think about that. There’s so many conversations or even feedback loops that are happening, whether it's in an office or it's a remote team, with the rest of the team. So it can be a challenge. Something for companies to keep in mind is, when you do these update meetings or progress, how do you fold in a person?

One of the ways that this has come up with a lot of freelancers that I work with is, they'll have a client who's new to working with freelancers. And they'll say, “Oh, hey, can you hop on the phone in an hour?” And that's not possible for freelancers.   Companies should be prepared to work ahead with that sort of thing.

Maryellen thinks one of the ways that you work around that is realizing that now we might have to have a regular update especially if there's a big project going on. Maybe you have to have the team meeting weekly, based on the particular project, as opposed to when you used to only have to have monthly meetings, You just have to think about different ways of communicating so that everyone's on the same page and that no one's left out or is missing information.

I think that's really great for freelancers and remote workers alike to consider. And that gets into our next topic here. Remote work has definitely gotten more popular with a lot of different companies and in a lot of different industries. But I still feel like, and this is true of freelancing, too, that there's a lot of misconceptions around remote workers and remote working.

What are those misconceptions and myths that are still out there?

Maryellen shared that she doesn’t know when we'll get over these misconceptions. But the biggest one is that if people work from home or telecommute or freelancing or any kind of remote work that they are not really working.  She admitted she had this misconception too, before she started working remotely six years ago.  It's hard to turn it off.

When she started working remotely, she really had to figure out a way to stop and schedule myself and be organized and set boundaries and establish my working hours and make sure that I was communicating all that Because it really is hard to turn off because you can take it anywhere. That's the beauty of it.  But then it ends up causing issues.

This happened to me with my freelance business. My husband just commented on like, “Okay, some days you're working from your laptop in the living room. Some days you're in the bed working. And some days you're over here.”  He said that my workspace had become the entire house. And this is good because it's so easy to grab for that laptop and go, “Oh, I've got 15 minutes. I can knock out that email.”

So I love that idea of, what are your working hours going to be? Either because you're a remote worker and you need to have that expectation of when you're going to be online with the rest of the team and available to talk to you. As a freelancer, it went against everything that I wanted in my freelance business. I was so dumb. I don't want to be nine to five. And so I was like, “Well, I can't work between nine to five. I just don't want to make that my office hours.” But finally, when you make some sort of clear schedule, or when you have a home office, where that's where you go to do your work and your calls, it's that much easier to prevent it from bleeding over.

Sometimes I feel like remote workers and freelancers feel as though they have to prove that they're working.

They feel the need to document what they're doing, take screenshots, or send like a recap of what they have done. And that's not always necessary or productive or the best use of time. But part of that is because I think we worry about, “Well, does this person believe that I'm really working or not? Do they think that I'm just here billing them for time or essentially on the clock when I'm not doing anything?”

Maryellen thinks that if you're an owner of a company, and you're hiring freelancers, or you decided to let people work from home a couple days a week, then you have to trust that you've hired the right employee for the position. And you have to be crystal clear about the expectations and goals everyone should have.

These should be expectations and goals that align with their position or project or whatever it is. So that should be communicated well, so that everybody has set expectations that are not limiting someone in their flexibility. It's actually like leading them well and allowing them to do their best and in the role.

So she thinks that sometimes when people are switching to remote, there is that sense of, “I don't want to micromanage.” So they don't put any guidelines or expectations in place. But you actually are not doing anyone a favor. Because then people don't really know what's expected and everyone does want to know what's expected of them. It's not really rules, per se.  It's just leading leading well. It's just guiding your team to do the best that they can and also setting the employee or Freelancer up for success.

I think one of the most common breakdowns that I've seen is around communication expectations.

Because if you're bringing someone into your team, they need to know what the communication expectations ares.  For example, you may be the type of person who only checks your project management tool once a day and your email twice a day. If you have someone new on your remote team who's like starting at nine o'clock in the morning, they might be sending you messages over Slack or over email like, “Hey, I'm unclear about something.”

And if they don't know that the expectation is, “Oh, hey, we always chat during the midday daily meeting or on Fridays. We map out the week ahead. And so you should be prepared to show up to the Friday meeting with all of your concerns and questions and intended priorities.” You're just making that person feel more and more awkward. And they're wasting time as well. Because that person is just sitting around not realizing that that's part of the way that your remote team works.

So I think that's important to remember, too. That not all remote teams are created equal. And when they have this mix of remote workers and freelancers and sometimes even people in an office in a different location, you’ve got to suss out that culture.

So how do you do that if you're the intended employee or the freelancer? How do you tell what a company's culture is when you don't have that ability to walk into an office and get a vibe that way?

So from the employee’s perspective, or freelancer’s perspective, but I guess mainly when you're a remote worker where the culture is more important.  I mean, you still wantan awesome culture for your freelancer, but it's more temporary. Maryellen shared that if she’s going to interview for a remote company, she’s going to do her research first. Just as with any company.   She’s going to do my research.

One of the things that she thinks is hugely important in remote work is that when you're applying for these jobs, do you align with them? What is their mission? What is their purpose? Does that  speak to you?  Is that intriguing to you? And are their values communicated clearly that you understand? And what are their processes?  It's good to ask how often does the team meet?, How do they meet?  Are you meeting in person? Do you have the tools in place to know that everything is heading in the right direction so that you will be able to connect?  It’s so important to be able to develop a connection with other employees. 

I feel like whether you're working remotely and trying to land a remote traditional job, or you're a freelancer, we tend to worry about wasting people's time.

Especially if you're being paid for it. For example, say you're an hourly freelancer, and you're like, “Well, I don't want to waste three minutes of this phone call asking this person how their kids are doing.” But it's actually important to do that sort of thing. And as long as it's not excessive, I think that people don't even think about that in terms of like, “Oh, this person is trying to draw time or wasted or isn't sensitive to the fact that I'm a busy person.”

It's so important for that connection to feel like you are part of the team and to really get to know who you're working with.  And I'm guessing that there are more downsides than this, but I know for myself that isolation is one of the hardest things about being working remote. It's wonderful to work from home.  It’s nice to have your home office, have your pets around, and all of that stuff.   But it can also be super hard.

Do you see any other like downsides or things that someone should be aware of with working remotely that they should be prepared for before they start?

Maryellen does think the isolation thing is huge. That takes a little bit to get adjusted too.  So some things that she did was just have a set date if I didn't have video calls to be in a coffee shop, just to be around people. Or she had a workout class two days a week that she liked to go to. And so she would schedule that time. So that goes back to the things that we talked about. That also helps you to turn things off.

The other thing that's the downside of remote work, is just figuring out a schedule that works for you and works for the company. One that allows for flexibility, but where you're able to get things done but still have a routine or schedule. She thinks that was super helpful to her to avoid isolation and to avoid over overworking.

Because there are those days for any of us, in office or not, where maybe from 12 to one you go to your kids ballet performance or you have a doctor's appointment, and you have to get back online after the kids are to bed or your partner goes to sleep or whatever the thing is that happens. But if you can, you don't have to have this like rigid schedule. But if you can somewhat schedule and know what you're going to tackle next and have a sense of the things that you need to be more productive during the day, that helps with the with the isolation and the overworking part that that I see people face.

This goes back to that company culture idea that you're trying to assess when you're working with someone new.

What is their company culture?  Do they expect you to be online all the time or not? Because that's something to really know up front so you can plan around that. And I love that idea of getting out of your office when you can even if you're a remote worker. See if there's someone where you can have lunch with them on one day a week where you leave your home office.

For me, my husband and I just moved to Minnesota a couple of months ago.  I knew one person here. So I forced myself to go to Minneapolis a couple times a month. And then every Wednesday night I go to an adult tap dance class and I interact with other people from Minnesota and get to be part of the whole culture here.

So I feel like that's important to even the schedules that you have during your work day. And even when you're not working that can help if you don't have that water cooler gossip. You don't have that going out with your co workers at lunch type of thing when you're working remotely, but you can build in that connection in other ways.   I found that that helps me too. Because if I have evening events, I can't work past a certain hour because that's where I need to go. So it's a really it's always a balance but definitely important to keep that

Maryellen asked me if there is something that I hear freelancers or people I work with encounter that they consider a downside.

There's two things. So one is that people don't understand what you do. For the longest time, my in laws described what I do as something on the internet. Then I'd say the other one is that people tend towards being a little too reliant on technology. We live in this digital world. But we need to find that fine line between things that can be sent over an email and it's going to be interpreted the right way by the person receiving it and need to actually have a call.

If I have 20 questions that need answered, then it's just going to be easier for us to get on the phone and hash out those 20 questions in 30 minutes rather than me work on a project and get all the way to the finish line and have my client or employer say it’s not correct.  A phone call or video call could have cleared that up 10 steps earlier in the process. And assuming that all people write emails the same way I do.  I would say that's the other big challenge for working remotely that I see a lot.

One of the things you are looking for when you're you're looking for someone to work remotely is great communication skills. It's somewhat like being a little intuitive or a problem solver. And that's part of the communication thing is saying like, “Okay, I can't even explain this in the email. I'm just going to pick up the phone and call them or I'm going to ask if they can jump on a call later.” It’s fine If you call and they don't answer. Then maybe you go back to the email and figure something else out. But sometimes it's just quicker to have that conversation than to type in emails.  It can hit a point where it’s getting too long or doesn't make sense or it's not going to be received. It’s knowing when to do what .

Especially if you are the worker who's getting an email or a piece of feedback on something that says, “I don't like this. This does this.” Well, what does that mean? Because I could interpret that as they hate me or they want to fire me.  And they could have just literally meant like, “I don't like the color yellow. And you put yellow on that.” This is a five second fix.  But over email, it can be interpreted differently.

So one of the things that I like to do with that is if it seems like there's going to be confusion, or if this is a little more complex than an email, I will just say that in my message that I want to schedule a call with them. If they have an automated booking where I can go right to their calendar and book a call, I'll do that. If they're busy, and I don't know what their schedule is, I'll just send a message like, “Hey, I'm really thinking with a 15 minute phone call we could knock out all these questions and clear things up. Are you up for that?” That way it doesn't seem like I'm intruding. But I don't think that workers and freelancers should be afraid to bring that up. No one's going to get mad at you if you feel like you need the video screen by screen walkthrough to learn something new or to get on the phone call and ask those questions. It shows that you're trying to be mindful of the entire project and the purpose and something that you're confused about.

Do you think that there are certain people who remote work is the right fit for them? Are there certain traits that people are better suited to work remotely than others?

Maryellen does. And she thinks that you screen for it. For example, people that have had their own business, you can say that they’re probably self motivated. She thinks this is a huge one because there's not just someone right beside you to ask in the time frame that you need it. So she would say self motivated, organized, excellent communication skills, and proactive are important trains to have.

And she really thinks a natural problem solver is also a good trait. Because there are all these tools and technology that we're getting used to, but you have to be able to say, “Okay, I may not be able to get the answer right away.” Can you come up with a solution then and figure that out on your own?

Or even that ability to say, “Okay, this project is stalled out because I need an answer from x person and x person isn't available. So how can I table this? And what is the next project I jump to?” I think that some people just naturally gravitate towards being able to do that. Whereas others need to be told by someone else what step one is and step two is this. And so being able to balance those different priorities and saying, “Alight, I've got more time here that I can work on something different, because I'm not able to move forward on this until I get an answer or something that's important as well.”

Maryellen thinks sometimes sometimes people are easily distracted, which means they want to be in an office. Or they feel like they're missing out. And some people are easily distracted and they want to work from home because they can be more productive. So there are those things too.

I like to ask freelancers, “In college or grad school, were you the person that actually got the group project done?” Because you probably have what it takes to be a freelancer, if you were not stalled out by everyone else's lack of communication and ability to work together. But you were able to bring that project to the finish line, because that's a big part of it.

How do you set yourself up for success working from home?

I found it to be hugely distracting to work in an office when I had a more traditional job. There were always other people talking. Somebody next to me playing really loud music.  I just felt like I got less done because of that. So being able to do my work from a quiet home office works for me. But for other people, they would absolutely hate it because they don't other people around. So it really depends on what works for you.

If you've never been a remote worker before, how do you show an employer or a freelance client that you'd be really good working remotely?

Maryellen shared that part of that has to do with with the person interviewing.  She thinks that there are some things that you can highlight as a freelancer if you've never worked remotely.  One of them would be tell me about a time you've completed this project, but maybe you're working on a team and you didn't have the answers. She thinks being able to highlight any way that you solve problems, communication skills, and organizational skills in your resume.

Another thing that we didn't talk about, but she thinks professional development and growing your skills and remote work or as a freelancer is a great thing. When you're interviewing a freelancer and they're continually like taking classes or reading books or doing different things. She thinks that shows the self motivated, proactive type that is successful when working remotely or freelancing.

I think all too often people who would do really well working remotely or being a freelancer, they write themselves out of the whole topic before they even get a chance to start.

Because they'll say, “Well, I've never worked remotely before. I don't think anyone's going to buy into me working from my home or being a freelancer when I'm brand new to this.” The truth is that you probably have things in your background, either your core personality, or even your experience in the workplace,  where you've had to coordinate. Say that you were an event planner in an office. You coordinated with vendors and other locations. You kept all these details organized to have an event or project come together. And so those skills can transfer over into remote work as well. So don't be afraid to talk about how those non remote work skills could actually work remotely for you as well.

So my final question here is how do you prepare for an interview for remote job? Are there mistakes that people make in doing this? What should you really be prepared for?

Maryellen thinks so. Because there is a confusion in this freelance or remote work or  work from home thing, she thinks sometimes people don't show up as they would if they were actually interviewing in person. And you should. So if you think about the same ways that you would prepare for an in person interview, because most of these remote teams are going to interview over a video first. So she would say that's the thing. Think of it as how would you show up to this company? How are you going to show up to an in person interview? And do the same.

Have your background is clear of clutter.   You have tested the tools that you're going to connect with. So if you and I are going to connect over Zoom, then that I have tested Zoom to make sure that it works and I have everything working so that I can easily jump on and limit distractions. So if you got a dog that's gonna bark or anything, put those things up.  You want to show up as a professional.  You want to show that you that you can work from home and you do have a space to do that in. It's really no different than going to an in-office interview. Just treat it the same.

Do you feel that that extends to clothing as well? So should you be fully prepared as if you were showing up to someone's office for regular interview?

Maryellen doesn’t think so. She’s not expecting to get on a call with people in a suit when she’s interviewing people, or when she’s interviewed people in the past.  But just think about the level of professionalism.   A plain shirt or anything is fine, but just think about the level of professionalism,  You probably do not want to wear a hat or anything like that. But, no, she doesn’t expect to see a suit. 

You want people to see you and be able to talk to you about your skills and you don't want them to be distracted by things that are going on around you. So if your background is like super distracting or cluttered, they might be focusing on that. Present yourself well.  And go that extra step to make sure that the area you're in is relatively quiet.  If you’re in New York City, you can't help it if there's cars honking their horns are an ambulance going by.  But she thinks a lot of people underestimate how loud the TV in the next room is or their spouse cooking dinner in the background.

So just be aware of that.  Things will always happen when you work remotely that you can't  exactly anticipate. I would train my husband. I would tell him like four or five times whenever I'm recording a podcast or I'm going on someone else's podcast. And go that extra mile. Do that if you need to. If you have something that's uncontrollable where you're like, “Yeah, the neighbor's dog has been barking all day or the guy next door just started mowing his lawn five minutes before we start.” Let them know because what you don't want is to have someone thinking that that's your everyday working environment. It's just extremely loud, distracting every minute.

Invest in headphones.

You should be doing that anyways. Because when you are doing video calls, which you're certainly going to be doing as a remote worker, as a freelancer, when these calls are being recorded, you can create a lot of problems with feedback if you don't have the headphones plugged in. So it’s important to invest in these little things that will make it easier for you to work and help you appear  professional on screen or over the phone when you're connecting with clients.

Well, this is really this has been so helpful. I think so many people in my audience who are thinking about remote work or freelancing are going to get a lot out of knowing the do's and don'ts from your expertise.

Where can people go to learn a little bit more about you?

Maryellen is on Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s Work Well Wherever. Her website is workwellwherever.com.

Maryellen Stockton is the co-founder and CEO of Work Well Wherever.

She is a people operations consultant who has worked for 15 years encouraging individuals to achieve positive work-life experiences and helping companies create inspired work cultures. 6 years ago, she began working remotely for a virtual staffing firm and quickly became an expert in company culture, employee engagement, and building teams, outside the traditional office.

Maryellen lives in Atlanta with her husband Matt and her two kids, George and Winnie. The things that make her happy usually include coffee, people she loves, and mountains.

Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Dec 16, 2019

Should you really be honest when firing freelance clients? Does it make sense to tell someone up front that their management style is terrible or that you've really hated working on the project?   You're going to learn more in this episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast.  And you’re going to learn all about when it makes sense to be upfront and honest with someone and when it's really better to just cut ties professionally.

Anytime you butt up against a problem with a potential or current freelance client, it's always good to make at least one effort to try to fix the issue before you elevate things to the level of firing them.

Occasionally, you can correct a client who has terrible habits or just doesn't know any better. I always assume at the outset of working with a new freelance client that they might not have a lot of experience working with freelancers, or with working with somebody like me. So I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to train them the correct way to interact with me.

A great example would be the client who emails you way too much. Before simply outright firing them because they're sending you so many emails, I'm going to bring up the fact that receiving so many emails in a day is really challenging for me. And it's hard for me to stay on top of that and keep everything in one place. I might even wait several hours or over a day to answer all of their emails and respond and only one message.  I will simply copy and paste each question that they asked or concern that they shared into one email.

The purpose of that is to show them that it's really inefficient to send me so many messages. And that since I often check my email a few times a day, it becomes very overwhelming. I might miss a message that was sent an hour before. I've also done this with clients by replying to them the following day and saying I didn't see your message because I was already out of office, if they sent it at eight o'clock at night. My purpose here is to clarify what my boundaries are and to let them know this is something they probably shouldn't do in the future unless they want a similar result.

Same thing with team members of my own freelance subcontractors. Maybe send me multiple emails about the same thing. I'll try to explain to them, “Hey, this actually confuses me. If you send an invoice and then an invoice reminder two days later, when you know that the payment only comes every other Friday, that just creates confusion for me and for the bookkeeper. So please don't do that because it could actually lead to your invoice not being paid, because we think that we've received multiple duplicates.” So always make the effort to try to fix things first before firing a client.

But knowing when it's really time to fire your freelance clients, you know it in your gut.

You feel it. You've already imagined life without having to be on the phone with them, working on their projects, and talking to them over email. And you've already imagined how blissful life would be without it. You found yourself procrastinating on their projects or taking it really personally when you get feedback. This is a clear sign that if you've made the effort to try to fix things, or if there's a rigid personality here that isn't going to change that it's time to let them go.

I started working with a client early in 2019 that had a lot of projects for me. But the personality of the person that I was interacting with on their team was really abrasive. Now the first piece of advice that I got actually from my husband was to consider where this person was from. He said, “You know, this is someone who's working as a corporate executive in New York. They talk quickly and they're more aggressive. It's part of the New York personality. So let's give this person a chance and see if they're going to change.”

And so we had a couple of difficult conversations with the way that they were providing feedback and trying to get me to do things at all hours of the day. And eventually, I called this person out on the phone and said, “I'm very uncomfortable with the way you're speaking to me.  I've never had a client talk to me like this. I'd really prefer if we never have a conversation like this again. These are  my boundaries and my expectations.” That was my effort to try to fix things and make sure that I wasn't misinterpreted. And when the behavior continued after that, it was a great opportunity to cut ties. So sometimes it really is better to fire freelance clients.

You heard in the past episode, if you've listened to that, that it's one of the two things that I think is very important when you're scaling your freelance business.

Knowing who to fire and who not to take on to begin with, in addition with some other components of running your freelance business is so important.  So that idea of knowing who not to work with is key. It's very important for scaling your freelance business. I'm always an advocate of trying to fix things before they escalate.

But a lot of times, people who are stuck in their patterns, they won't change. I had a coaching client who was working with a toxic client about a year to a year and a half ago. And it was very clear that this person's personality and approach to doing business and their management and leadership style was not going to change.

So the conversations between us quickly shifted from how do we fix this to how do we get you out of this contract with as minimal drama as possible.

How do we get you out of this contract as quickly as possible? When you've dealt with someone who's difficult, who's violated the terms of your contract, who speaks to you disrespectfully, you are totally in the right to feel the emotions that you do. However, in parting ways, this doesn't always mean there is a purpose for telling the client that it could inflame things. It could make it more of a challenge for you to get your final invoice paid. So unless you are directly asked, and sometimes even when you are directly asked, I prefer not to go into the details of why we're not going to work together.

You might find as I have that some difficult clients don't want to let you go.

They will try to bring you back in. And that is a very interesting position to be in and it's almost tempting. It’s especially tempting if they hint that, “Hey, things have been difficult, but I'm going to work on trying to make it better. Are you willing to stick around? And are you willing to give it another chance?”  Now, if you've already mentally disconnected from this client and started to imagine how much better it would be without them, there are very few situations where it makes sense to take the client up on that offer.

So there's been several times with a few clients over the years where I really wanted to tell them what it was that was such a problem, why I was firing them.

I had one client who consistently paid his invoices up to three months late. It was just such an administrative nightmare that I was tired of chasing it down. He was a nice client other than that. It was an easy project to do. But administratively, behind the scenes, it involved my bookkeeper spending time telling me, “Hey, this invoice still isn't paid. Can you tell me if it's cleared yet and I'm not seeing it?” It was just too much hoopla. But there wasn't really a point in telling him that because I'd already brought it up before. And it wasn't really a priority for him to fix that or address it. So it was just time for me to move on.

I also had a very abrasive client that I did a test project with a little bit earlier this year. And one of the challenges with it is that they were paying per piece. I've talked about this in another episode. When your per piece freelance rate is not really a per piece rate. But they kept adding on additional things. Then they would email me and if I didn't respond within two hours, they would email me again. It was just driving me crazy.

And I could just tell this was the way that they operated on their team. That was fine if it worked for them, but it wasn't working for me. So there was no reason for me to say, “Hey, your management style is terrible. It is super annoying to have to deal with this. And this is probably why you're having a hard time keeping freelancers or employees.”  But there's really no clear benefit to doing that.

Very rarely is a client going to hear that from you on your way out and decide to change. Now you can gently suggest some of the things that would have made it better.

I did tell the client that consistently paid me late, “Hey, this is just creating a lot of work for me behind the scenes. So it's not going to be the best fit, but I wish you luck.” That was a nice way of saying, “Hey, this could be an issue with other freelancers as well. You might want to have some more clear payment policies so that people who come on to the team know what to expect.” But I definitely wasn't going to call it out worse than that.

There was a difficult conversation that I had with my abrasive New York client.   It's funny because I've worked with a lot of clients in New York and New Jersey. And a lot of them are attorneys. So a lot of them are fast talkers and fast movers. I've never had a problem with that personality before. And this was actually somebody outside of the legal space. It was just a bad experience  interfacing with that type of personality and having that difficult conversation that I was not comfortable with the way they’re speaking to me on the phone. Since I'd already addressed that there was really nothing to be gained and having a follow up conversation with that person over it.

I was still upset with the way that they dealt with me saying, “Hey, I don't appreciate you talking to me this way. You’re treating me this way.” They never really apologized or anything.  And I was still mad about it. So you're in the right emotionally, but there's so little to be gained. You might end up burning bridges that you didn't anticipate. So unless you really need to burn a bridge, or this person has broken the law or has been so aggressive and awful that you need to call it out, it’s a good idea to minimize your emotional response to it.

So what's important here is, you need to be honest about how you're ending the contract.

Don't just say that we're not going to be able to work together anymore.  You need to provide an absolutely firm end date, or you will be likely to have them push back.  I had a client that I fired because it was one piece at $200 a month.  It was just too small and too much email back and forth with that client over that one piece. It wasn't worth it. And in his mind, he's like, “Well, I've paid you on time all the time. And we've been clients for two years.” But the volume wasn't enough for me. So that was even when I did provide a firm end date. So you want to give them a very firm date that you're no longer available to work on the project.

This is different than I need more money. You're not giving me enough time to create or edit things. We're having too many phone calls and that needs to be cut back on. You need this to be very clear that you're leaving. So if you were in a traditional job, and you went in and talk to your boss about an annoying coworker, that's not necessarily a conversation where you're quitting or you're being fired. That could be venting or trying to address the issue with management.

You want to be clear. If you're going into quit with your boss, you better be clear. You’ll say, “I'm leaving. This is my two week notice I will be out on x day. Please let me know what you need me to do before I leave.” So give your client something of what to expect.

If they're a decent client, but just not for you, consider referring them to another freelancer.

I usually tell my clients, “I wish you the best of luck in finding someone who's a better fit.” That takes the pressure off of me in case they were to answer and say, “Oh, can you find me another Freelancer since you're leaving?” So I like to give a very firm end date. I am no longer available as of September 1. You will receive everything that is due up to September 1, and the final invoice will be sent on that date.

I'm always trying to give them some heads up if I can.

If it is a really, really toxic client, and you've got to get out and you have the opportunity to do that in your contract immediately, go ahead and exercise it. But in general, even with your difficult clients, exercise professional courtesy. The overbearing client that I fired a couple of months ago after a test project, I simply said, “I'm available for edits on the pieces I've submitted for the next five business days through the close of business on day number five. After that, I will not be able to answer emails.”

So very clear end date you if you have questions about what I've submitted, you can ask them. You have five days to ask them and then I'm no longer going to be available. I'm essentially saying I'm not going to answer your emails at all.  So give them a very clear end date. Ideally, that's going to be a little bit of time for them to find a replacement.

So you want to bring clarity as far as what What this means for them. If you are referring another freelancer to them, you want to give them a timeline around that too. You might say, “Hey, I'm going to share this with my freelance network. I'll let you know next week if anyone jumps at the opportunity.”  You do not really need to be honest about their dysfunction unless there's a specific reason that it's helpful to provide this information.

Now, everything I've said up to this point is let's not get into the drama. Let's not discuss major serious issues with the client. Unless it's very egregious.

Now, an exception to this. Let's imagine that you're working on a team and the person who hired you is awesome and amazing, super easy to work with, processes things on time, and then they hire somebody under them who's really difficult to deal with. And they might not realize how this new hire is treating you.

So as a courtesy to the person that you liked and don't want to burn a bridge with on your way out, they might ask you, “Can you tell me why you're leaving? I thought things were going great. I really enjoyed working with you.” You might tell them the personality of so and so really wasn't a fit for me. I really found that this person was just a little too critical for what I was expecting in the feedback process. You can still be diplomatic in giving that feedback, when it makes sense.

So I do like to alert people if I feel that it's affecting them or their business and they don't realize it. So if they've got somebody who's really awful on the team, there's a good chance you're not the only person who has recognized it.

Going back to one of the jobs I had in the past when I stepped into the position. Everyone had a problem with this one other employee. And of course, I had a problem with that employee too when I started.  And it was clear it wasn't just me. But I wanted to make sure like, “Hey, it's weird that everybody has an issue with this person and other people had brought it to management's attention.”

And when I quit, I went out with a letter that explained all of the things that have happened to me personally.   I can't speak to anyone else. But the main reason why I'm leaving is this person. They're too difficult to deal with. They're openly rude and borderline hateful. So that was an instance where and it actually ended up changing things at the company. That person was was let go.

And all my former co workers were  like, “Oh, my gosh, you saved us on your way out.” They finally had heard enough complaints and management decided that this person needed to go. So it can be beneficial in those circumstances. But even so, you want to be very tactful about how you approach it. You don't want to say that person is absolutely terrible. They're the worst ever, and then have your contact go, “Oh, that's my cousin.” or “Oh, I love them. I'm the one who hired them.” You just want to leave that as a diplomatic statement.

And only if it absolutely has to be said, more often than not, the client is not going to change things.

Unless there's a significant reason to do so, they may be locked into something that's even a broken system. So don't feel like you have to throw somebody under the bus even if they are terrible. I like doing it if the circumstances are extreme, or if my client honestly asks me, “Hey, what's the problem? I thought everything was great. I wish I'd known this in advance.” I might say that a certain person and I just don’t get along. We're not meshing as far as personality, and work style. So I don't feel that it's the best fit going forward. And you can look for somebody else.

I'd love to know situations where you struggled with letting a client go and whether you made this decision about honesty being the best policy when firing freelance clients.

As with so many things and running your own business, it's a really delicate balance. And it's something that depends on the situation. But 90% of the time, there's no real benefit to telling a client how awful your experience has been unless they've broken the law. Unless the treatment is so absolutely terrible or you might be able to help other people like freelancers or other employees on the team who are probably suffering at the hands of the same person or because of the same broken policies and procedures, honesty may not be the best policy.

Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Dec 9, 2019

Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. This episode is being recorded towards the end of 2019 with this particular topic because it tends to come up  halfway through the year and at the end of year mark. But it's a hot button topic all year round. And it's all about raising your rates.

Freelancers often, and I'm just going to put it bluntly, overthink the concept of setting their rates or raising their rate. And that idea of overthinking puts you in an almost paralyzed mode, where it's really difficult to communicate to your prospective clients, and your current clients about what it really means with you raising your rates.

My strategies and the psychology behind raising your rates.

So many people get stuck with the concept of rates because they know that in raising their rates, there's always the possibility that you could lose clients.  This is something that's important to acknowledge. Because going into it knowing that means you need to run the numbers behind the scenes. And make sure that this is really a good fit for you to raise your rates, especially if it's going to impact multiple clients. And there's a possibility that one or more of those clients is going to say, “No.” Now, if your clients are thrilled with your work and your rate increase is moderate, it shouldn't be that big of an issue. Especially if you have not raised your rates in a long time, or ever.

A couple of years ago, I was in the midst of a rate negotiation, where it was actually a sad story. I was partnered with a gentleman who ran a company.  He was the one who hired me. We worked together for 18 months, and he passed away. So the business passed on to another employee in the company. And for the longest time, I didn't raise my rates.

For one, they were decent rates to begin with. The work was easy and very consistent. I wanted to be sensitive to the fact that this business was going through a tremendous amount of transition.  And I didn't want to hit them out of nowhere.

Well, honestly two entire years went by, where I didn't raise my rate. Then I proposed a very modest rate increase to this client.  Of course, this wasn't the person I'd started working with. And this wasn't an employee I had too much of a relationship with. So it was definitely a harder point to negotiate from. And their immediate response was to try to push my rate increase down. So not down to where it was, but  like a compromise almost like we were negotiating a salary. So we're going to arrive at somewhere in the middle.

So I chose not to stay at that negotiated point in the middle. I informed them about the situation. So I explained that I had started working with them, when I first began my freelance business. And that I'm very grateful for the work and I love doing it. I then explained that as a result of getting more experience and learning more about search engine optimization and blogging, my pieces are now more effective than ever, and I've never actually raised my rates with them.  So, that was one of these many great examples of something I talk about all the time.

Everything is negotiable.

Do not assume that if a client pushes back, you don't have any wiggle room unless they come back at you with something and say, “This is a hard line. There's no room to negotiate here.” But I knew, even in my client writing me back and hinting that they’d like to push this down a little bit because they felt like it's a little bit high of a rate increase, I knew I had already made that decision in my head that I might lose the client.

So I knew that and I decided that at that point in time, it was more important for me to hold to my new rates. It was more than reasonable that I had let two years go by, and don't make that mistake. And ultimately, the client decided to stick with me and with the new rates as well. It was also very important, not just for that one time, but for training them about what they can expect with regard to me requesting rate increases in the future. So I was almost training them to prepare them for the possibility that just because we've locked in at one rate doesn't mean we're going to stick with that forever.

So the second concept that comes up a lot with regard to rates is how often you should raise your raise.

Now, this is one of those famous answers. It depends. There's a lot of factors to take into consideration here about when you should raise your rates. I believe that all other things held equal. So nothing else is changing in your business, except for the fact that you've been doing something longer. Every six months, you should be taking a look at your rates. You should be seeing your quarterly numbers for tax purposes and business planning purposes.

So a really good metric to tell if it's time to raise your rates is one at least six months has passed and you've been fully booked or close to fully booked. That means that you are at a sweet spot with regard to your rates. You're either charging very reasonable or too low, or the work that you do is such great quality that your clients are happy and more than willing to pay that rate. So you're in a really good position to negotiate up from there at least a moderate increase.

Now for you this could really depend on whether you want to go the percentage route or raise it a certain dollar amount per piece. Some clients will push back, no matter when you raise your rates, or how modest or reasonable that rate increase is. And that's why you've got to do that evaluation behind the scenes and say to yourself, “Okay, if I've got three clients that are locked in at a certain rate, and I'm not sure if one or any of them is going to push back.  At the point when I announced my rate increase, what will happen to my business if I lose all three?”

I like to run the numbers across the board for the different scenarios, because I might pilot my rate increases with only one client at a time.  And I like to make sure that it's going to work or to tell me maybe I've got to go and find another new client entirely. So I think one of the most dangerous positions that you could potentially put yourself in is you have six or seven clients and you say, across the board, I'm doing a rate increase. You don't know if you're going to keep all of those clients. So you always have to be thinking about that behind the scenes.

Now, by all means, if you have those six or seven clients and all of them are paying you too low, you do need to replace them. But it's going to be much easier to replace them a little bit slower than doing it all at once. You don't want to have a six month planned to roll that out. But it might be easier to say, “Okay, I'm going to try to replace these two clients, then because I've announced my rate increase, and if they didn't go with it, I'm going to replace those two or one at a time.”  This allows you to ease yourself into it. So at least every six months, you should be looking at your circumstances and seeing if you should raise your rates.

Now there's other things that might happen in your business or in your life, that could be great opportunities for you to raise your rates.

One such example, when I finally get my PhD, I plan to push my rates up because having that additional distinction, I've got a lot of research and writing skills and an additional layer of credibility. One of the things that is really interesting to me is that after publishing a book and doing some TEDx talks, probably three or four of my clients without me prompting them suggested that they might not be able to afford me anymore.

So there was a perception that receiving some type of distinction like that made me unaffordable, which is really interesting. But that could be a good sign to raise your rates. Perhaps you recently completed a digital marketing certification.   Maybe you are now doing something more advanced and involved. 

Let me give you an example of that as a time to raise your rates.

I am always looking into training around search engine optimization, and looking for ways to become better at doing that and better at writing for my clients to help them rank their websites. As part of that process, I learned what's working and what isn't in the industry. And when I bring on something new that involves more of a research process, I am going to incorporate that into my entire writing schedule and the way that I approach Content Strategy for clients.

Now that's a benefit for them, because I'm doing something that's more effective. But it might take more of my time. A case in point is when I use different tools to run keyword analysis.  Those are some tools that I pay for. And if I've really learned and mastered those tools, I might consider a rate increase to accommodate for the fact that, “Hey, I've gotten better at what I'm doing. And now my rate has been pushed up as a result of that.” Now, yes, you're going to pay more, you're also potentially going to get better results because I'm incorporating the newest and most effective things in the industry.

So let's say for example, that you're a virtual assistant too.  And you recently learned how to use Infusionsoft or Ontraport which are advanced relationship management tools. So you would probably push your hourly rate up, at least for the projects where you're using those tools, because it probably took a lot of time and practice. And you probably either paid a coach or enrolled in a course to learn how to use those tools. So those are common examples of why you might want to raise your rates outside of this every six months schedule of taking a look at your rates now.

By all means, don't just raise your rates because you can.

If you're not being paid fairly, or something like that, it's a good opportunity to evaluate and say, “Okay, what would be a fair rate for me where I'm at right now?” But I've seen some people where they're raising their rates every two to three months. And I'm just not really sure that it's as easy to sell clients on that. Especially if those clients are already locked into a contract or working with you month to month, because you're going to have to explain more of yourself and why are you raising your rates this often.   And you have a higher chance of those clients walking.

So that's something to also factor in when you're signing contracts with clients.

If you sign a three month contract, how does that affect where you're at with that question? Now, will you raise your rates at the end of that? And especially if someone offers you a year long contract, how does that impact the possibility of you raising your rates? Because you're not going to be able to go back easily, not just because of the contract verbiage, but also because of the relationship with the client. They'll probably feel cheated. You're not going to be able to easily negotiate a rate increase in the middle of a signed contract.

So it’s important to be mindful of that when you're thinking about the length of your contract. I love contracts that are three to six months.  It's a great way to not lock yourself into something that you don't know if you love yet and where you have the opportunity to negotiate a rate increase or a different package, if it makes sense for the clients.

As far as there being a certain percentage point to raise your rates to, I don't have recommendations on that.

I like to think about modest increases just like you would give yourself a raise while factoring in those other elements as well, such as if you've completed a certification.  What I would charge to ghostwrite somebody's book is different before I published my own and after.  So you've got to take into account your own factors. 

I think that 10% is a great place to start with and see how you feel around that when you're thinking about raising it. If you push your rate higher than say 10%, or what your clients might consider a moderate increase, it might be a challenge for you every six months or every four months to go back and revisit that and push it higher again.

So it's this sweet spot where you want to be raising it enough to ensure you're being compensated fairly for the skills and the services that you have, while also not just raising it so that you can say you charge $500 an hour or raising it on a client four times within a year and then they just decide to go a different route. Does that really make sense if customer loyalty is very important to you. 

Now, the next thing I want to talk about is should you offer something specific affecting your current clients when you raise your rates?

I like doing this because, as I mentioned earlier in this episode, everything is negotiable. And there's probably a chance that I can get some other benefit out of getting them locked in even if it is at the lower rate. Your initial response might be, “Well, why on earth are we raising our rates, if we're going to keep some of our clients at the current rate?”

Let's say that I have a client who signed a three month contract and it's ending at the end of November. So now I'm in a position to potentially renegotiate this contract and I don't want them to sign just three months. Maybe I want them to sign four or five months. So I might offer them the opportunity to be grandfathered in to my old rates if they signed by a certain date and extend their contract slightly.

So maybe we have a client that's got a smaller portion of projects, or is only purchasing a small block of hours. That's another opportunity where we can say I'm actually eliminating my 10 hour a month package, the new package is 20 hours a month, that's the minimum. But if you purchase it now, you will be able to lock in those rates for a short period of time.

Even with my coaching clients, when I bring my coaching clients on, it's only a three month coaching program that's required. Many of them choose to renew beyond that. Probably 80% to 90% will renew at least once. Some of them just keep working with me for a longer period than that.  So I promised them when they come on, your coaching rate stays the same, so long as you continue to renew the coaching services. So that's peace of mind for them. They're getting a benefit for working with me longer. And they know that a rate increase is not going to come out of nowhere.

So let's imagine that you charge $500 a month for coaching or for whatever your service is. And you might push that up to say $600 a month in the middle of the year.

Now, your current clients, if you're raising your rates too often, or if the rate increases so significant that it becomes unaffordable or they don't see the value, they may not renew at that rate. So my strategy behind that is I would rather have the opportunity to work with the coaching client longer, where they feel honest and upfront about what they're getting as far as their payment. And the incentive is for them to continue working with me longer, which means they're going to get better results. So it is a win win across the board.

If you are charging that $500 a month for something and that person renews all year round, that is better than pushing your rates up to $600 a month and having them cancel after two months. Does that make sense? So that's how I would consider that.

I like grandfathering in clients to an extent.

You don't want to grandfather them in forever, but it can be a really nice incentive to show that you are thankful for the business that they have thrown your way. So if I have a client that I've worked with for several years, I'm going to give them like a three month transition period. Or I might say that my rate is going up 15%, but they can re-sign at a 10% rate increase if they sign the contract.

Now, I like offering those benefits because it's much like keeping the coaching packages the same. My goal there is to build customer loyalty and have them be very clear and honest about what they're getting as part of that.  The incentive is there for them to renew.

There are two important lessons I've taken away from growing a freelance business from a side hustle to something that's much bigger as a solopreneur.

One is firing clients.  That means knowing how to decline people and to fire clients. And then number two is the power of recurring revenue.  That means getting clients on retainer. Having recurring and predictable revenue is so super important. It really helps you be able to adjust your cash flow to make the right investments in your business. And to see ahead of  those times when you may need to raise your rates, switch services, or do something a little bit different.

So recurring revenue is very important. To me, it is worth far more than saying that I was able to get somebody to pay a 50% higher rate, and then they cancel after one round of working together or one month of freelancing services. So give your clients incentives, it also encourages them with a little bit of urgency to resign a contract.

So if you have a client that isn't really in a position where they feel that pressure to renew with you, explaining that you're planning to increase your rates and giving them some type of incentive to come on with you helps. Even if it's, “I want to thank you for being a long time client. My rates will be going up effective January 1. I'm going to throw in this freebie for you. I'm going to throw in one free hour, I'm going to do XYZ free thing to thank you for your service.” When that rate increase occurs, it helps to build loyalty and makes them feel better about the opportunity to continue working with you.

So you certainly don't have to do that when you're raising your rates.

You don't have to go to a client and promise them anything or incentivize them in any way. But it absolutely increases your chances of getting them to sign that contract and work with you again if they are thrilled with your work. Now, if you've had problems from day one with this client, or they don't really see the value or you've delivered late, it's going to be very hard to negotiate anything. They may just say, “No, thanks. I don't want to work with you at all. I don't care about being grandfathered in.” So you have to do these behind the scenes thinking exercises about  how will this affect my business if I lose the client and then what position am I in with this client? Do I have room right now to negotiate?  Or maybe I'm raising my rates and I know this client is going to walk. And that's okay, because I don't want to work with this particular client anymore. So this is my way of nicely ending the contract on mutual terms.

So raising rates is about so much more than just pushing your prices up.

It's about thinking where your business is at now and what changes you need to make to take it steps forward into the future. And then are you prepared to negotiate those changes or possibly lose clients. Now, if a client comes back to you, when you've said that you're planning to increase your rate, and they say, “No, we're just going to decline to work together.” You don't necessarily have to give up entirely.

You could offer to give them some sort of a discount. That's why it's better to lead with that position of offering them some type of incentive like grandfathering them in giving them a transition period, throwing in some type of a freebie etc. Because you've already sweeten the pot. You've led with a very generous offer, which makes them feel appreciated. And as like they want to continue working with you, it's much easier to negotiate from that point, rather than just telling someone out of the blue, “Hey, my rates are going up.  You can pay it or not.” You have much less room to negotiate there.

You might take that approach with the client you want to get rid of. So you might just say, “Hey, my rates are going up 30% next month. Please let me know if you'd like to resign.”.  And you say this knowing that they're probably going to walk away from that. But with the clients you really care about, it's a little bit more of a delicate balance of figuring out what makes sense?

Should I start with my lowest paying client first? Should I start with a client where I've done a really amazing job and I think I have the best chance of getting them to accept the rate outright?  You've got to make those decisions for yourself behind the scenes.

But don't stay locked in with clients forever.

I see this often with virtual assistants to they start off charging $20 an hour and then  two or three years later, they're charging only $25 an hour. So you need to be evaluating that on a more regular basis.

Oftentimes when we, as experienced freelancers, present pricing to clients they'll say, “Well, geez, I could hire another Freelancer for half that.” Well, you're not paying just for the service that I'm doing for you today. So me as an SEO writer, you are paying for the seven years that I have spent becoming a master and professional at writing for search engines and for websites. So you're paying for all the things I've learned with past clients, all the software tools that I invest in and use, all of the training and conferences and books and insight I've gotten from other freelancers to get to this point. So you're getting the best version of my SEO services. And of course, that's not going to be priced the way that it would when I first got started.

So some clients will always go with the bottom line price. And as we know, in the freelance world, you often get what you pay for. So that's not someone you're going to be easily able to negotiate with anyways. So I would not stress out over that.

And that's why you do this case by case example. Okay, client A is paying me this, that's really lower than I'd like. But there's other benefits to working with them that I'm only going to give them a modest rate increase, or I might give them the chance to be grandfathered in for a short period of time with the newer rate. This other client is really difficult to deal with. So I might be adjusting my rates higher because of that as well. I might be factoring in that this client is difficult and that they take six weeks to pay their invoice and they still pay me by check. That's really annoying that I have to wait for that right.

So you're thinking about all these things on a case by case basis. Even a rate increase that's across the board might not be the same amount across the board. So lots of food for thought in this episode. I hope you have gotten something out of it.

If you are at the end of the year or listening to this episode at any other time, really ask yourself how long has it been since I've raised my rates? Am I due for another rate increase? I’m so excited to continue to be a part of your success! Thanks for tuning in again to the Advanced Freelancing podcast. I'd love it if you left the show a review on iTunes. It helps other people to find my show and become avid listeners just like you!

Thanks so much for your support. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Dec 2, 2019

Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing Podcast. I am very excited about my guest today. I wish I had discovered her and everything that she's doing much sooner. And that's part of the reason I wanted to have her on the show! I wanted to introduce her to all of you.

Meet Emily Leach, Founder of Freelance Conference

Emily has been in the freelance space since 1992, which is kind of a long time in this particular business style. It has given her a really amazing life. She was a single mom.  She shared that it's tough to go to work all day and then get home and be able to spend time with your child.   In her case it was hard to feel like she was really there and present because she was tired.

Emily said she stumbled across freelancing.  She thinks that’s what a lot of people have done unless you've been freelancing only for the last few years or so. But if you've been freelancing for 10 years or more, you most likely stumbled into it. And that's what happened with her.

After a couple of years, she realized that it was great. She can be at home. When her son needs something at school, she can go and do it. She can be here when he gets home. And she can be here when he leaves for school.  She also got to travel and do some volunteer work. It just allowed her the flexibility to still have a life.

What kind of freelance projects were you working on back when you first started?

She first started in the engineering space. So she did Computer Aided drafting. She was an engineering designer as well. So it was actually quite easy. And in that particular space, the hardest part was that computers are really, really expensive. The software was really expensive. But it didn't take too long before you could afford that. It did allow her a lot of flexibility. So being in that civil environmental space, she got to do what she loved.  And she gets to migrate into other careers.

Emily shared that she also sees this in a lot of freelance business owners, were after about five or 10 years of doing a specific task skill, they kind of want to move on.  Not everybody, but a lot. She thinks it's a nature of who we are as humans. And she thinks that when you work for somebody, you get that opportunity. Usually after about three to five years, you get an opportunity to advance into or move to a different group within a company. And that's sort of a missing piece and freelancing unless you make it yourself.

That's such a great point. I can't tell you how many times this comes up with the freelancers that I coach one on one.

A lot of them are writers, but it happens across the board.  As Emily mentioned, you do something and you learn everything there is to know about it.  Then, you take it about as far as it can go as a freelancer. And then you kind of go, “Okay, what next? Maybe I don't want to write all day. And maybe I don't want to work for this particular group of clients anymore.” So people are wondering what the next real challenge? Because it's not necessarily that you're moving on from something because it's unsuccessful. In a lot of cases, it's actually that it's been very successful. But there's that other missing piece component to it.

How did Emily evolve from freelancer doing projects for clients into the different things that she’s been doing since then bring awareness to freelancing and to really build a community around it?

Emily shared that this also happened by accident. After a couple years, after she moved to Austin, she was approached by a friend/colleague to create a group on Facebook called Austin Freelance Gigs. And that's what they ended up calling it. She really enjoyed the concept of helping other fellow freelance peers connect to work. 

You can't do everything that comes to comes to you either.  Because you don't have the skill or the time, or the clients not a good match. There's tons of reasons why work continually gets passed off to someone else, or passed up. So if you had a network of people that you trusted, knew well,  and you knew that when you pass them off the client was going to be treated well, then you may even work out a deal where you know you charge a finder's fee for making the introduction.   That happens a lot. Then it's so much easier for all of us to get the work that we really love to do.

Emily shared that this is a little off topic, but that's still where everything started.    When they started that group, it grew really fast. So to Emily, she was expecting to start the group and in about three or four months, she’d have 25 people. And she had 25 people by lunch.  By the end of that week, they had 300 people. And in a few months, they had almost 1000 people. And what she loved about the group was not only that she got to really play in that space that felt like it was going to be wonderful, and sure enough was by helping freelance business owners find work and connect to each other, but they started to ask each other really awesome questions and have conversations about their business.  They asked things like how to run it.

Emily has always had this concept in her head of our stories matter.

And it turns out, they really do.  When we share those hardships, those ways that we made it through the other side of a challenge, it helps the next person get there faster. Even if they only borrow bits and pieces of it.

There's so much to be gained from other people a lot of times. Some of the best gems that we take away and implement in our own lives or businesses are from other people. Whether it's just their unique perspective and their fresh set of eyes on the problem that we're having or it's something that they've been through in their own experience where they can provide some insight that helps you navigate that on your own.

Emily said that there was sort of the inspiration for everything else that she did. So there was one night, it was actually July 13, and she vaguely remembers it. She was sitting in her little chair that I sit in and she was working.  She was watching and thread. It was a whole bunch of people in the group commenting back and forth about a question that someone had answered. And she loved it. So she just wanted to do this with other people in person.

She loves doing it online. But she wants to be face to face with a group of people that aren't telling me to go get a job.  And she wants to be in front of people that aren't dissing her for the life she’s living or the way she’s running her business. They are in it with her. And her experience adds value to them and their experiences add value to her.

She wanted to go to a freelance conference. So she went online and started looking everywhere. And it didn't exist in any country.  This blew her mind. So she created one.

So how many years has the freelance conference been going on?

Emily shared that they just concluded their fifth year. I asked if it is always in the same location or if they move around.   Emily shared that it has always been an Austin the first five years. And they have made the decision to start moving to other cities. She thinks that the plan right now.  The plan is that they’ll spend the next four years going to other cities, making it a little bit more accessible to other people as well. And then they’ll probably come back to Austin for those five year reunion kind of things.

So at the freelance conference, who is it really for? What person would need to attend that? Do you have to be at a certain point in your business to go? Or is it designed to bring together freelancers from different experiences and backgrounds?

Emily shared that it's definitely a living event.

It started out with whoever wants to come, comes. It was literally an idea. And about 100 days later, they had the first one and they had 92 people show up. And at the end of it, Emily was like, “This was great. How much fun was that? And everybody wanted to know when the next one was.

That’s when Emily realized that this is going to be a thing. So she’s definitely had to feel her way through this because she wasn't a conference owner. Before she got out of doing website freelancing, you know, solely freelancing, she was doing website design work and SEO work. So she was really learning as she went along. And she admits that she kind of still is learning as she’s going.

So now the process inside of a freelance conference is for all of those people to be able to attend and get what they need out of it to get to the next level. They want content that allows people that are thinking about freelancing, and maybe a little scared to do it, to be able to connect with people that are already successful.  And with people that are semi successful and working their way up to being successful.  They want to show them that it can be done.

Emily said that we're all just humans like you. And we did it. You can do it and you're not in it alone. And the people that are further along, like we were talking about earlier, that are making more money already, or they've added products to their company, things like that to diversify some of their income. They have valuable lessons for those people that are striving to be where they are.  And they have lessons and challenges that they need to move past to get to their next level.

So the process now is to find all those different layers and be able to pull everybody together so they can learn from each other where they are. As well as have breakouts that allows people to go and learn more specific skills at the level that they're at and the level they're trying to get to.

So one of the challenges for a lot of freelancers is that we need to get out more often.

We need to connect with others who understand what we do. Because a lot of us probably still have family members that don't really understand what we do. They know that it's something online.  They might not even be convinced that it's stable or real. But it's very helpful to network with other freelancers who get it. They get those challenges you have around marketing or client management or invoicing and those types of things. But it's also hard to balance taking time out of your business to go to a conference.

Can you provide a little bit more information about what types of workshops and information is presented at the conference?

Emily said that she spends her entire year watching people like me,  watching people that are solving problems in the freelance space and finding those solutions and proving out those solutions. And then she invites them in to be speakers. So that way, not just anybody is on the stage.  It's very much curated.

And for the workshops, she does the same thing.  So the thing she loves about still having Austin freelance gigs here in Austin is that they have over 10,000 people in that group. And so it's a really great space to watch the questions that are being answered. So she can see if there's any pivoting happening in what freelance business owners are struggling with to make sure that maybe she need to bring that content into these workshops.

So they make sure that they have technology workshops too.   Emily loves those because one of the other things freelance business owners don't tend to have is the time to do is research new technology.  And how they could be using it in their business. Why they should be using it in their business. So they invite some of those companies to come in and do hands on workshops, versus just a demo. Because demos always work perfectly. And then we research and make sure that they try to create a really diverse set of workshops and breakout sessions.

And what they’re really going to focus on coming up in 2020, the conferences Denver next year, and so they have at least two or three different workshops. 

And in each of those, Emily said that she  would say there's about three primary levels or categories that people move through in a freelance business. You're either just starting or trying to start. Or you're in this middle area where you got the starting down, and you're really trying to make it simpler or more efficient and make more money without putting more time in. And then you have the next level of people where they've figured out even some of the efficiencies, how to run their business,  and they're now looking for an increase way to increase income and make it even more efficient and effective.  They want to be able to spend more time with family or travel. So those are the levels of workshops that they’re looking for.

Emily said that if you're out there and this is the kind of thing that you teach, she would love to talk to you and interview and see if there's a good fit for what they’re looking for.

All of you freelancers who want to dip your toe into coaching or doing public speaking, a lot of times you just have to be proactive and you have to ask and you have to seek out these kinds of opportunities where you can share your expertise with a group of other people. And what I love with what Emily is doing at the conference is that freelancing has become more in demand.

Which on the one hand is great because a lot of us have plenty of work to do. And it's really enjoyable and more and more companies are embracing freelancing as a way to outsource their work and get things done.

The downside of that is that it's getting more competitive. And one of the things that I think is going to be important for freelancers, in the next five to 10 years, is to be looking at what trends are coming and what new software skills do.  I need to pick up what trends are happening in online marketing and communications that I need to be aware of. And if you're like me, at the end of the day, you don't want to sit at your computer anymore and watch a tutorial or a demo or try to pick up an online course about that newest software thing.

It's so effective when you're at a live conference.

And you can network with other people. You're learning new things.  And you're trying out software. You're being able to ask the software creators or people who are updating it, direct questions about how to use it. Then you come home with tools that can help you up level in your business and stay competitive. I think that when you choose the right conferences to go to, that three or four days or however long you're there is not lost time in your business. You often can get so many things done that can help your business move forward in huge ways in the future.

I'm so excited to be able to showcase a little bit more about what Emily is doing with this conference.  Because like she said, there really isn't anyone out there that's doing this. We have our little hubs in our cities, or we have our online Facebook groups of people that we interact with who get freelancing. But being able to do that in person is so rare.   And it's so exciting to see that that's changing.

Does Emily have dates yet for the 2020 conference in Denver?

Emily said that answer is yes and no. She says yes, because the dates that she chose were September 13 14th, and 15th. But se just found out that those are also the dates for a really big event, Startup Week, in Denver. So that's not something that she wants to make people have to choose one or the other. So now she’s reevaluating those dates.

She said that you have to pay attention to other things that are happening, not only in that particular market, but things that are happening. we get into a lot of religious holidays that time of the year. So she really has to pay attention to those as well. So the dates are still coming.  But it will be in Denver or Denver/Boulder area.

She’s looking at both of those cities, because there's so many things she wants to start doing. She wants to be able to start incorporating activities that people can do outside.  And the Denver/Boulder area has a lot of those options. So she just wants to make sure that they take advantage of that. 

She wants it to be so that we people come to the conference, it's more than just sitting at a table or in a chair listening to people talk. She shared that what's interesting is that people tend to buy the ticket based on the sessions.  Which she gets because she would make the same deduction. They look at the schedule ask if this will bring money to them. It's an absolutely accurate way to do it. But it's not the reason they come back.

The reason they come back is because of the people that they met.  You're just talking about the lessons they learned from the people that they met. And they're just that relationship. They can't wait to get back together and see each other because they typically only see each other once a year. And that is so much fun to watch.

I can imagine because it always seems that you end up meeting somebody who helps you with something, somewhere where you're at in your journey.

It might not be the place that you expected necessarily, but it's always interesting to be able to meet other people. And there's so much of that conversation that you can just skip over when we normally meet someone who has a traditional job or doesn't really understand freelance. We probably spend 10 to 15 minutes just trying to explain what it is we do and how we do it and why we do it.

So it’s nice when you could just sort of jump to like, “Okay, what is it that you do? Oh, cool. Do you do it part time or full time? Are you doing is this this alongside a full time job?” It's just great to be able to connect with other people who instantly understand you and where you're at. They might even be able to provide you with some really good feedback or insight about what's potentially next for you as well.

Emily shared that they always make sure that they have a co working space area. They get it! They know you're running a business. Sometimes you do just need to go, “Yes, I'm here. I'm able to make it. But I had to take this conference call. I really needed to make that online meeting happen.” So they can go to a space that's separate and make those things happen and still be able to take advantage of the conference.

So the conference dates are still a little bit in flux, but it sounds like fall 2020 and Denver.

So everyone who's listening, think about that as you're making your 2020 plans of when are you going to step away from your business. What are going to be the professional conferences or events that you attend to help you level up? This is definitely one that you want to keep on your radar.

Where can people go to Learn more information about you and about the conference?

Emily share that it’s a really, really difficult one, freelanceconference.com.

I love it. I can't even buy my own married or maiden name .com. So I always appreciate when people are able to have a simple website because not all of us are able to snag that before some domain person wants to charge you 10 grand. for whatever

I just want to thank Emily so much for the opportunity to speak with her and hear a little bit more about what she has done to build Freelance Conference up to where it is now and where it's headed in the future. And freelancers, I often encourage this, you always hear from me when I come back from a conference about the things I've been able to take away from it, and how valuable it is. So even if you're only able to attend one or two conferences a year be really choosy about what you go to. But you can get so much out of it and having that network of people that you can talk to during and after the conference is instrumental so.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Nov 25, 2019

It's time for another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Now this episode might be a little shorter than usual. But that's because I'm sharing some news that I didn't have planned out in my content calendar. So, I am a big fan of batching. And I always brainstorm all my ideas for what goes into the podcast, usually at least several weeks or even months in advance.

So I had all of my episodes plotted through the end of 2019. But I am making a deviation from that. I think, sometimes being flexible with your own plans is very important so that you can capitalize on things that are very timely.

A new two book deal.

If you have not heard through my social channels, or through my email list, I recently signed a two book contract with Entrepreneur Press to publish my next two business books. I am so excited about this opportunity. And I also just want to, again, thank all of the readers and listeners in my audience who bought a copy of my first book, “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”.

Now, I'm not just sharing this two book deal. But a couple of days after signing that contract, I was at the igniting souls conference in Columbus, Ohio.  It was an amazing conference. It's the best business community that I have found for really supportive people who are at very similar stages in their business building.  It is run by an incredible guy named Kary Oberbrunner.

It's funny because someone actually recommended Kary to me years ago.

I thought at the time it was a German woman. And I was like, “Well, what would this German woman know anything about publishing in the United States?” So funny story, I came across Kary a couple years later.  And one of the reasons that I connected to this conference is because one of the books that just sold, which is tentatively titled “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap”, did not sell the first time around. Many of you know that that was part of my publishing story. That was the book I wrote the proposal for. It's what I worked on with my agent. It's very much the book that I wanted to publish.

So the opportunity came to write how to start your own freelance writing business first.

I was very intentional in the way that I wrote, marketed, and promoted “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, because I wanted that book to be the door opener for future book deals. So I wanted to be able to show that I could hustle and that there was a market for freelancing. One of the publishers that rejected “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” mentioned that they thought that freelancing was a fad. So I feel like now more people are seeing that that is not true and that freelancing is here to stay. All of the statistics point towards more and more people becoming freelancers.

So anyways, I had partnered with Kary as a self publishing company.

The difference between self publishing and working with somebody who's sort of a hybrid publisher like Kary’s program, called author Academy, is most people who Self Publish don't ask the important questions about marketing until after the fact. Marketing is, in my opinion, more important than the content of your book. You can have the most amazing book out there.  But if you don't know how to market it, no one will buy it. No one will hear about it.

It really makes me sad every time I see someone in a Facebook group say that they published their book three months ago, only sold three copies, and want to know who they can market it now. That is the wrong time to be asking that question. Right now, the tentatively titled “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” will come out in about one year, somewhere in October 2020.

Six Figure Freelancing Book Coming October 2020

But I'm building my marketing plan now. I'm starting my brainstorming for marketing now. I'm capitalizing and analyzing what I did well the first time and where I can do better the second time to increase my brand awareness between now and then. That involves multiple different facets media like growing my blog, growing my facebook group, increasing awareness of my podcast, etc. So marketing has to be done and thought about before you launch.

One of the reasons that I feel that Kary and his team are the real deal in publishing is because they teach you everything you need to know about it.

They teach you how to market your book.  And they teach you how to ask for endorsements for your book.  They teach you how to write the back cover and the advertising copy that goes up on Amazon. Honestly, they just teach you all that stuff. 

Sure, I could convert a Word document into Kindle friendly file today and upload it to Amazon. But that doesn't mean it will sell if I have not done any work beyond that. If I have not leveraged my network and my platform, I am not going to get anything out of it.

So that is one of the reasons that I partnered with Author Academy Elite.

I'm so impressed with this program. It is a program that you pay for, but I'm just so blown away by what you get with it. You get 18 months of coaching. They publish your book. The revenues from the book are yours. So that means your royalties are yours. They teach you all about how to do an audio book version and how to do the Ebook version. And they teach you how to have a printed copy and how to promote yourself in your local area to do book signings. It's an incredible, incredible program.

I will tell you too, that I have paid for tons and tons of stuff and business coaching over the years.

I would say in the top three things that I've invested in, Author Academy Elite has been worth it. There's been a lot of things that have not been worth it. A lot of people that were not a match for me. Someone sent me a $3,000 proposal to do a book marketing plan for my book. That's less than what you pay to publish your book and get the coaching and everything with Kerry's team. But nothing was guaranteed with it. And I had no lifeline to ask for help. That was just doing one piece of the puzzle, not publishing the book.

The other thing I loved about Author Academy Elite and why I signed up with it is because you can do it today.

You can do books with them and it's like a $300 investment per book. What they do with the general program is they help you with things like your book cover.  They guarantee certain things that you're going to get as part of the program. But you can publish additional books through their publishing house, very affordably, so much better. 

I see publishing companies every day. They're pitching me on LinkedIn. Oh, it's $10,000 and we’ll publish your book. Someone the other day offered me a chapter in their book to pay $750. I really wanted a system because I intended to publish the “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” with Author Academy Elite.

So when this book deal came about that Entrepreneur Press” was interested in buying two books, including the one we'd already pitched the first time around, I contacted Author Academy to talk to them.

I told them that I've got two to three other books in the business and nonfiction space I really want to write.  And I asked them if we can swap one of them in because I'd already had the Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap approved.

So that's another part of my exciting news. I am going to be publishing a work from home guide to starting your own virtual assistant business.

It’s going to be all about how to become a VA, why VA is different from other freelancing, and the types of skills you need to know as a virtual assistant. I will be publishing that hopefully next May or June with Author Academy Elite. It will be self published. So stay tuned for that.

And then I'm publishing a six figure freelancing guide. We don't quite have a title yet in 2020 with Entrepreneur Press,  And in 2021, a “how to” guide on website copywriting.

So that was a long tangent from my original point, which was that I was really shocked and so honored to receive the Author Academy Elite 2019 Award for Best in Business.

I was up against many other authors in business.

They announced the Top 10 in August.  And my book made the Top 10! I shared this on my social media. And I did not prepare an acceptance because the other nine books I was up against, were great books. I thought that there's no way that I was going to win against these people. So I'm just going to go and enjoy the Author Academy Awards and soak in the atmosphere.

I'm there at the conference anyways, so honored to be a Top 10 finalist, and what a huge blessing it was to win. I was totally shocked when they called my name. I mean, I did not have a speech prepared. And I only listened to the video of what I said a couple of days later.  I don't like to be unprepared. I always like to have notes to have some idea of what I'm going to say. I speak well off the cuff when I know that topic really well. But I've never been honored like that for a book before. So I got to go on stage say thank you and accept the award.

The next morning, I got to go up on stage in front of the entire conference of 500 people and speak for 90 seconds about why I wrote this book and who it's for.

I totally underestimated how powerful this was going to be for my platform. I sold 26 copies of my book at that conference. Just two people who found me during bathroom breaks in the conference, right? They would seek me out and pro tip here.

When I go to conferences, I always try to wear the same color all weekend or for the whole event. So it's usually royal blue or red because they're very noticeable power colors. So I was wearing royal blue as much as I could that weekend so that it was easy for people to find me and it really worked. So my book was not available for sale in the conference bookstore. Lots of people asked if it was there and it was not. And then they came and found me personally. So I'm just super excited to be sharing all of this news with you.

Which brings me to, this is the last time I'm going to promote this in 2019.

I am building my advanced reader team.  My advanced reader team is going to be a small group. I'm aiming for like 20 to 25 people max.  You're going to be the early readers on my work and provide feedback. So you're going to get first dibs at having your snippets featured in the book.

So in the six figure freelancing roadmap, I'm going to have case studies from successful six figure freelancers.  The advanced reader team is going to be the first people that I go to with that opportunity. So it’s a great way to have your story and your business promoted. That's potential exposure for you to be found by other people who might follow you as a freelancer or hire you as a freelancer.

So my advanced reader teams going to get first crack at that.

Advanced readers will also receive one free, signed copy that will come to you three to four weeks in advance of the actual drop date of the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other platforms. That is free to you. I will mail that personally to you to thank you for being a part of the launch team. The advanced reader team will you know,

As an advanced reader, I ask that you participate in whatever way you can to provide feedback and ideas and to share the books on social as the launch date and sale dates are coming closer. Leaving reviews on the book is a huge help on Amazon, Goodreads, and other platforms. That's very important.

So if you want to be a part of that advanced reader team there is a Google Form application. If you were already on my launch team for the first book, you're already in the Facebook group. So you would actually have to opt out of the Facebook group to not be part of my advanced reader team.  But I really would like you to consider staying on if you got something out of it.

I'm also going to be sharing with my advanced reader team, insight behind writing and marketing the book.

You are literally going to get a bird's eye view of what it takes to write, edit, and publish a book.  You will learn how you build a marketing plan and how long it takes to build these things in advance. So that's a really cool way for you to learn more about it if you have been thinking about writing a book or you just want to know what it looks like in  2020 and beyond to write a book like that and for it go out live for the masses.

So I really want to encourage you to consider signing up. Just fill out the form in the link below. I will be contacting my launch team coming up. It is just a really cool opportunity. I am so thankful for all of you who were on my previous launch team.   You were instrumental in helping me to be able to get additional book deals.

I’m sorry for the diversion from your normal freelance strategy tidbits and things that I drop here.

But this is really going to be an increasing part of my business.  I’m going to be publishing, representing the freelance community, and building a bigger community of freelancers. Promoting the freelance revolution as what it is.

I wish I had more resources and tools when I got started. And I am now building those resources. I'm just so happy to get that opportunity to represent all of you. So I look forward to seeing you, hopefully on my launch team. And sharing the podcast with others also helps. If you leave a review on iTunes it helps more freelancers find this great information.

So thanks for tuning in for another episode. I know it's been a quick one. As always, you can send your questions to the podcast info@betterbizacademy.com. I will receive those emails. I'm also shifting to a new email for the podcast, which is thefreelancerevolution@gmail.com.  So if you have questions, ideas for future topics, something I mentioned on the show doesn't make sense, or you need more information, please shoot me an email. Thanks again for being part of my tribe and helping support the freelance revolution.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Links:

Nov 18, 2019

I’m coming to you today with another guest who's going to share her great insight into how to make freelancing work for you.  She’s also going to share when to decide that maybe it's not the right fit, and you want to scale it down or work your freelance business in a different way.

My guest today is Dani Belvin who is a New Mexican theatre artist, educator, and arts administrator driven by the desire to make a positive impact in Albuquerque. She holds an MFA in Theater and a BA in Theatre, Education, and Asian Studies.

As an educator, she's worked with students of all ages in New Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, and China. As a performer, she's also studied 12 different Asian theatre and dance forms. And in addition to working full time in arts administration at an art center, she teaches part time at the college level and produces and co-host of the podcast, Biracial Unicorns.  It is a podcast about race, gender, and pop culture.

We're going to be talking about things that are a little bit off the beaten path for where a lot of the traditional freelance conversations go.  Which is, you're working it as a side hustle to bring it into a full-time gig.  You’re potentially using it to grow an even bigger and bigger freelance business.

My guest today is Dani.  I asked her what she would say her background is with freelancing.

She shared that she was an accidental freelancer. She feels like she’s heard me say that about myself. She didn't have the intention to freelance after she went to graduate school.  She went to graduate school with the intention of becoming a college professor. And that turned out to be a lot more difficult than she first thought.

So she knew that she wanted to teach.  And because her degrees happened to be in the arts... Well, there are a lot of very tangible transferable skills. But a lot of businesses don't see it that way. So it wasn't to fall into a traditional sort of job.

So she knew she wanted to work in the arts.  And she knew she wanted to teach. So she just accidentally fell into doing contract work in that way.  She was following through with any sort of opportunity and putting herself out there so that I could be in the classroom or be doing arts as a job.

So it started as kind of a way to support adjunct teaching. As far as college goes, she was teaching just a couple of classes a semester in the college setting. She started to pick up more and more other teaching jobs.  Part of it was through theatre company that she was a part of. And then part of it was through just other contacts she had made in the art world.

I asked Dani, “Was most of your freelancing was in teaching positions? Or were you doing different types of services for your clients?”

For the most part, it was teaching. The nature of theatre tends to be a lot of independent contract work as well. So while most of it was teaching, some of it was actually stage managing or performing in the theater world as well.

So when you were doing a lot of this freelance work, what did you feel were the benefits of choosing that instead of something that would be like a full-time tenure track or a Professor sort of situation?

The thing that Dani loves the most about freelancing was the freedom and flexibility to choose what she was doing.  And she could turn down gigs that did not align with her values, didn't align with her schedule, or weren't interesting to her. So she really enjoyed that aspect. And she enjoyed the aspect of creating her own schedule. All of that was, was really freeing and really

just gratifying to her.

But ultimately, it seems like that wasn't something that Dani wanted to stick with forever.  Which is kind of the nature of a lot of not just business, but life for creatives too.  We often discover along the way what we do and don't like or pick up some new passion and follow that thread.

So can you talk a little bit more about that process of maybe deciding, “Okay, I don't want to freelance forever”, at least in this particular way, and how you made that transition?

Dani shared that for her it was a lot of burnout. So she was working a lot and in a lot of different places.  That’s is part of the nature of freelancing.  She felt like she was spending a lot of time driving from gig to gig. And just constantly on the go.  It was exhausting.

For her, the move into a full time position meant having the stability of  working in one place.  It meant having the stability of having those set hours. And she thinks this is true for a lot of creatives. And for a lot of freelancers.

It's very difficult when you're starting out to figure out those boundaries.  She shared that she was more than happy to constantly be working. And for her that just was not sustainable. She was having a hard time figuring out where she was going to draw those boundaries with things like when was she not working? When was she working?” So that was really weighing on her.

Then a lot of it was the boring life things like needing health insurance and figuring out those those steps for myself. And while it is possible through freelance work,  it seemed very difficult for her.  And she had to evaluate if this was the type of work that she wanted to continue doing, or if she wanted to shift into something else.

So how did you make that shift into doing something else on a full time basis? Was that something where you were very intentional in your job hunting or did a job just sort of pop up and you're like, “Okay, this is it. This is my chance to make a move.”?

Dani shared that it was more the ladder in her case. She had reached the point where she was acknowledging her burnout and that she needed to do something else. And she was about to take some steps back.  She had set aside some time and savings to kind of pull back on what she was doing come the fall of that year.

 And she set that space with the intention of job hunting.  Perhaps reconsidering applying for full-time professor jobs out of state. She wasn't sure if she wanted to move away from where she was. But she set that space to search and decide.

Right before she was about to transition into that space, a job kind of popped up.  It was a full-time job with an organization she had been contracting with before. So she knew that the organization matched a lot of her personal values and was a good place to work. She knew a lot of people who were already in that organization, not well, but well enough to know that it seemed like a great place to work and it was in arts education.

But through the administration side.  So it was something a little different than she had done previously.  But because she had been doing a lot of freelance individual work she had the skills that they were looking for. She also had the practical experience of being on the ground doing the teaching, working as an artist, and having knowledge of both sides of it. So it was kind of an ideal situation that accidentally happened as well.

Well, that's actually very interesting, because through your freelance experience, even though you realized that that wasn't a path you wanted to continue down, you still had this introduction to this company and the people there to where you knew what some of the job would look like.

I think Dani touched on a couple of things that are really important.  But the one that I want to pull out first is this idea of setting aside space.

Because one of the challenges of freelancing that I think anyone who's done it can experience is the fact that it can overtake all day every day. And what tends to get crowded out is this idea of that intentional space setting to think about working on your business or even taking the step back to say, “Is this what I want to be doing?”

When your skills are in demand, it is very easy to fill your day with work for clients.  Sometimes I've even seen freelancers who have waiting lists.  They're turning down other clients, because they're so busy. And I think it was very smart that Dani’s first step was not along the lines of firing all her clients today. Nor did she have the mindset of taking whatever job pops up. 

She very intentionally said, “I'm going to put some space in here to figure out what this is going to look like because I don't necessarily know what my next step is.” And I feel that it's so hard for a lot of freelancers to do that just because of the way we work.  We tend to be thinking about other people's businesses. Or the projects we're working on.  And not recognizing how it's affecting us.

Prior to doing that your step, Dani recognized that she was in, at least, the beginning stages of burnout. I asked her if she could speak a little bit about that to help other freelancers who might not realize that there are some subtle signs popping up that they might be burning out.

I asked Dani, “What would you do if you could go back in time and talk to yourself at that period and raise those red flags sooner?

Dani thinks, for her, and probably for a lot of people who work in freelance, we go down that path because it's the work that we want to do.  It's the work that we value.  And it's a passion!   It's very hard to be motivated to work for yourself or to take on different clients nad different small side jobs, unless it's something you're passionate about.

And so, for her, the early signs of burnout were she was unhappy. And she did not see the same level of passion and commitment to the work that she had when she was beginning. She was very unhappy and very tired. She started to dread having to work. Instead of it feeling like something that was feeding her, it felt like she was just feeding the work.  So she thinks those were the early signs for me.

And then actual physical exhaustion was a part of it as well.  Like she mentioned before, she thinks a lot of it, for her, was the lack of very firm boundaries. So if she could go back, she thinks that would be something that she would work on and establish early on. And she thinks with those boundaries, it helps prevent burnout.  But she thinks you're also more likely to catch the burnout before it happens.

Yes, I could not agree with you more. I think that boundaries is probably up there with imposter syndrome and and mindset work.

But it is one of the most important things that a lot of freelancers don't realize how much they're hurting themselves and their business by not having good boundaries.  Because a lot of us come from employee-employer situations.  Or we're working with companies that don't realize they need to or have to treat freelancers differently.

It can feel very much like a power move to put those boundaries down with a client.  But it's very, very important for your own mental health. And I love that Dani acknowledges some of the signs of what that looks like for her. Because there's almost a sense of grief when you start to realize that this thing you built is great, but then it's physically exhausting you.  And you’re not even feeling lit up by it. Yes, it's bringing in money.  And clients are relatively happy, but it's having these other negative impacts on me.

So can you talk about this job opportunity that came up? How did you wind down your freelance work?  Did you keep it on but were just different about how you decided what to do with freelance clients?

Dani shared that it’s a little bit of both. Like she mentioned before, she had already started taking steps back when this job opportunity arose. So she had already created some space. When she started at this new job, in this new position, she as still honoring the commitments she had already made.

And she made it pretty clear when she accepted the position that it was important to her to be able to have the space to honor those commitments and follow through on the things she had already said she was going to do.  Which she doesn’t know why she found it surprising, but she did find it very surprising that the company loved that about her. They told her that's one of the reasons we hired her.

She did have a few other teaching gigs lined up, which I followed through and completed.  Luckily for her, within her work, everything was very structured on a calendar and an academic calendar. So she knew when those things would end.  She also knew that because it was work that she was passionate about that she wasn't able to give it up completely.

So while she was winding down with those things, she was trying to figure out how much of it she could keep, in addition to a 40 hour a week job.

And so through conversations with the college she was contracting with and her new employers, she was able to see how much space she could have.  She’s now in my third year in this position.  And she has continued to do some side contract work and some teaching at the college level while she has been there. So it's continuing to take that step back and see what the space was that allowed it.

What she also really liked about it was that she was able to build in more space for other projects that she wanted to do that weren't necessarily completely under the umbrella of what she was doing before. So it was nice to have that security of a full time job, but be able to continue a little bit of the work that she was really passionate about,  It was also nice to be able to create some space for new things. Because she thinks this is true for a lot of creatives and freelancers, we're always wanting to learn new things to improve ourselves to find something that will satisfy us. So she loves that she has that space in my schedule now that she’s able to try new things as well.

I understand and that makes a lot of sense. Because when you're doing one particular thing or a couple of different things in your freelance skill set wheelhouse, it's very easy for those to become the most profitable or the ones that are requested the most. 

You do them over and over again. But it really can crowd out the opportunity to learn new things or even just pick something up that's a hobby.  I see a lot of people get stuck in this mindset of wondering if something is  going to make them money.  Not everything you do has to make you money, or has to be part of your business. It can be if you want, but you can also just pick up a hobby or follow a thread to see how much you're interested in it.  I think that that's a really common pitfall that people fall into.

I asked Dani to walk me through how her process has changed as far as deciding whether or not to take on a freelance project. Now, knowing what she does from having done it before and balancing this full time job and some other projects.

She shared that she feels like she has drawn a much stronger line. It used to be where she would pretty much accept anything that she  was remotely interested in. And now knowing that she has much more limited time to accommodate those things, she has to be a lot more intentional.

So for her that means she knows that she can only accept one or two things in a given amount of time.  She still thinks very much in the semester schedule.  So she can only take one or two things every semester. And having that knowledge and that line makes her evaluate what it is that she enjoys the most.  Some of the things that she considers are:

  • What age group is it?
  • Is it that I want to work with the most?
  • What are the sorts of things that I want to teach?
  • Or what kind of art do I want to do that would fill me the most in this schedule?

 And it's nice because she doesn’t necessarily have to think about long term with her freelance work. Now, she only has to think about what's going to serve her in this amount of time. And she doesn’t have to necessarily worry about building anything or expanding anything.

That's a really great point.

One challenge that I know a lot of freelancers who are coming out, from the other direction where they have the full time job first and they're just starting to freelance, they always want to know if they need to tell their employer.  Or if they need to tell their freelance clients that they also have a full time job and these are the parameters under which it does or doesn't affect what they are doing for them.

I asked Dani if she does that with her clients. Do they know that you have other responsibilities, and you're not going to pick up the phone at 10 o'clock in the morning if they call out of the blue? Or is that something you just deal with on a different or case by case basis?

Dani shared that she thinks it's a case by case.  She has had semesters where she was very upfront with not only the college she was working with, or the people she was contracting with, but also with the students who she was teaching about her schedule. This is her life.  And this is when she’s available and when she’s not available.

She’s also had times where she doesn’t do that.  The other thing she finds that it doesn't make a huge difference is what she communicates to other people, it's really kind of drawing the line for herself.  That makes the bigger difference. So she thinks in both cases the outcome was about the same.

She feels as though she has moved into more of not necessarily having to disclose just because she doesn't understand necessarily what she was getting out of disclosing.  She doesn’t know if she was looking for people to understand that boundary, but she feels like you can establish that boundary without having to justify why.

That's a really good point because a lot of times there's not a ton of overlap unless the person from your freelance gig is trying to push into your other time when you're not available or need to be focused on something,

I really found that a lot of times when I was working full time that it just didn’t really affect it. And I didn't see how it affected my boss at all. I didn't see how it affected my freelance clients either.   We could either do a call at noon when I was on a lunch break or after hours.  We could even just discuss it over email.

So I agree with you that it's a case by case thing. I don't think you owe it to anyone unless there's going to be some potential where they're like, “Oh, we need you to be available at 3 pm every Tuesday.”  That’s when you have to tell them that you might not be the person for them because you’re working at that time.

But I agree that I think a lot of times it's about our own boundaries.  You have to ask yourself, “Okay, how am I going to have firm boundaries with both these things so that I don't get overwhelmed or don't shortchange anyone in the process?”

Well, this has been super helpful, for me at least, to hear how you've made this transition and really arrived at a balance of things that work best for you.

I think that's important for everyone listening to remember that you don't have to apply a formula from anyone and try to force that into fitting into your life.  You get to decide to what extent you're freelancing or you're not or you have a full time job or you work remotely or you're volunteering.  So you get to decide what that looks like.

And you can always change it too.  If it's no longer suiting you, for any reason, you can always adapt and change it. So never feel like you're a prisoner to your circumstances.  Because you always have the power to adapt.

And that's something I think we've talked about a lot in this episode is tuning into those signals in yourself know this isn't working. How do I make that decision? How do I wind things down and move forward in a step that's positive?

I asked Dani where people could go to learn more about her and all of the great work she’s doing including her podcast.

The best place to learn about her is through her podcast, which is one of those lovely things that has been able to rise because I've had that extra space in my life and is able to fulfill me in a different way. So, she co hosts and produces a podcast called Biracial Unicorns. They're available on all the podcasting platforms.

This was such a great episode full of useful information.  For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Nov 11, 2019

If you know me, you know I love doing batch work.

So if you're listening to this episode, know that I have recorded several podcast episodes, at the same time.  All with the content previously outlined that I did in another work session of bashing work. So I really do practice what I preach when it comes to bashing your work and splitting things up. It is so much easier for me to record two or three podcast episodes at a time. And it definitely makes it easier on everyone else when producing them.  So think about how that concept of batch work could play into your freelance business as well.

The title of this episode is “Why I'm Not Freelancing Full Time Anymore”. 

If you have followed my story for a long time, or listen to this podcast, then you know that I have been freelancing full time since the summer of 2013. So that is a full six years of working full time.  Many of those years I was putting in a lot of hours, especially at the beginning to get things off the ground.

And it's part of the reason that I've been incorporating a couple different interviews with people who have taken less traditional freelance paths into the mix with some of these podcast episodes.  Because I'm seeing it not just with me, but with many of my private coaching clients as well.

For some of them, freelancing full time is the dream like this is what they've worked for. They love it.  And they're happy to do it. But for others, it's interesting because they will start coaching with me for the purpose of scaling their freelance business and then the process of working together, realized that's not actually what they want.  At least anymore. For some of them, that means intentionally scaling back their freelance business altogether. And that can be a little bit surprising for people who have put in so much effort to build up a freelance side hustle, potentially even leaving their day job.

What I want to emphasize here is that you always have the opportunity to change and adjust your business and your life, as a freelancer, as a creative as a person, as much as you want.

Because there's different seasons in life. There are seasons in life where you may be focused on other things like taking care of an elderly parent, or perhaps you're a new parent yourself.  And the focus of your life has really shifted from that all hustle, all-in mentality towards being a new parent.  Or maybe you've just moved in with your significant other or whatever it might be.

One of these life changes and shifts that I'm seeing happen a lot is people who build their freelance business up and then go, “Okay, what's next?”

I honestly can speak to that from experience.  Because, for me, I've loved being a freelancer. I've loved doing it full time. And I just hit a point when I wasn't sure that that was fit for me anymore. I've taken a lot of care and a lot of work to adjust my business in light of that. 

So I started seeing the signs that it was time to change.  In early 2019, I was really set up for a big year freelance wise.  I took on two enormous freelance contracts. I was like, “This is easily going to be my biggest year yet with freelancing.” And I did those for about three months.

Then both of those projects came to an end for for different reasons.  None of those reasons were negative or anything. but I was relieved. Normally when I lose a contract or a client, I'm like, “Oh, I have to go replace this client. I've got to go find another situation that's going to fill this time.” I started feeling relief at letting go some of those projects and intentionally not replacing them.

So those two contracts ending around the May time period, and I was getting really close to my book launch to we were getting ready to move on. I really started to feel like the perfect storm situation where if I was going to scale my freelance business down, then it was the time to start. And it really was!  To be honest with you, having so many contracts and so many irons in the fire, it took me a full four months to intentionally scale my business back.  It was by no means an overnight process.

So there were a lot of signs that it was time to change.  From those contracts ending and one of those clients randomly decided that they were paying writers too much and wanted to cut their prices and rates by 50%.

So all of a sudden, it was like, “Wow, what a weird conversation.  They're not complaining that anything's been done wrong, but they want to pay all three of us freelance writers working for them across the board much less.” We also went on vacation in May. It was a very healing and transformative vacation.

We took my sister in law with us. We were all over Europe. I emailed a client I had been with for years to say I wanted to cut my workload in half with them doing some of the editing work and still stay on with the writing work. I realized that when I came back from vacation, I didn't want to start doing the editing again. So I revised my original statement and said, “Can you just pull me out of this all together?”

So I gave up a good portion of income in order to do that, but it felt like the right decision.

And it really was.  If you've never written and published a book before, whether that's self published or traditionally published, there was so much work that went into that behind the scenes.  The book was launched on July 16. And I wanted to support it as much as possible because I knew I would not only set myself up for success with this first publication, but I was very intentional when I brought on an agent in 2018 that I wanted to write multiple books.  She even stressed to me in our early conversations that the opportunities for future books would very much be based on what I could pull off with the first one.

So I felt like the door of opportunity was knocking and I had to take it.

I really did not want this book launch to fall apart for any reason. So I had put together a marketing plan that I created over the course of four months.  I implemented that marketing plan over about six to seven months.

I had brought in an additional VA to help me with that. And I hired a publicist to help me with that. I rebooted my podcast.  There were so many things going on in connection with the book and not one of them do I regret! But because I made that decision, I had to scale back other things in my business.

I also started to feel like I just wasn't seeing the room for growth for me with freelance writing.

There was not another form of freelance writing that was exciting me at the time. I started dipping my toes into the water with public speaking by doing some workshops. I also expanded my freelance coaching business because I started to realize that I really did not want to be writing eight to nine hours a day.

And there is an excellent video you can watch here. It is like the motto of 2019 for me.  It's an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and multiple other books. I strongly recommend her book “Big Magic” if you haven't checked it out. But in this interview, she talks about the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.

So she talks about the fact that writing will always be her vocation, even if it is not her career. She talks about all the other jobs she's held where she wasn't writing, but it gave her the mental space to be a writer outside of those hours. So for me delving into nonfiction into fiction, into doing public speaking into coaching, all of those, to some extent, involve additional writing.

I was also getting pressure to finish up my PhD.

Talk about a massive writing project writing a doctoral dissertation.  I could see the writing on the wall at the rate that I was going with the volume of clients that I had. And I could not do all of these other writing projects, and also be writing six to nine hours a day for clients.

So I actually had my best freelance month ever, in 2019, nearly $30,000 in freelance income.

And I also had my worst freelance month in recent years in August. So I believe that the best one was April.  And then in August I had my worst month that I've had in years in terms of income wise.  But in terms of how I felt about things and how intentional I was in the way that my business looked, I view it like the opposite. 

Because I had this huge month in April, and then I went on vacation.  Honestly, I was starting to get burned out. And I could really sense that. I was experiencing the early signs of burnout. And I knew that that was going to be a problem for me .  So I went from that best freelance month saying, “Okay, is this it?"  I had a great freelance month. I don't necessarily feel like from a $10,000 month to a $30,000 month.  But there wasn't more happiness or peacefulness. I honestly feel kind of tired a little bit burned out. So for me, this is not the direction that I want my business to grow.

As you know, freelance income can fluctuate and it's also up to you to decide if consistency or other options are more appropriate.

There are seasons in your freelance business.  And there's been seasons where I've outsourced all my writing work. There have been seasons where I did not advertise my coaching practice at all because it was completely booked through word of mouth. And there have been seasons where I've said that we are not filming YouTube videos for four months. Or that I'm taking a year and a half break from my podcast.  Things are always in flux.

So in other businesses, it's harder to adjust your business to your life, but that is not the case with freelancing because it can open other doors.

Some other doors started to open, as soon as I started to intentionally scale down my freelance business.  And I was having a conversation about this in my freelancing group, which you can check out.  It's Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura. This idea came up of, when you have filled your schedule with other things in a way, you can actually be limiting yourself from better opportunities or opportunities that you want.

So people might wonder how that makes sense. I feel like if there's something in the back of your mind that it's calling on you to do like writing a book or opening another business entirely, but you fill your schedule with what comes easily to you, which could be bringing on freelance contracts, you're kind of denying a part of yourself.  You're actually limiting your personal and business growth.

I've said this a lot and sometimes people won't agree with me, but I don't believe that it is all about the money.

Because if you bring in great money, but you don't feel good about it, or your start to feel like I did, which was just like I needed to complete my projects because I was on deadline. But I had several clients where I was not excited to work on their projects at all. I was really just doing it to get things done because I had made a commitment to work for that client.

I realized how dangerous that was.  And I was not doing the best thing for me. I'm not doing the best thing for my clients. So I did a very careful inventory of all of my clients on my current roster and said, “What can I change? And how can I make this more in line with where I want to go?”

Now it's hard to say no to a really good thing. I'm so grateful for my business. But writing is not something I want to do 40 hours anymore. And it's actually a gift to have been a writer for full time for the last six years because I've been able to expand into other skill sets like selling courses and doing project and content management for clients that requires more communication skills than writing.  Doing public speaking and coaching, writing books, doing TEDx talks, it's opened other doors and made me see that this is not all that I am limited to. So rather than feeling like I've taken it as far as I can take it, and let's just wake up every day and do the same thing over again, I started looking for new challenges.

So how do you tell when it's really the right time to move on or to make a big decision about what's next for you?

Mindset work is key. I have done more mindset work in the last six months than probably the entirety of all of my life before that. For you, mindset work might look like prayer, sitting there quietly journaling, doing meditation every day, or bringing up new hobbies. All of it helps you to honor your purpose.

As a freelancer, we are hearing communication, thoughts and ideas daily. Your business can easily overtake your brain because it is something that you cannot really shut off and confine to an office. It's usually your entire home. When you're out running or exercising or doing errands, you're thinking about your business. So there's a lot of noise. 

It's very hard sometimes to honor your purpose when there's so much noise coming at you from so many different directions. So being intentionally quiet, sitting down and making that effort to learn more about what it is you really want to do and what your next step is, can allow you to hear some of that inner intuition.   Even if you're doing this through prayer, hearing from the spiritual portion of your life getting some wisdom about what steps to take next.

That was critical for me.

I had filled my business with so much noise and interference that I could not tell what it was I wanted to do anymore. I had a whole bunch of obligations, and maybe only about 65 to 70% of them were things that I wanted to do. So I had to start really honoring that and start exploring new avenues. 

The minute that I started that process, which was super messy, and took me the entire summer and is still ongoing, I started to see other doors opening. I got some wisdom and intuition about what my next steps were.

We humans tend to initially resisted it. I was like, “Yeah, I'm not doing that. That's not the next step for me.” But starting to pursue these different routes was really helpful for me to start thinking about what I want my business and life to look like going forward and how I can continue to change things and allow this to evolve.

So just because you built something to the point where it's successful and doing well financially, that doesn't always mean that that is your end point. Many of the most successful business owners and freelancers that I know are evolving.  They are not afraid to say, “Okay, I did this. It was great. Now it's time to move on. I have a new dream or I have this other dream in the back of my mind that I've always wanted to do. And now I'm going to live it.”

I think as creatives a lot of us are called to freelancing because we want to do something creative. But when that becomes our job eight to nine hours a day, being creative for other clients, it's really hard to apply that same level of creativity to our own projects. So for me, some of the best writing and side hustling I ever did, was the year that I ran my business as a side hustle while I had a full time job.  Because I had to be very specific about what I did in my off hours. A lot of my job was very menial.  To that extent, it was boring.  But I also didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting with my brain during the day.

So I still have that creativity and excitement to come home with and as a writer, a business owner, and freelancer, you play multiple different roles.

So you're the CEO.  You're the VP of Marketing, management, hiring, and human resources. And you're the CFO.  You're everything. Even when you have a VA or a couple of people on your team, you are still making a massive amount of decisions, And so that might not be right for everyone running your business at that level.

So for me, a lot of the guidance that I got was to scale my freelance clients down to 10 hours a week. And it was so awkward and weird to do this.  It was weird to turn people down and to fire clients after test projects when I couldn't see how they fit into my new 10 hour a week model, and to allow contracts to come to a natural end and to not try to replace them. It was weird because I never really done that purposely before.

All of my previous goals in my business were very much financially based.

I found that honestly that got very empty for me because it was like, “Oh, great.  We had a good month, but I didn't feel like my purpose and my passion was coming through at the level that the money was.” So it was something where I knew that if I want to have a bigger impact, if I really want to help people then there had to be changes.  I really felt that I needed to change some things about the freelance side of my business to make that happen.

So my first recommendation for you is to get quiet.

Do the mindset work. And do it every day for one to two hours a day, if you can. I spent so much time walking, journaling, talking things out with my husband,  my mom, or other people in my life.  I was like, “Okay, if I'm going to change this, what is this going to look like?”

I did a talk a couple of weeks ago, very similar to this topic. I was at my alma mater in Virginia.  And I talked about the power of the pivot. So a lot of times we ignore signs from our body that it's time to move on when something no longer fits you in the way that it's currently structured.

So I will probably always freelance. But for me I was able to scale my business down to still be a six figure writing business, but only about 10 hours a week by being very picky about the clients that I do have.

So you have three main options available to you when you recognize that freelancing isn't fit.  You can:

  • Scale it down and find a new side hustle or full time gig.
  • Find a new full time position and phase it out entirely.
  • Start a new business and go in a totally new direction and let freelancing bridge the gap for you.

So maybe you want to launch your own company, write a book,  or get a whole new job, but you know that that's not something you can do tomorrow, so maybe over six to 12 months.  Freelancing is how you can bridge the gap.  You're taking on a couple of projects to float you financially.

I love the idea when you're pivoting to take baby steps towards your next purposes.

For me, I didn't know what direction I wanted to go in yet.  I did public speaking and I knew just from speaking to some experts and doing some of it already, I did not want that to be my new full time income. I talked to a very savvy, public speaker coach several months ago and she told me how she had spent over 200 nights a year in a hotel room. And with that one sentence I knew it wasn’t for me.  I know there's a need for more great executive and female public speakers and motivational speakers out there. Butthat just felt like it would be trading freelancing full time for doing something that would be even more stressful and require more travel.

So I knew some of what I didn't want to do at least full time, but I didn't know which direction I wanted to go entirely, but I knew what the signs were.

I was not motivated to get projects done. I've coped with varying levels of anxiety my entire life. And for a long time when I was a child, all the way through graduate school, I was diagnosed with ADD. I was medicated for ADD.  It was a real struggle for me to stay focused and organized.

Sometimes people who meet me today are surprised to hear that they think I'm hyper organized. That is a coping mechanism I developed from years of living with severe ADHD. So when I start to notice my ADD coming back and my anxiety bubbling up every day, I start to notice symptoms like headaches, ulcers, and feeling tired more often. That's usually how my body tells me it's time to go.

My body actually started to shut down when I was teaching in Baltimore City.  That was the point for me to recognize that it was really serious and I needed to step out of that particular job. So I always watch for those types of things such as missing deadlines, making mistakes with your clients, and not feeling excited about getting on sales calls or turning things in hitting a major milestone like having a huge month or bringing on a huge client.  It's much more anticlimactic than you thought.  Those are all signs that it's time to take a baby step towards your next purpose.

On that note, I strongly recommend the audible only book “Take Control of Your Life with Mel Robbins”. The very first case study she does is with a famous teacher who wants to do something in the wine business.  But he doesn't know what yet and he's essentially paralyzed by all of the choices.  She talks about Lego blocks and building blocks that move you towards what your purpose is, when you're not sure what it is.

So you take little baby steps to try things out.  Maybe you have dinner with someone.  Or maybe you reach out to people. For me, I reached out heavily to my military spouse, community and all of the networks that I had there to say, “Hey, I'm thinking about changing things up. What advice do you have?”   Leaning on other people can be very, very helpful. So check out those books and resources to learn more.

You can also add in more exposure, income, and opportunities by doing other things in your freelance business.

Start a nonprofit.  Volunteer some of your free time developing another business entirely coaching other people, either as a life coach or business coach.  You can write books, do public speaking, start a podcast, or maybe work in a more traditional employment situation or a full time remote job to pick up newer or better skills.

I felt to an extent like I had tapped out what I could really do with SEO writing. I did it. And it was great. And I've enjoyed doing it. There are several clients where it's still enough of a challenge and interest for me to continue doing it. But I could tell that wasn't what I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time doing.

So I come to you with this podcast episode because everything is very much still in motion and in flux.

But I wanted to help you recognize that you always have the ability and the permission, for goodness sakes, granted to yourself to change things in your business if it's not working for you. I will still be freelancing. I will still be making an income from freelancing. But I'm actually setting my freelance business up to reflect more of what it looked like when I first started back when I had a full time job and was a grad student doing other things, so that I can fold in some other things and fold in some more downtime, and get my dissertation done.

So, I just wanted to sort of do this preliminary episode to talk a little about that. I will come back in a couple of months to talk to you more about how this transition has worked out. But I hope that this episode has been helpful for you to see the many different ways that you can alter your life and your business to make sure that it suits where you're at right now.

It is not dishonoring what you've built. And It is not viewing your current business as a failure. But if you feel disconnected, and if you feel like there's something more out there for you, I really encourage you to make the mindset work mandatory because no one can answer that question for you.

This came up with one of my coaching clients recently where she didn’t know what she wanted to do, but it's wasn’t freelancing.

She didn’t think she wanted to freelance at all. And that's valuable information to know, even when you're working with the freelancing coach. So then our conversations really shifted towards how do we start you building the life you love, working towards the goals that you want, knowing that freelancing might just be something that bridges the gap. It might just be something that opens another door for you.

So I hope this episode has been helpful for you. Please send any questions or concerns to info@betterbizacademy.com and thanks again for tuning in.  For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Nov 4, 2019

This is episode 86 of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. I'm doing a separate introduction here because this is the first time that I've interviewed a guest in this new format and reboot of my podcast.  I was super excited to talk to her because of her expertise.

Today’s podcast guest is fellow freelance superstar Hilary Sutton.

She is a writer, speaker, and consultant that is passionate about helping people spend their days in work that is wildly fulfilling. She is the host of the podcast Hustle and Grace, which you should totally go check out right now.  Binge some of that after you're done with this episode.

She's also the author of several ebooks and courses including “More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives”.  She has also served as a Professor of Communications, Social Media and Journalism, at Southern New Hampshire for five years.  And she's also a freelance writer for hire with expertise in direct response, copywriting, and content marketing.

As a freelancer, she has served clients ranging from Broadway shows to non profits large and small, creatives of all stripes, and consumer brands.  And she has written hundreds of articles in dozens of publications, including USA Today and The Washington Post. She and her family live in the DC metro area.  We will post all of her contact information at the bottom of the show notes.

This episode is for you if you've been thinking that perhaps full time freelancing or full time remote work might not be for you.

And how could you create a hybrid blend, where you've got essentially an employee-employer relationship as part of the mix, but not as your full time gig. I hear from more and more freelancers these days who are looking to build an intentional freelance business. They don't want to be working 40 or 60 hours a week as a freelancer.

For some of them freelancing was their ticket out of working in a dead-end job, but they're now realizing that freelancing full time isn't quite the right fit either. The cool thing about these side hustlers is that we can rearrange our business and client load whenever we want to reflect the new dreams and goals that we have.  Hilary is the perfect example of that. So stay tuned in this episode to hear more about the different transition she's made and how she recommends you do things like how to pick which industry or type of skill to focus on how to keep clients thrilled about coming back to work with you on retainer.

With that, let’s get into Hilary’s story.

Hilary shared that she has been a person from the beginning who liked a lot of different things. She’s always been a person who loved writing.  She’s always loved theater. And she loved connecting with people in college.  She could not decide on a major for the longest time and actually ended up with three or four minors as a consolation prize.

She started freelancing around 2007-2008.  Which, if you'll remember, that was around the time that the great recession hit. So freelancing was something that she wanted to do, but it was also something she was kind of forced to do.  Because at that time, companies were on hiring freezes. People weren't hiring full time. So Hilary said that it was sort of like a happy accident that she got into freelancing at that time when people were actually sort of looking for some freelancers.

So she started freelance writing, then she was also balancing it with a career as an actress in theater, especially musical theatre.  It got to a point were in between performing, she was doing some writing here and there. But it wasn't really enough to pay the bills. And so she was also working retail and doing some different things.

Back to School

And so she thought she would go back to school and get a masters degree so she could at least possibly get into the online education boom that was happening at that time. She thought, if she could maybe teach online, she could still have this autonomous lifestyle that she loved.  She could work from anywhere. And she could go audition in the middle of the day.  There was something about a full time job that felt very limiting to her.  It felt very stifling to her and her personality, because in the beginning she had three or four different minors and a love for lots of different things. So she always really liked variety.

So back to school she went.  She studied media and communications with a focus on media.  She really dove into the social media space.  That was also really interesting timing because that's when companies started realizing, “Hey, we should hire someone or we should hire a freelancer or a consultant to help with our social media.”  And so that's sort of how she really got started as a full time freelancer.

She did social media. And she did a ton of blog writing. She still did article writing for magazines. That sort of grew into a career as a content marketer and a direct response copywriter that she has today.

Her Life Now

Now she lives in the DC metro area right outside of DC.  She works as a full time freelancer. There was a time just a couple of years ago that she thought that maybe what she really wanted was to work remotely.  She thought that it would give her the flexibility and autonomy that she wanted.

Well, it turns out she really likes working for herself. So she works as a part time consultant with an agency.  That's sort of her anchor client. She’s technically a W2 there, but she’s part time.  She works remotely. She feels like they're her client to be honest. But she is part of a team.

So she does that part time. And then she sprinkles in whatever she has time for around that. So she does direct response copy.  She does freelance career coaching.  And she has some online courses and intellectual property. She does public speaking.  Basically, she does lots of different things. She likes to keep the variety going. But she does have this dependable anchor client in the staffing agency.

I think it reflects a lot of what we freelancers like.

A lot of us get that feeling of being stifled in a traditional job where you're doing the same thing all day every day. Even though sometimes the variety can be a little bit crazy, it's often a welcome part of the freelancer's life.  Why? Because you do get to decide who you work with and who you don't.

It's interesting that Hilary brought up that she has this anchor client.  To her, they're kind of a client, but not really because it's also like an employee employer situation, but it's super flexible. So you view it like a client.

It's very interesting because a lot of times for people that are looking to do full time freelancing, I tell them to never just have one client,  That's super dangerous, right?  You should never put all your eggs in one basket. And obviously, Hilary done that. But what advice does Hilary have for freelancers who maybe get an offer like that?

I see a lot of people who are like, “Oh, a recruiter contacted me about a remote opportunity or a part time opportunity. They want to pay me W2.  How do you set that up for success in the rest of your business being in the context of freelance?” It sounds like they're very much like a client for Hilary.

How can freelancers tell the difference between an employer that really wants to treat you like an employee and someone who's more like a willing to be flexible with the remote work?

Hilary shared that she thinks some of it is that you just have to feel out in the interview process. But she thinks you also have to be honest from the beginning about what your values are and what you care about.  Be honest with them that they're going to get your 110% effort. But you're not going to have that same approach to the company that other people might go in there from 9 to 5.

Hilary shared that in her situation, she doesn’t view them as an employer. And she also feels like they put her in my own special category as well. So you know, there are times when it's so beneficial because she’s outside of the office politics.  She’s outside of the water cooler chatter.  Those parts of working in an office that she frankly, doesn't feel comfortable with and doesn’t really like.

So she thinks it's important to be honest from the get go. She thinks it's important to ask the tough questions in that process in the beginning.  You have to yourself, “Self, what is important to me?”  You have to ask how much anxiety does it bring me to have five different clients that all get 20% of my time or, 10 different clients still get 10% of my time?  Is it less for you to worry about? Is it less for you to think about? Does it bring you some peace of mind to have a client that's 40%?

Hilary said that to her, it's all about a happy medium.

Because a lot of times she thinks a freelance line item on a budget feels unemotional to cut at the end of the year. Whereas, if you are a W2, she thinks that employers and companies don't feel as comfortable just being like, “Oh, we'll just reallocate that money.”

She has had that experience herself. She had a client that was about 20%- 25% of her income recently. And at the end of the year, they just said, “Oh, we're just going to rearrange some things. And we're going to hire someone in house.”  It was over an email and was so impersonal. And all year, they had been a huge piece of her pie. But, she was just a line item for them.

So Hilary thinks there is something beneficial about having that relationship where you're not full time, you don't do the commute every day, and you're not there every day, but they rely on you. You rely on them almost like a retainer. Hilary thinks it's a good thing. It's a good situation, depending on what you want and what your goals are.

So Hilary is talking about a setup that's a little bit different than your traditional freelance setup.

Most freelancers have defined channels for marketing.  They know how they're going to find their clients.  I asked Hilary what she suggests that freelancers interested in a client like hers go and do to fine someone like that. Do you use different terminology or pitching techniques or networking to find a client like that and to kind of convince them that you're the right one for the role? Because like Hilary mentioned, a lot of times, we are seen as outsiders.  Freelancers are brought in to work on specific projects.  Or as a writer, they might do some of the content marketing.

How do you kind of bridge that gap between being a freelancer and working as a part time employee or W2?

Hilary thinks it depends on where you're coming from and what you're doing just prior to that.   For me and her situation, she had been working full time for a company remotely. And she just put the flag on her LinkedIn saying that she was open to conversations with recruiters. She moved my location to the DC metro area because she was moving to DC and almost immediately when she got there, a local company reached out to me.

It was a marketing staffing agency So they didn't take long for them to find someone who was the right fit.  Hilary shared that she was a great fit for them not only because she was looking and open to freelance and part time and remote opportunities, but also in her previous job, she was doing the marketing writing.  Which is the kind of writing that I liked, but the topic wasn't something that I was passionate about.

So in her off times from when she wasn't working on the projects for her job, she was contributing to newspapers like the USA Today writing about careers.  She was writing about how to nail your internship.  Those kinds of topics that actually aligned really beautifully with this client and part time gig that she has now.

Hilary thinks it's important before you find that perfect sweet spot that you're really putting it out there and cultivating your own personal brand around the topics and the things that you love to write about or the projects that you just love to do. Don't just get bogged down in whatever it is that your current job and the projects assigned to you.  Create your own work. Hilary thinks that really attracts those special opportunities. And it will also show that you're more than just a writer.  You're more than just a designer.

Whatever it is that you do, you also have a passion for this specific niche. Because when you have a passion for a specific niche and someone needs someone like you, they're more willing to be flexible.  They're more willing to be like, “Okay, well we really want somebody in the office.  We really want to pay this.  But maybe we can rework some things because who's gonna be more perfect for this job that you? Probably no one. So we'll do what you want to do. We'll make it work.”

I love that youHilary brought up a couple of things there that I think are so important for any business owner or even someone who's looking to be a professional and work as an employee.

That is making yourself visible to recruiters on LinkedIn. I probably post about this several times a month in my Facebook Group.  Why?  Because it's just takes three minutes.  Go turn the button on and tell the recruiters exactly what you're available for. Because that is always the most searched person. Every time I go into who's viewed my profile on LinkedIn, recruiters are always number one.  Those are great relationships to cultivate. It's free and easy.  If your profile is optimized, that's perfect.

And then Hilary also talked about building your own brand.  I think this is so important.  People get bogged down in that too. If you don't have a lead at USA Today or Business Insider where you can post, then use your LinkedIn and your website to build your brand.  You need to be posting articles and content that are relevant to your industry.  People also find you that way through the hashtags, through the words that you use, and how frequently you post.

I think Hilary has a really great perspective because she’s worked in these different industries. And one thing I'd love for her to break down is the difference between working remotely and working as a freelancer.

The reason I bring this up is because I'm in a lot of communities with other military spouses and a lot of them are looking for remote opportunities.  Because, obviously, they move a lot. They want a job that's going to travel with them. And there's sometimes this confusion between, What's the difference between working remotely and something like starting my own business as a virtual assistant or something like that you've actually done it.  I asked Hilary to share from her perspective, what would you say those primary differences are? And how do you know which one might be right for you?

Hilary said when it comes to what are the differences, it's pretty cut and dry to start with.

A remote job is a job where you might as well be in an office because you have like one client.  You have one job.  And you have one supervisor.  You're probably benefited and get things like  401k and insurance.  You're an employee just like anyone else, except that you don't have that commitment to the office.

Whereas a freelancer, you can kind of like cultivate it and make it whatever you want it to be. It's where you are the business.  You don't work for another business.   But you are the business. So you not only do the work, but you also do the business development.  You go and find the clients.  And you take care of billing and invoices.  So if you're thinking about if a business is like the office, then you are everybody in the office.

Hilary was referring to The Office TV show because she’s finally catching up on it. It's like 10 years too late, but she’s in the final season. When you are the business, you are fearless. You are Michael. You are Angela.  You're everyone if you're a freelancer.  But if you work as a remote employee, then you are just one of those guys and you work from home.

I think that's a great way to explain it.

And I think some of it also comes down to the level of risk you're willing to absorb at the outset.  Because honestly, I know a lot of people are like, “Oh, a full time job, whether it's remote or an office, it's so much more stable.” There's a lot of arguments to make that your job could be eliminated or like the company that I used to work for before freelancing completely closed. So stability and risk is a questionable thing at that.

But when you're starting out, like you said, as a freelancer, you have to go create your own paycheck.  At a job you're showing up and they're telling you these are the things we need you to do. You're going to get the benefits. This is going to be your paycheck,  It's going to drop in your account every two weeks. A freelancer is taking on more of that upfront risk of saying, “Okay, I have to go chase the clients. I'm going to take on the responsibility of paying the taxes as a self employed person.  I'm going to figure out what to do with my benefits, etc.”

Some people are a little bit more averse to that. And others might be like, “Oh, yeah, I absolutely want to be my own boss.” So those are the important differences between remote and freelancing. I think it's helpful for people to know that,  The good thing too, is you could work remotely and still have a freelance side hustle.  There's lots of different ways that you could set it up.

Hilary talked about doing a lot of different activities and using those to land where she is now.  So I asked, for people who are just getting started with digital marketing and freelancing, how do you figure out what it is you want to specialize in or do and pitch that when there's so many options?

I know a lot of people who are like,  “I'm kind of into social media and maybe a little bit of writing and some other things.”  I asked Hilary how do you decide to narrow down or do you not recommend doing that?

Hilary thinks it depends on your personality. She thinks it depends on how much time you have on your hands that is available. And how much of a learning curve there is.  If you got a degree in marketing, and you've kind of been in that world and you already have specialized interests, pay attention to the things that catch your eye. Pay attention to the pages that you follow on Facebook, the brands that you scroll through on Instagram, and the accounts that you follow on Twitter.  What are the topics that catch your eye that you have a natural interest in?

She thinks that's a really great place to start. Because she thinks that you're going to be more invested.  You're going to have more of a passion for those projects. If you're still in the stage of  building a portfolio and finding who you are as a marketer then she thinks that it's good to start small.  Build those personal relationships and personal connections.

Start spreading the word that you're building a freelance business.  Maybe you don't want to ask someone directly for them to hire you or for their business.  Maybe you do.  You can minimally start spreading the word in your network by saying, “Hey, like I'm getting into this. I've always kind of had a knack for social media. I really think that I could help small like mom and pop restaurants, in particular, really nail their social media. I see so many bad pictures of food on Instagram. I really love taking pictures with this amazing portrait mode that I have on my latest iPhone. I really think that I could help people.”

Just start one email at a time or one Facebook message at a time.  You could do one coffee meet up at a time and build, build, build.  Spread the word about what it is that you like. And she  thinks starting with some that you're passionate about and pairing that with a skill that you're confident in is a really, really great place to start. And she thinks that there are lots of different things that you could do. But the more that you narrow down in the beginning, the more success that you can have because you can be confident that this is what you do well and you can really serve your clients well that way.

I love that advice, because I think it helps to be a little bit of a generalist when you get started because you don't know what you like or don't yet.

But I feel like when you say, “Alright, I'm going to be a social media marketer. I'm going to do content strategy. I'm going to do SEO and pay per click ads.” When you take on 6 or 7 different specialities, it's really hard to keep up with the changes and software in six or seven industries. Claim competency in one or two where you're like, “Yes, these are the blogs I follow. These are the podcasts I listened to. I do it enough within my day that I know what works as a best practice and what things are coming down the pike as trends.”

But I feel like I see a lot of freelancers, especially VAs, post on their website, “These are the 45 different services I can do for you.” That sets you up to be so frazzled and constantly having to go back and be like, “Okay, have there been updates in Facebook ads? I haven't worked at the Facebook Ads client in four months. So now I have to go back to the drawing board reteach myself that again.”  That can be really stressful.

So I think it's good, like Hilary mentioned, as soon as you get started, start seeing what you gravitate to.  Start seeing what you like and what converts well with clients.  What are clients asking you to do with them? Are your sales calls easy and they're like, “Oh, sold! I so don't want to do this.  You sound like the expert.”? Those are all signals that you can take and apply to your life.

I asked Hilary, what would be one of her best tips for getting clients to work with you consistently?

This big hurdle for a lot of freelancers both new and experienced.  They do a lot of one time projects. Since Hilary seems to develop relationships with her clients where it's more of a long term situation, how does she suggest that freelancers set themselves up to be open to more of those opportunities?

Firstoff, she thinks this is so important.  A few different things come to mind. The first is to  say yes to projects that you know you can nail.  I think it's nice to stretch yourself.  It's nice to try new things.  But in terms of building relationships with clients that you're going to have for a long time, you really want to build that dependability and that trust. So say yes to things that you feel very confident in.

Also cultivate real relationships. When you hop on a call, don't just get right down to business.  Ask someone about their family or how their sports team did.  You can ask things like what's the weather like today or where you are. She knows it sounds silly to always start with the weather, but it's such a nice icebreaker. And such a reminder of, “Yes, I'm here alone in my home in Northern Virginia, but you might be in your home office in Nashville.” She thinks it's so important to take the time to build a relationship besides just getting down to business.

I love that!  And especially notice that if you live somewhere unique, that can also really be a great icebreaker.

My husband and I just relocated to Minnesota a few months ago. And every single person who finds that out wants to know how cold it is.  They want to know how bad the winters are and why on earth would we move to Minnesota.   It just it instantly breaks people down from that level of professionalism when you show up to a call.  I used to say when people would ask me where I lived.  I would share that my husband is in the military. So we live wherever the Navy sends us.   And it would always disarm people to make them feel like they're talking to a person and less salesy and everything. So I totally agree.

And another one of my tips for that is when you are preparing to talk to a client or to start building that relationship, check out what you can about them online. A lot of people will share things on their LinkedIn or on other social media.  And I just openly admit to it like, “Hey, I kind of stalked you a little bit. I saw you run marathons. That's amazing.”  People are so flattered by that.  They're like, “Oh, yeah, I started doing it five years ago.”

It starts this whole honest communication thing, where you really are trying to get to know them. And you can ask questions about it or use that as an icebreaker. And you're right, it really sets people up to want to continue to work with you, because you took that little bit of extra effort to build a relationship and to have communication.

Move from email to the phone as quickly as possible

When I was talking about hopping on the phone and talking about something like that is one reason that Hilary is a big believer in moving some conversations from email to phone as quickly as possible.  When they email her and ask what her rates are or something like that, she wants to move that conversation from like cut and dry email to the phone as quickly as possible because she wants them to know that she’s a human. She wants to know that they're human. She wants to figure out how she can help them succeed at their job. If she can write the perfect thing for them, then that's going to help them put food on the table for their family. So as soon as you can, move from email to phone.  She thinks that's something that is really not done as much these days as it used to be. But she thinks that that can really be a game changer and building that rapport and building that connection with a client.

I am the same way, I always want my clients to get on the phone with me, even if it is for five minutes, because people can present themselves differently on paper than even in like phone or zoom or Skype communication. So I want them to know I am a real person.  I also feel like it's a much better chance for you to convert the sale.  If you get one of those emails with like, “Oh, send me your rates.”  And then you write back with your rate sheet. It's so impersonal. There's no value demonstrated there.

And the whole conversation is revolving around money, which does not put you in a positive negotiation situation at all.  It's very easy for the person on the other end of that computer to open it and think it’s too expensive. But when they've had that conversation with you, they're like, “Man, she really knew her stuff. She seems pretty organized. I saw her website and clients are raving about her. I just need to get this off my plate.  Why waste further time thinking about it?”  You built up that value there. So I could not agree with Hilary’s advice more.

So many freelancers are like, “Oh, we live in a digital world. Let me just close it over email.”  And not everyone can close over email.   You're still a stranger to them. So let's take that off the table a little bit and have even a 5-10 minute phone conversation. You're in a much better position there. So I love that advice, because I try to do the same thing.

I want to thank Hilary for agreeing to come on the show and sharing so much of her insight. I think that's going to be really helpful for people who are either new to freelancing or who are thinking about expanding their freelance business.  She shared a lot of really valuable insights.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast.  For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Hilary Sutton is a writer, speaker, and consultant passionate about helping people spend their days in work that is wildly fulfilling. She is the host of the podcast, “Hustle and Grace” and the author of several eBooks and courses including More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives. Hilary served as professor of communications, social media, and journalism at Southern New Hampshire for five years. She is a freelance writer for hire with expertise in direct response copywriting and content marketing. As a freelancer she has served clients ranging from Broadway shows, to nonprofits large and small, creatives of all stripes, and consumer brands. She has written hundreds of articles in dozens of publications including USA Today and The Washington Post. Hilary and her family live in the DC metro area. Connect with Hilary on Facebook and Twitter @hilarysutton, on Instagram @hilary.sutton and on her website at hilarysutton.com.

Oct 28, 2019

Charging a Freelance Per Piece Rate Can Make Things Easier… with One Caveat!

This is episode 85 of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. In this episode, I'll be talking about a recent experience I had with a client that I completed a test project for and then terminated from my client roster. This is based on a topic that comes up a lot. And that's when your per piece rate is not really a true freelance per piece rate.

From Hourly to a Freelance Per Piece Rate

Now, for most beginners in the freelancing world, charging hourly makes sense. 

Many freelancers struggle with how to set rates and to determine something that's fair. So for a lot of beginners, I recommend starting off the process by charging an hourly rate based on your expertise, your background in the industry, and sort of something you generally feel comfortable with.  Then give the client an overview of how long you think it might take you to complete the project that might vary from one project to another. And so that's why hourly is a good place to start.

You don't want to lock yourself into huge projects charging hourly.  But it can be a really good baseline to determine whether you need to charge more on an hourly basis.  So that you can start to get a sense of how many hours it takes you to do typical projects. Then you can convert to a per piece rate.

Freelancing at a Per Piece Rates Making Things Easier for Clients

I like per piece rates for lots of freelancers, because they make it easier on the client to know exactly what the client is paying for and going to get an exchange.

There are no surprise invoices for the client. But they can also be better for the freelancer because you aren't being penalized for being a fast or a slow worker.  I honestly believe that charging hourly is really hard for a lot of freelancers at the intermediate and advanced level, because we end up simply selling our hours. So a lot of times I based multiple factors into deciding whether or not I'm going to convert something from hourly to a per piece rate.

And my per piece rate is going to include my expertise in the industry. It is also going to factor in how long it's going to take me and other relevant information such as is this piece highly technical.  Or do I have to do more revision request for a particular client?   So when you can convert a client to a per piece rate, it makes a lot of sense.  Because then everybody knows up front what it is you're going to charge and you feel comfortable with the rate.

To Charge Per Piece, You Have to Know What the Project Requires

There are also some freelance projects where it's essentially impossible to charge a per piece rate unless you have a really good handle on what the project looks like.

Editing is a great example. Things like certain forms of virtual assistant work, data entry, and website maintenance are hard to get an exact read on how long a project like that is going to take. And it might be more appropriate to charge hourly. So keep that in the back of your mind.

Also, are there extenuating factors here? If someone's asking me to edit their dissertation, for example, and they sent me a one sample chapter to review,  I don't know if the sample chapters is going to take as long as every other chapter. So it might be easier for me to quote an hourly rate with a range if I can't get to that per piece rate. But in general, as a writer, my preference is a per piece rate, because it makes it very clear to everyone involved, exactly what's included>  You quote a number and tell them how many rounds of revision or how many phone calls or how many other bells and whistles they're going to get.

Check Out Another Recent Episode on Freelance Test Jobs

I want to walk you through an experience I recently had with a client and go back and review the previous episode about test jobs.

If that's something that you have not used before, I strongly recommend using test jobs. You can hear more about test jobs in episode 82. It's very important to help you get to feeling more grounded and confident.  Using test jobs is just as important for the client as they are for you as a freelancer because it allows you to test out who you might not want to work with.

My Recent Per Piece Freelance Project Mess

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a client on a project piece rate project.

It was actually a rush project. I was doing them a huge favor, because they essentially had another writer working in a contract position, but she was basically full time. And she quit in the middle of the month. So they had some social media calendars due. They had several blogs due. And some other information that was due at that time.

So the client sort of told me what person was doing. They gave an example of what was published. And they let me know the per piece rate.  So I  went and looked at the material and thought, “Okay, the purpose rate seems fair. This is a test project.  We can always come back to it and discuss this again after the test portion is complete should I go forward and working with them.”

Mismatched expectations can ruin freelance per piece rates.

This was actually a mismatch with expectations because it truly was a very low hourly rate once you factored in all of the other things that they consider to be a part of one piece.

So for example, they sent me a long hours and hours of video and or phone recordings with the client and the previous writer that they wanted me to listen to.   Now, some of these weren't even relevant because they were regarding content that had been published by the previous writer. But based on the per piece rate, that wasn't something we discussed at the outset of the project.  I wasn’t told that I was going to have to listen to hours of conference calls discussing each line item one at a time.

Also the rounds of editing that were expected were a little bit ridiculous. Also, the client gave me a title.  I stepped in to help turn this around really quickly as a favor.  I turned in many of one piece the same day and two more pieces the following day. And these were all overdue because the other writer had stepped down.

So my expectation was that I did this on a rush project for them based on the per piece rate we discussed to do that. And then they came back six or seven days later saying that what I had done wasn't exactly what the client was expecting. Why? Because that client had shared all their information outlining and what they wanted to see that piece be with the other writer. Well, of course, I didn't have access to that information.

And I didn't have the time or the interest in sitting down and listening to hours and hours of phone calls.

Because I started to think about all of the going back and forth communicating about this.  And I thought about all  these revisions on the one piece where they'd sent the information to the other writer and had never shared it with me. They wanted me to rewrite it entirely, which I did not agree to do.

Between texts, emails, phone calls, and the expectations that you'll respond right away.   They would send me emails at five o'clock.  Then two hours later reply all and say, “Did you get this or not?”  I'm not working anymore at 5:00 PM. You know what I mean? So that's when your per piece rate is not really a per piece.  Because you base your pricing for certain clients on what you anticipate goes into it.

For a writer,designer, or a developer, it includes a specific package.  And you might say they have one round of revisions, one kickoff call, one strategy call, one vision setting,and a meeting.  This is just an example.  But then if they start expanding farther and farther beyond that, they want you to revise things six or seven times.  Or they want you to answer text messages. And they're supposed to respond to your edits or your version submitted during the day and then they don't.  They wait until after the fact and send you emails at 10 o'clock at night. Now they're starting to push on your boundaries, right?

And I know this is an issue because it happens a lot as well with my private coaching clients.

One of my private coaching clients had an issue where the client was unnecessarily revising things four and five times.  It was even clearly in their contract that the maximum would be two rounds of revision.  For short things like blog posts, I don't know why you'd ever need more than two rounds of revision.  Sure somebody's master's thesis you would need more than two rounds of revisions, but not a 500 or 600 word blog post. That's just ridiculous. So this is when the price that you've quoted, even when you have clear expectations, and the contract does not line up with the amount of work you are doing on that actual job.

Handling Problems With Your Per Piece Rate Following a Freelance Test Job

So how do you deal with this when this comes up after a test job?  

I actually think that you can bring this up in the middle of working on a test job or working with a client. This is where you say, “Hey. I put together the proposal based on the following expectations.”  You always want to direct the client back to anything in writing that you have that stipulates that. For example, the contract stating that there's only two rounds of revisions.  And then explain where the problems are.

You can also redirect your clients by saying, “Hey, I think it would be most efficient if we took the following steps.”  Imagine there's a case where there's 10 people on the team and they're all reviewing your work and providing feedback. I was on another project like that recently.  It was the launch of a website. So we had designers, developers, the site owner, and project managers.  Everyone was involved.

And one of the most effective things that the project manager did was doing weekly status updates letting us all know where everything is at. Here's what we're waiting on from each person. This is where we're stalled.  So that's something you can do as a freelancer doing any type of service, you can say, “Here's how I think we could be most effective. I think we should go back to the drawing board and review the editorial calendar and do a 30 minute call.  We can discuss all the specifics there, clarify titles, clarify keywords, etc.”

You can also request that everyone complete their rounds of revision before you are asked to edit or change anything.

We don't want to go do a redesign of an entire website and then the Vice President of Marketing chimes in four days late with his requests. Now you would have to go back and do it all over again. So explain what your expectations were and then reference that this would probably be most efficient and effective for everyone if you took the following steps and then outline what those steps are.  It doesn't necessarily guarantee that the client is going to follow those steps every single time. But that way you at least have it in writing that you've made an effort. Part of this really is about making that effort. Because if you do terminate this client or drop them after the test job, you want to know that you made your best effort.

So after a test job, this is your opportunity to decide if you do or don’t want to continue to work with them.

With this particular client,  it was too confusing with the different expectations.  And it wasn’t really a fair per piece rate and they weren't really willing to budge. So I decided not to work with that client. You can address it in a way where you're still making an effort to fix it after a test job by telling the client what your expectations were and what you think going forward. You can also say, :I base my test job price o n factors x, y,& z.  However, we also discovered factors A, B, and C working together. So I've adjusted my per piece rate as a result.” 

You can also ask how necessary is the kickoff call? Do you want me to remove that from an ongoing retainer proposal?  You can let them know that if they really do need that extra round of revisions, then you need to factor that into your pricing. So after a test job, unless the client was unbearable, or is not willing to adjust at all, on the pricing or these boundaries, try to fix it and suggest what those steps would be. 

Let them know what would be most helpful for you and for everyone involved. Maybe it was something where you got approval to do certain things. And then the project manager came back two weeks later and changed everything up. So maybe you propose that you need to do a kickoff call with the project manager. And once he or she signs off, the decisions that we made on that call are considered final and can’t be updated.

How to Tell a Client That You Per Piece Rate Didn’t Factor in Their Demands

Now, if you're in the middle of a contract, you can still communicate these concerns with your current client.

You don't have to necessarily fire them right away. But I think one of the most helpful things you can do is to remind your client that they are not your only client. Often, many clients that are working with numerous people, including in house employees or remote employees, can blur the line between independent contractors and employees.  They start to treat you like you are their worker on call as an independent contractor.  Legally in the United States, you are not.

In the middle of the contract, it's your responsibility to highlight the fact that this isn't really working for you and why.  

You might explain, “Hey.  I just want to let you know that text messaging is really the worst way to get ahold of me. It's not something I can easily and quickly see. It would be much better if we had things coming through email or our project management software so that I can always find that written form of communication by doing a search.”  So that's one way you can address it in the middle of a contract.

You can also alert the client by simply saying that you will not be doing something because it is not in your contract.

If, for example, I was in the middle of the contract with the client that I mentioned above, and they said, “Hey, can you go listen to four hours of phone calls?” I would have said, unfortunately, we did not sign a contract to do that.  Should you want me to listen to these phone calls, take notes, and then incorporate that into the writing, there's going to be a rush fee for that.  Because I'm already working on these projects on a rush fee. And now I've got to build in time to my schedule to listen to hours of phone calls and here's the additional cost for doing that and the link to the invoice to pay it right.”

Sometimes clients don't realize that what they're asking for is above and beyond what you agreed to. This is why we do test jobs and get really clear instructions and guidelines at the outset of any project working together because we want to know what all is included. Maybe this client it's an absolute must that you do a 60 minute kickoff call at the beginning of every month with them.  And that's fine. But that needs to be in your proposal.  That needs to be in your contract. And if they're asking for things that are well outside of what's in the contract, it is your responsibility, as the freelancer, to let them know that and to provide recommendations for the next steps.   You always want to give them a choice. 

You can let them know that if this is really important, and it's something vital that I need to do, here's my suggested turnaround time on it. Here's the price to do it. And here's the invoice to pay to add this to our current contract.  You can let them know that if they don't believe that it's important, however, to let you know.

Or you might say, “If you have an administrative assistant or old copies of notes from this phone call, or you're willing to pay to get it transcribed.”  You can always present other options to the client where it's clear to them that they've kind of pushed the boundaries a little bit.  And they're asking for things that are a little bit ridiculous.

And the more you let this go on in a test job or in the early part of your relationship with the client, the more likely they are to continue it and to honestly expect it. So it's much harder to address this issue six months into an ongoing contract than it is at the beginning.  Why? Because you can not only stop whatever the current issue is, but block any potential scope creep or communications boundary pushing that might come down the line.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast.  For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Oct 21, 2019

Today, I'm steering a little bit away from some of the traditional strategies I love to talk about when growing your business to think a little bit more big picture.  Have you ever created a mental health plan for your business?  Or at least for the busy seasons as a freelancer?  This is a topic that I feel connected to so personally, because I recently took the time to create what I'm calling my mental health plan.

Why You Need a Mental Health Plan for Your Business

Now there's a reason I'm using those specific terms.

We often talk about self care in the context of being business owners. But we rarely put enough pressure on that to make it appear as important as it really is. Because self care is key, right? But it's so easy to sweep that under the rug and act like, “Yeah, that's great. Like, I love to get a massage if I could afford it or fit the time in. But whatever, I'm really busy right now, that's not going to happen.”

And recently looking at my schedule, the number of things that were piled on it, and just sort of how I've changed and evolved my business model this year, I realized that I needed to have a mental health plan in place. Now, when you're listening to this episode, we're in the last quarter of 2019.  I did several really important and cool things this year that I'm proud of. But the timing of all of them, and not having a mental health plan or structurally fitting in self care nearly led me to burn out.

So around the time of publishing my very first book, which was in July of 2019, I did so much work for the publication and promotion of that book.  In addition I was moving to a new state for my husband's job and doing two TEDx talks.  So writing those, editing those, memorizing those, and traveling to deliver those, just in conjunction with all of the other crazy things going on in my business, I felt that I was headed down the path to burnout. And burnout is something you really want to be aware of as a freelancer and as a business owner.

Why Are So Many People Affected by burnout?

There have been studies showing that 40% of employees in the United States are so burned out that they just can't figure out how to move forward.

But employees are not the only ones who really cornered the market on being burned out. Entrepreneurs can burn out as well. It can have a lot of really negative problems for your personal life. And for your professional life. It's been tied to heart disease, depression problems, decision making, and job dissatisfaction. So lots of studies have been done about employees in big organizations and burnout.

But burnout has also really expanded into the entrepreneur world in the United States. That means more freelancers are reporting burnout, too.

I was reading some research in preparation for this episode, that burnout costs our country at least $300 billion a year. So burnout definitely affects entrepreneurs as well and can really deflate your overall job, PR, and/or passion you feel for showing up when you are fully burned out.

So when you've gone through all the phases, you stopped caring about everything.

You don't care if you lose clients. And you don't care if you get bad news.  You don't care if you get good news.  So you never want to get to that point. And being very aware of what burnout looks like and feels like for you is important. And it's a little bit different from one person to another. 

For some people, their nutrition totally slips.  They start cutting things out of their life  that take up time, but we're really valuable. So they might cut out exercising because they feel like they are so busy that they can't possibly handle that right now. Or you're building your business and you cut back on some of the things that were giving you some sanity. That might be your housecleaner or maybe childcare that you had set up so that during the hours you worked on your business you could really focus on it.

Studies Show that Entrepreneur Burnout is Real

So a recent study was completed and shared in the Harvard Business Review.  According to this study, 3% of entrepreneurs felt severely burned out and 25% of entrepreneurs felt moderately burned out.

So we're talking about nearly a third of all entrepreneurs out there are feeling some level of burnout.  And it will vary from one person to another.   But its impacts can be far reaching.  It can really damage your business.  And it can damage your mental health.  It can make you feel very overwhelmed. If you ever get to the point where it's really bad, you just feel like burning your business to the ground.  You don't even care if everything just kind of goes belly up.

Unfortunately, in our society, we hear so much about hustling, working harder, or putting in 80 hours a week, if you want this to work.  We internalize that as a badge of honor.  We tout that we work really, really, really hard on our business. And doing that, in that way, for a long enough period of time, can absolutely lead to burnout.

And okay, maybe you're able to drag your body for three to six months of being that level of exhaustion and still function relatively well. But if you hit the severe levels of burnout and shut down, you could affect your business for months, or even years from that point. So it's far better to recognize when you have the potential for burnout.  Which as an entrepreneur with those statistics I just shared, you definitely want to create a mental health plan to prepare for that.

What Led Me to Prepare a Mental Health Plan for My Business?

I recently started working (again) on my Ph.D. dissertation.

In many ways, my PhD has been the hardest project I have ever worked on. It calls for different forms of communication, collaboration, writing, and research revisions. So even as a professional writer, it's something I've really struggled with mentally.  And I took three years to completely off from my program to focus on building my business. I don't regret doing that. But of course, it's made it much harder to come back and start again.

So I was adding in that process of, “Okay, now that I have my business at this point, where I adjusted it from the book launch, let go a lot of freelance projects, allowed some to come to a natural close, amd terminated some contracts with some clients.”   

Because I was really, really tired of this summer, and recognized that I needed to take a big step back and do things differently.

So I really focused on the area of my business that was filling me up the most professionally and personally. And that was my coaching.  That was working one on one with freelance coaching clients, which is something that I really love,  It brings out the teacher background in me and I love helping other people build their business. And so I made that conscious decision to turn down money on the freelance side of my business.

For my sanity, I did not want to be writing eight or nine hours.  TEvery single day, I was kind of over that.  I felt like I'd taken it as far as I could go with my business in that sense. I had done almost everything I could do with freelance writing.  And I didn't feel like there were many  mountains left to climb.  And it no longer felt fulfilling.  It instead felt a little bit draining.

So I finally got things to the stable point after adjusting my business from the book launch.

It's one of the great things about freelancing too, right? We can build our business up or back down if we need to. And I love that!  As you build it down, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it means that you're being choosier about the clients you work with.  You might end up making the same or more money when you do that. It’s very unique to freelancing in that way.

But I built my dissertation back into my schedule. And then all of a sudden, some other things started to happen.

Some other opportunities came up that I could tell we're going to take a substantial portion of my time too.  Potential book deals came on the table and all of these things were going to have deadlines or timelines that were really close to one another. So taking on a dissertation level project, which I feel exercises my brain the most, is the hardest type of work that I do.

It is also very time consuming. It's not like in my writing business. I'm always looking for ways to speed things up.  You spend a lot of time thinking, writing notes, and creating materials that may never actually be published in a dissertation or in a document related to it. And so it's not as easy to speed that process up.

So when all these things sort of landed on the table at the same time, I said to my husband, “I am taking a step back this time. I know seeing all these major projects that are going to have the exact same timeline and are really going to call on me to be at my strongest, I recognized that from my first book launch. And just from building up my schedule, early on in 2019, that I don't really want to do that in the coming year.So I am going to create a mental health plan that will help guard against burnout. Hopefully it will also help keep me from going too far down that road of feeling exhausted.”

So as a freelance business owner, I feel like this is helpful for my audience to listen to as well because we all need to have a mental health plan.

And I really do call it that name very specifically because I think it's so important that we recognize that, as freelance owners, we’re the CEO or the CTO, the chief financial officer, VP of Marketing, and VP of operations.  We're everything, right? Even if you have virtual assistants on your team, you are making a massive amount of decisions to drive your business forward on a daily basis. And if you suffer from decision fatigue or just the ongoing pressure that naturally comes from playing too many roles, you need to recognize that your mental health could be affected by that.

So how do you know when to put a mental health plan in place?

I really believe it should be part of your business and your life at all times. Now, a lot of people might feel like, “Well, you know, things aren't that busy right now.” It's actually the perfect time if you start building in your mental health supports and your positive self care now, while you still have the time to do so. And you recognize that as your business grows, you're going to take proactive steps to prevent the business of running your own company to bleed those other things out. Because there's a lot of reasons why this downtime or your mental health plan actually benefits your business.

There's been so many studies done.  A lot of them are talked about in various business books that have come out recently.  They say things like working beyond 50 or 60 hours a week really does not lead to an improvement in your work quality or your productivity.  So there's definitely an upper limit cap. And yet, we hear all of this marketing talk that you need to hustle.  We heat that you just need to work really, really hard and you can put in more hours. 

I’ve fallen for that right.  And I've definitely run my business that way and not been happy with running it that way. So a mental health plan should be in place at all times. But definitely in your busy seasons. If you're onboarding a new client, that's a little difficult.  Or if you're starting a new major project.  If this is your busy time of the year as a freelancer.  Or if you're bringing on your first VA.  Because if there's these growth challenges and issues that you're experiencing as a business owner, it is the perfect time to put a mental health plan in place.

What Goes Into a Mental Health Plan?

I think first of all, your time off is key if you are putting in a lot of hours. Or if you have multiple ventures going at once. Trust me, I can definitely speak about that because I’m running multiple businesses at the same time. And then having outside projects, your time off is critical.

So one of the things that I really put into place strictly with my mental health plan,I have two cell phones. One is a personal cell phone and only my family members and my husband have that phone  that phone stays on all the time.  The ringer is on all the time.  It's essentially like way back in the day what your landline would have been right. So you can always reach me on that cell phone. That phone also has hardly any apps on it.  It really is just a very basic phone.

And I've had two cell phones for years.  Since maybe the second year of running my business. Because it was driving me crazy when my clients would try to text or call me on my personal phone. So it's definitely not something new, this whole concept of having two phones.

But I had allowed my use of my business phone to get really lax.  I was answering emails. I was answering Voxer messages.  I was like all the notifications and apps are on my business phone that I used to run my business. And I noticed that my work was starting to bleed over into other hours like early morning, lunchtime, weekends, etc. So one of the things that's part of my mental health plan is physically turning that business phone off at the end of the workday. And if I get that addictive notion to pick it up, I at least have to think carefully about if i really need to turn my business phone on or not.

Be Strict With Your Time Off

I'm turning my computer off. And I'm specifically scheduling things on the weekend again, so in the months leading up to and surrounding the book launch, I did a lot of work on the weekends. And some of it, I was excited to do.  And other work I just felt like I had to do it. There was no other time to really fit it in, especially as we were moving from one state to another.

But now I'm getting really mindful of my time off.  Where is going to be the time that I have relaxation time, creative time, and what fun things can I go do on the weekends.  Because working from home can get kind of isolating.  You can get a little bit of cabin fever.  This is true especially given that I now live in Minnesota and will probably be confined to the house a lot of the time.  During the week, it won't be as easy for me to leave and go out and you know something for lunch due to weather. So I'm getting very intentional about my time off and who I allow into that time off. So that's a component of your mental health plan. 

Leverage Your Support Systems

So these could be things like yoga therapy, taking that dance class you've always wanted, or regularly scheduled activities that are forms of support.  Because they clear your mind. They force you to be outside of business mode.

When you're a business owner, you think about your company all the time.  You might even dream about it.  When you're taking a shower, you're thinking about a way to grow your company.  And then when you're driving, you're thinking about that issue that you had yesterday with a client. So build in your supports in quiet times.  You can  you can either talk things out with other people.  This could be: 

  • lunch with your friend that you scheduled twice a month
  • book club where you're reading fiction and not business stuff.
  • volunteer work where you regularly go and completely remove yourself from your own environment
  • yoga where you're not talking at all
  • Journaling where you are disconnecting yourself from the doo doo doo of business

It’s very, very important. So how are you going to build those in? So for me, that was building in some outside supports.  I have a dance class that I'm going to once a week now and some other things that are built into my schedule.  Even date night with my husband, where it's not just for our marriage.

Consider What Little Things You Can Do Each Day

Now these can be so little, but can have such an impact, right? It might be the 10 minutes you spend drinking coffee before you open your computer. And before you get started working, where it's just your time to take some deep breaths. 

Working from home can mean wearing super comfortable clothes.  For me, my feet are always cold. So it's about having really amazing socks so that I always feel like my feet are super warm. I know that when the weather's good, I will take my dog out for a walk for 10 minutes.  Those little things that can be built into my day and don't really have to be necessarily scheduled.  But can have a positive impact on mental health and your physical health too.  So I wake up and drink three glasses of water immediately. That always makes me feel good. That's such a small thing, but it has positive ripple effects through your physical and mental health.

Don’t Forget Exercise and Nutrition

When you burn out, you start to be really cognizant of what your doing to your body. In fact, burnout often manifests as physical ailments. When I was getting ready to leave my teaching position in Baltimore, my body actually started to shut down. I developed kidney stones.  And I sprained my ankle. I felt like I had a sinus infection for four months.  My body was really telling me, “Hey, we're collapsing here from working 16 hours a day, and the high level of stress.”

So start to notice what that looks like for you. It could be getting headaches or feeling the compulsion to sleep 15 or 16 hours a day. And it can manifest in so many different ways. But how can exercise and nutrition help that?  They really do work.

So for me, I'm an intermittent faster.  That means I eat one meal a day. I try to eat really nutrient dense foods and even cooking has become part of my mental health plan.  We're trying one of the meal delivery services. So that's three times a week, I don't have to think about grocery shopping or choosing what to eat for dinner. And then the other days of the week, I just cook in the crock pot.

So removing that decision making ability and excess shopping time has been huge for my mental health.  I actually really enjoy grocery shopping, but I don't like doing it more than once a week.

So exercise has become really important for me as well.  I found that doing 40 to 60 minutes of exercise will tamper a lot of the anxiety that I might wake up with if I'm in a busy season or under a lot of stress. It also helps me sleep. And then, of course, the nutrition feeds into that as well.

Lean on Support from Your Friends and Family

Do not be afraid to ask for things from your friends and family.   I've asked certain friends and business colleagues to stop saying “Call me anytime.” Because I don't know what to do with that information. I don't want to call them and they’re in the middle of dinner or they’re in some other meeting and I've disrupted them.

So it really helps me when they give me specific times that we can talk.  It seems like such a small thing. But I don't want to have the back and forth or even the internal pressure of “Call me anytime.” Like please just like if you want to talk about something specific, let's nail down a time and a place to have that conversation.

You can also ask for support from your friends and family like please don't call me during the workday when I'm doing my work.  Or Thursday nights is going to be our family fun night and  everyone needs to be on board with this. This is the time that works for everyone's schedule. What support can you get from your friends and family to help you through these times?

So my husband is now in graduate school again, he knows that if he needs help with his citations, or if he needs me to go polish a journal article for him, that's a very simple way that I can support him and make things faster for him. And likewise, I'll call on him and say, “I need to have a company meeting about my dissertation or about this thing I'm doing or I'm getting ready to present at a book festival next week.” 

I know I can ask him to be there for the day.  Him coming along with me will make it more fun. And he knows that it's really going to make me feel supported if he’s there. So think of the different ways that you can ask for little support from your friends and family.  Don't be afraid to ask.  The worst that can happen is that someone says no. But that's usually very rare.  Especially when you just come out and explain why you're asking for this. 

Put Limits on Technology

There's been so many studies about how technology is affecting our lives. And there's no doubt that it has ripple effects in many different ways. I've already talked to you about how closing my computer, turning off my phone, and using tools like Boomerang, helped me to get on top of my email. Even sometimes, with my coaching clients, I will just explain that I am only going to be able to check this two or three times today because I'm at a conference.  I have very clear boundaries.  I'm not going to answer messages on the weekend.  You're free to send me them if that's when you're in the zone and send me emails, but just know that I'm not going to read them or respond to them. 

Limits on technology can also include activities that you use to zone out or numb out when it is not benefiting your mental health.

So sometimes, I really just want to binge a couple reruns of Big Bang Theory on my iPad.  Or The Office or Friends on Netflix. And that actually makes me feel supported in a mental health way. But be aware of when that can be used as a distraction or when you're using that as a coping mechanism. Because it can really be a sign of something bigger that's going on if you like start bingeing at noon and then you find that four or five hours have gone by.  That's a sign that there's something else going on.  Maybe you don't feel personally connected to your business anymore and you need to take that step back and ask about that.

So limits on technology can be helpful. They can also be things you implement within your family and within your household.  How are we going to spend more time together.  I've really been testing out how many times I can leave the house without my business cell phone especially if I'm just going to the gym or running an errand.   So limits on technology can take so many different forms. But it's really fun to try that and test that out.

What I would love is if you could think about how a mental health plan for your freelance business based on this episode could support you, your company, your family, your physical health, and your emotional health. All too often the stigma around mental health is that we just ignore these issues.  We act like people are weak if they admit that they're suffering from anxiety, burnout, stress, and/or depression. 

All of these things are really important to be talked about. That's a big part of the issue around why they're so prevalent. And it's really important to think about how a mental health plan can support you.

I’m entering what will perhaps be a crazy eight months for my business.   Because of book writing, expanding my coaching, potentially working with a new client that would take up a lot of my time, but would really line up with my passion and purpose. And so I'm being proactive about that.

This time, I'm saying how do I best support myself knowing that not only is this going to affect how I feel on a day to day basis, but the work products that I create.  When I'm in a better state with reduced anxiety and reduce stress my work products are going to be better. I'm going to affect and impact more people in that way by being intentional about my mental health. So I'd love to hear your ideas on how you're going to take a mental health plan and make it a serious component of your business.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Remember, you can always check out additional resources on my website betterbizacademy.com like bingeing past podcast episodes and checking out my massive volume of YouTube videos. Or if you're interested in becoming a freelance writer, take a look at my very first book. Until next time, thanks for listening!

 For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Oct 14, 2019

In this episode, I am going to nerd out with some of my favorite strategies, systems, and software that will help keep you organized.

When I first launched my freelance writing business in 2012, it was okay to be a little bit disorganized.  It was also okay to not really have one consistent place where I was communicating with clients or keeping track of my research and deadlines.  Why?  Because I didn't have that many clients at the time.

So whether you're starting right now or you're already in the intermediate stages of your freelance business, it is much easier to build in these strategies and tools now.  They'll be there to support you when your business grows. So these are some of my favorite tools for keeping projects and clients organized.

My very first tip, no matter where you're at, and whether you've invested in software yet or not, is to write everything down that comes in as a potential project.

You have to have a way of key keeping track of the projects that have deadlines associated with them. But you also need a place to store where you're going to keep the contact information for people.  You need to follow up with people that you've sent proposals to and with someone who asked you to circle back in three months, etc.

So I sort everything that comes into my freelancing world by need. So is this something I need to do? It's an actual project.  It's instructions that I need to review and follow up with the client again to ask questions about.  Is this something where I need to follow up and see if they've had a chance to review my pitch or proposal? Do I need to ask further information or request a meeting? Or do I need to edit something? Do I need to submit something such as if I've sent in the piece already, but we're waiting to submit the invoice?

So there's lots of different tools out there. And one of the best pieces of advice I can tell you is to always be researching and looking for ways that suit your individual business style.  The tools that everyone else uses might not be the right fit for you. So a great example of this is that a lot of academics that I know use Trello for organizing their big academic projects. For me, even though I love Trello, and that's one of the tools I'm going to talk about in this episode, it wasn't right for me to organize my dissertation project. [Check out this related post on why I love Trello for managing digital teams]

So be open to trying something out and giving it a week or two weeks to see whether it could be a fit for you. And then ultimately changing and using that information that you've learned.  What did you like about the process that you had?  And what could be better? 

So one of my favorite tools is TEUXDEUX.

It is a very simple tool.  And it is very affordable at  $24 a year the last time that I checked.  It really lists out, almost notebook style, the entire days of the week. Now what's cool about this is that you can easily add things into it. And then you just have to click on it for it to strike a line through it and it won't delete right away anything that you struck the line through.

So if you have made a mistake or something, you can go back and fix that.  You can also see how much you've done during that day,  And you can customize it with sort of a color background.

It's a very simplistic tool, but it's one that I have used for over four years. So every time a project came in, I put whatever I needed to do related to that immediately into this particular website.  It was easy to access from my phone as well as from my laptop. And I loved that because it was really all I needed at that point in time.

So I would split things into different projects like research, write, edit, or turn in invoice.  I love the simplicity of Teux Deux and how easy it is to capture information.  It also ensured that there was much less of a chance that I would forget something and then not be able to meet a deadline as a result of that.

Now my second tool I'm going to recommend is similar to that it's called To Do List.

There's a little bit more flexibility with To Do List like add drop down sub tasks and customize things into different projects. Whereas on TeuxDeux, you're just going to have a daily vision of whatever it is that you need to do. So you might have to drag and drop and sort on your own to make things you know work together.

Like all the emails you have to send to sort of lump them next to each other so To Do List is sort of a next level up from the above-mentioned tool when it comes to keeping track of all of the different things you've got on your plate.

As a freelancer, you're wearing many different hats and doing many different things inside your business. So having a place to track all of this marketing, client communications, actual projects is a great way to be able to keep track of that and make sure that you do not lose things.

Now I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of Google Docs as well.

For quite a while, I also use just a Google document with a table of five different boxes in it to keep track of my to do list. And I did that to sort of plot out how much I was doing per day.  I was estimating how many hours or minutes it would take me to do certain tasks. That gave me a week by week view of seeing if I was overloading myself on particular days.

Being familiar with Google Docs and Google Suite can also be very beneficial when pitching yourself to clients. Oddly enough, not everyone you know has Microsoft Word. And it's also sometimes easier to work from the same version of a document.

Google Docs can be beneficial to you if  you're a writer or not a writer. Google Docs allows you to see the different changes that are being suggested or have been made in the document so that everyone's working from the same version at the same time. And this is really helpful when you're turning something in.  You don't want multiple people editing it on their own and then you have to sort of merge all of those edits together.

So Google Docs is an easy way for people to see, edit, and print material that you have turned in.  I use Google Sheets and Google Docs pretty much every single day. So it's a great way to be able to communicate with clients, respond to comments, and make sure that you don't miss particular edits as well. You can also accept all of the changes or suggestions when it's in suggest mode. So that is another great benefit that I find to be easier to use than Microsoft Word.

Now if you're looking for something for an advanced project that has a lot of moving parts, I love Trello.

Other similar tools include Asana and Basecamp. Trello is very visual in comparison to those two.  It's best for complicated or advanced projects. I use Trello for the project management of my own virtual team. So we have something like this podcast episode,  we’ll move through the process on the Trello board, where we're adding images, making sure that the audio engineer has access to the audio for the show, making sure that we've pulled out quotes for social media, and have the show notes uploaded.

So we often connect back and forth with Dropbox. One of the challenges with Trello is that there are limits on how big the file sizes can be. So a lot of times when we're working with a big file, like a podcast episode that gets uploaded into Dropbox, and then we link to it inside Trello.

And I love Trello because you can see where everyone has contributed to a certain project.  You can see when things that are overdue.  And you can ask questions there and tag people. So it works really well for advanced or complicated projects.

I have been a Content Manager for several different companies.  And I have used Trello for all of those to organize teams of as many as 6 to 15 writers and editors working on the same project. I love the visual aspect of it. And it's very easy to go in and see all of the places where you have been tagged.

One of my other favorite tools is called Boomerang for Gmail.

Now you can get a free version of Boomerang and it will limit how many of the benefits you can use.  I pay for the premium version.  It's $5 a month. In my opinion, it's well worth it. There are two different features of Boomerang that I love.

One is called inbox pause. It allows you to stop emails from showing up in your inbox.  And it hides them into a secret folder. Yes, you can still get to that secret folder if you need to. Boomerang is a great thing if you're trying to respond to a bunch of messages or work on a very focused project and you don't want to have people who are replying to you filling up your email inbox.  Or if you're just trying to reduce the amount of time you spend in your email inbox.  This can help break some of that addiction of waiting for the next email to populate.

So inbox pause, you can set it so that you just have to click unpause.  It will then deliver all those messages at once to your inbox. Or you can put it on a schedule. So if you check your email three times a day, it can come back into your inbox on a schedule and help break some of the lost time and productivity that so many of us experience due to email.

The other aspect of Boomerang for Gmail that I love is being able to schedule messages to go out at a certain time. And sort of in conjunction with that, send emails to come back into your email inbox later. So I usually never have less than 50 open emails in my inbox at a time. I use Boomerang to the ones that are not urgent.

So if it's something where someone's proposing an idea someone sending in something early, I will Boomerang those to come back into my inbox later.  It will remove them from showing up as unread in my email inbox. And then I will decide when they come back in. So if my Friday mornings are my administrative time and someone's sending me administrative questions like password issues or invoices, I will receive that and then immediately Boomerang it to come back on Friday.

So it doesn't seem like that's something I need to deal with right away. The other aspect of that is sending messages later.  You can decide when emails go out. So you can schedule it to go out.  For example, if you're working on the weekend and don't really want your clients to know that you're in the office on the weekend, you can schedule that email to go out on Monday morning.

You can also set emails to come back to your inbox, if you don't receive a response from the intended party.  This can be great as a simple way to track follow up. So if you pitch to somebody over email, they don't respond to you, then you don't want to forget about that. So when you send the email, you can click a button that says send it back to my inbox in two days no matter what, or in two days if I don't get a response. And that can prompt you to make it very easy to respond.So I love Boomerang for Gmail, the free version is great. The $15 a month is well worth it for all of the benefits that you get.

Now speaking of tracking email, HubSpot email tracking is one tool that I have consistently used.

Another program that is similar is called Streak. It's great for those of you who are sending out a lot of pitches over email and want to be able to keep track of when your emails are being opened. So in the free version of HubSpot, you can track activity for up to 200 notifications. So it's going to track a notification every time someone opens your email.

Now this is great for if you send someone a pitch proposal and you can see if they got the email.   If it is sitting there sent, you might be wondering why I don't know if my email message went through. And then secondly, it's also helpful to see who's opening your messages. So if you send a pitch or proposal and someone's opened it 17 times, there's something in there that's calling their attention. So it could be a great opportunity for you to follow up. 

You don't need to mention that you've tracked the email and that you know, they've opened it so many times. But it can be a great way to pull out from all the pitches or proposals that you're sending which ones deserve a response.

So you'd want to follow up with those people who are opening your email a lot.  There may be something there that is really making them interested or they have further questions. So it's a perfect opportunity, while you know that you are top of mind for them, to be able to follow up. So I've used the paid version of HubSpot email tracking for one to two months. 

It's about $50 a month for the basic upgrade into the premium version. And I did that when I was pitching literary agents. So I was sending a ton of emails.  I wanted to make sure my emails were being read. 

I also use that in conjunction with Boomerang for Gmail, because each literary agent had different guidelines for how long to give them space to read your material before following up. So someone say if it's been six weeks, and you haven't heard from us, you can follow up. So when I would send those emails, I would use Boomerang as well as the HubSpot extension that you can add into your Gmail account. So I would send it with the tracking so I could see that they opened it. And then I would send it to Boomerang back into my inbox if it had been six weeks and I hadn't heard from them to do the follow up.

So the free version is probably sufficient for most people.  I think you can get a lot of benefits out of the free version. So definitely check into that. It's a very easy extension that you can connect to your Gmail account.

Now my last tool that I'm going to mention for this podcast is Google Calendar.

If you don't want to use something like Boomerang or HubSpot because that feels too technical or you think you'd need the paid version. You can use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I love using Google Calendar in connection with an email scheduling or with a scheduling tool that I use called Calendly. 

I like Calendly because rather than having emails going back and forth,  it makes it easy for them to book a time that is on your schedule.  And you can set it up where it sends a calendar invitation immediately to their email address after they've booked a time. So they're going to get reminders and other information about speaking with you.

You can also use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I've used Google calendar to create my ideal week. So I don't know if you know that you can go into calendars and set up different ones to show up on your schedule at the same time.

So on the left side, inside Google Calendar, it says my calendars, I've got a goal week calendar. And I've got my regular calendar. You can merge those together so you see all of the things that you have coming up. But Google Calendar makes it so easy to see what your week ahead is looking like or to determine if you're traveling, which weeks look kind of slow, where you might be able to easily get out of the office and do some different things, or take some time off. So Google Calendar just makes that so easy.

And like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, you always want to test things out and see what's going to work best for you.

Because what works for me might not work as well for you. So test things out. And if you don't love something about a software or tool, figure out how you can tweak it. So go into YouTube and look for tutorials and other information where you can learn more about it. Or ask in entrepreneur groups.You can say, “Hey, this is what I love and don't love about you know Boomerang for Gmail.  Does anyone else know of another program that is similar, where I can still get some of these benefits without some of the downsides?”

So this has been Episode 83. I'd love to hear what other strategies, tools, and pieces of software are essential for you and your freelance business. What are you using to scale up and to be able to get things done efficiently and never let any of the different projects slip through the cracks? As always, thanks for tuning in. You can send topic ideas or questions to info at betterbizacademy.com.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Oct 7, 2019

It's time for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. And thanks for finding me here. Whether you're in my facebook group, Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura, discovered my freelance services on LinkedIn, or found me through my website betterbizacademy.com, I'm thrilled that you're here. It's my mission to make freelancing something that you enjoy doing,  Something that fits into the rest of your life so that you can optimize your business and your goals as much as possible and feel really confident about how you approach your business and how you choose to scale it.

Today, I want to talk about why test projects are so important.

Yes, even for those advanced freelancers. I'd argue that test projects are more important for advanced freelancers than even beginners because we have to be choosy about who we work with. And test projects are an excellent opportunity to see if the client likes you. And if you like the client.

One common mistake that a lot of freelancers make is to think about this as only a “one way” transaction of trying to prove yourself to the client and show just how great you are so that they're thrilled to potentially work with you on a bigger project or on retainer. But do not neglect to think about how freelance test projects actually help you decide whether or not to work with this person.

In fact, there are a big reason why I use test projects as a freelance writer all the time now as a freelancer.

This is especially true if I've done a phone call with somebody and I'm not entirely sure that they're going to be the right fit for me or the way that I do business. Now, they might be thinking of it as, “Oh, this is great. Like we get to work together. And that way, I'm not committed long term if I don't like this particular freelancer.”  But I'm thinking about it from another perspective.  I want to see their style of communication. And I want to see if the project is even worth my time. That way I have an easy out if this is not the right fit for me.

In fact, I've done several test projects.  Most recently over this past summer that just did not work out.  They didn’t work out not because the client was unhappy, but because I didn't want to continue working with them. And that saved me a lot of headaches or that feeling of guilt that I had to continue working with someone.

Now it might seem crazy to you.  And you might be thinking, “If somebody offers me a three month contract and I don't know if I like working for them or not, I should just take it because that's three months of income that's very predictable.” I can understand feeling that way. But it can be much more beneficial to know that you're working with a nightmare client on a short term limited basis before agreeing to work with them for a longer period of time.

And it has the added bonus of being a great sales technique of showing how wonderful you are to work with. So a client that's on the fence or maybe thinks that your rates are a little too high, could be persuaded into working with you just based on the experience that you provide in test projects.

So let's dive into why test projects are so valuable. First of all, test projects, keep things

First they are small and manageable. When you define a test project, it's usually either something that the client has specified very clearly in writing or it's something that you propose. So a virtual assistant, for example, might take on a one-time project to create a social media calendar for the month.  Or perhaps provide five hours of their services to see whether or not it's a fit.

As a writer, I often take on test projects that involve me working on one small blog or piece of content.  I am writing for them with very clear expectations about how long that project is going to be, how much it's going to cost them, etc. It keeps things small and manageable and really does guard against problems like “scope creep”, because I'm specifically saying, “Let's work together on a trial basis or for a test project. Here's what that test project looks like.”

Now your rates might be higher or different for the test project.  Because you're not working on retainer, that's yet another reason for the client to consider deciding to work with you over the long run. They might realize that they will get some sort of a discount for purchasing ongoing services, but that your one time trial rate, because you have to do extra things like getting to know the client, reviewing their guidelines and expectations, and only to deliver a one time project might be different.

With that in mind, though, keep the test project small and manageable. Don't take on something that's going to require 20 hours worth of your work.  Try to make it meaningful for what you're hoping to accomplish.

The second reason that I love test projects is that they are a trial on both sides.

Sure, this is your chance to step up to the plate and show the client everything that you have to offer. And of course, you want to do a good job. You want to show them why it's so wonderful working with you. So aspects beyond the quality of your work are really important when delivering test project.

The work should be delivered on time.  You should make it easy for the client to work with you. And you should ask all questions at the outset of the project. But it's a trial on your side as well. It gives you a chance to learn things like:

  • How do they communicate with you?
  • Does their team seem very disorganized?
  • Are their expectations for the rate involved way out of line with what you expected?

I'll give you a great example here. I recently worked with a client that had a decent rate per piece. But the amount of work required, they wanted me to listen to phone calls with the client. They wanted me to review long brand expectations. They had big content guidelines to look at. And they also wanted three rounds of revisions. So that ended up not making sense.

And I'm definitely glad that I knew that information working on a test project rather than committing to working with them on an ongoing basis. So that's what you're looking for. as a freelancer. You're trying to provide them with a lot of great evidence of why they should continue to work with you beyond the trial project should you want to do so. But you're also looking to see is this someone I can see myself working with long term.

The third reason I love test projects, they allow you to set a boundaries very early on.

The client learns what it's like to work with you. And when something is outside the scope of reason. So if you're working on a test project, and you turn in a piece, and they wait two weeks to review it, and then demand that you incorporate changes within 12 hours. That's a good thing for you to see in the test project. It also gives you a chance to say, “Okay, this isn't really what I was expecting and working together. Normally, I need a couple of days to be able to implement revisions. And I haven't been able to block this into my schedule, because I haven't heard from you for two weeks.” So you might still be able to salvage that relationship by telling them why it's a problem. And if they're totally unreasonable, you can wrap up the project and not ever work with them again.

Now finally, test projects allow you to review aspects of the client that might not be a fit.

Now, they might not understand the reasons why you're declining to work with them if you decide that's what's best for you. I like to keep it simple and generic sharing at the end of a test projects that I don't intend to continue working with them.  I explain that it's simply not the right fit for me or my business.  You want to allow them to find someone who might be a better fit for them.

Your client might think that just the very fact that they're offering you money in and of itself should encourage you to take the project on an ongoing basis or to take more work from them. But that's not always the case. As freelancers we get to decide what we will and won't do and who we will and won't work with.

So one of the important aspects of this could be that you have a project minimum.  Maybe you did great on the test project and the client is thrilled with the work you did, but their project on an ongoing basis is only $200 a month.  That might be far too small for you to stick with and to continue making an effort to communicate with them and keep things organized.  The client might not understand it because they're thinking, “Hey, it's an extra $200 a month. And I paid you on time.  I showed I was easy to work with.”  But if that project is too small for you to fit into your schedule and requires too much work for that $200, you might choose to pass after the test project. So just be prepared to rely on that line of saying this isn't a good fit for your business model at this point in time. That's a really good one to come back to in these situations.

So let's talk about how to suggest a test project.

First of all, narrow it down to one small piece of what they want done or a one week trial. I recently took on a client where it didn't make sense to do a per piece rate.  It really needed to be hourly because of the kind of work he was requesting. So I said, “What if we work together for one weeka and I think that a reasonable outcome from that would be a document that looks like this. And then from there, we'll decide whether or not to continue working together.”

That helps scale it down. So my client felt more confident about partnering with me and knew that his losses would be limited if the project were a disaster. So even if I turned out not to be the right fit for him, I still gave him a heads up on the type of output he could expect to receive during that one week. And he could cut his losses at that point and run and still not have anything.  He'd still have something substantial that he could use, but he wouldn't be locked into working with me on an ongoing basis before knowing it was a fit. So try to narrow it down to one small piece of what the person wants done or a one week trial.

The second thing to do when suggesting a test project is to clarify the cap of what this will cost or the number of hours it is limited to.

To circle back to my example of the client that I started with. I said, “I'm not going to work any more than eight hours on your project that will give you a chance to review what I've completed to give me a better idea of the scope of this project overall. And what allows you to decide whether or not to continue.” So he felt confident in knowing kind of what that budget was going to be at the beginning.  And I felt comfortable that I wasn't agreeing to something that would be far more substantial and too involved for me to really know what was going on.

So when you're working on a project that could become very complicated or involve a lot of hours, the test project is a really good chance to get grounded in it. And to understand, “Okay, here's what I think will be necessary to get this done.” Imagine someone asks you to edit their book, taking on a small piece of that, such as a number of pages, or one chapter will also tell you how much time is likely to be involved in editing the rest of the book because you're looking at one small piece of the bigger puzzle. So try to clarify what that cap will be and what it will cause.

Clients love knowing upfront that they're not going to have to pay more than a certain amount for a piece or for a set number of hours of work. Because part of their hesitation and working with you might be that they don't know what it's going to cost them. So it's much easier to come back and say, “Hey, I've edited five pages of this book.  It took me this many hours. Based on what you've told me about the final word count, I’d  estimate that for me to edit the whole thing it would be this amount and it would take me this long.” So it helps the client to decide if you're the right fit or not, while also showcasing the value in what you provided in that smaller piece.

Finally, explain to the client that this is a limited engagement and that you'll circle back after the fact. I like to use terms like “I'm happy to help you out with this short term project to see if we're a fit.” It says that I'm not committing to working with you long term. I don't know if I have enough information yet to decide whether we should continue working together. So this is a test project that goes both ways, because I'm trying to decide if I want to continue working with you as well. Using those terms and referencing them to the client while also positioning that this is a value add for them because they get to test you out and see the quality of your work often puts people at ease. And usually if you can step up to the plate and deliver a really amazing test project, and the client is happy and you're happy, it is easier to convert them into working on retainer.

Test projects can be an extremely valuable way to grow your business. And to avoid working with clients on a long term basis who just aren't the right fit for you. I love using test projects for advanced freelancers because 9 times out of 10 you already have the skills and ability to make the client thrilled. But it's about you deciding if this a partnership you want to take on while also showing that amazing value and talent that you have.

So I'd love for you to take from this episode how to use test projects and to think about how you can use them with clients who are kind of on the fence.  Maybe aren't ready to sign a retainer yet!  You can really increase your conversions by using test projects as this tool.

Thanks for listening to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. If this episode was helpful for you, I'd love to help other freelancers find my podcast and listen to it as well. Please consider signing into Apple podcast and leaving me a review in there on iTunes. It really helps the iTunes algorithm show this podcast and its episodes to other people. Thanks again.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Sep 30, 2019

Here's what's really cool about freelancing...what it looks like is based on your needs.

The ideal set point and type of clients and projects that you work on will vary from one freelancer to another. So it's a really great, customized way to build a business that works for you. It's why there's no one size fits all solution for a lot of the issues that advanced freelancers face.

Now, when you're first starting your business, there is general advice that applies to helping you get established find clients, and stay consistent with your marketing. But as your business grows, your needs might also change and evolve.  One of the common sticking points for a lot of advanced freelancers is scheduling.

So in this episode, we're going to talk a little bit about some of my favorite scheduling tips. But you've got to keep in mind that what it looks like for you might be different.  I've probably changed my schedule at least a dozen times across the course of owning a freelancing business. Even as that company has evolved, as well into incorporating things like public speaking, writing a book, or coaching other freelancers, that has meant that my freelancing schedule has had to change as well.

So when I first got started, I would basically work any pocket or window of time that I could find.

I balanced my freelance business for a year while also holding down a day job. So that meant that nights, weekends, and early mornings were the only times I could freelance. When I jumped full time into freelancing, one of the first things that I did was basically try to work as normal a day as possible. So eight to nine hours a day of doing everything that was required within my freelance business. And a lot of what helps make that scheduling transition relatively effective was the fact that I had been doing it for an entire year on the side of another job and knew about how much time it was going to take me to complete various things in my business.

So I knew how much time I needed to spend marketing. I knew what proportion of my time I need to dedicate to client projects.  And I simply had to make some general adjustments to now allow for a whole work day. Now, what's interesting, and I've heard this from a lot of other advanced freelancers, is that we're actually more effective with our time when we have a day job. I don't know why that is. But I have found that to be true.

I'm still relatively productive and effective with my time.

I've been freelancing full time for six years at the time of recording this podcast. But I definitely had better time management skills when I worked another job because I was limited, very limited, with my hours. So there was no time to get into my head, there was no time to question things.

So it became more difficult to schedule as my business grew and as I added more components to my business as well. So what you're “fully booked point” and what your schedule looks like will be different from other freelancers.  Someone who's only able to work 10 hours a week can still be an advanced freelancer because perhaps those 10 hours are really focused and truly leveraging that freelancers abilities.

And what you think fully booked is, will also be very individual. So for me, that's no more than 20 hours a week of freelance client work in order to balance the other projects that I have going on. For someone else that could be 30 or 40 hours. So that's a really good starting point to begin with.  You need to know what your fully booked point is.  What is the maximum amount of time that you want to be spending, creating and delivering client projects?

Now, that doesn't include your marketing.

So you've got to keep that in the back of your mind too.  Maybe you don't want to do any more than 30 hours of client work per week. But you aren't going to neglect marketing, of course. So you might have to say, “Okay, well, what am I going to fit in five or seven hours of marketing, so I'm really working closer to 35 or 37 hours per week?” So my scheduling tips for advanced freelancers, these are just different ideas that you could potentially try as your business grows.

The first one I have is to block out creative time.

This is time when you're doing things other than working on your business. It could be hobbies, creative projects, like writing a book.  You could be diving into a different creative talent or hobby that you'd like to have. But maybe you're brand new to journaling or meditation.  I kind of consider as creative time too, because it really sets the tone for what the rest of your day and even week is going to look like.

So start by blocking out creative time. This is your non business time when you're not even doing things like listening to business podcasts, or reading books. This is truly your creative time when you're able to express yourself. And maybe that's only 20 or 30 minutes per day. But that should be built into your schedule first.  Because guess what?  If you don't put it in there at the outset, it is far too easy to overlook it and not have any of it in there at all.

My second tip is to block out your marketing time as separate from your work time.

I'm a huge fan of batching your work as a freelancer. And that includes putting all like minded activities into the same sectors or blocks of your day as possible. I do not market when I'm working on client projects or when I am in a period of doing phone calls or responding to my clients over Voxer.  My marketing time is separate. It is individual..  And it is focused time when I am only working on that particular task. And blocking that out and thinking about how that's different from the time when you're working on client projects is very important.  Because they're different ideas.  They're different concepts. And we don't want to try to ask our brain to be doing multiple things at the same time.

I often see freelancers trying to do this because maybe it worked when you first started your business. You'd have several different tasks open and you're doing marketing on LinkedIn, you're reviewing job boards, and then you're also like half working on this piece or project for a client. Making these separate helps you be much more effective with the time that you are focused. So being distracted and pulled in different directions can really slow you down and impede your progress and productivity. So make that marketing time separate from your work time.  Block out an hour or even 30 minutes per day, when you're specifically doing marketing and not working on things for clients or answering clients.

My third tip is to play around with your schedule and find your most productive time.

This is another personalized aspect of scheduling for advanced freelancers. Some people work better in the afternoons or at night.  That is not me.  I am never as productive during those times as I am first thing in the morning. So since we have the benefit of being freelancers and setting up our own schedule, adjust your work hours to reflect what works for you.

All it takes is letting your clients know what to expect. I tell my clients don't expect responses or edits from me after 3pm.  I'm just not doing it. I'm normally not even in the office, I'm in the office earlier than most people, because I do typically work pretty early mornings when I am most focused. But that means I can get a lot more work done in 4 focused hours then trying to say, “Yeah, let me work the traditional nine to five.” Even though that's not my most focused period, I'll actually get the same or even less done, trying to take that approach of working someone else's hours.

So allow your body's natural rhythm and ability to help dictate when you're going to work the most. If you're really inspired and focused from 7 to 10pm at night, use that time for your brainstorming, outlining of projects, and thinking about how you're going to write your next blog for marketing purposes.

Another tip that has really helped me a lot is to put all of my phone calls on one day or on certain days of the week. 

By doing this I’m holding other days sacred for client work or focused periods of work when I'm doing things like marketing, brainstorming new classes, and responding in depth to some of my clients.  This has helped tremendously, because there's not those phone calls that disrupt and sort of punctuate the day and throw me off from what I was doing. So I've done everything from no phone calls on Mondays to Fridays to phone calls only on Thursdays to everything in between.

You need some level of flexibility to be able to speak to your clients. I find that Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays are the days when most people are in the office. Holidays tend not to fall on those days. So it's easier to schedule phone calls during that time. I try to put as many of my calls on Wednesdays as possible, so that I can have Mondays and Fridays as my more creative days when I'm doing in depth focused work for me growing my business and other projects. And then Tuesday through Thursday are pretty heavy client days. So I keep those open for phone calls, consultations, and responding to pitches and follow ups.  I keep those very client focused because that works.

My next favorite tip for scheduling tip for advanced freelancers is to stay out of your email inbox as much as you can.

Email sometimes is the bane of my existence.  It never seems to go below 50 messages that I need to review and respond to.  It can also become very addictive and non productive to be in your email inbox a lot. I used a tool called Rescue Time back in the day, and discovered that I was spending 12 hours a week at that point in time on my inbox. Now very few of those hours were making me money or were working on things that were imperative for an immediate response. For more tips on dealing with email, check out this blog post.

I try to check my email no more than three times per day. And I use a tool called Boomerang to push off things that are not imminent. So if someone emails me and says, “Hey, I'd love to collaborate with you.” If I don't need to respond to that immediately, I'm going to push it off towards one of those Mondays or Fridays, when I'm doing a lot more catch up work and non client specific things. And I'll respond to all of those together. So I will try to set them to come back all at the same time.

So let me explain a little bit more about what that looks like. If I get 10 emails in the morning, then some of them are from people who want to collaborate on things for freelancers and some are from prospective clients. Some are things I need to follow up with immediately. I want to push off the non imminent things.  So I tell Boomerang send the collaboration requests back into my email on Friday at 9am. I'll take a look at all of those together, review them all, and respond together.  I might immediately respond to the things that require my attention. And then I might have other things set up to Boomerang back into my inbox a Friday at 10am. Like perhaps all of my follow ups from everyone that I've pitched or written proposals for.

So that way I've got similar emails coming back into my inbox at a similar time. So Friday is my email catch up day.  Maybe at 8:00, I'm getting those collaboration requests. At 10:00, a new wave of the things I boomeranged for follow ups have come back in. And that way it doesn't seem overwhelming or get confusing because they're showing up as new in my inbox during that time.

My last scheduling tip for advanced freelancers is to think specifically about when do you want to take vacations.

So many of us are completely guilty of not taking vacation. We kind of fall into this trap of thinking, “Oh, well, I can take a vacation any time. So I'm not going to plan it in advance.” One thing that I have found really increases the chances of you truly taking that vacation, enjoying it, and giving your clients plenty of notice that it's coming is putting that on the calendar at least three months in advance.

So you're listening to this in the fall. I'm looking ahead to November and December.  What weeks am I taking off? And what days will I close my office? What time periods do I not want to have as much freelance work?

Let's say that I close my office for the two weeks around Christmas.  I'm going to need to put reminders in my schedule, either Boomerang or on my calendar, around mid November to tell my clients,  “Hey, your work is going to have to be turned in early. Edit requests need to be turned in by this date. The last time I can schedule phone calls is X day.” I'm going to let them know that about a month in advance whenever I can.

So if I wait until it's the first of December, and then realize I don't have enough lead time to get caught up on work that might otherwise be delivered. At the second half of December, I might not be able to accomplish that goal of letting my clients know that a vacation is coming and I'll just end up overwhelmed and behind 

Whenever I go out for vacation, especially if your trip is two weeks or longer, it usually takes me three solid weeks to get ahead.

Most of my freelance clients are on retainer. So that means I am working ahead. If you're in another phase of your business where you're drumming up business, you're going to want to make sure your follow ups and your automated marketing efforts to go out while you're gone are still present and there. So it's still will take at least two to three weeks to lay that groundwork and work ahead. If I know I have to turn in two weeks of blogs for the second part of December in advance, I've got to kind of backdate and reverse engineer everything.

So then in November, I pick those topics, get them approved by the client,  I draft them, edit them, send them in early, and all those different processes.  I kind of have to back up and make sure that it doesn't fall into the normal schedule so I can truly take that time off. So that can really help you when you look ahead to the future and know:

  • When am I going to take my vacations?
  • And what steps do I need to take in advance to make sure that my clients know and that I'm fully organized so that I can step up my office?
  • Where do I need to tell my VA…
    • Here's the blogs to post, the LinkedIn things to monitor.
    • And Here's what I'm asking you to keep an eye on in my email inbox while I'm out.

There's a lot of different steps that need to be taken to really protect you and make you feel confident about truly closing your office.

So I'd love to know your favorite scheduling tips that might help you to grow your business more effectively. These are some of my favorites.  But remember, it's going to look different for you. My best recommendation is to play around with your schedule, stick with your new guidelines for two weeks, and see if it works for you. If you find it unbearable then some changes are needed.  But it's always good to test things out and try switching things around to be more effective. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Sep 23, 2019

This episode specifically is for those of you who are thinking about scaling your freelance business to six figures. I recognize that that's not necessarily everyone. Everyone has different goals for their freelance business.  For you, it might make sense just to do this on a part time basis.  Or maybe you have a day job you love that you don't want to leave.  That's perfectly fine, but I wanted to introduce you to the concept that six figure freelancers, multi-six figure freelancers, and business owners that think a little bit differently. Many of them recognize that what got them to the six figure level or close to it will not be the same thing that takes them to the next level. So they made that navigational change pretty early on in their business to be successful with where they're at.

I've identified 10 habits of six figure freelancers that will go through in this specific podcast episode.

Increasingly six figure freelancing is becoming more common. In fact, it's estimated that 1 out of 5 freelancers is already there according to the State of Independence in America study in 2018.  But I think that number should grow even more. Many people are leaving full time jobs to pursue freelancing and have a whole new perspective on work.

The number one thing that six figure freelancers recognize is that mindset work is a must.

They don't just try to implement strategy after strategy and hope that it works. They're engaged in mindset habits that keep them positive like reading books or listening to uplifting podcasts, journaling, yoga, massage, exercise, and more. Six figure freelancers know that getting their mindset straight is almost more important than the work and some days even more important.

Need a recommendation for a great mindset book to start with? Check out the Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.

The second habit of six figure freelancers is that they don't get attached to the outcome of any one thing.

They know that no one client job proposal, pitch, or phone call defines them.  Instead they approach their opportunity calls with clients with confidence rather than desperation. And trust me, that can make a world of difference when you're on the phone with a potential client.

The third thing that sets six figure freelancers apart is they don't underprice or oversell themselves with clients.

They don't promise the sun, the moon, and the stars. Instead they know their value and they ask for it. Even though they know that it means many of their potential clients will turn them down. You will always be too expensive for some people. Just be prepared for that six figure. Freelancers know their value and recognize that they shouldn't position themselves as a person who can do it all. This often means that you end up in an employee type scenario where you are indeed doing it all for a particular client.

Unless you love juggling multiple things at the same time and being responsible for many different aspects of a client's marketing strategy, as a freelancer, niching down or focusing on the things that you do best is a great way to stay.

The fourth thing that sets six figure freelancers apart is they recognize the detrimental impact of drama, especially drama that unfolds online.

They don't engage in drama with friends, family, or anyone else online. We've all probably been in some of those Facebook groups or online spaces where drama rules the day. I've seen it far too often.  It's part of the reason that I have the stringent rules in my own Facebook group because I don't want it to become just one more place on the internet where people are arguing with one another and shaming people.  Or trying to jump and pile on and and be trolls, right?

So six figure freelancers are way too busy being booked and doing those positive mindset practices to help scale their business to be worried about dealing with naysayers. So if you are the type that gets totally locked into that comment someone made five days ago, that makes you feel really poorly about yourself, that's a mindset habit that you can start to work on and recognize that anyone who kind of goes that direction with the constant negativity is only pulling you away from business opportunities.

The fifth thing that six figure freelancers do differently is double down on their absolute best selling services and the projects they love to do the most they find where they make their money. And where their happiest doing it and instead focus on doing a few things at a time.

Rather than saying, I offer it all now. You can still be a multi-passionate entrepreneur and freelancer and have several different things going on at once.  But you don't want to say, here are the 50 services that I can provide you with. Most six figure freelancers have no more than four or five things that they provide to a client at any one time.  Often they become an expert in their niche or a kind of project in which they do really, really well. They further become an expert in that niche or industry, which makes it easier to convert and sell and collect testimonials that convert other clients like that.

Now this next one is extremely important. Number six: six figure freelancers market all the time.

It's a very common mistake I see freelancers make.  They assume that they can just stop when they're fully booked. Six figure freelancers do not stop or give up when they are booked. In fact, they use that to their advantage. They establish waiting lists. They apply urgency and scarcity to converting new clients, but they don't make any excuses about finding their marketing avenues with the highest conversions. You aren't really going to see six figure freelancers that have 16 different ways in which they market and they are waking up every day trying to do all the things. Instead they've said, you know what, my two highest converting channels are X and Y. That's where I'm really going to put most of my effort.

Number seven: six figure freelancers know their value and they position themselves with it.

They don't accept calls with tire kickers. When I get on a phone call with someone who is not serious about hiring or has an extremely low budget and just wants to argue with me specifically about pricing, I get off that phone call as soon as possible. I was recently on a phone call with someone who wanted to hire me to go straight to their book. He threw out at the beginning of the conversation that his budget was $8,500 for a six month project. That it required multiple interviews with him and you know, basically formatting the book to be self-published. And it included the creation of a marketing plan. I honestly thought it was a joke when he said it. It really came across like he had no clue what goes into producing a book.

So about six minutes into the call after he was starting to go off into a tangent.  I just very clearly said I'm not the right person for this job. It sounds like you have some phone calls set up with someone else who might be a better fit. I wish you luck. So getting off the phone with tire kickers, trying to weed and screen those people out before you even talk to them is key.

I had a sample project recently where the client took six weeks to pay for one blog.  They also never responded to any of my comments in the Google document when they made edits that made no sense or asked for information that had nothing to do with the blog post itself. So when the client said that they didn't think they'd be moving forward with me, huge relief, right? You also have the power to decide after bad sample projects when to say no.  That particular client just beat me to the punch that time.

Six figure freelancers seek ideal clients only and often have a client or monthly minimum.  They won't take on a project where the scope of work is expected to be one thing per month or where there's a flat fee that the client is paying, but that also includes hours and hours of phone calls and back and forth.

Now, the eighth thing that six figure freelancers know and the way that they approach their business is that they can't do it all alone.

And if you haven't listened to the previous episode about hiring a virtual assistant, this would be a great opportunity to go back to that and learn more about when it's the right time to start outsourcing to a virtual assistant on your team. Six figure freelancers recognize that they need support from a variety of different professionals, including an accountant, perhaps a team of freelance subcontractors, a virtual assistant, or even a coach.  And they'll see these professionals as investments rather than as an expense and realize that they cannot do everything within a given day or do everything well.  So they'll outsource what doesn't fit in their zone of genius and keep the rest.

The ninth thing that six-figure freelancers do differently from a lot of other business owners who are operating at more of the beginner level is they know that they are the driver of their business and they accept responsibility for what they do.

They're not forever blaming their lack of success or the problems in their company on someone else. They're recognizing the role that they played in that process so they don't blame marketing tools, virtual assistants, or anyone else for their lack of success. Instead, successful freelancers always look to see where they can improve and then create a solid team surrounding them to help them get better and accomplish even more.

Now, the 10th and final thing that six figure freelancers do is surround themselves with winners and become lifelong learners.

Other freelancers and mastermind groups are a great place to start so that you can have a support system to be at your side as you navigate and grow your freelance business.  Finding other people who get what you do, who encounter the same types of challenges and obstacles, and can be a sounding board when you have questions and concerns can be instrumental for helping you scale. These lifelong learners are your six figure freelancers who also read and learn from experts.

They listen to podcasts in their industry, right? That's probably you if you're listening to this podcast.  They seek out expertise from other people. They see people about two to three steps ahead of them and learn from those people as much as they can. You have to recognize that you cannot do everything by yourself.  You shouldn't want to do that either. So having a team of people around you who might have more knowledge in a specific area or who can help you navigate some of the trickier aspects of working as a freelancer, especially as your business grows, can give you a lot of peace of mind and help to normalize the situation.

Oftentimes, our friends and family members don't really understand what we're doing as freelancers. They don't recognize how our lives are different.  Or that we're not just sitting at home all day watching Netflix.  They don’t know what it really takes to run a freelance business. So build that community around you. Even if you're a remote worker at home.

Now, six figure freelancers have an eye towards the future. Freelancing might not be their end goal and that's okay. They have an underlying desire to scale their company and to build their business around their life and not the other way around. Six-figure freelancers don't have that perspective of “Let's just keep adding and adding and adding income and revenue to my business, especially if it's also adding complexity and I'm getting increasingly less happy with the process of running a business.” They're constantly testing things and thinking about how to do things differently, how to make their business work more effectively for them.

Now, if you've been listening and are thinking, “I don't know if growing a six-figure freelance business is right for me.”  That's okay!  You can still keep many of these tips in mind and effectively scale your freelance business as much as possible in the timeframe that you have and with the individual goals that you have. The more that you start thinking about where you're going to be with the next step in your freelance business, the easier it will be to build your confidence and get to that point.

Thanks as always for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. Remember, you can get lots of free resources on my website, including past episodes of this podcast, hundreds of YouTube videos, and great blogs to help point you in the right direction.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Sep 16, 2019

One of the most popular topics that comes up with intermediate and advanced freelancers pertains to hiring a Virtual Assistant. These freelancers are curious and want to know when should they hire a VA? They are also curious about how do they know it's time to bring a VA into their business?  Another piece of the puzzle is knowing how any freelancer can properly leverage this person.

I have lots of different things to say about hiring a VA.  There's no way I can cover it all in one brief podcast episode. So this episode is going to be focused mostly on when it is time to hire a virtual assistant in your freelance business.  We are not going to dive too much into the process of doing it. So this is really designed for you if you don't have a virtual assistant yet in your freelance business.  It’s also for you if you may have hired one in the past and didn't have a good experience.  This episode is also for you if you've never worked with a virtual assistant before to get those creative juices flowing about the different types of things that you might be able to use a virtual assistant for.

The first sign that now is the time to bring in that VA to help leverage some of your time is when you are fully booked.

Now being fully booked is also a sign that your rates are too low and that they need to be increased.  But when you're fully booked and your plate cannot handle any more projects on it, you have officially capped out your revenue. At this point in your business, you cannot take on any other projects and you cannot realistically expect your business to grow.

When you have filled every single hour of every day and you're racing against the clock it is time to hire a VA.  You may even be finding at the end of the day that you're barely getting your deadlines done. You might even be even falling a little bit behind.  So when you are fully booked, you can’t afford to be spending time on tasks like:

  • Doing administrative work
  • Social media
  • Invoicing

These tasks are taking up valuable space in your calendar.  It's also draining your energy and pulling you away from those processes in your business where it could be handled by somebody else. It’s also unlikely that these kinds of tasks you’d outsource to a virtual assistant are in your own zone of genius.

A virtual assistant is a lot like an administrative assistant that you might see working in an office. 

But this person handles tasks digitally and does them for you either by when they're being paid by the hour, being paid by retainer, or per project. You don't have to start in a big way to bring in a virtual assistant. You can start with just a couple of hours per week with inexperienced VA, even a new VA if you're willing to train them on the process. But being fully booked is that first key sign that you have too much going on and you're actually at risk of dropping one of the balls in your business and starting to make mistakes or miss deadlines.

Deciding what to outsource to your VA is important- learn about the risks of overloading your VA in this blog post.

The second thing to consider is that you have to think about how much time you're dedicating to administrative work in a week.

A lot of us don't really know and tend to underestimate how much time we are dedicating to administrative tasks.  So what I encourage you to do is to track your time for a full week. You can do it loosely in a notebook or you can use a tool like toggle that's toggle.com which will help you set up different categories and labels for your tasks. And then you can figure out what you're spending your time on. There's also another great tool called rescue time, which will essentially analyze what you're doing on a weekly basis and send you reports as well as red flags of key issues.

So one of the things that really opened my eyes to needing to delegate and outsource more was when rescue time sent me a report about spending 12 hours a week in my email inbox.  That's not something that I want to do. I don't think that's something that anyone wants to do. But it was my first real wake up call that I was going to have to do things differently.  To find a way to get on top of my inbox management,I had to hire somebody to help me with it and implement some different systems and tools.

So if you've tracked your time using toggle or some other way and you're finding that you're spending more than five hours a week in administrative tasks, you are doing too much of those tasks.  You are limiting your revenue and your business growth potential. So if more than five hours as being dedicated to that, it's time to take a step back and say, “What of these things can I outsource to someone else?”

If you're hesitant about handing over financial information to someone on your team, I completely understand that. 

A lot of people and freelancers are nervous about passing that on to someone else in their business.  That's probably the last thing you'll outsource to somebody that you really trust and have been working with for a while.  You can still leverage a lot more of your time by choosing to outsource something else.

For me, social media is a huge drain on my time. I don't enjoy doing it. It's far too easy to go down the rabbit hole with social media and end up looking at things that weren't the reason I hopped on there. Right? We've all done that. You might get on social media to schedule something and then you find yourself distracted. I'm always looking for ways to more efficiently use my time.

I have had an extension installed on my internet browser for probably four or five years now called kill the news feed. When I sign in from any of my computers, I cannot see any of the news feed that makes it so tempting to scroll.  You still see all of the rest of Facebook. You can navigate to your groups, you can view your notifications, and you can even click on your own page to get there and update things. But that has been instrumental in saving my time.

When I did that, I also realized that I didn't love doing social media. So I searched for a virtual assistant who could help by planning and scheduling posts to keep  those types of things off my plate.  So I saw that I was spending more than five hours a week on social media. I was spending more than five hours a week in admin. Those are perfect things to outsource to a virtual assistant.  It’s a great place to get started.

So another thing to consider when you're trying to figure out what you can outsource to a virtual assistant, is thinking about when you're making consistent revenue.

Now you don't owe it to any virtual assistant to pay them forever. You can work out your own payment terms and maybe bring them on for a couple of hours per week or for a limited engagement to start. But you want to be making relatively consistent revenue to where you don't feel like your not able to pay them.

You don't want to set up a situation where you bring this person into your business and then you're not able to pay them several weeks or months in. I've seen this happen before and it can be really frustrating for the virtual assistant who essentially pulls time out of their schedule to help you figure out how to get everything organized. They do all of the onboarding work. They get to know you and your clients and the different industries that you work in. And then if you're not making consistent enough revenue for whatever reason, it gets very frustrating for the VA because they essentially have to step right back out of being able to work with you. 

That's not a situation that anyone wants. So do you need to be making 5,000 or $10,000 a month to justify a VA? Not necessarily, but I would recommend consistently making at least $3,000 so that you can dedicate a portion,possibly $200 or $300 a month to start. And you can scale that as your business grows, but you want to make sure you have that money to pay your VA..

Consistent revenue is also a sign that your business is poised for growth. So that is your signal to start thinking more clearly about how you dedicate your time with what you do on a daily basis within your business. So the more you can be critical of how you're currently spending your time, how you divide that up, and how you decide if this is something you could potentially outsource is an excellent way to feel more confident about how you go through with this different with this process.

So the final way to know whether or not now is the right time to outsource is a funny one because I don't think that any freelancer ever gets to this point completely.

And that's when you're ready to hand over control. Hiring a VA does not mean that you have to hand over complete control of your business, but it does mean that you have to take a step back.  You have to decide how you can remove yourself from some of the processes of your business. Ultimately, this is going to help you learn to be more effective. It's going to help your business scale. You're going to get more of your time back that you can spend.as you want.  But at the end of the day, you are still going to have to give up some level of control.

You're going to have to share password information with somebody who is new to your business.  That's always going to be nerve wracking. It's going to be nerve wracking to hire someone who's going to do something that is facing the front of your business. So talking with potential clients etc, but that will always be there, right? Because you've put so much energy and time into establishing your business and it's just scary to kind of hand that over to another person.

But it's also something that is really important to think about. There's a lot of different benefits that you can get from outsourcing to a virtual assistant and knowing how you're going to leverage that   Think about what the benefits are for you and your business and even your clients. It will give you a lot of peace of mind.

So in general, I've grouped virtual assistants and into a couple of different categories.

Now there's many out there, some of the most common that a freelancer might be hiring are:

  • graphic design VA
  • content manager VA
  • general VA
  • web development VA

So a graphic designer VA is going to be making icons, logos, banners, headers and eBooks, possibly even delving into designing of websites a little bit.

They might design your sales pages, opt in pages, landing pages, and edit your graphics for social media. A content manager is someone who is helping you to write press releases, newsletters, directory submissions, or creating, editing or posting your blogs on your behalf. I have a VA on my team who helps to make sure that all of the content that I create is ready to be published live.

Now, the category of general virtual assistant can also include social media VAs. You might sometimes find social media VA's working outside of the general VA term because they won't take on generalized projects. They'll specifically do social media.  But general VAs are where most freelancers are going to start when hiring their very first project working with their very first virtual assistant.

General VAs can do things like data entry, preparing PowerPoint presentations, light transcribing of audio and video files, creating templates for documents, creating forms, online research, sending client invoices, basic bookkeeping, putting together training materials, personal errands, doing research, or finding hotel/travel reservations for you. They may also be able to add images and tags to blog posts.  They are acting somewhat like a receptionist, managing your calendar, creating your social media accounts, or uploading your videos on YouTube so you can see how there's a lot of different tasks that fall under that umbrella of general virtual assistant.

For a freelancer, you have to hone in on what it is you do best that only you can do in you business that is writing for clients and that is specifically speaking to clients. Outside of that, there's a lot of tasks that you could do, but I don't really need to do.  That's why it's a good idea to be able to outsource it to someone else on you team.

I frequently get asked the question, “How many VA's do you work with? How many do you have?”. It changes all the time.

It changes based on the projects that I have going. Some of my VA's are with me for the long run and have been with me for years. I have VA's that work on my YouTube channel, on my podcast and it's corresponding show notes, VA's that work on social media and a VA that runs one of my other businesses for me completely and prepares all of my PowerPoints. And I have someone who posts my blogs for me and post a lot of my LinkedIn articles as well. So there's all kinds of different ways that you can leverage virtual assistants. 

Freelance writers, in particular, might even consider using a virtual assistant to do some research.  That's a great way to still keep integrity with your writing process, but still ensuring that you're making the most of all the time that you have.

You are in the right position to hire a virtual assistant when you are ready to get some of your time back.

What you do with that time is up to you. You might take more of a break and reduce your working hours. You might scale and spend some of that time trying to bring in new clients. That's really up to you. Deciding why you're going to hire your VA is going to be important. That way you can measure your success. How will you know when a relationship with the VA is successful? When you have two or three more hours a week to plan and do certain things.

So if you've been thinking about hiring a virtual assistant and you're sort of stuck and don't know what to do next, a future episode, we'll go into some more detail about the process of hiring a VA and what you can specifically expect. This is your teaser to start considering how you might be able to leverage a VA in your own freelance business. I'll tell you that I do not know any six-figure freelancer who does not use at least one virtual assistant. So if that's where you are aspiring to go, if you're looking to make more money and get more of your time back, hiring a VA should be the next thing on your radar.

Thanks as always, for tuning in, if you want to check out the podcast in iTunes and listen to some of the past episodes, please consider leaving a review for the show. It helps other people find the Advanced Freelancing podcast.  You can also always join my Facebook group, Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura, which is where you will get the most free trainings and access to the best tools and strategies for scaling your business.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Sep 9, 2019

Today I'm taking a step back to talk about what I think are some of the most profitable and in-demand freelance side hustles to consider. Now, if you're an advanced freelancer, which you probably are just for checking out this podcast, you probably already know your niche. You may have been working in a freelance side hustle or even scaled it up to a full-time career, but this episode will still be helpful for you because you might be thinking that it's time for a change.

You might be interested in making a transition and pivoting to offering a different type of services, and this is what I love about freelancing. When we don't love doing something anymore, it's okay to incorporate another type of freelancing as a side hustle. It can be a great way to test out whether or not this is something that you're interested in.  Stay tuned because if you listen to this entire episode, you're going to get a link to be able to sign up for my full PDF that goes into great detail on the top 25 most in-demand freelancing side hustles to consider, the general work that they do, and then the software that you need to know for each type of freelance side hustle.

So if you're new to the concept of freelancing, I'd also recommend that you check out my first TEDx talk, “The Future is Freelancing”.

It's a great overview of what freelancing looks like today and takes on some of those popular myths about freelancing that just are not true for the way that digital creatives are working online today.

Now when you're listening to this episode, we are closing in on the last couple months of 2019, but what I've included in this episode and in the freebie PDF you can get and sign up for at the end of the episode, are what I think some of the most in demand freelance side hustles are and are likely to continue to be throughout 2020.  This freebie is going to benefit you is you are new to freelancing and you're thinking:

●       Which direction do I go?

●       How do I decide what type of background I have?

●       How do I know?

It’s also going to benefit you if you're an established freelancer looking for something new. It's always a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of freelancing. If you're like me, you're looking to pivot every so often because you might just get bored of doing the same thing over and over again. You might get overwhelmed. You might be looking for something that's a little bit more of a challenge. So the freelance side hustle you started with might be scaled down over time.

Now, that was definitely true for me. I've been a freelance writer since 2012 so about seven years at the time you're listening to this episode.  I've really loved creating blogs and email copy for a lot of my clients.  But several years ago, I started to feel like I'd gone as far as I could go with blog writing. That's when I started to branch out into doing other types of freelance side hustling.

So I still had this core stable of freelance writing clients that I was providing services for, but I wanted to expand my skill set. I didn't want to be locked into a box.  I also wanted to be able to see what other things I might like.  It was important to me to see what other things were in demand.

So I branched out into creating courses.

I did more editing work rather than just freelance writing. I did project management work. I also started educating myself on new things like influencer outreach and writing email copy.  Why? Because it allowed me to have some different skill sets to rely on and decide if I liked it better or if this made me more versatile.

I've also worked with a lot of freelancers.  Whether it was through my courses or one on one strategy sessions and coaching for freelancers. So I know what a lot of other people are doing as well and where they're getting results. That's why this episode is designed to get you to think about some of the different types of freelance side hustles that are out there that might appeal to you.

Then you can grab that PDF at the end, maybe even share the link with a friend who's thinking about getting started with freelancing and doesn’t know where to even start.  You may have a friend that wants to get started freelancing, but doesn’t even know what a freelancer is.  They may be wondering what type of freelancer they could be based on their background.

The Top 25 Freelancing Side Hustles

Social Media Manager

Now there's a new social media app or tool developed practically every day. Social media gets to be very overwhelming for business owners. So it's probably not surprising to you that it's a great way to specialize as a virtual assistant. You will see VA's who call themselves social media managers and people who don't do VA work, call themselves social media managers, but you should definitely know tools that are used to schedule social media as well as your social media platforms themselves, like Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also specialize in a certain type of social media management tool or type to further niche down.

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers don't have to work at agencies alone or for a company as the core graphic designer.  Many of them are selling and sharing their skills online.  They are sharing in these marketplaces where people are hiring for specific gigs, like creating a logo or creating PDFs. I work with a graphic designer on retainer because it's great to have somebody else who knows your brand style and colors to create all of your images.

IT Support

If you having the training in this, you can certainly make a lot of money doing this as a side hustle.  People typically charge hourly rates for it.   Specialists can charge somewhere between $50 and $100 an hour.  So if you have that background or training, perhaps you did it for another company, this could be a great way to specialize and start doing a side hustle for companies that aren't really in a position to bring in a full-time employee but still need help.

Bookkeeping

If you love numbers and details, bookkeepers do a lot of tasks to help online and offline. Businesses stay organized with their finances. You'll usually see going rates starting no less than $20 an hour and going all the way up to $60 an hour for more advanced reconciliation and financial planning issues. Everything from payroll management to checking and credit card statements to forecasting are the types of tasks that a bookkeeper typically does.

Customer Service Specialist

Now another way that a lot of people break into freelance virtual work is as a customer service specialist. Lots of companies today use virtual assistants and customer service specialists in an online capacity. They know tools like Zen desk or they manage emails. They make sure that customers are essentially happy and that there are established protocols and procedures for helping customers with common questions like being locked out of their account or needing a refund. These types of side hustles are very in demand.

Web Developers

Freelancers who have this skill set from college or their own self-education are developers. Web developers are familiar with plugins, frameworks, website platforms, and tools like HTML, PHP and Java charging upwards of $50 an hour. If you know multiple coding languages, you can even push your income as a freelance side hustler up to a hundred dollars an hour as a developer. Developers are in huge demand today.

3D Modeling

Essentially 3D modelers create computer graphics that are used in video games, 3D printing animation, and special effects. There's lots of different tools like AutoCAD and Sketch Up that developers who have 3D modeling experience use.I am seeing more and more jobs requesting these 3D modelers as well.

Website Builder or Designer

If you love creating, building and designing websites, the more you know about user experiences and how to make a website appealing and easy to navigate could serve as the foundation for your freelance side hustle. As a website builder or designer, more experienced designers charge well over $60 an hour or expensive retainer packages. I strongly recommend two tools to check out would be WordPress and Squarespace is this appeals to you.

Voice Over Artist

Have people always told you that you have a pleasing voice? Perhaps working as a freelance voice over artist is a great way to leverage your skills and make some extra income.  Putting together a voice reel is easier than ever. Thanks to online tools like Audacity. Check out some of your competition before jumping in as a voiceover artists.  There's lots of VO artists on places like Upwork and Fiverr where you can get a sense of the different ways they set out their samples due to the drive and online marketing.

Marketing Expert

If you have training and experience working with search engine marketing, email marketing, and paid advertising tools to create comprehensive and successful marketing campaigns. Many small and medium sized businesses need help with this. They don't really want to hire someone in house.  Or they might not yet have the budget to do it, but they could use someone on a freelance basis. And most marketing freelancers are gonna charge an average of around $50 an hour.

Data Science

So if you have experience from a day job that you're looking to transfer over, this is a great one to consider. Do you love data science, like using machine learning to generate new products, creating charts, or generating data infrastructures? A data scientists can charge upwards of $100 an hour when they know tools like Apache, Spark, and Linux. Check that out if that appeals to you. Creating raw data in spreadsheets and organizing it and developing key takeaways from that data are some of the most popular things that these freelancers do.

Podcast Producer

Now, one that's emerged on the market in recent years but is booming, you're listening to one right now, is a podcast producer. So a podcast manager or producer can do a variety of activities, but sometimes they'll even specialized down to just doing audio editing. But you've also got podcasts managers doing post-production work up generating podcasts, interviews, coordinating them, and overseeing the production of a podcast.  This is a very popular way to specialize today. If you're an audio engineer and even writers can specialize as a podcast show notes writer.

Network Engineers

Now, network engineers and IT security protocol implementation experts often find many opportunities to work online today.  Whether it's computer gaming and building software products or running an entire network control system, engineers definitely have a place in the gig economy.

Video and Audio Editors

Now, we briefly talked about audio editing before.   Video and audio editors are getting more demand because there's such a drive in the creation of online content like courses. So whether it's storyboarding, project management, live action video, putting together landing pages and funnels and sequences with videos and audio, this is a great way to start a side hustle.

Publicity Expert

If you already know how to use tools like Audacity, Camtasia, and more advanced tools, a really creative way to get started generating buzz for someone else's business is to freelance as a publicity expert. It's your job to determine what channels are right for publicizing the services and products of your client. So you think about different ways to promote them to a broader audience and bring in more potential customers. Newer freelancers working in publicity charge around $25 an hour, but seasoned experts pull in a lot more.

Tutor

If you've always wanted to be a teacher, but need a remote and flexible work schedule, being a tutor in terms of foreign language, math, science, ESL, or standardized test prep is a great way to break into the freelance marketplace and get some experience.

SEO Specialist

Do you love figuring out what makes websites rank in search engines like Google? Getting some additional training and picking up knowledge from podcasts, books, and online courses might pave the way for you to work as an SEO specialist. SEO specialists look at things like the navigational structure of a site, the optimization of a site to maximize page speed, and how to resolve conflicts inside these sites and make them more beneficial for the client in terms of ranking in search engines.

Brand Strategist

A brand strategist is a great way to fuse marketing knowledge with graphic design awareness. Some of the tools you might want to have in your skill set includes search engine optimization, writing and copywriting, and public relations expertise. As a brand strategist, another tool to check out is working as a translator.

Translators

Translators often have experience in at least two or three languages and ensure that the content is translated properly given the language and grammar specifics of the language that it's going to. So freelance translators often start out somewhere between #15 to $30 hourly.  Then you can scale it up.

Content or a Project Manager

One freelance side hustle that I love because I've worked in it before is as a content or a project manager. Their job is to set together the strategy for implementing content across a broad variety of channels. This can even include recruiting, hiring and managing freelancers as well. This is very popular with those companies that leverage blogs and similar tools to promote their content. If you are thinking about becoming a project manager, you should be organized and enjoy working with others.

Transcriptionist

If you love listening to audio and translating that into text, a transcriptionist might be a great way for you to break in as a freelance side hustle. Simply put, transcriptionists listen to recorded audio or video and type it out into written form.  Many of them charge between $25 and $35 an hour. I have worked with a transcriptionist and transcription tools for years and it’s been very helpful for speeding up my process!

Writer

Of course, I love the freelance side hustle idea of working as a writer.  Freelance writers do a variety of tasks like creating website pages, sales copy, newsletters, emails, brochures, blogs, product descriptions and more.  This gives writers a great deal of versatility and experience working in content marketing.  And if you're curious about how to get started as a freelance writer, check out my book called “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, which goes into all the details of how to make it work as a freelance writer.

Virtual Assistant

If you've worked in administrative positions before and are looking to transition into a side hustle or pick up a couple of extra hours a week, serving as a virtual assistant to an entrepreneur is a great way to do this. You might be doing things like email organization, customer service, and calendar management. 

Editors and Proofreaders

To get started building on these previous ideas of working with language as a writer, editors and proofreaders can pick up multiple opportunities to work for academics. Those creating content and people who are in a school setting, so even college students and graduate students might consider hiring an editor or proofreader. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the various styles like AP and Chicago and to check out further information about the level of depth you're going to get into while editing.

I have a great course on how to become a freelance editor and some of the ways to set yourself up for success with that by taking a look at some of the pieces that are already created and giving your client a good understanding of the scope that you work on when completing freelance editing projects.

This has been a great overview of what I think are some of the most in-demand forms of freelance side hustling. If you'd like to pick up the PDF to learn more about the software that you should know more about, what these freelancers specifically do, and the typical hourly rates they charge. Check out BIT.LY/sidehustlestarter.

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Sep 2, 2019

I’m stepping out of the box of talking about advanced freelancing for this particular episode because I have had a number of people reach out to me about the process of marketing a book.  I recently wrapped up the launch of my first book “How to Start Your Own Freelancing Business” published by Entrepreneur Press in July 2019.

If you have been following me, you already know this is the book I wish I had when I started out as a freelance writer.  And that is what I kept in mind when I was writing this book.  I don’t really talk about the craft of writing, but I do talk about how to set yourself up for success working with clients, what you need to know about marketing, what typical days look like, etc.

This book was published very quickly when you think about the traditional timeline of publishing. So that gave me a very condensed timeline to come up with a plan for launching and marketing this book.  In this episode, I’m going to dive into the “behind the scenes” of my book launch and what it really takes to market a book.

Regardless of if you are traditionally published, self-published, or thinking about writing a book, marketing is key. 

Having a solid book launch and a marketing plan in place is very important no matter which direction you go with publishing.  This is something you should be thinking about ideally before you even start to write a book.  Why? Because it matters!  The marketing of the book actually takes up a substantial amount of time after the content is written.  But it can take a long time to put that plan in place.

Why do publishers care about book launch marketing?

It’s because it directly affects sales.  The more you can drive up the hype and excitement about this coming attraction, the more likely people are going to be to preorder your book and/or order it after it launches.  Makes sense, right?  I’ve interacted with lots of authors who have self-published a book who have said, “Hey, I just started thinking about marketing.  My book came out 3 months ago.”  Now, this is not to say you can’t still market a book after it’s been published.  However, the ideal time is before it comes out.

My book came out in July 2019, but I really started thinking about marketing in December.  When you write a nonfiction book, your book is sales based on the proposal.  So your marketing plan is part of that proposal.  Essentially you are trying to communicate to publishers:

●       Here is what I intend to do to market the book.

●       Things you have already done to establish a platform and a brand.

Let’s Talk About Platform

In the world of nonfiction books, the platform is an important word you’re going to hear over and over again.  Essentially, it’s how you are connected to all the different people in your world that are going to buy this book.  So this could be your social media numbers, your email list subscribers, the number of people you have in your online courses, etc.  All of this makes up your platform.

This is a way for publishers to evaluate if you already have an audience ready and willing to buy your book.  So the platform is one of the most important things that publishers look at when they are deciding if they want to work with you on a nonfiction book.  It’s still important in the fiction world, but less important. 

You see a lot of nonfiction authors who are professional speakers, CEOS, or online business gurus who have already built a business and have recognition for that business.  Nonfiction publishers see these types of people as less of a risk because they have already built up recognition and an audience who will be willing to buy their books.

Publishers care about book launch marketing.  There is a myth that if you get a publisher or self publish a book all you have to do is put it out there and people will buy it.  Which isn’t the case at all.  You have to do just as much work, if not more, on the marketing end of things for a book to actually sell.  There are A LOT of books out there.  If you want your book to actually sell you have to put in time and effort on the marketing!  Any savvy author out there is going to put in that time on marketing their book. 

I had a solid 6-month plan for marketing.

It started with the development of the book launch/marketing plan I had in my proposal. But of course, it went much beyond that as well.  I started tweaking and using it in a lot of different ways after the book was written because I knew more about what I could say the book was truly about.  So you need a plan about 6 months out.  You will be tired at the end of it, but it’s worth it.  You should have a lot to do if you’ve done your work.

One of the things that really helped me was having a launch team,  I had an author’s assistant who helped me plan out the launch.  I also did a call with a book launch strategist who walked me through the different components of my marketing plan.  We went over what I had already typed up and how my TedX Talks were going to work in conjunction with my launch.  She even reviewed some of my creative ideas. 

I did a lot leading up to my book launch.

I did 2 TedX Talks in the month leading up to my book launch.  I created a book trailer.  I have appeared or will appear on 35 podcasts that I pitched.  I did some guest blogging, I did some traditional media responses using HARO.  I also reached out to all of my contacts in different industries to let them know the book was coming out. I found collaborations in diff organizations that had a similar audience to mine.  I offered a giveaway to their audience.  I worked with an influencer who advertised my book to her audience as well.  And of course, I leveraged my launch team.

My launch team was a core set of volunteers who committed to buy the book when it came out.  They agreed to submit a review.  They shared things on social media.  This was helpful for me because you kind of get tired of talking about your own book.  Also, you can say all you want about your own book, but it won’t matter as much as what someone else has to say about your book.  When you can rely on a launch team like this it’s huge because social proof speaks volumes.

I recommend having a plan that is 6 months out because you have so many different components that you need to consider. 

You have to consider things like traditional media responses, working with a publicist, etc.  Working with a publicist is risky and expensive for several different reasons.  Because of this I actually DIYed most of my book launch.

So for my launch plan, I built out a calendar of exactly when I wanted certain things to drop.  This included:

●       Book trailer to drop exactly 30 days before the book launch.

●       Have my launch team primed and ready to go exactly 30 days before the book launch.

●       Make sure we have a lot of sales on the day the book became available.

So I did a lot of sharing in my personal network. I built a launch team. I wrote about the book on LinkedIn. I reached out to a lot of different people on what they could do to help me with this launch.  I did giveaways.  I went Live on other people’s Facebook pages.... I also had the book pre-order link in my email signature for about 5 months leading up to it.  It just had a picture of the book and it said buy my first book.

Behind the scenes of the book launch is tiring. 

It was harder to do the marketing than it was to write the book.  I’ve been writing for years.  But all of the different moving pieces of the marketing really paid off because the book was ranking very well on Amazon the first week it was up.  It was really great to see this after all of that hard work.  I do recommend you give yourself NO LESS than 3 months and that’s only if you have your marketing plan laid out and you are just picking the components of it. 

We also had a preorder giveaway.  So I had a landing page on my website where people who preordered could send a copy of their receipt and they would get a special set of bonuses.  I also scheduled conferences the summer the book was coming out so that I could talk about it and sell some copies lives and sign them and build buzz.  I also gave anyone who bought it live access to the special set of bonuses.

Another important thing to do is ask for reviews.

It’s very important to get reviews on Amazon.  Why?  Because it helps other people decide if they want to purchase the book.  I kind of assumed that people would just go back and leave a review after they read the book.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  I learned that you really need a more personal approach and reach out to people who have purchased it.  You need to personally ask them to leave a review. Reviews are really key for Amazon to see that people are not only buying the book but they are actually reading it and liking it.

So this is something I am still actively working on a little over a month after the book has come out.  I’m still personally reaching out to people who have purchased the book.  I am finding creative ways to keep the buzz about the book going. 

The first 90 days are important in Amazon’s algorithm.  Why?  Because you want to get your book in the suggestion section of Amazon.  You know the one I’m talking about.  The one that says “Customers who bought this also bought…”.  I want my book to be associated with other books on writing or books in a similar genre.  I want this to happen so that people who don’t necessarily don’t know me personally have a chance to see my book and possibly buy it.

So if you are thinking about publishing a book either the traditional route or self-publishing, you cannot afford to neglect marketing.

This has a lot of similarities with much of the teaching that I do around running your freelance business too.  To be successful in freelancing or in marketing a book you have to have your finger on the pulse of marketing.  You have to be doing something every day or every week that is moving your marketing efforts forward. 

You lose a lot if you don’t already have a marketing plan in place before you launch.  It’s really a lot harder to try to do this after the launch to generate the buzz you need to sell your book. So if you are self publishing think about how much lead time you need to have to create this marketing plan and be able to implement it around the time the book comes out.  That date is very important.  You want to be able to show Amazon and other retailers where the book is listed.  You want to show them The buzz and hype around it and the excitement that coincides with that date.  So it’s a lot harder if you are looking back 3-6 months later and try to start marketing your book because you have already lost some traction by not already having a marketing plan in place. 

Reverse Engineering The Marketing Plan

From the moment I signed the contract for my book “How to Start Your Own Freelance Business”, I knew the publishing date was going to be July.  So I reverse engineered all of my marketing plans and ideas thinking back about when I wanted certain things to drop.  I thought about how I could use various components of my marketing to get maximum leverage out of them. 

Like in the month before the book came out I wanted to drop the book trailer because it would generate more excitement than if it was launched 4 months before the book came out.  I also didn’t want my launch team to sign up too early because then they would sign up and forget about it.  It would be really hard to keep people engaged and do their posting on their social media and leave reviews. 

Yes, there is a lot of buzz leading up to the book release date, but you have to continue marketing your book for the days and months after the release. 

This shows consistency.  It shows that there is still interest in your book after the initial release. You also have to make sure you don’t frontload your marketing plan too much.  How are you going to keep the excitement going a month or two months after the book has been published?  What other components of your marketing plan can be activated at this point after it has been published?

So as you can see there is a lot of work that went into planning a book launch.  It was very tiring.  Towards the end, I was happy that I had planned ahead because I was also balancing my freelance business and watching the launch go live.  I was nervously tracking everything.  I was very thankful in the summer when the book dropped that I had done a lot of the leg work in advance.  Why? Because I don’t know that a lot of the marketing that I did would have come to fruition if I hadn’t planned it months in advance.

It was kind of surreal when the book came out because I had spent so much time thinking about the marketing and doing outreach and putting this plan together that it was like “WOW, THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY HERE!”  It has been this thing that I have been talking about, thinking about, and strategizing for so so long and now it’s here.  Now to keep the buzz going.  Having the energy and strategy to do that was largely due to the fact I had done so much planning in advance.

So I strongly recommend if you are thinking about publishing a book to think about your marketing now. It contributes to your platform and the likelihood you will be able to work with a traditional publisher.  Even if you are self-publishing platform is just as important because you are doing all of the marketing legwork to get that book off the ground.  You will thank yourself later when you have done the work in advance.

To get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.  Of course, I would be honored if you would also leave a review of my book! 

Aug 26, 2019

I have to get on my soapbox and talk about a topic that’s very important as a freelancer.  It’s something that most freelancers probably already know, but it’s still something I feel needs to be discussed.  Why? Because it’s so important to protect yourself.

Why You Should Always Have More Than One Freelance Client or Lead Source 

The idea is not to ever let any one thing be the source of your success.

Variety, different sources of income, and different sources of marketing are all critically important for a freelancer.  We never want to put all our eggs in one basket.  However, it happens all too often with freelancers.  It happens when a freelancer finds something that really works from them, but they don’t see the challenges of having just one client or one form of marketing.

These two things can set you up for failure in a big way.  Think about when you had a traditional job.  It can be nerve wracking to work as an employee because if you are an at-will employee, at any point in time your employer can terminate your job.  I know because it’s happened to me.

When I started freelancing as a side hustle, I knew that I didn’t want to have just one client.  I knew from experience that it can be so scary thinking the rug could be pulled out from under you at any given time.  I knew I needed to diversify. 

Diversity needs to come in many forms.

So here I was pitching to different clients with the mindset that if I had 5 different clients if I lost one it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  Which was true.  But then I had a colleague point something out to me that really made sense.

If I was only using one form of marketing to do my pitches, in my case it was Upwork, what happens if that website crashes and you can’t pitch anymore?  This was a huge wake up call to me because I had built my entire business around something that’s called “digital sharecropping”.   You see other businesses doing this today too. 

As a freelancer, you never want to have one platform be your sole source of leads.  This is why I expanded from Upwork into cold pitching into using LinkedIn.  I didn’t want to be dependent on any one thing.  Having a variety of different marketing methods is definitely very important for freelancers.  Once you are established and know which methods convert the highest, that’s where you will want to put your emphasis in your marketing.

As a new freelancer, you’re going to be trying a lot of different marketing methods all at one time.  As time goes on you’re going to have to look at the data of which of those methods is converting the highest for you.  You then can pick 2-3 methods to focus on for your core marketing methods to get you the best possible result.

You don’t have to feel like you need to do all of the things forever.  But having variety is good.  What if your Facebook Group gets shut down and you could no longer use that?  What would you use to market and bring in clients?  Variety is truly the spice of life in this case.  It’s important to be building your market in several places in case something like this would happen.  Never stop marketing and never fully rely on one source of marketing.

Digital Sharecropping

Digital Sharecropping is essentially building your business’s success on the reliance of some online tools, websites, software, or other person who runs an online company.  When you are reliant on platforms or tools to convert offers or bring you business, everything is contingent on that site continuing to run exactly as it always has.  If something changes dramatically this could potentially put you out of business.

As online business owners, we are always evolving and adapting. So sometimes a site like Upwork tries out a new algorithm and it gives me the ability to try it out and tweak my business to adapt to it.  But that doesn’t always mean it is a complete and total overhaul of Upwork.  However, if they were to do a complete overhaul, it could be catastrophic for me if I hadn’t built up my business elsewhere.

Don’t be a digital sharecropper who has built everything on something staying the exact way that it is.  In the online world, we know that things are constantly changing.  Variety is important so that you can pull potential leads from multiple places when these changes take place.  If you are listening to this, take this as an opportunity to branch out and explore other platforms to start building your business.

Try something new

The best time to try something new is when there are no stakes are attached.  If you are a person who is completely reliant on one platform to bring you all your leads, then branch out and try something new.  Start using another platform and build your business and see how it goes.  You don’t want to have to wait until a catastrophe happens and it’s necessary.  Do it now so that you are prepared IN CASE something happens.


A great platform to try is LinkedIn.  I actually just dropped my newest course about using LinkedIn and 3 step process that has brought consistent high quality leads my way.  So I’m glad I started my LinkedIn strategy when I didn’t really need it because by the time I was able to master it, I was able to move further and further away from using only Upwork to source my leads.

One of the biggest ways you can set yourself up for failure is by only marketing on one platform in one way.  Why? Because if you try something new, you may become a master at it.  And what if you original form of marketing goes bankrupt.  You are already marketing yourself in more than one place and are prepared if something happens.  The best time to try something new is now!

Only having one client.

Having only one client as your sole source or bulk of your income is so dangerous.  If this is you, please consider adding multiple smaller contracts to your business.  If the BIG CLIENT terminates your contract or goes out of business, your entire source of income just goes away if you only have that one client.  Once again, diversify.  There are so many things that can happen in the freelance business.  Don’t set yourself up for failure.  Have a backup plan in place.  Be marketing to other clients and bring on some smaller clients.  (For more about contracts in freelance projects, please check out this related episode.)

If you all of a sudden lose your work with that one client and you have paused your marketing, this could be devastating to your business.  It could be a setback for several ways.  You need to always be marketing and you need to have several clients.  We have to be prepared for the possibility that things could shift and change.

Because we are in control of so much in our business, we have to take ownership of everything that we do.  You make choices every single day about who to work with, what type of work you want to do, how long to work with people and what to charge.  You need to have an “insurance plan” in place.  This means having more than one client and more than one marketing method. 

It’s very dangerous to have only one client and only one marketing method.  Avoid putting yourself in the tough spot of having to rebuild your business on the fly.  Make sure you have at least one month of expenses saved up so that if this does happen, you are covered for a bit financially and it gives you time to build it back up.

Having more than one client means that if something happens your income won’t go all the way down to zero dollars just like that.  It’s important that you realize I keep talking about having more than one client and more than one marketing method together because I often see issues arise with both of these things.  People come to me who only had the one big client and only using one marketing method and both have went belly up so to speak.

Variety is the magic of life.

Having alternative sources of marketing and income are instrumental for your success.  There are a lot of statements out there of how very wealthy people will have 5-7 streams of income at one time.  There is a reason for that.  They aren’t hedging their bets on ONE THING to continue bringing in money.  Even if I got rid of my coaching and freelancing business, I still have a steady stream of income coming in from other things like speaking, my books, etc.

Starting when you don’t need to start it is the best time to start it because the risk is very low.  You can figure out a strategy that can save you in moments of crisis, but can actually help you when you are thinking about if you need to make a shift in your business.  This gives you a great deal of peace of mind.  I want you to avoid being in a bad situation. For more advice about things that can help you launch your freelance career successfully, check out this related episode on the five things I wish I’d known when I started.

So if you are currently thinking I have this one client and I have this one marketing method, but how do I break out of it then we need to talk.  This is something I help freelancers with all the time.  I do this through 1:1 strategy sessions where we dive into your business for a specific period of time and talk about what is working, what isn’t, and where you can go from here.  I am able to get a good understanding of where you are at and where you want to go in your business.  If you are interested in learning more about these 1:1 sessions go to laurateachesyou.com and you can see the options for these sessions.  I’d love to work with you! 

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Aug 19, 2019

Have you ever had the OPPOSITE of what I call a “King Midas Day” or even week in your freelancing business?  What I mean is it feels like nothing is going to work.  You feel like a failure.  It feels like your business is imploding right before your eyes!  Does this sound familiar?  Well if you are having that kind of day or week I want to encourage you to take a step back!  Get out of your house!  Most times this will give you some space and allow you to gain a fresh perspective to come back and be able to troubleshoot.  Sometimes it really is an off day and other times it’s our own mindset that is holding us back.

What should you do if nothing is converting with your clients?

It blows my mind when I see posts in a Facebook group with people saying they had sent 100s of pitches and had a website up for a long time, but still hadn’t gotten their first client.  In my early days of coaching freelance writers, I had a girl come to me who had literally sent out 200 pitches on Upwork.  And not one of those had ever reached out to her or decided to work with her.  This was shocking to me!

In my own business, if I am doing something that isn’t converting I am either going to figure out if this is the right fit for me.  Or is there someone out there that knows this system/software better than me that I can hire or learn from to make this convert?  If this is happening to you, please don’t wait until you have sent 100 pitches or until you have spent 2 years on Upwork and have zero results before you reach out to someone who can help you.

“Always take a step back and figure out what you can do on your own.”- Laura Briggs

When I first started trying to pitch to speak at TedX events, I had NO IDEA what I was doing.  I submitted several applications and all of them were rejected.  Now, I thought my idea was pretty good, but obviously it wasn’t resonating.  I had no idea about some of the TINIEST mistakes I was making on the application process until I hired a coach who had successfully landed four TedX talks on his own.

Even though we had to work at it for a while and get through some rejections, it ended up with 5 different invitations to give TedX Talks.  It’s always good to find someone who has been down the path before rather than just trying to make things work on your own.  This process can be really frustrating to go through it on your own.

When nothing is converting with your clients, there are a couple of different things you want to check and evaluate.

The first one is really important because it’s your mindset! When you are in a funk and you have a roster of clients that you don’t like to work with, you will subconsciously hold yourself back from pitching.  Why?  Because your mind is saying, “Oh, we don’t want any more clients like that. If working and bringing on freelance clients means being as frustrated as I have been with this group of clients then...NO THANKS! I’m not pitching.” 

I have seen freelancers be held back by this.  The hard part is they don’t even realize it.  It’s kind of a subconscious battle that is keeping them from being able to effectively pitch.  It became an easy to “back burner” the process of pitching because they were stuck in this mindset of not marketing at all because of their current clients.  You need to know if this is something that is potentially holding you back.  Think about these things:

  • Who is on your roster right now?
  • Are you working on projects you enjoy doing?
  • Are you being paid well to these projects?

None of the other elements I’m going to tell you to check are going to work if you don’t have the right mindset.  So first things first, evaluate and work on your mindset.

Once we have figured out whether or not your mindset, there are some other things that you can check.  Now, If you have figured out that it’s your mindset and you have a disaster client, now is the time to figure out a few things like:

  • What are you going to do to get out of that relationship?
  • How are you going to replace this client?
  • What do you need to do on your marketing side of things to bring in more business so you don’t have a fear and holding back on your pitching?

The next thing you are going to want to check are your samples.

Whatever samples you are providing to your prospective clients speak volumes.  And you cannot afford to have samples that don’t accurately depict your quality of work. A lot of times, we forget to update your samples. If you are anything like me you probably look back at your samples and cringe! Why? Because you have gotten better at your craft since you created them.  You don’t want to be sending out samples that isn’t putting your best foot forward.  You should be sending out samples that is your best quality work.  Samples should be the work that you are most proud of.  The samples should always reflect where you are at right now, not where you were at 6 months ago.  Check your samples for the following:

  • Are they outdated?
  • Are there errors in them you didn’t see before?
  • Do they depict the type of work you are doing now?

Samples work in conjunction with the second thing you should check...your pitch.  And more often than not, if something isn’t working with your marketing it is either your samples or your pitch.  One or both of these things is off for your marketing method or your specific market.  If nothing is converting and you have checked your mindset, the next thing to consider is the pitch and the samples.  This is where I recommend you put your focus.  Invest in having someone proofread the material or give you some feedback.  You can reach out in Facebook groups and such so you can figure out what isn’t working.  If your pitch and samples aren’t working they can slam the door of opportunity shut with clients who otherwise would have been perfect clients for you. You may not even realize this!  It’s often these little things that can be tweaked and that leads to conversions.  Little things can make a HUGE difference.  ASK FOR HELP!

It’s amazing to me how many creatives send out samples and pitches that are not their best work.  If you are a creative person, whether it’s a writer or designer, your work needs to be spot on and error free.  That’s very important!  It would be nice if clients would look beyond that, but they don’t!  I speak from a professional standpoint where I have been hired as a Content Manager and they client has told me to not hire anyone who has grammar mistakes in their pitch. So, as you can see, even the littlest mistakes matter!

The next thing to consider is your market.

Are you marketing to the wrong people?  Are you marketing to people that only work with agencies? Are you marketing to organizations that don’t have the money to pay you?  Are you marketing to people on LinkedIn but that’s not where “your people” are?  Check your market after you have checked your mindset, pitch, and samples.


This is another great opportunity to engage with someone else in the freelance world and ask for their expertise on whether or not your market could be off.

The next thing to check is YOUR follow through.


Newsflash...most business is done in the follow through stages.  I am always surprised when I hear from freelancers that they sent out pitches and never hear from anyone.  I always ask them if they followed through.  When they say that they never heard from them so they didn’t follow through it blows my mind. Most business does NOT come from sending a pitch and getting a signed contract in reply.  There is a nurturing process that most clients have to go through.  So if you aren’t following up with prospective clients, you are leaving business AND MONEY on the table.  Check your follow through by considering things like this:

  • Do you have a system to capture who you have pitched?
  • When did you follow up with them?
  • Did they have objections?
  • Was a call with you scheduled?
  • Have you sent them a proposal?

You even have to follow up after the proposal phase.

“A lot of what we do as freelancers is selling and being consistent with that selling process.”- Laura Briggs

Think about someone who tried to sell you something you didn’t want, understand, or even feel like you needed.  A great example is a life insurance agent.  It’s easy to push off something like this and say you didn’t want to do it.  It’s probably because this person followed up with you multiple times before you decided to go through with it and get everything set up.

Be aware of how important follow up is.  If you are not doing it, it wouldn't surprise me if you aren’t bringing in a lot of business.  Clients need hand holding.  Yes we live in an amazing digital age where you don’t have to see your clients in person if you odn’t want to.  But that also means we need to make our clients comfortable about hiring essentially a stranger over the internet.  We need to break down those barriers and make them feel trusting of us.  The follow up is where you do this.

Follow up also shows persistence.  Some clients love this.  You’d be amazed by how many freelancers DON’T follow up!  Sometimes it can even get your foot in the door ahead of someone else JUST BECAUSE YOU FOLLOWED UP SO MANY TIMES.  Having a CRM system is a great way to keep track of all this.

Through Hubspot you can get up to 200 open email notifications for free.  AFter that you have to pay.  Anyone who is pitching and using cold email this can be helpful because you can see when people open your message so it will remind you to go back and FOLLOW UP!

Following up is so easy! It doesn’t take much time.  It’s a quick reach out to the client to see if they have reviewed what you sent.  It’s also a chance to showcase a little more personality.  Carve out time and send your follow ups out in batches based on the pitches you sent a few days to a week before.  Being the person that follows up can significantly increase your conversions.

The last thing you need to check is your pricing.

Sometimes your pricing is just off. Across the board you will find all kinds of different pricing.  Never base your pricing on anyone else’s numbers. This is a huge reason why I never discuss pricing anywhere I’m talking about freelancing.  There are literally so many variables that go into determining pricing there is no one size fits all answer.  Whatever you charge you will have clients that think that it’s cheap and a great deal.  And you will have clients that think it’s too expensive.

Because you are going to hit that at every level, it’s about finding a price that works for you that still allows you to be competitive in the market.  You can do a lot of harm to yourself by having pricing that is too low.  I have had clients turn me down because he thought I was too cheap.  I have also had more people turn me down because I was priced too high.  I never take it personally though.  It’s never worth burning the bridge because those people may come back to you or even refer people to you once they know the baseline of your pricing.  You simple just say OKAY.  I have had people turn me down because they thought my pricing was too high only to come back to me when their business was doing a little bit better.

These are the types of things that go into the consideration of your pricing.  A lot of people think it’s their pricing when in fact it’s their pitch or proposal.  But it is worth considering whether there is something that is off with your pricing.  The best way to know this is if people are straight up telling you that you are too expensive or don’t know what it is included in that cost.  This leads to the client just shutting down.

There is a reason why we check the pricing last.  More than likely, the reason you aren’t converting is because of one of the other things I listed. 

There is nothing wrong with you as a business owner or creative if something isn’t converting in your marketing cycle.  Most of us are new at this.  We are figuring things out as we go along and making our best guess at how to run our business.  So there is no shame in saying this isn’t working.  You just have to look at what you can get better at, what you can learn, what you can change in your business to make it better.  This can actually liberate you from the stress of taking it so personally.

Learning is something that can be so empowering in your business.  It can also help with your mindset towards your business.  As business owners we have to be adaptable and constantly evolving to see where the market is going.  There is a tremendous amount of intelligence in stepping back and seeing what isn't working and figuring out how to adapt to change it.

**Remember I have an awesome FB GROUP where you can get tons of free training and information and network with other rockstar freelancers.  You can find me by searching for Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura. 

For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.

Aug 12, 2019

Welcome to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing Podcast.  Today’s topic is getting through a freelancing dry spell.  I don’t care what anyone says, one of the most important things to know as a freelancer is when you might encounter a dry spell.  It’s key for every freelancer to know how to prepare yourself for it.  You need to have a plan to address what to do when things get slow. It can happen to any of us. 

It actually happened to me recently.  I let go of 2 clients and at the same time, another client had to pause all of their marketing operations.  This was a SIGNIFICANT loss in income.  BUT...even in these moments you have the opportunity to think about how you going to overcome it.  Hopefully, you have done some of the leg work in advance to be able to help protect yourself through this dry spell.

One of the things you need to focus on and be aware of in your freelance business is building it up to the point of sustainability and replicating your results every month.

It can be very frustrating for a freelancer to bounce around month to month with different levels of income.  The more you can scale steadily to where you feel confident in your business the more comfortable you can be with business decisions.  Business decisions like how much you are going to pay yourself and how much of your revenue is going to go back into your business.

Freelancing dry spells DO happen.  In fact, that’s a big reason WHY I stayed at my day job for 13 months after launching my freelance writing side hustle.  I had no idea if there were going to be dry spells.  I had an eye-opening experience with this because I came in as a teacher.  Now, where I taught you could decide to have your salary distributed over the 12 months of the year.  This means you would get paid less monthly, but would still get paid over the summer break. Or you could just get paid during the 9 months of the school year.  A lot of the teachers had to pick up other income streams over the summer.

Check out: What You Should Know About the August Slow Season

How to deal with slow seasons…

I have been freelancing for 7 years and have seen a trend where every year August is slow.  It’s a hard time to market.  I have also noticed from around December 15-January 15 is a slow period as well.  There are several reasons for this.  People are distracted during these times of the year whether it’s for back to school, last-minute vacations, holiday vacations, or even just waiting for the year to close out so they can start fresh. 

  • There is also a dead zone between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. There will be some people who want to get something done before the end of the year and they may contact you on December 1st.  However, it’s extremely important during these times to get things squared away in advance. 
1.     Track your numbers. 

It’s important to track your numbers in a spreadsheet.  This will let you know what months are not your best months.  Example: Let’s say May isn’t my best month.  So I’m going to use that knowledge going forward and try to book as much work as possible in April.  OR… Maybe February is my busiest month so I’m going to take some of the money I earn in February and put it aside in an emergency. It’s so important for you as a freelancer to have an emergency fund.  WHY?  Well, for example, if you only have one client and you have to fire that client or something happens where you aren’t working with them anymore, where is your income going to come from?  This is where I encourage freelancers to not put all their eggs in one basket.

  1. NEVER rely on one client. 
    Always be marketing heavily in other areas.  You need to have protections in place to protect your business.  If you have 3 clients and you lose the big one you still have a little bit of a buffer because you have other clients in place. That padding plus saved money (emergency fund) gives you a buffer to get things figured out.
  2. Know how long it takes clients to sign.
    For me Upwork clients sign quickly whereas LinkedIn clients typically take a little longer to sign on for my services.  I’m not going to ignore LinkedIn.  I’m still going to market there.  WHY? Because if I lose a big client, it may take 3 to 4 weeks to build up that relationship.  So by continuing to market on LinkedIn consistently, I’m always building those relationships.

So now you are in a freelancing dry spell.  I am going to assume that you have already been saving a portion of all the income you make for expenses, taxes, retirement, family emergency fund, and 1 month of expense for your freelancer emergency fund. If you haven’t already set up that emergency fund, do so now.

So in this dead zone, it’s harder to drum up work.  I don’t know about you, I don’t like to throw spaghetti at the wall and hope it sticks.  I’m not going to send out 100 pitches the week before Christmas because they most likely aren’t going to get seen.  So why not send those inspired pitches in the beginning of the year when people are thinking about their goals.  It’s much easier to market during this time.  This is also true for September after people have gotten their kids back to school.

These downtimes are a great chance to update your work samples! Check out: How to Get Clients to Actually Review and Be Wowed by Your Samples

Here are 6 things you can do that don’t involve marketing your business right away.

  1. Reach out to your past clients to see how things are going. 
    A really organic way to do this is to find an article that relates to their business and send it to them.  It allows you to open the conversation, letting them know you had been thinking about them and allows you to ask how things are going.  Notice by doing this, you aren’t asking them directly for work.  However, if you have lost your only client or have no clients, then yes, ask them if they have any work you can do.  It’s an opportunity to re-engage and reopen the conversation.
  2. Learn a new skill.
    This is the perfect time to think about picking up something that you wanted to do for a long time but haven’t been able to figure out.  I decided to learn how to market myself for speaking events.  I learned how to pitch myself for Tedx Talks.  I used a slow period to write my entire book proposal that went to an agent.  This helped me to learn something and go to the next level with it.  Maybe you want to learn Facebook Ads or Google Ads.
  3. Turn to your tabled project.
    What needs to be done that you have put on the back burner? Maybe it’s your LinkedIn profile. Maybe it’s building a website.  Whatever it is that you keep pushing to the back burner get it done in your slow season.
  4. Take some time off.
    If you don’t have to work because you have saved your money then take a vacation.  I used to always take a vacation in August because I knew it   be that hard for me to step away from my business.  I always close my office for the week between Christmas and New Year’s because I know that I can turn in whatever would have been do early to my client and it won’t have that big of an impact.  Bonus points if you can see this coming and plan ahead to take the time off.
  5. Try something outside of your comfort zone.
    Is there another service area that you have been thinking about adding to your business?  Where can you step outside of your comfort zone and try something when the stakes are low?  Now is the time to try it.  It could even be something in your personal life.  It gives you a chance to try something out and push yourself.
  6. Refine your marketing.
    What’s working? What isn’t? Where have you been slacking in your marketing?  A slow season is a great time to look at all of these things and develop a strategy for the next few months.  This slow season is a perfect time to take a step back and look at what is working in your marketing.  And dump whatever you’re doing that isn’t working.

A slow season doesn’t have to be something where you are panicked because you don’t have income.  Ideally, you should have planned for it.  That allows you to have this time to reflect on your life and your business and decide what you want to do next.   I love having these things built into my year because I know that February through June is a crazy time.  It’s always busy.  But I know I have some slow season coming after the time I have been pushing pretty hard. 

A slow season doesn’t have to be completely negative.  It’s a chance to recalibrate and take a break for once.  I had a freelance coaching client once who hadn’t taken a vacation in 3 years!  We had discussions about taking time off and put it in the calendar ahead of time.  I never feel guilty for taking a vacation when I do.

What are your favorite things to do during a freelancing slow season?  I’d love to hear more about how you make this downtime work for you.  Remember you can always send questions and comments to info@betterbizacademy.com.  Remember to SUBSCRIBE to the podcast so you always get updates about new episodes every week.  Also, I would love it if you would do me a HUGE honor of leaving a review of the show inside your podcast app like iTunes or wherever you listen. It helps other people who are freelancers find this show.

Aug 5, 2019

Welcome back to the Advanced Freelancing Podcast!  Today I’m going to talk about something that is going to help supercharge where you’re at with your freelance business.  It can also help you overcome obstacles in your business much faster than if you were having to work through things on your own.

Since I started I started my freelance business there have been more resources added to the internet, books, and other places to learn about freelance writing.  However, that’s now always enough to get you where you need to be.  I have read practically every book there is on freelance writing. 

I have also interacted with coaches.  I have attended conferences.  All of this has been helpful and I have picked up different tidbits here and there.  But one of the ways to absorb a lot of information more quickly is to choose to work with a coach. 

For a long time, I was resistant to working with a coach.  I had the mindset of being afraid to let anyone else into my business.  What if they messed it up?  What if they tried to press their business model on me and I didn’t agree with it?  An example of this is subcontracting my writing work to other writers...I don’t agree with this practice.  This is MY business so I was very protective of it!  This is a personal choice for me. 

I am familiar with both the agency and solo model of business.  This is helpful when I’m coaching others with their business.  We have a real conversation about what is best for THEM! 

So why on Earth would you hire a freelance coach?

You’re Stuck...

The first reason you would hire a freelance coach is because you’re stuck.  You’re stuck at a certain income level, stuck working for clients you don’t like, or you feel like you are stagnant and you are having difficulties going in the next directions.  This is where you say “Okay, I need more help!”  A lot of the people who hire a coach have been stuck at a certain income level for a while and are ready to step it up.

Hiring a coach can help you get to those higher income levels so much faster. WHY? Because it involves having someone else’s eyes on your business giving you recommendations and suggestions on what’s best for you!

So much information…

The second reason you want to hire a coach is that there is SO MUCH information out there.  You don’t want to spend the time sorting through ALL THAT INFORMATION searching and trying to find out what’s best for you! You want to be able to bypass the challenges and get to where you want to be faster. 

Now if you are someone with a lot of free time on your hands, then by all means, you can read through everything there is out there on freelancing.  But this will take FOREVER for you to get results!  I wish I had invested in the help of a coach when I first started my business!  Having someone in your corner who understands not only your business but also the strategy of running your business is invaluable.

You need accountability…

The third reason you might want to hire a freelance coach is because you NEED that additional accountability  If you slacked off in your marketing or if you know there are things you want to do or try in your business but you just can’t seem to make them happen, you need a coach.  Investing in a coach gives you accountability to make these things happen that you otherwise tend to ignore or put on the back burner. This provides focus because it’s another person to help you stay on track! 

Other Reasons…

There are other reasons you might hire a coach.  They include:

  • Wanting to scale, but you don’t know how to do it.
  • Feeling burned out, but you aren’t sure where in your systems and process the burn out is coming from.
  • Continually attracting the wrong kind of clients and need someone to help shed light on what you are currently doing and what can be changed to attract your IDEAL client.

Different Coaching Models

There are different coaching models out there for when you are working with a coach.  I have personally been through just about all of them.  In fact, if you purchase my book the last chapter is all about coaching and mentoring and the different options available to you.

Courses that have limited support from a coach

This is where you invest in a course.  But there is some kind of limited amount of contact with the actual coach like office hours.  You might get a 1:1 call with the coach.  You may also get a set of group coaching calls.  These can help you with specific questions about the course.  But, these are timed and very limited as far as interaction especially if it’s a group call or office hours. 

Strategy Session

This is great for the person who doesn’t necessarily need long term support.  If you have a handful of questions or want someone to give you in-depth advice about your marketing or LinkedIn profile for pitching purposes a strategy session might be for you.  These can help you with emergency issues in your business if you get stuck and need to figure things out. 

Make sure you find someone who specializes in your particular area of business.  They are usually 45-90 minutes long.  You can get a lot accomplished in that time if you are really focused.  With a 90 minute session, I can usually cover 3 topics with my clients.  It’s a great place to go if you need help or direction with what to do next.

Mastermind/Group Coaching

This is essentially one step up from purchasing a course or book and reading through the material.  Why?  Because essentially you are going to receive information from the person running the mastermind and then are given a chance to ask questions about the information in a group coaching call.

A mastermind would be a good fit for you if you like engaging with other people.  You can sometimes actually learn just as much from other people as you can from a coach.  If you feel like your freelance business is kind of isolated and you are looking for like-minded people who may be going through what you are makes a mastermind a good choice for you.

1:1 Coaching

This is by far the most expensive form of coaching.  But for good reason.  It’s the most involved form of coaching.  You’ll find a lot of coaches who do things in a whole bunch of ways.  One form of this type of coaching includes a series of coaching calls where you can ask questions on this once a week call. 

The type of 1:1 coaching I do with my clients is by using a voice app like Voxer or sometimes people use Facebook Messenger where you can essentially get almost unlimited support.  This would be if people need day to day support.  One on one coaching is better to do this way because if you have urgent questions arise, you can ask that question without having to wait until your scheduled call.  The reason that I offer my coaching like this is that most of the freelancers I work with already have semi-consistent income making at least $3000 a month and they are wanting to scale, but they have day to day issues that they just want feedback on.  They tend to need that day to day support and I’m happy to provide it!  I still do a monthly call with them to cover important things, but day to day support allows them to Voxer me and get immediate support.

The two primary ways that I provide coaching is the Strategy Sessions and the 1:1 Unlimited Coaching through Voxer.  Usually, people are a fit for one or the other.  Almost all of the freelancers I have worked with on a 3 Month period get a lot of results in their business.  They even often renew for another 3 months to start the next steps in their business. 

The people who use 1:1 coaching get results a lot Voxer a lot faster.  This gives them a whole new round of questions they need to address to take the next step in their business. 

If you are thinking about hiring a coach but you are stuck, consider what type of coaching style might be right for you.  For example, I don’t get anything out of mastermind coaching.  You have to make sure you connect with a coach that coaches in a way that will connect with you.

If you are interested in learning more about my coaching, I always do a free call with people first to make sure we are a good fit.  It also allows me to see some of the issues you want to work on.  You can learn more about my coaching at https://www.betterbizacademy.com/coaching and as always you can email me at info@betterbizacademy.com.  If I am not the right fit for you I will recommend you to another coach that might be.

I know it’s hard to invest money in things, especially as a newer freelancer.  But in hindsight, I don’t regret investing in these types of things because they have helped me go to the next level in my business.  I encourage you to look at where you are right now in your business and also where it is you want to go.  Coaching might be a possible solution to help you achieve your goals. 

**Remember you can always send topics and questions to info@betterbizacademy.com

Jul 29, 2019

Hello again!  Welcome to this episode of the Advanced Freelancing Podcast.  Today I’m deviating a little bit from my “traditional” podcast episodes to discuss some information about my book!  If you haven’t heard, my first book published with Entrepreneur Press officially came out on July 16th, 2019.

I want to share some “behind the scenes” info with you! 

I want to tell you why I chose to write this book.  I also want to share why I think writing this book will not only benefit my coaching and consulting business, but also my freelance writing business as well.

“I believe that everybody has at least one book inside of them.” -Laura Briggs

Now, there are a lot of reasons why we put off writing these said books. But I want to encourage you, especially if you think that writing a book would be great for your personal development or your business!


Writing a book for freelance writers is kind of a no brainer.  It was an excellent vehicle for me to be able to show off my writing abilities.  It doesn’t matter if you choose to self publish or publish through a company.  Being able to produce an actual book shows people that you have the stamina it takes to outline, create, edit, and publish a book.  This is a great thing for your credibility as a freelance writer.

For me as a freelance writer, having a book about freelance writing will directly help my freelance business.  When I’m pitching to a client, there is a certain amount of credibility and validity from having a book published.  I have wanted to write a book for a long time. 

A little back story…

Originally when I was toying with the idea of writing a book I had the idea of starting with fiction first.  So I went to a writing conference. I had kind of a bad experience with a fiction agent.  One of the most important things I learned at the conference was that I would feel much more confident if I went the route of non-fiction first.

Fiction books sell on the basis of completed projects.  So for new writers, this means you have to have a manuscript that has already gone through at least one round of general editing done before you can even pitch it to an agent or decide to self publish. 

Non- fiction books sell on spec.  This means they sell on proposal.  My proposal was about 55 pages and I made sure to get it right!  Your proposal is essentially your pitch to agents and publishers about what it is you think you want to do.

Non- fiction books have their own unique set of challenges.  Not only do they sell on proposal, but they also sell on platform.  This means that in order for a publisher to pick up your traditional non fiction book for regular publishing you have to be able to show that you already have an established audience who are ready and willing to buy that book.  This can be done in many different ways with social media and mailing lists.

However, the reality is that not a lot of people have developed that kind of audience especially when they are writing their first book.  It’s the number one thing we heard from publishers when I was submitting my book was that I didn’t have a big enough platform.  This is why when you see books they are typically from someone who is some kind of advanced executive.  It’s people that have a massive following.

About my book...

I spent about 4 months creating my proposal!  I knew I wanted to write about freelancing.  Funnily enough, the book we sold is NOT the book we pitched.  So I am self publishing the book that we originally pitched.  I didn’t really need the full 4 months for the proposal, but I was questioning a lot of things.  I was slower because this was a foriegn concept to me.

I finished my proposal in January 2018.  So now it was time for me to shift focus to evaluating agents.  There are a lot of places to find potential literary agents.  Different ways to find an agent include:

●       Attend a conference and pitch it live.  You want to make sure you only pitch to agents who take the type of book you are creating.  Example- an agent who only takes children's books certainly would not be a fit for someone pitching a nonfiction book.  I personally was looking for a versatile agent who sold not only business books, but had a crossover into other genres. 

●       Using a paid tool. I found 33 potential agents by using a paid tool called Publisher’s Marketplace.  I paid $25 a month and you can see different deals and books that agent has represented.

●       Writers Market.  This is a huge volume that has everything from magazines that you can pitch to writing competitions.  Every year they do a volume of agents and break it down by what that agent accepts as far as types of work.  You want to double check what you find here with Publisher’s Marketplace.

So now once that you have your list of agents…

You start to submit to agents.  You start to have conversations with agents about your book.  Once you find an agent you like, you will sign an agreement with that agent to start shopping your book to publishers.  Agents take a standard 15% cut of what you do.  Sometimes the contract would be for that one project.  There are also instances where the contract will be for a specific amount of time in which that agent would be entitled to 15% of whatever you sell during that time period.  SO MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS READ YOUR CONTRACTS VERY CAREFULLY WITH BOTH AN AGENT AND A PUBLISHER! GET AN ATTORNEY FOR THIS!

It can be a long process to publish a book traditionally.  A traditional timeline for publishing a book is about 2 years. That’s from the time the idea is accepted to the time there is a physical book in hand.  Self publishing is a lot quicker.  It can even be as quick as a few months for self publishing. 

I knew I was getting an offer in the summer of 2018.  Which was quick because I only signed with an agent in May.  We pitched to a lot of big publishers.  We got a lot of feedback that my platform was too small

Publishers tend to sometimes be behind the trends.  So if you are pitching something that is cutting edge, you need to know this can sometimes be a hard sell depending on who you are pitching to.  I want to note that for me and this book I was pitching, I don’t think the publishing houses knew the power of and how many freelancers there are.  Not just in the US but also around the world. 

We got an offer and it was time to get to work...

We finally got a response from a publishing house that was interested in my book.  But then we got a response from Entrepreneur.  They said that they were not interested in taking on the project of the bigger book at that point in time, but had an opening to refresh an old book about an introduction to freelance writing.

After many conversations with several people, I decided that this was a good opportunity for me.  Even though my business is shifting to help more intermediate/advanced freelancers, being able to offer something at the introductory level was a great opportunity. 

My contract was signed in mid August and my first draft was due on December 1st.  So I had to write roughly 65,000 words in a very quick amount of time in the publishing world.  I knew I could do it. So I stuck with the schedule and met the deadline.  It went through one round of edits that I had to complete around Christmas time. 

Then the first two weeks of January I had to complete copy edits.  These were things like punctuation, grammar, etc.  There were more than 5000 changes that I had to manually accept and edit or decline and explain why I declined. 

I really loved with Entrepreneur Press because even though they had certain styles and things they wanted me to cover, they were really leaning on my expertise.  It was the perfect blend of structure and creativity for me.

The book went into production very quickly after a few more edits.  It was on pre-sale from March to when it went live on July 16th!  So the process of writing a book is amazing!  I had really psyched myself out thinking it was going to be really difficult.  There are a few things that made it a great process including:

●       A great agent who was advocating for me.

●       I worked with a great publishing house that was very easy to work with.

●       There were very clear expectations about the marketing that was going to be done.

Remember when I said the book being sold isn’t the book I proposed?

The original outline that I proposed to the publisher changed dramatically as I was writing this book. I wrote it chapter by chapter, but as I was writing there were things I thought needed to be changed.  So I had the idea of 12 chapters at roughly 5,000 words each.  So I used a spreadsheet to track my words, places that need more work, and chapters that I felt were done.

I wrote a lot of this book on planes because my husband was traveling all over the country for job interviews.  I wrote in coffee shops and libraries.  This really motivated me and helped me stay focused and on track.

Here is my final piece of advice to you for this episode.  If you are thinking about writing a book, even if you hear this and think traditional publishing isn’t for me, that’s okay.  I still encourage you to set a deadline, keep it, and write your book.  Why?  Because this is a good process that pushes you to the next level!

So you may be wondering why I wrote this particular book?  Well, when I first started out as a freelancer, this is the book that I wish I had! When I started in 2012, most sources out there was so outdated!  So the framework for this book is online freelance writing!  I focused on this because it’s my area of expertise.  I wrote about what I knew about!  I wanted a newbie to be able to pick up this book and decide if freelance writing was right for them by looking a real day of my life as a freelance writer.

If you are interested in purchasing this book it’s available at all major retailers.  It’s not overly “thick” book so it’s easy to flip through.  I’d love to hear your questions and comments about my book.  Please send those to info@betterbizacademy.com.

Related topics: freelance writing, traditional publishing, writing a book, finding a literary agent[1] 

Jul 22, 2019

Today I’m talking about one of the topics that I am most passionate about...toxic clients.  Why am I so passionate about this topic? This really matters because not only have I worked with toxic clients personally, but I have also privately coached other freelancers who have dealt with toxic clients. That become a key component of what we work on together.  I have helped them to even identify the underlying patterns that can cause you to end up with toxic clients again and again.

A toxic client is someone who drains all the energy and life force out of you.  They are overbearing, overwhelming, and have lots of extra requests from you usually without more pay.  They tend to produce emotional responses in the freelancers that they work with.  This means they produce emotions like frustration and anger. They can even cause you to feel burnout because toxic clients bring out the worst in you.

If you work with clients that you generally love working for it will be easy to spot toxic clients because of how they make you feel.  If you have only worked with toxic clients it may take you longer to realize that client is indeed toxic because you don’t know what patterns to look for.  Recognizing the toxic client is the first step.  A few questions to ask to identify a toxic client are:

●       Does this person treat you poorly?

●       Does this person not pay you well?

●       Does this person always ask for discounts or reduction in price?

●       Does this person make you feel like you don’t quite deserve to work with them even though you are giving it your all?

Anyone in the freelance world can be subject to working with toxic clients.  But I find the freelancers that most often deal with toxic clients are writers and virtual assistants.  Virtual assistant especially tend to get taken advantage of by clients because the clients essentially wants to dump everything on this one person.  They want them to become the go to in their business.

Usually a VA isn’t paid as much as other freelancers and are paid by the hour.  A toxic client might act like you could have done the work so much faster but you didn’t.  They don’t understand why you can’t just get it with their instructions even though it’s probably that their instructions aren’t good instructions.

A lot of time a toxic client will set up an agreement with a VA and put them on a retainer and then ask for WAY MORE of the VA than what is in that agreement.  The tasks they are asking of the VA are more than they are willing or capable of doing.  If you are hiring as a VA to work 10 hours a week and the client keeps dumping more and more on you and making you log 15-20 hours a week and you aren’t being compensated for it then that is a toxic client.

So let’s talk about what you can do to try to flag these types of clients before you begin working with them. It’s important to know that you can’t always identify a toxic client.  Some of these people can sneak up on you.  They can put forward a good face and you have no idea they are toxic.  Or it might be that there have been changes and the person you are reporting too has changed and THEY are the toxic person, not the person you were working with before.  It’s important to know ways to identify a toxic client.  But don’t beat yourself up if one slips throung the cracks because they may not become or show their toxic client side until a few weeks after you start working together. 

Let’s go over some tips to identify a toxic client.  Red flags include:

●       How do they talk about their past freelancers?  For example, they tell you they have worked with 15 other graphic designers and they were all horrible and they had to fire them all.  The odds of ALL 15 of them being awful and unprofessional are very low.  This means it’s actually something wrong with the client and not the freelancers.  A few bad freelancers is okay, but large numbers of freelancers being considered awful is a red flag you are dealing with a toxic client.  You can ask them to tell you about their experience with working with freelancers in the past.  If their answer is that they have yet to work with a freelancer before this could be your chance to shape them in how they should act, work with, and communicate with a freelancer.  What you are looking for with their response is how they talk about freelancers from their past. 

●       Look at their expectations.  Are they pushing you to be available 24/7?  These might be communication issues that brush up against your boundaries.  A lot of times toxic clients will bring this up themselves and say it’s important for you to be available 24/7.

●       Proving your worth.  A toxic client might be pushing you to prove your worth even on the initial phone call.  They might constantly be talking about ROI.  They may not be willing to sign a contract for more than a month because they just don’t trust you.  They might pay you 10% upfront and then the rest when they are satisfied with the completed product.  This is a red flag.

●       Communication preferences.  This is a huge issue.  It’s important to set forth what are your preferred communication is.  As a freelancer, you have to set boundaries with clients on how you can/will communicate with you.  With toxic clients, always get everything in writing possible.  Communication choices for this include email, documents in an email, in your communication software, etc. 

So let’s talk about when you think someone might be toxic.  How do you address it before you decide to fire them?  I try to give people the benefit of the doubt before firing them.  Here are a few tips:

●       Call the situation out early on when it happens.  For example, you do a call with some so they have your number and the client starts texting you at 10 pm,  First, you ignore the text.  Next, you wait until business hours and you send them an email letting them know you business phone is turned off and you will not respond to texts because it’s too difficult to keep track of.  Encourage them to reply to the email with any concerns.  Even with emails, wait and don’t respond until you are in your business hours. 

●       If the client speaks to you unprofessionally, call it out in the moment as nicely as possible.  A great example is working with people who grew up in NY or NJ.  Sometimes their tone and accent can come across as snippy or rude even if they aren’t intentionally being that way.  So you can call it out and say, “I don’t know if you mean for this to be coming across this way, but…”.  Sometimes when the client didn’t mean it they will say they didn’t mean it that way.  Sometimes this is when you have to make a judgement call.  If someone is openly rude or cussing at you, don’t even engage any further with this person.

●       If you are in a relationship with a toxic client, I don’t care how much money it is, you can’t afford to keep working with them.  First of all, if you calculate the actual amount of time you are working for them you probably aren’t getting what you are worth.  Plus if you add in the emotional, mental and physical toll they are causing you, IT’S NOT WORTH IT!  They will push you to burnout.  They will make you question your capabilities and so much more.  One really negative aspect of working with a toxic client is that not only is it affecting the work you are doing with them, but it could bleed over into your other clients.  It’s just not worth it.  Navigating out of this type of relationship is tricky.  First try to let them correct their behavior.  If they can’t do that, then keep it professional and let it go. 

Have you ever had to work with a toxic client before?  If you have I’d love to hear how you navigated out of it.  Send me an email at info@betterbizacademy.com.

Jul 15, 2019

Welcome to the 3rd episode in the reboot of this podcast.  The focus of this podcast is now Advanced Freelancing.  If you haven’t gotten caught up on this change then jump back two episodes and find out why I rebranded this podcast and what you can expect from it.  Now let’s get into today’s episode.

Today’s episode is all about the freelancer’s guide to working with startups.  There are so many businesses that start up daily.  There are lots of businesses that also close within the first year of starting up.  And even business that make it 2-3 years in business still aren’t guaranteed to stand the test of time.  There of millions of startups that are out there and some are successful but a lot of them aren’t.  So...as a freelancer should you work with startups?

As a freelance writer, I have been contracted and contacted by LOTS of startups.  I always go in a little bit cynical. Why is that? Because sometimes the excitement of the startup fades over time which ultimately leads to the end of the business.

“The problem with startups is that they haven’t fully tested whether or not their company is going to be successful.”-Laura Briggs

Let’s go through some things that I have learned through the process of working with startups and some things to keep in mind when you are contacted by a startup OR if you are thinking about pitching to one.

  • Startups are more likely to post on job boards like Indeed. This is particularly true if they have a lot of funding and are trying to bring on employees quickly.  In order to scale quickly they have to bring on a lot of employees quickly.  Here’s the thing...THEY PROBABLY DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY A FULL TIME PERSON.  A lot of people are wary of working with startups because of the possibility of the doors closing in 6 months.  So this might put you, the freelancer, in a good position to pitch yourself as a freelancer because they might have challenges attracting traditional employees.
  • There is a big difference between revenue and funding. When you are working with people who have secured funding from venture capitalists or even put their own money into the startup you do have the possibility of getting paid.  When you start talking about venture capital it’s easy to get excited because you start seeing all these big numbers.  BUT… that isn’t revenue.  That is money put up by people who believe this company can make it.  That doesn’t mean that this startup will actually be able to generate revenue or better yet profit.   Never equate the startup funding as revenue.  Never count on these types of projects as a sure thing.
  • Management in startups. Some startups are completely mismanaged.  They may start with great funding but if it’s mismanaged the company could close up shop in 6 months.  I have seen this happen more than once.  If they don’t have enough funding to make it work will almost certainly try to get more bang for their buck.  Occasionally, you can convince them that your work is worth more than they are willing to pay, but it’s not likely.
  • Ask for a piece of the company. This is absolutely worthless if the company never goes anywhere. If it’s something you really believe in, this is a good way to get additional money from a client who doesn’t have the money to pay you upfront. Negotiations are always an option when dealing with a startup.
  • Hustle mentality present with startups. People who are starting up a business often have the mindset of it’s all hands on deck.  That mentality might not be the best thing to step into as a freelancer.  Be mindful of how this could easily take over your business.  Be mindful of being treated as a contractor vs. employee.  If they are treating you like an employee then it opens up certain protections under federal law.
  • Energy and excitement with the founders. Most times the founders are in various levels of distress.  Knowing how to interact with them can help you be more effective as a freelancer.  Be upfront about how you run your business.  Set boundaries and expectations are really crucial to communicating with someone who has a lot of responsibility on their plate.
  • As a freelancer, YOU ARE AN ENTREPRENEUR. Even if you don’t “own” that title, you are an entrepreneur because you have started your own business.  If you have your own way of doing things, it can sometimes be hard to step into an environment where the startup might or might not have their own way of doing things.  They might be so entrenched in something that the founders are bringing over from their previous life in business and it might not be something that jives with your personal mindset.  This is something you need to pay attention to.  It’s a good idea to have a call with the founders and find out why they created this business, what is their vision for the future, and how they see you as a freelancer fitting in to that.
  • Sometimes they like to hire people who are a jack of all trades. They might hire you to do content writing but in that all hands on deck mentality they might expect you do jump in and do something else.  As a freelancer, you have to speak up and tell them when something isn’t working.

These are just a few of the many things you will need to take into consideration before you decide to start working with a startup.  You need to make sure that your 10 hours a week doesn’t quickly become 40 hours a week and drowning out your other clients.  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a startup so be wise in the decisions you make regarding your freelancing business.

If you have worked with startups before, I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Email me at info@betterbizacademy.com and I might feature you on a future show.

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