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Now displaying: December, 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.

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