Are you losing clients? Do you have clients decreasing the packages and projects you are working on?
Especially during the pandemic, you have to be adaptable and ready to pivot. Being proactive and communicating with your clients and knowing what is most important to your client right now can prevent them from pulling the plug.
In this episode, you will learn how to stay ahead of your client and be clear about the accomplishments you are making and the return on investment that you are delivering.
After listening to this episode, share your action steps and take-aways with our group:
Read the Transcript:
Welcome back to another episode of advanced freelancing. It's been quite a while since you heard from just me. Right? Well, get ready. I've got several solo episodes coming your way. And due to listener requests, I'll be transferring back to more solo episodes in the near future. So you'll still hear from some freelance experts from other communities in places from time to time. But it's very clear that most of my listeners love listening to some of these solo episodes, kind of peppered in with expertise from other guests. Today. I want to talk about something that's really challenging for a lot of freelancers and seems to be coming up a lot more now as a result of the pandemic, what do you do when a client wants to pull the plug wants to cancel or wants to decrease the packages and projects you're working on now, any business can make this decision for any reason at any time, right?
Sometimes they might just be going through a challenging time with their company. Their marketing budget has been decreased. They're pivoting and offering something entirely new. There's really so many different reasons that companies can naturally come up against the situation. But of course, anytime that we're facing a recession or something like the pandemic, when questions are being raised about any project that's on the table, in any expense in the business, you can definitely anticipate this becoming more likely with some of your clients. Now, just because a client wants to have a conversation about decreasing or dropping the project entirely doesn't mean that's the end of the story. Now, definitely. If this is a bigger client and they've already talked about it with their internal team and come to the decision that the project needs to halt entirely, or they need to cancel the contract and pay the kill fee for canceling early.
There's very little you can do at that point in time, but you want to get to the point where that is very rare, right? We don't want our clients blindsiding us with information that they've decided to cancel everything and throw out the baby with the bathwater with no notice for us. Most of you should have clauses inside your contract that require the client to give you a certain amount of notice. Now, if their business is going bankrupt if they're shutting their doors if this has happened to me if the owner of the company passes away and it's really influx, who's going to take over. Those are situations where you might not get the required notice. And you probably want to give your clients a little bit of grace. If they're going through something especially difficult, but otherwise your clients should adhere to what's listed in the contract. As far as how long with advanced notice they need to give you that the contract is ending. So it's most likely to happen towards the end of the month towards the end of the quarter and towards the end of your contract, right? Because these are naturally times when companies and teams are going to be taking a look at where they're spending their money or monitoring performance of campaigns to make that decision. So you never want to let your clients get to the point where they are having those conversations without any input from you. This does not mean that you are there and are present for the actual meeting. No, it actually means that you are doing some outreach prior to these natural endpoints where you're sending the client a report you're discussing what's gone well, and what can be improved, where you've made some type of outreach, essentially, where you haven't let the situation just set it and forget it, right? That's what we don't want is to deliver work for our clients. And then at the end of a three-month contract, one week before the contract is up, when you realize you need to get it to renew, that shouldn't be the only time you're reaching out to your client to initiate the renewal conversation. You want to have a positive relationship throughout the length of the contract to make it much easier for them to be excited about reconsidering it.
And if there's no input from you, their team is looking at this in a very simple, there is no gray area situation. They're looking at, what is their return on investment and how much money are they spending on working with you? If you've listened to this podcast for any amount of time, I always talk about if you are negotiating only on money or on price, it is nearly impossible to back yourself out of that corner. And so we don't ever want the conversation to be only about the amount of money that they spend on your projects. This is especially true when you're working on things that are a long game, like growing an organic social media following or SEO writing or things that just take some time to get traction. We want to set our clients up with reasonable expectations when they start working with us and keep in communication with them over the lifetime of the project. So that you've kind of set yourself up for a win with the renewal conversation. You're not waiting until the company reaches out to you about the conversation. You are reaching out to them a few weeks in advance to discuss some of the achievements that you've already had. Now, if you have got some big wins for the client since you started working together, this anticipating a renewal conversation should definitely include that. Let's imagine that you're a writer who published articles for a client. And those got picked up by traditional media and shared all over the internet or went viral or had hundreds of comments, or really got great engagement on Facebook. The client probably told you about those accomplishments, or you saw them organically as you worked on the project, but now is the perfect time to remind them of some of the wins you've gotten because at the end of a contract, it's so much easier for a client to look back and go, Hmm, I don't really remember all the great things that happened, but I do remember how I wanted this to perform better or there's any other negative aspects.
You don't want the conversation to be about that. So direct the conversation pre-renewal by highlighting some of the things you've done well. Now, if your client seems open to it, i.e. they haven't had a company-wide meeting and already made the decision to cancel your contract. This preemptive work will really set you up to at a minimum, have a conversation with the client about what their next step is. And it's very possible that in light of the pandemic or other issues, the package that you proposed previously doesn't work anymore. It might not be as simple as just renewing what you're already doing. You have to be willing to pivot and be adaptable in these situations because all businesses are being asked to, to do those things. And so you have to pivot and be adaptable on behalf of your clients, by thinking carefully about what they need the most right now. So if that is something different than what you proposed three months ago, six months ago, a month ago, bring that up to them and suggest different things that might be more helpful. I'll give you an example from one of my coaching clients, there was a prospective client for this coaching client that really wouldn't benefit from the current offerings that the freelancer had. And I've had the situation myself recently, where normally I would recommend blogging to just about all of my clients, but I was working with an attorney who just had no
website presence at all. It made no sense for the first thing I recommended to him to be, yes, you need to be blogging eight times a month. He didn't even have the website structure built out properly. He had no technical SEO elements on his page. And so when I wrote the proposal, it was very specific to where his business was at right there. And when my freelance coaching client went back to the prospective client and said, you know what? I don't think that blogging, you know, continued blogging is going to make sense for you. What I am going to recommend is writing great lead magnets and having some email newsletter copy, because you've already built up a following on your email newsletter list. And this is going to be the place where you can get the most sales right now. So as freelancers, it's on us to be mindful of situations happening in the greater economy and marketplace that are forcing our clients to have tough conversations.
We have to be there with them. And in order to continue on the path of being taken seriously, as a true partner of your freelance clients, you have to be willing to pivot and adapt to. If you've known for a couple of weeks that your client is struggling financially, but they really believe in your work. Don't just turn around and offer them a renewed contract at the same rate, with the same volume of work, be sensitive to that, think about where they can get wins right now, what is really going to be meaningful for their business right now, this gives them a chance to feel that continued positive relationship with you, that you have their best interests in mind, that you're not just selling things to sell things you're being very strategic and specific in what you offer to your clients. So if a client brings up to you, this idea that they're thinking about decreasing the contract, one of the best things you can do is try to have a conversation around this and not over email, an actual video conversation or a phone conversation about some of where the challenges are at.
They may be misperceiving things, and you want to have the opportunity to correct that before they make a rash decision, like ending your contract altogether. So for example, maybe the client had unrealistic expectations about how a Facebook ad campaign was going to perform or how involved it would be to truly update all of the development tools and plugins on your website. If they had unrealistic expectations. And those weren't caught at the beginning of the relationship, they might simply be thinking about ending things because the project just isn't where they anticipated it to be. So if a project has gone off the rails, this is a good chance for you to step in and say, this is where we're at right now. Here are the next couple of things we're focusing on. And here's when you can expect to receive them, having conversations with clients, we'll also give you access to data that you will not find anywhere else.
You will get a really good sense of what you can offer to the client, if anything, just by having these conversations, right? So it's really up to you to be the one to take that forward action step, to ask the client, if you can chat about things to do a monthly or quarterly recap of all the things you've done within the project, it makes them feel good that there's still forward progress being made on some of their goals and remove some of that easiness about just saying, you know what, we're going to cancel this project altogether because it's a money issue. Now, if you get on the phone with your client, you're hunting for information about why they're not happy, why they're thinking about decreasing things. If there's something that you're at fault for in this conversation, by all means, own up to it. Just simply say, you know what?
I do apologize for that. These were the circumstances around how that happened, and here's what I've put in place to make sure that isn't going to happen again, or here's how we've gotten back on track. Since that point, if they were hoping for different results, you can kind of talk about some of the things that might have contributed to those results or not. Right. Um, I definitely have seen a lot of the metrics with my clients around the pandemic. They're all over the place, right? Like web searching, podcast listening, it's all over the place. And so it's much less consistent than it was in the past. And it's your responsibility as a freelancer to have those conversations with your clients and say that, you know, this is the reason why this has happened. And here's how I've pivoted our strategy a little bit, um, to be mindful of that.
So as an example, running Facebook ad campaigns for a company, one of the things that I've learned recently is because people are on their phone more they're at home more, they're spending a lot of time online, a lot of time on social media. They're more receptive to ads in some cases, but they're also much more likely to get annoyed with ads if they see them too many times. So Facebook measures something known as a frequency score, which is how often the same people are seeing the same ad. And if you see the same ad on Facebook or anywhere else over and over, it just annoys you to a certain point, right? You've seen it. You've already made the decision not to engage with it, and that can decrease the effectiveness of your campaign. So where previously my strategy might have been to swap out the copy and creative on Facebook ads every couple of months, that's become more frequent. Now, as I watched that frequency score very carefully, and I'll tell my clients like, you know, some of these strategies we've implemented that have been successful in the past in nonpandemic situations or whatever situation is going on. They're not working right now. And here's how I'm going to recommend that we pivot and adjust that this is where your client sees you as a strategic partner. You have their best interests in mind. You're recognizing when something isn't working and you're adjusting it. Now, if a client just wants to decrease the quality and cost of their overall project, working with you, it is your responsibility to think about whether there's any way to salvage the relationship. If it could do a great deal of damage for them to quit altogether, you need to tell the client that, and not from the perspective of, I don't want to lose your income as a freelancer, but from the perspective of this is important for me to tell you that if you choose to stop working on your SEO efforts, if you suddenly stopped posting on LinkedIn, when you've built a great following there, there's going to be impacts from that.
That will be very hard to build back from once you make that decision. So you might not recommend that the client proceed exactly as they were prior to making the decision to drop or decrease the size of the project. But what you are going to do is to make some recommendations with what I call things going on low maintenance mode, right? Maybe it's not achievable for them to be posting on LinkedIn every day. Maybe it's not affordable for them to be paying you to post on LinkedIn every day. This is where you put on your hat as a strategist and say, how can I salvage this relationship? Not only to make sure that I keep the relationship and some of the revenue from it, but do the thing that the client needs the most right now, if people aren't engaging with their posts on LinkedIn, the way that they were in the past, maybe you recommend dialing it down to just two times per week. That way they don't lose all of the traction. They'd built up by being really active on that platform. But you're also not stressing them out with a high bill, paying a freelancer to do it five times a week. So see how important it is to get on the phone and have these conversations because your clients want to hear how you strategize through things. They want to hear you own up to when things maybe aren't performing as well, or the project hasn't been delivered as well, or communication wasn't as professional as they anticipated, but that's not where you leave it. You leave with a next action step of what you recommend they do going forward. And when you can do this, honestly, with integrity and recommend things that are going to benefit the client. Now, even if that does mean honoring their original request to cancel the, or decrease the size of the project, it's far better to do that than to come across as desperate and trying to keep the relationship just for the sake of keeping it.
So there's lots of things that you can do when a client talks about needing to be mindful of their budget or being concerned that they're not getting great results, but you don't want those conversations to happen after it's too late, you need to be proactive in how you reach out to your clients and how you structure these conversations. You might just be able to save a relationship altogether.
Now, listeners, many of you already know that my second book, The Six-Figure Freelancer is coming out on October 20th, 2020. By pre-ordering the book you'll get four exclusive bonuses and you'll be involved and entered in giveaways and other opportunities for prizes. You can learn more about those bonuses and the book by going to sixfigurefreelancebook.com. Thanks again for tuning in.
Laura Briggs is empowering the freelance generation. Through her public speaking, coaching, and writing, she helps freelancers build the business of their dreams without sacrificing all their time, family, or sanity. Laura burned out as an inner-city middle school teacher before becoming an accidental freelancer with a Google search for “how to become a freelance writer.” Since then, she’s become a contributor to Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Writer’s Weekly. She worked for more than 300 clients around the world including Microsoft, Truecar, and the Mobile Marketing Association.
She’s delivered two TEDx talks on the power of the freelance economy for enabling freedom and flexibility and how it’s being used to address the technical skills gap in the U.S. Laura is the host of the Advanced Freelancing podcast, a sought-after public speaker on the gig and digital freelance economy, and a freelance coach focused on aspiring six-figure freelancers. Laura’s books, courses, and coaching have reached over 10,000 people.
As a military spouse, Laura is passionate about serving her community and founded Operation Freelance, a nonprofit organization that teaches veterans and military spouses how to become freelancers and start their own business.
Did you know that you don't have to scale your freelance business up to a full-time job? Plenty of Freelancers have a goal of scaling their business to be able to replace their day job income, but others are perfectly happy with what they do from 9 to 5. If that's you, you'll love this episode with experienced freelancer and nurse Janine Kelbach, who purposefully keeps her freelance writing biz as a part-time venture simply because she loves her job.
If you're like most people, having a day job doesn't fulfill all of your creative or even entrepreneurial desires. This is what makes freelancing so unique as a business model, since you can scale it up or down as much as you want. Taking on the number of clients that is right for you is a very personal decision.
Keeping your freelance side hustle, however, also give you peace of mind that if something were to happen to your job, or if you want to accomplish different financial goals more quickly, that you have alternative options.
No matter what your day job is, there's a good chance that it takes a great chunk of your time. In this episode, we discuss how to successfully freelance side hustle when you have a day job that consumes a lot of your mental and physical energy.
You can actually use the fact that you have a day job as a way to more quickly accomplish things, since you have a compressed window of time in which you must accomplish all aspects of your feelings business, including marketing, client work, and the administrative aspects of running a freelance company. Having a day job while also freelancing on the side requires you to be much more focused and diligent about the kind of projects that you take on.
Most people start their freelance side hustle while they're currently in at a job, but this means that plenty of new Freelancers feel like they're not qualified enough to charge high prices or to even pitch themselves to potential clients. In this episode, we talked about imposter syndrome and how to overcome it when you're new to your freelance side hustle. Janine and I also discussed how to evaluate your current skillset to find the freelance side hustle types that are best suited to you.
Are you stuck on which kind of freelance side hustle you want to start? I have good news for you: I put the top 24 most profitable freelance side hustles into a PDF guide you can use to branch out of your existing freelance offering or decide which direction you want to go. Check that out here.
Janine’s podcast : www.thesavvyscribepodcast.com
Her linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/writernjanine/
Her instagram: @savvyscribes
Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. This is part two of a
small series, just two episodes about how to deal with burnout. So if you're listening to this episode, and you haven't yet heard the episode that comes immediately before it, now would be a great time to go back and listen to that episode because it is really all about how to recognize burnout and how to prevent burnout before it happens. And of course, the more mindful you can be about the problems related to burnout, the easier will be for you to stop that cycle before it even starts.
It can be very, very toxic and overwhelming when you're coping with burnout. A lot of us don't even recognize burnout until we're so far into it that it's very difficult to walk back and figure out how to remove some of those stressors from our life.
Burnout will look different from one person to another. So for you, it might primarily manifest in physical terms. But for someone else, it could be more of a mental or emotional challenge. So recognize that if you've witnessed a friend or family member go through burnout, that it might not look the same for you as it does for others. There are three primary reasons why somebody ends up feeling burned out. Some of them are kind of interconnected or more complicated than just one simple thing.
Who are you working with? Are you working with the right people? And are they making you feel overwhelmed? Are you working on projects that you don't love? And are you working on a project that you do love, but the client is so overbearing and difficult to deal with that you're waking up with night sweats and you're dreading every single day?
I've worked with a number of different aspiring and currently six figure freelancers who have found themselves working with toxic clients. And if you have not listened to that podcast episode, I strongly recommend going back and listening to the episode all about toxic clients because we go into what it really means to say somebody that is a toxic client. It's called “Toxic Freelance Clients: You Can’t Afford to Keep Them”. It is Episode 71 of the podcast. And it is very powerful to go back and recognize that you might be working with those clients, if you previously were unaware.
When you're working with people who are very difficult, who are demanding too much, or who want you to kind of be at their beck and call and available to communicate all the time, you can easily get very, very overwhelmed and stressed out. And a lot of times what's great, even though it might not seem like it in the moment, about the situation of being with a freelance client that is not the right fit is that you can fix this aspect of burnout. There are some things that lead you to a state of burnout that are not really so much in your control. But this one about deciding who you do and don't work with. It definitely falls within your control.
Somebody who's overbearing, somebody who expects too much, somebody who puts additional stress on you by paying their invoices three months late, or anything like that. It doesn't necessarily have to be toxic for it to be overwhelming or triggering towards burnout for you. But it can definitely be something that causes you to feel like that's carrying over into aspects of your business and your personal life. So the great news about discovering that clients are the source of your current burnout is that it is within your power to fix that situation.
Now, if you primarily have one anchor client, and that's the client that's causing you to burn out, it's going to take a while to build up the business to the point it feels like you can walk away from that. And I've also seen coaching clients who hold on to that anchor client even when it's not the right fit. And then that client can also decide not to work with you anymore.
When you've got all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak, that can also put you into a very difficult situation. Because if you suddenly feel like, “You know what, the straw has broken the camel's back, I cannot work with this client for one more moment.” or their business folds it can put you in a tough situation.
Where if the client just decides not to work with you anymore, you don't want to be counting on that one client or those one or two anchor clients for your whole income. So you want to start building in that buffer and working towards having other clients on tap. Now, if you want to learn more about why it is so dangerous to have just one client, you'll want to go back and listen to Episode 76. That's “Don't Put All Your Freelance Eggs in One Basket”.
So now that we've covered the fact that clients can contribute to you feeling burned out and overwhelmed, that's probably going to be the easiest one to detect. Is there anyone on your schedule where you are feeling so bad about opening their emails, you hate having to talk to them on the phone, you really wish you could just fire them and move on? That is going to be the easiest place to find potential burnout and to deal with it from there.
Outside stressors could be anything that's really not so much in your control even if you have taken proactive steps to minimize or to try to completely control that issue. For example, maybe you have somebody in your family or the caretaker for an elderly member in your family. Perhaps you have a child with special needs. Maybe and your partner work different shifts. You work the day shift and he works the night shift and so on. Childcare is always very stressful and you have very little time to work on your business. Those are kind of outside stressors that you can't easily change, or can't be changed at all.
So if there's something in your day to day process in the structure of your business that
could be changed to help you minimize the chance of burnout, you want to take those proactive steps. First, for example, maybe you do have a situation at home where it's very difficult to have no background noise. Maybe you've already tried to have everyone in the family be quiet or tried to do your sales calls in the closet. And it just hasn't worked right. So maybe you need to adapt your business model to figure out how you can close people in other ways where you’re not relying on having a quiet backgrounds. So that would be eliminating problems.
You could also address that problem by building in support. So perhaps you hire somebody to do childcare. You don't even have to go spend your entire budget on a day rate for somebody. You can book all of your calls between 2:00 and 4:00 pm because that's when you have childcare. And everyone else in the family can be out of the house. So this same process can apply to many of the different challenges that you face from outside stressors.
Now, obviously, there's a whole set of outside stressors here that will still continue to impact your life even despite your best efforts of eliminating any challenges and building and support. If you're dealing with a health care crisis, for example, you probably have enough on your plate. And you're already focused on attempting to recover or to minimize your symptoms. So it might not be possible to eliminate some of those issues. But you might be able to build in some levels of support.
One of the things that I had to do was reduce expectations from everyone. So I informed all of my coaching clients that I would be slower at responding. I informed my current freelance clients that I would be X many days behind on delivery and let them know what was going on. So sometimes you can't build in enough support or eliminate enough problems to keep operating as you normally would.
Give yourself that grace and that space to be able to scale back your business and say, “You know what, I'm in a season right now where for whatever reason, I am not able to deal with things as I normally would. I'm not going to get upset about that. I'm not going to try to force it. Instead, I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that I have space in my business and in my life to cope with what's most important right now. Because what's most important, might not be me hitting my marketing or my income goals at the moment.”
So lots of times people put additional pressure on themselves because they're feeling like, it's almost like their fault that they're dealing with these outside stressors. And that is rarely if ever true. So don't feel bad that you have to slow down. Don't feel bad if you have to take steps away from your business. I know that it's very hard for anyone who's a high achiever or a perfectionist to hear that advice, and really fit it in.
And that was because we were going through things with the loss of a family member, where I just couldn't physically fit it into my schedule to be recording episodes. I didn't have that quiet background space. And then also I just really didn't feel up to it.
So for me, it was about releasing myself from that expectation that I'm going to continue as I normally would, and instead saying, “Okay, where can I trim things out of my schedule because this is not the top priority right now? And I will catch up later. If that means we missed two weeks of the podcast, then we miss two weeks. I've got to practice what I preach here.And my listeners will understand.”
A lot of people listen to these episodes after the fact and they might not even notice that there was a space between the previous episode and this one. So to recap real quickly two of our most common causes of burnout in a freelance business are having the wrong clients or having a client that kind of overwhelms and takes up all of your time and/or outside stressors.
Now you could find yourself in an either or situation, but it's very possible that you experienced both. So as business owners, we're constantly thinking about ways to take our companies to the next level. That can be both a blessing and a curse because you can find yourself putting way too much on your schedule and ending up very stressed out and overwhelmed.
If you're doing that while also not taking care of yourself, that is going to take a physical, emotional, and mental toll as well. I've definitely been guilty of taking on too many things plenty of times. And it seems like it's one of those lessons, I'm just going to have to learn over and over again. That lesson is building time to take care of yourself and recognize when you're hitting your limits and thresholds for what is right for you.
A fully booked business will look different for every single person. So don't compare yourself to what it's like for somebody else. Someone else's ideal business might be running 15 or 20 hours per week. Whereas yours is only 5 or 10 because of your current life circumstances or possibly some of those life stressors. Or maybe that's just the perfect sweet spot for your business to sit.
So don't hold yourself up to the standards of anybody else. That can really get you into a difficult situation as well. Remember to keep taking care of yourself and recognize when you have too many things on your plate and how to reduce that. Another podcast episode that might be helpful for you is “Episode 87: Why I'm Not Freelancing Full Time Anymore”. You'll hear a little bit about my decision to really scale back my freelance business and keep it at the point where it's still operating and is very profitable, but doesn't take up a tremendous amount of my time.
So recognize when you're in one of those busy seasons. What more can you do to take care of yourself? How can you really support yourself when you are facing down a really big deadline? How can you give yourself space immediately after you’ve finished a massive project? How do you step back and really give yourself that peace of mind and that chance to recover? And if you're in a period where you can't really slow down, how do you support yourself with nutrition, rest, mindset exercises, physical exercise, and even taking vitamins? How do you sort of have that to support yourself?
If you are the type of person who has trouble taking care of yourself or putting too many things on your plate, you will love Episode 84 which is “Creating a Mental Health Plan for Your Freelance Business”. Now, that episode goes into great detail as far as what does it mean to build a mental health plan? How can that really benefit you? What does my mental health plan look like?
When you're feeling burned out. You can push yourself so far as to you need to shut down your business for several months. And we always want to avoid that if possible. I wouldn't want anybody else to go through that experience. And we see that with business owners often where they end up facing a tremendous amount of stress. And it's not necessarily that they have a breakdown, but they have to take some space and time away from their business and that can be really overwhelming for them. That personal pressure and stress can really be a lot for them to cope with and to deal with.
So, trying to avoid burnout as much as possible will really help you when you are getting ready to think about up leveling your business. You need to think about if this is now the right time for me to fold in other things into my business or should I kind of rethink that and table that and make that project go a little bit slower because I'm primarily concerned with taking care of myself?
Now if you do believe that you're suffering from burnout, I strongly recommend reaching out for help for medical professionals, therapists, and other psychological support services. Burnout is a relatively new word in the western medicine dictionary and diagnosis category. So it's something where you want to have the right help to guide you through that process and to recognize burnout for what it is and create a custom plan for you to recover as much as possible.
In next week's episode, we'll be recapping some of the Top 10 Best Podcast Episodes that have come out of this show going all the way back to 2017. Because it will be Episode 100. That's right, we've made it to 100 episodes. So I will be recapping from my perspective, the favorite 10 episodes that I have recorded or put together.
So if you are just starting as a binge listener to this show,or if you've only listened to the recent episodes since the reboot, you might catch some gems in there that can help direct you to some awesome episodes in the past. Thanks again for tuning in.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It's time for another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Now this episode might be a little shorter than usual. But that's because I'm sharing some news that I didn't have planned out in my content calendar. So, I am a big fan of batching. And I always brainstorm all my ideas for what goes into the podcast, usually at least several weeks or even months in advance.
So I had all of my episodes plotted through the end of 2019. But I am making a deviation from that. I think, sometimes being flexible with your own plans is very important so that you can capitalize on things that are very timely.
If you have not heard through my social channels, or through my email list, I recently signed a two book contract with Entrepreneur Press to publish my next two business books. I am so excited about this opportunity. And I also just want to, again, thank all of the readers and listeners in my audience who bought a copy of my first book, “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”.
Now, I'm not just sharing this two book deal. But a couple of days after signing that contract, I was at the igniting souls conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was an amazing conference. It's the best business community that I have found for really supportive people who are at very similar stages in their business building. It is run by an incredible guy named Kary Oberbrunner.
I thought at the time it was a German woman. And I was like, “Well, what would this German woman know anything about publishing in the United States?” So funny story, I came across Kary a couple years later. And one of the reasons that I connected to this conference is because one of the books that just sold, which is tentatively titled “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap”, did not sell the first time around. Many of you know that that was part of my publishing story. That was the book I wrote the proposal for. It's what I worked on with my agent. It's very much the book that I wanted to publish.
I was very intentional in the way that I wrote, marketed, and promoted “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, because I wanted that book to be the door opener for future book deals. So I wanted to be able to show that I could hustle and that there was a market for freelancing. One of the publishers that rejected “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” mentioned that they thought that freelancing was a fad. So I feel like now more people are seeing that that is not true and that freelancing is here to stay. All of the statistics point towards more and more people becoming freelancers.
The difference between self publishing and working with somebody who's sort of a hybrid publisher like Kary’s program, called author Academy, is most people who Self Publish don't ask the important questions about marketing until after the fact. Marketing is, in my opinion, more important than the content of your book. You can have the most amazing book out there. But if you don't know how to market it, no one will buy it. No one will hear about it.
It really makes me sad every time I see someone in a Facebook group say that they published their book three months ago, only sold three copies, and want to know who they can market it now. That is the wrong time to be asking that question. Right now, the tentatively titled “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” will come out in about one year, somewhere in October 2020.
But I'm building my marketing plan now. I'm starting my brainstorming for marketing now. I'm capitalizing and analyzing what I did well the first time and where I can do better the second time to increase my brand awareness between now and then. That involves multiple different facets media like growing my blog, growing my facebook group, increasing awareness of my podcast, etc. So marketing has to be done and thought about before you launch.
They teach you how to market your book. And they teach you how to ask for endorsements for your book. They teach you how to write the back cover and the advertising copy that goes up on Amazon. Honestly, they just teach you all that stuff.
Sure, I could convert a Word document into Kindle friendly file today and upload it to Amazon. But that doesn't mean it will sell if I have not done any work beyond that. If I have not leveraged my network and my platform, I am not going to get anything out of it.
I'm so impressed with this program. It is a program that you pay for, but I'm just so blown away by what you get with it. You get 18 months of coaching. They publish your book. The revenues from the book are yours. So that means your royalties are yours. They teach you all about how to do an audio book version and how to do the Ebook version. And they teach you how to have a printed copy and how to promote yourself in your local area to do book signings. It's an incredible, incredible program.
I would say in the top three things that I've invested in, Author Academy Elite has been worth it. There's been a lot of things that have not been worth it. A lot of people that were not a match for me. Someone sent me a $3,000 proposal to do a book marketing plan for my book. That's less than what you pay to publish your book and get the coaching and everything with Kerry's team. But nothing was guaranteed with it. And I had no lifeline to ask for help. That was just doing one piece of the puzzle, not publishing the book.
You can do books with them and it's like a $300 investment per book. What they do with the general program is they help you with things like your book cover. They guarantee certain things that you're going to get as part of the program. But you can publish additional books through their publishing house, very affordably, so much better.
I see publishing companies every day. They're pitching me on LinkedIn. Oh, it's $10,000 and we’ll publish your book. Someone the other day offered me a chapter in their book to pay $750. I really wanted a system because I intended to publish the “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” with Author Academy Elite.
So when this book deal came about that Entrepreneur Press” was interested in buying two books, including the one we'd already pitched the first time around, I contacted Author Academy to talk to them.
I told them that I've got two to three other books in the business and nonfiction space I really want to write. And I asked them if we can swap one of them in because I'd already had the Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap approved.
It’s going to be all about how to become a VA, why VA is different from other freelancing, and the types of skills you need to know as a virtual assistant. I will be publishing that hopefully next May or June with Author Academy Elite. It will be self published. So stay tuned for that.
And then I'm publishing a six figure freelancing guide. We don't quite have a title yet in 2020 with Entrepreneur Press, And in 2021, a “how to” guide on website copywriting.
So that was a long tangent from my original point, which was that I was really shocked and so honored to receive the Author Academy Elite 2019 Award for Best in Business.
They announced the Top 10 in August. And my book made the Top 10! I shared this on my social media. And I did not prepare an acceptance because the other nine books I was up against, were great books. I thought that there's no way that I was going to win against these people. So I'm just going to go and enjoy the Author Academy Awards and soak in the atmosphere.
I'm there at the conference anyways, so honored to be a Top 10 finalist, and what a huge blessing it was to win. I was totally shocked when they called my name. I mean, I did not have a speech prepared. And I only listened to the video of what I said a couple of days later. I don't like to be unprepared. I always like to have notes to have some idea of what I'm going to say. I speak well off the cuff when I know that topic really well. But I've never been honored like that for a book before. So I got to go on stage say thank you and accept the award.
I totally underestimated how powerful this was going to be for my platform. I sold 26 copies of my book at that conference. Just two people who found me during bathroom breaks in the conference, right? They would seek me out and pro tip here.
When I go to conferences, I always try to wear the same color all weekend or for the whole event. So it's usually royal blue or red because they're very noticeable power colors. So I was wearing royal blue as much as I could that weekend so that it was easy for people to find me and it really worked. So my book was not available for sale in the conference bookstore. Lots of people asked if it was there and it was not. And then they came and found me personally. So I'm just super excited to be sharing all of this news with you.
I am building my advanced reader team. My advanced reader team is going to be a small group. I'm aiming for like 20 to 25 people max. You're going to be the early readers on my work and provide feedback. So you're going to get first dibs at having your snippets featured in the book.
So in the six figure freelancing roadmap, I'm going to have case studies from successful six figure freelancers. The advanced reader team is going to be the first people that I go to with that opportunity. So it’s a great way to have your story and your business promoted. That's potential exposure for you to be found by other people who might follow you as a freelancer or hire you as a freelancer.
Advanced readers will also receive one free, signed copy that will come to you three to four weeks in advance of the actual drop date of the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other platforms. That is free to you. I will mail that personally to you to thank you for being a part of the launch team. The advanced reader team will you know,
As an advanced reader, I ask that you participate in whatever way you can to provide feedback and ideas and to share the books on social as the launch date and sale dates are coming closer. Leaving reviews on the book is a huge help on Amazon, Goodreads, and other platforms. That's very important.
So if you want to be a part of that advanced reader team there is a Google Form application. If you were already on my launch team for the first book, you're already in the Facebook group. So you would actually have to opt out of the Facebook group to not be part of my advanced reader team. But I really would like you to consider staying on if you got something out of it.
You are literally going to get a bird's eye view of what it takes to write, edit, and publish a book. You will learn how you build a marketing plan and how long it takes to build these things in advance. So that's a really cool way for you to learn more about it if you have been thinking about writing a book or you just want to know what it looks like in 2020 and beyond to write a book like that and for it go out live for the masses.
So I really want to encourage you to consider signing up. Just fill out the form in the link below. I will be contacting my launch team coming up. It is just a really cool opportunity. I am so thankful for all of you who were on my previous launch team. You were instrumental in helping me to be able to get additional book deals.
But this is really going to be an increasing part of my business. I’m going to be publishing, representing the freelance community, and building a bigger community of freelancers. Promoting the freelance revolution as what it is.
I wish I had more resources and tools when I got started. And I am now building those resources. I'm just so happy to get that opportunity to represent all of you. So I look forward to seeing you, hopefully on my launch team. And sharing the podcast with others also helps. If you leave a review on iTunes it helps more freelancers find this great information.
So thanks for tuning in for another episode. I know it's been a quick one. As always, you can send your questions to the podcast firstname.lastname@example.org. I will receive those emails. I'm also shifting to a new email for the podcast, which is email@example.com. So if you have questions, ideas for future topics, something I mentioned on the show doesn't make sense, or you need more information, please shoot me an email. Thanks again for being part of my tribe and helping support the freelance revolution.
So if you're listening to this episode, know that I have recorded several podcast episodes, at the same time. All with the content previously outlined that I did in another work session of bashing work. So I really do practice what I preach when it comes to bashing your work and splitting things up. It is so much easier for me to record two or three podcast episodes at a time. And it definitely makes it easier on everyone else when producing them. So think about how that concept of batch work could play into your freelance business as well.
If you have followed my story for a long time, or listen to this podcast, then you know that I have been freelancing full time since the summer of 2013. So that is a full six years of working full time. Many of those years I was putting in a lot of hours, especially at the beginning to get things off the ground.
And it's part of the reason that I've been incorporating a couple different interviews with people who have taken less traditional freelance paths into the mix with some of these podcast episodes. Because I'm seeing it not just with me, but with many of my private coaching clients as well.
For some of them, freelancing full time is the dream like this is what they've worked for. They love it. And they're happy to do it. But for others, it's interesting because they will start coaching with me for the purpose of scaling their freelance business and then the process of working together, realized that's not actually what they want. At least anymore. For some of them, that means intentionally scaling back their freelance business altogether. And that can be a little bit surprising for people who have put in so much effort to build up a freelance side hustle, potentially even leaving their day job.
Because there's different seasons in life. There are seasons in life where you may be focused on other things like taking care of an elderly parent, or perhaps you're a new parent yourself. And the focus of your life has really shifted from that all hustle, all-in mentality towards being a new parent. Or maybe you've just moved in with your significant other or whatever it might be.
I honestly can speak to that from experience. Because, for me, I've loved being a freelancer. I've loved doing it full time. And I just hit a point when I wasn't sure that that was fit for me anymore. I've taken a lot of care and a lot of work to adjust my business in light of that.
So I started seeing the signs that it was time to change. In early 2019, I was really set up for a big year freelance wise. I took on two enormous freelance contracts. I was like, “This is easily going to be my biggest year yet with freelancing.” And I did those for about three months.
Then both of those projects came to an end for for different reasons. None of those reasons were negative or anything. but I was relieved. Normally when I lose a contract or a client, I'm like, “Oh, I have to go replace this client. I've got to go find another situation that's going to fill this time.” I started feeling relief at letting go some of those projects and intentionally not replacing them.
So those two contracts ending around the May time period, and I was getting really close to my book launch to we were getting ready to move on. I really started to feel like the perfect storm situation where if I was going to scale my freelance business down, then it was the time to start. And it really was! To be honest with you, having so many contracts and so many irons in the fire, it took me a full four months to intentionally scale my business back. It was by no means an overnight process.
So all of a sudden, it was like, “Wow, what a weird conversation. They're not complaining that anything's been done wrong, but they want to pay all three of us freelance writers working for them across the board much less.” We also went on vacation in May. It was a very healing and transformative vacation.
We took my sister in law with us. We were all over Europe. I emailed a client I had been with for years to say I wanted to cut my workload in half with them doing some of the editing work and still stay on with the writing work. I realized that when I came back from vacation, I didn't want to start doing the editing again. So I revised my original statement and said, “Can you just pull me out of this all together?”
So I gave up a good portion of income in order to do that, but it felt like the right decision.
And it really was. If you've never written and published a book before, whether that's self published or traditionally published, there was so much work that went into that behind the scenes. The book was launched on July 16. And I wanted to support it as much as possible because I knew I would not only set myself up for success with this first publication, but I was very intentional when I brought on an agent in 2018 that I wanted to write multiple books. She even stressed to me in our early conversations that the opportunities for future books would very much be based on what I could pull off with the first one.
I really did not want this book launch to fall apart for any reason. So I had put together a marketing plan that I created over the course of four months. I implemented that marketing plan over about six to seven months.
I had brought in an additional VA to help me with that. And I hired a publicist to help me with that. I rebooted my podcast. There were so many things going on in connection with the book and not one of them do I regret! But because I made that decision, I had to scale back other things in my business.
There was not another form of freelance writing that was exciting me at the time. I started dipping my toes into the water with public speaking by doing some workshops. I also expanded my freelance coaching business because I started to realize that I really did not want to be writing eight to nine hours a day.
And there is an excellent video you can watch here. It is like the motto of 2019 for me. It's an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and multiple other books. I strongly recommend her book “Big Magic” if you haven't checked it out. But in this interview, she talks about the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.
So she talks about the fact that writing will always be her vocation, even if it is not her career. She talks about all the other jobs she's held where she wasn't writing, but it gave her the mental space to be a writer outside of those hours. So for me delving into nonfiction into fiction, into doing public speaking into coaching, all of those, to some extent, involve additional writing.
I was also getting pressure to finish up my PhD.
Talk about a massive writing project writing a doctoral dissertation. I could see the writing on the wall at the rate that I was going with the volume of clients that I had. And I could not do all of these other writing projects, and also be writing six to nine hours a day for clients.
So I actually had my best freelance month ever, in 2019, nearly $30,000 in freelance income.
And I also had my worst freelance month in recent years in August. So I believe that the best one was April. And then in August I had my worst month that I've had in years in terms of income wise. But in terms of how I felt about things and how intentional I was in the way that my business looked, I view it like the opposite.
Because I had this huge month in April, and then I went on vacation. Honestly, I was starting to get burned out. And I could really sense that. I was experiencing the early signs of burnout. And I knew that that was going to be a problem for me . So I went from that best freelance month saying, “Okay, is this it?" I had a great freelance month. I don't necessarily feel like from a $10,000 month to a $30,000 month. But there wasn't more happiness or peacefulness. I honestly feel kind of tired a little bit burned out. So for me, this is not the direction that I want my business to grow.
There are seasons in your freelance business. And there's been seasons where I've outsourced all my writing work. There have been seasons where I did not advertise my coaching practice at all because it was completely booked through word of mouth. And there have been seasons where I've said that we are not filming YouTube videos for four months. Or that I'm taking a year and a half break from my podcast. Things are always in flux.
Some other doors started to open, as soon as I started to intentionally scale down my freelance business. And I was having a conversation about this in my freelancing group, which you can check out. It's Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura. This idea came up of, when you have filled your schedule with other things in a way, you can actually be limiting yourself from better opportunities or opportunities that you want.
So people might wonder how that makes sense. I feel like if there's something in the back of your mind that it's calling on you to do like writing a book or opening another business entirely, but you fill your schedule with what comes easily to you, which could be bringing on freelance contracts, you're kind of denying a part of yourself. You're actually limiting your personal and business growth.
Because if you bring in great money, but you don't feel good about it, or your start to feel like I did, which was just like I needed to complete my projects because I was on deadline. But I had several clients where I was not excited to work on their projects at all. I was really just doing it to get things done because I had made a commitment to work for that client.
I realized how dangerous that was. And I was not doing the best thing for me. I'm not doing the best thing for my clients. So I did a very careful inventory of all of my clients on my current roster and said, “What can I change? And how can I make this more in line with where I want to go?”
Now it's hard to say no to a really good thing. I'm so grateful for my business. But writing is not something I want to do 40 hours anymore. And it's actually a gift to have been a writer for full time for the last six years because I've been able to expand into other skill sets like selling courses and doing project and content management for clients that requires more communication skills than writing. Doing public speaking and coaching, writing books, doing TEDx talks, it's opened other doors and made me see that this is not all that I am limited to. So rather than feeling like I've taken it as far as I can take it, and let's just wake up every day and do the same thing over again, I started looking for new challenges.
Mindset work is key. I have done more mindset work in the last six months than probably the entirety of all of my life before that. For you, mindset work might look like prayer, sitting there quietly journaling, doing meditation every day, or bringing up new hobbies. All of it helps you to honor your purpose.
As a freelancer, we are hearing communication, thoughts and ideas daily. Your business can easily overtake your brain because it is something that you cannot really shut off and confine to an office. It's usually your entire home. When you're out running or exercising or doing errands, you're thinking about your business. So there's a lot of noise.
It's very hard sometimes to honor your purpose when there's so much noise coming at you from so many different directions. So being intentionally quiet, sitting down and making that effort to learn more about what it is you really want to do and what your next step is, can allow you to hear some of that inner intuition. Even if you're doing this through prayer, hearing from the spiritual portion of your life getting some wisdom about what steps to take next.
I had filled my business with so much noise and interference that I could not tell what it was I wanted to do anymore. I had a whole bunch of obligations, and maybe only about 65 to 70% of them were things that I wanted to do. So I had to start really honoring that and start exploring new avenues.
The minute that I started that process, which was super messy, and took me the entire summer and is still ongoing, I started to see other doors opening. I got some wisdom and intuition about what my next steps were.
We humans tend to initially resisted it. I was like, “Yeah, I'm not doing that. That's not the next step for me.” But starting to pursue these different routes was really helpful for me to start thinking about what I want my business and life to look like going forward and how I can continue to change things and allow this to evolve.
So just because you built something to the point where it's successful and doing well financially, that doesn't always mean that that is your end point. Many of the most successful business owners and freelancers that I know are evolving. They are not afraid to say, “Okay, I did this. It was great. Now it's time to move on. I have a new dream or I have this other dream in the back of my mind that I've always wanted to do. And now I'm going to live it.”
I think as creatives a lot of us are called to freelancing because we want to do something creative. But when that becomes our job eight to nine hours a day, being creative for other clients, it's really hard to apply that same level of creativity to our own projects. So for me, some of the best writing and side hustling I ever did, was the year that I ran my business as a side hustle while I had a full time job. Because I had to be very specific about what I did in my off hours. A lot of my job was very menial. To that extent, it was boring. But I also didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting with my brain during the day.
So you're the CEO. You're the VP of Marketing, management, hiring, and human resources. And you're the CFO. You're everything. Even when you have a VA or a couple of people on your team, you are still making a massive amount of decisions, And so that might not be right for everyone running your business at that level.
So for me, a lot of the guidance that I got was to scale my freelance clients down to 10 hours a week. And it was so awkward and weird to do this. It was weird to turn people down and to fire clients after test projects when I couldn't see how they fit into my new 10 hour a week model, and to allow contracts to come to a natural end and to not try to replace them. It was weird because I never really done that purposely before.
I found that honestly that got very empty for me because it was like, “Oh, great. We had a good month, but I didn't feel like my purpose and my passion was coming through at the level that the money was.” So it was something where I knew that if I want to have a bigger impact, if I really want to help people then there had to be changes. I really felt that I needed to change some things about the freelance side of my business to make that happen.
Do the mindset work. And do it every day for one to two hours a day, if you can. I spent so much time walking, journaling, talking things out with my husband, my mom, or other people in my life. I was like, “Okay, if I'm going to change this, what is this going to look like?”
I did a talk a couple of weeks ago, very similar to this topic. I was at my alma mater in Virginia. And I talked about the power of the pivot. So a lot of times we ignore signs from our body that it's time to move on when something no longer fits you in the way that it's currently structured.
So I will probably always freelance. But for me I was able to scale my business down to still be a six figure writing business, but only about 10 hours a week by being very picky about the clients that I do have.
So you have three main options available to you when you recognize that freelancing isn't fit. You can:
So maybe you want to launch your own company, write a book, or get a whole new job, but you know that that's not something you can do tomorrow, so maybe over six to 12 months. Freelancing is how you can bridge the gap. You're taking on a couple of projects to float you financially.
For me, I didn't know what direction I wanted to go in yet. I did public speaking and I knew just from speaking to some experts and doing some of it already, I did not want that to be my new full time income. I talked to a very savvy, public speaker coach several months ago and she told me how she had spent over 200 nights a year in a hotel room. And with that one sentence I knew it wasn’t for me. I know there's a need for more great executive and female public speakers and motivational speakers out there. Butthat just felt like it would be trading freelancing full time for doing something that would be even more stressful and require more travel.
I was not motivated to get projects done. I've coped with varying levels of anxiety my entire life. And for a long time when I was a child, all the way through graduate school, I was diagnosed with ADD. I was medicated for ADD. It was a real struggle for me to stay focused and organized.
Sometimes people who meet me today are surprised to hear that they think I'm hyper organized. That is a coping mechanism I developed from years of living with severe ADHD. So when I start to notice my ADD coming back and my anxiety bubbling up every day, I start to notice symptoms like headaches, ulcers, and feeling tired more often. That's usually how my body tells me it's time to go.
My body actually started to shut down when I was teaching in Baltimore City. That was the point for me to recognize that it was really serious and I needed to step out of that particular job. So I always watch for those types of things such as missing deadlines, making mistakes with your clients, and not feeling excited about getting on sales calls or turning things in hitting a major milestone like having a huge month or bringing on a huge client. It's much more anticlimactic than you thought. Those are all signs that it's time to take a baby step towards your next purpose.
On that note, I strongly recommend the audible only book “Take Control of Your Life with Mel Robbins”. The very first case study she does is with a famous teacher who wants to do something in the wine business. But he doesn't know what yet and he's essentially paralyzed by all of the choices. She talks about Lego blocks and building blocks that move you towards what your purpose is, when you're not sure what it is.
So you take little baby steps to try things out. Maybe you have dinner with someone. Or maybe you reach out to people. For me, I reached out heavily to my military spouse, community and all of the networks that I had there to say, “Hey, I'm thinking about changing things up. What advice do you have?” Leaning on other people can be very, very helpful. So check out those books and resources to learn more.
Start a nonprofit. Volunteer some of your free time developing another business entirely coaching other people, either as a life coach or business coach. You can write books, do public speaking, start a podcast, or maybe work in a more traditional employment situation or a full time remote job to pick up newer or better skills.
I felt to an extent like I had tapped out what I could really do with SEO writing. I did it. And it was great. And I've enjoyed doing it. There are several clients where it's still enough of a challenge and interest for me to continue doing it. But I could tell that wasn't what I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time doing.
But I wanted to help you recognize that you always have the ability and the permission, for goodness sakes, granted to yourself to change things in your business if it's not working for you. I will still be freelancing. I will still be making an income from freelancing. But I'm actually setting my freelance business up to reflect more of what it looked like when I first started back when I had a full time job and was a grad student doing other things, so that I can fold in some other things and fold in some more downtime, and get my dissertation done.
So, I just wanted to sort of do this preliminary episode to talk a little about that. I will come back in a couple of months to talk to you more about how this transition has worked out. But I hope that this episode has been helpful for you to see the many different ways that you can alter your life and your business to make sure that it suits where you're at right now.
It is not dishonoring what you've built. And It is not viewing your current business as a failure. But if you feel disconnected, and if you feel like there's something more out there for you, I really encourage you to make the mindset work mandatory because no one can answer that question for you.
She didn’t think she wanted to freelance at all. And that's valuable information to know, even when you're working with the freelancing coach. So then our conversations really shifted towards how do we start you building the life you love, working towards the goals that you want, knowing that freelancing might just be something that bridges the gap. It might just be something that opens another door for you.
So I hope this episode has been helpful for you. Please send any questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks again for tuning in. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.