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Advanced Freelancing

Learn more about freelancing and owning your business and your time from six-figure freelancer Laura Pennington.
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Jan 6, 2020

Welcome back to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. As you're listening to this, it is already 2020. It's a great opportunity to reflect back on all the things you've done over the past year as a freelancer or moving towards starting your freelance business.

Freelancing and Avoiding Overwork/Burnout

These are the freelancers who've been working for quite a long time, have a steady client base, and usually tend to be a little bit of those workaholics. So you might be bringing some of those workaholic tendencies over into your freelance business.

Now, this doesn't mean that someone who's relatively new to freelancing won't benefit from thinking about the concept of overwork. In fact, I think that the more you have in the back of your mind the dangers of overwork before you get started as a freelancer, the easier it will be for you to really grow and scale your business happily and successfully.

Everyone can be affected by burnout

This is actually something that's been spreading across traditional employees and the American workforce as well. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics information shows that the average American works approximately 44 hours a week, which is just under nine hours per day. The United States is also one of the most overworked countries in the world. So weekdays average over eight hours and average weekend days average over five and a half hours. That means we're clocking a tremendous amount of time doing work.

Burnout can be really detrimental to your mental and physical health.

All too often, I end up working with freelancers one on one after they’re way too long down that path. They've already been facing some of these major challenges of feeling overworked and burned out. They're stressed out. And they're not eating well. They're dreading working on client work, etc. So those are some of the very early indicators of burnout.

Many of us freelancers are very experienced, but how do we ignore those signs and symptoms and keep working anyways? In this episode, we'll talk a little bit more about burnout/overwork, what it looks like, how you can fight against it, and what to do if you believe that you're already overworking.

One of the things about burnout that I find really interesting is that we all know what it is once we've experienced it, but usually, we're so deep into the situation by the time we've experienced it, that hindsight is 2020.

You're looking back and going, “Oh, I should have known. I was really tired for two or three months. I had 12 clients instead of the eight that I've said my maximum would be.” But burnout has actually become a medical condition. This was one of the biggest news pieces of 2019. It's a formal medical diagnosis specifically in relation to work related stress.

It formally became recognized by the World Health Organization and is under the code for problems associated with employment or unemployment. But recognizing burnout, even though it's been classified as an actual condition, is still a big challenge for a lot of people. We know it when we see it. And we hear other people talk about it. But what it looks like for you might be different than what it looks like for someone else.

So let's talk about some of the general categories under these health guidelines of what burnout can look like and remember that not all of these might apply to your situation.

You might be feeling that one or a couple of them are more influential than others. That doesn't mean that you don't have burnout if you don't have every single symptom here. Burnout is categorized by reduced effectiveness in your professional capacity, an increased feeling of mental distance from your job, or feelings of cynicism and negativity in relation to your job, a general feeling of exhaustion or energy depletion.

Americans are working longer and harder than ever before. And that's been backed up by plenty of different sources, including the American Institute of Stress. Multiple studies have backed up that this work stress is a major source of anxiety, depression, and burnout for American adults.

One common question that freelancers have is, “Well, I operate under stressful conditions quite a bit. I run my own business. I'm the head of every department in my business. How do I know if this is stress or if it is burnout?” There is a difference between stress and burnout. But it's very hard for a lot of people to tell which one you're dealing with. And it requires taking that big step back to look at the overall picture of your work life.  So the feeling that achievement is slipping can go from stress into more of a burnout situation. Particularly if you're in a work environment that is very grinding.

What’s the difference between stress and burnout?

Stress is something that shows up typically around certain situations.   Maybe you have a new supervisor at work and you're getting used to them. You may just have five projects on your plate this month instead of three or four. And that is a short term condition. Burnout, however, is more of that physical and mental feeling of being overwhelmed, exhausted, dreading working on your client projects, and/or feeling like you can never really get ahead.

For me, it has primarily felt like fatigue in the past. It feels like I make very little progress on things when I am in burnout mode. People who are most likely to tend into the burnout phase of things are those people who would consider themselves workaholics or who put in a lot more time and energy into their business than they would otherwise put in.

One of the things that I think is very interesting that I've been doing a lot of research on is this idea that we are essentially connected all the time to our work.

A lot of freelancers end up clocking more than 50 hours per week. At the very beginning of your freelance business, this isn't that big of a problem, right? Because if you're doing this full time and you have 50 or 60 hours a week, it might take that long to build up your marketing base.  But it's been proven time and time again that it's very ineffective to work over 50 hours per week. I prefer working much fewer hours on my freelance business and just sticking with the premium VIP clients who are going to help my revenue match that have a full time business even though my hours do not.

Knowing the Symptoms of Burnout

You may be saying, “Well, I'm overwhelmed. I just need to put in more time. So now I'm going to start working weekends. And I'm going to start working nights. I'm going to wake up at four o'clock in the morning and put in three or four hours before my clients are even awake.” Long hours can really backfire for people, for companies, and for freelancers.

So some research out of Boston University's School of Business found that in the traditional workplace, managers were not able to tell the difference between employees who worked 80 hours a week versus those who just pretended. You managers did, however, penalize employees who were transparent about working less. But no research was found in that study that those employees actually accomplished any less than their counterparts who are clocking many more hours.

Now, we talked about this concept of the eight hour work day in my TEDx talk in the perspective of the Industrial Revolution.

The main reason that the eight hour workday exists was put into place in the industrial revolution to cut down on the number of hours of manual labor that employees had to put up with on the factory floor. This was really kind of an idea to make the whole concept of work a little more humane. However, the fact that it's stuck around this long leads to this misconception that this is the only way to do work. And the most effective way to do work is putting in so many hours per week, working nine to five. That is not necessarily the truth, right?

So research that tries to quantify the relationship between productivity and the number of hours worked found that output falls significantly after a 50 hour workweek. But completely falls off a cliff at the 55-hour mark.

So much so that a Stanford University study found that a person who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those additional 15 hours. So all they're doing is not increasing their productivity, right? That's actually dropped off altogether. And they're just pushing themselves further into burnout and creating a new normal, that 55 or 70 hours a week is productive. And it's really not right or that it's necessary, right? It's not really necessary.

So many people who are putting in more than 55 hours a week as employees or as freelancers face a broad range of medical problems.

One of those is adrenal fatigue. If you're not sure what that is, go ahead and look that up. It hasn't really been accepted by traditional Western medicine yet. There's a lot of natural paths and other people in that space talking about adrenal fatigue. It is essentially when you keep your cortisol levels, the stress hormone, so high all the time that your body really becomes depleted of that and is unable to manage and regulate stress.

So in addition to that impact in that feeling of fatigue and that feeling of decreased productivity at work, people who work more than 55 hours a week have a 13% higher risk of coronary heart disease and a 33% higher risk of stroke. So why am I harping so much on this idea of the hours worked per week?  Because there's so much variation in freelance businesses and even in employees and what their working relationship looks like with their company.

The easiest place to start with burnout is to really begin to track your time.

As a self-employed person, it can really sneak up on you. And you can realize that you're doing harm to yourself when you start to really clock your hours. When you work for yourself, your business brain never really turns off. And when you have a lot of client projects on the mind that you have to fit into your schedule, in connection with all of the administrative and brainstorming work you have to do as a business owner, you don't realize how much this work has bled over into every other part of your life. So you're probably not counting those night or weekend hours if you track your time. They probably just happened, right?

Is 50 Hours a Week Too Many?

I often feel like if I put in 35 or 40 hours a week, with everything in my business, not just my freelance part of it, is when I do my best.  You might think, “Well, my business is going to grow a little bit slower than if I put in 50 hours.” But you can see how this research supports that anything beyond 50 hours, is really detrimental to you and your health. And you're not getting any of the productivity gains, either.

Other health impacts of working too much.

So some of the other health impacts of working too much include the feeling of being blue or depressed. It's your neck and your back feel like they're aching because you're spending so much time in front of the computer. 

Your relationships are taking a hit and members of your family are telling you that they never see you. You don't get enough sleep, even though you're totally exhausted. So you might lay down and sleep for five hours, but it's sort of disconnected.

You wake up a bunch and have trouble falling asleep. You're using alcohol to relax. And you're becoming more reliant on these things. Maybe before you enjoyed a glass of wine at the end of the workday. But now you feel like you have to have those two or three glasses of wine just to relax after a stressful day. You also can experience productivity stalls as well. So it's such a misconception that this idea of working more hours increases your productivity because it

actually significantly decreases your productivity.

How to Guard Against Burnout as a Freelancer

That's why I really recommend that's where you start with this concept of burnout. Start tracking your time.

There are many different free tools that allow you to do it. I love toggle, it's spelled TOGGL. It is a free tool where you can categorize and use colors to show different things that you're working on. So I have one for administrative work for my coaching business, one for my dissertation, one for writing books, and then one for my freelance business. So I have time goals or limits that I'm putting in each of those categories to make sure that I stay on track and don't go overboard.

And when you really start tracking your time, you might think that it’s annoying. It may be annoying to sit there and go manually start and stop this timer on your phone or desktop every single time you work. But it makes you a lot more mindful of the time that you are spending at work. You can also get a report at the end of the week that tells you how you spent your time.

So not only does this help you flag when you're putting in too many hours and are heading towards burnout, but it also gives you that heads up of, “Hey, maybe there's some things here that I can pass off to a virtual assistant or another team member.”

Now, I've talked a lot about the physical health impacts of burnout. But there's also a mental health toll too.

So, this less productivity has negative implications for what you do for your clients, but it also has negative implications for how you feel every single day. And that's not something that should be ignored! When you are headed towards or in burnout, you don't do as good of a job as you otherwise would do.

It's a simple fact. I noticed, for example, that when I am heading into a burnout phase, because I am what I call a recovering workaholic and always trying to work against that and be more mindful of it, it manifests for me by starting to make mistakes on my client work. If I have one or more clients tell me, “Hey, there was an error here. This was stated as a fact, but it's not. Or there were three spelling errors in this piece.” I start to miss things. That is my number one clue that I'm working too much.

Another sign is that feeling of dread as soon as I wake up like, “Oh, I've got so many things to do. I'm never going to get them done.” And then also, if you have an ongoing to-do list every single day that has more than 10 items on it consistently, that is very overwhelming. You are pushing yourself towards burnout.

But I strongly recommend starting with this concept of clocking your hours and seeing how your time is spent.

It forces you to be held accountable to where that potential for burnout is and you have a much better chance of starting to recognize the symptoms when you're cognizant of how much time you're spending on different types of projects. Because you can say, “Wow, I had no idea that I worked 55 hours last week.”

And the other thing I love about the timer is I almost feel like I'm racing the clock. So if I'm checking my email and that timer is running, and I've got that tagged as administrative time, I don't waste time as much. I'm trying to keep that administrative time report per week as low as possible. So that really helps me to be a little bit more productive with my time as well as really track what I'm doing.

When there's no sense of tracking there, I know it feels like, “Well, that's one more thing I have to do. I have to remember to turn this tracker on and off. That's kind of annoying. I'm already overwhelmed and possibly in burnout. How does that help?” This is really your lifeline that gives you that first indication that you might already be in burnout.

So in a separate episode of the podcast, I'm going to talk about what to do when you recognize burnout.

When you start to you see those hours, you start to feel some of the symptoms I've talked about in this episode, and how you can create a plan to escape from burnout. Knowing that burnout is a thing and that it is increasingly being recognized by the medical community as a work related condition is the first thing you should know about the entire concept. Because you have to be aware that it's a possibility in your business and be prepared to take necessary steps to guard against it or start to notice when those hours are creeping up, or when those physical conditions of fatigue or frustration or overwhelm are starting to creep back in and become a regular part of your everyday work life.

Now, you might not be able to 100% prevent burnout.

You might already be in those beginning phases of burnout. When you listen to this episode and say, “Wow, I think I really might have a problem here. I'm doing too much work. I've taken on too many of the wrong clients. I'm clocking too many hours. I haven't delegated enough.” You can help prevent it from getting worse. The worst thing you can do is let this go on and on into months and months where this becomes your new normal. And it is much harder to remove yourself from that situation and to recognize that you have opportunities available to help you.

I've known plenty of freelancers who have been in full blown burnout and have been able to back it up and fix it.

But it often takes three or six months because they have to fire clients and they have to redefine their business. They have to put into place a mental health plan. Go take a listen to that podcast episode here on Advanced Freelancing about why you need to create a mental health plan and what goes into that. That's really key for preventing burnout as well. Like having a virtual assistant or having team members who can help you, all of these things are critical to laying that baseline of guarding against burnout as much as you can.

Now, if you've been listening to this episode, and feel like you are in burnout, of course, you'll want to tune into the next part of this two part series about what burnout looks like and how you can address it when it's already happening in your business.

But what I want to say to you today is don't beat yourself up if you're already there. If you're already thinking, “Man, how could I let this happen to me? My relationships are taking a hit. My clients are telling me I'm making mistakes. I'm burned out. How did I end up here again?” A lot of people who are workaholics will consistently find themselves in this cycle of burnout. It is not necessarily your fault. It is a tactic and trait that you're trying to work on. And it's something that I've struggled with a lot in my business. I definitely tend towards burnout. If I don't have systems and structures in place, I feel like I will naturally gravitate back towards that.

So hopefully in this episode, you've been able to hear some of the symptoms of burnout, the fact that it is becoming recognized specifically as a work related condition, and to better understand some of the negative impacts that it might have on your life in terms of your physical and mental health. If you have questions about this podcast or need more information about burnout, please send an email to info@betterbizacademy.com.

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

Dec 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

Why Do Freelancers Even Need Contracts?

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

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

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

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

How did Mariam’s shop come about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number two, it serves as a deterrent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

done with that.

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

So I know Mariam has quite a few templates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that's all really important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 16, 2019

One of the most popular topics that comes up with intermediate and advanced freelancers pertains to hiring a Virtual Assistant. These freelancers are curious and want to know when should they hire a VA? They are also curious about how do they know it's time to bring a VA into their business?  Another piece of the puzzle is knowing how any freelancer can properly leverage this person.

I have lots of different things to say about hiring a VA.  There's no way I can cover it all in one brief podcast episode. So this episode is going to be focused mostly on when it is time to hire a virtual assistant in your freelance business.  We are not going to dive too much into the process of doing it. So this is really designed for you if you don't have a virtual assistant yet in your freelance business.  It’s also for you if you may have hired one in the past and didn't have a good experience.  This episode is also for you if you've never worked with a virtual assistant before to get those creative juices flowing about the different types of things that you might be able to use a virtual assistant for.

The first sign that now is the time to bring in that VA to help leverage some of your time is when you are fully booked.

Now being fully booked is also a sign that your rates are too low and that they need to be increased.  But when you're fully booked and your plate cannot handle any more projects on it, you have officially capped out your revenue. At this point in your business, you cannot take on any other projects and you cannot realistically expect your business to grow.

When you have filled every single hour of every day and you're racing against the clock it is time to hire a VA.  You may even be finding at the end of the day that you're barely getting your deadlines done. You might even be even falling a little bit behind.  So when you are fully booked, you can’t afford to be spending time on tasks like:

  • Doing administrative work
  • Social media
  • Invoicing

These tasks are taking up valuable space in your calendar.  It's also draining your energy and pulling you away from those processes in your business where it could be handled by somebody else. It’s also unlikely that these kinds of tasks you’d outsource to a virtual assistant are in your own zone of genius.

A virtual assistant is a lot like an administrative assistant that you might see working in an office. 

But this person handles tasks digitally and does them for you either by when they're being paid by the hour, being paid by retainer, or per project. You don't have to start in a big way to bring in a virtual assistant. You can start with just a couple of hours per week with inexperienced VA, even a new VA if you're willing to train them on the process. But being fully booked is that first key sign that you have too much going on and you're actually at risk of dropping one of the balls in your business and starting to make mistakes or miss deadlines.

Deciding what to outsource to your VA is important- learn about the risks of overloading your VA in this blog post.

The second thing to consider is that you have to think about how much time you're dedicating to administrative work in a week.

A lot of us don't really know and tend to underestimate how much time we are dedicating to administrative tasks.  So what I encourage you to do is to track your time for a full week. You can do it loosely in a notebook or you can use a tool like toggle that's toggle.com which will help you set up different categories and labels for your tasks. And then you can figure out what you're spending your time on. There's also another great tool called rescue time, which will essentially analyze what you're doing on a weekly basis and send you reports as well as red flags of key issues.

So one of the things that really opened my eyes to needing to delegate and outsource more was when rescue time sent me a report about spending 12 hours a week in my email inbox.  That's not something that I want to do. I don't think that's something that anyone wants to do. But it was my first real wake up call that I was going to have to do things differently.  To find a way to get on top of my inbox management,I had to hire somebody to help me with it and implement some different systems and tools.

So if you've tracked your time using toggle or some other way and you're finding that you're spending more than five hours a week in administrative tasks, you are doing too much of those tasks.  You are limiting your revenue and your business growth potential. So if more than five hours as being dedicated to that, it's time to take a step back and say, “What of these things can I outsource to someone else?”

If you're hesitant about handing over financial information to someone on your team, I completely understand that. 

A lot of people and freelancers are nervous about passing that on to someone else in their business.  That's probably the last thing you'll outsource to somebody that you really trust and have been working with for a while.  You can still leverage a lot more of your time by choosing to outsource something else.

For me, social media is a huge drain on my time. I don't enjoy doing it. It's far too easy to go down the rabbit hole with social media and end up looking at things that weren't the reason I hopped on there. Right? We've all done that. You might get on social media to schedule something and then you find yourself distracted. I'm always looking for ways to more efficiently use my time.

I have had an extension installed on my internet browser for probably four or five years now called kill the news feed. When I sign in from any of my computers, I cannot see any of the news feed that makes it so tempting to scroll.  You still see all of the rest of Facebook. You can navigate to your groups, you can view your notifications, and you can even click on your own page to get there and update things. But that has been instrumental in saving my time.

When I did that, I also realized that I didn't love doing social media. So I searched for a virtual assistant who could help by planning and scheduling posts to keep  those types of things off my plate.  So I saw that I was spending more than five hours a week on social media. I was spending more than five hours a week in admin. Those are perfect things to outsource to a virtual assistant.  It’s a great place to get started.

So another thing to consider when you're trying to figure out what you can outsource to a virtual assistant, is thinking about when you're making consistent revenue.

Now you don't owe it to any virtual assistant to pay them forever. You can work out your own payment terms and maybe bring them on for a couple of hours per week or for a limited engagement to start. But you want to be making relatively consistent revenue to where you don't feel like your not able to pay them.

You don't want to set up a situation where you bring this person into your business and then you're not able to pay them several weeks or months in. I've seen this happen before and it can be really frustrating for the virtual assistant who essentially pulls time out of their schedule to help you figure out how to get everything organized. They do all of the onboarding work. They get to know you and your clients and the different industries that you work in. And then if you're not making consistent enough revenue for whatever reason, it gets very frustrating for the VA because they essentially have to step right back out of being able to work with you. 

That's not a situation that anyone wants. So do you need to be making 5,000 or $10,000 a month to justify a VA? Not necessarily, but I would recommend consistently making at least $3,000 so that you can dedicate a portion,possibly $200 or $300 a month to start. And you can scale that as your business grows, but you want to make sure you have that money to pay your VA..

Consistent revenue is also a sign that your business is poised for growth. So that is your signal to start thinking more clearly about how you dedicate your time with what you do on a daily basis within your business. So the more you can be critical of how you're currently spending your time, how you divide that up, and how you decide if this is something you could potentially outsource is an excellent way to feel more confident about how you go through with this different with this process.

So the final way to know whether or not now is the right time to outsource is a funny one because I don't think that any freelancer ever gets to this point completely.

And that's when you're ready to hand over control. Hiring a VA does not mean that you have to hand over complete control of your business, but it does mean that you have to take a step back.  You have to decide how you can remove yourself from some of the processes of your business. Ultimately, this is going to help you learn to be more effective. It's going to help your business scale. You're going to get more of your time back that you can spend.as you want.  But at the end of the day, you are still going to have to give up some level of control.

You're going to have to share password information with somebody who is new to your business.  That's always going to be nerve wracking. It's going to be nerve wracking to hire someone who's going to do something that is facing the front of your business. So talking with potential clients etc, but that will always be there, right? Because you've put so much energy and time into establishing your business and it's just scary to kind of hand that over to another person.

But it's also something that is really important to think about. There's a lot of different benefits that you can get from outsourcing to a virtual assistant and knowing how you're going to leverage that   Think about what the benefits are for you and your business and even your clients. It will give you a lot of peace of mind.

So in general, I've grouped virtual assistants and into a couple of different categories.

Now there's many out there, some of the most common that a freelancer might be hiring are:

  • graphic design VA
  • content manager VA
  • general VA
  • web development VA

So a graphic designer VA is going to be making icons, logos, banners, headers and eBooks, possibly even delving into designing of websites a little bit.

They might design your sales pages, opt in pages, landing pages, and edit your graphics for social media. A content manager is someone who is helping you to write press releases, newsletters, directory submissions, or creating, editing or posting your blogs on your behalf. I have a VA on my team who helps to make sure that all of the content that I create is ready to be published live.

Now, the category of general virtual assistant can also include social media VAs. You might sometimes find social media VA's working outside of the general VA term because they won't take on generalized projects. They'll specifically do social media.  But general VAs are where most freelancers are going to start when hiring their very first project working with their very first virtual assistant.

General VAs can do things like data entry, preparing PowerPoint presentations, light transcribing of audio and video files, creating templates for documents, creating forms, online research, sending client invoices, basic bookkeeping, putting together training materials, personal errands, doing research, or finding hotel/travel reservations for you. They may also be able to add images and tags to blog posts.  They are acting somewhat like a receptionist, managing your calendar, creating your social media accounts, or uploading your videos on YouTube so you can see how there's a lot of different tasks that fall under that umbrella of general virtual assistant.

For a freelancer, you have to hone in on what it is you do best that only you can do in you business that is writing for clients and that is specifically speaking to clients. Outside of that, there's a lot of tasks that you could do, but I don't really need to do.  That's why it's a good idea to be able to outsource it to someone else on you team.

I frequently get asked the question, “How many VA's do you work with? How many do you have?”. It changes all the time.

It changes based on the projects that I have going. Some of my VA's are with me for the long run and have been with me for years. I have VA's that work on my YouTube channel, on my podcast and it's corresponding show notes, VA's that work on social media and a VA that runs one of my other businesses for me completely and prepares all of my PowerPoints. And I have someone who posts my blogs for me and post a lot of my LinkedIn articles as well. So there's all kinds of different ways that you can leverage virtual assistants. 

Freelance writers, in particular, might even consider using a virtual assistant to do some research.  That's a great way to still keep integrity with your writing process, but still ensuring that you're making the most of all the time that you have.

You are in the right position to hire a virtual assistant when you are ready to get some of your time back.

What you do with that time is up to you. You might take more of a break and reduce your working hours. You might scale and spend some of that time trying to bring in new clients. That's really up to you. Deciding why you're going to hire your VA is going to be important. That way you can measure your success. How will you know when a relationship with the VA is successful? When you have two or three more hours a week to plan and do certain things.

So if you've been thinking about hiring a virtual assistant and you're sort of stuck and don't know what to do next, a future episode, we'll go into some more detail about the process of hiring a VA and what you can specifically expect. This is your teaser to start considering how you might be able to leverage a VA in your own freelance business. I'll tell you that I do not know any six-figure freelancer who does not use at least one virtual assistant. So if that's where you are aspiring to go, if you're looking to make more money and get more of your time back, hiring a VA should be the next thing on your radar.

Thanks as always, for tuning in, if you want to check out the podcast in iTunes and listen to some of the past episodes, please consider leaving a review for the show. It helps other people find the Advanced Freelancing podcast.  You can also always join my Facebook group, Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura, which is where you will get the most free trainings and access to the best tools and strategies for scaling your business.

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

Sep 9, 2019

Today I'm taking a step back to talk about what I think are some of the most profitable and in-demand freelance side hustles to consider. Now, if you're an advanced freelancer, which you probably are just for checking out this podcast, you probably already know your niche. You may have been working in a freelance side hustle or even scaled it up to a full-time career, but this episode will still be helpful for you because you might be thinking that it's time for a change.

You might be interested in making a transition and pivoting to offering a different type of services, and this is what I love about freelancing. When we don't love doing something anymore, it's okay to incorporate another type of freelancing as a side hustle. It can be a great way to test out whether or not this is something that you're interested in.  Stay tuned because if you listen to this entire episode, you're going to get a link to be able to sign up for my full PDF that goes into great detail on the top 25 most in-demand freelancing side hustles to consider, the general work that they do, and then the software that you need to know for each type of freelance side hustle.

So if you're new to the concept of freelancing, I'd also recommend that you check out my first TEDx talk, “The Future is Freelancing”.

It's a great overview of what freelancing looks like today and takes on some of those popular myths about freelancing that just are not true for the way that digital creatives are working online today.

Now when you're listening to this episode, we are closing in on the last couple months of 2019, but what I've included in this episode and in the freebie PDF you can get and sign up for at the end of the episode, are what I think some of the most in demand freelance side hustles are and are likely to continue to be throughout 2020.  This freebie is going to benefit you is you are new to freelancing and you're thinking:

●       Which direction do I go?

●       How do I decide what type of background I have?

●       How do I know?

It’s also going to benefit you if you're an established freelancer looking for something new. It's always a good idea to have your finger on the pulse of freelancing. If you're like me, you're looking to pivot every so often because you might just get bored of doing the same thing over and over again. You might get overwhelmed. You might be looking for something that's a little bit more of a challenge. So the freelance side hustle you started with might be scaled down over time.

Now, that was definitely true for me. I've been a freelance writer since 2012 so about seven years at the time you're listening to this episode.  I've really loved creating blogs and email copy for a lot of my clients.  But several years ago, I started to feel like I'd gone as far as I could go with blog writing. That's when I started to branch out into doing other types of freelance side hustling.

So I still had this core stable of freelance writing clients that I was providing services for, but I wanted to expand my skill set. I didn't want to be locked into a box.  I also wanted to be able to see what other things I might like.  It was important to me to see what other things were in demand.

So I branched out into creating courses.

I did more editing work rather than just freelance writing. I did project management work. I also started educating myself on new things like influencer outreach and writing email copy.  Why? Because it allowed me to have some different skill sets to rely on and decide if I liked it better or if this made me more versatile.

I've also worked with a lot of freelancers.  Whether it was through my courses or one on one strategy sessions and coaching for freelancers. So I know what a lot of other people are doing as well and where they're getting results. That's why this episode is designed to get you to think about some of the different types of freelance side hustles that are out there that might appeal to you.

Then you can grab that PDF at the end, maybe even share the link with a friend who's thinking about getting started with freelancing and doesn’t know where to even start.  You may have a friend that wants to get started freelancing, but doesn’t even know what a freelancer is.  They may be wondering what type of freelancer they could be based on their background.

The Top 25 Freelancing Side Hustles

Social Media Manager

Now there's a new social media app or tool developed practically every day. Social media gets to be very overwhelming for business owners. So it's probably not surprising to you that it's a great way to specialize as a virtual assistant. You will see VA's who call themselves social media managers and people who don't do VA work, call themselves social media managers, but you should definitely know tools that are used to schedule social media as well as your social media platforms themselves, like Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also specialize in a certain type of social media management tool or type to further niche down.

Graphic Designers

Graphic designers don't have to work at agencies alone or for a company as the core graphic designer.  Many of them are selling and sharing their skills online.  They are sharing in these marketplaces where people are hiring for specific gigs, like creating a logo or creating PDFs. I work with a graphic designer on retainer because it's great to have somebody else who knows your brand style and colors to create all of your images.

IT Support

If you having the training in this, you can certainly make a lot of money doing this as a side hustle.  People typically charge hourly rates for it.   Specialists can charge somewhere between $50 and $100 an hour.  So if you have that background or training, perhaps you did it for another company, this could be a great way to specialize and start doing a side hustle for companies that aren't really in a position to bring in a full-time employee but still need help.

Bookkeeping

If you love numbers and details, bookkeepers do a lot of tasks to help online and offline. Businesses stay organized with their finances. You'll usually see going rates starting no less than $20 an hour and going all the way up to $60 an hour for more advanced reconciliation and financial planning issues. Everything from payroll management to checking and credit card statements to forecasting are the types of tasks that a bookkeeper typically does.

Customer Service Specialist

Now another way that a lot of people break into freelance virtual work is as a customer service specialist. Lots of companies today use virtual assistants and customer service specialists in an online capacity. They know tools like Zen desk or they manage emails. They make sure that customers are essentially happy and that there are established protocols and procedures for helping customers with common questions like being locked out of their account or needing a refund. These types of side hustles are very in demand.

Web Developers

Freelancers who have this skill set from college or their own self-education are developers. Web developers are familiar with plugins, frameworks, website platforms, and tools like HTML, PHP and Java charging upwards of $50 an hour. If you know multiple coding languages, you can even push your income as a freelance side hustler up to a hundred dollars an hour as a developer. Developers are in huge demand today.

3D Modeling

Essentially 3D modelers create computer graphics that are used in video games, 3D printing animation, and special effects. There's lots of different tools like AutoCAD and Sketch Up that developers who have 3D modeling experience use.I am seeing more and more jobs requesting these 3D modelers as well.

Website Builder or Designer

If you love creating, building and designing websites, the more you know about user experiences and how to make a website appealing and easy to navigate could serve as the foundation for your freelance side hustle. As a website builder or designer, more experienced designers charge well over $60 an hour or expensive retainer packages. I strongly recommend two tools to check out would be WordPress and Squarespace is this appeals to you.

Voice Over Artist

Have people always told you that you have a pleasing voice? Perhaps working as a freelance voice over artist is a great way to leverage your skills and make some extra income.  Putting together a voice reel is easier than ever. Thanks to online tools like Audacity. Check out some of your competition before jumping in as a voiceover artists.  There's lots of VO artists on places like Upwork and Fiverr where you can get a sense of the different ways they set out their samples due to the drive and online marketing.

Marketing Expert

If you have training and experience working with search engine marketing, email marketing, and paid advertising tools to create comprehensive and successful marketing campaigns. Many small and medium sized businesses need help with this. They don't really want to hire someone in house.  Or they might not yet have the budget to do it, but they could use someone on a freelance basis. And most marketing freelancers are gonna charge an average of around $50 an hour.

Data Science

So if you have experience from a day job that you're looking to transfer over, this is a great one to consider. Do you love data science, like using machine learning to generate new products, creating charts, or generating data infrastructures? A data scientists can charge upwards of $100 an hour when they know tools like Apache, Spark, and Linux. Check that out if that appeals to you. Creating raw data in spreadsheets and organizing it and developing key takeaways from that data are some of the most popular things that these freelancers do.

Podcast Producer

Now, one that's emerged on the market in recent years but is booming, you're listening to one right now, is a podcast producer. So a podcast manager or producer can do a variety of activities, but sometimes they'll even specialized down to just doing audio editing. But you've also got podcasts managers doing post-production work up generating podcasts, interviews, coordinating them, and overseeing the production of a podcast.  This is a very popular way to specialize today. If you're an audio engineer and even writers can specialize as a podcast show notes writer.

Network Engineers

Now, network engineers and IT security protocol implementation experts often find many opportunities to work online today.  Whether it's computer gaming and building software products or running an entire network control system, engineers definitely have a place in the gig economy.

Video and Audio Editors

Now, we briefly talked about audio editing before.   Video and audio editors are getting more demand because there's such a drive in the creation of online content like courses. So whether it's storyboarding, project management, live action video, putting together landing pages and funnels and sequences with videos and audio, this is a great way to start a side hustle.

Publicity Expert

If you already know how to use tools like Audacity, Camtasia, and more advanced tools, a really creative way to get started generating buzz for someone else's business is to freelance as a publicity expert. It's your job to determine what channels are right for publicizing the services and products of your client. So you think about different ways to promote them to a broader audience and bring in more potential customers. Newer freelancers working in publicity charge around $25 an hour, but seasoned experts pull in a lot more.

Tutor

If you've always wanted to be a teacher, but need a remote and flexible work schedule, being a tutor in terms of foreign language, math, science, ESL, or standardized test prep is a great way to break into the freelance marketplace and get some experience.

SEO Specialist

Do you love figuring out what makes websites rank in search engines like Google? Getting some additional training and picking up knowledge from podcasts, books, and online courses might pave the way for you to work as an SEO specialist. SEO specialists look at things like the navigational structure of a site, the optimization of a site to maximize page speed, and how to resolve conflicts inside these sites and make them more beneficial for the client in terms of ranking in search engines.

Brand Strategist

A brand strategist is a great way to fuse marketing knowledge with graphic design awareness. Some of the tools you might want to have in your skill set includes search engine optimization, writing and copywriting, and public relations expertise. As a brand strategist, another tool to check out is working as a translator.

Translators

Translators often have experience in at least two or three languages and ensure that the content is translated properly given the language and grammar specifics of the language that it's going to. So freelance translators often start out somewhere between #15 to $30 hourly.  Then you can scale it up.

Content or a Project Manager

One freelance side hustle that I love because I've worked in it before is as a content or a project manager. Their job is to set together the strategy for implementing content across a broad variety of channels. This can even include recruiting, hiring and managing freelancers as well. This is very popular with those companies that leverage blogs and similar tools to promote their content. If you are thinking about becoming a project manager, you should be organized and enjoy working with others.

Transcriptionist

If you love listening to audio and translating that into text, a transcriptionist might be a great way for you to break in as a freelance side hustle. Simply put, transcriptionists listen to recorded audio or video and type it out into written form.  Many of them charge between $25 and $35 an hour. I have worked with a transcriptionist and transcription tools for years and it’s been very helpful for speeding up my process!

Writer

Of course, I love the freelance side hustle idea of working as a writer.  Freelance writers do a variety of tasks like creating website pages, sales copy, newsletters, emails, brochures, blogs, product descriptions and more.  This gives writers a great deal of versatility and experience working in content marketing.  And if you're curious about how to get started as a freelance writer, check out my book called “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, which goes into all the details of how to make it work as a freelance writer.

Virtual Assistant

If you've worked in administrative positions before and are looking to transition into a side hustle or pick up a couple of extra hours a week, serving as a virtual assistant to an entrepreneur is a great way to do this. You might be doing things like email organization, customer service, and calendar management. 

Editors and Proofreaders

To get started building on these previous ideas of working with language as a writer, editors and proofreaders can pick up multiple opportunities to work for academics. Those creating content and people who are in a school setting, so even college students and graduate students might consider hiring an editor or proofreader. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the various styles like AP and Chicago and to check out further information about the level of depth you're going to get into while editing.

I have a great course on how to become a freelance editor and some of the ways to set yourself up for success with that by taking a look at some of the pieces that are already created and giving your client a good understanding of the scope that you work on when completing freelance editing projects.

This has been a great overview of what I think are some of the most in-demand forms of freelance side hustling. If you'd like to pick up the PDF to learn more about the software that you should know more about, what these freelancers specifically do, and the typical hourly rates they charge. Check out BIT.LY/sidehustlestarter.

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

Jul 22, 2019

Today I’m talking about one of the topics that I am most passionate about...toxic clients.  Why am I so passionate about this topic? This really matters because not only have I worked with toxic clients personally, but I have also privately coached other freelancers who have dealt with toxic clients. That become a key component of what we work on together.  I have helped them to even identify the underlying patterns that can cause you to end up with toxic clients again and again.

A toxic client is someone who drains all the energy and life force out of you.  They are overbearing, overwhelming, and have lots of extra requests from you usually without more pay.  They tend to produce emotional responses in the freelancers that they work with.  This means they produce emotions like frustration and anger. They can even cause you to feel burnout because toxic clients bring out the worst in you.

If you work with clients that you generally love working for it will be easy to spot toxic clients because of how they make you feel.  If you have only worked with toxic clients it may take you longer to realize that client is indeed toxic because you don’t know what patterns to look for.  Recognizing the toxic client is the first step.  A few questions to ask to identify a toxic client are:

●       Does this person treat you poorly?

●       Does this person not pay you well?

●       Does this person always ask for discounts or reduction in price?

●       Does this person make you feel like you don’t quite deserve to work with them even though you are giving it your all?

Anyone in the freelance world can be subject to working with toxic clients.  But I find the freelancers that most often deal with toxic clients are writers and virtual assistants.  Virtual assistant especially tend to get taken advantage of by clients because the clients essentially wants to dump everything on this one person.  They want them to become the go to in their business.

Usually a VA isn’t paid as much as other freelancers and are paid by the hour.  A toxic client might act like you could have done the work so much faster but you didn’t.  They don’t understand why you can’t just get it with their instructions even though it’s probably that their instructions aren’t good instructions.

A lot of time a toxic client will set up an agreement with a VA and put them on a retainer and then ask for WAY MORE of the VA than what is in that agreement.  The tasks they are asking of the VA are more than they are willing or capable of doing.  If you are hiring as a VA to work 10 hours a week and the client keeps dumping more and more on you and making you log 15-20 hours a week and you aren’t being compensated for it then that is a toxic client.

So let’s talk about what you can do to try to flag these types of clients before you begin working with them. It’s important to know that you can’t always identify a toxic client.  Some of these people can sneak up on you.  They can put forward a good face and you have no idea they are toxic.  Or it might be that there have been changes and the person you are reporting too has changed and THEY are the toxic person, not the person you were working with before.  It’s important to know ways to identify a toxic client.  But don’t beat yourself up if one slips throung the cracks because they may not become or show their toxic client side until a few weeks after you start working together. 

Let’s go over some tips to identify a toxic client.  Red flags include:

●       How do they talk about their past freelancers?  For example, they tell you they have worked with 15 other graphic designers and they were all horrible and they had to fire them all.  The odds of ALL 15 of them being awful and unprofessional are very low.  This means it’s actually something wrong with the client and not the freelancers.  A few bad freelancers is okay, but large numbers of freelancers being considered awful is a red flag you are dealing with a toxic client.  You can ask them to tell you about their experience with working with freelancers in the past.  If their answer is that they have yet to work with a freelancer before this could be your chance to shape them in how they should act, work with, and communicate with a freelancer.  What you are looking for with their response is how they talk about freelancers from their past. 

●       Look at their expectations.  Are they pushing you to be available 24/7?  These might be communication issues that brush up against your boundaries.  A lot of times toxic clients will bring this up themselves and say it’s important for you to be available 24/7.

●       Proving your worth.  A toxic client might be pushing you to prove your worth even on the initial phone call.  They might constantly be talking about ROI.  They may not be willing to sign a contract for more than a month because they just don’t trust you.  They might pay you 10% upfront and then the rest when they are satisfied with the completed product.  This is a red flag.

●       Communication preferences.  This is a huge issue.  It’s important to set forth what are your preferred communication is.  As a freelancer, you have to set boundaries with clients on how you can/will communicate with you.  With toxic clients, always get everything in writing possible.  Communication choices for this include email, documents in an email, in your communication software, etc. 

So let’s talk about when you think someone might be toxic.  How do you address it before you decide to fire them?  I try to give people the benefit of the doubt before firing them.  Here are a few tips:

●       Call the situation out early on when it happens.  For example, you do a call with some so they have your number and the client starts texting you at 10 pm,  First, you ignore the text.  Next, you wait until business hours and you send them an email letting them know you business phone is turned off and you will not respond to texts because it’s too difficult to keep track of.  Encourage them to reply to the email with any concerns.  Even with emails, wait and don’t respond until you are in your business hours. 

●       If the client speaks to you unprofessionally, call it out in the moment as nicely as possible.  A great example is working with people who grew up in NY or NJ.  Sometimes their tone and accent can come across as snippy or rude even if they aren’t intentionally being that way.  So you can call it out and say, “I don’t know if you mean for this to be coming across this way, but…”.  Sometimes when the client didn’t mean it they will say they didn’t mean it that way.  Sometimes this is when you have to make a judgement call.  If someone is openly rude or cussing at you, don’t even engage any further with this person.

●       If you are in a relationship with a toxic client, I don’t care how much money it is, you can’t afford to keep working with them.  First of all, if you calculate the actual amount of time you are working for them you probably aren’t getting what you are worth.  Plus if you add in the emotional, mental and physical toll they are causing you, IT’S NOT WORTH IT!  They will push you to burnout.  They will make you question your capabilities and so much more.  One really negative aspect of working with a toxic client is that not only is it affecting the work you are doing with them, but it could bleed over into your other clients.  It’s just not worth it.  Navigating out of this type of relationship is tricky.  First try to let them correct their behavior.  If they can’t do that, then keep it professional and let it go. 

Have you ever had to work with a toxic client before?  If you have I’d love to hear how you navigated out of it.  Send me an email at info@betterbizacademy.com.

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