This is episode 85 of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. In this episode, I'll be talking about a recent experience I had with a client that I completed a test project for and then terminated from my client roster. This is based on a topic that comes up a lot. And that's when your per piece rate is not really a true freelance per piece rate.
Now, for most beginners in the freelancing world, charging hourly makes sense.
Many freelancers struggle with how to set rates and to determine something that's fair. So for a lot of beginners, I recommend starting off the process by charging an hourly rate based on your expertise, your background in the industry, and sort of something you generally feel comfortable with. Then give the client an overview of how long you think it might take you to complete the project that might vary from one project to another. And so that's why hourly is a good place to start.
You don't want to lock yourself into huge projects charging hourly. But it can be a really good baseline to determine whether you need to charge more on an hourly basis. So that you can start to get a sense of how many hours it takes you to do typical projects. Then you can convert to a per piece rate.
I like per piece rates for lots of freelancers, because they make it easier on the client to know exactly what the client is paying for and going to get an exchange.
There are no surprise invoices for the client. But they can also be better for the freelancer because you aren't being penalized for being a fast or a slow worker. I honestly believe that charging hourly is really hard for a lot of freelancers at the intermediate and advanced level, because we end up simply selling our hours. So a lot of times I based multiple factors into deciding whether or not I'm going to convert something from hourly to a per piece rate.
And my per piece rate is going to include my expertise in the industry. It is also going to factor in how long it's going to take me and other relevant information such as is this piece highly technical. Or do I have to do more revision request for a particular client? So when you can convert a client to a per piece rate, it makes a lot of sense. Because then everybody knows up front what it is you're going to charge and you feel comfortable with the rate.
There are also some freelance projects where it's essentially impossible to charge a per piece rate unless you have a really good handle on what the project looks like.
Editing is a great example. Things like certain forms of virtual assistant work, data entry, and website maintenance are hard to get an exact read on how long a project like that is going to take. And it might be more appropriate to charge hourly. So keep that in the back of your mind.
Also, are there extenuating factors here? If someone's asking me to edit their dissertation, for example, and they sent me a one sample chapter to review, I don't know if the sample chapters is going to take as long as every other chapter. So it might be easier for me to quote an hourly rate with a range if I can't get to that per piece rate. But in general, as a writer, my preference is a per piece rate, because it makes it very clear to everyone involved, exactly what's included> You quote a number and tell them how many rounds of revision or how many phone calls or how many other bells and whistles they're going to get.
Check Out Another Recent Episode on Freelance Test Jobs
I want to walk you through an experience I recently had with a client and go back and review the previous episode about test jobs.
If that's something that you have not used before, I strongly recommend using test jobs. You can hear more about test jobs in episode 82. It's very important to help you get to feeling more grounded and confident. Using test jobs is just as important for the client as they are for you as a freelancer because it allows you to test out who you might not want to work with.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with a client on a project piece rate project.
It was actually a rush project. I was doing them a huge favor, because they essentially had another writer working in a contract position, but she was basically full time. And she quit in the middle of the month. So they had some social media calendars due. They had several blogs due. And some other information that was due at that time.
So the client sort of told me what person was doing. They gave an example of what was published. And they let me know the per piece rate. So I went and looked at the material and thought, “Okay, the purpose rate seems fair. This is a test project. We can always come back to it and discuss this again after the test portion is complete should I go forward and working with them.”
This was actually a mismatch with expectations because it truly was a very low hourly rate once you factored in all of the other things that they consider to be a part of one piece.
So for example, they sent me a long hours and hours of video and or phone recordings with the client and the previous writer that they wanted me to listen to. Now, some of these weren't even relevant because they were regarding content that had been published by the previous writer. But based on the per piece rate, that wasn't something we discussed at the outset of the project. I wasn’t told that I was going to have to listen to hours of conference calls discussing each line item one at a time.
Also the rounds of editing that were expected were a little bit ridiculous. Also, the client gave me a title. I stepped in to help turn this around really quickly as a favor. I turned in many of one piece the same day and two more pieces the following day. And these were all overdue because the other writer had stepped down.
So my expectation was that I did this on a rush project for them based on the per piece rate we discussed to do that. And then they came back six or seven days later saying that what I had done wasn't exactly what the client was expecting. Why? Because that client had shared all their information outlining and what they wanted to see that piece be with the other writer. Well, of course, I didn't have access to that information.
And I didn't have the time or the interest in sitting down and listening to hours and hours of phone calls.
Because I started to think about all of the going back and forth communicating about this. And I thought about all these revisions on the one piece where they'd sent the information to the other writer and had never shared it with me. They wanted me to rewrite it entirely, which I did not agree to do.
Between texts, emails, phone calls, and the expectations that you'll respond right away. They would send me emails at five o'clock. Then two hours later reply all and say, “Did you get this or not?” I'm not working anymore at 5:00 PM. You know what I mean? So that's when your per piece rate is not really a per piece. Because you base your pricing for certain clients on what you anticipate goes into it.
For a writer,designer, or a developer, it includes a specific package. And you might say they have one round of revisions, one kickoff call, one strategy call, one vision setting,and a meeting. This is just an example. But then if they start expanding farther and farther beyond that, they want you to revise things six or seven times. Or they want you to answer text messages. And they're supposed to respond to your edits or your version submitted during the day and then they don't. They wait until after the fact and send you emails at 10 o'clock at night. Now they're starting to push on your boundaries, right?
One of my private coaching clients had an issue where the client was unnecessarily revising things four and five times. It was even clearly in their contract that the maximum would be two rounds of revision. For short things like blog posts, I don't know why you'd ever need more than two rounds of revision. Sure somebody's master's thesis you would need more than two rounds of revisions, but not a 500 or 600 word blog post. That's just ridiculous. So this is when the price that you've quoted, even when you have clear expectations, and the contract does not line up with the amount of work you are doing on that actual job.
So how do you deal with this when this comes up after a test job?
I actually think that you can bring this up in the middle of working on a test job or working with a client. This is where you say, “Hey. I put together the proposal based on the following expectations.” You always want to direct the client back to anything in writing that you have that stipulates that. For example, the contract stating that there's only two rounds of revisions. And then explain where the problems are.
You can also redirect your clients by saying, “Hey, I think it would be most efficient if we took the following steps.” Imagine there's a case where there's 10 people on the team and they're all reviewing your work and providing feedback. I was on another project like that recently. It was the launch of a website. So we had designers, developers, the site owner, and project managers. Everyone was involved.
And one of the most effective things that the project manager did was doing weekly status updates letting us all know where everything is at. Here's what we're waiting on from each person. This is where we're stalled. So that's something you can do as a freelancer doing any type of service, you can say, “Here's how I think we could be most effective. I think we should go back to the drawing board and review the editorial calendar and do a 30 minute call. We can discuss all the specifics there, clarify titles, clarify keywords, etc.”
We don't want to go do a redesign of an entire website and then the Vice President of Marketing chimes in four days late with his requests. Now you would have to go back and do it all over again. So explain what your expectations were and then reference that this would probably be most efficient and effective for everyone if you took the following steps and then outline what those steps are. It doesn't necessarily guarantee that the client is going to follow those steps every single time. But that way you at least have it in writing that you've made an effort. Part of this really is about making that effort. Because if you do terminate this client or drop them after the test job, you want to know that you made your best effort.
With this particular client, it was too confusing with the different expectations. And it wasn’t really a fair per piece rate and they weren't really willing to budge. So I decided not to work with that client. You can address it in a way where you're still making an effort to fix it after a test job by telling the client what your expectations were and what you think going forward. You can also say, :I base my test job price o n factors x, y,& z. However, we also discovered factors A, B, and C working together. So I've adjusted my per piece rate as a result.”
You can also ask how necessary is the kickoff call? Do you want me to remove that from an ongoing retainer proposal? You can let them know that if they really do need that extra round of revisions, then you need to factor that into your pricing. So after a test job, unless the client was unbearable, or is not willing to adjust at all, on the pricing or these boundaries, try to fix it and suggest what those steps would be.
Let them know what would be most helpful for you and for everyone involved. Maybe it was something where you got approval to do certain things. And then the project manager came back two weeks later and changed everything up. So maybe you propose that you need to do a kickoff call with the project manager. And once he or she signs off, the decisions that we made on that call are considered final and can’t be updated.
You don't have to necessarily fire them right away. But I think one of the most helpful things you can do is to remind your client that they are not your only client. Often, many clients that are working with numerous people, including in house employees or remote employees, can blur the line between independent contractors and employees. They start to treat you like you are their worker on call as an independent contractor. Legally in the United States, you are not.
You might explain, “Hey. I just want to let you know that text messaging is really the worst way to get ahold of me. It's not something I can easily and quickly see. It would be much better if we had things coming through email or our project management software so that I can always find that written form of communication by doing a search.” So that's one way you can address it in the middle of a contract.
If, for example, I was in the middle of the contract with the client that I mentioned above, and they said, “Hey, can you go listen to four hours of phone calls?” I would have said, unfortunately, we did not sign a contract to do that. Should you want me to listen to these phone calls, take notes, and then incorporate that into the writing, there's going to be a rush fee for that. Because I'm already working on these projects on a rush fee. And now I've got to build in time to my schedule to listen to hours of phone calls and here's the additional cost for doing that and the link to the invoice to pay it right.”
Sometimes clients don't realize that what they're asking for is above and beyond what you agreed to. This is why we do test jobs and get really clear instructions and guidelines at the outset of any project working together because we want to know what all is included. Maybe this client it's an absolute must that you do a 60 minute kickoff call at the beginning of every month with them. And that's fine. But that needs to be in your proposal. That needs to be in your contract. And if they're asking for things that are well outside of what's in the contract, it is your responsibility, as the freelancer, to let them know that and to provide recommendations for the next steps. You always want to give them a choice.
You can let them know that if this is really important, and it's something vital that I need to do, here's my suggested turnaround time on it. Here's the price to do it. And here's the invoice to pay to add this to our current contract. You can let them know that if they don't believe that it's important, however, to let you know.
Or you might say, “If you have an administrative assistant or old copies of notes from this phone call, or you're willing to pay to get it transcribed.” You can always present other options to the client where it's clear to them that they've kind of pushed the boundaries a little bit. And they're asking for things that are a little bit ridiculous.
And the more you let this go on in a test job or in the early part of your relationship with the client, the more likely they are to continue it and to honestly expect it. So it's much harder to address this issue six months into an ongoing contract than it is at the beginning. Why? Because you can not only stop whatever the current issue is, but block any potential scope creep or communications boundary pushing that might come down the line.
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.
Today, I'm steering a little bit away from some of the traditional strategies I love to talk about when growing your business to think a little bit more big picture. Have you ever created a mental health plan for your business? Or at least for the busy seasons as a freelancer? This is a topic that I feel connected to so personally, because I recently took the time to create what I'm calling my mental health plan.
We often talk about self care in the context of being business owners. But we rarely put enough pressure on that to make it appear as important as it really is. Because self care is key, right? But it's so easy to sweep that under the rug and act like, “Yeah, that's great. Like, I love to get a massage if I could afford it or fit the time in. But whatever, I'm really busy right now, that's not going to happen.”
And recently looking at my schedule, the number of things that were piled on it, and just sort of how I've changed and evolved my business model this year, I realized that I needed to have a mental health plan in place. Now, when you're listening to this episode, we're in the last quarter of 2019. I did several really important and cool things this year that I'm proud of. But the timing of all of them, and not having a mental health plan or structurally fitting in self care nearly led me to burn out.
So around the time of publishing my very first book, which was in July of 2019, I did so much work for the publication and promotion of that book. In addition I was moving to a new state for my husband's job and doing two TEDx talks. So writing those, editing those, memorizing those, and traveling to deliver those, just in conjunction with all of the other crazy things going on in my business, I felt that I was headed down the path to burnout. And burnout is something you really want to be aware of as a freelancer and as a business owner.
There have been studies showing that 40% of employees in the United States are so burned out that they just can't figure out how to move forward.
But employees are not the only ones who really cornered the market on being burned out. Entrepreneurs can burn out as well. It can have a lot of really negative problems for your personal life. And for your professional life. It's been tied to heart disease, depression problems, decision making, and job dissatisfaction. So lots of studies have been done about employees in big organizations and burnout.
I was reading some research in preparation for this episode, that burnout costs our country at least $300 billion a year. So burnout definitely affects entrepreneurs as well and can really deflate your overall job, PR, and/or passion you feel for showing up when you are fully burned out.
So when you've gone through all the phases, you stopped caring about everything.
You don't care if you lose clients. And you don't care if you get bad news. You don't care if you get good news. So you never want to get to that point. And being very aware of what burnout looks like and feels like for you is important. And it's a little bit different from one person to another.
For some people, their nutrition totally slips. They start cutting things out of their life that take up time, but we're really valuable. So they might cut out exercising because they feel like they are so busy that they can't possibly handle that right now. Or you're building your business and you cut back on some of the things that were giving you some sanity. That might be your housecleaner or maybe childcare that you had set up so that during the hours you worked on your business you could really focus on it.
So a recent study was completed and shared in the Harvard Business Review. According to this study, 3% of entrepreneurs felt severely burned out and 25% of entrepreneurs felt moderately burned out.
So we're talking about nearly a third of all entrepreneurs out there are feeling some level of burnout. And it will vary from one person to another. But its impacts can be far reaching. It can really damage your business. And it can damage your mental health. It can make you feel very overwhelmed. If you ever get to the point where it's really bad, you just feel like burning your business to the ground. You don't even care if everything just kind of goes belly up.
Unfortunately, in our society, we hear so much about hustling, working harder, or putting in 80 hours a week, if you want this to work. We internalize that as a badge of honor. We tout that we work really, really, really hard on our business. And doing that, in that way, for a long enough period of time, can absolutely lead to burnout.
And okay, maybe you're able to drag your body for three to six months of being that level of exhaustion and still function relatively well. But if you hit the severe levels of burnout and shut down, you could affect your business for months, or even years from that point. So it's far better to recognize when you have the potential for burnout. Which as an entrepreneur with those statistics I just shared, you definitely want to create a mental health plan to prepare for that.
I recently started working (again) on my Ph.D. dissertation.
In many ways, my PhD has been the hardest project I have ever worked on. It calls for different forms of communication, collaboration, writing, and research revisions. So even as a professional writer, it's something I've really struggled with mentally. And I took three years to completely off from my program to focus on building my business. I don't regret doing that. But of course, it's made it much harder to come back and start again.
So I was adding in that process of, “Okay, now that I have my business at this point, where I adjusted it from the book launch, let go a lot of freelance projects, allowed some to come to a natural close, amd terminated some contracts with some clients.”
So I really focused on the area of my business that was filling me up the most professionally and personally. And that was my coaching. That was working one on one with freelance coaching clients, which is something that I really love, It brings out the teacher background in me and I love helping other people build their business. And so I made that conscious decision to turn down money on the freelance side of my business.
For my sanity, I did not want to be writing eight or nine hours. TEvery single day, I was kind of over that. I felt like I'd taken it as far as I could go with my business in that sense. I had done almost everything I could do with freelance writing. And I didn't feel like there were many mountains left to climb. And it no longer felt fulfilling. It instead felt a little bit draining.
It's one of the great things about freelancing too, right? We can build our business up or back down if we need to. And I love that! As you build it down, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it means that you're being choosier about the clients you work with. You might end up making the same or more money when you do that. It’s very unique to freelancing in that way.
Some other opportunities came up that I could tell we're going to take a substantial portion of my time too. Potential book deals came on the table and all of these things were going to have deadlines or timelines that were really close to one another. So taking on a dissertation level project, which I feel exercises my brain the most, is the hardest type of work that I do.
It is also very time consuming. It's not like in my writing business. I'm always looking for ways to speed things up. You spend a lot of time thinking, writing notes, and creating materials that may never actually be published in a dissertation or in a document related to it. And so it's not as easy to speed that process up.
So when all these things sort of landed on the table at the same time, I said to my husband, “I am taking a step back this time. I know seeing all these major projects that are going to have the exact same timeline and are really going to call on me to be at my strongest, I recognized that from my first book launch. And just from building up my schedule, early on in 2019, that I don't really want to do that in the coming year.So I am going to create a mental health plan that will help guard against burnout. Hopefully it will also help keep me from going too far down that road of feeling exhausted.”
And I really do call it that name very specifically because I think it's so important that we recognize that, as freelance owners, we’re the CEO or the CTO, the chief financial officer, VP of Marketing, and VP of operations. We're everything, right? Even if you have virtual assistants on your team, you are making a massive amount of decisions to drive your business forward on a daily basis. And if you suffer from decision fatigue or just the ongoing pressure that naturally comes from playing too many roles, you need to recognize that your mental health could be affected by that.
I really believe it should be part of your business and your life at all times. Now, a lot of people might feel like, “Well, you know, things aren't that busy right now.” It's actually the perfect time if you start building in your mental health supports and your positive self care now, while you still have the time to do so. And you recognize that as your business grows, you're going to take proactive steps to prevent the business of running your own company to bleed those other things out. Because there's a lot of reasons why this downtime or your mental health plan actually benefits your business.
There's been so many studies done. A lot of them are talked about in various business books that have come out recently. They say things like working beyond 50 or 60 hours a week really does not lead to an improvement in your work quality or your productivity. So there's definitely an upper limit cap. And yet, we hear all of this marketing talk that you need to hustle. We heat that you just need to work really, really hard and you can put in more hours.
I’ve fallen for that right. And I've definitely run my business that way and not been happy with running it that way. So a mental health plan should be in place at all times. But definitely in your busy seasons. If you're onboarding a new client, that's a little difficult. Or if you're starting a new major project. If this is your busy time of the year as a freelancer. Or if you're bringing on your first VA. Because if there's these growth challenges and issues that you're experiencing as a business owner, it is the perfect time to put a mental health plan in place.
I think first of all, your time off is key if you are putting in a lot of hours. Or if you have multiple ventures going at once. Trust me, I can definitely speak about that because I’m running multiple businesses at the same time. And then having outside projects, your time off is critical.
So one of the things that I really put into place strictly with my mental health plan,I have two cell phones. One is a personal cell phone and only my family members and my husband have that phone that phone stays on all the time. The ringer is on all the time. It's essentially like way back in the day what your landline would have been right. So you can always reach me on that cell phone. That phone also has hardly any apps on it. It really is just a very basic phone.
And I've had two cell phones for years. Since maybe the second year of running my business. Because it was driving me crazy when my clients would try to text or call me on my personal phone. So it's definitely not something new, this whole concept of having two phones.
But I had allowed my use of my business phone to get really lax. I was answering emails. I was answering Voxer messages. I was like all the notifications and apps are on my business phone that I used to run my business. And I noticed that my work was starting to bleed over into other hours like early morning, lunchtime, weekends, etc. So one of the things that's part of my mental health plan is physically turning that business phone off at the end of the workday. And if I get that addictive notion to pick it up, I at least have to think carefully about if i really need to turn my business phone on or not.
I'm turning my computer off. And I'm specifically scheduling things on the weekend again, so in the months leading up to and surrounding the book launch, I did a lot of work on the weekends. And some of it, I was excited to do. And other work I just felt like I had to do it. There was no other time to really fit it in, especially as we were moving from one state to another.
But now I'm getting really mindful of my time off. Where is going to be the time that I have relaxation time, creative time, and what fun things can I go do on the weekends. Because working from home can get kind of isolating. You can get a little bit of cabin fever. This is true especially given that I now live in Minnesota and will probably be confined to the house a lot of the time. During the week, it won't be as easy for me to leave and go out and you know something for lunch due to weather. So I'm getting very intentional about my time off and who I allow into that time off. So that's a component of your mental health plan.
So these could be things like yoga therapy, taking that dance class you've always wanted, or regularly scheduled activities that are forms of support. Because they clear your mind. They force you to be outside of business mode.
When you're a business owner, you think about your company all the time. You might even dream about it. When you're taking a shower, you're thinking about a way to grow your company. And then when you're driving, you're thinking about that issue that you had yesterday with a client. So build in your supports in quiet times. You can you can either talk things out with other people. This could be:
It’s very, very important. So how are you going to build those in? So for me, that was building in some outside supports. I have a dance class that I'm going to once a week now and some other things that are built into my schedule. Even date night with my husband, where it's not just for our marriage.
Now these can be so little, but can have such an impact, right? It might be the 10 minutes you spend drinking coffee before you open your computer. And before you get started working, where it's just your time to take some deep breaths.
Working from home can mean wearing super comfortable clothes. For me, my feet are always cold. So it's about having really amazing socks so that I always feel like my feet are super warm. I know that when the weather's good, I will take my dog out for a walk for 10 minutes. Those little things that can be built into my day and don't really have to be necessarily scheduled. But can have a positive impact on mental health and your physical health too. So I wake up and drink three glasses of water immediately. That always makes me feel good. That's such a small thing, but it has positive ripple effects through your physical and mental health.
When you burn out, you start to be really cognizant of what your doing to your body. In fact, burnout often manifests as physical ailments. When I was getting ready to leave my teaching position in Baltimore, my body actually started to shut down. I developed kidney stones. And I sprained my ankle. I felt like I had a sinus infection for four months. My body was really telling me, “Hey, we're collapsing here from working 16 hours a day, and the high level of stress.”
So start to notice what that looks like for you. It could be getting headaches or feeling the compulsion to sleep 15 or 16 hours a day. And it can manifest in so many different ways. But how can exercise and nutrition help that? They really do work.
So for me, I'm an intermittent faster. That means I eat one meal a day. I try to eat really nutrient dense foods and even cooking has become part of my mental health plan. We're trying one of the meal delivery services. So that's three times a week, I don't have to think about grocery shopping or choosing what to eat for dinner. And then the other days of the week, I just cook in the crock pot.
So removing that decision making ability and excess shopping time has been huge for my mental health. I actually really enjoy grocery shopping, but I don't like doing it more than once a week.
So exercise has become really important for me as well. I found that doing 40 to 60 minutes of exercise will tamper a lot of the anxiety that I might wake up with if I'm in a busy season or under a lot of stress. It also helps me sleep. And then, of course, the nutrition feeds into that as well.
Do not be afraid to ask for things from your friends and family. I've asked certain friends and business colleagues to stop saying “Call me anytime.” Because I don't know what to do with that information. I don't want to call them and they’re in the middle of dinner or they’re in some other meeting and I've disrupted them.
So it really helps me when they give me specific times that we can talk. It seems like such a small thing. But I don't want to have the back and forth or even the internal pressure of “Call me anytime.” Like please just like if you want to talk about something specific, let's nail down a time and a place to have that conversation.
You can also ask for support from your friends and family like please don't call me during the workday when I'm doing my work. Or Thursday nights is going to be our family fun night and everyone needs to be on board with this. This is the time that works for everyone's schedule. What support can you get from your friends and family to help you through these times?
So my husband is now in graduate school again, he knows that if he needs help with his citations, or if he needs me to go polish a journal article for him, that's a very simple way that I can support him and make things faster for him. And likewise, I'll call on him and say, “I need to have a company meeting about my dissertation or about this thing I'm doing or I'm getting ready to present at a book festival next week.”
I know I can ask him to be there for the day. Him coming along with me will make it more fun. And he knows that it's really going to make me feel supported if he’s there. So think of the different ways that you can ask for little support from your friends and family. Don't be afraid to ask. The worst that can happen is that someone says no. But that's usually very rare. Especially when you just come out and explain why you're asking for this.
There's been so many studies about how technology is affecting our lives. And there's no doubt that it has ripple effects in many different ways. I've already talked to you about how closing my computer, turning off my phone, and using tools like Boomerang, helped me to get on top of my email. Even sometimes, with my coaching clients, I will just explain that I am only going to be able to check this two or three times today because I'm at a conference. I have very clear boundaries. I'm not going to answer messages on the weekend. You're free to send me them if that's when you're in the zone and send me emails, but just know that I'm not going to read them or respond to them.
So sometimes, I really just want to binge a couple reruns of Big Bang Theory on my iPad. Or The Office or Friends on Netflix. And that actually makes me feel supported in a mental health way. But be aware of when that can be used as a distraction or when you're using that as a coping mechanism. Because it can really be a sign of something bigger that's going on if you like start bingeing at noon and then you find that four or five hours have gone by. That's a sign that there's something else going on. Maybe you don't feel personally connected to your business anymore and you need to take that step back and ask about that.
So limits on technology can be helpful. They can also be things you implement within your family and within your household. How are we going to spend more time together. I've really been testing out how many times I can leave the house without my business cell phone especially if I'm just going to the gym or running an errand. So limits on technology can take so many different forms. But it's really fun to try that and test that out.
What I would love is if you could think about how a mental health plan for your freelance business based on this episode could support you, your company, your family, your physical health, and your emotional health. All too often the stigma around mental health is that we just ignore these issues. We act like people are weak if they admit that they're suffering from anxiety, burnout, stress, and/or depression.
I’m entering what will perhaps be a crazy eight months for my business. Because of book writing, expanding my coaching, potentially working with a new client that would take up a lot of my time, but would really line up with my passion and purpose. And so I'm being proactive about that.
This time, I'm saying how do I best support myself knowing that not only is this going to affect how I feel on a day to day basis, but the work products that I create. When I'm in a better state with reduced anxiety and reduce stress my work products are going to be better. I'm going to affect and impact more people in that way by being intentional about my mental health. So I'd love to hear your ideas on how you're going to take a mental health plan and make it a serious component of your business.
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Remember, you can always check out additional resources on my website betterbizacademy.com like bingeing past podcast episodes and checking out my massive volume of YouTube videos. Or if you're interested in becoming a freelance writer, take a look at my very first book. Until next time, thanks for listening!
When I first launched my freelance writing business in 2012, it was okay to be a little bit disorganized. It was also okay to not really have one consistent place where I was communicating with clients or keeping track of my research and deadlines. Why? Because I didn't have that many clients at the time.
So whether you're starting right now or you're already in the intermediate stages of your freelance business, it is much easier to build in these strategies and tools now. They'll be there to support you when your business grows. So these are some of my favorite tools for keeping projects and clients organized.
You have to have a way of key keeping track of the projects that have deadlines associated with them. But you also need a place to store where you're going to keep the contact information for people. You need to follow up with people that you've sent proposals to and with someone who asked you to circle back in three months, etc.
So I sort everything that comes into my freelancing world by need. So is this something I need to do? It's an actual project. It's instructions that I need to review and follow up with the client again to ask questions about. Is this something where I need to follow up and see if they've had a chance to review my pitch or proposal? Do I need to ask further information or request a meeting? Or do I need to edit something? Do I need to submit something such as if I've sent in the piece already, but we're waiting to submit the invoice?
So there's lots of different tools out there. And one of the best pieces of advice I can tell you is to always be researching and looking for ways that suit your individual business style. The tools that everyone else uses might not be the right fit for you. So a great example of this is that a lot of academics that I know use Trello for organizing their big academic projects. For me, even though I love Trello, and that's one of the tools I'm going to talk about in this episode, it wasn't right for me to organize my dissertation project. [Check out this related post on why I love Trello for managing digital teams]
So be open to trying something out and giving it a week or two weeks to see whether it could be a fit for you. And then ultimately changing and using that information that you've learned. What did you like about the process that you had? And what could be better?
It is a very simple tool. And it is very affordable at $24 a year the last time that I checked. It really lists out, almost notebook style, the entire days of the week. Now what's cool about this is that you can easily add things into it. And then you just have to click on it for it to strike a line through it and it won't delete right away anything that you struck the line through.
So if you have made a mistake or something, you can go back and fix that. You can also see how much you've done during that day, And you can customize it with sort of a color background.
It's a very simplistic tool, but it's one that I have used for over four years. So every time a project came in, I put whatever I needed to do related to that immediately into this particular website. It was easy to access from my phone as well as from my laptop. And I loved that because it was really all I needed at that point in time.
So I would split things into different projects like research, write, edit, or turn in invoice. I love the simplicity of Teux Deux and how easy it is to capture information. It also ensured that there was much less of a chance that I would forget something and then not be able to meet a deadline as a result of that.
There's a little bit more flexibility with To Do List like add drop down sub tasks and customize things into different projects. Whereas on TeuxDeux, you're just going to have a daily vision of whatever it is that you need to do. So you might have to drag and drop and sort on your own to make things you know work together.
Like all the emails you have to send to sort of lump them next to each other so To Do List is sort of a next level up from the above-mentioned tool when it comes to keeping track of all of the different things you've got on your plate.
As a freelancer, you're wearing many different hats and doing many different things inside your business. So having a place to track all of this marketing, client communications, actual projects is a great way to be able to keep track of that and make sure that you do not lose things.
For quite a while, I also use just a Google document with a table of five different boxes in it to keep track of my to do list. And I did that to sort of plot out how much I was doing per day. I was estimating how many hours or minutes it would take me to do certain tasks. That gave me a week by week view of seeing if I was overloading myself on particular days.
Being familiar with Google Docs and Google Suite can also be very beneficial when pitching yourself to clients. Oddly enough, not everyone you know has Microsoft Word. And it's also sometimes easier to work from the same version of a document.
Google Docs can be beneficial to you if you're a writer or not a writer. Google Docs allows you to see the different changes that are being suggested or have been made in the document so that everyone's working from the same version at the same time. And this is really helpful when you're turning something in. You don't want multiple people editing it on their own and then you have to sort of merge all of those edits together.
So Google Docs is an easy way for people to see, edit, and print material that you have turned in. I use Google Sheets and Google Docs pretty much every single day. So it's a great way to be able to communicate with clients, respond to comments, and make sure that you don't miss particular edits as well. You can also accept all of the changes or suggestions when it's in suggest mode. So that is another great benefit that I find to be easier to use than Microsoft Word.
Other similar tools include Asana and Basecamp. Trello is very visual in comparison to those two. It's best for complicated or advanced projects. I use Trello for the project management of my own virtual team. So we have something like this podcast episode, we’ll move through the process on the Trello board, where we're adding images, making sure that the audio engineer has access to the audio for the show, making sure that we've pulled out quotes for social media, and have the show notes uploaded.
So we often connect back and forth with Dropbox. One of the challenges with Trello is that there are limits on how big the file sizes can be. So a lot of times when we're working with a big file, like a podcast episode that gets uploaded into Dropbox, and then we link to it inside Trello.
And I love Trello because you can see where everyone has contributed to a certain project. You can see when things that are overdue. And you can ask questions there and tag people. So it works really well for advanced or complicated projects.
I have been a Content Manager for several different companies. And I have used Trello for all of those to organize teams of as many as 6 to 15 writers and editors working on the same project. I love the visual aspect of it. And it's very easy to go in and see all of the places where you have been tagged.
Now you can get a free version of Boomerang and it will limit how many of the benefits you can use. I pay for the premium version. It's $5 a month. In my opinion, it's well worth it. There are two different features of Boomerang that I love.
One is called inbox pause. It allows you to stop emails from showing up in your inbox. And it hides them into a secret folder. Yes, you can still get to that secret folder if you need to. Boomerang is a great thing if you're trying to respond to a bunch of messages or work on a very focused project and you don't want to have people who are replying to you filling up your email inbox. Or if you're just trying to reduce the amount of time you spend in your email inbox. This can help break some of that addiction of waiting for the next email to populate.
So inbox pause, you can set it so that you just have to click unpause. It will then deliver all those messages at once to your inbox. Or you can put it on a schedule. So if you check your email three times a day, it can come back into your inbox on a schedule and help break some of the lost time and productivity that so many of us experience due to email.
The other aspect of Boomerang for Gmail that I love is being able to schedule messages to go out at a certain time. And sort of in conjunction with that, send emails to come back into your email inbox later. So I usually never have less than 50 open emails in my inbox at a time. I use Boomerang to the ones that are not urgent.
So if it's something where someone's proposing an idea someone sending in something early, I will Boomerang those to come back into my inbox later. It will remove them from showing up as unread in my email inbox. And then I will decide when they come back in. So if my Friday mornings are my administrative time and someone's sending me administrative questions like password issues or invoices, I will receive that and then immediately Boomerang it to come back on Friday.
So it doesn't seem like that's something I need to deal with right away. The other aspect of that is sending messages later. You can decide when emails go out. So you can schedule it to go out. For example, if you're working on the weekend and don't really want your clients to know that you're in the office on the weekend, you can schedule that email to go out on Monday morning.
You can also set emails to come back to your inbox, if you don't receive a response from the intended party. This can be great as a simple way to track follow up. So if you pitch to somebody over email, they don't respond to you, then you don't want to forget about that. So when you send the email, you can click a button that says send it back to my inbox in two days no matter what, or in two days if I don't get a response. And that can prompt you to make it very easy to respond.So I love Boomerang for Gmail, the free version is great. The $15 a month is well worth it for all of the benefits that you get.
Another program that is similar is called Streak. It's great for those of you who are sending out a lot of pitches over email and want to be able to keep track of when your emails are being opened. So in the free version of HubSpot, you can track activity for up to 200 notifications. So it's going to track a notification every time someone opens your email.
Now this is great for if you send someone a pitch proposal and you can see if they got the email. If it is sitting there sent, you might be wondering why I don't know if my email message went through. And then secondly, it's also helpful to see who's opening your messages. So if you send a pitch or proposal and someone's opened it 17 times, there's something in there that's calling their attention. So it could be a great opportunity for you to follow up.
You don't need to mention that you've tracked the email and that you know, they've opened it so many times. But it can be a great way to pull out from all the pitches or proposals that you're sending which ones deserve a response.
So you'd want to follow up with those people who are opening your email a lot. There may be something there that is really making them interested or they have further questions. So it's a perfect opportunity, while you know that you are top of mind for them, to be able to follow up. So I've used the paid version of HubSpot email tracking for one to two months.
It's about $50 a month for the basic upgrade into the premium version. And I did that when I was pitching literary agents. So I was sending a ton of emails. I wanted to make sure my emails were being read.
I also use that in conjunction with Boomerang for Gmail, because each literary agent had different guidelines for how long to give them space to read your material before following up. So someone say if it's been six weeks, and you haven't heard from us, you can follow up. So when I would send those emails, I would use Boomerang as well as the HubSpot extension that you can add into your Gmail account. So I would send it with the tracking so I could see that they opened it. And then I would send it to Boomerang back into my inbox if it had been six weeks and I hadn't heard from them to do the follow up.
So the free version is probably sufficient for most people. I think you can get a lot of benefits out of the free version. So definitely check into that. It's a very easy extension that you can connect to your Gmail account.
If you don't want to use something like Boomerang or HubSpot because that feels too technical or you think you'd need the paid version. You can use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I love using Google Calendar in connection with an email scheduling or with a scheduling tool that I use called Calendly.
I like Calendly because rather than having emails going back and forth, it makes it easy for them to book a time that is on your schedule. And you can set it up where it sends a calendar invitation immediately to their email address after they've booked a time. So they're going to get reminders and other information about speaking with you.
You can also use Google calendar for adding follow up reminders. I've used Google calendar to create my ideal week. So I don't know if you know that you can go into calendars and set up different ones to show up on your schedule at the same time.
So on the left side, inside Google Calendar, it says my calendars, I've got a goal week calendar. And I've got my regular calendar. You can merge those together so you see all of the things that you have coming up. But Google Calendar makes it so easy to see what your week ahead is looking like or to determine if you're traveling, which weeks look kind of slow, where you might be able to easily get out of the office and do some different things, or take some time off. So Google Calendar just makes that so easy.
Because what works for me might not work as well for you. So test things out. And if you don't love something about a software or tool, figure out how you can tweak it. So go into YouTube and look for tutorials and other information where you can learn more about it. Or ask in entrepreneur groups.You can say, “Hey, this is what I love and don't love about you know Boomerang for Gmail. Does anyone else know of another program that is similar, where I can still get some of these benefits without some of the downsides?”
So this has been Episode 83. I'd love to hear what other strategies, tools, and pieces of software are essential for you and your freelance business. What are you using to scale up and to be able to get things done efficiently and never let any of the different projects slip through the cracks? As always, thanks for tuning in. You can send topic ideas or questions to info at betterbizacademy.com.
It's time for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. And thanks for finding me here. Whether you're in my facebook group, Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura, discovered my freelance services on LinkedIn, or found me through my website betterbizacademy.com, I'm thrilled that you're here. It's my mission to make freelancing something that you enjoy doing, Something that fits into the rest of your life so that you can optimize your business and your goals as much as possible and feel really confident about how you approach your business and how you choose to scale it.
Yes, even for those advanced freelancers. I'd argue that test projects are more important for advanced freelancers than even beginners because we have to be choosy about who we work with. And test projects are an excellent opportunity to see if the client likes you. And if you like the client.
One common mistake that a lot of freelancers make is to think about this as only a “one way” transaction of trying to prove yourself to the client and show just how great you are so that they're thrilled to potentially work with you on a bigger project or on retainer. But do not neglect to think about how freelance test projects actually help you decide whether or not to work with this person.
This is especially true if I've done a phone call with somebody and I'm not entirely sure that they're going to be the right fit for me or the way that I do business. Now, they might be thinking of it as, “Oh, this is great. Like we get to work together. And that way, I'm not committed long term if I don't like this particular freelancer.” But I'm thinking about it from another perspective. I want to see their style of communication. And I want to see if the project is even worth my time. That way I have an easy out if this is not the right fit for me.
In fact, I've done several test projects. Most recently over this past summer that just did not work out. They didn’t work out not because the client was unhappy, but because I didn't want to continue working with them. And that saved me a lot of headaches or that feeling of guilt that I had to continue working with someone.
Now it might seem crazy to you. And you might be thinking, “If somebody offers me a three month contract and I don't know if I like working for them or not, I should just take it because that's three months of income that's very predictable.” I can understand feeling that way. But it can be much more beneficial to know that you're working with a nightmare client on a short term limited basis before agreeing to work with them for a longer period of time.
And it has the added bonus of being a great sales technique of showing how wonderful you are to work with. So a client that's on the fence or maybe thinks that your rates are a little too high, could be persuaded into working with you just based on the experience that you provide in test projects.
First they are small and manageable. When you define a test project, it's usually either something that the client has specified very clearly in writing or it's something that you propose. So a virtual assistant, for example, might take on a one-time project to create a social media calendar for the month. Or perhaps provide five hours of their services to see whether or not it's a fit.
As a writer, I often take on test projects that involve me working on one small blog or piece of content. I am writing for them with very clear expectations about how long that project is going to be, how much it's going to cost them, etc. It keeps things small and manageable and really does guard against problems like “scope creep”, because I'm specifically saying, “Let's work together on a trial basis or for a test project. Here's what that test project looks like.”
Now your rates might be higher or different for the test project. Because you're not working on retainer, that's yet another reason for the client to consider deciding to work with you over the long run. They might realize that they will get some sort of a discount for purchasing ongoing services, but that your one time trial rate, because you have to do extra things like getting to know the client, reviewing their guidelines and expectations, and only to deliver a one time project might be different.
With that in mind, though, keep the test project small and manageable. Don't take on something that's going to require 20 hours worth of your work. Try to make it meaningful for what you're hoping to accomplish.
Sure, this is your chance to step up to the plate and show the client everything that you have to offer. And of course, you want to do a good job. You want to show them why it's so wonderful working with you. So aspects beyond the quality of your work are really important when delivering test project.
The work should be delivered on time. You should make it easy for the client to work with you. And you should ask all questions at the outset of the project. But it's a trial on your side as well. It gives you a chance to learn things like:
I'll give you a great example here. I recently worked with a client that had a decent rate per piece. But the amount of work required, they wanted me to listen to phone calls with the client. They wanted me to review long brand expectations. They had big content guidelines to look at. And they also wanted three rounds of revisions. So that ended up not making sense.
And I'm definitely glad that I knew that information working on a test project rather than committing to working with them on an ongoing basis. So that's what you're looking for. as a freelancer. You're trying to provide them with a lot of great evidence of why they should continue to work with you beyond the trial project should you want to do so. But you're also looking to see is this someone I can see myself working with long term.
The client learns what it's like to work with you. And when something is outside the scope of reason. So if you're working on a test project, and you turn in a piece, and they wait two weeks to review it, and then demand that you incorporate changes within 12 hours. That's a good thing for you to see in the test project. It also gives you a chance to say, “Okay, this isn't really what I was expecting and working together. Normally, I need a couple of days to be able to implement revisions. And I haven't been able to block this into my schedule, because I haven't heard from you for two weeks.” So you might still be able to salvage that relationship by telling them why it's a problem. And if they're totally unreasonable, you can wrap up the project and not ever work with them again.
Now, they might not understand the reasons why you're declining to work with them if you decide that's what's best for you. I like to keep it simple and generic sharing at the end of a test projects that I don't intend to continue working with them. I explain that it's simply not the right fit for me or my business. You want to allow them to find someone who might be a better fit for them.
Your client might think that just the very fact that they're offering you money in and of itself should encourage you to take the project on an ongoing basis or to take more work from them. But that's not always the case. As freelancers we get to decide what we will and won't do and who we will and won't work with.
So one of the important aspects of this could be that you have a project minimum. Maybe you did great on the test project and the client is thrilled with the work you did, but their project on an ongoing basis is only $200 a month. That might be far too small for you to stick with and to continue making an effort to communicate with them and keep things organized. The client might not understand it because they're thinking, “Hey, it's an extra $200 a month. And I paid you on time. I showed I was easy to work with.” But if that project is too small for you to fit into your schedule and requires too much work for that $200, you might choose to pass after the test project. So just be prepared to rely on that line of saying this isn't a good fit for your business model at this point in time. That's a really good one to come back to in these situations.
First of all, narrow it down to one small piece of what they want done or a one week trial. I recently took on a client where it didn't make sense to do a per piece rate. It really needed to be hourly because of the kind of work he was requesting. So I said, “What if we work together for one weeka and I think that a reasonable outcome from that would be a document that looks like this. And then from there, we'll decide whether or not to continue working together.”
That helps scale it down. So my client felt more confident about partnering with me and knew that his losses would be limited if the project were a disaster. So even if I turned out not to be the right fit for him, I still gave him a heads up on the type of output he could expect to receive during that one week. And he could cut his losses at that point and run and still not have anything. He'd still have something substantial that he could use, but he wouldn't be locked into working with me on an ongoing basis before knowing it was a fit. So try to narrow it down to one small piece of what the person wants done or a one week trial.
To circle back to my example of the client that I started with. I said, “I'm not going to work any more than eight hours on your project that will give you a chance to review what I've completed to give me a better idea of the scope of this project overall. And what allows you to decide whether or not to continue.” So he felt confident in knowing kind of what that budget was going to be at the beginning. And I felt comfortable that I wasn't agreeing to something that would be far more substantial and too involved for me to really know what was going on.
So when you're working on a project that could become very complicated or involve a lot of hours, the test project is a really good chance to get grounded in it. And to understand, “Okay, here's what I think will be necessary to get this done.” Imagine someone asks you to edit their book, taking on a small piece of that, such as a number of pages, or one chapter will also tell you how much time is likely to be involved in editing the rest of the book because you're looking at one small piece of the bigger puzzle. So try to clarify what that cap will be and what it will cause.
Clients love knowing upfront that they're not going to have to pay more than a certain amount for a piece or for a set number of hours of work. Because part of their hesitation and working with you might be that they don't know what it's going to cost them. So it's much easier to come back and say, “Hey, I've edited five pages of this book. It took me this many hours. Based on what you've told me about the final word count, I’d estimate that for me to edit the whole thing it would be this amount and it would take me this long.” So it helps the client to decide if you're the right fit or not, while also showcasing the value in what you provided in that smaller piece.
Finally, explain to the client that this is a limited engagement and that you'll circle back after the fact. I like to use terms like “I'm happy to help you out with this short term project to see if we're a fit.” It says that I'm not committing to working with you long term. I don't know if I have enough information yet to decide whether we should continue working together. So this is a test project that goes both ways, because I'm trying to decide if I want to continue working with you as well. Using those terms and referencing them to the client while also positioning that this is a value add for them because they get to test you out and see the quality of your work often puts people at ease. And usually if you can step up to the plate and deliver a really amazing test project, and the client is happy and you're happy, it is easier to convert them into working on retainer.
Test projects can be an extremely valuable way to grow your business. And to avoid working with clients on a long term basis who just aren't the right fit for you. I love using test projects for advanced freelancers because 9 times out of 10 you already have the skills and ability to make the client thrilled. But it's about you deciding if this a partnership you want to take on while also showing that amazing value and talent that you have.
So I'd love for you to take from this episode how to use test projects and to think about how you can use them with clients who are kind of on the fence. Maybe aren't ready to sign a retainer yet! You can really increase your conversions by using test projects as this tool.
Thanks for listening to another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. If this episode was helpful for you, I'd love to help other freelancers find my podcast and listen to it as well. Please consider signing into Apple podcast and leaving me a review in there on iTunes. It really helps the iTunes algorithm show this podcast and its episodes to other people. Thanks again.