In this episode Kimber Hill, the Founder and CEO of VirtForce, shares why she pivoted to remote work, and how she now coaches her military community to invest in their career and personal development that launches them into successful Virtual Careers. She’s a military spouse on a mission to lower the unemployment rate for military spouses.
You’ll learn how to gain the confidence and skills you need to work remotely. We discussed the things that you need to do to prepare and market yourself to the virtual job market.
Why Kimber left a government contracting position and how she has created a 15 million dollar impact on the military community.
What are the mindset obstacles around pivoting to remote work and how do you overcome them?
What are the most in demand remote work positions?
What is it like to work virtually?
How to feel more confident about working virtually?
Kimber shares how to break the mental block around the dreaded resume gaps and her recommendations for getting through it.
Certifications to get the skills that employers want.
How to utilize gig based work and internships to gain experience.
Marketing yourself to the remote work job market and the platforms to use to get work.
Tips for interviewing virtually and how to show up professionally.
Kimber Hill is the Founder and CEO of VirtForce, the organization filling the gap between America’s Active Duty Military Spouses and virtual careers.
VirtForce’s most important core value is Servant Leadership. Through acts of service she and her team have created a global community where Military Spouses can build virtual work skills, train in leadership roles, and receive a constant stream of remote work opportunities. The organization has successfully created an avenue for Military Spouses to find sustainable employment supportive of the inevitable permanent change of station.
Kimber and her husband are from Moulton, Alabama. They are affiliated with the Navy and are currently stationed in Florida. Kimber has a Bachelors Degree in Film Production from Birmingham-Southern College, a Masters Degree in Information Systems from the University of Alabama at Huntsville, and she is a Certified Project Management Professional.
“We are increasing career happiness and self-worth of Military Spouses while simultaneously lowering the Military Spouse unemployment rate. I really love what we’re doing here because we can see tangible results. At VirtForce, we have a heart for people and a knack for effective processes. We get things done!” – Kimber Hill
Where to Connect with VirtForce:
Website - https://virtforce.us/vf-podcast/
Apple Podcasts - http://bit.ly/vf-apple1
Spotify - http://bit.ly/vf-spotify
Google Play - http://bit.ly/vf-google
Stitcher - http://bit.ly/vf-stitcher
Android - http://bit.ly/vf-android
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In this episode, you’re hearing from another former teacher, Brittany. She’s now a pro in the online service world and helps other teachers break free of working in the long, slow grind that is a career for so many in the U.S. education system.
You’ll learn more about Brittany’s big wakeup call and how that pushed her to have clarity in her online business. We discussed some of the challenges of being a modern teacher and why it burns so many educators out.
Here are some other things we covered in this episode on moving from teaching to working for yourself:
Brittany is a former middle school science teacher turned six-figure freelancer and entrepreneur. She works at home building funnels and writing copy. Together, she and her husband help other teachers that want to transition out of teaching through their blog, Life After Teaching.
If you’ve always wanted to work with nonprofits or if you’re a writer who wants to broaden your skillset, have you ever considered grantwriting? It’s a different form of copywriting when compared with things like sales copy, but nonprofits frequently don’t have the resources to write their own grants. These grants are key for their funding, so it’s vital they outsource to a freelance grantwriter.
In this episode, you’ll hear from veteran grantwriter Teresa Huff so that you can decide whether or not you should be a freelance grantwriter and what it really looks like. We cover a lot in this episode as a teaser for you to consider your next steps and whether you want to learn more about becoming a freelance grantwriter.
If you listened to this episode and don’t yet have a copy of How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business, get your copy now!
Teresa Huff is a Grant Strategist and Content Writer who has helped nonprofits triple their funding. She has a Master’s in Education and 20+ years of experience in writing, education, and business.
She’s figured out how to survive (and thrive!) in her geeky introverted life while working from home and juggling her kids, husband, and a crazy chihuahua.
After winning several million dollars in funding for schools and nonprofits, her goal is to now equip other freelance writers to change the world. To get started, take her free quiz “Do you have what it takes to be a grant writer?” at teresahuff.com/bizquiz.
Grant Writer Mentoring: www.teresahuff.com
Nonprofit and Small Business Strategy: www.AdeoDevelopment.com
In this episode, we chatted all things Facebook ads and how Brandi grew her business from service provider to rockstar empire owner. Brandi has does a lot of this without a team. Although there’s definitely a point where you need to outsource to someone like a virtual assistant, Brandi talks about how you can start and grow without the team.
Did you know The Six Figure Freelancer is now available for preorder? Check it out here.
Brandi is a wife, mom, and on a mission to help online service-based entrepreneurs create a business and life they love. As a Facebook and Instagram ad strategist she was able to scale her business without a team to multiple six-figures in a short 18 months and now she is helping others do the same! Facebook and Instagram ads are her JAM, but helping others make their dream life a reality is her passion.
free training: servescalesoar.com/free
Do you know some of the things that are holding you back from getting great results? Are you nervous about claiming the right pricing? Too many freelancers who are new to working for themselves automatically downgrade what they want to charge because they think they don’t have enough freelance experience.
Meet Kelly Cochran, who launched her own work-from-home business after being in the corporate world.
In our discussion, we talk about knowing that you’re not the right fit for a corporate or other traditional environment and how to use the experience and strengths you have in a freelance or entrepreneurship capacity.
Affectionately known as “Loud Blonde” by friends and fans, KELLY COCHRAN is an unapologetic writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who passionately encourages women to listen to their instincts and speak their truth at the highest volume.
Honing her skills as an SEO expert, brand strategist, and project manager, Kelly spent 15 years in corporate America. Tired of hitting her head on the glass ceiling, she ditched the cubicle for good in 2017. She is a freelance marketer and high-performance coach who empowers her clients to build profitable, passion-centric businesses and break the chains of the 9-to-5.
Kelly’s debut book, LOUD: Silence Your Critics & Turn Up the Volume on Your Life, launched as an Amazon #1 Best Seller in September 2019. Kelly is also the recent recipient of the "Top 20 On the Rise" Award for Marketing, sponsored by Honeybook and the Rising Tide Society.
Kelly currently resides in San Diego, California. Follow her adventures on Instagram @LoudBlonde, or visit LoudBlonde.com for more information.
In this episode, I talk with someone who founded a job board. We often interact with job boards when we’re applying to different gigs, but have you ever thought about what goes into setting up a freelance job board?
Today’s episode guest is Lesley Pyle of Hire My Mom. Moms wanting to work from home and get more flexibility and Lesley was way ahead of the curve on recognizing the need to promote hiring mothers and parents.
Not everyone’s path to becoming a freelancer looks the same, but many people are rethinking how and where they work. Starting a freelance side hustle is a great opportunity to explore new passions and decide what’s really best for you.
People who want to work from home have a hard time getting started if they don’t have a pipeline for finding clients. In fact, it’s one of the most common hurdles people experience if they don’t have a solid marketing plan.
If you’re a new mom or have children already, Hire My Mom might be the perfect site for you to learn about new opportunities!
Lesley Pyle is the founder of HireMyMom.com, a boutique service connecting Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses with top-notch Virtual Professionals across the country founded in 2007. She began her work-at-home career in 1996 with the launch of her first website: Home-Based Working Moms. She has a Master's degree in Public Relations from the University of Stirling, Scotland while on a full academic scholarship and as an Ambassador of Goodwill for Rotary International. She also has a BA in Journalism / Public Relations from Texas State University. Pyle has been featured in numerous publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. In her spare time, she loves traveling, decorating, football and spending time with family and friends. She and her husband live in Texas and have four children ages 12-24.
In this episode, you’ll hear from two expert web developers and agency owners Jason Martin and Patrick Falvey. You’ll learn about how they made the decision to partner up and why a partnership and agency is the right choice for you so you can decide if this is the right fit for you.
You’ll hear advice on how they knew it was going to be a fit because they had worked together and how that helped them decide that being partners set them both up for success in running a freelance agency.
Running an agency is very different from working as a solopreneur, but you definitely have the opportunity to benefit from the “two heads are better than one” mentality. How do you choose a partner? How do you set things up from the beginning? How do you know what personality traits you should look for when you want to team up?
About Jason + Patrick:
Jason Martin is a Managing Partner of DjangoForce, a customer software development agency that helps businesses increase efficiency through the use of modern technology. After spending two decades working in marketing and UI design with multimillion dollar brands and start-ups, Jason knows what truly drives conversions and business efficiency. Jason's business accomplishments have landed coverage in Forbes, Tim Ferriss, and GeekWire. In addition to running a software development company, Jason is a travel and Jiu Jitsu enthusiast who lives in Boise, ID with his wife and 3 daughters.
Patrick Falvey is a Managing Partner of DjangoForce, a custom software development agency that helps businesses increase efficiency through the use of modern technology. In his spare time he loves to learn about anything technical, like updating his knowledge of new development frameworks, executive education through MIT, or even building an 8-bit CPU from scratch. Patrick lives full time in Boise, ID with his wife, Vina and enjoys mountain biking and skiing when he's not behind a screen.
Did you know that you don't have to scale your freelance business up to a full-time job? Plenty of Freelancers have a goal of scaling their business to be able to replace their day job income, but others are perfectly happy with what they do from 9 to 5. If that's you, you'll love this episode with experienced freelancer and nurse Janine Kelbach, who purposefully keeps her freelance writing biz as a part-time venture simply because she loves her job.
If you're like most people, having a day job doesn't fulfill all of your creative or even entrepreneurial desires. This is what makes freelancing so unique as a business model, since you can scale it up or down as much as you want. Taking on the number of clients that is right for you is a very personal decision.
Keeping your freelance side hustle, however, also give you peace of mind that if something were to happen to your job, or if you want to accomplish different financial goals more quickly, that you have alternative options.
No matter what your day job is, there's a good chance that it takes a great chunk of your time. In this episode, we discuss how to successfully freelance side hustle when you have a day job that consumes a lot of your mental and physical energy.
You can actually use the fact that you have a day job as a way to more quickly accomplish things, since you have a compressed window of time in which you must accomplish all aspects of your feelings business, including marketing, client work, and the administrative aspects of running a freelance company. Having a day job while also freelancing on the side requires you to be much more focused and diligent about the kind of projects that you take on.
Most people start their freelance side hustle while they're currently in at a job, but this means that plenty of new Freelancers feel like they're not qualified enough to charge high prices or to even pitch themselves to potential clients. In this episode, we talked about imposter syndrome and how to overcome it when you're new to your freelance side hustle. Janine and I also discussed how to evaluate your current skillset to find the freelance side hustle types that are best suited to you.
Are you stuck on which kind of freelance side hustle you want to start? I have good news for you: I put the top 24 most profitable freelance side hustles into a PDF guide you can use to branch out of your existing freelance offering or decide which direction you want to go. Check that out here.
Janine’s podcast : www.thesavvyscribepodcast.com
Her linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/writernjanine/
Her instagram: @savvyscribes
It's time for your weekly dose of inspiration and strategy from the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Before I kick off today's episode, if you love this show and listen every week, please hop on over to iTunes and consider leaving the show a review. It helps other people interested in similar content be able to find this show and benefit from all of the great tips that you have already heard.
What if you could determine who in your audience is your best client in 180 seconds? Juliet Clark is a dynamic and sought after speaker and podcaster, who has spent the last 20 years helping authors, coaches, speakers, and small businesses all over the world build expert platforms.
She created a platform building tool that assesses audience obstacles, generates leads, and qualifies leads for businesses. And she says her simple technology can be used from the stage, on social media, and at workshops to create conversations that build long term relationships. She's also the host of the Promote, Profit, and Publish podcast which helps entrepreneurs understand how to use great tools in the coaching and small business spaces. So we're going to be talking all about lead generation, lead qualification, and how to make that process easier for you. This is a hot topic for a lot of freelancers.
So I'm out of college. I started out in traditional publishing. And I went on to work in advertising on a couple billion dollar accounts Chiat Day. And from there I went to being a stay at home mom and lasted two weeks. It was really hard. That is a hard job.
And so I decided that I could balance my time between there and real estate. And the one thing that I carried through all of those was that you had to prequalify before you worked with people. And you also had to build a really solid Avatar and test and validate that avatar over and over and talk to those people.
So, in 2007, I was going through a divorce and I wrote my first book. It was a mystery novel. I killed my ex husband in it. It was very cathartic. But the “what” came from that experience, besides not having to wear a felony orange jumpsuit, because it was metaphorically killing him in a book was that.
When I went to publish my first book, I found a self publishing model that was horrendous. It did not serve authors at all. So I started my own company and then within that we had entrepreneurs bringing us a book. And they had written the book because their products and services weren't selling. And someone told them that, “You know, the book is the answer. It's why nobody knows you.” And I kind of said, “No, that's not it. Yeah, this is going to be another failed product.”
So we developed, we worked with it, I found a platform that I really loved, and we started developing assessment marketing that was also lead generation. And as we got better and better over time with it, we put components in with it that were also qualification. So that when the people are working with the assessments, they're actually pre qualifying themselves for your business.
I think that is such an important thing to consider that you have lead qualification processes built in when people are coming to you. Both with they are landing on your website, your landing pages, they're finding you some other way, but also when you're doing outreach with them.
So my there's a couple of things. My experience when I was in real estate was there was always a couple guys in the office who'd be like, “I have 60 leads.” And they never closed anything. And I had a really great team of people, we were selling about 60 houses a year. And we pre qualified everybody. It was such a huge difference in what we closed every year. So I think that pre pre qualification, we go out and we collect leads, but we don't really find out how interested they are. So that's one of the one of the things.
The other thing is, it's easy for you to explain what you do and develop a product. But if you don't validate it first and know who that audience is, you can't replicate it for lead generation. So you have to be able to not only build that avatar, but also validate it.
So this is the second time I've had to answer this today. One of the things, and I know with freelancers, they work with a lot of coaches, authors, speakers, and small businesses. And unfortunately, that business model is what I call “Bootstrap to Bankruptcy”. Because there are all these things that you need to be successful and one of them is not validating that product.
So that's actually what we use the assessments for. We tell people that are brand new, like we're your first stop, you have an idea. Let's get you out on a stage or networking or wherever it is. Let's create this based on success principles and let them tell you if it's a valid product and if they would pay me money for it. Because you get a lot of lip service about, “Oh, I really love that.” And then nobody will pay anything for it.
So I'd rather see you spend a couple thousand dollars and validate, then go out and hire that book coach and an online marketing coach and all of those things that are going to cost you anywhere from $10 to $100,000. I'd rather see you validate first.
So I also do some freelance public relations work for nonfiction business book authors. And it drives me crazy how many of them come to me and say, “I published my book three months ago, and it's not selling at all.” And I'm like, “Why are we waiting until three months after the book is launched to think about these kinds of things? Did anyone even want to read that book to begin with? And how much opportunity we've lost by you spending a year two years of your life working on this thing?”
And then it's the parts of it like did it ever have legs to begin with? Was it ever validated? And then also, how can we make sure that that follow through comes all the way through the process, right? We can't just stop when you created the product. You have to build in your customer service. And you have to build in your marketing. All those pieces have to be in place.
Especially when you're doing something like cold outreach. That's something a lot of freelancers do. They say I want to work with Procter and Gamble, or whatever. So they go do their research. They dig for hours to try to find the CMOS email address, write this custom pitch, and get in there.
Then they forget about that lead qualification process just because it was a big name or a cool company. They still might not be your right client. So can you talk a little bit about, especially on a phone call, because that's usually the next step for a lot of freelancers, what information can you be asking for or listening for on a phone call to determine if a lead is not the right fit? So you've done your base level of investigation about this company or person, you think there's possibility to work together.
So a lot of what we do inside of enrollment conversations is really talking to them about what's worked, what isn't working, what have you tried to get it to work, and really diving into that? The reasons for those conversations, even though they seem a little invasive, is you're going to find out a couple things. And they may not actually verbalize those things.You have to get really good at listening.
So to give you an example, when someone comes to us, we ask those kinds of questions. And we might find out that they're blaming it on somebody else they worked with. But when you really get down to it and do some heavy listening and dig, dig, dig, you'll find out that the person you're talking to didn't take action. They didn't follow through. And so you're really listening for those patterns when they're telling you about those experiences. Because they will tell you a lot. You'll find out if you have an action person or a blame person. You don't want that blame person
at all. That's so true.
Because just like you were talking about, one thing I always tell freelancers is it's a bad sign if you're on the sales call, and they say, “I've hired 15 other freelancers before and no one could do the job right.” There is only one common denominator in those projects. And it was the person who didn't give good directions, didn't pay on time, or whatever it is that the client has done.
So that's actually what we use that assessment for, in depth, is we set the success principles of what we do and then you measure, as the potential client, where you're at in that. So we know not only how much help you need, but also you have an understanding coming into the call about how much help you need. Because sometimes I find that when we're pre qualifying, people don't realize how much help they actually need. They think they're doing better than they actually are. And for anybody, a freelancer, a business, that is a big red flag because their expectations may be much higher of what you're going to do for them than what you actually commit to do for them.
I use a loose form of pre qualification for the freelancers that I coach. I layout in the sales page this is the type of person I work with. These are the types of things we work on. And then I require that they do a brief phone call with me just to make sure that we're a fit beforehand.
But I'm imagining that using something like a form where you ask questions could help pre qualify people to see if they're the right fit. But what do you do with the people where you read it and you say, “Hmm, this isn't the right fit” or you look at their information they've emailed to you? Let's say you got a lead through your website that says, “I want to hire you to do these freelance services.” But you can tell it's not a fit for you and they didn't really pass your pre qualification test. Where do they go from there? How do you respond to that professionally?
Usually, I try to be a connector. I will go back and explain to them, “Look, this is not really an area where we work well and I can see you need help here. I know somebody.” And then I give them a name and number and tell them they should contact them and see if they can help them a little bit better. That doesn't mean that you're giving bad leads to someone else. But you genuinely may not be the person to do that work.
And most of the time, when we're referring, we're making a little bit of referral fee off of it as well. So it's not a total loss. But here's the thing about it, when you do something like that, and we just have this conversation in integrity, people come back and they send people to you. Because now they fully understand what you do. And they understand that you just didn't take their money and not deliver for the sake of taking their money. And that's huge when you're doing something like this.
So it's also doing a lot of that work for you. But people can self opt out and go, “This is like five questions long and I'm too busy to answer five questions.” If you're too busy to do that, we're never going to get anywhere on the project. Anything else in that lead generation process can definitely help people realize “This is right for me. This isn't right for me.”
Now, one thing I see all the time, not so much in the freelance world, but in other businesses is this idea of buying leads. Now is that something that's still relevant? I mean, I would think it's worth the extra time to find your own leads and then pre qualify them. But then every so often, I do see people selling these lead generation services where they'll promise you a list of X many companies.
So here's the deal. Business is all about relationships. And that is one of the things when you and I initially talked that I told you in this click world out there, what we've developed, is for relationship building. So when you go out and buy a lead, there are three different kinds of traffic out in the world. There is cold traffic, medium traffic, and hot traffic.
Hot traffic is when you have referred somebody to me and you vouched for me. You really need this person. That medium traffic is somebody who kind of knows you, following you trying to figure out what you're doing, and you're nurturing them. Those cold leads, they didn't ask to become a lead, for the most part. Or if you're in digital, they click and they don't really know you. A lot of times they've just clicked a click. So those people are really, really hard when you buy leads. And a lot of times when you go out and buy those, they're spam. So they're actually ticked off that you're like, “Where did you get my name?”
So now you have no chance of building rapport and relationships. You should always go out and develop your own leads because you're the face of your business. You're the person that they're looking at. Are you credible? Do you follow through and do what you say you're going to do? If I tell you when you hand me your card that I'm going to call you this afternoon, do I call you this afternoon? There's all of these things that they're evaluating that make it necessary for you to generate and pre qualify your own leads.
The easy answer of, “Oh, well just give me a list of 10 or 50 companies that I can pitch.” And I always say that your odds of success are going to be so much higher if you make your own list of 10 companies you would like to work with and then do the research to see if on your initial review, they meet your lead qualification. It's just going to be so much more effective.
The other thing I always wonder about those lead gen companies too is let's say they have a list of 50 companies, but 2000 people have bought that list of it, right? So now those people are really pissed off on that lead list because they're like, “Man, everyone under the sun is emailing me and I never asked for this information to come to me.”
And they think, “Okay, every corporation needs me.” Do you have any idea how many times a day that HR person is hounded for a workshop to come in? So the best thing you can do if you want to get into those places, is go to some place where you can network with those people.
The fact is, if I am going to an event, and I want to meet the speakers or I want to do business with those people who have been vouched for that probably could use my services, I reached out to them on LinkedIn. And I say, “Hey, we're going to the blah blah blah event. I can't wait to see you speak.” And then walk up at the event, introduce yourself, “Hey, I reached out on LinkedIn.” And then talk to them.
Sit next to them at the event because inevitably when you're sitting next to people conversation starts. Sit at their table or wherever, because that's where it all begins. That's where you get to make your first impression instead of an email or a solicitation phone call. Get out of the house and go network with those people that you really want to grab their business. And you may find out at those like, “Oh my gosh, that person's horrible. I really don't want to work there.”
But you can always do follow up on LinkedIn. You can do initial outreach on LinkedIn. And then if you sit next to that speaker at that networking event, and they post about having spoken, you remind them of who you are by commenting on that on their social media. You say, “Hey, you did a great job. It was great to meet you.” You want to keep staying in their world. And I think that that is really, really important.
So let's talk about the beginner person who's just starting out realizing that they need to have a better process for capturing incoming leads, what would you say would be the first step that they need to take? Where I'm going with this is a lot of freelancers go, “Oh, I can't launch my business yet. Because I don't have my website.”
A website that has no traffic to it is so useless. So just skip it. I always just tell them that they don't need that unless they have this massive following and they have massive traffic already. Then yes, let's optimize your website and make sure there's a place on there for people to hire you. But I would think it's probably not set up your website. I'm wondering if there's something else people can do to sort of be lead friendly.
How about a landing page? It costs about $50 to put up the landing page. You add a little about yourself, your services, and let's set an appointment. So you can send people to that landing page.
Also get out and start developing content. Let's say that you and I had a conversation or we were going back and forth on LinkedIn a little and you expressed an area you were having a little bit of trouble and you may not hire me today. But wouldn't it be amazing if I served you by saying, “You know what, Laura? I wrote an article about this topic. Can I share it with you?” Then leave the link and and just kind of start developing from there. You're showing them your value instead of telling them how valuable you are.
It is rampant on Facebook and LinkedIn. “Help! I'm launching a podcast. Does anyone have any good resources?” And inevitably 10 people respond. “Hi, I'm a Podcast Producer here. Here's my services page, go check it out.” And it's like, I don't know who you are, you know what I mean?
If you were the person that left me the link that said, “Hey, here's this great resource I found, or I took this course. I read this book. I listened to this podcast and it was awesome.” And continue to build that relationship. I feel like we're interacting as to humans, rather than you just see me as somebody who can be pitched. And I think that that's really important.
I always laugh how many people seem to think that it's as easy as, you send a pitch or you get on a sales, contract sign, you've got the money, the company is in the person. It still goes back to relationships. We live in a digital world. And digital technology enables us to do all that other stuff faster, but we still have to go back to relationships at the end of the day.
So this spring, I have a book called coming out it's actually called “Pitch Slapped”, because that's what I feel like when I go and you do that to me. Especially those people who are on LinkedIn, you connect with them and they say, “Hey, I've got this brand new program. Would you like it?” And it's like, “No, I don't even know who you are.”
I've had people pitch me investment banking stuff. I'm like, “Did you even look at my profile? Like, I don't need investment banking. I'm not looking to have venture capital.” My favorite though is that people who are subtly insulting with their pitch where they're like, “I know how hard it is to work out.” You're like, “Oh my gosh, you're calling me out on my fitness or my nutrition.” Not only have I been “pitch slapped” as Juliet says, but now there's like this undercurrent of like you have flagged me as your ideal lead because you think I need extra help.
My pet peeve is men who email who tech. You go through Facebook Messenger and they say, “Hey, I have this great new meetup. I help women manage their money.” It's like when your husband tries to teach you how to play golf and tells you everything wrong. And you're not inspired by that. You want to hit him over the head with the club.
Does this person want to hear your message? Are you reaching out in the most effective way to do it? Because maybe you do have some incredible supplement that burns fat, but there's a nicer way to go about it, or there's a more appropriate way to make sure that whoever you're targeting is the ideal person to hear that message. I might be willing to hear that at a networking event where they're just talking about their own experience using it.
I actually have a rule that if someone does that to me on LinkedIn, I just remove the connection immediately. If the first message is, “Hi! I sell XYZ. Here's the link to buy it. I'd love to help you.” I'm like, “Okay, remove connection.” Because there is no connection between us because you didn't take the time to even get to know me or spend that time
So I love to share this story. Someone did that to me. They wrote me a birthday message and this was like in 2016. It was really nice message, “Hey, Happy Birthday. You deserve all the best in life. I’d love to help you get healthier in your next year.” And they signed it. So I wrote back, “Thank you.” Then here came the sales pitch.
That would have been okay except 2017, they sent the exact same message. In 2018, I was at an event and the owner of this MLM said, “You know, my people are having a little problem with marketing. Do you think you can come in and talk to us?” And I said, “Oh my gosh, I have this great thing on social media. And guess what? I've got this messenger inside of my presentation that is what your guy keeps sending me every single year.” And he's like, “No way.” I was like, “Yeah, I use you guys as an example, in my presentation.”
In my mind, it wouldn't take that much more effort for them to send you a personalized message that at least varies it up every year. He could log in a spreadsheet, pitched her in 2017 and didn't go anywhere. So let me not do that. Juliet pointed out that inside messenger, when you get that message, you can see the message above that's identical from the previous year. So vary it up.
That's another good point. Because when you're doing this outreach to prospective clients, you want to vary it up. One of my most hated things with follow up is when a freelancer sends a pitch and then they respond to that message when no one answers and says, “Hey, just following up on this.” Don’t do that. Give the person a reason to read your message that they might not have seen initially. Always add a little bit of personalization. And that goes back to that human connection.
You want to learn how to make great email newsletters, get go sign up for somebody list that has a 40% open rate and a high close rate. You want to learn about lead generation and pre qualifying go look at how Juliet has set up her own pre qualification on the quiz. So you can always take lessons from other people who are doing things right.
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.
After starting podcasting several years ago, I had no idea where my podcasting journey would take me. And it's still an excellent opportunity to refine and grow my process as I explore podcasting further in 2020. All that being said, you're tuning into the 100th episode of this podcast.
I've gone through some changes since I launched, such as niching down even further to content that will specifically help freelancers. And I took an 18 month break in between ending that sort of first season of my podcast and rebooting in 2019. That being said, if you're a new listener to this show, I wanted to do a recap for this 100th episode of the top 10 episodes that are the most downloaded, the most talked about, the ones that I feel are the best and can be the most helpful for freelancers.
So I'm going to recap these 10 episodes for you to give you a brief introduction about what that episode is about and why it's important. This would not be a good episode to listen to if you are driving, exercising, or not able to easily write things down. If you are able to write things down, you can grab these episode numbers and make note of the ones that you want to go and take a listen to.
A relatively recent episode that is all about the freelancers guide to raising your rates. I get questions about people raising their rates all the time. It does not have to be that complicated. It's important to raise your rates on a regular basis. But a lot of freelancers seem to get stumped with this idea of how they should do this. I get questions like:
This is an area where a lot of freelancers tend to overthink. So if you're confused about some of my recommended approaches, check out “Episode 91: The Freelancers Guide to Raising Your Rates”.
This is one of my favorite time management and productivity tips, the Pomodoro Technique. I use the Pomodoro Technique every single day. And Episode 10 is called “Pump Up Your Business with the Pomodoro Technique” because it really has the potential to be a game changer and help you lay out your dates more effectively.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see a lot of people make is trying to work in really long uninterrupted stretches and thinking, “Well, you know, if I spend six hours on this project, I can knock it out from beginning to end.” What tends to happen for most people is that that's too overwhelming and too long. So thinking about how you can chunk your work into smaller segments, and remain hyper focused during that period, is really what the Pomodoro Technique is all about. In this episode, I gave you some ideas for how to get started. And then some of the different timers and tools that I recommend or have used with the Pomodoro Technique.
Now, there's been a lot of really good research about how many pomodoros, which typically means 25 minute work segments, but can also refer to 50 minute work segments, are optimal in a day? This isn't a situation where you want to take that eight hour work day and say that you're going to have 16 pomodoro in that period with no breaks beyond five minutes in between each one. There's definitely a sweet spot to hit there with several focused work periods per day. But not overloading yourself, because your brain really has a hard time keeping up with that.
I would love for you to go back and listen to Episode 17, where I had guest Catherine Morehouse talking about the power of niching down. Now a lot of freelancers and freelance coaches will tell you that you should never niche down. That is something I do not agree with. Because I think that niching down has the potential for you to start charging as an expert and really be a specialty provider.
If you are just a writer, there are so many writers that you have no way to distinguish yourself. And niching down doesn't have to mean that you claim one particular industry or one type of project and you do that forever. With freelancing you have a tremendous amount of flexibility. But we talk in this episode about how focusing on the clients you like to serve best makes you become the go to person for that service. So go listen to Episode 17 if you're curious about whether or not you might want to niche down in 2020.
Switching back over to these time management and productivity tips, This one is called “Stop Changing Lanes in Your Brain”. This is another thing that I coach freelancers about a lot. And it works hand in hand with the Pomodoro techniques that I covered in Episode 10.
Changing lanes in your brain by constantly switching between different types of tasks is not just exhausting, it's really inefficient. And yet, it's the way that 90% of freelancers run their business. Choosing instead to batch your work and to focus on particular tasks during certain blocks of time is much more likely to make you feel successful and not as exhausted at the end of the day. So check out Episode 23 if you want to learn a little bit more about what I mean by changing lanes in your brain and how you can kind of break out of some of those bad habits.
Another challenge into that basis, a lot of freelancers, especially those who are scaling, is shiny object syndrome. This is the idea that you see a new project or idea and you run with it all the way before fully evaluating it. And that takes your focus away from some of the activities that you really need to be doing to grow your business.
So Episode 26 with guest Rita Morales is perfect if you're thinking about how to cope with shiny object syndrome. How much is enough? When is an idea just an idea that you should store as a potential future thing to explore? And when is it something you need to take action on right away?
I just recently recorded this episode. It is a must must must listen to episode. This was with guest, Mariam Tsaturyan. And we were talking about freelance contracts. What goes into a contract? What mistakes do freelancers make when putting together contracts? What clauses are Must have, or clauses that you should be aware of when they come to you and a client provided contract?
Mariam is not just an attorney, she is a freelancer herself. And she sells some amazing templates to help you get started so you don't have to pay hundreds of dollars to an attorney.
So that's Episode 94. Any Freelancer in business for themselves has to know how to use contracts. So I strongly recommend that episode.
This episode is all about choosing the right clients. I had a guest on the show who was an editor and we talked a lot about what it really means to define who your ideal client is and how to work specifically and mostly with those clients.
If you've been listening to this podcast for any period of time, you know that I am a big advocate of only working with the right clients. The right client means your ideal clients, the rock stars that you want to build your business around. But so many freelancers get tied into this idea of wanting to work with everyone and making themselves a little too available to those potential clients.
In this episode, you'll hear from both me and my guest Elizabeth, what it means to choose the right clients and what that looks like for us. Because even though it's important that everyone should implement only working with their ideal clients, that's going to look different from one freelancer to another. And it's up to you to determine what your ideal client avatar is.
A lot of freelancers get hung up on, “Well, should I only work with one particular type of client? Should I only work with one type of industry? Is that what it means to say that I have an ideal client?” Sometimes you can go too far with that and you limit yourself as far as what opportunities are coming to you.
So it's important to think about what's that perfect balance that I can implement in my business that is going to be really successful for me to attract the right people and also repel the wrong people. Because you definitely want to make sure that you have a nice balance between those two things.
And I've got a great freebie that goes along really well with that, and it is called “Creating an Ideal Client Avatar”. You can visit https://www.betterbizacademy.com/creating-an-ideal-client-avatar/. There is a PDF there that can help you walk through figuring out who your ideal client is.
I believe this episode is a must listen. It is all about toxic freelance clients. And it's interesting because since I recorded this episode, I've seen so many people own that term of toxic freelance clients and use it in their own way. So it's been really interesting to see how that has kind of spread from what I define a toxic freelance client as working with the wrong person or the wrong team can be really detrimental to your mental and physical health and also the way that you feel about your business every day. So listen in on some examples of what toxic freelance clients can be, and how to figure out if you are currently working with one.
Another must listen is the episode that comes in the number two spot on this top 10 list. That's “Episode 75: What to Do When Nothing is Converting with Your Clients”. Nothing drives me crazier than someone who says, “I've been pitching for two years and haven't had any results.” Never wait until the point where it's been six months, a year, or even two years before you ask questions about what you could be doing more effectively and figuring out why nothing is landing.
When I've worked one on one with freelancers in this situation, 9 of 10 times there's something wrong in their process. That's pretty easily fixed. It could be that their pitches are terrible or their work samples don't speak to what they're claiming in their pitch. They're targeting the wrong clients or they're not pitching enough. And so all of those things are really within your control as a freelancer and business owner. So listen in on what I recommend you do, based on where you're at in your business and some of the challenges that you're having if nothing is working.
And number one on the list of Top 10 episodes is “Episode 80: 10 Habits of Successful Six Figure Freelancers”. At the time I'm recording this episode, I am working on the final draft for my second book, which will come out in October 2020, “The Six Figure Freelancer”.
I've done a lot of interviews with other six figure freelancers. And I've worked with quite a few aspiring and current six figure freelancers in a coaching capacity. I've taken some of the things that they all have in common, or some of the habits they tend to most frequently have or work towards, to be successful.
Even if your goal isn't to have a six figure or multi six figure business, it's very important to think about the mindsets and the habits that other people who run a business at that level have. Because even adopting some of those could help you with your time management, your client selection, or with the way that you attract clients to you. You may be thinking, “I don't have the time or the interest to build a six figure freelance business.” It's still valuable to listen in to those different habits and workflows that six figure freelancers adopt because it can really make a difference in your business, even if you are only a side hustler.
Remember, if you have an episode idea, you can submit that to email@example.com. For those of you who have been tuning in since the beginning, thanks for hanging around until Episode 100. And I hope the future episodes continue to serve you just as well and help you really scale your freelance business.
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.
I’m so glad you're tuning in for another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Now this episode was inspired by a handful of one on one clients and strategy session clients who come to me because they feel like they're not booking enough business or that their pitches aren't converting. I recently talked about this in my Facebook group because most of the time, when I dig a little bit deeper with these coaching clients, I find out that they're not really sending any pitches at all. So that's why this episode is focused on how much you should really be pitching depending on the phase that you're at in your business.
So you'll need to adjust your pitching expectations based on where you're at in your business. A fully booked freelancer is probably not going to pitch as much as someone who just lost their biggest or only client and now essentially has to build their business from the ground up.
The reason I want to cover this on the podcast is because it comes up in such a similar way. So often I hear somebody say, “I'm not getting enough business. I really wanted to be fully booked. I wanted to replace my day job with freelancing.” And they sort of lead with that concern
or complaint. And then I dig a little deeper and say, “Okay, well, how many pitches did you send last week?” The answer is almost always something like two, one, or none.
That really confuses me. Because would you go to your personal trainer and complain, or your spouse or your friend and complain by saying, “I'm not really building any muscle.” If the answer to that was, “I go to the gym once a month, or twice a week for 20 minutes, essentially doing the absolute bare minimum.”
I think a lot of times people assume that once you're fully booked, you can turn that part of your business off. That is not true. I believe that you should always be pitching. So let's start with this idea of being the new freelancer who's really looking to scale their business up, or the intermediate experienced freelancer who has recently taken a major hit in some way.
A major hit could be that you recognized that you had a collection of toxic clients and that you went ahead and fired a lot of them. It could be that you had one client or a few big clients that let you go. I've had one on one coaching clients cope with that as well. Where they had one huge client then that client’s business folded or something else happened where they had to step away. It could be that you took some time off from freelancing. So you're not new to the game, but you had to take a couple of months off for personal or professional reasons. And now you're coming back and you really need to ramp your business up.
Again, these are what I would consider more like crisis pitching situations. And you definitely need to turn up the volume on how much pitching you're doing in order for that to be successful. It is not enough to jump back into the game and send one pitch or two pitches per week.
I'm not guaranteeing that what I'm going to tell you is going to be your magic number. But if you're not sending a minimum of 25 pitches a week, I never want to hear that your pitches are not working. If you're sending 25 pitches a week or real close to it, like 22-23, and nothing is converting, then we have a problem with the pitch, your samples, or how you're approaching people. You might be targeting the wrong clients.
But when you're only pitching once or twice a week, you do not have enough data to say that this isn't working. That is the absolute bare minimum that a fully booked freelancer should be sending. So if you are going crisis mode or if you are new, promise yourself that you're going to send 25 pitches a week.
That includes job board pitches, Upwork, reaching out to people on LinkedIn, and sending cold email pitches. That even includes if you do have previous clients, if you're that experienced freelancer, that includes following up with them and reaching out to see if there's more business they can offer you.
For example, I've had a client for three years that all of a sudden they just stopped assigning me projects around the end of December. And right now, we're about one month later when I'm recording this episode. And I didn't know why that was. But the job I couldn't get them to respond to me in the Upwork work room. So I just closed the job and left them feedback and was like, “Okay, well what do I do now?”
The next step for me was finding the owner of that company who had had a few conversations with in the Upwork work room. And who I knew was the person who was paying the invoices. I found him on LinkedIn. And I connected with him. I sent him a personalized message about who I was, in case he didn't remember. And we kind of had some back and forth for a couple of days. And it wasn't until he consistently saw me posting on LinkedIn that I think my name kept popping up into his brain.
It's often the lurkers or the people that you may have a really firm outreach method with, but they don't necessarily respond to that. It's sometimes the fact that they're looking and watching your profile. And they hear from you enough and see you enough that they reach out.
I was re engaging that client and initiating that conversation all over again. And that client immediately after seeing me post different things about my business on LinkedIn, some of which were not even related to freelancing, suddenly reached out and said, “Hey, we really need to bring you on with a retainer. We really have several projects per month that we need your help with.” So we negotiated that contract very quickly and got things going.
So that's just one example like a pitch does not always have to be from square one, you sit down and you write it. It can be a follow up. And it can be Upwork or can be all of the other things that I've mentioned. It could be following up with someone that you met at a networking meeting in person and you're trying to initiate that process.
I don't know why it's become so common that a lot of freelancers think that we have a lot of benefits in our business. It is a lot easier to win clients, thanks to things like the internet. And thanks to things like job boards like Upwork. But that doesn't mean it's easy. If it were as easy as spending five seconds a day on your marketing, then everyone would be a freelancer.
And it is not just the work that you do for your clients. As a freelancer, you are a salesperson. That is your job. Yes, you might create content. As a virtual assistant, you might do admin tasks. You might design logos and other tools. But more importantly, you are a salesperson. And if you are not starting that sales process, initiating conversations, and sending out pitches, you will eventually have a lot of your work dry up.
This is something where a lot of those more experienced freelancers fall into a really bad habit that I will talk about in a moment. So if you're new or if you are in crisis mode, 25 pitches a week no complaining about problems with your pitching or that your business isn't growing, if you're not sending 25 pitches a week. Because if I am working with you one on one or if
you're in a strategy session, if you're in my facebook group, or you respond to one of my emails, and you know you have a legitimate concern, which is “I'm not booking business. My business isn't growing. I don't have enough clients on the books.”
My first question to you is going to be how much you are pitching? And if your answer is an hour a week or two pitches a week or three pitches a week, it is simply not enough. You're not serious about growing your business if you are only doing it a handful of times per week. So there needs to be a little bit of an expectation adjustment there as far as what it really takes to grow your business and to bring in business.
So that was part one is for the person who's new, and for the person who's in crisis mode. Now, let's switch gears into the freelancer who's been at this for a while and is close to fully booked or is fully booked. This is a myth that a lot of freelancers assume, “Well, I'm good. I'm fully booked. I'm going to stop marketing.” And this really comes back to bite you if you need to fire a client. If a client's business folds or if a client fires you, that can be devastating if you've done absolutely no marketing for the last one to three months. Because you're essentially starting from zero in that crisis mode as well.
This means that you might dial your marketing back, but you're still actively involved in marketing. So even when I'm fully booked, I am still posting articles on LinkedIn. And I'm still following other thought leaders on LinkedIn commenting on their posts and responding to their comments on mine. I'm still checking Upwork. And I'm still checking the daily job boards once a day. I'm not putting hours and hours into that effort. Instead, I might be only putting 30 minutes a day into Upwork. But I never let my marketing just sit there.
And I've got a virtual assistant posting on LinkedIn for me and I feel like I'm good. I still should be taking forward action steps with my marketing every single week. So maybe I outsource a lot of my marketing tasks to keep it on autopilot. But I might say, “You know what, I don't really have a funnel. I'm not offering a freebie to my clients where they get something after enrolling in my email list. And I'm not using that to nurture my leads and follow up with them.” You may say something like, “My blog sucks. I really need to fix it and pick the 10 blog post topics I'm going to write about next.” Those are also ways that you can still be involved in marketing, when you're close to fully booked or fully booked. Take on some of those bigger projects, so that you can continue to have people who are reaching out to you.
You know best what your turnaround time is on your pitches. For example, maybe you pitch on Upwork jobs. And it's like three to five days later and you've got that contract set up on Upwork. If you're doing cold outreach to somebody on LinkedIn or through emails, it might take a lot longer than three to five days. So pitching today, even on that simmer mode, isn't about the business you get today. It's about getting that person as a warm lead in your pipeline for the future. So the pitches that I send today, on my low power mode, are really about the best business that I'm hoping to book two, three, or four months later.
Because what's the worst case scenario that could happen? Someone wants to hire you and you don't have capacity yet? Great. Put them on a waitlist. Tell them it's going to be another couple of weeks before you can bring them on. Fire a low paying client that you hate and replace it with this better person. I've never understood why people will hold back from pitching because they're fully booked.
I still think it's a good idea to have warm leads in the pipeline. You can always tell them no if you can't do the project right now. And you can always tell anyone no if they present a project to you that you're not interested in working on. You can always say no. And that puts you in the primary power position as the decider. Yes, you're reaching out to the client, but you are by no means obligated to work with someone just because you pitch them.
So why wouldn't you open yourself up to as many opportunities as possible? Where you're in the decision maker deciding whether you want to bring this client on or not. And what that looks like. Perhaps you pitch them and you're pretty close to fully booked right now and you have one client whose contract is wrapping up. Use that as a negotiation and persuasion tactic. When you're talking to this new prospective client mentioned, “Hey, in two weeks, I have an opening on my calendar because I'm wrapping up a project. If you sign in the next 72 hours, I can get you on my calendar for two weeks from now and you can spend the interim two weeks getting me the information I need to do the job and getting me set up.”
Listen, you can always negotiate around that. You could outsource that to a subcontractor. You could put the person on a waitlist. And you could give them an incentive like they have to sign up sooner and get the first available spot. There's so many options that you can pursue with that.
So it should never be an excuse, because that's what it is. It’s an excuse as to why you're not doing pitching when you're fully booked.
I encourage you to look back at some of the previous episodes about slow seasons in your freelance business that will help you kind of prepare for that. There are lots of people who say, “Oh, every day is an opportunity to do business.” Yeah, sure. But your pool of people is much smaller in the three weeks surrounding Christmas. It's essentially a dead zone in August when nobody is even in the office and a lot of people are cramming in their end of summer vacations.
So can you get business during those times? Sure. But it's not going to be as consistent or as easy as it might be during other periods. So perhaps, let's say it's in the fall. You recognize that December is coming. Perhaps you turn up the heat on your marketing and your pitching now after recognizing that December in January might be a little bit slower months. So maybe you put in a little more marketing effort to try to secure some clients on longer retainers to get you through those months.
It should never disappear entirely. And I have met way too many freelancers who have put it off, have not done it, or who think it's going to be a lot less work than it is. And the truth is, if you are not booked at all, if you have no clients, if you have one client, or if you're new, you need to be doing 25 pitches a week. The first question I'm going to ask if you are fully booked or pretty close or you're an experienced freelancer and you have a couple clients but you haven't quite filled out your client roster with as many people or as much money as you would like. Then you can definitely turn down the power of your marketing plan.
But it should still be something that you work on every single week, even if it's in small ways. Even if that's 30 minutes a week that you take to write a handful of LinkedIn posts with the right hashtags. It could be that you get up every morning before getting started and you connect with five people on LinkedIn or you scan the job boards to see what's new. You do all of your follow ups together. It doesn't have to be a massive project when you are close to fully booked. But you always should be doing something that moves you in a forward direction with your business.
Can you believe we're just a couple of episodes away from hitting 100 on the Advanced Freelancing, and previously known as Better Biz Academy podcast? I'm very excited to chat with today's guest, Rachel Richards. She really has an amazing and inspiring story that I'd love for you to hear.
The reason that I wanted to have Rachel on the show is because she is really a master at passive income and has so much excellent insight she can share with us about how to get started with this. This topic comes up a lot. And that's why I felt like we needed to cover this on the show.
Is it really passive? How do you make all of that work for you? Rachel has an amazing background. She graduated in only three years at age 20 without debt. She used to be a financial advisor and published her first book in 2017 over 12,000 copies of it. So she quit her full time job at age 27 in August 2019, and is retired now living off of $10,000 a month in passive income.
So she has five rental properties with 35 units total, royalties from her books, royalties from her print on demand business, and her passive income which ranges between 10 to 12k a month. She has more than replaced her full time income allowing her to retire early, to speak professionally, travel and pursue her interests. And she talks a lot in her books about passive income, aggressive retirement and “money, honey” about savings buckets investing, and how to get started with passive income and different streams.
There's lots of excellent information. I want to call your attention to one of the comments that she makes towards the end of the interview about how to leverage the fact that you've worked in different positions or even done different freelance gigs to figure out what you do and don't like. This comes up from time to time with some of my one on one coaching clients who have this dream of being a freelancer, and then once they're in the thick of it realize they actually hate it.
One of my one on one coaching clients, for example, it took her doing several freelance writing gigs for her to say, ”I don't want to do this anymore.” And so we've had to step back and figure out what is the service or consulting that she can offer that's going to light her up because freelance writing isn't it.
This is why it's so powerful that you start your freelance business and dip your toes in the water of side income and passive income prospects starting small because you might not like what you do. Maybe owning rental units isn't right for you because you hate it. And maybe publishing books, you love the writing part, but being an author is at least 50% marketing and maybe you don't like that.
So figuring out what suits you from your background as well as knowing your own personality can really help you go in the right direction when it comes to building in different types of freelance services or passive income. If you love this episode, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd also love it if you left the show a review on Apple iTunes. Thanks again for tuning in. And we're almost to Episode 100, where I will be recapping my top 10 favorite episodes from the show.
And today we're talking about a topic that comes up all the time with freelancers who have scaled their business to the point where they're relatively successful. They're fully booked or close to fully booked and it's time to start thinking about expanding.
Another common issue that a lot of freelancers run into is, ”Okay, I'm only making money when I sit at my computer and work for my clients. Which means if I'm sick, if I take vacation, or if there's some other reason I can't work, no income is coming in.” And that's why I'm so excited about my guest today, Rachel Richards. We are going to be talking all about passive income. And she is the queen of passive income.
And that is that she graduated with no debt. I know that that's so rare. These days, most of us, myself included, we graduate with tons of debt. And it almost feels like you're going to be paying it off the rest of your life. So I'd love to know how Rachel made that transition and paid and graduated with no debt.
It's definitely a tough thing to accomplish, especially with the crazy cost of college these days. But I do have a couple tips. So the first thing I did is I started thinking ahead when I was in high school, in terms of what scholarships I could apply for.
So that got me motivated to do really well in high school. I was academically doing really well. I had a great GPA. I was also getting involved in as many clubs and everything as I could. And that helped me to earn scholarships to pay for school.
So I went to a Centre College which is a private liberal arts school here in Kentucky. And it costs over $40,000 a year. That's a ton of money. So with the scholarships that I was able to earn, I had a really big academic scholarship and I also had a piano scholarship. That helped me out a lot. But I was able to cover $30,000 out of the $40,000 in scholarships.
And I actually ended up graduating in only three years. So when I went into Centre, I was going in as a second semester freshman and almost a sophomore. I was able to graduate a year early, which saves me that entire year's worth of tuition.
I had this really big fear of going into debt. And I was discouraged because, at the time, I was working at American Eagle and I was making paychecks that were maybe $200 per week. I knew that to make $10,000 a year to cover that gap and be able to pay for my tuition that American Eagle just wasn't going to cut it. No matter how many hours I worked, I wasn't going to be able to afford that $10,000.
So I looked into other jobs and I actually ended up selling Cutco cutlery. So it's not an MLM let me just say that first because I know there's a lot of MLM hate out there these days, but it's not an MLM.
It's a direct sales company. And the reason I loved it so much is because it was the first time I was in a job where the harder I worked, the more money I made. I knew I could outwork anybody. I could work all day long and make a ton of money. So it really got me motivated and I was able to earn a lot of money from commission.
And I was able to make $10,000 that summer. So I was basically paying my way through school. Even though my parents were less than thrilled about the idea of me selling sharp objects to their family and friends. That's what I did. And I did it successfully. So those are kind of my three tips. That's the way I was able to pay for school.
And I love the idea of taking as many AP classes as you can. I also know people who in college would take community college classes over the summer to get ahead. If there's certain things you have to take, like intro to biology or a math class, why take that as part of your traditional education at an expensive college? Why not just make that be something you take for much cheaper at a community college? Knock it out of the way. You could even do that the summer before you go to college. I think that's super important.
We have a fair amount in common there because I went to a private women's college in Virginia.
And our price tag was not as bad as yours, but it was $32,000. And it was the same thing. It was like we had after scholarships, we had a shortfall of like, $2,000 a year and my mom and I were like, “Okay, there's a way we can make this work.” And when I got one more scholarship to cover that, then I was able to keep my work, study money to buy groceries or little things that I might need throughout the semester.
It's so expensive. Even if you're getting great rates at an in state school, it's still expensive. And if you can cut that one year off, maybe put in a little bit of extra work, and prepare for it in high school with those AP classes, that’s a great way to save a lot of money and graduate with very little or no debt at all.
So Rachel is like the queen of passive income. Why don't you give us a little bit of a brief introduction? How did you get into generating passive income streams?
For those listening, just to kind of define what passive income is. And I know this sounds too good to be true, but passive income is money that is earned with little to no ongoing work.
So I'm sure you're familiar with JK Rowling. She is the author who wrote the Harry Potter series 25 years ago. She did all the hard work and the writing back then. And today, she's still making millions of dollars from the Harry Potter series. So that's passive income. It takes time to create, but once it's in place, it takes little to no ongoing work in order to maintain that income. And that's why it's so beautiful.
That's very helpful because I think one of the things that bothers me about the term passive income, is that people are always asking me about it. And they're like, “What are your passive income streams?” And I have a side business. We sell all my old lesson plans from my teaching days. We have over 250 lesson plans for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers. In a sense, it's passive, because I spendless than an hour a month even looking at it.
But that being said, we do put some work into it. We pin pins on Pinterest. And so it'll be interesting to hear more about what your passive income streams are, and if they are truly passive. But I was just curious, how did you get into them? I mean, obviously, he previously worked as a financial advisor and had more of a traditional job. How did you branch out into these passive income streams?
So a few years ago, as I was learning about this amazing concept of passive income, I had this epiphany that once your passive income exceeds your living expenses, you're retired. And I just mean retired in the sense of being financially independent and not having to go to work anymore.
So that's what my husband and I started working towards. We actually started in 2017. And it only took us about two and a half years to build up enough passive income to retire.
We always knew that real estate was a really great tool for building long term wealth. And it wasn't even necessarily at the time. I didn't even think I put together the dots of creating the passive income, but it was just something we always wanted to do.
So in January of 2017, we bought our first duplex. We live in Louisville, Kentucky, so it's a low cost of living area and it's a great area to invest in. And the duplex we bought, we got a crazy good deal on. It was $100,000.
So we put we only had to put about $20,000 in for the down payment. And it was immediately generating $500 per month in profit and profitable cash flow. That's after expenses. So that was such a great income stream for us. We immediately took that money, saved, and reinvested it so that we could afford to save up enough money for the next down payment for the next rental property.
Now rental property, I'll hear something people that will say, “Wow, that's so passive and amazing.” And I'll hear some people that say, ”No, rental properties are not passive at all.” I think it's definitely in the passive category and that you're not having to work a 40 hour week to maintain it.
Some things are completely passive. And some things are less passive. I personally think it really depends on whether you have a property manager or not. So in my book, when I'm talking about how to create passive income, I always say invest in real estate, get rental properties, but make sure you have a property manager. Otherwise, it's not going to be as passive as you want it to be.
So that's kind of the first income stream we started with. And then later on in 2017, I launched my first best selling book “Money, Honey”. I was generating royalty income off of that as well. So we had these two passive income streams, rental income and royalty income, and we focused on growing those as much as we possibly could for the next few years.
Fast forward to today, we now own over 35 rental units in Louisville, Kentucky. And I just launched my second best selling book. So I think last year, at some point last year, we hit this $10,000 per month mark, where we were making $10,000 a month in passive income. Which was more than enough to cover our expenses. So that's when we were able to call ourselves retired. And that's when I quit my job.
You can decide how passive really is this and the more you can build in the right structure from the beginning, the easier it is. And that was something I did too with my side business of selling lesson plans. I really didn't want to maintain this every month. I don't want to deal with the customer service questions if someone has problems with the download.
So from the beginning, I had all these lessons and I hired a virtual assistant and said, “Hey, are you comfortable with this? It's going to take you less than five hours a month to deal with all of this, but I don't really want to be part of it.” I just wanted it to be there and be running on the side. And it's really nice to have that because I never have to get involved in any of that administrative stuff. But money's being generated every month.
So the rental property thing is so interesting. I think we hear this a lot from people who are very wealthy and very successful financially. You've got to invest in real estate. So my first question is, how did you get that initial money for that down payment of your first property? Did that come from personal savings? Was that another passive income stream that paid for the down payment?
Yeah, so that came from personal savings. And I'll talk a little bit about how I did that. But then we'll also talk about the ways that people can invest in real estate without having a large chunk of money. So don't let that stop you.
I was in a situation where I graduated without debt. My husband also graduated without debt because he was in the military. So he used his benefits to pay for school. And then we both had pretty lucrative careers. I have always been a financially frugal person. As a former financial advisor, I knew how to manage my money well.
So, we didn't have debt. I was managing my money. Well, we were both making good money and didn't have kids, which is a pretty big expense. So we were just able to save pretty aggressively.
I graduated from college when I was 20. And then I invested in my first rental property when I was 24. So, after four years, or I think it probably took less time, we had more than enough money for the down payment on the first rental property.
I was just curious, it's obviously quite a big difference, going from having one property where you're getting your feet wet, figuring out how this works. And now you have 35 rental properties. How do you keep all of that straight? I'm sure you have a property manager for each one. But how do you monitor all the logistics with those different rental properties?
Yeah, so we did have property managers for a while. We're between them now, because the last people didn't work out. But just to clarify, we have 35 rental units, not property. So we have five buildings. Three of them are apartment buildings where it's 11 or 12 units in each building.
But it is a lot to manage. It's a lot of work when you don't have a property manager, especially when you get to like 25-30 units, then it's really it's a lot of work. And you can't really call it passive anymore. Which is why you really have to start out knowing that you're going to have a property manager in mind.
But in terms of how to keep everything straight. I am a luckily an Excel wizard. And I love Excel spreadsheets. So I keep everything very organized in terms of the finances, the tenants, the payments, and the maintenance. We have a pretty good system in place that helps us be a lot more efficient.
That's really amazing. And it sounds like it might be the perfect fit for someone who's already a financial whiz or virtual assistant who's really good with spreadsheets and numbers. It's going to leverage your existing skill set.
A lot of people assume that books are the fast track to passive income. I know when I published my first book, which was done through the traditional publishing process, a lot of people have this vision of what it means to write and sell books. But it still takes a lot of work to market a book. And I know that most books that are published never sell more than 250 copies.
Obviously, you are a major exception to that and are seeing continued success with multiple books. What are your recommendations for someone who's thinking about writing a book and really wants to get traction on Amazon or on any of the other platforms where books are sold?
I think you made a great point about over the long run you still do have to market your book. So when you're thinking about passive income, you really need to consider how passive do I want it to be? Because there are things you can certainly outsource. You can hire a social media manager. You can outsource or whatnot.
And if you choose not to do things like going on the radio or the TV or doing or you know doing podcast interviews, then you can certainly make it a lot more passive. So everyone that's trying to create a passive income stream really just needs to think from the beginning. How passive do I want this to be? And what can I outsource to make it more passive?
Yes, the statistics say that most books sell 250 copies. So to have launched a book that's been so successful is still just shocking to me. My first book “Money, Honey” has now sold over 15,000 copies. And my second book, “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement” has already sold over 3000 copies. And I just launched it a couple months ago.
I think there's a lot to be said for doing market research. I could write a book about cooking and launch it. There are thousands of other cookbooks or books about cooking out there. So how could mine be different?
And it's the same thing or maybe even more competitive in the financial industry. There's thousands of books about money and finance out there. So why on earth would somebody want to read mine over somebody else's?
If you can't answer that question, then your book won't be successful. You have to be able to articulate what is the unique value that I am bringing. What's different about my book that nobody else can find in another book?
That people my age, female millennials, were coming to me all the time for financial advice. My family and friends would come to me. And I loved helping them. And at some point, I began to wonder why they're not taking advantage of some of these websites or books that are out there or trying to learn?
And then what I realized is that a lot of finance books are dry, boring, complex, and intimidating. So then I thought to myself, “Well, how can I make this subject sassy and fun and simple?” So that's what I did with “Money, Honey”. It's sassy and humorous. It's really, really easy to read. It's a quick read. And it has resonated so much with female millennials. So it really hit a nerve with them. It’s really taken off because of that. It’s just spread like wildfire. Basically, through word of mouth. I haven't done any paid advertising.
That's amazing. And I think a lot of people have this dream of writing a book. I believe that a lot of people, most people do, have at least one good book in them that they could write. But we all know many people who say, “Oh, yeah, I want to write a book. I've always wanted to write a book.” And then it never happens.
I know one of the biggest challenges is when you have a full plate. Obviously, Rachel had other things going on in her life. She was working on all of these different rental properties and having that happening at the same time as writing a book.
What tips do you have for someone who's busy? I mean, a lot of my audience, they're freelancers who are successful. So they've probably got a close to fully booked or fully booked schedule. And a lot of people start off with the best of intentions and motivation, but lose that energy. So what recommendations do you have for people who think they might want to write a book and somehow need to find a way to fit that around their existing business and obligations?
Yeah, that's a great question. And I totally agree. I think everyone has at least one book in them. So I get really excited when I can help people with this topic. But I would say I have two tips.
The first one is to set aside time at the beginning of every day. Because if you wait until after work, or after whatever activity you have planned, the further you go along in your day, the less likely you are to actually sit down and set aside those 10 or 20 minutes to start writing.
When I was writing my first book “Money, Honey”, I was employed full time. And I was investing in real estate. We all have crazy schedules. We're all busy. So it's just about prioritizing that time and making sure you do it first thing in the morning before things start getting in your way.
So one day, I sat down and I decided I'm going to track how I spend my time in 15 minute intervals for two days in a row. So literally every 15 minutes, I would write down what did I do the last 15 minutes? And yes, it was kind of tedious to do that and kind of a pain for two days. But man was that eye opening. It's sort of like doing a budget for where your time is going and where you want it to go or not.
And what I realized after two days is that I was saying that I was the busiest person in the world. I couldn't possibly take another appointment. I didn't have any time to do anything. Once I saw how I was spending my time, and this is embarrassing to admit, but I realized I was spending three or four hours per day on social media, or watching TV.
Most times we don't have any perspective. You don't really know where your time is going until you actually sit down and track it. So I think that's an eye opening exercise. Anyone can do that and really easily figure out where am I wasting my time and where can I free up time so I can spend it writing my book or researching book ideas.
That's something I also recommend to business owners who are thinking that they might not need to outsource anything to a virtual assistant or a subcontractor. Because you think that you're being productive and doing all of these things. But when you track your time, you realize how much of your time you're spending on silly things like answering the same questions in an email over and over again or formatting a blog post and WordPress. And that might not be the best use of your time.
I think any of the tedious nature of keeping track of that is more than balanced out by the fact that it really calls your attention to what are you doing with your time. Because you'll find yourself being more mindful. You’ll say, “Hey, I wasted the last 15 minutes. How did I go down this rabbit hole on Instagram scrolling?” Now you're going to be more mindful for the future time periods that you're tracking even within that day and it can really help open your eyes.
I also really support our advice of writing first thing in the day.
Being a full time freelance writer for seven years, if I used up all of my writing energy and creativity on things for my clients, there was absolutely no way that I was even typing one word on my books at night. And so it had to be that first priority. The first thing you work on every day.
And I think sometimes people set these big, crazy goals that you can't really accomplish like, “Well, I'm going to add 5000 words to my book this Saturday.” Wouldn't it just be easier if you said you're going to do like 1000 words every morning, Monday through Friday? Don't set these giant, enormous goals that put so much pressure on you and feel like such a letdown if you fail.
If you miss Tuesday morning’s 1,000 word writing session, you still got at least 4000 words towards your book. That's much more effective than putting this pressure on. I'm going to spend the whole day writing Saturday and I'll get 5000 words. And you get zero and that disappointment is crushing because then it's like, “Well, I guess I have to wait to get another week until my next Saturday to write.” So breaking it down into that morning activity is really important.
So we've talked about two different types of passive income streams, books and rental properties. Are there other recommendations for passive income or side income streams that you can recommend for people who have online business savvy and skills?
Rachel’s other passive income recommendations.
Yes, absolutely. And this kind of gets into the meat of my newest book, “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement”. In that book, I talk about 28 different passive income models. And anyone can do it. Passive income either takes money or time or sometimes both to create. So you really have to start with asking yourself, do I have more time? Or do I have more money that I can put into building this passive income stream?
Royalty income is a really big category of passive income. So that includes what we talked about launching and writing a book. But it could also include launching a course. It could include something called print on demand platforms where you're earning royalties off of products that you sell without having to touch the products, without having any inventory. A print on demand platform.
There's also passive income that would fall into the e-commerce or advertising category. So that could be affiliate marketing, blogs, or offering some type of membership. And again, you have to be careful about the way you set this up. Because when you start a blog, it could either be not passive at all, it could be completely active.
Or if you build it the right way, and outsource the writing and content creation, then it can be passive. That's something that Bobby Hoyts did. He's the founder of the Millennial Money Man, the website and the blog. And he has a really large community and online classes that he offers. I actually interviewed him for my book as well as a ton of other different subject matter experts.
But yeah, there's tons of ideas out there. So I would encourage people to research, get started, and don't hold yourself back because you don't think that you can do it or that you have the right skill set.
Yes, it definitely varies. And, for example, portfolio income is probably the only passive income that's truly 100% passive. It literally doesn't require any work. And when I say portfolio income, I mean investing it in investments that are earning dividends or producing income for you.
So when you decide you're going to, you have to have a large amount of money to do this. But the good thing is, it doesn't really require any time. You just invest the money and then it's generating income for you. So that's something that has no time requirement in the beginning and it can generate passive income immediately. Of course, you need to have a ton of money to do it. So you kind of have to pick your battles there.
There are other income streams like writing a book. Of course that's going to take months of researching and outlining, writing the book, and putting together a marketing plan. And then to actually launch it and sustain the success long term requires marketing and having a really great strategy.
So for example, for my first book “Money, Honey”, I started writing it in January of 2017. And I launched it in September of 2017. So it's about nine months. But I was also working full time. And I also quit for four months in the middle of that because I was convinced that my book was awful and it was going to be an embarrassment. So I quit writing for four full months. And if not for that, I really think I could have launched it within four or five months.
In my first book, or in my first month of lunch, I made about $500 or $600. And then I quickly grew that income stream to over $1,000 per month within the first few months. But you have to account for all the time it took to launch the book in the first place.
And then another example would be real estate investing. You do need some money for that. It doesn't have to be a ton of money. Then you're gonna have to spend time just finding the right property and doing the research. And sometimes you'll get lucky and the right property will appear out of thin air and you'll make an offer and everything will happen really fast.
But it's something I always say you have to be really patient with. Because it could take months to find the right property. I think it took us nine months of searching before we found our first duplex and closed on it. So you just have to be patient, you have to put the work in in the beginning so that you can then enjoy the fruits of your labor later.
Because I think a lot of people hear these great stories about somebody like you who's very successful with passive income streams. And of course that started smaller and you were willing to invest the time and wait for the right thing. So it wasn't like you said, “Okay, I'm going to create online courses. I'm going to write books. And I'm going to buy rental property. I'm going to try all the things all at once and it should be successful in 90 days or less.” That's not how it works.
But you started off with a lot of motivation. And then you continued to tweak and improve things as you went. I think that's so important for anyone thinking about passive income. It might be a slow build, but the long term payoff is really something that can be worth it.
I was a financial advisor at first very early on in my career. And then the last few years, I was actually a finance analyst. But there were a lot of things that I learned as a financial advisor. And one of the things I actually learned just kind of on a more personal note. The reason I went into financial advising is because I had this awesome sales experience selling Cutco knives. And then I also wanted to help people invest their money. So I thought it was going to be the perfect career for me.
It turns out that when I actually got into that job, I realized it was a lot cold calling and prospecting. And although I could be really good at that, if I forced myself to be, it was just draining and exhausting, and it didn't come naturally to me. So it probably took longer than it should have for me to realize this wasn't the career for me. And I really needed to make a change.
It's hard because when you're a millennial or a recent grad, and you're trying to navigate your way through the job market, you don't want to have all these short stints on your resume. Because they say that looks bad to an employer. But at the same time, there's time to do that early in your early in your career where it's really not going to hurt you.
So you really have to give yourself the opportunity to work at a few different jobs and see, what do you not like about this job? What do you like about this job? That way, you can really figure out what you want your long term career to be. So that's kind of my takeaway, just from a career and personal perspective.
I think that most people can manage their money and invest on their own. Yes, they will have to do some learning and some reading. But I think that we really overcomplicate the subject of investing. We make it way harder and more intimidating than it needs to be. And in reality, investing can be a super simple activity.
I would also say to educate yourself if you do choose to use a financial advisor. I think that's great because it's better to invest with a financial advisor than not to invest at all, but make sure that you're aware of how financial advisors are paid.
Some financial advisors are paid based off commissions. That means that they are not incentivized in the correct way and they're not acting as your fiduciary. But other financial advisors are fee only financial advisors. So they're being paid a fee of the total percent of assets they have under management. That means that if they grow your money successfully, they will get paid more. So those incentives are lined up the exact way they need to be lined up for them to be their fiduciary. So if you are going to work with a financial advisor, just make sure you understand how they're paid, how they're incentivized, and whether they are truly acting in your best interest.
I've heard a lot of the same. And I think a lot of people are scared about how you get started with investing knowing that there are a lot of brokers and advisors out there who have the reverse incentive to make a lot of transactions and move things around so that they can collect a fee every time that happens. And as someone who might not be educated on how all that works, it's hard to tell that balance of are these moves really benefiting me? Or is this being done more for the benefit of the advisor?
Yes, I would give my book “Money, Honey”, a five star review. But I'll give some more resources. But in my book “Money, Honey”, I do talk about how to invest. And I include screenshots and everything. Because one of the questions that would get from my friends was, “Okay, but how do I physically buy the stock? Like what do I do?” So I have screenshots of literally how to set up an investment account, a discount brokerage account, and how to trade and how to buy your first stocks and some advice on how to do that.
Some other really great books. I've read tons of finance books over the years. I love “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. Another really great book is “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramat Sethi. I don't know if I'm saying that correctly. And that's not so much about investing as it is just about practical money hacks and things you can do to just easily save yourself some money.
If you have Kindle Unlimited, both of them are available through the Kindle unlimited program, which I really recommend if you don't have Kindle unlimited is well worth the monthly cost that you pay to be able to have up to 10 titles out at a time. I've already added both of her books to my downloads. So no excuses to not at least start with Rachel's books.
That's a great question. And something my husband and I were really careful to do when we were working towards early retirement is, you know, if your living expenses are $5,000 per month, and your passive income is $5,000 per month, yes, you're technically retired. You've covered your expenses. But that leaves you no room in case you don't make as much income as you thought or in case your expenses are more than you thought. Or if you just want to continually be saving money, which we did.
Then we kind of really re-evaluate it. And we said, “Well, for our living expenses are $5,000 a month, and we want our passive income to be $10,000 a month.” So that's an enormous margin of error or buffer room. Most months, we're able to still save a lot of money. But that means that if our passive income is only $7,000 or $8,000, which is a lot less than what it should be, or what we would think it would be, that means we're still more than offsetting our expenses.
So when you're kind of projecting out and planning out how to achieve this, I would just basically do it based on the worst case scenario. So in your worst month, if your passive income is only x, is it still enough to cover your expenses? And if not, then you need to work on getting your passive income higher or reducing your expenses.
Anyone can follow me on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter if you just search Money Honey Rachel. You can follow me. And you can message me there. Both of my books are available on ebook and paperback. And my newest book “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement is” available on audiobook. And “Money, Honey” audio book is about to come out any day now. So definitely follow me! Don't hesitate to reach out because I love to help people with this stuff.
Well, it's really been a pleasure to get to interview Rachel. I know I've learned a lot and I can't wait to read her books. 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.
It's rare that I find someone else whose advice on freelancing I really trust. But that's not the case for my guest today. Because it's very easy to take and trust her advice. My guest today is Abbi Perets. She wants moms to know you don’t have to choose between kids and career.
She's the coach and mentor moms turn to when they're looking to break into freelance writing and earn great money from home on their own terms. She combines nearly 20 years of experience freelancing for some of the world's biggest companies with first hand knowledge, having five kids of her own, including one with special needs.
She understands the unique challenges moms face every day and has created programs specifically tailored to meet those challenges and empower moms all over the world to have it all. And importantly, we talk in this episode all about how to send great pitches, some of the mistakes that people make when pitching, and how you can avoid those mistakes.
My guest today is one of the few people that I would trust with giving you freelance advice. The list of people I do not trust is way longer. But I am so excited to have Abbi here on the show because she really knows what she's doing. She gives authentic advice. And she's helped a lot of other freelancers, specifically writers, grow their business.
I often feel like people ask me, “Oh, have you worked with so and so? What do you think about this person's courses?” And I feel like all too often I'm saying run away. It's so nice to have a couple of people that I actually do trust. So if somebody asked me advice, I'm happy to be like, “Oh, yeah, you need to go learn email sequences from this person.” It's so awesome to be able to have you on the show. We have a lot in common. We think the same with a lot about business stuff, but I'd love for you to give us a brief introduction, who you are, and what you do right now.
She runs Successful Freelance Mom. And she is a mom of five kids, including one with special needs. She has worked as a freelance writer for 20 plus years. And today, she still does freelance writing work. And that's something that's really important to her. She still does the work with clients. So she’s not talking about theory that she learned in that work 20 years ago.
Today, she teaches moms how to get started in freelance writing. And she has a couple of courses that are very general on how to get started in freelance writing. Then some of that are very specific and geared towards doing a specific offering a specific service, email sequences to course creators, and she loves it. She loves every second of it.
And that is somebody who freelanced once 10 years ago or sold one project on Upwork. It's not that they don't have valuable information to share. But I do question whether that's relevant. We could like just make this like 30 minutes on what we don't like about other people. But I hate to seem that negative, but it's true.
Because what happens is, and Abbi probably sees this with a lot of her core students, by the time someone comes to you, they might have already looked at or purchased something from someone else and been disappointed and it they’re jaded.
It crushes me because they're very concerned about working with anyone else again. They have these beliefs or ideas about how things should be or have to be because they heard it from somebody else. And then it didn't work for them. So there's such a mindset thing, especially when you start about all the confidence that it takes and fake it till you make it and being damaged by one person.
I guess my advice on that would just be that you purchased a product a software worked with somebody, bought their course, bought their ebook, and didn't love it, so keep looking. That person is not the only authority. I would even say that if you bought something of mine and it didn't resonate with you, go find somebody else who teaches that might be able to help you. I just think it's so important that listeners know that because that's always been one of my big things, too.
I don't feel like I can authentically talk about what it means to freelance today, if I'm not at least doing that. I have several clients, right. It's so cool that Abbi has it set up the same way. And I definitely want to talk about email sequences. But what we're hoping to focus on in this episode is pitching.
I'm sure Abbi has seen it. I've seen it. Our clients have seen it. So many pitches are terrible and awful. The sad thing is you can avoid almost all of this. So I asked Abbi to talk about a top two or three things that she sees people doing over and over again that are just wrong. We’re talking wrong on the level of, “Yeah, don't even send the pitch. If you're doing this, just wait until you've got it refined.”
Abbi thinks that a thing that someone teaches on the internet that is wrong, is do not start your pitch with “Hi, I'm Abbi and I'm a freelance writer.” Because guess what, we know who you are. Because it's 2020, she has email, and it says your name right up there! And you probably say in your subject line something about whatever it is that they're looking for in a writer. You don't need to waste anyone’s time.
She thinks that a lot of people don't realize how much email some of these editors get in an hour, forget about a day. Literally hundreds of emails. They don't have that eight seconds that you've stolen it from them. And in pure resentment, they're just going to
That's it. Exactly. And especially if you're pitching on a platform like Upwork, where the client is soliciting a writer or a graphic designer, it's obvious that if you're replying to the post, you do that thing. So you don't need to recap it.
The other one that drives me crazy is when people say, “I'm a good freelance writer. I'm really good at it.” I would hope so. Because you shouldn't be in business if you're mediocre or bad. People still put it in there. You should only say things like, “I've been doing this for five years.” if there's some specific reason that the five years really matters. Because it's not enough!
Abbi is right about people having such a limited attention span. And if you put the good stuff about you at the bottom of the email, they’re never gonna get there. They're just going to delete it right away and you lost your chance with that editor or with that potential client. So that's definitely a good one. I totally agree with that.
Then this is a little admin thing surrounding the pitching, but Abbi always tells her students to track the email that they're sending. And she does this. She did this with everything. First of all, if she’s sending an email to her husband, she wants to know that he opened it and read it so that he can't tell her late, “Oh, I know I was supposed to do that.” Yeah, you did. Because you read the email, cookie. So I saw you open it six times at work.
Track everything you sent. Because if you see that people are opening your email and you're never getting response, something about your pitch is not resonating with them. They're not giving you a chance.
On the other hand, if you see that it's being opened multiple times, and especially in different locations, then you can tell a pitch is being forwarded around the office, being discussed, maybe in working meetings, that kind of thing. That's a great time to follow up and say, “Are there any Additional questions I can answer for you?”
So just an admin thing around emails. It gives you a sense of how your pitch is being received. And if it's being opened at all, if it's being open and never read again, or if it's being open multiple times. Track your email.
That's so good! Because there's so much information you can get from that. And you don't want to wait until you've sent 40 or 50 pitches and aren't getting any responses. Because I've even seen freelancers who are sending pitches, and for whatever reason, there's something about their email address that's getting them flagged as spam.
So it's not that the pitch is bad, but seeing that in the tracking that no one is even opening it. That tells you that there's something wrong there. Maybe your email address doesn't seem professional enough, or it's reading like a solicitation and the spam filter is catching it. So there's a chance to fix some stuff there.
I know that HubSpot allows you to track up to 200 notifications. So I think that's every time someone opens an email per month for free. I know about mail track as another tracking tool. What do you recommend that freelancers use for tracking?
Abbi has been using Streak which is a free Google Chrome extension. It works with Gmail. And so Streak has a paid version. You don't need the paid version. The paid version is for really a team of people who are doing multiple project management type tasks. The free version is unlimited in how many emails you can track per month and whatever. And it is robust!
So for Abbi, it works exceptionally well. She uses it herself. And she recommends it to her students. She loves it. And there's nothing like Mailtrack. She thinks it puts those little track my mail check at the bottom of every message. So Streak has nothing like that. It's not infallible, but nothing is and it's really, really good for what you need. I can't think of any use case for a freelance writer where this wouldn't be a good fit.
That makes a lot of sense because I agree. I installed Mailtrack to try it and it drove me crazy. I felt like it was buggy and it put at the bottom of every email that it was being tracked. Sometimes you don't necessarily want your prospective clients or current clients knowing that you're tracking your email or their email.
It's nice to have that as a secret tool in your arsenal to be like, “Hey, John Smith opened my email 21 times. This is the perfect time for me to write a custom follow up because obviously, there's something about it that got his attention.” But you don't really want to show all your cards with that. So I love that idea. It's so simple to do. It probably does not add any more than a handful of minutes to your pitching process.
I think another misconception that people have and we'll talk about this later is that it's as simple as sending a pitch and a client opens your email, reads it, writes back, and goes, “Sure send me the contract. Let's do thousands of dollars of work together.” A lot of the business is in the follow up. You're setting yourself up for success with that.
Follow up from day one by tracking it just makes it so much easier for you. I see people have these complicated spreadsheets that show when they contacted people. You don't need all that. Use the free version of Streak, get all the benefits of it, and don't add more stuff on your plate. So that's great.
Abbi would also say, if you're not using Gmail, there's so many great tools built right in. They've even got this new, little nudge feature. If you sent an email a couple of days ago, and you haven't had a reply, it'll pop it back into your inbox and say, “Hey, you didn't get a reply to this. Do you want to do anything with that?” So I wouldn't necessarily take Google's advice every single time and immediately send a follow up three days later, but I do love the snooze feature, for example. So she will often snooze that and say, “Hey, remind me again 10 days from now.” Because that's the point where she does want to follow up and she does want to take a look.
So again, on the admin side, we talked about your email address might be coming off as unprofessional or getting flagged as spam. If it's an AOL.com address, It's definitely getting flagged as spam. If it's a hotmail.com address, it's 100% getting flagged as spam. It is 2020, get your own domain name and get a personal email address.
It's not that expensive. I feel like Google charges $6 a month for that. I know I just put one of my websites on the year long plan with Squarespace. And it was one of the bonuses that came with that. A year of professional email. So at the bare minimum, you should be using something @gmail. com, you can probably get away with that if you don't want to deal with the hassle yet or not ready to invest. But it's such a small and easy thing to do to get that email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even if you don't have the full website setup yet, you can still leverage that email address. It comes across a lot more professional because we've all received those annoying emails. Usually it's from SEO services. At least that's who targets me. And it's so obvious that it's a poorly written pitch. I mean, it starts with Dear Sir every time. Which I'm just like, “No, that's not accurate.” But you don't want to come across like those people. You don't want to be the fly by night, template pitch that has no rationalization to it. So try to stand out! Little things like your email address can make a big difference. They really, really can.
I mentioned these things that feel like templated pitches. So she’s all in favor of templates and systems and processes that save you time. But they shouldn't ever feel like templates and processes and systems that you created to make your life easier and to not really care about your clients.
So she has a couple of rules for business or rules for life or just things that she lives by core values. Don't lie. Don't send an email you'd be embarrassed to show people in your real life. These are basic things to Abbi, but a lot of people don't bother to follow them. So if you are a person who follows them, you will stand out.
One of the things that she thinks about a lot and that she talks about a lot is that you should genuinely care about your clients and the people who you work with. You should really care about them. And you should think of them in a sense, as your friends. Yes, you want to have a professional relationship with them, but you should think of them as people whose well being you care about, whose time you want to protect. So don't send them crap that you'd be embarrassed to show people in your real life when you're emailing someone.
Even if it's a pitch, and even if you are using a template, put some effort and thought into it. She uses, for example, a tool called a TextExpander tool. There are different versions of this. The one that she uses is literally a $4.99 one time fee app. And it makes her life so much better because she can say of all of these templated responses that she can call up with just a keystroke or two, but then she always goes in and personalizes them.
So the part that doesn't change is the service that she offers. Every single client who she works with gets the same offer, because that's the service that she offers. So it's an email sequence, it costs this much, and if you want a sales page, it's this much. But what she’s pitching to them, why she’s reaching out to this particular client, that's going to be the part where she’s going to put in that personalization.
And she finds that it's most effective, again, if you're honest. If you actually looked at their website, and there was something about it that spoke to you and made you say, “Wow, I want to work with this person.” Or if you're on Upwork, or a site like that, and you see a posting, what made you apply to that posting? And please don't tell me it's that they're offering a lot of money. That's not a good reason. There should be something beyond that that is pushing you to reach out to this specific client and not that one. So talk about that.
And don't be afraid to let some of that passion come through. She thinks it makes pitching much more enjoyable for you as the person who's writing the pitch. And it certainly makes the person who opens it and reads it feel much more engaged with you if you're starting off by saying, “Wow, I looked at your website and your involvement with this organization, or the way you're approaching this, or the people you're serving…” Whatever it is, talk about the pizza thing that jumped out at you and got you excited.
Absolutely. There's way too much generalization in some pitches. And it always surprises me, especially when I see that in responses to an Upwork gig. Because you're competing against other people there. If you're cold pitching somebody, they might have other freelancers that are cold pitching them, but most likely not at the same time as you sent your message on LinkedIn or your email.
But when you're on Upwork, it's essential to have some level of personalization and a lot of times people will say, “Well, how do I know what that is? I can't see the client’s name. They didn't include their link or Upwork won’t allow them to do it.” Look for the clues that the client has left you in the job description if they are hiring a virtual assistant and it says, “I'm looking for someone who's super organized and a great communicator.”
That's the personalization you put into the pitch. Not saying, “I'm a great virtual assistant.” Lead with, what it is about your communication. Is it a feedback comment from a previous client that said you were the best communicator they'd ever interacted with? Is it the fact that your organization spills over into your personal life and your friends are envious of your closet? Share things that speak to that level of personalization even when you don't have a ton of information.
I think it is an important sticking point that comes up a lot with beginners as well. It's easy for more experienced freelancers to pitch. They've got all of this background, past clients, testimonials, and referrals. If I knew, what the heck do I say in my pitch so that it's honest, like you mentioned, but not making promises that aren't true or not giving away necessarily, “Hey, you might be the first client I'm ever going to work with. How do you get a that in a pitch?
Abbi is definitely a huge fan of honesty. So she would never say you should claim to have experience that you don't have. But she also doesn’t think that you need to open with, “I've never done this before.” So you want to strike a balance. One of the sentences that she loves, and she wants to give credit where it's due, her friend Lauren Golden uses this sentence and teaches this sentence, and that's, “I'm confident that I can do this for you. I'm confident that I can do this thing that you need for you.”
If you make your pitch about the outcome, that you're going to deliver the results that you're going to give your client, then you're driving that conversation. So it's not going to be about samples, clips, and experience. It's going to be about what you are going to do for them. Sometimes it can be very helpful to talk about the process you're going to follow to get the work done. You might say something like:
“Hey, if we work together, we're going to start off with a kickoff call. That'll be about 45 minutes. Here's what I'm going to ask you on that call. Here's the information, I'm going to need to see from you. After that, it'll be about a 10 day turnaround time for me to do the work. During that time, I'll update you every other day by email, or I'll work in a shared google doc.”
Whatever it is, talk about your process that makes you sound like you know what you're talking about. You have a process, you're laying it out for them, and you're making it really easy for them. Your clients don't necessarily know how this project is going to run. Because just like it might be the first time you're doing it, it might also be the first time they're outsourcing like this.
So if you step up, and you say, “Hey, this is how this will work.” You take a lot of pressure off them. Think about it like this. If you're going to renovate your kitchen and you hire a contractor to come and renovate your kitchen, you’ve probably never renovated the kitchen before. So hopefully you hire a contractor who's perhaps done this once or twice, but every contractor has to start somewhere. So maybe this is that. But if he tells you, “Hey, okay, on Tuesday, we're going to come and we're going to demo. You're not going to have cabinets or counters or whatever. It's going to take two weeks after we measure for the things to be built and made. Two weeks later, you're going to have wood boxes in your kitchen. And then I'm going to come three days after that and do the countertop.” At least you have some sense of what's happening. Even if he's never done this before, and it's his first time and it's your first time, you feel a little bit more confidence in the process.
Abbi thinks it's also okay to say to a client, again she wouldn't open with this, but she thinks it's okay to in your discussion, say, “Hey, I'm still nailing down my process on this, which is why I'm going to slightly discount this project or, which is why I'm doing this for x amount of money, when in the future, I plan to charge this much.” I think that that's an okay thing to say, when you're starting out if you really want the work, you really want this particular client, and you feel like this is your end.
I love all of those ideas. And I especially like explaining what the process is going to be like for the client. Because the other thing that's great about that, if you're just starting out, you've kind of set up your own loose accountability there by saying, “”Okay, we're going to start with the kickoff call.” So if I get this project, I need to be organized for that kickoff call. How am I going to block my schedule for that 10 day delivery period to make sure that I meet the deadline and the process that I've already presented to the client? I think clarity helps a lot. And clients want to be thinking about that end process of where you can take them. I love the idea of saying that I'm confident I can do this.
Another one that I recommend is saying, especially if you have past experience, even if not freelance related, “I rely on my blah, blah, blah degree in web design to help my freelance clients.” or “I rely on my five years of experience working as a nonprofit to now serve in a consultant role.” So that's absolutely true. If it's accurate for you because you are relying on that experience. That's the passion and the interest in the background that potentially brought you to the type of freelance work you're doing today.
So I completely agree. Do not lie. Do not say these are the kinds of results I get for my clients if you don't have any results yet. You don't need to say things like that. Of course, when you get to the more experienced freelancer point, you absolutely want to start adding those things into your pitches. Great comments and feedback from clients, amazing results, big name clients you've worked with. But please don't feel as a beginner like you have no chance if those things are missing from your pitch.
Because I think you're just relying on a little bit different approach. But that doesn't mean it's not valid. And you have to think about the fact every freelancer started with no experience. So many people have found a way to break in and they are just a couple of steps ahead of you. That's really important to keep in mind.
One is you might be new to freelancing, but you have a lot of other experience. Abbi said she can't tell you how many students she’s had who come to her and say, “I have two doctorates, and I've been the president of Uganda for seven years. Do you think I'm qualified?” She said she’s like, “Yeah, I feel like you can probably handle writing. Yes, I feel like you will be okay.”
So don't discount the 10 years of corporate experience that you have in any writing work or freelance work that you've done. Anything that you've done in your past that relates to what you're trying to do now, counts. It matters. It's real experience. Every Freelancer starts somewhere right? Everybody has a first project.
She loves to tell her students it's not only does every freelancer have a first project, every brain surgeon in the entire world has to at some point, picked up a scalpel and sliced into someone's brain for the first time. And she feels like not to belittle what we do by any means. But she feels like brain surgery is just a little more complex than most freelance writing projects.
In my husband's third or fourth year of medical school, he rotated with a surgeon. And the guy was more than ready to throw him into gastric surgeries with no experience. My husband was like, “Yes, I've been trained to do this. I understand the theory of it. I know what that process should be. “ But he's like that first time that he goes, “Okay, you tie this up. You close this out and you do the sutures.”
Everybody gets over that hurdle, no matter what your line of business or your passion is. So keep that in mind. Continuing to push yourself and get over those hurdles, especially as you expand your business too. Me and Abbi have both had the first time we coaced somebody, the first course we created, which by the way, mine sucked. So it’s going to be okay. However, if the first thing you create, the first thing you do, the first pitch you write, is maybe not a home run, that's okay. Because sometimes I think it's about that confidence of sending it out.
Sometimes I hear especially from freelance writers that they're like, ”I'm going to take the next five to six months to write.“ And I'm like, “No, you're good. Like you don't need to spend six months workshopping this.” Sometimes it's just about maybe you don't send that first pitch to your dream client. But getting over that hurdle is so, so important.
So let's talk about following up because this is really where your pitch can go from an email that happened to get read to now we're talking about potentially closing a deal. A lot of freelancers often ask me and I give them the answer that they hate, which is it depends if there is a specific formula for following up. I think there are loose guidelines around when and how you follow up. So I was curious about Abbi’s thoughts on “you've sent the pitch, we tracked it, we see it's being opened, it's possibly being forwarded around” what now?
She follows Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor. got it. And she did a podcast episode or an email or something about how somebody was trying to get on her podcast. Abbi had emailed her multiple times. And she said, “I feel like she probably thinks she's bothering me, but I happen to know I'm really busy and every time she emails I'm like, Yes, I meant to go and look up her stuff and I haven't had time yet. If she keeps following up, she's going to get booked in that slot.”
So we write all these stories in our heads about how they must have hated it or they would have replied, but the reality is people are busy. They're spending far less time thinking about you than you think they are. No one cares about you very much. So the act of following up is really important in and of itself.
So how and when Abbi typically advises to follow up is if after two weeks if you've seen that that email has been opened multiple times, it's a good time to follow up. But how do you follow up? Abbi doesn’t forward the old email. Don't do that. To her, that's weird. She would do a new email with a new subject. You can even say following up, put a dsah, and then your original subject line. And that's something that she likes to do personally.
And then, “Hey, I wanted to follow up with you. I'm sure you're busy. Here's how I can help you…” Hit the high points. Here's how I can help you be less busy. And here's how I can take some of this load off of you. I want you to think for a second about the one behind the one. There's the thing that business owners say like, “I need social media management, right”. But what they mean is “I need more clients. I need more money.” That's what they actually want. So speak to that want behind what they actually want to get from this relationship. I can help you grow your business, I can help you whatever it is that you're offering to do for them. Hit the high points and make it super easy for them to get back to you.
It's not, “Hey, you can call me at this number.” Nobody wants to pick up the phone anymore. Put a calendar link right in there and make it super easy for them, click here, book a time with me, I will be happy to take care of everything for you and give you all the answers you need. Take this project off your hands, get it done, and get it delivered. You can even say something like, “I'm currently booking work for whatever next week, two months from now…” Whatever it is that you're trying to project in your business that can sometimes push people into that response.
Abbi thinks that if you've seen that an email hasn't even been opened and it's been two weeks, then she would definitely send it with a completely different subject line because it wasn't ever opened. So ignore that first subject line. It either wasn't interesting enough to them or it never made it to the inbox or they have a lot of email and things get lost. Whatever. forget about it. Come up with a new subject line, something that you feel might hook them in and get them to open your email. You can use the same text of the email if you want to, although I would read it over to make sure that there's nothing in there that's getting it filtered into spam. Just give it a once over.
And if you see that something was opened once and then never opened again, it still could be worth a single follow up. In that case, I would kind of make a note to yourself that this is the last chance for this guy because you feel like he's not interested. And it’s fine that not everybody is going to be interested in you. And that's okay, too.
I love all of that. And one of the things that I really want to hone in on, which is what you talked about, is this idea of making the follow up be a little bit different than your original email. Not forwarding the same email and not saying, “Hey, again, here's my website with my samples.” Remember, these people are busy. If they didn't look at your samples from the first time around, or even if they did, they don't want to see that again. So you're getting into the psychology of it all right? Who is this person? They're busy, but obviously there's a need and a want here because they opened my email five times. So how can I hit home with that?
And I think that's important to do. Because sometimes you will hear from clients that you haven't heard from in weeks, months, sometimes even years. And they will appear out of nowhere. Even if you've never worked with them.
There was someone that I wrote a proposal for, that they didn't accept, but they forwarded my name to somebody else who contacted me out of the blue. Because I had kept following up on the proposal that they never signed and went for. So I like to think of it as you're opening all these doors, then leave them open for as long as it makes sense.
Don't do the follow up of like, “Hey, just following up on this.” That's appropriate if they have a proposal or a contract that is pending a signature. Then you can be that directive, like, “Hey, I just want to make sure my invoice gets paid, that you saw this contract and scope before you agree with it.” But make it more personal. When you're still at the pitch level or you're trying to get them on a call or something like that. I think a lot of people kind of miss that.
Now, after the first couple outreach efforts, I get a little bit of creeper status going so I will start googling the company and the person I'm emailing. I will look for articles or new studies that came out that were relevant to their business. And I will say something like, “Hey, I came across this article on email marketing, and how the ROI on it is, blah, blah, blah, dollars for every blah, blah, blah dollar you spend. I instantly thought of you because I know I've sent you previous information about email marketing and I really feel like for your audience segment. It could be key.”
If the CEO was recently received an award or was featured in an article, use that as your follow up like, “Hey, I saw this. This is super cool. It's part of why I'm so pumped to potentially work with you.” So make it a little more personal. I think that every client and potential client hates when people say, “Hey, following up.” or “Hey, checking in on this.” over and over and over again. Because you're making it all too easy for them to just say, “No, not right now.” There's no incentive for them to take any action based on those kinds of statements. So you want to prompt them. This is what you're missing if you don't work with me, “Hey, I'm really passionate about your company or you or your industry.” Something that's personal that makes them go, “Man, if we are gonna outsource it, it's gonna be to this freelancer because their follow up game is solid.”
This is something a lot of people are going to hear this and be like, “I'm not doing that.” But Abbi encourages you to think about it. She has students who have had an enormous amount of success with video pitches. They will literally use Loom, again free Google Chrome extension that’s super easy to use. Even if you've never used it, you can be up and running in 45 seconds, because you're a human with a brain.
You go to their website and you can talk about them and like, “Oh, my gosh, I love this stuff about you.” Or you could take that article and say, “I'm reading this article, and I'm just thinking about you. This line in particular really speaks to me and reminds me of your company, because XYZ.”
Number one, not everybody is sending video pitches. Number two, it is clear that you made this effort specifically for that client. It catches their attention. And Loom loads things so nicely with this preview right in the email. People are like, “Huh, what's that?” And they click and you don't want to go on for 17 minutes. But if you do like a two- three minute video, that's something that has a real impact. And you get a notification when they've watched it. So another nice tool for “Oh, hey, they watch this.” You know you are going to stand out in their mind.
We're writers, because we're introverts and whatever. Get over it. They're not looking at it to judge your makeup or whatever. They care much more about themselves. So take the time, make this little video pitch because it makes such a difference.
I can't even tell you how many clients I've landed, or at least opened the lines of communication, because I sent a one or two second video. It's really your chance to show that you're a human too. You're not just a taskmaster who does projects and turns them in. You're a human being. And you have a personality. You care about their business.
I also worked with an online business manager for about two years. And it was from an Upwork pitch. But she went one step beyond to Google my name and made me the two minute video that says, “Hey, I went and looked at your website and as your OBM here, the three things that I would change that I don't think are working as well as they could.” No one else even spent the five minutes today to check out who I was and where I probably needed the most help. And so that led to a two year contract for her.
So anytime I can do something that's a little bit personal like the video, going that little one step beyond the follow up. Another one of my favorite follow ups is pitch the person then connect with them on LinkedIn. I did this yesterday. And I was pitching a speaking gig. I wrote the custom pitch to the conference organizer. Five minutes after sending it, I sent a connection request on LinkedIn.
And said, I like to add a note section connecting I said, “Hi there, I'd love to connect with you because blah, blah, blah.” But then I put at the end, “Also, I just sent you an email on 2029 friends. Looking forward to connecting.” And because people still tend to check their LinkedIn, which might not always be 100% true on email, that's another great way to follow up or keep that conversation going or ground somebody whose email inbox is bogged down to go searching for your name.
Abbi loves that I sent a personal message with my LinkedIn request. Because sometimes you can get dozens if not hundreds a day. And when they don't have a personal message, she’s not necessarily going to bother to approve them. Because she doesn’t know who you are. She doesn't know anything about you. And she doesn’t know if you're a good connection for her. She’s very selective with her LinkedIn connections. Because when she puts out content on LinkedIn, she wants it to be showing to people who actually may engage with that content.
So if it's somebody who has taken the time to write her something personal, she will almost always accept them even if they're outside of that immediate market. She thinks, “Okay, this person made the effort and told me why they wanted to connect with me. Sure.” But if you don't bother to do that, then you are missing out on a chance to connect with people.
I leave my connections for the longest time in purgatory on LinkedIn if I can't figure out who they are and what they do. This is especially true if you don't send the note. Also, your tagline on LinkedIn is extremely big. Someone the other day tried to connect with me and their tagline was “Making dreams come true.” And I thought, what does that mean? And what industry are you in?
Some of the people that I connect with, not just connects with, but gets right back to them immediately, are those who are like, “Hey, I saw your TEDx talk. I loved Episode 90 of your podcast.” It's like, “Oh, yeah, this person actually knows who I am. They're not just randomly clicking people you might know and adding connections for whatever reason.”
So if we think like that, I guarantee you marketing managers and busy entrepreneurs think like that, too. So it doesn't even have to be related to the service that you pitch. It may be you saw them deliver an amazing keynote and you comment on like, “Hey, you really killed it on that stage. You did an amazing job.” You're much more likely to open that line of conversation and communication. So I think that's so important and underutilized.
Abbi has also had students of her who will sign up for her free email course, they'll like her Facebook page, they'll join her group, and then on LinkedIn, the message will be something like, “I swear, I'm not a stalker.” So you know, it took five seconds to write that. It made her laugh. And she gets it. She knows you want to follow her in these spaces. That's totally cool with her. She is there for it. She’ll even reply to something like that like, “Haha, I don't think you're a stalker. It's awesome. So glad to connect. Let me know if you're finding everything you need.” And now we have a conversation going so. So there are definitely ways that you can do that and it's such an easy way to stand out from the crowd.
So to close things out, because I feel like we could talk for hours, say you're in the process of following up, you've suggested the call, and they haven't taken it. Do you have any tips for how to nudge that person into getting them on the phone? Because I feel like that's where so much business is done. How do you nudge that person without being annoying? How could it be most effective at sort of prompting them into that action step of the phone call?
Abbi would definitely start with her calendar link. And if that hasn't been clicked on, if that hasn't resulted in the follow up, then she might, in her next follow up, propose two times. She would say, “Hey, I'd love to get this on the calendar. Would Tuesday at 3:00 or Wednesday at 10:00 be better for you?” Then if one of those works, then she'll send that calendar invite.
It is a little bit tricky there. She doesn’t have a great foolproof system. And she doesn’t think there is a foolproof system for every situation. For example, her calendar link is linked to a zoom call. Which is a great little setup, but some people may be intimidated by the calendar link in general and by the idea of Zoom. So maybe make it a little bit easier. “Would it be easier for you if I called you at 10am on Wednesday?”
Think about the person. If you're speaking to someone of a certain age, they may be less comfortable with some of the technology. And if you're speaking to someone who's not in a technology field, they may not be comfortable. Another thing that she ran into was some corporate clients can't access some of those zoom things on a corporate network. So be cognizant of that and say, “How can I do this? How can I make this easier for you?”
I love that and giving them a reason to take the phone call, even if it doesn't end up going further with business. Maybe there's a question they have around content marketing, or maybe you have a couple of recommendations that aren't giving away the farm, but allow you to get some of your insight in there, and really get them to see you as an expert.
So when people are busy, there has to be a reason for the phone call. Your link cannot be a 45 minute thing that you're scheduling. Keep it to 15 to 20 minutes if they're definitely interested. And they've written back saying, “Yeah, we really need someone to help with XYZ service.” You can expand it to 30 minutes. But you want to watch your time too so that you're not giving away too much and it's not leading to business. But definitely give them a reason for that phone call to make sense.
Right now we're in q1, a lot of companies have met and decided their budgets for the year. That might be a good opportunity to be like, “Hey, I'd love to hear about your content marketing and traffic goals or email newsletter goals to close out quarter one and kickoff q2 strong.” That gets them thinking about it.
And If you've hit the right employee or that's on their list of things to achieve, there's more of a chance that they're at least willing to talk to you, especially if it makes them look good if you're going to give them a tip or if you're going to propose an easy solution. You may say, “Hey, your email newsletter is not converting, I know because I'm a customer and these were the problems I encountered with it.” They're much more likely to hire you. And you also can make that employee look good when they go to their boss and say, “Hey, I've got some excellent feedback on how we can improve this. And I found the professional who can help us to accomplish that and knock it out and start seeing better numbers.”
I love it. This is not the last Abbi will hear of me because I have so many things to pick her brain about. We're definitely going to try to have her come to a live training in my facebook group specifically about email sequences. Iit is kind of in the freelance writing world like writing emails for other people.
Another one of my pet peeves with the online world is Facebook groups where, especially writers, love to pile on each other or critique other people's rates or be negative or write comments like “You'll never achieve your dreams.” Abbi’s Facebook group is not like that.
I also strive for that to not be my Facebook either. But I would if you're a writer, even if you're experienced, I would strongly recommend joining her facebook group because it's a very supportive community and people write actionable tips in response to questions. They don’t write supervague, like, “Hey, I can offer you a phone call.” You're going to get good answers to your questions.
Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.
Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. This is part two of a
small series, just two episodes about how to deal with burnout. So if you're listening to this episode, and you haven't yet heard the episode that comes immediately before it, now would be a great time to go back and listen to that episode because it is really all about how to recognize burnout and how to prevent burnout before it happens. And of course, the more mindful you can be about the problems related to burnout, the easier will be for you to stop that cycle before it even starts.
It can be very, very toxic and overwhelming when you're coping with burnout. A lot of us don't even recognize burnout until we're so far into it that it's very difficult to walk back and figure out how to remove some of those stressors from our life.
Burnout will look different from one person to another. So for you, it might primarily manifest in physical terms. But for someone else, it could be more of a mental or emotional challenge. So recognize that if you've witnessed a friend or family member go through burnout, that it might not look the same for you as it does for others. There are three primary reasons why somebody ends up feeling burned out. Some of them are kind of interconnected or more complicated than just one simple thing.
Who are you working with? Are you working with the right people? And are they making you feel overwhelmed? Are you working on projects that you don't love? And are you working on a project that you do love, but the client is so overbearing and difficult to deal with that you're waking up with night sweats and you're dreading every single day?
I've worked with a number of different aspiring and currently six figure freelancers who have found themselves working with toxic clients. And if you have not listened to that podcast episode, I strongly recommend going back and listening to the episode all about toxic clients because we go into what it really means to say somebody that is a toxic client. It's called “Toxic Freelance Clients: You Can’t Afford to Keep Them”. It is Episode 71 of the podcast. And it is very powerful to go back and recognize that you might be working with those clients, if you previously were unaware.
When you're working with people who are very difficult, who are demanding too much, or who want you to kind of be at their beck and call and available to communicate all the time, you can easily get very, very overwhelmed and stressed out. And a lot of times what's great, even though it might not seem like it in the moment, about the situation of being with a freelance client that is not the right fit is that you can fix this aspect of burnout. There are some things that lead you to a state of burnout that are not really so much in your control. But this one about deciding who you do and don't work with. It definitely falls within your control.
Somebody who's overbearing, somebody who expects too much, somebody who puts additional stress on you by paying their invoices three months late, or anything like that. It doesn't necessarily have to be toxic for it to be overwhelming or triggering towards burnout for you. But it can definitely be something that causes you to feel like that's carrying over into aspects of your business and your personal life. So the great news about discovering that clients are the source of your current burnout is that it is within your power to fix that situation.
Now, if you primarily have one anchor client, and that's the client that's causing you to burn out, it's going to take a while to build up the business to the point it feels like you can walk away from that. And I've also seen coaching clients who hold on to that anchor client even when it's not the right fit. And then that client can also decide not to work with you anymore.
When you've got all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak, that can also put you into a very difficult situation. Because if you suddenly feel like, “You know what, the straw has broken the camel's back, I cannot work with this client for one more moment.” or their business folds it can put you in a tough situation.
Where if the client just decides not to work with you anymore, you don't want to be counting on that one client or those one or two anchor clients for your whole income. So you want to start building in that buffer and working towards having other clients on tap. Now, if you want to learn more about why it is so dangerous to have just one client, you'll want to go back and listen to Episode 76. That's “Don't Put All Your Freelance Eggs in One Basket”.
So now that we've covered the fact that clients can contribute to you feeling burned out and overwhelmed, that's probably going to be the easiest one to detect. Is there anyone on your schedule where you are feeling so bad about opening their emails, you hate having to talk to them on the phone, you really wish you could just fire them and move on? That is going to be the easiest place to find potential burnout and to deal with it from there.
Outside stressors could be anything that's really not so much in your control even if you have taken proactive steps to minimize or to try to completely control that issue. For example, maybe you have somebody in your family or the caretaker for an elderly member in your family. Perhaps you have a child with special needs. Maybe and your partner work different shifts. You work the day shift and he works the night shift and so on. Childcare is always very stressful and you have very little time to work on your business. Those are kind of outside stressors that you can't easily change, or can't be changed at all.
So if there's something in your day to day process in the structure of your business that
could be changed to help you minimize the chance of burnout, you want to take those proactive steps. First, for example, maybe you do have a situation at home where it's very difficult to have no background noise. Maybe you've already tried to have everyone in the family be quiet or tried to do your sales calls in the closet. And it just hasn't worked right. So maybe you need to adapt your business model to figure out how you can close people in other ways where you’re not relying on having a quiet backgrounds. So that would be eliminating problems.
You could also address that problem by building in support. So perhaps you hire somebody to do childcare. You don't even have to go spend your entire budget on a day rate for somebody. You can book all of your calls between 2:00 and 4:00 pm because that's when you have childcare. And everyone else in the family can be out of the house. So this same process can apply to many of the different challenges that you face from outside stressors.
Now, obviously, there's a whole set of outside stressors here that will still continue to impact your life even despite your best efforts of eliminating any challenges and building and support. If you're dealing with a health care crisis, for example, you probably have enough on your plate. And you're already focused on attempting to recover or to minimize your symptoms. So it might not be possible to eliminate some of those issues. But you might be able to build in some levels of support.
One of the things that I had to do was reduce expectations from everyone. So I informed all of my coaching clients that I would be slower at responding. I informed my current freelance clients that I would be X many days behind on delivery and let them know what was going on. So sometimes you can't build in enough support or eliminate enough problems to keep operating as you normally would.
Give yourself that grace and that space to be able to scale back your business and say, “You know what, I'm in a season right now where for whatever reason, I am not able to deal with things as I normally would. I'm not going to get upset about that. I'm not going to try to force it. Instead, I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that I have space in my business and in my life to cope with what's most important right now. Because what's most important, might not be me hitting my marketing or my income goals at the moment.”
So lots of times people put additional pressure on themselves because they're feeling like, it's almost like their fault that they're dealing with these outside stressors. And that is rarely if ever true. So don't feel bad that you have to slow down. Don't feel bad if you have to take steps away from your business. I know that it's very hard for anyone who's a high achiever or a perfectionist to hear that advice, and really fit it in.
And that was because we were going through things with the loss of a family member, where I just couldn't physically fit it into my schedule to be recording episodes. I didn't have that quiet background space. And then also I just really didn't feel up to it.
So for me, it was about releasing myself from that expectation that I'm going to continue as I normally would, and instead saying, “Okay, where can I trim things out of my schedule because this is not the top priority right now? And I will catch up later. If that means we missed two weeks of the podcast, then we miss two weeks. I've got to practice what I preach here.And my listeners will understand.”
A lot of people listen to these episodes after the fact and they might not even notice that there was a space between the previous episode and this one. So to recap real quickly two of our most common causes of burnout in a freelance business are having the wrong clients or having a client that kind of overwhelms and takes up all of your time and/or outside stressors.
Now you could find yourself in an either or situation, but it's very possible that you experienced both. So as business owners, we're constantly thinking about ways to take our companies to the next level. That can be both a blessing and a curse because you can find yourself putting way too much on your schedule and ending up very stressed out and overwhelmed.
If you're doing that while also not taking care of yourself, that is going to take a physical, emotional, and mental toll as well. I've definitely been guilty of taking on too many things plenty of times. And it seems like it's one of those lessons, I'm just going to have to learn over and over again. That lesson is building time to take care of yourself and recognize when you're hitting your limits and thresholds for what is right for you.
A fully booked business will look different for every single person. So don't compare yourself to what it's like for somebody else. Someone else's ideal business might be running 15 or 20 hours per week. Whereas yours is only 5 or 10 because of your current life circumstances or possibly some of those life stressors. Or maybe that's just the perfect sweet spot for your business to sit.
So don't hold yourself up to the standards of anybody else. That can really get you into a difficult situation as well. Remember to keep taking care of yourself and recognize when you have too many things on your plate and how to reduce that. Another podcast episode that might be helpful for you is “Episode 87: Why I'm Not Freelancing Full Time Anymore”. You'll hear a little bit about my decision to really scale back my freelance business and keep it at the point where it's still operating and is very profitable, but doesn't take up a tremendous amount of my time.
So recognize when you're in one of those busy seasons. What more can you do to take care of yourself? How can you really support yourself when you are facing down a really big deadline? How can you give yourself space immediately after you’ve finished a massive project? How do you step back and really give yourself that peace of mind and that chance to recover? And if you're in a period where you can't really slow down, how do you support yourself with nutrition, rest, mindset exercises, physical exercise, and even taking vitamins? How do you sort of have that to support yourself?
If you are the type of person who has trouble taking care of yourself or putting too many things on your plate, you will love Episode 84 which is “Creating a Mental Health Plan for Your Freelance Business”. Now, that episode goes into great detail as far as what does it mean to build a mental health plan? How can that really benefit you? What does my mental health plan look like?
When you're feeling burned out. You can push yourself so far as to you need to shut down your business for several months. And we always want to avoid that if possible. I wouldn't want anybody else to go through that experience. And we see that with business owners often where they end up facing a tremendous amount of stress. And it's not necessarily that they have a breakdown, but they have to take some space and time away from their business and that can be really overwhelming for them. That personal pressure and stress can really be a lot for them to cope with and to deal with.
So, trying to avoid burnout as much as possible will really help you when you are getting ready to think about up leveling your business. You need to think about if this is now the right time for me to fold in other things into my business or should I kind of rethink that and table that and make that project go a little bit slower because I'm primarily concerned with taking care of myself?
Now if you do believe that you're suffering from burnout, I strongly recommend reaching out for help for medical professionals, therapists, and other psychological support services. Burnout is a relatively new word in the western medicine dictionary and diagnosis category. So it's something where you want to have the right help to guide you through that process and to recognize burnout for what it is and create a custom plan for you to recover as much as possible.
In next week's episode, we'll be recapping some of the Top 10 Best Podcast Episodes that have come out of this show going all the way back to 2017. Because it will be Episode 100. That's right, we've made it to 100 episodes. So I will be recapping from my perspective, the favorite 10 episodes that I have recorded or put together.
So if you are just starting as a binge listener to this show,or if you've only listened to the recent episodes since the reboot, you might catch some gems in there that can help direct you to some awesome episodes in the past. Thanks again for tuning in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
One of these questions I see coming up all the time for people who are just thinking about making the leap into working from home is whether working remotely and freelancing are the same thing. It can get really confusing because plenty of freelancers do work remotely. But that's not necessarily the same as someone who's working on an hourly, part time, or salaried, full time basis as a remote worker.
In this episode, I was so happy to be able to invite my guest Maryellen Stockton to chat about what it means to work remotely, successfully. We talked about a lot of things including how to be successful with a remote job interviews and tips that can help you be successful and effective with potential clients and employers in this digital world we live in today.
Maryellen Stockton is the co-founder and CEO of Work Well Wherever. She is a People Operations Consultant who has worked for 15 years encouraging individuals to achieve positive work/life experiences and helping companies create inspired work cultures. Six years ago, she began working remotely for a virtual staffing firm and quickly became an expert in company culture, employee engagement, and building teams outside the traditional office.
She lives in Atlanta with her husband Matt and her two kids, George and Winnie. The things that make her happy usually include coffee, people she loves, and mountains. And to that, I say I feel the same!
We're living in an amazing time as freelancers or as remote employees where companies are finally opening up to the idea that they can have very effective, efficient, and great teams with excellent communication in locations all over the country or even the world. So use that to your advantage. Make sure you file away the tips in this episode and avoid some of the pitfalls we discuss that are costing people remote work opportunities.
I was thrilled to be able to chat with Maryellen because I think she has such a unique background with remote work. She is also, in a sense, like a consultant herself running her own business. So she has this really unique blend of both of those backgrounds.
Sometimes we're talking about the same things. But increasingly, these words are getting their own definition. So I really wanted to hear her perspective on what that difference is.
Maryellen’s thoughts on on freelance work is that you are usually not working full time for one employer. You are usually working full time maybe for multiple employers or maybe you're working part time for multiple companies or on multiple projects. And you are not necessarily like a part of a team.
With remote work, and especially with the growth of this full time, remote work, the difference is that you're usually devoted to one company or organization. And it is a company that is either distributed where they have offices all over or they have teams that are. Everyone works from home or maybe it's a combination of both.
Maryellen shared that you are seeing increasingly more and more companies hiring freelancers to do certain projects and also they have remote teams. That actually worked for the organization. And that's increasingly more common.
I totally agree with that. I think that the confusion for a lot of people is because most freelancers today are working remotely. Now, that's not true for everyone. There are definitely some freelancers who still go into the office and things like that. But most of them are working remotely.
So when someone is thinking about getting started working from home, it's actually quite different working for one company, or maybe two companies that you're working remotely for part time versus running a freelance business where you may have multiple clients at the same time. And there's not always that expectation that it's ongoing. Like if you take a full time, or part time remote work job, unless the person has told you that this is temporary, there's that expectation that it's like a traditional form of employment. It's expected to go on unless there's a reason for either party to decide to end the relationship. Whereas, freelance work is so much more flexible. It might literally be that someone needs you to do something this week and then never again. I still have some of my clients from years ago. So it's all over the board.
One of the things that's cool about the time period that we live in is that remote work is becoming more and more accepted by companies of all sizes. Employees are wanting it. So it’s a great time to be either a remote worker, an aspiring remote employee or a freelance. Because this whole idea of working with people who are not in your office is so much more accepted.
Maryellen shared that there are employers who have a corporate team that is fully remote. And then they also hire freelancers. So they have contractors all over the US. So they are all under one company. The contractors are 1099. These freelancers are 1099. And it's a lot of part time. Then they also have these corporate team employees that are remote. So it's interesting to see.
Maryellen has seen a rise of wanting to incorporate the freelancers more into the company. She has some thoughts and ideas around it. But it's like that is something that you have to figure out as you go along.
She said that in Atlanta, there are companies that staff assistants, bookkeepers, or marketing team members. And then they also have a remote corporate team. So it's just interesting trying to bring them into the fold. And especially when they're thinking about how they want these freelancers to be a part of their culture and have better communication. How do you do that? How does that happen?
And the way that I have come across that topic is when I'm coaching freelancers, who are in some of these teams, but they're being brought in on a short term basis or even on a long term basis. But as independent contractors, there's a really fine line that employers have to walk between legally with how they treat freelancers.
So it's this big gray area where sometimes companies don't even realize that they're doing it. For example, you want to bring this freelancer into the fold of your company culture. And you want them to feel like they're part of a team. You want to have great communication channels. But at the same time, the way that you treat an employee, you can't always necessarily just assume that the freelancer is another employee and that that's okay.
So I think that's a challenge that's really facing both freelancers and companies that are trying to leverage their talent right now is figuring out like, “Okay, we have someone who's not really part of the team, but we'd like them to feel like they are without crossing the line. How do we get that perfect Goldilocks situation there?”
How often are you bringing the freelancers into the discussions if they're working on a certain project? Because sometimes she thinks the common thing with with freelancers and with teams, whether they're remote or in the office, is that they have a meeting in the office or they have a meeting on video. And since the freelancer is only working on one part of the project, they don't loop them into that conversation. She sees that happening a lot. And so the freelancer is actually missing out on the valuable information by not being involved.
I didn't think about that. There’s so many conversations or even feedback loops that are happening, whether it's in an office or it's a remote team, with the rest of the team. So it can be a challenge. Something for companies to keep in mind is, when you do these update meetings or progress, how do you fold in a person?
One of the ways that this has come up with a lot of freelancers that I work with is, they'll have a client who's new to working with freelancers. And they'll say, “Oh, hey, can you hop on the phone in an hour?” And that's not possible for freelancers. Companies should be prepared to work ahead with that sort of thing.
Maryellen thinks one of the ways that you work around that is realizing that now we might have to have a regular update especially if there's a big project going on. Maybe you have to have the team meeting weekly, based on the particular project, as opposed to when you used to only have to have monthly meetings, You just have to think about different ways of communicating so that everyone's on the same page and that no one's left out or is missing information.
I think that's really great for freelancers and remote workers alike to consider. And that gets into our next topic here. Remote work has definitely gotten more popular with a lot of different companies and in a lot of different industries. But I still feel like, and this is true of freelancing, too, that there's a lot of misconceptions around remote workers and remote working.
Maryellen shared that she doesn’t know when we'll get over these misconceptions. But the biggest one is that if people work from home or telecommute or freelancing or any kind of remote work that they are not really working. She admitted she had this misconception too, before she started working remotely six years ago. It's hard to turn it off.
When she started working remotely, she really had to figure out a way to stop and schedule myself and be organized and set boundaries and establish my working hours and make sure that I was communicating all that Because it really is hard to turn off because you can take it anywhere. That's the beauty of it. But then it ends up causing issues.
This happened to me with my freelance business. My husband just commented on like, “Okay, some days you're working from your laptop in the living room. Some days you're in the bed working. And some days you're over here.” He said that my workspace had become the entire house. And this is good because it's so easy to grab for that laptop and go, “Oh, I've got 15 minutes. I can knock out that email.”
So I love that idea of, what are your working hours going to be? Either because you're a remote worker and you need to have that expectation of when you're going to be online with the rest of the team and available to talk to you. As a freelancer, it went against everything that I wanted in my freelance business. I was so dumb. I don't want to be nine to five. And so I was like, “Well, I can't work between nine to five. I just don't want to make that my office hours.” But finally, when you make some sort of clear schedule, or when you have a home office, where that's where you go to do your work and your calls, it's that much easier to prevent it from bleeding over.
They feel the need to document what they're doing, take screenshots, or send like a recap of what they have done. And that's not always necessary or productive or the best use of time. But part of that is because I think we worry about, “Well, does this person believe that I'm really working or not? Do they think that I'm just here billing them for time or essentially on the clock when I'm not doing anything?”
Maryellen thinks that if you're an owner of a company, and you're hiring freelancers, or you decided to let people work from home a couple days a week, then you have to trust that you've hired the right employee for the position. And you have to be crystal clear about the expectations and goals everyone should have.
These should be expectations and goals that align with their position or project or whatever it is. So that should be communicated well, so that everybody has set expectations that are not limiting someone in their flexibility. It's actually like leading them well and allowing them to do their best and in the role.
So she thinks that sometimes when people are switching to remote, there is that sense of, “I don't want to micromanage.” So they don't put any guidelines or expectations in place. But you actually are not doing anyone a favor. Because then people don't really know what's expected and everyone does want to know what's expected of them. It's not really rules, per se. It's just leading leading well. It's just guiding your team to do the best that they can and also setting the employee or Freelancer up for success.
Because if you're bringing someone into your team, they need to know what the communication expectations ares. For example, you may be the type of person who only checks your project management tool once a day and your email twice a day. If you have someone new on your remote team who's like starting at nine o'clock in the morning, they might be sending you messages over Slack or over email like, “Hey, I'm unclear about something.”
And if they don't know that the expectation is, “Oh, hey, we always chat during the midday daily meeting or on Fridays. We map out the week ahead. And so you should be prepared to show up to the Friday meeting with all of your concerns and questions and intended priorities.” You're just making that person feel more and more awkward. And they're wasting time as well. Because that person is just sitting around not realizing that that's part of the way that your remote team works.
So I think that's important to remember, too. That not all remote teams are created equal. And when they have this mix of remote workers and freelancers and sometimes even people in an office in a different location, you’ve got to suss out that culture.
So from the employee’s perspective, or freelancer’s perspective, but I guess mainly when you're a remote worker where the culture is more important. I mean, you still wantan awesome culture for your freelancer, but it's more temporary. Maryellen shared that if she’s going to interview for a remote company, she’s going to do her research first. Just as with any company. She’s going to do my research.
One of the things that she thinks is hugely important in remote work is that when you're applying for these jobs, do you align with them? What is their mission? What is their purpose? Does that speak to you? Is that intriguing to you? And are their values communicated clearly that you understand? And what are their processes? It's good to ask how often does the team meet?, How do they meet? Are you meeting in person? Do you have the tools in place to know that everything is heading in the right direction so that you will be able to connect? It’s so important to be able to develop a connection with other employees.
Especially if you're being paid for it. For example, say you're an hourly freelancer, and you're like, “Well, I don't want to waste three minutes of this phone call asking this person how their kids are doing.” But it's actually important to do that sort of thing. And as long as it's not excessive, I think that people don't even think about that in terms of like, “Oh, this person is trying to draw time or wasted or isn't sensitive to the fact that I'm a busy person.”
It's so important for that connection to feel like you are part of the team and to really get to know who you're working with. And I'm guessing that there are more downsides than this, but I know for myself that isolation is one of the hardest things about being working remote. It's wonderful to work from home. It’s nice to have your home office, have your pets around, and all of that stuff. But it can also be super hard.
Maryellen does think the isolation thing is huge. That takes a little bit to get adjusted too. So some things that she did was just have a set date if I didn't have video calls to be in a coffee shop, just to be around people. Or she had a workout class two days a week that she liked to go to. And so she would schedule that time. So that goes back to the things that we talked about. That also helps you to turn things off.
The other thing that's the downside of remote work, is just figuring out a schedule that works for you and works for the company. One that allows for flexibility, but where you're able to get things done but still have a routine or schedule. She thinks that was super helpful to her to avoid isolation and to avoid over overworking.
Because there are those days for any of us, in office or not, where maybe from 12 to one you go to your kids ballet performance or you have a doctor's appointment, and you have to get back online after the kids are to bed or your partner goes to sleep or whatever the thing is that happens. But if you can, you don't have to have this like rigid schedule. But if you can somewhat schedule and know what you're going to tackle next and have a sense of the things that you need to be more productive during the day, that helps with the with the isolation and the overworking part that that I see people face.
What is their company culture? Do they expect you to be online all the time or not? Because that's something to really know up front so you can plan around that. And I love that idea of getting out of your office when you can even if you're a remote worker. See if there's someone where you can have lunch with them on one day a week where you leave your home office.
For me, my husband and I just moved to Minnesota a couple of months ago. I knew one person here. So I forced myself to go to Minneapolis a couple times a month. And then every Wednesday night I go to an adult tap dance class and I interact with other people from Minnesota and get to be part of the whole culture here.
So I feel like that's important to even the schedules that you have during your work day. And even when you're not working that can help if you don't have that water cooler gossip. You don't have that going out with your co workers at lunch type of thing when you're working remotely, but you can build in that connection in other ways. I found that that helps me too. Because if I have evening events, I can't work past a certain hour because that's where I need to go. So it's a really it's always a balance but definitely important to keep that
There's two things. So one is that people don't understand what you do. For the longest time, my in laws described what I do as something on the internet. Then I'd say the other one is that people tend towards being a little too reliant on technology. We live in this digital world. But we need to find that fine line between things that can be sent over an email and it's going to be interpreted the right way by the person receiving it and need to actually have a call.
If I have 20 questions that need answered, then it's just going to be easier for us to get on the phone and hash out those 20 questions in 30 minutes rather than me work on a project and get all the way to the finish line and have my client or employer say it’s not correct. A phone call or video call could have cleared that up 10 steps earlier in the process. And assuming that all people write emails the same way I do. I would say that's the other big challenge for working remotely that I see a lot.
One of the things you are looking for when you're you're looking for someone to work remotely is great communication skills. It's somewhat like being a little intuitive or a problem solver. And that's part of the communication thing is saying like, “Okay, I can't even explain this in the email. I'm just going to pick up the phone and call them or I'm going to ask if they can jump on a call later.” It’s fine If you call and they don't answer. Then maybe you go back to the email and figure something else out. But sometimes it's just quicker to have that conversation than to type in emails. It can hit a point where it’s getting too long or doesn't make sense or it's not going to be received. It’s knowing when to do what .
Especially if you are the worker who's getting an email or a piece of feedback on something that says, “I don't like this. This does this.” Well, what does that mean? Because I could interpret that as they hate me or they want to fire me. And they could have just literally meant like, “I don't like the color yellow. And you put yellow on that.” This is a five second fix. But over email, it can be interpreted differently.
So one of the things that I like to do with that is if it seems like there's going to be confusion, or if this is a little more complex than an email, I will just say that in my message that I want to schedule a call with them. If they have an automated booking where I can go right to their calendar and book a call, I'll do that. If they're busy, and I don't know what their schedule is, I'll just send a message like, “Hey, I'm really thinking with a 15 minute phone call we could knock out all these questions and clear things up. Are you up for that?” That way it doesn't seem like I'm intruding. But I don't think that workers and freelancers should be afraid to bring that up. No one's going to get mad at you if you feel like you need the video screen by screen walkthrough to learn something new or to get on the phone call and ask those questions. It shows that you're trying to be mindful of the entire project and the purpose and something that you're confused about.
Maryellen does. And she thinks that you screen for it. For example, people that have had their own business, you can say that they’re probably self motivated. She thinks this is a huge one because there's not just someone right beside you to ask in the time frame that you need it. So she would say self motivated, organized, excellent communication skills, and proactive are important trains to have.
And she really thinks a natural problem solver is also a good trait. Because there are all these tools and technology that we're getting used to, but you have to be able to say, “Okay, I may not be able to get the answer right away.” Can you come up with a solution then and figure that out on your own?
Or even that ability to say, “Okay, this project is stalled out because I need an answer from x person and x person isn't available. So how can I table this? And what is the next project I jump to?” I think that some people just naturally gravitate towards being able to do that. Whereas others need to be told by someone else what step one is and step two is this. And so being able to balance those different priorities and saying, “Alight, I've got more time here that I can work on something different, because I'm not able to move forward on this until I get an answer or something that's important as well.”
Maryellen thinks sometimes sometimes people are easily distracted, which means they want to be in an office. Or they feel like they're missing out. And some people are easily distracted and they want to work from home because they can be more productive. So there are those things too.
I like to ask freelancers, “In college or grad school, were you the person that actually got the group project done?” Because you probably have what it takes to be a freelancer, if you were not stalled out by everyone else's lack of communication and ability to work together. But you were able to bring that project to the finish line, because that's a big part of it.
I found it to be hugely distracting to work in an office when I had a more traditional job. There were always other people talking. Somebody next to me playing really loud music. I just felt like I got less done because of that. So being able to do my work from a quiet home office works for me. But for other people, they would absolutely hate it because they don't other people around. So it really depends on what works for you.
Maryellen shared that part of that has to do with with the person interviewing. She thinks that there are some things that you can highlight as a freelancer if you've never worked remotely. One of them would be tell me about a time you've completed this project, but maybe you're working on a team and you didn't have the answers. She thinks being able to highlight any way that you solve problems, communication skills, and organizational skills in your resume.
Another thing that we didn't talk about, but she thinks professional development and growing your skills and remote work or as a freelancer is a great thing. When you're interviewing a freelancer and they're continually like taking classes or reading books or doing different things. She thinks that shows the self motivated, proactive type that is successful when working remotely or freelancing.
Because they'll say, “Well, I've never worked remotely before. I don't think anyone's going to buy into me working from my home or being a freelancer when I'm brand new to this.” The truth is that you probably have things in your background, either your core personality, or even your experience in the workplace, where you've had to coordinate. Say that you were an event planner in an office. You coordinated with vendors and other locations. You kept all these details organized to have an event or project come together. And so those skills can transfer over into remote work as well. So don't be afraid to talk about how those non remote work skills could actually work remotely for you as well.
Maryellen thinks so. Because there is a confusion in this freelance or remote work or work from home thing, she thinks sometimes people don't show up as they would if they were actually interviewing in person. And you should. So if you think about the same ways that you would prepare for an in person interview, because most of these remote teams are going to interview over a video first. So she would say that's the thing. Think of it as how would you show up to this company? How are you going to show up to an in person interview? And do the same.
Have your background is clear of clutter. You have tested the tools that you're going to connect with. So if you and I are going to connect over Zoom, then that I have tested Zoom to make sure that it works and I have everything working so that I can easily jump on and limit distractions. So if you got a dog that's gonna bark or anything, put those things up. You want to show up as a professional. You want to show that you that you can work from home and you do have a space to do that in. It's really no different than going to an in-office interview. Just treat it the same.
Maryellen doesn’t think so. She’s not expecting to get on a call with people in a suit when she’s interviewing people, or when she’s interviewed people in the past. But just think about the level of professionalism. A plain shirt or anything is fine, but just think about the level of professionalism, You probably do not want to wear a hat or anything like that. But, no, she doesn’t expect to see a suit.
You want people to see you and be able to talk to you about your skills and you don't want them to be distracted by things that are going on around you. So if your background is like super distracting or cluttered, they might be focusing on that. Present yourself well. And go that extra step to make sure that the area you're in is relatively quiet. If you’re in New York City, you can't help it if there's cars honking their horns are an ambulance going by. But she thinks a lot of people underestimate how loud the TV in the next room is or their spouse cooking dinner in the background.
So just be aware of that. Things will always happen when you work remotely that you can't exactly anticipate. I would train my husband. I would tell him like four or five times whenever I'm recording a podcast or I'm going on someone else's podcast. And go that extra mile. Do that if you need to. If you have something that's uncontrollable where you're like, “Yeah, the neighbor's dog has been barking all day or the guy next door just started mowing his lawn five minutes before we start.” Let them know because what you don't want is to have someone thinking that that's your everyday working environment. It's just extremely loud, distracting every minute.
You should be doing that anyways. Because when you are doing video calls, which you're certainly going to be doing as a remote worker, as a freelancer, when these calls are being recorded, you can create a lot of problems with feedback if you don't have the headphones plugged in. So it’s important to invest in these little things that will make it easier for you to work and help you appear professional on screen or over the phone when you're connecting with clients.
Well, this is really this has been so helpful. I think so many people in my audience who are thinking about remote work or freelancing are going to get a lot out of knowing the do's and don'ts from your expertise.
Maryellen is on Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s Work Well Wherever. Her website is workwellwherever.com.
Maryellen Stockton is the co-founder and CEO of Work Well Wherever.
She is a people operations consultant who has worked for 15 years encouraging individuals to achieve positive work-life experiences and helping companies create inspired work cultures. 6 years ago, she began working remotely for a virtual staffing firm and quickly became an expert in company culture, employee engagement, and building teams, outside the traditional office.
Maryellen lives in Atlanta with her husband Matt and her two kids, George and Winnie. The things that make her happy usually include coffee, people she loves, and mountains.
Should you really be honest when firing freelance clients? Does it make sense to tell someone up front that their management style is terrible or that you've really hated working on the project? You're going to learn more in this episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. And you’re going to learn all about when it makes sense to be upfront and honest with someone and when it's really better to just cut ties professionally.
Occasionally, you can correct a client who has terrible habits or just doesn't know any better. I always assume at the outset of working with a new freelance client that they might not have a lot of experience working with freelancers, or with working with somebody like me. So I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to train them the correct way to interact with me.
A great example would be the client who emails you way too much. Before simply outright firing them because they're sending you so many emails, I'm going to bring up the fact that receiving so many emails in a day is really challenging for me. And it's hard for me to stay on top of that and keep everything in one place. I might even wait several hours or over a day to answer all of their emails and respond and only one message. I will simply copy and paste each question that they asked or concern that they shared into one email.
The purpose of that is to show them that it's really inefficient to send me so many messages. And that since I often check my email a few times a day, it becomes very overwhelming. I might miss a message that was sent an hour before. I've also done this with clients by replying to them the following day and saying I didn't see your message because I was already out of office, if they sent it at eight o'clock at night. My purpose here is to clarify what my boundaries are and to let them know this is something they probably shouldn't do in the future unless they want a similar result.
Same thing with team members of my own freelance subcontractors. Maybe send me multiple emails about the same thing. I'll try to explain to them, “Hey, this actually confuses me. If you send an invoice and then an invoice reminder two days later, when you know that the payment only comes every other Friday, that just creates confusion for me and for the bookkeeper. So please don't do that because it could actually lead to your invoice not being paid, because we think that we've received multiple duplicates.” So always make the effort to try to fix things first before firing a client.
You feel it. You've already imagined life without having to be on the phone with them, working on their projects, and talking to them over email. And you've already imagined how blissful life would be without it. You found yourself procrastinating on their projects or taking it really personally when you get feedback. This is a clear sign that if you've made the effort to try to fix things, or if there's a rigid personality here that isn't going to change that it's time to let them go.
I started working with a client early in 2019 that had a lot of projects for me. But the personality of the person that I was interacting with on their team was really abrasive. Now the first piece of advice that I got actually from my husband was to consider where this person was from. He said, “You know, this is someone who's working as a corporate executive in New York. They talk quickly and they're more aggressive. It's part of the New York personality. So let's give this person a chance and see if they're going to change.”
And so we had a couple of difficult conversations with the way that they were providing feedback and trying to get me to do things at all hours of the day. And eventually, I called this person out on the phone and said, “I'm very uncomfortable with the way you're speaking to me. I've never had a client talk to me like this. I'd really prefer if we never have a conversation like this again. These are my boundaries and my expectations.” That was my effort to try to fix things and make sure that I wasn't misinterpreted. And when the behavior continued after that, it was a great opportunity to cut ties. So sometimes it really is better to fire freelance clients.
Knowing who to fire and who not to take on to begin with, in addition with some other components of running your freelance business is so important. So that idea of knowing who not to work with is key. It's very important for scaling your freelance business. I'm always an advocate of trying to fix things before they escalate.
But a lot of times, people who are stuck in their patterns, they won't change. I had a coaching client who was working with a toxic client about a year to a year and a half ago. And it was very clear that this person's personality and approach to doing business and their management and leadership style was not going to change.
How do we get you out of this contract as quickly as possible? When you've dealt with someone who's difficult, who's violated the terms of your contract, who speaks to you disrespectfully, you are totally in the right to feel the emotions that you do. However, in parting ways, this doesn't always mean there is a purpose for telling the client that it could inflame things. It could make it more of a challenge for you to get your final invoice paid. So unless you are directly asked, and sometimes even when you are directly asked, I prefer not to go into the details of why we're not going to work together.
They will try to bring you back in. And that is a very interesting position to be in and it's almost tempting. It’s especially tempting if they hint that, “Hey, things have been difficult, but I'm going to work on trying to make it better. Are you willing to stick around? And are you willing to give it another chance?” Now, if you've already mentally disconnected from this client and started to imagine how much better it would be without them, there are very few situations where it makes sense to take the client up on that offer.
I had one client who consistently paid his invoices up to three months late. It was just such an administrative nightmare that I was tired of chasing it down. He was a nice client other than that. It was an easy project to do. But administratively, behind the scenes, it involved my bookkeeper spending time telling me, “Hey, this invoice still isn't paid. Can you tell me if it's cleared yet and I'm not seeing it?” It was just too much hoopla. But there wasn't really a point in telling him that because I'd already brought it up before. And it wasn't really a priority for him to fix that or address it. So it was just time for me to move on.
I also had a very abrasive client that I did a test project with a little bit earlier this year. And one of the challenges with it is that they were paying per piece. I've talked about this in another episode. When your per piece freelance rate is not really a per piece rate. But they kept adding on additional things. Then they would email me and if I didn't respond within two hours, they would email me again. It was just driving me crazy.
And I could just tell this was the way that they operated on their team. That was fine if it worked for them, but it wasn't working for me. So there was no reason for me to say, “Hey, your management style is terrible. It is super annoying to have to deal with this. And this is probably why you're having a hard time keeping freelancers or employees.” But there's really no clear benefit to doing that.
I did tell the client that consistently paid me late, “Hey, this is just creating a lot of work for me behind the scenes. So it's not going to be the best fit, but I wish you luck.” That was a nice way of saying, “Hey, this could be an issue with other freelancers as well. You might want to have some more clear payment policies so that people who come on to the team know what to expect.” But I definitely wasn't going to call it out worse than that.
There was a difficult conversation that I had with my abrasive New York client. It's funny because I've worked with a lot of clients in New York and New Jersey. And a lot of them are attorneys. So a lot of them are fast talkers and fast movers. I've never had a problem with that personality before. And this was actually somebody outside of the legal space. It was just a bad experience interfacing with that type of personality and having that difficult conversation that I was not comfortable with the way they’re speaking to me on the phone. Since I'd already addressed that there was really nothing to be gained and having a follow up conversation with that person over it.
I was still upset with the way that they dealt with me saying, “Hey, I don't appreciate you talking to me this way. You’re treating me this way.” They never really apologized or anything. And I was still mad about it. So you're in the right emotionally, but there's so little to be gained. You might end up burning bridges that you didn't anticipate. So unless you really need to burn a bridge, or this person has broken the law or has been so aggressive and awful that you need to call it out, it’s a good idea to minimize your emotional response to it.
Don't just say that we're not going to be able to work together anymore. You need to provide an absolutely firm end date, or you will be likely to have them push back. I had a client that I fired because it was one piece at $200 a month. It was just too small and too much email back and forth with that client over that one piece. It wasn't worth it. And in his mind, he's like, “Well, I've paid you on time all the time. And we've been clients for two years.” But the volume wasn't enough for me. So that was even when I did provide a firm end date. So you want to give them a very firm date that you're no longer available to work on the project.
This is different than I need more money. You're not giving me enough time to create or edit things. We're having too many phone calls and that needs to be cut back on. You need this to be very clear that you're leaving. So if you were in a traditional job, and you went in and talk to your boss about an annoying coworker, that's not necessarily a conversation where you're quitting or you're being fired. That could be venting or trying to address the issue with management.
You want to be clear. If you're going into quit with your boss, you better be clear. You’ll say, “I'm leaving. This is my two week notice I will be out on x day. Please let me know what you need me to do before I leave.” So give your client something of what to expect.
I usually tell my clients, “I wish you the best of luck in finding someone who's a better fit.” That takes the pressure off of me in case they were to answer and say, “Oh, can you find me another Freelancer since you're leaving?” So I like to give a very firm end date. I am no longer available as of September 1. You will receive everything that is due up to September 1, and the final invoice will be sent on that date.
If it is a really, really toxic client, and you've got to get out and you have the opportunity to do that in your contract immediately, go ahead and exercise it. But in general, even with your difficult clients, exercise professional courtesy. The overbearing client that I fired a couple of months ago after a test project, I simply said, “I'm available for edits on the pieces I've submitted for the next five business days through the close of business on day number five. After that, I will not be able to answer emails.”
So very clear end date you if you have questions about what I've submitted, you can ask them. You have five days to ask them and then I'm no longer going to be available. I'm essentially saying I'm not going to answer your emails at all. So give them a very clear end date. Ideally, that's going to be a little bit of time for them to find a replacement.
So you want to bring clarity as far as what What this means for them. If you are referring another freelancer to them, you want to give them a timeline around that too. You might say, “Hey, I'm going to share this with my freelance network. I'll let you know next week if anyone jumps at the opportunity.” You do not really need to be honest about their dysfunction unless there's a specific reason that it's helpful to provide this information.
Now, an exception to this. Let's imagine that you're working on a team and the person who hired you is awesome and amazing, super easy to work with, processes things on time, and then they hire somebody under them who's really difficult to deal with. And they might not realize how this new hire is treating you.
So as a courtesy to the person that you liked and don't want to burn a bridge with on your way out, they might ask you, “Can you tell me why you're leaving? I thought things were going great. I really enjoyed working with you.” You might tell them the personality of so and so really wasn't a fit for me. I really found that this person was just a little too critical for what I was expecting in the feedback process. You can still be diplomatic in giving that feedback, when it makes sense.
So I do like to alert people if I feel that it's affecting them or their business and they don't realize it. So if they've got somebody who's really awful on the team, there's a good chance you're not the only person who has recognized it.
Going back to one of the jobs I had in the past when I stepped into the position. Everyone had a problem with this one other employee. And of course, I had a problem with that employee too when I started. And it was clear it wasn't just me. But I wanted to make sure like, “Hey, it's weird that everybody has an issue with this person and other people had brought it to management's attention.”
And when I quit, I went out with a letter that explained all of the things that have happened to me personally. I can't speak to anyone else. But the main reason why I'm leaving is this person. They're too difficult to deal with. They're openly rude and borderline hateful. So that was an instance where and it actually ended up changing things at the company. That person was was let go.
And all my former co workers were like, “Oh, my gosh, you saved us on your way out.” They finally had heard enough complaints and management decided that this person needed to go. So it can be beneficial in those circumstances. But even so, you want to be very tactful about how you approach it. You don't want to say that person is absolutely terrible. They're the worst ever, and then have your contact go, “Oh, that's my cousin.” or “Oh, I love them. I'm the one who hired them.” You just want to leave that as a diplomatic statement.
Unless there's a significant reason to do so, they may be locked into something that's even a broken system. So don't feel like you have to throw somebody under the bus even if they are terrible. I like doing it if the circumstances are extreme, or if my client honestly asks me, “Hey, what's the problem? I thought everything was great. I wish I'd known this in advance.” I might say that a certain person and I just don’t get along. We're not meshing as far as personality, and work style. So I don't feel that it's the best fit going forward. And you can look for somebody else.
As with so many things and running your own business, it's a really delicate balance. And it's something that depends on the situation. But 90% of the time, there's no real benefit to telling a client how awful your experience has been unless they've broken the law. Unless the treatment is so absolutely terrible or you might be able to help other people like freelancers or other employees on the team who are probably suffering at the hands of the same person or because of the same broken policies and procedures, honesty may not be the best policy.
Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. This episode is being recorded towards the end of 2019 with this particular topic because it tends to come up halfway through the year and at the end of year mark. But it's a hot button topic all year round. And it's all about raising your rates.
Freelancers often, and I'm just going to put it bluntly, overthink the concept of setting their rates or raising their rate. And that idea of overthinking puts you in an almost paralyzed mode, where it's really difficult to communicate to your prospective clients, and your current clients about what it really means with you raising your rates.
So many people get stuck with the concept of rates because they know that in raising their rates, there's always the possibility that you could lose clients. This is something that's important to acknowledge. Because going into it knowing that means you need to run the numbers behind the scenes. And make sure that this is really a good fit for you to raise your rates, especially if it's going to impact multiple clients. And there's a possibility that one or more of those clients is going to say, “No.” Now, if your clients are thrilled with your work and your rate increase is moderate, it shouldn't be that big of an issue. Especially if you have not raised your rates in a long time, or ever.
A couple of years ago, I was in the midst of a rate negotiation, where it was actually a sad story. I was partnered with a gentleman who ran a company. He was the one who hired me. We worked together for 18 months, and he passed away. So the business passed on to another employee in the company. And for the longest time, I didn't raise my rates.
For one, they were decent rates to begin with. The work was easy and very consistent. I wanted to be sensitive to the fact that this business was going through a tremendous amount of transition. And I didn't want to hit them out of nowhere.
Well, honestly two entire years went by, where I didn't raise my rate. Then I proposed a very modest rate increase to this client. Of course, this wasn't the person I'd started working with. And this wasn't an employee I had too much of a relationship with. So it was definitely a harder point to negotiate from. And their immediate response was to try to push my rate increase down. So not down to where it was, but like a compromise almost like we were negotiating a salary. So we're going to arrive at somewhere in the middle.
So I chose not to stay at that negotiated point in the middle. I informed them about the situation. So I explained that I had started working with them, when I first began my freelance business. And that I'm very grateful for the work and I love doing it. I then explained that as a result of getting more experience and learning more about search engine optimization and blogging, my pieces are now more effective than ever, and I've never actually raised my rates with them. So, that was one of these many great examples of something I talk about all the time.
Do not assume that if a client pushes back, you don't have any wiggle room unless they come back at you with something and say, “This is a hard line. There's no room to negotiate here.” But I knew, even in my client writing me back and hinting that they’d like to push this down a little bit because they felt like it's a little bit high of a rate increase, I knew I had already made that decision in my head that I might lose the client.
So I knew that and I decided that at that point in time, it was more important for me to hold to my new rates. It was more than reasonable that I had let two years go by, and don't make that mistake. And ultimately, the client decided to stick with me and with the new rates as well. It was also very important, not just for that one time, but for training them about what they can expect with regard to me requesting rate increases in the future. So I was almost training them to prepare them for the possibility that just because we've locked in at one rate doesn't mean we're going to stick with that forever.
Now, this is one of those famous answers. It depends. There's a lot of factors to take into consideration here about when you should raise your rates. I believe that all other things held equal. So nothing else is changing in your business, except for the fact that you've been doing something longer. Every six months, you should be taking a look at your rates. You should be seeing your quarterly numbers for tax purposes and business planning purposes.
So a really good metric to tell if it's time to raise your rates is one at least six months has passed and you've been fully booked or close to fully booked. That means that you are at a sweet spot with regard to your rates. You're either charging very reasonable or too low, or the work that you do is such great quality that your clients are happy and more than willing to pay that rate. So you're in a really good position to negotiate up from there at least a moderate increase.
Now for you this could really depend on whether you want to go the percentage route or raise it a certain dollar amount per piece. Some clients will push back, no matter when you raise your rates, or how modest or reasonable that rate increase is. And that's why you've got to do that evaluation behind the scenes and say to yourself, “Okay, if I've got three clients that are locked in at a certain rate, and I'm not sure if one or any of them is going to push back. At the point when I announced my rate increase, what will happen to my business if I lose all three?”
I like to run the numbers across the board for the different scenarios, because I might pilot my rate increases with only one client at a time. And I like to make sure that it's going to work or to tell me maybe I've got to go and find another new client entirely. So I think one of the most dangerous positions that you could potentially put yourself in is you have six or seven clients and you say, across the board, I'm doing a rate increase. You don't know if you're going to keep all of those clients. So you always have to be thinking about that behind the scenes.
Now, by all means, if you have those six or seven clients and all of them are paying you too low, you do need to replace them. But it's going to be much easier to replace them a little bit slower than doing it all at once. You don't want to have a six month planned to roll that out. But it might be easier to say, “Okay, I'm going to try to replace these two clients, then because I've announced my rate increase, and if they didn't go with it, I'm going to replace those two or one at a time.” This allows you to ease yourself into it. So at least every six months, you should be looking at your circumstances and seeing if you should raise your rates.
One such example, when I finally get my PhD, I plan to push my rates up because having that additional distinction, I've got a lot of research and writing skills and an additional layer of credibility. One of the things that is really interesting to me is that after publishing a book and doing some TEDx talks, probably three or four of my clients without me prompting them suggested that they might not be able to afford me anymore.
So there was a perception that receiving some type of distinction like that made me unaffordable, which is really interesting. But that could be a good sign to raise your rates. Perhaps you recently completed a digital marketing certification. Maybe you are now doing something more advanced and involved.
I am always looking into training around search engine optimization, and looking for ways to become better at doing that and better at writing for my clients to help them rank their websites. As part of that process, I learned what's working and what isn't in the industry. And when I bring on something new that involves more of a research process, I am going to incorporate that into my entire writing schedule and the way that I approach Content Strategy for clients.
Now that's a benefit for them, because I'm doing something that's more effective. But it might take more of my time. A case in point is when I use different tools to run keyword analysis. Those are some tools that I pay for. And if I've really learned and mastered those tools, I might consider a rate increase to accommodate for the fact that, “Hey, I've gotten better at what I'm doing. And now my rate has been pushed up as a result of that.” Now, yes, you're going to pay more, you're also potentially going to get better results because I'm incorporating the newest and most effective things in the industry.
So let's say for example, that you're a virtual assistant too. And you recently learned how to use Infusionsoft or Ontraport which are advanced relationship management tools. So you would probably push your hourly rate up, at least for the projects where you're using those tools, because it probably took a lot of time and practice. And you probably either paid a coach or enrolled in a course to learn how to use those tools. So those are common examples of why you might want to raise your rates outside of this every six months schedule of taking a look at your rates now.
If you're not being paid fairly, or something like that, it's a good opportunity to evaluate and say, “Okay, what would be a fair rate for me where I'm at right now?” But I've seen some people where they're raising their rates every two to three months. And I'm just not really sure that it's as easy to sell clients on that. Especially if those clients are already locked into a contract or working with you month to month, because you're going to have to explain more of yourself and why are you raising your rates this often. And you have a higher chance of those clients walking.
If you sign a three month contract, how does that affect where you're at with that question? Now, will you raise your rates at the end of that? And especially if someone offers you a year long contract, how does that impact the possibility of you raising your rates? Because you're not going to be able to go back easily, not just because of the contract verbiage, but also because of the relationship with the client. They'll probably feel cheated. You're not going to be able to easily negotiate a rate increase in the middle of a signed contract.
So it’s important to be mindful of that when you're thinking about the length of your contract. I love contracts that are three to six months. It's a great way to not lock yourself into something that you don't know if you love yet and where you have the opportunity to negotiate a rate increase or a different package, if it makes sense for the clients.
I like to think about modest increases just like you would give yourself a raise while factoring in those other elements as well, such as if you've completed a certification. What I would charge to ghostwrite somebody's book is different before I published my own and after. So you've got to take into account your own factors.
I think that 10% is a great place to start with and see how you feel around that when you're thinking about raising it. If you push your rate higher than say 10%, or what your clients might consider a moderate increase, it might be a challenge for you every six months or every four months to go back and revisit that and push it higher again.
So it's this sweet spot where you want to be raising it enough to ensure you're being compensated fairly for the skills and the services that you have, while also not just raising it so that you can say you charge $500 an hour or raising it on a client four times within a year and then they just decide to go a different route. Does that really make sense if customer loyalty is very important to you.
I like doing this because, as I mentioned earlier in this episode, everything is negotiable. And there's probably a chance that I can get some other benefit out of getting them locked in even if it is at the lower rate. Your initial response might be, “Well, why on earth are we raising our rates, if we're going to keep some of our clients at the current rate?”
Let's say that I have a client who signed a three month contract and it's ending at the end of November. So now I'm in a position to potentially renegotiate this contract and I don't want them to sign just three months. Maybe I want them to sign four or five months. So I might offer them the opportunity to be grandfathered in to my old rates if they signed by a certain date and extend their contract slightly.
So maybe we have a client that's got a smaller portion of projects, or is only purchasing a small block of hours. That's another opportunity where we can say I'm actually eliminating my 10 hour a month package, the new package is 20 hours a month, that's the minimum. But if you purchase it now, you will be able to lock in those rates for a short period of time.
Even with my coaching clients, when I bring my coaching clients on, it's only a three month coaching program that's required. Many of them choose to renew beyond that. Probably 80% to 90% will renew at least once. Some of them just keep working with me for a longer period than that. So I promised them when they come on, your coaching rate stays the same, so long as you continue to renew the coaching services. So that's peace of mind for them. They're getting a benefit for working with me longer. And they know that a rate increase is not going to come out of nowhere.
Now, your current clients, if you're raising your rates too often, or if the rate increases so significant that it becomes unaffordable or they don't see the value, they may not renew at that rate. So my strategy behind that is I would rather have the opportunity to work with the coaching client longer, where they feel honest and upfront about what they're getting as far as their payment. And the incentive is for them to continue working with me longer, which means they're going to get better results. So it is a win win across the board.
If you are charging that $500 a month for something and that person renews all year round, that is better than pushing your rates up to $600 a month and having them cancel after two months. Does that make sense? So that's how I would consider that.
You don't want to grandfather them in forever, but it can be a really nice incentive to show that you are thankful for the business that they have thrown your way. So if I have a client that I've worked with for several years, I'm going to give them like a three month transition period. Or I might say that my rate is going up 15%, but they can re-sign at a 10% rate increase if they sign the contract.
Now, I like offering those benefits because it's much like keeping the coaching packages the same. My goal there is to build customer loyalty and have them be very clear and honest about what they're getting as part of that. The incentive is there for them to renew.
One is firing clients. That means knowing how to decline people and to fire clients. And then number two is the power of recurring revenue. That means getting clients on retainer. Having recurring and predictable revenue is so super important. It really helps you be able to adjust your cash flow to make the right investments in your business. And to see ahead of those times when you may need to raise your rates, switch services, or do something a little bit different.
So recurring revenue is very important. To me, it is worth far more than saying that I was able to get somebody to pay a 50% higher rate, and then they cancel after one round of working together or one month of freelancing services. So give your clients incentives, it also encourages them with a little bit of urgency to resign a contract.
So if you have a client that isn't really in a position where they feel that pressure to renew with you, explaining that you're planning to increase your rates and giving them some type of incentive to come on with you helps. Even if it's, “I want to thank you for being a long time client. My rates will be going up effective January 1. I'm going to throw in this freebie for you. I'm going to throw in one free hour, I'm going to do XYZ free thing to thank you for your service.” When that rate increase occurs, it helps to build loyalty and makes them feel better about the opportunity to continue working with you.
You don't have to go to a client and promise them anything or incentivize them in any way. But it absolutely increases your chances of getting them to sign that contract and work with you again if they are thrilled with your work. Now, if you've had problems from day one with this client, or they don't really see the value or you've delivered late, it's going to be very hard to negotiate anything. They may just say, “No, thanks. I don't want to work with you at all. I don't care about being grandfathered in.” So you have to do these behind the scenes thinking exercises about how will this affect my business if I lose the client and then what position am I in with this client? Do I have room right now to negotiate? Or maybe I'm raising my rates and I know this client is going to walk. And that's okay, because I don't want to work with this particular client anymore. So this is my way of nicely ending the contract on mutual terms.
It's about thinking where your business is at now and what changes you need to make to take it steps forward into the future. And then are you prepared to negotiate those changes or possibly lose clients. Now, if a client comes back to you, when you've said that you're planning to increase your rate, and they say, “No, we're just going to decline to work together.” You don't necessarily have to give up entirely.
You could offer to give them some sort of a discount. That's why it's better to lead with that position of offering them some type of incentive like grandfathering them in giving them a transition period, throwing in some type of a freebie etc. Because you've already sweeten the pot. You've led with a very generous offer, which makes them feel appreciated. And as like they want to continue working with you, it's much easier to negotiate from that point, rather than just telling someone out of the blue, “Hey, my rates are going up. You can pay it or not.” You have much less room to negotiate there.
You might take that approach with the client you want to get rid of. So you might just say, “Hey, my rates are going up 30% next month. Please let me know if you'd like to resign.”. And you say this knowing that they're probably going to walk away from that. But with the clients you really care about, it's a little bit more of a delicate balance of figuring out what makes sense?
Should I start with my lowest paying client first? Should I start with a client where I've done a really amazing job and I think I have the best chance of getting them to accept the rate outright? You've got to make those decisions for yourself behind the scenes.
I see this often with virtual assistants to they start off charging $20 an hour and then two or three years later, they're charging only $25 an hour. So you need to be evaluating that on a more regular basis.
Oftentimes when we, as experienced freelancers, present pricing to clients they'll say, “Well, geez, I could hire another Freelancer for half that.” Well, you're not paying just for the service that I'm doing for you today. So me as an SEO writer, you are paying for the seven years that I have spent becoming a master and professional at writing for search engines and for websites. So you're paying for all the things I've learned with past clients, all the software tools that I invest in and use, all of the training and conferences and books and insight I've gotten from other freelancers to get to this point. So you're getting the best version of my SEO services. And of course, that's not going to be priced the way that it would when I first got started.
So some clients will always go with the bottom line price. And as we know, in the freelance world, you often get what you pay for. So that's not someone you're going to be easily able to negotiate with anyways. So I would not stress out over that.
And that's why you do this case by case example. Okay, client A is paying me this, that's really lower than I'd like. But there's other benefits to working with them that I'm only going to give them a modest rate increase, or I might give them the chance to be grandfathered in for a short period of time with the newer rate. This other client is really difficult to deal with. So I might be adjusting my rates higher because of that as well. I might be factoring in that this client is difficult and that they take six weeks to pay their invoice and they still pay me by check. That's really annoying that I have to wait for that right.
So you're thinking about all these things on a case by case basis. Even a rate increase that's across the board might not be the same amount across the board. So lots of food for thought in this episode. I hope you have gotten something out of it.
If you are at the end of the year or listening to this episode at any other time, really ask yourself how long has it been since I've raised my rates? Am I due for another rate increase? I’m so excited to continue to be a part of your success! Thanks for tuning in again to the Advanced Freelancing podcast. I'd love it if you left the show a review on iTunes. It helps other people to find my show and become avid listeners just like you!
Welcome back to another episode of the advanced freelancing Podcast. I am very excited about my guest today. I wish I had discovered her and everything that she's doing much sooner. And that's part of the reason I wanted to have her on the show! I wanted to introduce her to all of you.
Emily has been in the freelance space since 1992, which is kind of a long time in this particular business style. It has given her a really amazing life. She was a single mom. She shared that it's tough to go to work all day and then get home and be able to spend time with your child. In her case it was hard to feel like she was really there and present because she was tired.
Emily said she stumbled across freelancing. She thinks that’s what a lot of people have done unless you've been freelancing only for the last few years or so. But if you've been freelancing for 10 years or more, you most likely stumbled into it. And that's what happened with her.
After a couple of years, she realized that it was great. She can be at home. When her son needs something at school, she can go and do it. She can be here when he gets home. And she can be here when he leaves for school. She also got to travel and do some volunteer work. It just allowed her the flexibility to still have a life.
She first started in the engineering space. So she did Computer Aided drafting. She was an engineering designer as well. So it was actually quite easy. And in that particular space, the hardest part was that computers are really, really expensive. The software was really expensive. But it didn't take too long before you could afford that. It did allow her a lot of flexibility. So being in that civil environmental space, she got to do what she loved. And she gets to migrate into other careers.
Emily shared that she also sees this in a lot of freelance business owners, were after about five or 10 years of doing a specific task skill, they kind of want to move on. Not everybody, but a lot. She thinks it's a nature of who we are as humans. And she thinks that when you work for somebody, you get that opportunity. Usually after about three to five years, you get an opportunity to advance into or move to a different group within a company. And that's sort of a missing piece and freelancing unless you make it yourself.
A lot of them are writers, but it happens across the board. As Emily mentioned, you do something and you learn everything there is to know about it. Then, you take it about as far as it can go as a freelancer. And then you kind of go, “Okay, what next? Maybe I don't want to write all day. And maybe I don't want to work for this particular group of clients anymore.” So people are wondering what the next real challenge? Because it's not necessarily that you're moving on from something because it's unsuccessful. In a lot of cases, it's actually that it's been very successful. But there's that other missing piece component to it.
Emily shared that this also happened by accident. After a couple years, after she moved to Austin, she was approached by a friend/colleague to create a group on Facebook called Austin Freelance Gigs. And that's what they ended up calling it. She really enjoyed the concept of helping other fellow freelance peers connect to work.
You can't do everything that comes to comes to you either. Because you don't have the skill or the time, or the clients not a good match. There's tons of reasons why work continually gets passed off to someone else, or passed up. So if you had a network of people that you trusted, knew well, and you knew that when you pass them off the client was going to be treated well, then you may even work out a deal where you know you charge a finder's fee for making the introduction. That happens a lot. Then it's so much easier for all of us to get the work that we really love to do.
Emily shared that this is a little off topic, but that's still where everything started. When they started that group, it grew really fast. So to Emily, she was expecting to start the group and in about three or four months, she’d have 25 people. And she had 25 people by lunch. By the end of that week, they had 300 people. And in a few months, they had almost 1000 people. And what she loved about the group was not only that she got to really play in that space that felt like it was going to be wonderful, and sure enough was by helping freelance business owners find work and connect to each other, but they started to ask each other really awesome questions and have conversations about their business. They asked things like how to run it.
And it turns out, they really do. When we share those hardships, those ways that we made it through the other side of a challenge, it helps the next person get there faster. Even if they only borrow bits and pieces of it.
There's so much to be gained from other people a lot of times. Some of the best gems that we take away and implement in our own lives or businesses are from other people. Whether it's just their unique perspective and their fresh set of eyes on the problem that we're having or it's something that they've been through in their own experience where they can provide some insight that helps you navigate that on your own.
Emily said that there was sort of the inspiration for everything else that she did. So there was one night, it was actually July 13, and she vaguely remembers it. She was sitting in her little chair that I sit in and she was working. She was watching and thread. It was a whole bunch of people in the group commenting back and forth about a question that someone had answered. And she loved it. So she just wanted to do this with other people in person.
She loves doing it online. But she wants to be face to face with a group of people that aren't telling me to go get a job. And she wants to be in front of people that aren't dissing her for the life she’s living or the way she’s running her business. They are in it with her. And her experience adds value to them and their experiences add value to her.
She wanted to go to a freelance conference. So she went online and started looking everywhere. And it didn't exist in any country. This blew her mind. So she created one.
Emily shared that they just concluded their fifth year. I asked if it is always in the same location or if they move around. Emily shared that it has always been an Austin the first five years. And they have made the decision to start moving to other cities. She thinks that the plan right now. The plan is that they’ll spend the next four years going to other cities, making it a little bit more accessible to other people as well. And then they’ll probably come back to Austin for those five year reunion kind of things.
So at the freelance conference, who is it really for? What person would need to attend that? Do you have to be at a certain point in your business to go? Or is it designed to bring together freelancers from different experiences and backgrounds?
It started out with whoever wants to come, comes. It was literally an idea. And about 100 days later, they had the first one and they had 92 people show up. And at the end of it, Emily was like, “This was great. How much fun was that? And everybody wanted to know when the next one was.
That’s when Emily realized that this is going to be a thing. So she’s definitely had to feel her way through this because she wasn't a conference owner. Before she got out of doing website freelancing, you know, solely freelancing, she was doing website design work and SEO work. So she was really learning as she went along. And she admits that she kind of still is learning as she’s going.
So now the process inside of a freelance conference is for all of those people to be able to attend and get what they need out of it to get to the next level. They want content that allows people that are thinking about freelancing, and maybe a little scared to do it, to be able to connect with people that are already successful. And with people that are semi successful and working their way up to being successful. They want to show them that it can be done.
Emily said that we're all just humans like you. And we did it. You can do it and you're not in it alone. And the people that are further along, like we were talking about earlier, that are making more money already, or they've added products to their company, things like that to diversify some of their income. They have valuable lessons for those people that are striving to be where they are. And they have lessons and challenges that they need to move past to get to their next level.
So the process now is to find all those different layers and be able to pull everybody together so they can learn from each other where they are. As well as have breakouts that allows people to go and learn more specific skills at the level that they're at and the level they're trying to get to.
We need to connect with others who understand what we do. Because a lot of us probably still have family members that don't really understand what we do. They know that it's something online. They might not even be convinced that it's stable or real. But it's very helpful to network with other freelancers who get it. They get those challenges you have around marketing or client management or invoicing and those types of things. But it's also hard to balance taking time out of your business to go to a conference.
Emily said that she spends her entire year watching people like me, watching people that are solving problems in the freelance space and finding those solutions and proving out those solutions. And then she invites them in to be speakers. So that way, not just anybody is on the stage. It's very much curated.
And for the workshops, she does the same thing. So the thing she loves about still having Austin freelance gigs here in Austin is that they have over 10,000 people in that group. And so it's a really great space to watch the questions that are being answered. So she can see if there's any pivoting happening in what freelance business owners are struggling with to make sure that maybe she need to bring that content into these workshops.
So they make sure that they have technology workshops too. Emily loves those because one of the other things freelance business owners don't tend to have is the time to do is research new technology. And how they could be using it in their business. Why they should be using it in their business. So they invite some of those companies to come in and do hands on workshops, versus just a demo. Because demos always work perfectly. And then we research and make sure that they try to create a really diverse set of workshops and breakout sessions.
And in each of those, Emily said that she would say there's about three primary levels or categories that people move through in a freelance business. You're either just starting or trying to start. Or you're in this middle area where you got the starting down, and you're really trying to make it simpler or more efficient and make more money without putting more time in. And then you have the next level of people where they've figured out even some of the efficiencies, how to run their business, and they're now looking for an increase way to increase income and make it even more efficient and effective. They want to be able to spend more time with family or travel. So those are the levels of workshops that they’re looking for.
All of you freelancers who want to dip your toe into coaching or doing public speaking, a lot of times you just have to be proactive and you have to ask and you have to seek out these kinds of opportunities where you can share your expertise with a group of other people. And what I love with what Emily is doing at the conference is that freelancing has become more in demand.
Which on the one hand is great because a lot of us have plenty of work to do. And it's really enjoyable and more and more companies are embracing freelancing as a way to outsource their work and get things done.
The downside of that is that it's getting more competitive. And one of the things that I think is going to be important for freelancers, in the next five to 10 years, is to be looking at what trends are coming and what new software skills do. I need to pick up what trends are happening in online marketing and communications that I need to be aware of. And if you're like me, at the end of the day, you don't want to sit at your computer anymore and watch a tutorial or a demo or try to pick up an online course about that newest software thing.
And you can network with other people. You're learning new things. And you're trying out software. You're being able to ask the software creators or people who are updating it, direct questions about how to use it. Then you come home with tools that can help you up level in your business and stay competitive. I think that when you choose the right conferences to go to, that three or four days or however long you're there is not lost time in your business. You often can get so many things done that can help your business move forward in huge ways in the future.
I'm so excited to be able to showcase a little bit more about what Emily is doing with this conference. Because like she said, there really isn't anyone out there that's doing this. We have our little hubs in our cities, or we have our online Facebook groups of people that we interact with who get freelancing. But being able to do that in person is so rare. And it's so exciting to see that that's changing.
Emily said that answer is yes and no. She says yes, because the dates that she chose were September 13 14th, and 15th. But se just found out that those are also the dates for a really big event, Startup Week, in Denver. So that's not something that she wants to make people have to choose one or the other. So now she’s reevaluating those dates.
She said that you have to pay attention to other things that are happening, not only in that particular market, but things that are happening. we get into a lot of religious holidays that time of the year. So she really has to pay attention to those as well. So the dates are still coming. But it will be in Denver or Denver/Boulder area.
She’s looking at both of those cities, because there's so many things she wants to start doing. She wants to be able to start incorporating activities that people can do outside. And the Denver/Boulder area has a lot of those options. So she just wants to make sure that they take advantage of that.
She wants it to be so that we people come to the conference, it's more than just sitting at a table or in a chair listening to people talk. She shared that what's interesting is that people tend to buy the ticket based on the sessions. Which she gets because she would make the same deduction. They look at the schedule ask if this will bring money to them. It's an absolutely accurate way to do it. But it's not the reason they come back.
The reason they come back is because of the people that they met. You're just talking about the lessons they learned from the people that they met. And they're just that relationship. They can't wait to get back together and see each other because they typically only see each other once a year. And that is so much fun to watch.
It might not be the place that you expected necessarily, but it's always interesting to be able to meet other people. And there's so much of that conversation that you can just skip over when we normally meet someone who has a traditional job or doesn't really understand freelance. We probably spend 10 to 15 minutes just trying to explain what it is we do and how we do it and why we do it.
So it’s nice when you could just sort of jump to like, “Okay, what is it that you do? Oh, cool. Do you do it part time or full time? Are you doing is this this alongside a full time job?” It's just great to be able to connect with other people who instantly understand you and where you're at. They might even be able to provide you with some really good feedback or insight about what's potentially next for you as well.
Emily shared that they always make sure that they have a co working space area. They get it! They know you're running a business. Sometimes you do just need to go, “Yes, I'm here. I'm able to make it. But I had to take this conference call. I really needed to make that online meeting happen.” So they can go to a space that's separate and make those things happen and still be able to take advantage of the conference.
So everyone who's listening, think about that as you're making your 2020 plans of when are you going to step away from your business. What are going to be the professional conferences or events that you attend to help you level up? This is definitely one that you want to keep on your radar.
Where can people go to Learn more information about you and about the conference?
Emily share that it’s a really, really difficult one, freelanceconference.com.
I love it. I can't even buy my own married or maiden name .com. So I always appreciate when people are able to have a simple website because not all of us are able to snag that before some domain person wants to charge you 10 grand. for whatever
I just want to thank Emily so much for the opportunity to speak with her and hear a little bit more about what she has done to build Freelance Conference up to where it is now and where it's headed in the future. And freelancers, I often encourage this, you always hear from me when I come back from a conference about the things I've been able to take away from it, and how valuable it is. So even if you're only able to attend one or two conferences a year be really choosy about what you go to. But you can get so much out of it and having that network of people that you can talk to during and after the conference is instrumental so.
It's time for another episode of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. Now this episode might be a little shorter than usual. But that's because I'm sharing some news that I didn't have planned out in my content calendar. So, I am a big fan of batching. And I always brainstorm all my ideas for what goes into the podcast, usually at least several weeks or even months in advance.
So I had all of my episodes plotted through the end of 2019. But I am making a deviation from that. I think, sometimes being flexible with your own plans is very important so that you can capitalize on things that are very timely.
If you have not heard through my social channels, or through my email list, I recently signed a two book contract with Entrepreneur Press to publish my next two business books. I am so excited about this opportunity. And I also just want to, again, thank all of the readers and listeners in my audience who bought a copy of my first book, “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”.
Now, I'm not just sharing this two book deal. But a couple of days after signing that contract, I was at the igniting souls conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was an amazing conference. It's the best business community that I have found for really supportive people who are at very similar stages in their business building. It is run by an incredible guy named Kary Oberbrunner.
I thought at the time it was a German woman. And I was like, “Well, what would this German woman know anything about publishing in the United States?” So funny story, I came across Kary a couple years later. And one of the reasons that I connected to this conference is because one of the books that just sold, which is tentatively titled “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap”, did not sell the first time around. Many of you know that that was part of my publishing story. That was the book I wrote the proposal for. It's what I worked on with my agent. It's very much the book that I wanted to publish.
I was very intentional in the way that I wrote, marketed, and promoted “How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business”, because I wanted that book to be the door opener for future book deals. So I wanted to be able to show that I could hustle and that there was a market for freelancing. One of the publishers that rejected “The Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” mentioned that they thought that freelancing was a fad. So I feel like now more people are seeing that that is not true and that freelancing is here to stay. All of the statistics point towards more and more people becoming freelancers.
The difference between self publishing and working with somebody who's sort of a hybrid publisher like Kary’s program, called author Academy, is most people who Self Publish don't ask the important questions about marketing until after the fact. Marketing is, in my opinion, more important than the content of your book. You can have the most amazing book out there. But if you don't know how to market it, no one will buy it. No one will hear about it.
It really makes me sad every time I see someone in a Facebook group say that they published their book three months ago, only sold three copies, and want to know who they can market it now. That is the wrong time to be asking that question. Right now, the tentatively titled “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” will come out in about one year, somewhere in October 2020.
But I'm building my marketing plan now. I'm starting my brainstorming for marketing now. I'm capitalizing and analyzing what I did well the first time and where I can do better the second time to increase my brand awareness between now and then. That involves multiple different facets media like growing my blog, growing my facebook group, increasing awareness of my podcast, etc. So marketing has to be done and thought about before you launch.
They teach you how to market your book. And they teach you how to ask for endorsements for your book. They teach you how to write the back cover and the advertising copy that goes up on Amazon. Honestly, they just teach you all that stuff.
Sure, I could convert a Word document into Kindle friendly file today and upload it to Amazon. But that doesn't mean it will sell if I have not done any work beyond that. If I have not leveraged my network and my platform, I am not going to get anything out of it.
I'm so impressed with this program. It is a program that you pay for, but I'm just so blown away by what you get with it. You get 18 months of coaching. They publish your book. The revenues from the book are yours. So that means your royalties are yours. They teach you all about how to do an audio book version and how to do the Ebook version. And they teach you how to have a printed copy and how to promote yourself in your local area to do book signings. It's an incredible, incredible program.
I would say in the top three things that I've invested in, Author Academy Elite has been worth it. There's been a lot of things that have not been worth it. A lot of people that were not a match for me. Someone sent me a $3,000 proposal to do a book marketing plan for my book. That's less than what you pay to publish your book and get the coaching and everything with Kerry's team. But nothing was guaranteed with it. And I had no lifeline to ask for help. That was just doing one piece of the puzzle, not publishing the book.
You can do books with them and it's like a $300 investment per book. What they do with the general program is they help you with things like your book cover. They guarantee certain things that you're going to get as part of the program. But you can publish additional books through their publishing house, very affordably, so much better.
I see publishing companies every day. They're pitching me on LinkedIn. Oh, it's $10,000 and we’ll publish your book. Someone the other day offered me a chapter in their book to pay $750. I really wanted a system because I intended to publish the “Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap” with Author Academy Elite.
So when this book deal came about that Entrepreneur Press” was interested in buying two books, including the one we'd already pitched the first time around, I contacted Author Academy to talk to them.
I told them that I've got two to three other books in the business and nonfiction space I really want to write. And I asked them if we can swap one of them in because I'd already had the Six Figure Freelancing Roadmap approved.
It’s going to be all about how to become a VA, why VA is different from other freelancing, and the types of skills you need to know as a virtual assistant. I will be publishing that hopefully next May or June with Author Academy Elite. It will be self published. So stay tuned for that.
And then I'm publishing a six figure freelancing guide. We don't quite have a title yet in 2020 with Entrepreneur Press, And in 2021, a “how to” guide on website copywriting.
So that was a long tangent from my original point, which was that I was really shocked and so honored to receive the Author Academy Elite 2019 Award for Best in Business.
They announced the Top 10 in August. And my book made the Top 10! I shared this on my social media. And I did not prepare an acceptance because the other nine books I was up against, were great books. I thought that there's no way that I was going to win against these people. So I'm just going to go and enjoy the Author Academy Awards and soak in the atmosphere.
I'm there at the conference anyways, so honored to be a Top 10 finalist, and what a huge blessing it was to win. I was totally shocked when they called my name. I mean, I did not have a speech prepared. And I only listened to the video of what I said a couple of days later. I don't like to be unprepared. I always like to have notes to have some idea of what I'm going to say. I speak well off the cuff when I know that topic really well. But I've never been honored like that for a book before. So I got to go on stage say thank you and accept the award.
I totally underestimated how powerful this was going to be for my platform. I sold 26 copies of my book at that conference. Just two people who found me during bathroom breaks in the conference, right? They would seek me out and pro tip here.
When I go to conferences, I always try to wear the same color all weekend or for the whole event. So it's usually royal blue or red because they're very noticeable power colors. So I was wearing royal blue as much as I could that weekend so that it was easy for people to find me and it really worked. So my book was not available for sale in the conference bookstore. Lots of people asked if it was there and it was not. And then they came and found me personally. So I'm just super excited to be sharing all of this news with you.
I am building my advanced reader team. My advanced reader team is going to be a small group. I'm aiming for like 20 to 25 people max. You're going to be the early readers on my work and provide feedback. So you're going to get first dibs at having your snippets featured in the book.
So in the six figure freelancing roadmap, I'm going to have case studies from successful six figure freelancers. The advanced reader team is going to be the first people that I go to with that opportunity. So it’s a great way to have your story and your business promoted. That's potential exposure for you to be found by other people who might follow you as a freelancer or hire you as a freelancer.
Advanced readers will also receive one free, signed copy that will come to you three to four weeks in advance of the actual drop date of the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other platforms. That is free to you. I will mail that personally to you to thank you for being a part of the launch team. The advanced reader team will you know,
As an advanced reader, I ask that you participate in whatever way you can to provide feedback and ideas and to share the books on social as the launch date and sale dates are coming closer. Leaving reviews on the book is a huge help on Amazon, Goodreads, and other platforms. That's very important.
So if you want to be a part of that advanced reader team there is a Google Form application. If you were already on my launch team for the first book, you're already in the Facebook group. So you would actually have to opt out of the Facebook group to not be part of my advanced reader team. But I really would like you to consider staying on if you got something out of it.
You are literally going to get a bird's eye view of what it takes to write, edit, and publish a book. You will learn how you build a marketing plan and how long it takes to build these things in advance. So that's a really cool way for you to learn more about it if you have been thinking about writing a book or you just want to know what it looks like in 2020 and beyond to write a book like that and for it go out live for the masses.
So I really want to encourage you to consider signing up. Just fill out the form in the link below. I will be contacting my launch team coming up. It is just a really cool opportunity. I am so thankful for all of you who were on my previous launch team. You were instrumental in helping me to be able to get additional book deals.
But this is really going to be an increasing part of my business. I’m going to be publishing, representing the freelance community, and building a bigger community of freelancers. Promoting the freelance revolution as what it is.
I wish I had more resources and tools when I got started. And I am now building those resources. I'm just so happy to get that opportunity to represent all of you. So I look forward to seeing you, hopefully on my launch team. And sharing the podcast with others also helps. If you leave a review on iTunes it helps more freelancers find this great information.
So thanks for tuning in for another episode. I know it's been a quick one. As always, you can send your questions to the podcast firstname.lastname@example.org. I will receive those emails. I'm also shifting to a new email for the podcast, which is email@example.com. So if you have questions, ideas for future topics, something I mentioned on the show doesn't make sense, or you need more information, please shoot me an email. Thanks again for being part of my tribe and helping support the freelance revolution.
I’m coming to you today with another guest who's going to share her great insight into how to make freelancing work for you. She’s also going to share when to decide that maybe it's not the right fit, and you want to scale it down or work your freelance business in a different way.
As an educator, she's worked with students of all ages in New Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, and China. As a performer, she's also studied 12 different Asian theatre and dance forms. And in addition to working full time in arts administration at an art center, she teaches part time at the college level and produces and co-host of the podcast, Biracial Unicorns. It is a podcast about race, gender, and pop culture.
We're going to be talking about things that are a little bit off the beaten path for where a lot of the traditional freelance conversations go. Which is, you're working it as a side hustle to bring it into a full-time gig. You’re potentially using it to grow an even bigger and bigger freelance business.
She shared that she was an accidental freelancer. She feels like she’s heard me say that about myself. She didn't have the intention to freelance after she went to graduate school. She went to graduate school with the intention of becoming a college professor. And that turned out to be a lot more difficult than she first thought.
So she knew that she wanted to teach. And because her degrees happened to be in the arts... Well, there are a lot of very tangible transferable skills. But a lot of businesses don't see it that way. So it wasn't to fall into a traditional sort of job.
So she knew she wanted to work in the arts. And she knew she wanted to teach. So she just accidentally fell into doing contract work in that way. She was following through with any sort of opportunity and putting herself out there so that I could be in the classroom or be doing arts as a job.
So it started as kind of a way to support adjunct teaching. As far as college goes, she was teaching just a couple of classes a semester in the college setting. She started to pick up more and more other teaching jobs. Part of it was through theatre company that she was a part of. And then part of it was through just other contacts she had made in the art world.
I asked Dani, “Was most of your freelancing was in teaching positions? Or were you doing different types of services for your clients?”
For the most part, it was teaching. The nature of theatre tends to be a lot of independent contract work as well. So while most of it was teaching, some of it was actually stage managing or performing in the theater world as well.
The thing that Dani loves the most about freelancing was the freedom and flexibility to choose what she was doing. And she could turn down gigs that did not align with her values, didn't align with her schedule, or weren't interesting to her. So she really enjoyed that aspect. And she enjoyed the aspect of creating her own schedule. All of that was, was really freeing and really
just gratifying to her.
But ultimately, it seems like that wasn't something that Dani wanted to stick with forever. Which is kind of the nature of a lot of not just business, but life for creatives too. We often discover along the way what we do and don't like or pick up some new passion and follow that thread.
Dani shared that for her it was a lot of burnout. So she was working a lot and in a lot of different places. That’s is part of the nature of freelancing. She felt like she was spending a lot of time driving from gig to gig. And just constantly on the go. It was exhausting.
For her, the move into a full time position meant having the stability of working in one place. It meant having the stability of having those set hours. And she thinks this is true for a lot of creatives. And for a lot of freelancers.
It's very difficult when you're starting out to figure out those boundaries. She shared that she was more than happy to constantly be working. And for her that just was not sustainable. She was having a hard time figuring out where she was going to draw those boundaries with things like when was she not working? When was she working?” So that was really weighing on her.
Then a lot of it was the boring life things like needing health insurance and figuring out those those steps for myself. And while it is possible through freelance work, it seemed very difficult for her. And she had to evaluate if this was the type of work that she wanted to continue doing, or if she wanted to shift into something else.
Dani shared that it was more the ladder in her case. She had reached the point where she was acknowledging her burnout and that she needed to do something else. And she was about to take some steps back. She had set aside some time and savings to kind of pull back on what she was doing come the fall of that year.
And she set that space with the intention of job hunting. Perhaps reconsidering applying for full-time professor jobs out of state. She wasn't sure if she wanted to move away from where she was. But she set that space to search and decide.
Right before she was about to transition into that space, a job kind of popped up. It was a full-time job with an organization she had been contracting with before. So she knew that the organization matched a lot of her personal values and was a good place to work. She knew a lot of people who were already in that organization, not well, but well enough to know that it seemed like a great place to work and it was in arts education.
But through the administration side. So it was something a little different than she had done previously. But because she had been doing a lot of freelance individual work she had the skills that they were looking for. She also had the practical experience of being on the ground doing the teaching, working as an artist, and having knowledge of both sides of it. So it was kind of an ideal situation that accidentally happened as well.
Well, that's actually very interesting, because through your freelance experience, even though you realized that that wasn't a path you wanted to continue down, you still had this introduction to this company and the people there to where you knew what some of the job would look like.
Because one of the challenges of freelancing that I think anyone who's done it can experience is the fact that it can overtake all day every day. And what tends to get crowded out is this idea of that intentional space setting to think about working on your business or even taking the step back to say, “Is this what I want to be doing?”
When your skills are in demand, it is very easy to fill your day with work for clients. Sometimes I've even seen freelancers who have waiting lists. They're turning down other clients, because they're so busy. And I think it was very smart that Dani’s first step was not along the lines of firing all her clients today. Nor did she have the mindset of taking whatever job pops up.
She very intentionally said, “I'm going to put some space in here to figure out what this is going to look like because I don't necessarily know what my next step is.” And I feel that it's so hard for a lot of freelancers to do that just because of the way we work. We tend to be thinking about other people's businesses. Or the projects we're working on. And not recognizing how it's affecting us.
Prior to doing that your step, Dani recognized that she was in, at least, the beginning stages of burnout. I asked her if she could speak a little bit about that to help other freelancers who might not realize that there are some subtle signs popping up that they might be burning out.
Dani thinks, for her, and probably for a lot of people who work in freelance, we go down that path because it's the work that we want to do. It's the work that we value. And it's a passion! It's very hard to be motivated to work for yourself or to take on different clients nad different small side jobs, unless it's something you're passionate about.
And so, for her, the early signs of burnout were she was unhappy. And she did not see the same level of passion and commitment to the work that she had when she was beginning. She was very unhappy and very tired. She started to dread having to work. Instead of it feeling like something that was feeding her, it felt like she was just feeding the work. So she thinks those were the early signs for me.
And then actual physical exhaustion was a part of it as well. Like she mentioned before, she thinks a lot of it, for her, was the lack of very firm boundaries. So if she could go back, she thinks that would be something that she would work on and establish early on. And she thinks with those boundaries, it helps prevent burnout. But she thinks you're also more likely to catch the burnout before it happens.
But it is one of the most important things that a lot of freelancers don't realize how much they're hurting themselves and their business by not having good boundaries. Because a lot of us come from employee-employer situations. Or we're working with companies that don't realize they need to or have to treat freelancers differently.
It can feel very much like a power move to put those boundaries down with a client. But it's very, very important for your own mental health. And I love that Dani acknowledges some of the signs of what that looks like for her. Because there's almost a sense of grief when you start to realize that this thing you built is great, but then it's physically exhausting you. And you’re not even feeling lit up by it. Yes, it's bringing in money. And clients are relatively happy, but it's having these other negative impacts on me.
Dani shared that it’s a little bit of both. Like she mentioned before, she had already started taking steps back when this job opportunity arose. So she had already created some space. When she started at this new job, in this new position, she as still honoring the commitments she had already made.
And she made it pretty clear when she accepted the position that it was important to her to be able to have the space to honor those commitments and follow through on the things she had already said she was going to do. Which she doesn’t know why she found it surprising, but she did find it very surprising that the company loved that about her. They told her that's one of the reasons we hired her.
She did have a few other teaching gigs lined up, which I followed through and completed. Luckily for her, within her work, everything was very structured on a calendar and an academic calendar. So she knew when those things would end. She also knew that because it was work that she was passionate about that she wasn't able to give it up completely.
And so through conversations with the college she was contracting with and her new employers, she was able to see how much space she could have. She’s now in my third year in this position. And she has continued to do some side contract work and some teaching at the college level while she has been there. So it's continuing to take that step back and see what the space was that allowed it.
What she also really liked about it was that she was able to build in more space for other projects that she wanted to do that weren't necessarily completely under the umbrella of what she was doing before. So it was nice to have that security of a full time job, but be able to continue a little bit of the work that she was really passionate about, It was also nice to be able to create some space for new things. Because she thinks this is true for a lot of creatives and freelancers, we're always wanting to learn new things to improve ourselves to find something that will satisfy us. So she loves that she has that space in my schedule now that she’s able to try new things as well.
You do them over and over again. But it really can crowd out the opportunity to learn new things or even just pick something up that's a hobby. I see a lot of people get stuck in this mindset of wondering if something is going to make them money. Not everything you do has to make you money, or has to be part of your business. It can be if you want, but you can also just pick up a hobby or follow a thread to see how much you're interested in it. I think that that's a really common pitfall that people fall into.
She shared that she feels like she has drawn a much stronger line. It used to be where she would pretty much accept anything that she was remotely interested in. And now knowing that she has much more limited time to accommodate those things, she has to be a lot more intentional.
So for her that means she knows that she can only accept one or two things in a given amount of time. She still thinks very much in the semester schedule. So she can only take one or two things every semester. And having that knowledge and that line makes her evaluate what it is that she enjoys the most. Some of the things that she considers are:
And it's nice because she doesn’t necessarily have to think about long term with her freelance work. Now, she only has to think about what's going to serve her in this amount of time. And she doesn’t have to necessarily worry about building anything or expanding anything.
One challenge that I know a lot of freelancers who are coming out, from the other direction where they have the full time job first and they're just starting to freelance, they always want to know if they need to tell their employer. Or if they need to tell their freelance clients that they also have a full time job and these are the parameters under which it does or doesn't affect what they are doing for them.
Dani shared that she thinks it's a case by case. She has had semesters where she was very upfront with not only the college she was working with, or the people she was contracting with, but also with the students who she was teaching about her schedule. This is her life. And this is when she’s available and when she’s not available.
She’s also had times where she doesn’t do that. The other thing she finds that it doesn't make a huge difference is what she communicates to other people, it's really kind of drawing the line for herself. That makes the bigger difference. So she thinks in both cases the outcome was about the same.
She feels as though she has moved into more of not necessarily having to disclose just because she doesn't understand necessarily what she was getting out of disclosing. She doesn’t know if she was looking for people to understand that boundary, but she feels like you can establish that boundary without having to justify why.
I really found that a lot of times when I was working full time that it just didn’t really affect it. And I didn't see how it affected my boss at all. I didn't see how it affected my freelance clients either. We could either do a call at noon when I was on a lunch break or after hours. We could even just discuss it over email.
So I agree with you that it's a case by case thing. I don't think you owe it to anyone unless there's going to be some potential where they're like, “Oh, we need you to be available at 3 pm every Tuesday.” That’s when you have to tell them that you might not be the person for them because you’re working at that time.
But I agree that I think a lot of times it's about our own boundaries. You have to ask yourself, “Okay, how am I going to have firm boundaries with both these things so that I don't get overwhelmed or don't shortchange anyone in the process?”
I think that's important for everyone listening to remember that you don't have to apply a formula from anyone and try to force that into fitting into your life. You get to decide to what extent you're freelancing or you're not or you have a full time job or you work remotely or you're volunteering. So you get to decide what that looks like.
And you can always change it too. If it's no longer suiting you, for any reason, you can always adapt and change it. So never feel like you're a prisoner to your circumstances. Because you always have the power to adapt.
And that's something I think we've talked about a lot in this episode is tuning into those signals in yourself know this isn't working. How do I make that decision? How do I wind things down and move forward in a step that's positive?
The best place to learn about her is through her podcast, which is one of those lovely things that has been able to rise because I've had that extra space in my life and is able to fulfill me in a different way. So, she co hosts and produces a podcast called Biracial Unicorns. They're available on all the podcasting platforms.
This was such a great episode full of useful information. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.
So if you're listening to this episode, know that I have recorded several podcast episodes, at the same time. All with the content previously outlined that I did in another work session of bashing work. So I really do practice what I preach when it comes to bashing your work and splitting things up. It is so much easier for me to record two or three podcast episodes at a time. And it definitely makes it easier on everyone else when producing them. So think about how that concept of batch work could play into your freelance business as well.
If you have followed my story for a long time, or listen to this podcast, then you know that I have been freelancing full time since the summer of 2013. So that is a full six years of working full time. Many of those years I was putting in a lot of hours, especially at the beginning to get things off the ground.
And it's part of the reason that I've been incorporating a couple different interviews with people who have taken less traditional freelance paths into the mix with some of these podcast episodes. Because I'm seeing it not just with me, but with many of my private coaching clients as well.
For some of them, freelancing full time is the dream like this is what they've worked for. They love it. And they're happy to do it. But for others, it's interesting because they will start coaching with me for the purpose of scaling their freelance business and then the process of working together, realized that's not actually what they want. At least anymore. For some of them, that means intentionally scaling back their freelance business altogether. And that can be a little bit surprising for people who have put in so much effort to build up a freelance side hustle, potentially even leaving their day job.
Because there's different seasons in life. There are seasons in life where you may be focused on other things like taking care of an elderly parent, or perhaps you're a new parent yourself. And the focus of your life has really shifted from that all hustle, all-in mentality towards being a new parent. Or maybe you've just moved in with your significant other or whatever it might be.
I honestly can speak to that from experience. Because, for me, I've loved being a freelancer. I've loved doing it full time. And I just hit a point when I wasn't sure that that was fit for me anymore. I've taken a lot of care and a lot of work to adjust my business in light of that.
So I started seeing the signs that it was time to change. In early 2019, I was really set up for a big year freelance wise. I took on two enormous freelance contracts. I was like, “This is easily going to be my biggest year yet with freelancing.” And I did those for about three months.
Then both of those projects came to an end for for different reasons. None of those reasons were negative or anything. but I was relieved. Normally when I lose a contract or a client, I'm like, “Oh, I have to go replace this client. I've got to go find another situation that's going to fill this time.” I started feeling relief at letting go some of those projects and intentionally not replacing them.
So those two contracts ending around the May time period, and I was getting really close to my book launch to we were getting ready to move on. I really started to feel like the perfect storm situation where if I was going to scale my freelance business down, then it was the time to start. And it really was! To be honest with you, having so many contracts and so many irons in the fire, it took me a full four months to intentionally scale my business back. It was by no means an overnight process.
So all of a sudden, it was like, “Wow, what a weird conversation. They're not complaining that anything's been done wrong, but they want to pay all three of us freelance writers working for them across the board much less.” We also went on vacation in May. It was a very healing and transformative vacation.
We took my sister in law with us. We were all over Europe. I emailed a client I had been with for years to say I wanted to cut my workload in half with them doing some of the editing work and still stay on with the writing work. I realized that when I came back from vacation, I didn't want to start doing the editing again. So I revised my original statement and said, “Can you just pull me out of this all together?”
So I gave up a good portion of income in order to do that, but it felt like the right decision.
And it really was. If you've never written and published a book before, whether that's self published or traditionally published, there was so much work that went into that behind the scenes. The book was launched on July 16. And I wanted to support it as much as possible because I knew I would not only set myself up for success with this first publication, but I was very intentional when I brought on an agent in 2018 that I wanted to write multiple books. She even stressed to me in our early conversations that the opportunities for future books would very much be based on what I could pull off with the first one.
I really did not want this book launch to fall apart for any reason. So I had put together a marketing plan that I created over the course of four months. I implemented that marketing plan over about six to seven months.
I had brought in an additional VA to help me with that. And I hired a publicist to help me with that. I rebooted my podcast. There were so many things going on in connection with the book and not one of them do I regret! But because I made that decision, I had to scale back other things in my business.
There was not another form of freelance writing that was exciting me at the time. I started dipping my toes into the water with public speaking by doing some workshops. I also expanded my freelance coaching business because I started to realize that I really did not want to be writing eight to nine hours a day.
And there is an excellent video you can watch here. It is like the motto of 2019 for me. It's an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and multiple other books. I strongly recommend her book “Big Magic” if you haven't checked it out. But in this interview, she talks about the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.
So she talks about the fact that writing will always be her vocation, even if it is not her career. She talks about all the other jobs she's held where she wasn't writing, but it gave her the mental space to be a writer outside of those hours. So for me delving into nonfiction into fiction, into doing public speaking into coaching, all of those, to some extent, involve additional writing.
I was also getting pressure to finish up my PhD.
Talk about a massive writing project writing a doctoral dissertation. I could see the writing on the wall at the rate that I was going with the volume of clients that I had. And I could not do all of these other writing projects, and also be writing six to nine hours a day for clients.
So I actually had my best freelance month ever, in 2019, nearly $30,000 in freelance income.
And I also had my worst freelance month in recent years in August. So I believe that the best one was April. And then in August I had my worst month that I've had in years in terms of income wise. But in terms of how I felt about things and how intentional I was in the way that my business looked, I view it like the opposite.
Because I had this huge month in April, and then I went on vacation. Honestly, I was starting to get burned out. And I could really sense that. I was experiencing the early signs of burnout. And I knew that that was going to be a problem for me . So I went from that best freelance month saying, “Okay, is this it?" I had a great freelance month. I don't necessarily feel like from a $10,000 month to a $30,000 month. But there wasn't more happiness or peacefulness. I honestly feel kind of tired a little bit burned out. So for me, this is not the direction that I want my business to grow.
There are seasons in your freelance business. And there's been seasons where I've outsourced all my writing work. There have been seasons where I did not advertise my coaching practice at all because it was completely booked through word of mouth. And there have been seasons where I've said that we are not filming YouTube videos for four months. Or that I'm taking a year and a half break from my podcast. Things are always in flux.
Some other doors started to open, as soon as I started to intentionally scale down my freelance business. And I was having a conversation about this in my freelancing group, which you can check out. It's Mastering Your Freelance Life with Laura. This idea came up of, when you have filled your schedule with other things in a way, you can actually be limiting yourself from better opportunities or opportunities that you want.
So people might wonder how that makes sense. I feel like if there's something in the back of your mind that it's calling on you to do like writing a book or opening another business entirely, but you fill your schedule with what comes easily to you, which could be bringing on freelance contracts, you're kind of denying a part of yourself. You're actually limiting your personal and business growth.
Because if you bring in great money, but you don't feel good about it, or your start to feel like I did, which was just like I needed to complete my projects because I was on deadline. But I had several clients where I was not excited to work on their projects at all. I was really just doing it to get things done because I had made a commitment to work for that client.
I realized how dangerous that was. And I was not doing the best thing for me. I'm not doing the best thing for my clients. So I did a very careful inventory of all of my clients on my current roster and said, “What can I change? And how can I make this more in line with where I want to go?”
Now it's hard to say no to a really good thing. I'm so grateful for my business. But writing is not something I want to do 40 hours anymore. And it's actually a gift to have been a writer for full time for the last six years because I've been able to expand into other skill sets like selling courses and doing project and content management for clients that requires more communication skills than writing. Doing public speaking and coaching, writing books, doing TEDx talks, it's opened other doors and made me see that this is not all that I am limited to. So rather than feeling like I've taken it as far as I can take it, and let's just wake up every day and do the same thing over again, I started looking for new challenges.
Mindset work is key. I have done more mindset work in the last six months than probably the entirety of all of my life before that. For you, mindset work might look like prayer, sitting there quietly journaling, doing meditation every day, or bringing up new hobbies. All of it helps you to honor your purpose.
As a freelancer, we are hearing communication, thoughts and ideas daily. Your business can easily overtake your brain because it is something that you cannot really shut off and confine to an office. It's usually your entire home. When you're out running or exercising or doing errands, you're thinking about your business. So there's a lot of noise.
It's very hard sometimes to honor your purpose when there's so much noise coming at you from so many different directions. So being intentionally quiet, sitting down and making that effort to learn more about what it is you really want to do and what your next step is, can allow you to hear some of that inner intuition. Even if you're doing this through prayer, hearing from the spiritual portion of your life getting some wisdom about what steps to take next.
I had filled my business with so much noise and interference that I could not tell what it was I wanted to do anymore. I had a whole bunch of obligations, and maybe only about 65 to 70% of them were things that I wanted to do. So I had to start really honoring that and start exploring new avenues.
The minute that I started that process, which was super messy, and took me the entire summer and is still ongoing, I started to see other doors opening. I got some wisdom and intuition about what my next steps were.
We humans tend to initially resisted it. I was like, “Yeah, I'm not doing that. That's not the next step for me.” But starting to pursue these different routes was really helpful for me to start thinking about what I want my business and life to look like going forward and how I can continue to change things and allow this to evolve.
So just because you built something to the point where it's successful and doing well financially, that doesn't always mean that that is your end point. Many of the most successful business owners and freelancers that I know are evolving. They are not afraid to say, “Okay, I did this. It was great. Now it's time to move on. I have a new dream or I have this other dream in the back of my mind that I've always wanted to do. And now I'm going to live it.”
I think as creatives a lot of us are called to freelancing because we want to do something creative. But when that becomes our job eight to nine hours a day, being creative for other clients, it's really hard to apply that same level of creativity to our own projects. So for me, some of the best writing and side hustling I ever did, was the year that I ran my business as a side hustle while I had a full time job. Because I had to be very specific about what I did in my off hours. A lot of my job was very menial. To that extent, it was boring. But I also didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting with my brain during the day.
So you're the CEO. You're the VP of Marketing, management, hiring, and human resources. And you're the CFO. You're everything. Even when you have a VA or a couple of people on your team, you are still making a massive amount of decisions, And so that might not be right for everyone running your business at that level.
So for me, a lot of the guidance that I got was to scale my freelance clients down to 10 hours a week. And it was so awkward and weird to do this. It was weird to turn people down and to fire clients after test projects when I couldn't see how they fit into my new 10 hour a week model, and to allow contracts to come to a natural end and to not try to replace them. It was weird because I never really done that purposely before.
I found that honestly that got very empty for me because it was like, “Oh, great. We had a good month, but I didn't feel like my purpose and my passion was coming through at the level that the money was.” So it was something where I knew that if I want to have a bigger impact, if I really want to help people then there had to be changes. I really felt that I needed to change some things about the freelance side of my business to make that happen.
Do the mindset work. And do it every day for one to two hours a day, if you can. I spent so much time walking, journaling, talking things out with my husband, my mom, or other people in my life. I was like, “Okay, if I'm going to change this, what is this going to look like?”
I did a talk a couple of weeks ago, very similar to this topic. I was at my alma mater in Virginia. And I talked about the power of the pivot. So a lot of times we ignore signs from our body that it's time to move on when something no longer fits you in the way that it's currently structured.
So I will probably always freelance. But for me I was able to scale my business down to still be a six figure writing business, but only about 10 hours a week by being very picky about the clients that I do have.
So you have three main options available to you when you recognize that freelancing isn't fit. You can:
So maybe you want to launch your own company, write a book, or get a whole new job, but you know that that's not something you can do tomorrow, so maybe over six to 12 months. Freelancing is how you can bridge the gap. You're taking on a couple of projects to float you financially.
For me, I didn't know what direction I wanted to go in yet. I did public speaking and I knew just from speaking to some experts and doing some of it already, I did not want that to be my new full time income. I talked to a very savvy, public speaker coach several months ago and she told me how she had spent over 200 nights a year in a hotel room. And with that one sentence I knew it wasn’t for me. I know there's a need for more great executive and female public speakers and motivational speakers out there. Butthat just felt like it would be trading freelancing full time for doing something that would be even more stressful and require more travel.
I was not motivated to get projects done. I've coped with varying levels of anxiety my entire life. And for a long time when I was a child, all the way through graduate school, I was diagnosed with ADD. I was medicated for ADD. It was a real struggle for me to stay focused and organized.
Sometimes people who meet me today are surprised to hear that they think I'm hyper organized. That is a coping mechanism I developed from years of living with severe ADHD. So when I start to notice my ADD coming back and my anxiety bubbling up every day, I start to notice symptoms like headaches, ulcers, and feeling tired more often. That's usually how my body tells me it's time to go.
My body actually started to shut down when I was teaching in Baltimore City. That was the point for me to recognize that it was really serious and I needed to step out of that particular job. So I always watch for those types of things such as missing deadlines, making mistakes with your clients, and not feeling excited about getting on sales calls or turning things in hitting a major milestone like having a huge month or bringing on a huge client. It's much more anticlimactic than you thought. Those are all signs that it's time to take a baby step towards your next purpose.
On that note, I strongly recommend the audible only book “Take Control of Your Life with Mel Robbins”. The very first case study she does is with a famous teacher who wants to do something in the wine business. But he doesn't know what yet and he's essentially paralyzed by all of the choices. She talks about Lego blocks and building blocks that move you towards what your purpose is, when you're not sure what it is.
So you take little baby steps to try things out. Maybe you have dinner with someone. Or maybe you reach out to people. For me, I reached out heavily to my military spouse, community and all of the networks that I had there to say, “Hey, I'm thinking about changing things up. What advice do you have?” Leaning on other people can be very, very helpful. So check out those books and resources to learn more.
Start a nonprofit. Volunteer some of your free time developing another business entirely coaching other people, either as a life coach or business coach. You can write books, do public speaking, start a podcast, or maybe work in a more traditional employment situation or a full time remote job to pick up newer or better skills.
I felt to an extent like I had tapped out what I could really do with SEO writing. I did it. And it was great. And I've enjoyed doing it. There are several clients where it's still enough of a challenge and interest for me to continue doing it. But I could tell that wasn't what I wanted to be spending the bulk of my time doing.
But I wanted to help you recognize that you always have the ability and the permission, for goodness sakes, granted to yourself to change things in your business if it's not working for you. I will still be freelancing. I will still be making an income from freelancing. But I'm actually setting my freelance business up to reflect more of what it looked like when I first started back when I had a full time job and was a grad student doing other things, so that I can fold in some other things and fold in some more downtime, and get my dissertation done.
So, I just wanted to sort of do this preliminary episode to talk a little about that. I will come back in a couple of months to talk to you more about how this transition has worked out. But I hope that this episode has been helpful for you to see the many different ways that you can alter your life and your business to make sure that it suits where you're at right now.
It is not dishonoring what you've built. And It is not viewing your current business as a failure. But if you feel disconnected, and if you feel like there's something more out there for you, I really encourage you to make the mindset work mandatory because no one can answer that question for you.
She didn’t think she wanted to freelance at all. And that's valuable information to know, even when you're working with the freelancing coach. So then our conversations really shifted towards how do we start you building the life you love, working towards the goals that you want, knowing that freelancing might just be something that bridges the gap. It might just be something that opens another door for you.
So I hope this episode has been helpful for you. Please send any questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks again for tuning in. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.
This is episode 86 of the Advanced Freelancing podcast. I'm doing a separate introduction here because this is the first time that I've interviewed a guest in this new format and reboot of my podcast. I was super excited to talk to her because of her expertise.
She is a writer, speaker, and consultant that is passionate about helping people spend their days in work that is wildly fulfilling. She is the host of the podcast Hustle and Grace, which you should totally go check out right now. Binge some of that after you're done with this episode.
She's also the author of several ebooks and courses including “More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives”. She has also served as a Professor of Communications, Social Media and Journalism, at Southern New Hampshire for five years. And she's also a freelance writer for hire with expertise in direct response, copywriting, and content marketing.
As a freelancer, she has served clients ranging from Broadway shows to non profits large and small, creatives of all stripes, and consumer brands. And she has written hundreds of articles in dozens of publications, including USA Today and The Washington Post. She and her family live in the DC metro area. We will post all of her contact information at the bottom of the show notes.
And how could you create a hybrid blend, where you've got essentially an employee-employer relationship as part of the mix, but not as your full time gig. I hear from more and more freelancers these days who are looking to build an intentional freelance business. They don't want to be working 40 or 60 hours a week as a freelancer.
For some of them freelancing was their ticket out of working in a dead-end job, but they're now realizing that freelancing full time isn't quite the right fit either. The cool thing about these side hustlers is that we can rearrange our business and client load whenever we want to reflect the new dreams and goals that we have. Hilary is the perfect example of that. So stay tuned in this episode to hear more about the different transition she's made and how she recommends you do things like how to pick which industry or type of skill to focus on how to keep clients thrilled about coming back to work with you on retainer.
Hilary shared that she has been a person from the beginning who liked a lot of different things. She’s always been a person who loved writing. She’s always loved theater. And she loved connecting with people in college. She could not decide on a major for the longest time and actually ended up with three or four minors as a consolation prize.
She started freelancing around 2007-2008. Which, if you'll remember, that was around the time that the great recession hit. So freelancing was something that she wanted to do, but it was also something she was kind of forced to do. Because at that time, companies were on hiring freezes. People weren't hiring full time. So Hilary said that it was sort of like a happy accident that she got into freelancing at that time when people were actually sort of looking for some freelancers.
So she started freelance writing, then she was also balancing it with a career as an actress in theater, especially musical theatre. It got to a point were in between performing, she was doing some writing here and there. But it wasn't really enough to pay the bills. And so she was also working retail and doing some different things.
And so she thought she would go back to school and get a masters degree so she could at least possibly get into the online education boom that was happening at that time. She thought, if she could maybe teach online, she could still have this autonomous lifestyle that she loved. She could work from anywhere. And she could go audition in the middle of the day. There was something about a full time job that felt very limiting to her. It felt very stifling to her and her personality, because in the beginning she had three or four different minors and a love for lots of different things. So she always really liked variety.
So back to school she went. She studied media and communications with a focus on media. She really dove into the social media space. That was also really interesting timing because that's when companies started realizing, “Hey, we should hire someone or we should hire a freelancer or a consultant to help with our social media.” And so that's sort of how she really got started as a full time freelancer.
She did social media. And she did a ton of blog writing. She still did article writing for magazines. That sort of grew into a career as a content marketer and a direct response copywriter that she has today.
Now she lives in the DC metro area right outside of DC. She works as a full time freelancer. There was a time just a couple of years ago that she thought that maybe what she really wanted was to work remotely. She thought that it would give her the flexibility and autonomy that she wanted.
Well, it turns out she really likes working for herself. So she works as a part time consultant with an agency. That's sort of her anchor client. She’s technically a W2 there, but she’s part time. She works remotely. She feels like they're her client to be honest. But she is part of a team.
So she does that part time. And then she sprinkles in whatever she has time for around that. So she does direct response copy. She does freelance career coaching. And she has some online courses and intellectual property. She does public speaking. Basically, she does lots of different things. She likes to keep the variety going. But she does have this dependable anchor client in the staffing agency.
A lot of us get that feeling of being stifled in a traditional job where you're doing the same thing all day every day. Even though sometimes the variety can be a little bit crazy, it's often a welcome part of the freelancer's life. Why? Because you do get to decide who you work with and who you don't.
It's interesting that Hilary brought up that she has this anchor client. To her, they're kind of a client, but not really because it's also like an employee employer situation, but it's super flexible. So you view it like a client.
It's very interesting because a lot of times for people that are looking to do full time freelancing, I tell them to never just have one client, That's super dangerous, right? You should never put all your eggs in one basket. And obviously, Hilary done that. But what advice does Hilary have for freelancers who maybe get an offer like that?
I see a lot of people who are like, “Oh, a recruiter contacted me about a remote opportunity or a part time opportunity. They want to pay me W2. How do you set that up for success in the rest of your business being in the context of freelance?” It sounds like they're very much like a client for Hilary.
Hilary shared that she thinks some of it is that you just have to feel out in the interview process. But she thinks you also have to be honest from the beginning about what your values are and what you care about. Be honest with them that they're going to get your 110% effort. But you're not going to have that same approach to the company that other people might go in there from 9 to 5.
Hilary shared that in her situation, she doesn’t view them as an employer. And she also feels like they put her in my own special category as well. So you know, there are times when it's so beneficial because she’s outside of the office politics. She’s outside of the water cooler chatter. Those parts of working in an office that she frankly, doesn't feel comfortable with and doesn’t really like.
So she thinks it's important to be honest from the get go. She thinks it's important to ask the tough questions in that process in the beginning. You have to yourself, “Self, what is important to me?” You have to ask how much anxiety does it bring me to have five different clients that all get 20% of my time or, 10 different clients still get 10% of my time? Is it less for you to worry about? Is it less for you to think about? Does it bring you some peace of mind to have a client that's 40%?
Because a lot of times she thinks a freelance line item on a budget feels unemotional to cut at the end of the year. Whereas, if you are a W2, she thinks that employers and companies don't feel as comfortable just being like, “Oh, we'll just reallocate that money.”
She has had that experience herself. She had a client that was about 20%- 25% of her income recently. And at the end of the year, they just said, “Oh, we're just going to rearrange some things. And we're going to hire someone in house.” It was over an email and was so impersonal. And all year, they had been a huge piece of her pie. But, she was just a line item for them.
So Hilary thinks there is something beneficial about having that relationship where you're not full time, you don't do the commute every day, and you're not there every day, but they rely on you. You rely on them almost like a retainer. Hilary thinks it's a good thing. It's a good situation, depending on what you want and what your goals are.
Most freelancers have defined channels for marketing. They know how they're going to find their clients. I asked Hilary what she suggests that freelancers interested in a client like hers go and do to fine someone like that. Do you use different terminology or pitching techniques or networking to find a client like that and to kind of convince them that you're the right one for the role? Because like Hilary mentioned, a lot of times, we are seen as outsiders. Freelancers are brought in to work on specific projects. Or as a writer, they might do some of the content marketing.
Hilary thinks it depends on where you're coming from and what you're doing just prior to that. For me and her situation, she had been working full time for a company remotely. And she just put the flag on her LinkedIn saying that she was open to conversations with recruiters. She moved my location to the DC metro area because she was moving to DC and almost immediately when she got there, a local company reached out to me.
It was a marketing staffing agency So they didn't take long for them to find someone who was the right fit. Hilary shared that she was a great fit for them not only because she was looking and open to freelance and part time and remote opportunities, but also in her previous job, she was doing the marketing writing. Which is the kind of writing that I liked, but the topic wasn't something that I was passionate about.
So in her off times from when she wasn't working on the projects for her job, she was contributing to newspapers like the USA Today writing about careers. She was writing about how to nail your internship. Those kinds of topics that actually aligned really beautifully with this client and part time gig that she has now.
Hilary thinks it's important before you find that perfect sweet spot that you're really putting it out there and cultivating your own personal brand around the topics and the things that you love to write about or the projects that you just love to do. Don't just get bogged down in whatever it is that your current job and the projects assigned to you. Create your own work. Hilary thinks that really attracts those special opportunities. And it will also show that you're more than just a writer. You're more than just a designer.
Whatever it is that you do, you also have a passion for this specific niche. Because when you have a passion for a specific niche and someone needs someone like you, they're more willing to be flexible. They're more willing to be like, “Okay, well we really want somebody in the office. We really want to pay this. But maybe we can rework some things because who's gonna be more perfect for this job that you? Probably no one. So we'll do what you want to do. We'll make it work.”
That is making yourself visible to recruiters on LinkedIn. I probably post about this several times a month in my Facebook Group. Why? Because it's just takes three minutes. Go turn the button on and tell the recruiters exactly what you're available for. Because that is always the most searched person. Every time I go into who's viewed my profile on LinkedIn, recruiters are always number one. Those are great relationships to cultivate. It's free and easy. If your profile is optimized, that's perfect.
And then Hilary also talked about building your own brand. I think this is so important. People get bogged down in that too. If you don't have a lead at USA Today or Business Insider where you can post, then use your LinkedIn and your website to build your brand. You need to be posting articles and content that are relevant to your industry. People also find you that way through the hashtags, through the words that you use, and how frequently you post.
The reason I bring this up is because I'm in a lot of communities with other military spouses and a lot of them are looking for remote opportunities. Because, obviously, they move a lot. They want a job that's going to travel with them. And there's sometimes this confusion between, What's the difference between working remotely and something like starting my own business as a virtual assistant or something like that you've actually done it. I asked Hilary to share from her perspective, what would you say those primary differences are? And how do you know which one might be right for you?
A remote job is a job where you might as well be in an office because you have like one client. You have one job. And you have one supervisor. You're probably benefited and get things like 401k and insurance. You're an employee just like anyone else, except that you don't have that commitment to the office.
Whereas a freelancer, you can kind of like cultivate it and make it whatever you want it to be. It's where you are the business. You don't work for another business. But you are the business. So you not only do the work, but you also do the business development. You go and find the clients. And you take care of billing and invoices. So if you're thinking about if a business is like the office, then you are everybody in the office.
Hilary was referring to The Office TV show because she’s finally catching up on it. It's like 10 years too late, but she’s in the final season. When you are the business, you are fearless. You are Michael. You are Angela. You're everyone if you're a freelancer. But if you work as a remote employee, then you are just one of those guys and you work from home.
And I think some of it also comes down to the level of risk you're willing to absorb at the outset. Because honestly, I know a lot of people are like, “Oh, a full time job, whether it's remote or an office, it's so much more stable.” There's a lot of arguments to make that your job could be eliminated or like the company that I used to work for before freelancing completely closed. So stability and risk is a questionable thing at that.
But when you're starting out, like you said, as a freelancer, you have to go create your own paycheck. At a job you're showing up and they're telling you these are the things we need you to do. You're going to get the benefits. This is going to be your paycheck, It's going to drop in your account every two weeks. A freelancer is taking on more of that upfront risk of saying, “Okay, I have to go chase the clients. I'm going to take on the responsibility of paying the taxes as a self employed person. I'm going to figure out what to do with my benefits, etc.”
Some people are a little bit more averse to that. And others might be like, “Oh, yeah, I absolutely want to be my own boss.” So those are the important differences between remote and freelancing. I think it's helpful for people to know that, The good thing too, is you could work remotely and still have a freelance side hustle. There's lots of different ways that you could set it up.
I know a lot of people who are like, “I'm kind of into social media and maybe a little bit of writing and some other things.” I asked Hilary how do you decide to narrow down or do you not recommend doing that?
Hilary thinks it depends on your personality. She thinks it depends on how much time you have on your hands that is available. And how much of a learning curve there is. If you got a degree in marketing, and you've kind of been in that world and you already have specialized interests, pay attention to the things that catch your eye. Pay attention to the pages that you follow on Facebook, the brands that you scroll through on Instagram, and the accounts that you follow on Twitter. What are the topics that catch your eye that you have a natural interest in?
She thinks that's a really great place to start. Because she thinks that you're going to be more invested. You're going to have more of a passion for those projects. If you're still in the stage of building a portfolio and finding who you are as a marketer then she thinks that it's good to start small. Build those personal relationships and personal connections.
Start spreading the word that you're building a freelance business. Maybe you don't want to ask someone directly for them to hire you or for their business. Maybe you do. You can minimally start spreading the word in your network by saying, “Hey, like I'm getting into this. I've always kind of had a knack for social media. I really think that I could help small like mom and pop restaurants, in particular, really nail their social media. I see so many bad pictures of food on Instagram. I really love taking pictures with this amazing portrait mode that I have on my latest iPhone. I really think that I could help people.”
Just start one email at a time or one Facebook message at a time. You could do one coffee meet up at a time and build, build, build. Spread the word about what it is that you like. And she thinks starting with some that you're passionate about and pairing that with a skill that you're confident in is a really, really great place to start. And she thinks that there are lots of different things that you could do. But the more that you narrow down in the beginning, the more success that you can have because you can be confident that this is what you do well and you can really serve your clients well that way.
But I feel like when you say, “Alright, I'm going to be a social media marketer. I'm going to do content strategy. I'm going to do SEO and pay per click ads.” When you take on 6 or 7 different specialities, it's really hard to keep up with the changes and software in six or seven industries. Claim competency in one or two where you're like, “Yes, these are the blogs I follow. These are the podcasts I listened to. I do it enough within my day that I know what works as a best practice and what things are coming down the pike as trends.”
But I feel like I see a lot of freelancers, especially VAs, post on their website, “These are the 45 different services I can do for you.” That sets you up to be so frazzled and constantly having to go back and be like, “Okay, have there been updates in Facebook ads? I haven't worked at the Facebook Ads client in four months. So now I have to go back to the drawing board reteach myself that again.” That can be really stressful.
So I think it's good, like Hilary mentioned, as soon as you get started, start seeing what you gravitate to. Start seeing what you like and what converts well with clients. What are clients asking you to do with them? Are your sales calls easy and they're like, “Oh, sold! I so don't want to do this. You sound like the expert.”? Those are all signals that you can take and apply to your life.
This big hurdle for a lot of freelancers both new and experienced. They do a lot of one time projects. Since Hilary seems to develop relationships with her clients where it's more of a long term situation, how does she suggest that freelancers set themselves up to be open to more of those opportunities?
Firstoff, she thinks this is so important. A few different things come to mind. The first is to say yes to projects that you know you can nail. I think it's nice to stretch yourself. It's nice to try new things. But in terms of building relationships with clients that you're going to have for a long time, you really want to build that dependability and that trust. So say yes to things that you feel very confident in.
Also cultivate real relationships. When you hop on a call, don't just get right down to business. Ask someone about their family or how their sports team did. You can ask things like what's the weather like today or where you are. She knows it sounds silly to always start with the weather, but it's such a nice icebreaker. And such a reminder of, “Yes, I'm here alone in my home in Northern Virginia, but you might be in your home office in Nashville.” She thinks it's so important to take the time to build a relationship besides just getting down to business.
My husband and I just relocated to Minnesota a few months ago. And every single person who finds that out wants to know how cold it is. They want to know how bad the winters are and why on earth would we move to Minnesota. It just it instantly breaks people down from that level of professionalism when you show up to a call. I used to say when people would ask me where I lived. I would share that my husband is in the military. So we live wherever the Navy sends us. And it would always disarm people to make them feel like they're talking to a person and less salesy and everything. So I totally agree.
And another one of my tips for that is when you are preparing to talk to a client or to start building that relationship, check out what you can about them online. A lot of people will share things on their LinkedIn or on other social media. And I just openly admit to it like, “Hey, I kind of stalked you a little bit. I saw you run marathons. That's amazing.” People are so flattered by that. They're like, “Oh, yeah, I started doing it five years ago.”
It starts this whole honest communication thing, where you really are trying to get to know them. And you can ask questions about it or use that as an icebreaker. And you're right, it really sets people up to want to continue to work with you, because you took that little bit of extra effort to build a relationship and to have communication.
When I was talking about hopping on the phone and talking about something like that is one reason that Hilary is a big believer in moving some conversations from email to phone as quickly as possible. When they email her and ask what her rates are or something like that, she wants to move that conversation from like cut and dry email to the phone as quickly as possible because she wants them to know that she’s a human. She wants to know that they're human. She wants to figure out how she can help them succeed at their job. If she can write the perfect thing for them, then that's going to help them put food on the table for their family. So as soon as you can, move from email to phone. She thinks that's something that is really not done as much these days as it used to be. But she thinks that that can really be a game changer and building that rapport and building that connection with a client.
I am the same way, I always want my clients to get on the phone with me, even if it is for five minutes, because people can present themselves differently on paper than even in like phone or zoom or Skype communication. So I want them to know I am a real person. I also feel like it's a much better chance for you to convert the sale. If you get one of those emails with like, “Oh, send me your rates.” And then you write back with your rate sheet. It's so impersonal. There's no value demonstrated there.
And the whole conversation is revolving around money, which does not put you in a positive negotiation situation at all. It's very easy for the person on the other end of that computer to open it and think it’s too expensive. But when they've had that conversation with you, they're like, “Man, she really knew her stuff. She seems pretty organized. I saw her website and clients are raving about her. I just need to get this off my plate. Why waste further time thinking about it?” You built up that value there. So I could not agree with Hilary’s advice more.
So many freelancers are like, “Oh, we live in a digital world. Let me just close it over email.” And not everyone can close over email. You're still a stranger to them. So let's take that off the table a little bit and have even a 5-10 minute phone conversation. You're in a much better position there. So I love that advice, because I try to do the same thing.
I want to thank Hilary for agreeing to come on the show and sharing so much of her insight. I think that's going to be really helpful for people who are either new to freelancing or who are thinking about expanding their freelance business. She shared a lot of really valuable insights.
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the advanced freelancing podcast. For more freelance advice, get a copy of my book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business—available now! Buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more.
Hilary Sutton is a writer, speaker, and consultant passionate about helping people spend their days in work that is wildly fulfilling. She is the host of the podcast, “Hustle and Grace” and the author of several eBooks and courses including More in Less: 21 Productivity Hacks for Creatives. Hilary served as professor of communications, social media, and journalism at Southern New Hampshire for five years. She is a freelance writer for hire with expertise in direct response copywriting and content marketing. As a freelancer she has served clients ranging from Broadway shows, to nonprofits large and small, creatives of all stripes, and consumer brands. She has written hundreds of articles in dozens of publications including USA Today and The Washington Post. Hilary and her family live in the DC metro area. Connect with Hilary on Facebook and Twitter @hilarysutton, on Instagram @hilary.sutton and on her website at hilarysutton.com.
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.