Category: self-employment

5 Payment Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Getting Paid When You’re A Freelancer

how to get paid as a freelancer

Cash is King.

Without it, your business is doomed to failure and you’ll be back working in a cubicle before you know it.

Harsh?

Maybe.

But also true.

If you’re a freelancer who is committed to doing this gig thing in the long term, you need to make sure that you get paid consistently and on time.

If you haven’t already, check out my tips for finding new clients – because without clients you aren’t going to get paid a dime anyway.

Now that you have those lovely shiny ideal clients giving you lots of the work that you love, you need to make sure that their lovely shiny money, makes its way into your bank account.

Easier said than done – especially when you hate asking for money?

Not so…

Here are the top 5 payment hacks for getting paid when you’re a freelancer:

 

1. Decide Your Payment Terms

Large companies tend to have monthly payment terms for invoices. That doesn’t mean that you have to.

You’re a freelancer. It’s likely that you work on your own and can’t commit to more than a few projects at once (not without pulling all nighters, never seeing your friends and family, or just not having a life outside work).

Big businesses have lots of employees and high numbers of clients/customers, which is why they can afford to have monthly payment terms. The likelihood is that you can’t do that.

To keep your cash flowing in the right direction – ie into your bank account – have shorter payment terms.

My usual terms are 14 days but I’ve also invoiced on the basis of immediate payment on receipt of the work for writing projects that I’ve delivered where the project is pretty much complete when the writing is sent to the client.

It’s entirely up to you and the type of project you’re working on, but you don’t have to stick to the same terms all the time. I certainly don’t.

The other aspect you want to consider is how you’ll split the payment.

If it’s a small project, you might want to invoice for the entire amount upfront. Or at the end.

For larger projects, I’d recommend splitting the payment – ask for so much upfront, an interim payment and one on delivery of the final piece of work.

Or, for even longer or more regular project work, you might invoice monthly. The choice is yours. And again, you can change according to the project, the client or the type of work.

 

2. Have a Contract

Once you’ve worked out the fine details of the service that you will be providing: when, how and how often – you need to write it all up in a contract that reiterates what you will be delivering to the client and what you expect in return.

Make sure your name, your business name and contact details are on it along with your client’s. Sign it, date it, send two copies to your client and ask them to do the same before returning one to you and keeping one for their own records.

Will this completely avoid bad clients trying not to pay you? No.

Bad clients will do anything to avoid paying you and the trick is to identify them upfront. I could dedicate an entire post to this (in fact, I will) but I’ve usually had an instinct about whether a client is going to be difficult or not and it’s always turned out to be correct.

But will having a contract make good clients think about your terms and make sure that they’re happy with them before committing you to any work? Yes.

It also means that, if there are any niggles or queries about payment, you can both refer back to the contract to see what was agreed, thereby avoiding the need for any long drawn out wranglings over payment (hopefully).

 

3. Have a Separate Bank Account

Even if you’re not running as a formal business, you should still have a separate bank account for your freelance income.

It keeps your earning separate from your household account which has 3 main benefits:

1. it’s less confusing and easier to keep on top of client payments and debits

2. it makes it easier to fill out your tax return as you only have to refer to 1 bank account without having to separate out household and freelance payments/debits

3. if you’re really unlucky and come under investigation by HMRC or IRS (which, by the way, HMRC can do if they feel like it – you don’t have to have been doing anything wrong), it will be much easier if you just have to send them 1 set of bank accounts. Not to mention, it means they won’t be going through your household accounts and seeing how much you spend on underwear, your chocolate addiction or wine!

 

4. Use An Online Payments System

Wave, FreeAgent and FreshBooks are a few of the different accounting apps that you can use for your freelance business. Personally, I use FreeAgent and it has made my accounting life far more straightforward than it used to be.

I can generate all of my invoices from it – and send them out to clients via the system. This has the added benefit of being able to add in reminders, which means that if your invoice goes unpaid after a certain number of days, then the system sends out a reminder without you having to do anything.

You can upload your bank statements, reconcile your payments and fill out your tax return – and all for far less than the cost of an accountant.*

*My last bill for an accountant was £600. FreeAgent costs £180 pa. The above link is an affiliate link.

 

5. Give Added Value

Think about ways that you can add value to your service that will make clients feel happier about paying you – because we all like to feel as though we’re getting value for money, don’t we?

Perhaps you could offer a free initial meeting or 3 months free email or phone support after your project has ended to help clients implement what you’ve put into place for them (just make sure you are very clear about exactly how many hours of support that will be upfront).

If you’re a writer or professional blogger, you could give them a free PDF of 50 blog topics to help them stay on track with their blogging strategy or planners – like a Tweet Scheduler – to help them to stay on top of their social media.

 

Getting paid is often the area that freelancers feel least comfortable with. You don’t like asking for money or you don’t want to keep chasing invoices – or you simply forget to because you’re too busy delivering client work.

These 5 payment hacks mean that clients know where they stand from the start.

They don’t suddenly panic that they have to pay you when they weren’t expecting a bill. (Or maybe they do, but if that’s the case, it’s not because you haven’t given them warning of when to expect your bill).

Personally, I’ve used all of these and so far, I’ve never had to completely right off an invoice as ‘never going to be paid’.

What payment hacks do you have that help to keep your freelance cash flow in the black?

Let me know in the comments below.

 

Help! I don’t have any clients…

how to get clients

Winning clients when you’re a freelancer is pretty much what’s going to make your business a success. After all, they will pay the bills – as well as (hopefully) recommending you to others who will ideally become future clients.

And so the cycle goes on.

But what if you’re just starting out – or if you’re going through a lean patch and can’t find any new clients?

We’ve all been there, but the difference between successful freelancers and those who struggle, is that the former continue to find new clients, and grow their business while the latter never really hit the ground running and constantly feel as though they’re on a hamster wheel of finding clients, delivering work, finding clients, delivering work…

You get the picture.

So, if you’re stuck in a rut, what can you do to find more new clients?

 

1. Do you know who your Ideal Client is?

If you don’t, or if you haven’t thought about it for a while, it might be an ideal to complete your ideal client profile. That way, you will know who you need to be targeting in the first place to win some new business.

Even if you have already done this exercise, it’s worthwhile reviewing your Ideal Client profile every so often to make sure that, as your business evolves, so too does your target market and your strategies for reaching them.

 

2. Go for Low Hanging Fruit

If you’re going through a dry patch in terms of business, it might be worth considering potential clients who are easy for you to reach.

This will include people within your existing networks and local businesses who are easy for you to get in touch with. Low hanging fruit are, essentially, those potential clients that are easiest for you to reach. So, perhaps they might be people that you worked with when you were an employee. Or, if you’re offering a service – like social media management or web design services – low hanging fruit could be potential clients from within the networks you used to work in during your 9 to 5 job.

Figure out who your low hanging fruits are and promote yourself to them.

 

3. Who loves you already?

If you’ve been freelancing for a while now, don’t forget to go back to your former clients. Perhaps you have an additional service or product that offers them an upsell on what they previously bought from you? Or, if you’re a consultant, maybe it’s time for them to review?

Can you offer previous or existing clients an additional service or product that will enhance your previous work with them?

Maybe you could offer training to their staff to help them deliver their marketing, social media, fundraising… whatever your particular field of expertise is? Have a think about all of the different ways you could work with previous clients and go back to them with an offer. After all, they already know, like and trust you.

 

4. Consider building a mailing list.

You’ll have noticed (hopefully) that I have a little sign up box over on the right hand side of this page which gives you one of two different eguides in return for joining my mailing list.

One of the reasons for doing this is to create an audience who are interested in what Apricot Ginger is all about.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should start to write a blog (although I will be covering the reasons why it’s a good idea in a future post) but it still might be worth putting together a mailing list. You could simply add clients to your list and then keep in touch after you’ve finished working with them with news, reviews or helpful tips that relate to your business. Think of it along the same lines as after sales care when you buy a new car.

The advantage of doing this is that you stay on their radar and they consider coming back to you for their future needs.

I’ve had former clients come back to me for hands-on work, additional consultancy and training – all as a result of staying in touch with them in the first place.

One former client called me to say they’d just received my email newsletter and it made them realise I could help them with a project they had coming up.

Out of sight is out of mind. Stay in plain sight & get future work from former clients Click To Tweet

 

5. Be Irresistible

I’m not suggesting getting your hair done, waxing your legs and going to the gym 6 days a week (although I’m not going to stop you from doing that either).

No, what I mean is, figure out what your clients and potential clients really want and make yourself the ‘go to’ person.

How do you do that?

Simple.

Ask them.

Every time you work with a client ask them to complete a short client satisfaction survey that can help you to gather information on why they chose to work with you, what worked, what they’d do differently in future.

Or, if you’re just starting out and you’ve not had any clients yet, approach businesses that you know work with freelancers and ask them why they do that and what they’re looking for.

Then make sure that you are that freelancer who will meet their needs.

 

6. Go the Extra Mile

Offer something that no other freelancer in your niche offers.

Like an initial free 30 minute Skype consult.

Or a free commissioning meeting as part of your consultancy services.

Or 3 months email support after they’ve worked with you.

The trick here is to offer something that is of value to the client but won’t cost you too much to deliver in terms of time or money.

Have a brainstorm about what that might be and put it in to action.

 

Those are just a few ideas on finding new clients when your business has hit a drought. You can get lots more – as well as figuring out how to be more attractive to those potential clients when you find them – by downloading my eguide ‘How To Be A Client Magnet’ – even better, it’s free 🙂

What strategies have worked for you when it comes to finding new potential clients? Please share in the comments below…

7 Essential Skills Every Freelancer Needs

essential freelancer skills
(Can it really be Day 12 of 15 Days to a Successful Freelance Business? Yes, it can).

 

Chances are you’ve spent most of your career so far working for someone else. Maybe you’ve been planning your freelance business in the evenings after work. Or perhaps you’re currently on maternity leave – or have taken time out after having kids.

What if working for an employer or managing a family means you don’t have the skills you need to run your own freelance or home business?

Well, the good news is, you probably do have most of these skills – and the ones that you don’t, you can learn (or delegate).

Top 7 Skills Every Freelancer Needs

 

1. Multi-Tasking

It’s been proven in countless studies that multi-tasking is a bad thing in terms of productivity, action and achievement.

And, while I’m not advocating doing 100 different tasks at once, the reality is that as a freelancer, you are going to have to do WAY more than just your core work if you want your business to be successful.

In other words,

Congratulations on Your New Role as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer!

It’s not as bad as it sounds but you need to get to grips with the fact that you will need to deal with most of the aspects of running a business (funnily enough).

Marketing, invoicing, writing emails & web copy, managing social media, promotions, networking, winning new work, account management, IT issues, purchasing, stationery, petty cash…

You get the picture.

PROS = No two days are ever the same

CONS = You have to do stuff that you hate, or that you have no experience of (although you can turn that into a pro. It is personal development to learn a new skill after all!)

TIP: figure out what your strengths are and where you’re in need of help and either consider outsourcing (you can use low cost sites like UpWork or Ffiver to hire a freelancer to design your logo or put together a basic WordPress site) or invest in some training. Or a combination of both depending on your budget.

 

2. Networking

“But I HATE networking!”

Yep, sure, I know you do. But I’m not talking about sleazy networking events where everyone is selling and no-one is listening to each other. What’s the point of those?

Take a fellow freelancer for a coffee to pick their brains – or discuss potential collaborations.

Meet local small businesses (aka potential clients) at local chamber of commerce events.

Tell everyone that you already know what you’re doing, who you help and that you’re looking for business.

Remember, your network isn’t just your former colleagues or professionals – it’s everyone you know from your neighbours to other parents at the school, to your best friend from school.

PROS = you’re meeting people face to face and have the opportunity to create a great impression and stick in their minds – and vice versa.

CONS = often people struggle with the idea of networking – and if it really is out of your comfort zone, read these tips on how to get the most out of a networking event without ‘selling yourself’.

 

3. Planning

You have this fantastic idea for your freelance business, you have the logo in your mind, and are raring to go – but do you have a clear strategy of where your business is headed, what your vision is, who your ideal client is…?

Planning isn’t sexy. (Although I love planning!)

In my experience there are 2 kinds of people, those who hate planning – so don’t do it or do it badly. And those who love planning – so much so that they often get stuck tweaking their plans rather than taking action.

The truth is that there’s a balance. Make sure you strike it. Get your business objectives and goals written down, write down your marketing strategy – and you will hit the ground running.

PROS = you will know where your business is headed and why which will help you to focus on what you need to do to grow and stop you wasting time on activity that isn’t going to help you to achieve your goals.

CONS = there aren’t any cons to planning really – as long as you build flexibility into your plan with regular reviews, which makes sure that you can take advantage of opportunities and adapt to any challenges that come your way rather than steadfastly sticking to the plan regardless.

TIP: Read this and this and start to sketch out your business and marketing plans today.

 

4. Promotions

Refer to my earlier point – lots of people feel uncomfortable ‘selling themselves’ and saying how good they are. But you know what, you need to get over yourself.

You don’t have to talk endlessly about being a ‘guru’ (frankly, I think that anyone who calls themselves a guru probably isn’t one) or about how wonderful you are.

You don’t have to be the bubbly person at the ‘party’ who everyone loves. Or the loud one who gets everyone’s attention.

Talk confidently about what you do – with the emphasis on the impact that you make to clients. THAT’S what potential clients are interested in.

“I provide small businesses with social media management services. My last client saw sales increase by 50% in the past 6 months, thanks to existing customers making further purchases from them as a direct result of more engagement via social media.”

Is a lot better than:

“I’m a social media maven. I love small businesses and I love Twitter. I can help you to love Twitter too by showing you the results regular engagement can have.”

Both might be true but the former talks about how what you do specifically helps your clients.

But I’ve not had a client yet. What can I say?

Are you doing what you used to do in your previous work? Talk about the difference your work made to your employer. You don’t have to pretend they were a client. People understand that everyone has to start their own business somewhere.

Doing something completely different from your former career?

Why not do some pro-bono work with the specific purpose of getting you a red hot testimonial? Just make sure that you agree the work in return for a testimonial and word of mouth recommendations if they’re happy (which of course, they will be) BEFORE you start the work.

PROS = if you don’t promote your business, you don’t have a business. If this is an area where you really don’t feel comfortable, ask yourself how you can get around that.

I hate making phone calls so I NEVER cold call (although it can have fantastic results, I know). I get around this by sending an email first and then a follow up call, which is far more within my comfort zone as I have a ‘hook’ to discuss.

If you’ve no social media experience – but that’s where your clients are – there are loads of resources online – free and paid – that can help you with this, so you can get started easily. Check out your local business groups to see what training they offer too.

CONS = promotional activity can take up a huge amount of time – and in the early days of your business, you will spend most of your time on this trying to win clients (or you should). Make sure you get a balance between promotions and delivering work to ensure that you can sustain the growth in your business.

TIP: in the early days, promotion will be a huge focus for your business. Once you’re up and running, make sure you schedule in an hour a day (at least) to keep your business name out there and make sure that you are consistently winning new business.

Get my free eguide Be A Client Magnet, that shows you how to successfully win more clients for your freelance business for more advice.

 

5. Resilience

You will market yourself, have a business model that you believe in, and be the best at what you do – but people will still say no.

There will be times when you think you’ve made a perfect pitch to your perfect client and you just don’t get the work.

You will have a pricing structure in place and some potential clients will try to drive your prices down (stay firm unless it’s worth it to your business to take a cut e.g. it’s a good client to add to your CV).

TIP: Remember, when people say no it’s not a reflection of you or your skills. It may be that it’s not the right time for them to consider your services. They may not be able to afford you (in which case, they’re not your ideal client anyway). They may just have brought someone in to do what you’re offering. The list goes on.

People will say no and you don’t have time to be crushed by it. Be disappointed that you’re not going to get a chance to work with them and then move on.

 

 

6. A Sense of Humour

Don’t worry, you don’t have to become a stand up comedian and make your clients laugh – but when the computer won’t connect to your WiFi, and you have 3 hours internet research to do for a client; when your client comes back with YET ANOTHER set of changes; when your youngest has used up all of your paper on her ‘art project’ – you will need a sense of humour.

Try not to let everything that goes wrong send you into a tailspin. Your stress levels will thank you for it.

Clients understand IT issues – they have them too.

Try to smile – even if you don’t feel like it – when those changes come through – it’ll change your attitude to dealing with them.

And printing stuff off on paper isn’t good for the environment anyway.

 

7. Ingenuity

All of the above of course leads me to possible, the most important skill of all:

INGENUITY

Printer broken? Send it as a PDF.

WiFi playing up? Head to the nearest library or cafe.

Kids driving you crazy and you’ve a deadline to meet? Organise a playdate with their friends (at their friends house obviously!)

Of course, if you’re also a parent, you’ll already have this skills in spades.

 

These are the skills that I’ve had to call upon during my 7 years of running a freelance business. Are there any others you would add to the list?

 

 

 

Hard Lessons I’ve Learned in 7 Years as a Freelancer

lessons for freelancers
Day 11 of 15 Days to a Successful Freelance Business – a reality check

It’s no secret that I love the freelance life and the freedom and opportunities it brings that just aren’t possible when you have a boss, and a long commute.

However, it’s not all coffee mornings, dog walks and smiles.

Sometimes it’s stressful.

Sometimes it’s lonely.

And frankly, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’ve done.

Of course, I’m here to help make your Journey to Freelance a wee bit easier, but there are hard lessons to be learned along the way, and it does no-one any favours if I don’t at least mention them.

 

1. Your Earnings Are Likely to Drop

Yep, I’m sure you’ve read loads of blog posts about people who are raking in 6 figure salaries in part-time hours that they could never have dreamed of when they were employees. But the reality for most freelancers is that your earnings are likely to drop before they start to increase.

You are probably starting from ground zero.

You may never have had to market yourself before.

And it’s quite possible that you don’t have a ready made list of clients.

Instead of every day spent working on projects and client work – like you do in your employed life – you will have to spend huge amounts of time marketing yourself and your freelance business AND doing admin. You don’t get paid for these activities.

Of course, many of us go on to enjoy good earnings on part-time or flexible hours – just don’t kid yourself that it’s going to happen from the start (although I’m sure it does for some people, I suspect they are in the minority).

It took me 3.5 years before I was back to earning anything like I used to in my previous well-paid job. This is partly because I took the decision to cut my hours – so in fact, I was earning what I used to but in less hours – but it is mainly because I underestimated how much time I would have to spend on marketing, networking and admin.

Most small businesses spend 20 hours a week on marketing & promotion Click To Tweet

 

2. You Will Work Long Hours

I had this Utopian dream in which I only worked school hours, earned a nice amount of money, and took off all of the school holidays.

Pah!

The reality is that I started out working while the kids were at school, picking them up, feeding them, ferrying them to various activities, and then working again once they were tucked up in bed until about midnight before starting the whole rollercoaster at 6am the following morning.

I have always taken off Christmas, but usually only manage a few days at half term, and Easter and – apart from this summer – I’ve only ever taken off 2 of the 7 weeks summer vacation that they have here.

Now that I’ve been freelancing for a few years now, I don’t have to put in such long hours, but I still work at least 4 evenings per week. I work 14 hour days on a Monday (because my other half is off work and so does all the child-ferrying/dog walking activities) and I usually work while the kids are doing their homework or are at their various after school activities on the other days.

 

3. You Have to Do Stuff You Don’t Like

In my old job, I didn’t have to order stationery – the administrator did that.

I didn’t have to figure out the database – we had a database manager for that.

And I never had to remember invoices or check payments, because our operations manager did all of the financials.

Fast forward to now and I have to order the stationery, change the ink in the printer, manage the budget, market & promote the business, liaise with printers/designers, manage my website – including all of the updates, issues, plugins and problems. And I have to file my annual tax return.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the marketing and promotions side – just as well, as it takes up a huge amount of time – but invoicing and chasing those invoices. Hmm, not so much.

Until your business has got to the point where you can outsource some of these activities – and some will never be worth your while outsourcing I would say – you will have to be chief cook and bottle washer.

 

4. You Will Find Out Who Your Friends Are

Not strictly work related, but I was surprised to find so many naysayers in my life when I started my freelance consultancy business.

People who thought I was crazy giving up my highly paid ‘management’ job (I hate managing staff).

People who scoffed at my idea of writing a business blog and selling ebooks, who questioned why I used social media (as though I was some sort of saddo who needed attention from strangers rather than, you know, using it to promote my business).

People who couldn’t wait to point out job adverts for work I could be doing – instead of freelancing (as though it wasn’t a career choice in the first place).

Some of these people were good friends of mine. Or at least, so I thought.

While I’m not suggesting that I fell out with everyone who had something negative to say, I was surprised that some of these friends weren’t more supportive.

As I said in my last post, you need to surround yourself with positive people if you’re going to stay productive. So, while I haven’t had any major bust ups, there are a few people that I don’t see quite as much of these days.

 

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
Alice Walker

 

5. The Buck Stops With You

If there are any mistakes with client work that you’ve missed because you’ve been juggling work – or because you’re human – you have to take it on the chin and face up to the fact that it was down to you.

No-one is going to chase that late invoice – you know, the big one that you really need paid because it’s nearly Christmas? – except you.

And those business cards that came back with a mistake in your email address? That’s because you forgot to proof it.

Frankly, I like the fact that the buck stops with me and that successes – as well as failures – are down to my hard work (or lack of), but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there are times when it would be nice to hand the responsibility over to someone else. But that person doesn’t exist.

 

6. It’s Lonely

I work from home and, while Murdo is here to keep me company, it’s not quite the same as having a good old natter with a work colleague over lunch. Or coffee. Or in the ladies loos (gossip related in those circumstances, of course).

I really like my own company and don’t need to be surrounded by people all of the time – in fact, I need my own company. But there are still days when it would be good to have a blether with someone to bounce off ideas or have a moan or just try to figure out a problem. Of course, you can get a business mentor or join networking groups – but sometimes you just have a need to vent about something there and then. I’ve found Murdo and the cats don’t really pay that much attention. And their advice is rubbish!

 

If any or all of the above has you questioning whether or not you want to do this freelance business thing – then good.

You will have given it serious thought and consideration (probably more than I did to begin with) and will know for sure if it’s the right life for you.

Yes, there’s tough stuff and hard lessons and crap to deal with when you run your own freelance business.

But there’s also…

Freedom to work the hours you want, to choose the work you want (probably not in the early days though) and to choose the direction you want your business to take

A determination to work hard and work long hours BECAUSE it’s your baby and you want to make it work

Passion and enthusiasm about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it

New ideas, new people and opportunities to branch out and learn more skills than ever before

Control of your own destiny – much more than you ever had as an employee

Excitement of having your own business and determining which way you want it to go

And, my personal favourite, an extra 4 or 5 hours spent with the kids EVERY DAY that I wouldn’t have had when I worked full-time hours with a 1 hour commute each way. They are, after all, only ‘on loan’ until they become adults and make their own way in the world, so I’d rather make the most of it while they still need their Mum.

 

So, have these lessons from a seasoned freelancer completely put you off – or made you more determined than ever? Or, if you freelance already, do you have any other hard lessons to add to the list?

 

UPDATE: Just read this post on Work Awesome – which sums up some of the above beautifully, and also gives 5 questions you should ask yourself BEFORE quitting your job to start your business. Great read!

41 Ways to Be A More Productive Freelancer

how to be more productive as a freelancer

About 15 years ago, I had a job where I worked from home.

When I got the job, I was delighted.

No commute.

Managing my own workload.

Working in my PJs.

Perfect.

2 months later, my house was spotless (and I mean, deep cleaned from top to bottom), I’d planned an entire house makeover – including colours and new furniture, and I’d gotten to know my new neighbours really, really well.

It was at that point that I asked my new employer if I could get a desk in the local office.

Safe to say, I discovered that I wasn’t hugely disciplined when it came to working from home the first time around.

8 years later, I set up my first consultancy business and – knowing myself so well – decided that if I was going to be a success, that I’d better put a few systems in place to help me be more productive.

Of course, working for myself did give me a certain ‘hunger’ for success that I didn’t have when I had an employer. And my circumstances had changed – I had 2 young kids and really wanted to work from home to be around for them.

But still, I was slightly worried I might fall into my former unfocused ways. So here are the tips that work for me (and no, I do not always stick to them rigidly – I’m human!) so please feel free to swipe them and adapt them for you.
how to be a more productive freelancer

41 Ways to Stay Productive as a Freelancer / If You Work From Home

1. Focus on a Single Purpose – keep your top business priorities in mind and focus on doing what it takes to achieve them. So my absolute priorities are to deliver a quality service to my clients, to help other freelancers, and to run a successful home based business that contributes to the family finances each and every month. If I find myself working on a project or task that isn’t going to help to meet one of these top priorities then I am ruthless about dropping it. I learned this through bitter experience of focusing on the wrong things, accepting the ‘wrong’ work and just generally being unfocused.

2. Avoid Distractions – obvious one here but turn off your email. Take your social media off your phone and don’t have it open on the desk top. I would say turn off your phone, but I personally keep mine switched on in case the school calls about either of my kids – but you can always turn the volume down if you find you are getting endless calls.

Switch off app notifications in the settings so you’re not constantly being ‘pinged’ when someone follows you on Twitter or Pinterest. You could even try switching on the radio and listening to some music if you find that helps you to focus and switch off from any outside distractions (like the builders who are building an extension on my neighbour’s house!!!)

3. Avoid Meetings – OK, this is a difficult one but do you really need to have a meeting or could you do it over the phone? I used to work in a university and they LOVE to have meetings about everything. It was a great way of meeting colleagues in a large organisation, but it wasn’t always an effective use of time. If you really can’t avoid a meeting, set strict deadlines. And stick to them. This rule applies to Skype calls and webinars too.

4. Have an Agenda – following on from that, if you have an agenda, it’s easier to stick to the timings of meetings etc.

I even write out agendas prior to client phone calls to make sure that a) we cover everything and b) we focus on what needs to be done without going off on tangents. Of course, it’s tempting to have a chat about other things – especially as I work from home and Murdo isn’t always the chattiest of companions – but it won’t help you to stay on task.

5. Block Off Times To Work on Specific Activities. Will you get distracted sometimes? Yes, of course, you will. But blocking off time helps you to maintain focus.

I block off chunks of time for promotional activity, writing, client work, guest posts etc. at the start of the week. This has the added bonus of avoiding the endless ‘to do’ list full of little tasks. (see my diary below – and yes, I do block in time to walk the dog and go for a run!)

how to be a productive freelancer

6. Know Yourself Better – We’re all different and all work differently. If you’re better at writing first thing, block off time to do that then. If you’re better at research in the morning, do it then. Knowing when you are most productive – and what tasks give you energy (or do the opposite) will help you to figure out what to do and at which times of the day. There’s a great post on productivity that was written for bloggers – but the rules pretty much apply to anyone working for themselves.

7. Chunk Similar Activities Together – I draft posts for this blog, my other blog and my clients at the same time. They are similar activities and so I get in the flow of doing this. I then write posts in batches – and if writing is an activity that you need to do in your business, take a look at Ali Luke’s post on Boost Blog Traffic about being a more productive writer – it’s gold, and I’ve adopted a few of her tips.

I also have specific times for doing admin or promotional activities. And, as I’ve written about before, I chunk my social media in batches too.

8. Get Up Earlier – for those of you who know me, I can hear your hollow laughter so stop it! I am NOT a morning person and much prefer working in the evenings, but as my kids get older, they go to bed later and so I’ve had to switch from working in the evenings to the mornings. This would have been impossible for me a few years ago when my son used to get up at 5.30am – no way I could get up at 4.30am like Gina Horkey! – but now that he’s almost a teenager and I need to crowbar him out of bed, I set my alarm for 6am and get a good hour of emails and social media done before he’s up. (My daughter has always been far more sensible – ie like her mother – when it comes to mornings).

9. Group Interruptions – if you know that there are certain household chores that need doing during the working week – like calls to suppliers or deliveries – then chunk these together too. Lunchtime is a good time to do this, or I finish up half an hour earlier than usual and do them at the end of the working day.

10. Outsource Chores – when you’re starting out in your freelance business, this might not be possible financially, but if you can share the household work with your other half – or the little darlings – then do that. My son (12) washes the car, walks the dog and feeds the animals, my daughter (9) cleans her room (ahem!). My other half does the bins, dishwasher and bathrooms and I’m in charge of shopping, cooking (I’m the only one who doesn’t burn water!) and laundry (I’m here to hang it out and bring it in when the inevitable rain starts). The other stuff we all pick up at the weekends.

11. Have Email Rules – I like this one. As well as not keeping your email open, I’ve read a few articles about keeping your emails to a maximum length. 5 sentences seems to be the recommended max. This stops you from sending rambling emails that take you an hour to edit, and makes you get to the point.

Another idea is to only check your email in the afternoon, so you can focus your work in the morning without any distractions. But this can be a bad idea if you’ve had an email in overnight that needs quick action. I check my emails first thing – that hour before the kids get up – and if there’s no crisis to be averted or urgent actions, I deal with them later in the day.

12. Use Technology – I know some people hate tech but when there are so many tools out there that can make you more productive, it’s worth using them. Here are a few of my favourites – and they’re mostly free too, which is even better!

13. Read It Later – my latest favourite tool is Pocket – kind of like a bookmark, it’s an app where you can add interesting online articles as you come across them and then I read them on the app on my phone when I have time later rather than interrupting the working day.

14. Perfect Doesn’t Exist – I’ve procrastinated on product launches, dithered over sending emails, and spent hours tweaking blog posts that were already fine as they were. If you don’t get anything out there, you don’t have a business. And if you keep procrastinating, it will kill your productivity stone dead.

 

The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.

Seth Godin

 

15. Use the Rule of 3 – set yourself 3 goals for the day at the start of each day – make them big goals that have tasks attached to them.

So, for example, I will set myself the goal of drafting several blog posts in the morning – which includes research, promotional activity – e.g. emailing potential clients & promoting on social media, and dealing with admin – comments on blog, updating social media

16. Keep your Desk Tidy – a messy desk may be the sign of an organised mind but, in reality, it’s usually a sign that you’ll spend an hour looking for a vital piece of paperwork only to discover it’s right under your nose.

Have a filing system.

I have 3 folders – shred, read, file. I sort paperwork out into these as I go and spend an hour a week sorting them. (I have to admit, I am way behind on the filing part…)

17. Stop Watching TV – or batch your favourite programmes and watch them on catch up TV all in one go. But don’t spend evenings in front of the box when you could be working on a new product launch, finding new clients, or creating a new business idea. Or doing your tax return.

18. Get Into a Routine – Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter has themes for each day of his working week – like marketing on a Monday, idea generation on a Tuesday and so on.  Evan Williams, founder of Blogger, takes the middle of the day off. And Winston Churchill started the working day from his bed.

Whatever helps you, having a routine will create focus, as it means you will know what you’re doing when, and will help you to avoid time spent panicking in front of the computer with the sheer scale of what you have to do. I aim to write in the morning, and do admin/promotion in the afternoon.

And I take a Friday off.

19. Learn To Say No – It is tempting in the early days to say yes to everything. But since I learned to say no, I’ve created more focus – and earned more money as a result. Focus on what you need to do to get the job done. People will respect you for it if you do it well.

20. Focus On What You Do Best – again, in the early days, you are likely to have to do everything in your business due to a lack of extra cash. But, as the business grows, try to outsource tasks – particularly those that don’t play to your strengths.

Get your business cards and logo designed on Ffiver, spend some money getting someone to create a decent WordPress template for you or to set up your mailing list/newsletters.

how to be a more productive freelancer

21. Look After Yourself – get some exercise, get out in the fresh air, drink plenty water, and eat a healthy diet. You’ll feel better, have more energy and be more creative as a result.

I walk the dog, go for a run 3 times a week and do the school run every day (on foot – not in the car). It gets me out in the fresh air, gives me the chance speak to friends, and keeps me fit. And I’m 14lbs lighter than I was when I commuted 60 miles a day.

(But no, I still don’t drink enough water!)

22. Stop Writing a ‘To Do’ List! – instead, chunk up the day and focus on the bigger aspects that you need to cover rather than writing endless lists of smaller tasks, which will just overwhelm you. So Promotions, Writing, Research – three big headings for the day but each will have smaller tasks within them. Just don’t endlessly list them out.

23. Use Your Time Wisely – when you freelance, you have no commute and that gives you extra time in the day to work.

Or, if you’re out walking or running, why don’t you subscribe to a podcast or download an audible book to keep your skills up.

24. Use Your Commute – of course, if you’re still working and are setting up your freelance business as a side hustle, then why not use your commute time to listen to podcasts/books?

25. Stop Multi-Tasking – when you work from home, it’s tempting to do all the housework, run your business, deal with personal finances and everything else throughout the day (see my earlier experience of working from home for evidence of that!).

But that means you’re not remotely focused. Sure, being at home should be an advantage and mean you can get through the work, but try to keep your personal or household chores to specific times – like lunchtime or after school.

26. Disappear – if you can, switch off your phone, go work in the library, turn off your social media – and FOCUS.

27. Delete Tasks – As author Cathy Presland’s says, ask yourself:

Is this contributing to my financial goals for the month,

Does this fit with my vision for the business,

Am I working to my strengths?

If a task doesn’t answer yes to at least one of these, then take it off the list.

28. Get Up to Speed – check your priorities the night before so you have a clear idea of what you will be working on tomorrow. Now you can have everything set up in advance.

Including the right mindset.

29. Deal with the Worst First – there is a lot of advice out there about doing your worst or most difficult task first.

To be honest, this doesn’t work for me as I need to get into my work flow a bit before tackling these sort of jobs – but if it works for you great!

And, if you’re like me, then try doing a few easier tasks first, and then tackle your worst job. What I always aim to do is get any difficult tasks out of the way in the morning.

30. Know When You’re Done – if you have specific goals for projects (which is my way of saying – you should have specific goals for your projects) then you’ll know when you’ve reached them.

31. Be Accountable – when you work on your own, it’s easy to get lost in your work and lose focus – particularly when you have a large number of projects that you’re working on.

Share your goals with others – friends or family or other freelancers that you work with (not your clients!) – and you’ll soon discover that, by being held accountable, you will increase your productivity.

32. Set Up the Right Environment – if you work from the kitchen table and are constantly distracted by noise, household chores or people coming in and out of the room, you’re not going to be hugely productive.

Get a workspace that is calm, where you can work in peace – or alternatively, where you can open the door and share the buzz if that’s what you prefer. Keep your desk clear and your space organised and notice the increase in your productivity as a result.

33. Delegate

I delegated the areas I struggled with to people who also believed in the project. This freed up my time to focus on what I was good at.

Sir Richard Branson

(And who am I to argue with Sir Richard?)

34. Do Small Tasks Quickly – you will have small things that need done during the day. Emails that need to be sent, newsletters that you have to schedule or tweets that have to be sent. Do these tasks quickly and move on.

35. Stay On Track – if you’ve blocked off chunks of time in your diary for specific tasks, stick to them. I’m not going to lie, I find this one difficult – especially if I’m in the midst of writing. However, if you get to the end of one blocked off timed project, and you haven’t finished the task in hand, try moving on to the next one (unless it’s vital that you finish it today). If you have no time left in your diary that week for that particular task, can you get up earlier to do it or work on it later once the kids have gone to bed? Try to stick to your schedule as much as possible or your whole day is at risk of backing up. Once you’ve been freelancing for a while, you will get more of an idea of how long things will take too, so this will get easier.

how to be a more productive freelancer

36. Congratulate Yourself – give yourself rewards for finishing projects. Even something as small as having a coffee (and a cake!) when you’ve finished up working on your ideal client profile or updating your LinkedIn profile, for example. Small rewards are a good way of breaking up the day and moving on to the next chunk of work in a positive frame of mind.

37. Unsubscribe – OK, obviously I’m keen that you keep receiving my newsletter 😉 but how many emails do you receive in your inbox daily that you just don’t read? Pick 2 or 3 that you really read and use – and delete the rest. Or, if there are any emails that you just can’t bear to unsubscribe from, try having them sent direct into a specific Email Subs folder – rather than clogging up your Inbox.

38. Stay Positive – ban negative people and negativity from your life, and you are more likely to stay positive and on track as a result.

If you really can’t ban them (ie it’s your spouse or your mother!) then try to keep contact outside your working hours – and try not to discuss work with them (difficult in the case of your spouse).

39. Review – look at your progress each day, week and month. Are you getting through the work or are you becoming distracted? Look at where your focus is best and worst. What can you change to improve? Is there anything you can learn from when you are best focused that you can transfer to those times when you can’t focus?

I love writing and I am BAD at letting it take over my entire day. But ask me to call people, and I’ll do anything to avoid it. The solution – for me at least – is to work on the projects that I love first, then make a couple of calls, then go back to the work that I enjoy most, like a spot more writing or some social media. Or strategy and planning. I love strategy and planning (I am a freak, I know). Creating a little phone call sandwich in the middle makes it easier for me to get it all done.

40. Have Plans – I love a good business plan or a marketing plan, not least because they help you to stay productive. If you know where you’re going – and why – it’s easier to stay focused.

If you haven’t already, write your plans, even an outline is good, and (MOST IMPORTANT BIT HERE) review them regularly!

Aim to look at your marketing plan monthly and your business plan quarterly as a minimum. This will help you to get back on track if you’re becoming distracted – or decide to ditch what isn’t working and stop it using up valuable time.

how to be a productive freelancer

41. Time Out – if you’ve really hit a wall – and let’s face it, we all have days like that – then it might be that you need to switch of the computer and your phone and have a duvet day. Or visit friends. Or go for a long walk on the beach. Whatever recharges your batteries. There are times when you just can’t do any more and fighting it might be the worst thing you can do.

The beauty of working for yourself is that you have the option to do this. Just try not to roll one day off into an entire week!

BONUS TIP:

And Finally… At the end of the working day, focus on one specific task and complete it. Then finish up for the day. Completing a task at the end of the day is good for boosting your mood AND starting the following day with a positive mindset.

 

Phew! And that’s the end of the list. Thanks for sticking with it.

What ways do you use to stay productive?

How to Create the Perfect Freelance LinkedIn Profile

how to create a perfect freelance linkedin profileNow that you’ve decided to set up your own freelance business, you’re possibly thinking about your website and other social media channels, but have you remembered your LinkedIn profile?

Do you even have one? (Do you need one?)

Today, I am delighted to be restarting my 15 Days to a Successful Freelance Business series (after a wee break for the summer hols) and – inspired by the need to start promoting my business now that my main job between the hours of 8.30 – 3.00 isn’t childcare – I thought I’d start with a little post about how to create the perfect freelance LinkedIn profile to help you to stand out from the crowd and win you some work!

Taking a step back though, you might be wondering why you should even bother with LinkedIn in the first place, so here are a few stats for you to consider:

380 million people worldwide are on LinkedIn

It’s used in over 200 countries across the globe

56% of users are male while 44% are female

87% of users are 35+

 

Yeah but isn’t it more for people in the US?

Nope. 70% of LinkedIn users are outside the USA

 

But I’m already on Twitter and Facebook, do I really need to bother with LinkedIn too?

Aha, yes, here’s the biggie. I know that social media can be overwhelming and I also know that people want to keep it as simple as possible. What I’m suggesting though is that, as a freelancer, perhaps you might want to consider that LinkedIn probably isn’t the one platform to ignore.

Like I say, I’m not here to make life complicated for anyone but when you consider that 45% of people on LinkedIn are decision makers (as compared to only 25 – 29% on Twitter and Facebook) AND that the average household income for members on LinkedIn is higher than the other two social media platforms, then surely it’s worth considering? After all, it will put you on a platform where you have access to key decision makers who have greater spending power than on any other social media channel.

So, what am I saying?

If you’re running a freelance business and you want to work with medium to large scale businesses, then it may be better to invest some time on LinkedIn to begin with.

Of course, if your audience is in the 18 – 34 age range, then by all means focus your efforts elsewhere, but I’m guessing that most people reading this will want to sell their freelance services – or their small business products – to businesses or individuals who are potentially in the 35+ age group.

And if you’re providing a business to business service, then I’d say that you definitely need a LinkedIn profile.

OK, that’s the sales pitch over (not that I’m selling anything to be clear – and if you’d like more stats before making your decision, you can find more about LinkedIn here).

Now let’s get on to creating the perfect LinkedIn profile for your freelance business.

First of all, there are three things that you want from your LinkedIn profile:

1. You want it to make you easier to find

2. You want it to be eye-catching

3. You want it to tell people what you do and – more importantly – how you can help them.

All of which means, that before you even consider making it look beautiful, you want to make sure that it’s set up for people to be able to find you.

If you already have a LinkedIn profile, the first step is to check out your profile by clicking on ‘view public profile’.

Then, you want to sign out of LinkedIn completely, head on over to Google and search for yourself or your business.

Are you showing up in the searches under your LinkedIn profile (or anywhere else for that matter)?

If not, you need to enhance your profile to get yourself noticed more readily.

Your profile should communicate WHO you are, WHO you help, and HOW you help people.

 

What’s in a Headline?

Think of this as your ‘elevator pitch’. Use keywords in your headline and make it (and you) sound compelling. What you’re aiming to do here is to show that you’re an expert in your particular field.

Stuff your headline with keywords that you want to show up for. Like ‘Graphic Designer’ or ‘Freelance Writer’ – but for a really good headline, add in what you do and how you help people.

Instead of just listing your job title, think about answering this question:

You help who with what?

There’s a good article here with some examples of headlines – and you can hop on over to Laura Roeder’s how to post that shows exactly how to make those changes.

 

perfect freelance linkedin profile

Lights, camera…

Make sure you have a proper headshot on LinkedIn. This isn’t Facebook.

People don’t want to see your cat. Or a selfie.

It shouldn’t be an image cropped from a night out or of you living the party life (unless of course, that’s what your brand is all about).

Get a proper headshot done. You don’t have to go to the expense of hiring a photographer. Just make sure the lighting is good, you look good and get someone who is halfway decent with a camera to take your photo.

That’s my Mum out of the equation. We have countless family photos where the entire family is headless thanks to her camera skills. Not that any of you were thinking of asking her anyway… 😉

You could make your headshot more interesting by showing you doing your job (if it makes for an interesting picture and, of course, depending on what you do. I doubt anyone really wants to see a dentist performing an extraction!)

 

What’s Your Background?

You can also make your profile more visually appealing by changing the background. Consider creating a custom background using PicMonkey or Canva to adapt images or your logo to fit the template LinkedIn require.

Get creative and grab attention.

You can find a few more tips on creating an eye-catching LinkedIn background in this article – and it’s definitely worth considering to make your profile stand out from the crowd.

 

In a Nutshell

Next, you want to make sure that you write a good summary.

It needs to be succinct, it should communicate what you do and how you help people (that old chestnut again) and it should include plenty of keywords that you want to be found for.

So if you’re offering social media management or content creation – say it in here (as well as in your headline). If you’re not sure what to include, you can get some inspiration from others who are doing a good job of it here.

(And here’s mine)

create the perfect freelance linkedin profile

Showcase Your Best Work

My advice here would be to make sure that you don’t simply write down EVERYTHING that you’ve every worked on. Instead, you want to make sure that you showcase your best work.

List your top 5 biggest achievements that are relevant to the field that you’re working in right now. Highlight them and draw attention to the work that you are proud of and, more importantly, that you are looking to do more of.

Include any awards that you’ve won and mention any publications that you’ve been featured in or have written for.

There’s an option to include any media that you’ve produced or worked on – and it’s a great way of creating eye-catching content that you can link to.

So if you’re a graphic designer or video producer, for example, link to your work here. Or if you’ve featured in any publications, as I mentioned above, you can include links to the articles in here too.

I write for an entrepreneurship blog, and include links to the articles here as well as links to Apricot Ginger posts, so people can see the type of work that I’ve created.

There’s also a section on Membership of Professional Organisations – make sure that you fill that in too.

Only include relevant work in your work history section. Yes, LinkedIn will probably encourage you to fill out everything, but is it really relevant that you worked in a coffee shop after graduation?

 

Projects

Here you can link to any projects that you’ve worked on – so publications that you’ve written, blogs that you write for or other work that you’ve produced.

You could also consider adding in any links to any lead magnets (which is a short report that you produce in exchange for someone’s email address) under the projects section too. Try not to make it too promotional, but if you produce a giveaway that encourages people to join your list and that is relevant to the work that you do – or is a good showcase of your expertise (and if it’s not, why do you have it?) then link to it here.

I also include a link to my own lead magnet in my profile – which if you’ve missed is top right of this page – 10 Essential Steps to Launching Your Freelance Business

creating the freelance linkedin profile

Get Noticed

Now that you’ve made your profile look beautiful, you want to make yourself easier to find – which is how you are going to start to show up when you Google your name + LinkedIn in the future.

The easiest way to do this is to join groups that you’re interested in or that are relevant to your field. My advice would be to join as many as possible and then, once you’ve hung around them for a few weeks, you’ll start to get a feel for which ones you’re are most closely affiliated to (or most interested in).

Start commenting in the groups that you really like, and share any interesting links or start discussions in these groups.

DO NOT endlessly self promote.

You want to show yourself off as an expert by sharing useful content, not by boring people to death by talking about yourself all the time.

Start connecting with people in your LinkedIn groups – particularly those that you think you could partner with or who could become clients. Don’t make it too spammy though. Just send an inmail asking to connect, and say that you noticed they’re in the same group as you – or that you appreciated their comment or like about something that you posted (or that you liked one of their posts and why).

Start to view other people’s profiles that you’d like to connect with. They will notice that you’ve viewed them and may ask to connect up. Similarly, if someone views your own profile, follow up with them with a simple: ‘I notice that you’d viewed my profile, is there anything I can help with?’

You’ll notice that there’s a section on recommendations, so start to recommend your contacts and they may return the favour (or you could even ask them to). The best way to go about this is to only make recommendations where you really know that the person is an expert in this particular field – otherwise, you risk recommending someone who might not be as good as they say they are!

Use your status updates to post interesting, engaging articles that are relevant to your field. Relevancy is the key to making your LinkedIn profile as powerful as possible.

 

Get Writing

A really good way to improve your ability to be found is by getting published on LinkedIn Pulse – which is a way of sharing any content that you’ve created directly onto LinkedIn (instead of simply linking to your own website or blog).

Remember what I said about 380 million people using LinkedIn worldwide? Well, imagine those people having access to your content. Pretty powerful stuff.

It means that your content on LinkedIn is usually easier for people to come across that your own blog or website and will bring you to the attention of a greater number of people worldwide.

 

Now that you’ve made your profile look beautiful, you might want to read this article by William Arruda on 22 LinkedIn Secrets LinkedIn Won’t Tell You – which tells you how to really make the most of your activity on LinkedIn. It makes for good reading…

 

And that’s it. My top tips for creating the perfect freelance LinkedIn profile. Is there anything that you’ve found particularly useful or that has helped you to be found on LinkedIn? As ever, let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

12 Best Small Business Tools

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small business tools

When you’re running a small business, particularly when you’re just starting out, money can be tight, so here are my top 12 best small business tools that won’t break the bank but will help increase your productivity.

(SOME OF THE LINKS ARE AFFILIATE LINKS)

Planning

Trello helps you to plan and organise projects, and share them with your team. You can plan out marketing campaigns, product launches, website creation – whatever you are working on. Then, you can assign these tasks to others with dates for completion and notes alongside task, which they can then mark off once they’re complete. You can create checklists, add content from the web, add comments, schedule times and add labels. Trello is free to use and even if you don’t have a team, I find it helpful for planning blog posts, particularly if I am running a particular campaign to promote specific eproducts or training that I’m delivering.

best small business tools
Evernote is a workspace that can also be used to organise your projects and campaigns. Use it to store, organise and share content with your team. When I was writing my ebook for non-profits, I used it to clip articles and research from the web and store it all in a notebook that I’d created in Evernote. All of my research sources were then in one place, which helped the writing process flow more easily AND made it easy to find and credit my sources too. The basic package is free and the most expensive is £34.99 pa.

small business tools

Operations

Skype is the low cost/free (depending on what you’re using it for) way to make calls. For a small cost, you can get your own dedicated number with your a local dial code, which anyone dialling will only be charged local rates for regardless of where they are. It’s also a great way for liaising with clients or working with remote teams, as you can use the video call setting to feel as though you’re in the room with people. I particularly like the record feature which means that, if I am doing a Skype consult with a client, I can record it and then send it onto them to keep for future reference.

FreeAgent is the accounting software that I use for sending out my invoices, keeping track of my payments and helping me to fill out my tax returns. This is for UK based businesses only – as it sets out your tax for HMRC purposes rather than the IRS. My favourite feature is the payment reminder scheduler. No matter how good your clients are – even some of my very best clients have been terrible at paying on time – there will be times when you need to chase invoices. By setting up a reminder email series when you create your invoice, you don’t have to keep remembering to go back and chase them – the system will do it for you as often as you like. At £180 pa for sole traders it’s not cheap – but then again, when you compare it to the cost of an accountant, it’s an absolute bargain!

small business tools

Marketing/Communications

MailChimp is email marketing software that allows you to manage all of your subscribers in one place, send out email campaigns, run split tests. It will help you to optimise your emails by advising when you should send, and giving you detailed analytics on open and click rates. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t have first hand experience of MailChimp but I will be using it for Apricot Ginger in the near future. Free for up to 2,000 subscribers, this is perfect for small business startups. You can send out professional looking emails in a range of different formats and templates, without having any design experience. And the best part? You can figure out what your customers are interested in (or not).

Prezi is presentation software – think PowerPoint on caffeine. It allows you to create and share presentations that look as though a professional designer had created them. I’ve used it for training sessions, web presentations – and even to create video footage for my YouTube video series (I added the voiceovers using GarageBand on my iMac). In my personal opinion, Prezi is a cut above PowerPoint in terms of usability, as well as giving a professional edge to the overall look and feel of your presentations. Prices start from $0 for the basic package to $159 pa – well worth the investment.

Canva is the place I go to when I need to create graphics for my blog (like the one above). You can use their free images and text (there are lots to choose from), upload your own or pay a small amount (usually around $1) for graphics on their site. As well as making your blog images look a cut above the rest, you can also use it to create images for Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or headers for your emails. It doesn’t stop there though, as you can also use it for offline purpose, such as tickets or posters, as Canva gives you the option to download the image in various versions – some that are good enough to print, others that you can use online. Personally, I love Canva!

 

Sales

ejunkie is the platform I use to sell my ebooks. At an affordable $5 per month, all you need to do is upload your product to ejunkie, set the price (you can also run discounts or offer codes), add in details such as for the sales process, then add the html script that ejunkie generates to the webpage you are selling your product from. Then you can start promoting your product. ejunkie carries out all of the fulfillment (ie it sends on the product to your customer), processes the payment and applies any discounts that you have set up. You can also add your products to their affiliates scheme – or join other sellers affiliates schemes and start earning money that way too.

PayHip is my new selling platform love. Similar to ejunkie – although without the monthly charge – you can use it to sell your ebooks only, but I’ve been really happy with it. Again, you just set up your prices and discount codes, get your html script (in the form of a payment button that you add to your site) and PayHip then deals with all of the payment processing/order fulfilment. The charge is 5% per transaction.

 

Social Media

Hootsuite is my one stop shop when it comes to scheduling my social media. There’s a free version (which I use) or a business version which comes in at £6.99 per month. As I said in my post about improving your online presence, you shouldn’t rely on this for all of your social media communications, but for a small business short on time and resources, scheduling in some of your updates is a fantastic way of making sure your brand is promoted consistently. They also have analytics so you can track which of your content is being shared. I particularly like the fact that you can use it to set up your messages in advance for Twitter, Google +, Linked In – whatever.

small business tools
Facebook Scheduler – you can use Hootsuite to schedule in your Facebook messages too, but apparently, Facebook doesn’t like that, which I suspect means it either doesn’t promote these messages in other people’s feeds or they don’t show up properly. I’m not entirely sure but either way, I tend to schedule in my Facebook updates direct through Facebook itself (which is of course, all part of their plan). It’s easy to use and, if Facebook is your main social media platform then it’s worth doing.

small business tools
Tailwind is a social media scheduler that I’ve just discovered for Pinterest and, while I am still learning how to use it, I’m finding it really useful. Tailwind helps you to plan out and schedule the pins that you share on Pinterest in advance, allowing you to drip feed them over the course of a week or more. You can either set them up in the queue or schedule them to go out on specific days/times depending on what you need. There’s a free or paid version – I am currently getting to grips with the free version. It also provides insights and analytics so you can figure out where you’re getting the most engagement and what you’re doing right.

small business tools

Must Read: the top 12 Tools for Small Businesses to help save time & money. Please RT! Click To Tweet

 

So those are my favourite small business tools – any that you use that you think I’ve missed or that you’d like to add to the list? Or are there any here that you really don’t like?

Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you think.

 

4 essential tips to help you stay sane when starting a freelance business

starting a freelance business

 

Of course, there are many aspects to consider when starting your freelance business – from getting really focused on what you’re going to deliver to knowing who your customers will be, but how can you make sure that you’re not just swapping one stressful working life for another?

And, more importantly, is it possible to stay sane while starting a freelance business?

Well, here are 3 things that I did, which helped me in my first year.

 

Save 6 months expenses

I know that some people will say, that you shouldn’t leave your regular job until you have a client or two lined up, but I had no clients when I left my job, giving up a nice regular pay check, a final salary employers pension scheme (yes, really!), and a great holiday package. *gulp*

Did I fall flat on my face with no work lined up?

Clearly not.

And that’s because what I did have, was 6 months expenses saved up to help me during those months when I had little or no work.

If you’re struggling to save, read some of my essential savings tips, and think about: what you can sell; bills that you can cut; and luxuries that you can either do without or scale back on.

Keep the end goal in mind as your motivation – self employment, no commute, and being your own boss.

However, despite my lack of clients at the beginning, I have barely touched that pot of money to date. In fact, over the past 6 years I have built it up to 9 months expenses – my goal is to get it to 12 months by the end of the year – and that’s because I hit the ground running by implementing tip number 2…

 

Get into a routine

Even on day one of my new freelance business – the day when I didn’t have any clients, remember? – I got ‘ready for work’.

I got dressed, took the kids to school, then came back and switched the computer on ready for my working day.

I had a ‘to do’ list – which largely consisted of who I was going to contact that ‘might’ be a potential client – as well as aspects that I wanted to find out more about, which involved me doing some internet research and signing up for some local business courses.

What I didn’t do was think, ‘hey, I’ve got nothing on today. Who can I call for coffee?’

Don’t get me wrong. There are days when my work mojo is decidedly flat when I do need to get away from the desk and catch up with friends. It’s good to connect with others, get some new ideas and a fresh perspective, or just to charge up the batteries.

However, in the main, I try to treat every day as though I’m going to the office – and I turn up for work, regardless of how much or how little I have on.

Another tip that might help your routine is to make part of your routine actually ‘going to work’.

I know a lot of people who work from home who find it a struggle to come downstairs in the morning, have breakfast and then switch the computer on. So they get dressed, go for a paper, or even just walk around the block before coming back to the desk, as it helps them to feel as though they’ve started work.

I’ve even heard of someone who gets dressed in his suit, goes out the front door, walks around the house and comes in the back door into his home office. He finds that helps him to get ready for the workday routine (and yes, he repeats the process in reverse at the end of the day).

All of which leads me nicely on to tip number 3…

 

Keep work and home separate

I’m not going to lie. This will be difficult at times when you’re crazy busy and you want to/need to cram as much work as possible into the day. There will be days when you have to deliver a mountain of client work, get out your newsletter AND write a weeks worth of blog posts, but you should try to keep work and home life apart as much as possible if you want to stay sane.

If you don’t, I can guarantee that you will end up being just like one of those people who brings work home with them – or never leaves the office before 9pm every day.

You know the type? The ones who have relationship problems, never see their kids and never manage to have a holiday. This isn’t what you started your own freelance career for, is it?

I have done as much as possible to keep work and home separate – despite the fact they are both in the same place.

I don’t do any housework during my working hours (you’ll find this easy to believe if you ever come round).

I also have kids to pick up from school, which gives me a natural break at the end of the day, and so I switch off the computer and head out to pick them up.

When the kids were younger, I made sure that the computer remained switched off until they went to bed, but now that they don’t head upstairs until later, I tend to wait until we’ve all had dinner and their Dad is home before I head back to do some work.

And I don’t work weekends – ever.

 

Don’t forget about you

This kind of follows on from the tip above, but if you really want to stay sane and keep a perspective on what you’re doing, try not to forget about you.

In my first year, I was so focused on getting clients and making an income, I crammed work into every possible hour of the day, and ended up feeling more than a tad resentful that I had no time off, except from the school run and Mum’s Taxi service that I provide to and from activities and play dates.

Now, at the start of each week, I carve up chunks of time in my diary according to what my workload is like, and always make sure I put in time for me to go for a run at least 3 times a week.

I also make sure that I have coffee with a friend at least once a fortnight – more often if work allows. That means that I get to touch base with the real work and ensures that I don’t go completely gaga talking to the dog all day.

Sorry, Murdo, you’re cute but your conversation leaves a lot to be desired 😉

Hence the reason I only work 3 evenings a week and take weekends off – my sanity is too important for me not to. Not to mention, stressed out Mum is quite grumpy *ahem*

 

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What about you? What are your tips for staying sane while starting a freelance business?

Is there something that worked really well for you, or do you have tips on what to avoid doing?

I’d love to hear them, so please pop your comments in the box below – and if you know someone who is starting out, please share this post with them (the share buttons are up top).

starting a freelance business

 

8 mistakes to avoid when starting a business

mistakes to avoid when starting a business

 

It’s easy to get carried away and focus on the wrong things when you’re starting a business. I know, I’ve done it, but here are 8 mistakes that you should avoid when starting a business or freelance career…

 

Negativity

My number one tip is to avoid negative people.

To be clear, I’m not talking about constructive criticism, but what you don’t need when you’re at the start of your fledgling freelance career are negative people who will dent your confidence.

You know who I mean. The people who think change is a bad thing. Or that anyone who gives up a cubicle career is crazy (even if you’re dying inside).

I’m not saying they’re bad people. (Although some of them are). Most are just scared or have a limited (and limiting) view of the world. You may love them, you may even live with them, but at this point in your start up journey, you don’t need their negativity.

So by all means, tell them what you’re up to, but when it comes to asking for opinions, don’t choose them.

Instead, surround yourself with people who’ve either done it before or who you know are going to be your biggest cheerleaders. They may be friends, former colleagues or even your local business networking group. They could be online or offline. It doesn’t matter where or who they are. What matters is that they provide advice and input that is constructive and positive.

In other words, find your cheerleaders.

I have a few mates who run their own businesses. We share ideas – and moan to each other – as well as give support and advice. I’ve also taken a few online courses, and have found the support from the others doing the courses was brilliant at helping me to solve problems in my business or just get a different perspective.

 

Focusing on the wrong things

Should you be spending all your time on getting the right business name, choosing your corporate colours and getting the right domain name?

Or should you perhaps, you know, figure out what your business model is; who your customers are and how you will find them; what your price points are/how much you will charge for your services…?

Clue: it’s the second one.

If you want to grow and develop a business – and you do, otherwise, what’s the point? You need to know what you’re delivering, how, who too and for how much. All of this is far more important than what pantone colour your business cards and website will be in (although my designer husband might not entirely agree with me on this one!)

You don’t have to spend weeks on end developing a business plan – in fact, you can start to get an idea of what shape your business will take by answering these questions.

To be really clear, I’m not saying that your business name and domain name AREN’T important – but they are not going to be the driving force behind your business. Start by focusing on the right aspects at the beginning, and avoid spending too much time on areas that simply won’t grow your business.

 

Desperately seeking perfectionism

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you should aim to be anything other than the best than you can be fore your clients.

No, what I mean is stop waiting until your business offer is ‘perfect’. First up, there’s no such thing and second, it’s likely that you will tweak your offer as and when you start to get a better understanding of your customers/clients and what they want and need from you.

What you should focus on is doing what you need to do to bring your skills to the marketplace to connect with whoever you have decided your ideal customers are.

That means you don’t have to have a website that’s all singing and all dancing. You can start up with a WordPress.com free blog. And it doesn’t even have to be a blog – you can set it up as a static site.

My advice?

Set up your LinkedIn profile (here’s mine, if you’re interested).

Set up your (free if it will work for you for a while) website and get a business email address.

Choose 1 or 2 social media platforms that you think will help you to promote your business better than any of the others and start connecting with people.

Here’s the thing. You can change your website, you can even change your offer or your business model. Sshhh, whisper it. The Perfectionist Police might hear.

I started out with a different domain name and email and then changed them after 3 years for various reasons.

Now, I’m not going to lie. My website traffic fell – but as I wasn’t selling advertising from it, that wasn’t such a huge deal for me.  And, yes, it was a bit of a pain having to pay for a redirect on my email for 6 months just until I was SURE everyone had the new address. But did my income fall dramatically as a result?

Nope.

Get your offer out there, and start telling people what you do. The sky will not fall in.

 

Thinking you don’t need to be professional as you’re starting out/working from home/part-time/a freelancer* (delete as appropriate)

While you don’t need to have the perfect business branding/website/social media profiles, you do need to look like a professional.

Please DON’T have an email address that ends with hotmail.com/gmail.com or something similar. Get an email address that reflects your business name and, at the very least, get your LinkedIn profile looking fine and dandy.

You don’t need to pay for professional headshots, but don’t use a selfie or a photo of you and your mates that you’ve Photoshopped them out of – even if it is a particularly good one of you! **cough**

 

Lose Yourself

You stopped trying to be like the cool kids when you were at school, so why are you trying to be like them now?

You know exactly what I mean. You’re trying to be that person who you perceive to be doing better than you in your industry. We all have those people. We’ve all tried to be those people but, here’s the thing, first of all, they might not actually be as successful as you perceive them to be. They might just have a really cool website and the services of a good copywriter (see my point on perfectionism above).

Even if you do know that they’re successful – because they’re Marie Forleo or Richard Branson or the like, you can’t possibly replicate their exact business model – even if you want to – because we all bring something different to the equation.

Instead of thinking,

‘I’ll never be like xx, they are so good at making cupcakes. No-one will buy mine’

Flip it around and say to yourself…

‘I won’t be like xx because I am much better at creating a story around my food, so will concentrate more on food blogging’ or

‘I won’t be like xx because I am much better at providing practical advice on baking cupcakes, and love to meet people, so will provide classes rather than the product itself’

Stop trying to be someone else and start being yourself.

 

Trying to be all things to all people

If you’re a one-person business, it’s difficult not to try to provide a service that provides your clients with everything, because you worry that they might not give you the work if you can’t do it all.

If you don’t provide everything, does that mean no-one will buy from you? Of course not. Read any business guide and they will tell you that the best way to build a business is to focus on a particular niche.

I originally offered a full non-profit fundraising service – every type of fundraising, every approach – from hands on to strategic planning, bid writing to major donors. It actually became difficult to tell people what I specialised in because I did everything. My elevator pitch wasn’t exactly punchy.

Can I do everything? Yes, I’ve got 20 years experience in the field.

Do I want to do everything? Hell no!

I found it exhausting, at times boring and often, quite lonely. One of my best decisions was to start offering the aspects that a) I loved doing and b) I’m best at (which is a win win).

Now, I bring in or recommend others who can provide the aspects that I’ve decided not to. The plus side is that I have the opportunity to bring in other people, build a team, and benefit from working with experts that can all bounce ideas around.

 

Offer something for nothing because you’re ‘new to the business’

When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to cut your prices or even carry out work for nothing to build your client list. While there will be occasions when that is useful – for example, if you’re a freelance writer trying to get some clips – there are many more when it isn’t worth your time.

I’ve offered discounts when people have wanted to work with me on larger projects or when I know they won’t be able to afford me, but I’ve really wanted the work – and that’s fine. But, I’ve also been persuaded to work on projects for less than the value of the work I was delivering, even when every part of me was screaming ‘no’ (and you will get a gut instinct for what is not worth your time).

Avoid working with people who don’t want to pay you what you are worth in the hope that they will pay you more in the future. In my experience, that doesn’t happen. You are forever the ‘cheap’ freelancer that they don’t have to pay as much as they pay others (and they will pay others more, trust me).

Of course, you want to build your portfolio, but use your judgement to determine whether or not it’s worth it, because it’s all too easy to say yes and then end up resenting it.

 

Not spending money – or spending it on the wrong things

You’re starting out a new freelance business and money is tight, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend any money. Just spend it wisely.

Do you really need expensive headed paper and business cards, or can you just run off paper on your own printer and order some (rather stylish) business cards from Moo.com?

Do you need to install a separate phone line into the house/your office, or can you get a Skype number?

Do you need a hosted website – and if you’re business is purely online the answer to that is most likely yes – or can you get by with a free WordPress.com site (for now at least)?

Obviously, your business and your business model will determine where you need to spend your money so where you need to spend won’t be the same for everyone, but if you’re offering a service, such as consultancy, design, copywriting and so on, at the very least all you will need is…

A decent PC/Mac/laptop – only 1 of these, by the way, not all 3

Decent hosting (if you decide to self-host your website)

A proper business email (Google for Business costs me the princely sum of $2.95 per month for 1 email address plus Google Docs/Drive etc)

A desk and chair that aren’t going to give you RSI within 6 months of starting out – check out ebay or IKEA

A mobile contract at the best rate you possibly can – preferably one that includes all your calls

That should be enough to get you started. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned business cards. I do have some, but rarely use them these days, as everyone is online. So if you’re starting out, and times are tight, you probably don’t need them straight away unless you’re planning on drumming up new business at local business networking events.

Make sure you have a contingency for investing in yourself too. While it will be a luxury when starting out, you should put some cash aside for this once you start making regular income.

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So those are my top tips on what to avoid when starting a business. Anything I’ve missed or anything you don’t agree with?

I’d love to hear so pop them in the comments below. And please, share this post with anyone you know who is looking to start their own freelance career or small business.

 

Don’t let these mistakes put you off getting started. Remember…

mistakes to avoid when starting a business

 

 

6 essential tips when starting a freelance business

Starting a freelance businessIn my last post, I talked about what not to do when starting your own business (which was based upon painful personal experience, I can assure you).

Taking a more positive slant today, what are the essential steps you need to take to make sure your freelance business is as successful as possible?

 

Have a plan, people

I talked before about how long it took me to get my planning mojo together for my own business – and it’s a wonder that I made it to 2 years in business without one.

It’s fair to say, however, that while I survived, I didn’t exactly thrive, as I had no clear strategy of what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what success looked like for my business.

If the thought of business planning leaves you cold, it doesn’t have to be painful. Just take about an hour to write out the following:

1. What are the main aims of your business?

This could be selling a particular product or coaching services, for example, or it might be writing about healthy lifestyles (if you’re blogging for example) or perhaps selling on ebay. Whatever you are doing, think about the main aspects that your business is focused on.

2. Why are you the best place to go for that service, product?

This will help you to begin to think about what your USP is for customers. You might not be a unique business but what YOU bring to the mix makes what you are providing unique. No one else has your experience and take on life.

3. Who are your clients – and how will you find them?

OK so that’s 2 questions but they are both intertwined.

Who is your ideal client – the trick here is to try to think of a specific person that you want to sell to in terms of their age, gender, what they do for a living, how much they earn, what motivates them etc. to get a real idea of WHO will be buying from you.

4. What will success look like for you in 1, 3 and 5 years time?

What turnover do you want to achieve in your first year of business?

What profit do you want to make? How many customers do you want?

How many hours do you want to work?

How many holidays do you want to take?

Success for you might not be entirely focused on money – it might be more about work life balance – or freeing up your time to do something that you love, like travel. List out what success in your business will look like and set time limits on those.

 

Network

Now to be clear, I am NOT talking of that awful business networking that, if you’re anything like me, you would rather avoid like the plague. No.

I am talking about a) spreading the word about what you do and b) returning the favour.

Now online, the latter might be commenting on people’s blog posts that you admire – and perhaps after a while, they will start commenting on yours too.

While offline, networking might be as simple as telling people that you already know what you do for a living – and at the same time helping others to make connections with people you know too.

It might sound crazy but I didn’t really tell any of the other Mums at the school gates about what I did for a living. I hadn’t done it before I was self-employed, so wasn’t in the habit of talking about work.

However, after a couple of years of being self-employed, a friend of mine happened to mention what I did to another Mum over coffee one day. And it just so happened that this Mum was in need of some help raising sponsorship for an organisation she was involved with.

Connections made, conversations had and I had a nice new client – local to where I live AND a book festival to boot. You could say an ideal client for someone like me who loves books and supporting the local community.

Since then, I have learned a valuable lesson and I’m no longer shy in coming forward about what I do. I’ve gained lots of new clients as a result. I’ve also returned the favour and recommended friends to other people too.

 

Be yourself

Don’t think that because you’re self employed you have to morph into someone from The Apprentice. You don’t. Although, of course, if you’re that way inclined already, then go for it (is anyone really like those people?!).

Be yourself and you’ll find that you attract clients and customers who are drawn to your personal style – which is what you want in terms of selling without it all feeling a bit EEEWW (particularly important if you’re not really that into the idea of selling in the first place – you will have to do it with a new freelance business, but this way, you will make the whole process much easier).

 

Invest in yourself

I’ve said this before but, even though you have to shell out for your own training and development now that you’re self employed, it is definitely worth the investment.

You don’t have to start off spending a fortune attending international blogging conferences or booking the top career counsellor in your field. Even starting out with a few low-cost online courses or memberships that will help you to gain new skills is worth the money.

Decide what skills you need to gain to help your business move to the next level and look for some trusted people in that field – both online and locally – to help you to develop your experience and grow your business as a result.

 

Reach for the sky

Be as ambitious as possible with your business ideas. That doesn’t mean you have to want to be richer than Branson – although you might. Why not? But try not to think too small either simply because you don’t have the confidence or experience – yet – to be a big business.

By being as ambitious as possible and thinking out of the box, you are more likely to reach out of your comfort zone – and achieve what you didn’t think was possible before.

If anyone had told me 7 years ago that I’d have written a book, I’d have laughed at them. I’m no JK Rowling, but I do have a book selling on Amazon Kindle and from my website that has made me a tidy little profit too. None too shabby thank you very much.

starting your freelance business

Take action

Investing in yourself is important, but what’s more important is that you take action!

Stop watching webinars, pinning images on Pinterest and reading blogs about starting a business (ahem, apart from this one) and do what you need to do to get your business moving forward.

What is going to take you from having an aspirational business to getting your first customer? Maybe it’s as simple as picking up the phone – and if it is, you need to do that now!

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I’d love to hear what success will look like in your business – so please let me know in the comments below.

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