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Moving Beyond the Time Sheet: Making Efficiency Part of Your Pricing

mowing lawnSeveral months ago I wrote about how to be smart and fair when pricing your services. This is a critical area for any business and also one which can be the most challenging. It’s hard to put a price on passion. We risk either under valuing our services or becoming too-consumed with our work and pricing ourselves too high. Even after we have developed a consistent method for setting an hourly rate and accurately predicting the hours involved for any given project, we’re still faced with the double-edge sword of efficiency. To better illustrate my points, let me offer this analogy:

Say you want to pay someone to mow your grass. Your yard provides a well-defined scope and size for a project, yet several mowing companies provide you with very different pricing. Why? The difference between each company’s tools, experience and efficiency all play a role in the variables of their rate. One mowing company may only have access to a push mower and so they have to account for an employee taking 4-6 hours to complete the work. Another company may have equipment with all the bells and whistles requiring just 20 minutes to complete the project, but they must recoup the cost of the capital for this equipment. The second mowing company may spend far less time on your yard, but they can’t (and likely won’t) charge you just for 20 minutes of work. There’s the factor of efficiency which also has a price.

As business owners we should strive to become efficient with our work, but we shouldn’t then penalize ourselves for this skill. Although our ability to complete a project in less time means technically less billing hours, we need to keep in mind that there’s much more to pricing services than just our time. Take a look at the following three pillars of pricing that move beyond the time sheet and are worth considering when pricing your services. These may also help you understand why other companies price their services the way they do:

Scope of project

The size (or scope) of a project plays a large role in pricing, but not the only role. Businesses shouldn’t price a project based upon time alone. There should always be built-in motivation to be efficient with both time and resources and to not take advantage of a time sheet. I’ve moved as far from time sheets as I can because it penalizes my efficiency while leaving clients with an unknown variable of cost for my work. I prefer to quote a project in full based upon its scope and then I stick to this price, regardless of hours spent on the project, unless the scope should substantially change. Whether this works out to be my client’s benefit or my own, it ensures I work efficiently which most often results in completing projects well before deadline.

Cost of capital

A business invests a great deal of capital into their tools, resources and talent that allow them to provide optimum service. While a particular project may take an efficient business less time to complete because of these tools, there’s a cost to that investment that also must be taken into account when pricing services. Most commonly I see this in printing services. The cost of professional printing equipment is expensive! So while it may take mere minutes to print off a 5,000 piece mailer, when before it would take hours, the bigger and better copier required an initial investment from the company. I wouldn’t expect this printing company to charge for just 20 minutes of work when resources, much more than time, were the real expense.

Paying for professionalism

Finally, there is the cost of professionalism. If you want a service done right the first time, it’s worth paying a higher price to work with a business with a great reputation and track record for producing results. Sure, it can be tempting to go for the lowest price possible, but most of us have also experienced the repercussions of such temptation. In the long-term it’s often worth investing a little more to get exactly what you want the first time. Your time is also valuable and so the less time you spend fixing errors, or micro-managing projects the more time you can invest back into growing your business. When pricing your services, the point is very similar – don’t compete on price alone. Offer clients value, professionalism and high-quality service along with a price you feel is fair.

How do you currently price your services? Do you reward yourself for efficiency or penalize yourself? This is a critical question worth giving some thought – especially because it could save you hours of work and a lot of profit in the long-term. Weigh in on this topic by leaving your comments below!

 
 

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The Best Work Comes From Complete Creative Freedom

tied handsEntrepreneurs, freelancers and contractors need to maintain some sense of creative freedom to do their job well. In fact, I feel confident enough to expand this statement to apply to every career field out there. Creativity is the lifeblood for employees at all levels. It’s what allows us to enjoy our job, maintain a feeling of control and build a vested interest in our work – but it’s not always granted freely. Whether it’s a controlling boss, a particular client or a company culture that demands you color inside the lines, sometimes our hands are unfortunately tied and creative freedom is stifled.

As a client or customer, coming to a business with your own non-negotiable plan in mind is the same as taking the pen out of an artist’s hand. Take for example an architect versus a drafter. An architect is more often hired for his artistic eye and ability to bring new and innovative ideas to the table. This is who you want to work with when you want someone else to direct the vision for a project. A drafter on the other hand is most often hired to outline the logistics of a pre-existing plan. This is who you want to work with when you already have a firm idea in mind and simply want someone else to bring it to fruition. Reasonably, less creative work is needed or expected from the drafter. You pay more for the architect, and understandably so.

The important point I want to communicate is that if you’re paying the extra money for the “architect,” don’t treat them like a drafter. Allow them the creative freedom they need to provide you with their full scope of expertise. And to fully do so you’ll want to closely consider following these next three steps:

 First, agree on your most important objective.

A client and a contractor foremost need to communicate the objectives of a project clearly. If they don’t first start on the same page, they have no chance of ending on the same page and a lot of time and talent will be wasted as a result. I advocate for using something like a “creative template” that can be a simple one-page sheet designed to capture a client’s most important thoughts on a project. Whether it’s creating a company training video, billboard ad or blueprint for a house, both the client and contractor should be able to clearly tell you what it is they’re trying to achieve. They must have a firm grasp on the objective.

Second, provide no more than three “must-haves.”

We will all be clients at one point or another, so it’s important that we learn how to be good ones! Such skills will also help us to get exactly what we want, while allowing the contractors and freelancers we hire to do their job with complete creative freedom. I’ve found that having no more than three “must-haves” as part of your expectations allows you to still feel in control without overhauling the project. Along with an identified objective, your short list of “must-haves” allows you to specify colors, content or style that’s important to you. Contractors have expertise and vision, but they don’t have the ability to read minds. Knowing what’s most important to you provides just enough direction. Think of your “must-haves” as the non-negotiables you want out of a significant other. So long as these criteria are met, everything else should be at least open for discussion.

Third, relinquish control!

Now that you’ve established an overarching objective and a short list of “must-haves” for a project, the only other limitations should be the sky. From a freelancer/contractor’s perspective, having to meet just 4 specifications is a huge difference from having a laundry list of needs and wants spelled out for you. As the final step, the most important thing a client can do is to relinquish control. And the most important thing a contractor can do is to satisfy the objective and must-haves and then strategically choose all other projects details with that particular client in mind. Knock their socks off by giving them everything they never knew they wanted!

 One final thought…

At the end of the day, all business owners must sign their names to whatever finished product they produce. If you take away creative freedom, this no longer remains an accurate representation of a business’s quality of work. If you’re a business owner, you’ll likely agree that protecting your reputation and the type of work you put out there is just as important as giving a client the finished product they want. It’s a touchy balance to maintain – but a critical one nonetheless.

How do you seek creative freedom in your job or career field? Or maybe you can recall a specific time in which your creativity was stifled and a project suffered as a result. Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below!

 

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A Price For Passion: Being smart and fair when pricing your services

price tag pricelessAs a business owner and entrepreneur, one of the hardest challenges is figuring out a consistent pricing system for your services. Even with almost two years now under my belt, this is one area of my own business which can still be overwhelming and stressful at times – mainly because it also carries so much weight. How you price your products or services has a direct impact on the money you make or the clients you turn away. There are many reasons to want to undercut competitors and to offer the cheapest bargain around, but then there is the challenge of putting a price on passion. As entrepreneurs, we are much like artists and inventors.  It’s hard to keep an unbiased perspective on something we quite often view as priceless.

A quote by Henry David Thoreau that I truly love is, “The Price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Though I appreciate the underlying message of valuing our time, this mindset would make it impossible to ever set a price for my writing and creativity that was fair to both me and my clients. But luckily, just as much as I am an artist with the pen, I am also a businesswoman. This balance has allowed me to build a smart and strategic method for pricing my services without undervaluing my time or talent. Here are just a few of the guidelines that I’ve come to rely upon when placing a price tag on my passion:

Determine your hourly rate

The first hourly rate I set for myself when I was still freelancing my services in college is a mere fraction of what I now charge. However, it was a price that was fair for both me and my clients at that time. It was a nice increase over the minimum wage I was making at my other side job and to my clients, although they were working with a college undergrad, the price was a steal for the quality of work they received. After graduation, I was able to increase this price because of the formal degrees I had earned. I was sure to communicate this with existing clients and positioned it as a “value added” to my work and professionalism. Because it still remained well under the industry’s going rate, I received no negative kick-back from this increase. With the start of every New Year, new contract or new client, I have the ability to adjust my pricing. For clients who remain with me over the months and years, I offer them the loyalty benefit of “grandfathering” them into their starting prices so long as the scope of work remains the same and it’s not a significant opportunity cost.

Your years of experience and education/degrees will have an impact on how you price your services. I’ve found that remaining even just $5 under the hourly rate of the “industry norm” gives you a sizable advantage. While I don’t dismiss that this small difference in hourly rate can certainly add up over a large project, a small discount still earns you far more money than not being selected to complete the project at all. The best way to get a feel for the pricing of your competition is to talk with clients and people within your network who have worked with other similar contractors – they can also give you their honest opinion of what price range they are most likely to hire within.

Bundle your services

It’s standard – and smart – to have a set hourly rate because this is a common question clients potentially seeking your services will want answered. While I do have an hourly rate, I rarely charge by the hour on my proposals. Most often, I use this hourly rate to estimate the maximum cost for a project, but aim to lower this significantly for a client by offering service bundling. With bundling, I discount my rate in exchange for a client who chooses to hire me for more than one service. For example, I may offer a proposal with several communications strategies including writing web site copy, newsletter content and updating their social media profiles. When contracted separately, these services would be higher than if a client should choose to do them all together. The benefit to the client is of course the cost savings and the benefit to me is the security in work. Often clients will just want to know your hourly rate before you discuss much else, but I am sure to include that my hourly rate is discounted when combining multiple projects. This also helps me to create a more cohesive and effective communications strategy than just one project alone. The service bundling is an incentive to do more for the best price possible.

Reward efficiency

When providing my clients with a proposal for my services, I emphasize that the price I quote them for is the guaranteed maximum that will not increase so long as the scope or size of the project remains as we discussed. This is important because all too often we’re hit with unexpected price increases from every angle in the form of electric bills, cable and internet and the list goes on. It’s nice to offer clients something that’s a bit more stable which allows them to better budget. Also, once I provide my clients with the best possible price (bundling services, maximum price guaranteed, etc) it’s now to my advantage to work efficiently. If I estimate a project taking me 8 hours, I certainly don’t want to procrastinate and stretch this project into 14 hours. That’s a waste of my own time and earning potential! Instead, the way I price my services encourages efficient work which means my clients often receive their project days if not weeks before our agreed upon deadline. When pricing your own services, I suggest structuring this in such a way that you reward your efficiency while offering your clients stability. This is a great way to earn respect and trust while earning the most money for your time.

What are your thoughts on pricing your services? Where do you most struggle or what are some ways to make this less of an overwhelming task? Share your comments or questions and let’s get this important discussion going!

 

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The Repercussions of a Word Smith

broken pen inkI didn’t always have the gift of the golden pen. At least I never considered myself as anything but an average writer throughout my earlier years. I would do the assignments asked of me in school, but rarely did I earn high marks or a place on the honor board for my work. Outside of the classroom, I wrote silly poems and experimented with “novel” writing, but I’m sure if I could find these journals now I wouldn’t be inclined to ship them off to a publisher. However, at some point during the awkward years between Junior High and Senior High school, a much deeper physical transition took place. Somewhere in my brain, the part for creativity and the part for words finally synched.

We all look forward to the point in our life when we tap into a natural talent. Raw and uncharted, we anxiously explore its depths and push its boundaries. For some this is football, piano, dancing or math. For me this was writing. Though I had always earned good grades, this was the first time that writing courses were almost effortless. It seemed unfair that though I scored about the same in my math and science classes, I had to put in so much more effort and time to do so. The thrill I got out of writing is the reason I continued to make it an integral part my college major and the career I now enjoy. As my passion for both written and oral communication became clear, all other subjects blurred into the background.

As I’ve grown to accept this as my given talent, I’ve also realized some curiously common situations that seem to unfold for most gifted writers I know. I see these as the “repercussions” of a word smith. Really it’s a small price to pay for a talent that is useful in almost every line of work. But whether you’re a fellow writer or someone who has benefited from knowing one, I’m willing to bet these sound very familiar:

Group projects somehow bear only your writing – Group projects are already miserable for so many reasons, but when you’re identified as a “good writer” they become even worse. No matter how hard I tried to prevent this from happening, the end result was inevitable. I would either have to start the project from scratch or rework the less than stellar writing of my group partners. By the end of it, the writing always seemed to be my own. Sometimes this was me being taken advantage of, sometimes this was for the good of the group (and our group grade), but sometimes this was just me being a writing control freak. I can admit it…finally.

You’re the go-to “first drafter” – With my school days now behind me, the repercussions of a wordsmith have still kept in tow. Rather than the finisher for group projects, I have now become the go-to person for taking the first stab at letters, short bios, resumes and blog posts for family and friends. I’m always happy to offer my two cents, but creating something from scratch requires a bit more energy and effort than just two pennies worth of my time. As you might expect a dentist to get tired of hearing about tooth ailments on the weekend, writers also like to be just people from time to time.

Heck, you’re the go-to “final drafter” too – Though revising a final draft takes a different set of skills than the initial writing of one, it still requires a good deal of energy and effort if you want to do it right. Sure I can quickly review a document to make sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed, but it’s hard to tone down a skill set that, when used for my livelihood, is kept at high octane. If I see a poorly written letter, I can’t not fix it. I’ll sit there and pour hours of my life into a document I shouldn’t have more concern over than that piece of chewing gum I just threw away. But when you’re passionate about something, you do. When you ask your writer friend for a “quick once over,” just remember that he’ll give you the same quality of service that he would give a client or put into his own work. A thoughtful thank you from time goes a long way.

Greeting cards and party invitations get sent your way – Much like the first and final drafter, a wordsmith is also often called in for input on Christmas card phrases, meaningful words for a thank you note and creative rhymes to put on a birthday invite. This is the fun stuff! And personally the stuff I love creating the most. But it can become a burden when you receive these casual requests on top of a pile of mounting client work. Also I tend to put pressure on myself to come up with the most perfectly witty or thoughtful lines – a pressure that is not intended or required, but a habit I’ve developed all on my own.

It becomes seen as an endless fountain of creativity – As I mentioned above, it’s an exciting experience to explore the depths of a new found talent, but I don’t assume it is indeed endless. My hands and mind do get exhausted to a point where eventually I slump into a couch pillow and stare at the wall for a little while during a busy writing day. It’s a compliment to have so many family members and friends turn to me for my opinion and input, but I do feel the need to conserve my creativity or at least let it refill from time to time. After all, what would I do for a living if it somehow ran out?!

I hope these “repercussions” of a word smith have resonated with you in some way or if not, at least made you smile. Though my talent is with words, I know these situations are not unique to writers. I imagine doctors, artists, athletes and politicians all have similar gripes about how their talents have made them feel like a mere resource to the world around them. The best we can each do is to celebrate each other’s talents by not only utilizing them, but also by giving them a day off from time to time.

What are some of the repercussions your own talent has brought you?

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Business & Success

 

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Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Taking the Leap

This blog completes a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.

In case you missed it, read:

Establishing Professionalism

Getting Your Name Out There

Moving Away From One-Time Clients

Building a Client Base

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Taking the Leap

Man leaping entrepreneur businessLast December when I wrote the post Entrepreneurial Survival Mode,” I talked about how sometimes you have to give yourself no option but to sink or swim in order to find that inner fire to make your business a success. I still believe this. But during my own journey from freelance to fulltime, I didn’t tie a blind fold and allow myself to walk off a cliff. Instead, I carefully calculated the jump before I ultimately made the leap into entrepreneurship. The most important concept I want you to take away from that previous post and now this one is that when you can take the leap – do it without hesitation and get ready to work for all you’re worth. It’s a bold and risky move, but it holds the possibility of the most rewarding career experience…creating something that’s all your own.

Here are the key steps I recommend to every almost-entrepreneur contemplating a leap of faith:

Crunch the numbers.

I still have the first spreadsheet I created with all of my expenses versus the meager income I would make if I turned my freelance business into my sole income. It’s a great reminder of where I started and where I’m never too far from to return. But most importantly, it was the assurance I needed to know that I could make ends meet even if everything about my business stayed the same (which of course I hoped that it would improve). When I reflect on this spreadsheet now, it still offers that same assurance that if all came crashing down, I could stay afloat. At this point in my entrepreneurial journey, I learned the skill of minimizing costs. On my spreadsheet I listed all of my current expenses with my fulltime job. I was paying for internet I never used, far too big of a Comcast package and a reserved parking spot at my apartment. Before I took the leap, I really crunched these numbers. I cancelled internet and began sharing with my neighbor for a fraction of the cost. I downgraded my TV (anticipating 80+ hours a week of work on my new business didn’t leave me much time for such luxuries anyhow). I discontinued my parking spot and as a city resident was able to get a parking pass right across the street for just $5 a year. I wasn’t as surprised with my ability to minimize costs as I was shocked with why I was ever throwing this money out the window to begin with.

When you first start your own business, don’t let anyone convince you that you immediately need to rent an office space, pay for a separate phone line or upgrade the speed of your internet. There are many ways to achieve the same results for little to no cost. Separate business needs from business wants. Later down the road when money comes, so will the corner office, fancy business cards and personal assistant. You simply don’t need these things for the first year…or first five years. How much money you have in the bank isn’t just about how much money you made, it’s about how much money you didn’t spend. Minimizing your expenses will help supplement a smaller income and make your leap less of a stretch.

Consider everything that will be affected.

A salaried, fulltime position has many benefits beyond the stable paycheck. Remember that as an entrepreneur your healthcare, 401K and taxes will become something you actively worry about. These will take research and a critical eye to determine the best option for you. For healthcare, I got lucky with my age. Until 26 I’m able to stay on my parents’ insurance plan for a very minimal cost each month. After that dreaded birthday, I’m not sure what I’ll do next but I do know there are more and more options every day for entrepreneurs and small business owners. I will likely talk to a local independent healthcare provider and outline my options. For retirement, I rolled my existing 401K into a Roth IRA. Again, it made the most sense for me for a variety of reasons, but do your research and talk to several people before landing on a plan. Finally there are taxes. I dread them more and more every year as what I pay goes up in proportion to my income. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to claim your earnings and pay taxes on them accordingly. For the first several years you may be able to get away with claiming your business as a loss or have enough deductions that you still get money back. But that can only last so long. Eventually you should consider paying taxes on a quarterly basis to lessen the blow come March  (which is by the way when business owners must file taxes—note this now and avoid a nasty letter from the IRS later).

My dad gave me the best advice when I first started making freelance money, “Spend only what you need and keep the rest in savings.” He meant this so I would always have enough to cover my taxes, but wouldn’t it be great if we all handled our money like this all of the time?

Have an emergency backup plan.

For some, a backup plan may seem like a way out. I’ve heard, and at times agree, with the theory that a safety net is only an excuse to fall. But for large enough leaps where you are risking your income, career and possibly all of your worldly possessions (not to mention sanity), a safety net is warranted. For me, my emergency backup plan came from solid relationships with past employers and key contacts who said that if I should ever decide to be available for fulltime hire, I have a standing offer for a position with them. This verbal reassurance from people who believed in my skill set was the emergency backup plan I am grateful to have never used. More than just the ability to find fulltime work should I need it, I also keep a financial “runway” of at least 3 months. By this, I mean I aim to keep enough funds in savings and in my business that if one day absolutely all income should go to zero, I would be able to continue living and spending in exactly the same way for 3 months. This is a substantial amount of time to find additional income, cut back on spending and make other adjustments to prevent depleting this runway, but it’s a comfort to know it exists.

The idea of having an emergency backup plan in place reminds me of the quote by Robert H. Schuller. “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  This plan is not to give you an easy way out should things get too hard; it’s to give you the confidence to move forward fiercely and passionately. When you know your next step is not doomed to be your last, you can keep moving forward with courage.

Do it right – and don’t look back.

Once you outline a tight budget, decide how you’ll handle your healthcare, retirement and taxes and setup and emergency backup plan, you’re ready. As tempting as it may be to go out with bang, scream “I quit!” and throw everything off your desk onto the floor, resist the temptation. Your grand finale should be one with grace and professionalism that demonstrates to your employer and everyone else that you are destined to become a great entrepreneur. First, speak directly to your boss. Give them the honor of being the first to know your passion for your side business and plans to take it fulltime. Whether you hate them, don’t want to disappoint them or have no relationship with them, they deserve this respect. Once they’re on board, they can become your advocate and guide you through the process of leaving. Depending on the structure of your business, you may need to speak with the Human Resources Director to place your 2-weeks’ notice. For me, I was also required to write a resignation letter (which felt absolutely wonderful to sign). Going through the proper process of resigning from your job allows everyone to be aware of why you’re leaving and to celebrate with you. It also allows you to take advantage of things like using vacation days, selling back sick days and getting that final pay check 2 weeks after you finished working. By leaving on the right foot, you’ll also start your new business on the right foot. And if you haven’t learned already, this world is a small place and you never know who you’ll see (or have to work with) again.

Once you properly end your fulltime job, that’s it. It’s all you now. During your first year it’s natural to be reminded of your old job by every season, holiday or co-worker’s birthday that would have been a special mile marker. But you have new mile markers now. Don’t look back or keep track of where you might have been had you not taken the leap. The fact is, you did take the leap and every ounce of you should be focused on sticking that landing rather than trying to backpedal mid-air.

Have you enjoyed the 5-part series, “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime?” If so, share this with a freelancer or entrepreneur you know! This wisdom was gained through my own rough and wild personal experiences and I only wish to use it to help others navigate their similar journey. Thank you for reading along.

 
 

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Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Building a Client Base

This blog continues a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.

In case you missed it, read:

Establishing Professionalism

Getting Your Name Out There

Moving Away From One-Time Clients

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Building A Client Base

rolodex business card client baseThe two previous posts, “Getting Your Name Out There” and “Moving Away From One-Time Projects” are both aimed toward the ultimate goal of building a solid client base. Reaching this goal is more than just having your business known in the local community; it’s taking it to that next critical level of getting people to actually hire you. While many aspects about taking your business from freelance to fulltime will be about building a professional brand, this particular component will most directly affect your business’s bottom line – or more accurately, its “life line.” You need to have a core client base which can provide you with a stable income while so many other aspects of your business are fluid and ever-changing. So how do you begin to build this base of paying clients? It only needs to begin with one. From there you can implement these following steps to turn this single brick into a solid foundation for your business.

Ask your existing client(s) for leads.

Your first one or two clients are much more than a desperately needed paycheck. They are a source of potential leads for new clients. Not only can they speak to your business from a firsthand experience, they are also likely to have connections in similar situations where your services could be of great value. If you are a freelance writer and one of your clients is a commercial video production company that often hires you for script writing, they are likely also connected to other video production companies that could use a freelance writer. My own client base was built in a similar way – through word-of-mouth recommendations from current and past clients. Because of my background in political campaigns, I secured my first freelance political client who I helped with public relations and planning fundraisers. At the fundraiser, many of his fellow colleagues who are also elected officials were fascinated with the services they could contract out to me. This single client helped me break into a unique area that has consistently grown my business ever since. I am also lucky that it’s an area I truly enjoy. When I first began my freelance Public Relations business during my senior year in college, I knew little to nothing about political campaigns nor did I have an interest in them. Yet with a single client, I established a whole new branch of my business. When looking to build your own client base, don’t overlook the obvious or easy. Ask your existing clients for leads from their own network who might be interested in your services. Better yet, ask them to connect you directly by personal email. If the initial introduction to your business is made by someone that the lead knows and trusts, it won’t be as easy to brush it off as a cold sales call and will speak volumes for the quality of your work.

Identify your niche.

When using existing clients as a building block for new clients, it’s natural that a pattern of businesses with whom you work most frequently will emerge. Allow this to build organically for some time before taking a critical look at what these patterns mean for the direction of your business. Essentially, you will now need to identify your niche and embrace it. Identifying your niche is not a limitation or a blinder for future business. You can and should seek out projects from all directions as you never know when this could tap into a new reservoir of work. But a niche will allow you to target many aspects of your business’s branding and marketing to appeal to this niche and establish your expertise within it. Say you make custom invitations to sell on Esty and begin to track that the most orders you receive are for wedding invitations. You can focus your web site content, social media and portfolio on wedding-related stationary. You may also choose to attend more bridal shows and advertise in bridal publications or on wedding web sites. This focus will allow you to place your time and effort in the area in which you are most likely to secure future clients. In the client building process your focus may form a spotlight on your niche, but don’t completely turn out the lights on all other categories of services. Remember that the bride you created invitations for will someday be interested in birthday and baby show invites or holiday cards. Make sure even current clients are aware of the full scope of services you offer.

Introduce and incentivize.

Once you’ve reached out to your existing clients for recommendations and have focused on your niches, next comes strategically introducing your business to potential clients. There are various ways in which you can accomplish this and the method will depend upon your type of business and the clients you’re trying to reach. One common method is a letter written to the business owner which serves as a friendly introduction to you are and what you do. This should go out to all businesses which fall within your niche or with whom you’d like to work. The letter should close with a realistic call to action. This can be as simple as inviting them to visit your web site or alerting them that you will be following up by phone in the coming weeks. If you’re in the position to do so, including an incentive such as a discount or free trial for one of your services is a very effective way to get a response. I’ve written such letters for several clients and we’ve seen some amazing results. The more personal you can make it (add in details specific to the person or their business) the more likely you are to receive a response. People want to feel that it’s genuine and not a form letter sent to hundreds of other businesses. Finally, by providing an incentive to try out your services, you reduce the risk of the unknown and take one step closer toward gaining a new client.

Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Taking The Leap

 
 

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Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Moving Away From One-Time Projects

This blog continues a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.

In case you missed it, read:

Establishing Professionalism

Getting Your Name Out There

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Moving Away From One-Time Projects

busy full calendar monthly clients

Often freelancers are hired for a single project that is pre-defined in both scope and pay. If the project was ongoing or needed regular maintenance, that business would just hire a fulltime in-house employee instead, right? Not always. Some businesses still have the need for a fulltime employee but may lack the office space or sizeable pay to do so. This is where being able to offer a contracted service is so valuable. You can provide as much time and skill as a salaried employee, but at a much lower cost because you don’t require a workspace, benefits or consistent 40 hours a week of work. To turn a freelance business into a fulltime career, you need consistent pay or in other words, consistent work. Instead of living on a hope and prayer from one project to the next, begin building a reoccurring client list to add stability to your income.

Identify An Ongoing Need.

When you want to move away from a pay-per-project basis, sometimes you need to be one to identify an ongoing need in which you can address. Essentially, you need to put yourself in the position of that business owner. Ask, “What are their long term goals, reoccurring problems or limitations?” Once you’ve uncovered these valuable issues, look for areas in which the services you offer can align with resolving them. For example, a graphic design artist doesn’t have to wait around for the next client who needs a logo or promotional material put together – these tend to be isolated, one-time projects. With some creative thinking and researching you might discover that the client also updates their website homepage graphic on a monthly basis or regularly includes infographics in their weekly blog posts. This presents the opportunity for an ongoing contract in which you can provide these services on a reoccurring basis. No matter what your freelance business offers, there’s almost always the opportunity to become a regular contractor if you look closely.

Create Your Own Position.

Once you’ve identified a client’s ongoing need, you’ll next need to package your services in such a way that they create a valuable position that your client will want to fill – and do so by hiring you. Start organizing your ideas by writing them down. What can you offer on a regular basis? If you’re a freelance writer, this could be weekly blog posts, website content writing and formatting a monthly email newsletter. Be specific in what you’ll bring to the table and remember to include things like monthly client conference calls, unlimited email communication and projects guaranteed to be completed by a certain deadline every month. These will help to make the position look less like a freelancer and more like a real employee. By doing this, you will have essentially created a proposal in which you will need to pitch. For any freelancer, the first time you pitch to a client can be role reversal that takes some getting used to. Often you’re the one being pursued for work, now you’re the one pursuing a client for work.

Learn to Pitch.

You identified a need, you created a job proposal, now you need to pitch it – and hope you hit it out of the park. First, be sure your client is expecting a proposal for your work. If you’ve worked with them on several projects before, you can easily initiate a conversation in which you explain what you’d like to do. You want to offer them your services on a reoccurring basis to maximize their business goals. Once they’re aware of your intentions and are expecting your proposal, schedule a time to meet with them in person (if feasible) or a time you can connect for a conference call. In either scenario, email them a PDF of your proposal before your meeting so they can review what you’re offering and bring up any questions they may have at that time. This simply removes the back and forth that can often occur later. After your meeting, set a time frame for follow-up that works for both of you. This can be another call or just an email. This follow-up should confirm whether or not they are interested in hiring you as a regular contractor. During the whole pitching process, answer any phone calls or email within one business day. This sets the first standard for how responsive you would be if hired and clients will take this into consideration. Once you’re comfortable with the proposal and pitching process, you’ll be well on your way to securing more ongoing projects and this will also become a very useful skill once you take your business fulltime. Want more information? Click here to read the popular Bennis Inc Blog post, “Protecting Your Pitch.”

Think “Value Added.”

When turning one-time projects into reoccurring clients, your energy is best spent answering the question “What can I gain by hiring you on a regular basis?” Depending on your services and the situation, the possibilities are endless. Most commonly your answers will be among the following. A client will be able to focus more time on running their business by not always looking for freelancers every time a new project should arise. They will save money by using multiple services from one person. You will both develop a working relationship that will allow you to understand each other’s communication style and work together most effectively. I refer to this as “value added” or the value that is above and beyond the services in which you’re being paid to perform. If a client can understand the value you bring to the table that is at no extra charge to them – but can often become invaluable – then you are far more likely to secure them as a reoccurring client. Because there really isn’t a place to emphasize the value added services in a proposal, they’re best communicated when you’re pitching to your client. Make a strong case for yourself! Think of every client as one step toward taking your freelance business fulltime and put this passion into your proposal.

Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Building a Client Base

 
 

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Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Getting Your Name Out There

This blog continues a series of 5 posts which outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career – how to turn your freelancing into a fulltime business. If you’re currently contracting out a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.

In case you missed it, read:

Establishing Professionalism

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Getting Your Name Out There

get your name out there name tagGetting comfortable with confidently talking about your freelance business can be awkward and challenging, but is an essential part of getting your name out there. Often this also means opening yourself up for rejection or dismissal – after all, you’re not yet a “real business” in the eyes of many. If you wait to build a network, you’re only putting yourself months or years behind when you do take your business fulltime. It’s never too early to begin. So how can a freelance business establish a name and a reputation strong enough to compete among the best? The following steps are what I stumbled upon as the most effective way to establish my name in the local market when I was still freelancing:

1. Weave it naturally into any conversation you can.

People can’t know what you don’t tell them, so don’t be shy about sharing the skills you offer on the side. Whether you’re at a dinner, the bar or the bank, if you see an opportunity to connect with someone who could be a potential client or put you in contact with some, it’s worth mentioning what you do – even on the side. You never know who is listening or what you’re saying that could resonate with someone. Be sure to practice a smooth 1-2 sentence explanation as to what you do that you can delivery clearly and confidently. Also, think of adding in a unique or memorable tidbit like, “I first began my side business in college and have since worked with clients from several different states,” or “I just opened a shop on Etsy and custom-make every product.” This not only qualifies your business, but makes you stand out. As a note of caution, be sure to look for natural segways in the conversation that allow for the topic to be brought up. An unnatural insertion can make you look desperate or unprofessional. Start with asking them what they do and when they ask you in return, there’s your green light.

2. Join local networking groups, but limit them to ones that best serve your business.

There a myriad of networking and business development groups at the local, state and national level. Don’t be tempted to join every single one. Think quality over quantity. As a freelancer your time is more valuable than ever – trying to juggle a fulltime job, side business, family life and everything in between. The time you can dedicate to joining networking groups is best spent divided between 2-3 groups maximum. If you pay the dues but are spread too thin to attend any of the meetings, this is a waste of money and potentially a bad reflection on your business. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to category-specific networking group in my area right around the time I went fulltime. This type of networking group is unique in that only one business can represent a category. What this does is create a small “community” of businesses who feed clients to each other. Without competing businesses in the same networking group there’s no conflict of who gets what recommendations. These are often non-dues paying with the idea that you earn your membership by sharing leads. This group meets weekly and has better turnout than most monthly groups with a membership 4 times its size. It’s a large time commitment but also produces consistent results for my business. Because of this, I am only a member of one networking group – and I give it my all. Depending upon your business and what’s offered in your area, a different combination of networking groups might make more sense. The bottom line is to do your research, give each of them a try and know when to stay or when to leave.

3. Ask close family and friends to spread the word.

This may seem overly obvious, but often the best ideas are. Your family and friends have a vested interest in seeing you and your business succeed. They can also speak intimately about your character and skill set. Let them be your mouthpiece and plug your business for you. Even just 4-5 people talking to their networks, increases your network exponentially. I remember creating a little half-page handout for my mom to share about my business. She knew a lot of fellow business owners back in my hometown that could benefit from my consulting work and she did as any mother word – she promoted it. Also, whenever anyone asked what I was doing or where I was working, she remembered to mention that I was also running a side business. Prompting your family and friends to do the same will help the word spread in many different directions and to many potential clients.

Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Moving Away From One-Time Projects

 
 

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Turning Freelance into Fulltime: Establishing Professionalism

This blog begins a series of 5 posts which will attempt to outline and address a very valuable lesson for any industry or any career. To say I’m excited to share this information is a gross understatement. Reading any post on my blog, you will see I’m passionate about sharing my life experiences with as many other entrepreneurial hopefuls as I can. This special series “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” could very well one day become a best-selling book or feature article in Fortune (we can all dream, right?), but for now it’s solely for your benefit and inspiration.

If you’re currently freelancing a set of skills or have at least thought about it, this can be the critical first step toward starting your own business. I invite you to join me each week as I share the 5 most important components needed to prepare for a successful transition from freelance to fulltime.

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Establishing Professionalism

Business card professional imageLaunch a web site.

As a freelancer, you’re often caught in the awkward limbo of working a fulltime job while living this second life on the side. How much time and energy should you spend on creating a professional image for your freelancing work when it’s not yet your bread and butter? My advice is – a great deal. When a prospective client asks for more information or a sampling of your work, it’s easy and convenient for you to send them a link to your web site. When I first started, I used an extremely clean and simple template on Weebly.com. The web templates are as easy to create as a word document and Weebly hosts your site completely free (which was right in my price range when I first started). Although I’ve since outgrown Weebly as my business grew, I highly recommend it as a starting point for any other freelancers. When you’re ready, you can purchase a domain name to personalize your site further. The bottom line is that a web site shows prospective clients that you’re serious about your side business and the quality of work you put into fostering this business is a good indicator of the level of work you’ll also put into their projects. Once you’re ready to take the leap into fulltime entrepreneurship, you’ll be that much further along in your process of developing a business web site.

Create business cards.

It’s never too soon to have a professional looking business card for your freelance business. When you have the opportunity to talk to someone about your business and they show an interest, you want to be able to give them something that allows them to be immediately in touch with you or to find out more about your work. A business card does just that. It’s also discrete in that you can easily slip someone your card and shift the conversation so you’re not stuck feeling like all you do is talk about this “side job” you have. I remember the first business cards I created. I ordered the minimum amount from VistaPrint.com using one of their pre-made designs. When they arrived in the mail and I saw my name alongside my business’s name on that little card, I felt that first jolt of energy that entrepreneurs live the rest of their life for.

Designate a professional email.

Once equipped with a web site and business cards, you’re now in need of a professional email designated for your freelance work. I still encounter many well-established businesses that skip this step and it’s noticeable. If you bought a domain name for your web site, you can usually create an email at this same address such as John@JSmithDesigns.com. First, this type of email address is both neutral and easy to share in that it uses your name and your business and not something awkward like 2Hot2Handlexoxo@yahoo.com. I can’t imagine a perspective client could overlook this red flag and not question the professionalism and legitimacy of your work as well. Second, a professional email is a nice accompaniment to your business cards. Finally, if someone misspells or misplaces your web site URL, they can easily find it by following what’s listed after the @ (I use this technique quite often to verify web addresses even now).

Include freelancing on your resume and Linkedin.

Even though your freelancing business is only a side job at the moment, there’s no reason to exclude it from your work experience. It says many valuable things about you. First, you have a specific skill set of a high enough level that multiple people are interested in contracting you just for this work. Second, you are organized and proficient with time management to be able to juggle a side business along with a fulltime job. Finally, you’re a leader and an entrepreneur to not only get a side job, but make a side job – which could very well become your sole business with enough time. Be sure to include this wherever relevant. I added my freelancing Public Relations work to Linkedin profile and my resume and received quite a few connections who were intrigued by this work. They key is to find the balance between promoting your work but not in such a way that it becomes a conflict of interest with your fulltime job. I assure you, there is a balance that can be reached!

An Extra Snippet: Do you need to incorporate?

While we’re at the very beginning of how to turn your freelance business into a fulltime career, now is an important time to cover the issue of how and when to incorporate. I waited about a year and a half into my own freelancing before I woke up and did this. And it was only after a brutal tax return that I saw the value in doing so. Once you start bringing in frequent income from clients that averages over several hundred dollars for each project, I suggest talking with a CPA or a tax attorney in your area. I was connected with a very sharp tax attorney who saved me from a bad tax year and set me up right away as an S-Corp. There is a cost associated with incorporating your business (especially if you do it the right way) but you easily earn that back the first year you file this side income as a corporation rather than an individual. Yes, there are online programs like LegalZoom.com that can get you started, but it can be a complicated process and I wouldn’t mess around with the IRS. Talk in person with a local professional who can advise you and apprise you of all of the decisions that will come your way as a new business owner. Never once did I hear of someone who regretted this extra effort!

Stay tuned as the “Turning Freelance Into Fulltime” blog series continues with: Getting Your Name Out There

 
 

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Your Brand is Your Identity (Guest Blog by Cheval John)

The following blog post is part of the Bennis Blogger Battle. Support Cheval by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment and sharing it on your social media! The blog with the most hits, wins.

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Most people understand and implement the concept of branding in their business every day. It is also most people that only associate branding with a product or business. While this is certainly one aspect to branding, what most fail to realize is that the most important brand you have control of is yourself.

But what does that mean? It means that when you go out and do your day-to-day duties, the rest of the world will view you either positively or a negatively depending on how you treat people. You are constantly forming your own brand based upon your actions.

For example, if you act consistently like a jerk to people, whether at work, school, recreation, etc, then you develop a reputation (brand) of being an unpleasant person to be around and that reputation will often precede you. Even if you do recognize this character flaw and make efforts to change your behavior, it will take a very long time to repair that trust with the people that you hurt. For better or worse, your brand is more a constant that it is a variable.

To translate into business terms, if you are the CEO of a large company, how you treat your employees and clients on a daily basis determines the perception the world develops about your company and whether they support your business.

Take this real-life example: Sir Richard Branson turned the Virgin Group into one of the most recognizable brands in the world. They have over 300 products ranging from cell phones to airlines. Branson first started this enterprise as Virgin Records in 1970 with successful music acts that made the company millions of dollars. With this capital, he then started Virgin Atlantic with the first transatlantic flight from London to Newark in the 1980’s. When the airline began to struggle as the result of a “dirty tricks” campaign by their competitor, British Airways, Branson sold his record company in order to save the airline. The decision made him realize that he was the Virgin brand that ultimately influenced and determined the fate of the company and whatever he put his mind to, he had the control to make happen. With the realization of the power of his personal brand, he has since turned Virgin Atlantic into the second largest airline in the United Kingdom.

The lesson from Branson’s story is that if you make the effort to form a strong, positive brand and learn how to harness this power, you have the ability to take your business to level far beyond just a product or a service.

Cheval D. John started “Vallano Media” on February 6, 2012. Previously, it was a blog called “What’s The Word?” and it remains vital to the website. In addition to running the site, Cheval is a freelance reporter for The Huntsville Item, a daily newspaper in Huntsville, Texas and a team member of Priority One Public Relations, an on-campus public relations firm. Please support Cheval by “Liking” this post, leaving a comment below and visiting his personal blog: http://vallanomedia.com/.

 
 

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