Thursday, July 31, 2014

10 Ways to Stand Out As A Freelancer (Part 4)

My last article installment was about customizing your letterhead and invoice. Now I'll encourage you to take one more step, go the extra mile, and make your interactions with clients as personal as possible.

Take a look at the following:

(5.) Show your clients how much you appreciate them by making phone calls or writing a letter of appreciation.

Let's say a client has paid your fees in full and he sent you a message that money was already sent through your PayPal account or deposited in your bank account. Take time to call up your client, thank him, and tell him that you appreciate his promptness.

If your client lives or is based abroad, a short email will do. Also, several freelancing professionals are making an extra effort by keeping a stock of blank envelopes and notecards, so they could quickly pen a short message and mail it at the post office.

Mailing your clients a greeting card on their birthday or Christmas is one of the best ways for you to remind them, in a pleasant and unobtrusive manner, that you're keeping them within your radar, and you're welcoming the possibility of working for them again. 

(6.) Upload a video of yourself in your blog or website.

Nothing could win the favor of potential clients more than going out of your way and putting a personal touch in your blog or website.

Be informed that including videos in your blog or website has existed for several years as a technique in online marketing. And it has been so effective because you don't look like you're doing hardcore selling, but merely making your readers comfortable with the feel of your blog or site.

Your video can serve as your welcoming message to your readers. Keep it short -- just around 90 seconds to two minutes -- but make sure everything you say is relevant to who you are and your work as a freelancer. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

10 Ways to Stand Out As A Freelancer (Part 3)

In this next installment of this article series, I'll talk about customizing two important documents for freelancers. Here they are:

3. Pay attention to your letterhead.

At an age when email is the preferred method of correspondence, a good number of freelancing professionals still keep a supply of stationery and stamps to send LOIs (letters of introduction) as well as replies to promissory notes.

Collection letters to prevent delinquent accounts may also be sent through snail mail. Freelancers make several copies of such letters and file them for quick reference.

It's not necessary to go to a commercial printer to have your letterhead custom-made. All you have to do is create a template in your home computer, either by using built-in publishing software or Microsoft Word. 

Keep a supply of letter-size paper (white or cream is preferable) and legal-size envelopes handy. Paper and envelopes can be bought in bulk at reduced prices.

4. Take a good look at your invoice.

Your invoice will serve as your document for collecting payment. It's the one you present to your clients after they have expressed approval over the finished project.

You must lend uniqueness to your invoice as a way to stand out among the numerous freelancers out there. While I believe in keeping it simple and fuss-free, you can spell out your name in enlarged, bold fonts for emphasis. 

Provide your snail mail address, or, if you're renting office space, use that instead. Make sure that your contact information (e.g. Skype ID, telephone and mobile phone numbers, and email address) are spelled out accurately.

Friday, July 25, 2014

10 Ways to Stand Out As A Freelancer (Part 2)

In the first part of this article series, I talked about the importance of polishing your elevator pitch. Here's the next way to stand out as a freelancer:

(2.) Take a good look at your business cards.

Your business card is a handy piece of marketing material and should be a part of every freelancer's marketing strategy.

I strongly recommend that you have your business cards printed on white or cream card stock. If you're a man, light blue or gray would be suitable, too.

If your skills and competence lie in the arts, it's perfectly all right to be as creative as possible in coming up with your card's design. You may want to include a small logo of your initials, or even a caricature or illustration.

Make sure that the fonts or text are readable. Since you'll include your contact information, potential clients need to know right away how to get in touch with you.

Don't just spell out your title after your name. I once made my own business cards using Microsoft Publisher, and instead of stating --

Freelance Writer/Proofreader

Here's what I did:

Article Writing/Rewriting * Proofreading
Web Content * SEO* Resumes

By citing the services that I offer, I have made my business card a dead give-away about the type of freelancing professional that I am, and potential clients will have an idea of whether or not I can meet their needs. 

Also, it would be a good idea to give your clients terrific bargains in the form of "teasers." If you bait your clients with the promise of a free 30-minute consultation or discounted rates, you may want to include them in your business card. Simply state --

Avail of first 30 minutes
of consultation -- FREE!

Or --

10% to 20% Discount 
for An Article Set!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

10 Ways to Stand Out as A Freelancer (Part 1)

If you don't want to find yourself stuck in a "dry spell" due to a lack of clients assigning projects that pay competitively, you need to work continuously on your marketing strategies.

By consistently tweaking the ways you present yourself, your skills, and your services to your target clientele, you will learn the value of branding and identity.

Immerse yourself in your career with the mindset that you are unique. Although we can learn from each other's example and work ethics, the fact remains that no two freelancers are alike.

If you want freelancing to be fulfilling, be as imaginative as possible in coming up with several ways to give you an edge in this business. Take a cue from any of the following:

(1.) Polish your "elevator pitch," and practice saying it until you're comfortable with it.

Your elevator pitch is your stock reply whenever people ask, "So, what do you do?" Whenever you attend events for the sole purpose of networking, the elevator pitch alone could make or break who you are as a freelancer. 

Elizabeth Ong, a Filipina freelance writer, advises, "[Your pitch] should be short enough to last an elevator ride but long enough for people to get the complete picture."

To illustrate, try this exercise. Listen to yourself as you say the following words out loud:

"I'm a freelance writer."

"I'm an illustrator for children's books."

"I blog for a living."

These statements hardly pack a punch when you offer them to a new acquaintance that may turn into a potential client. Why? Because they sound generic and stale, and they hardly leave a clue about your competence and skills.

Consider the first statement. Everyone knows that plenty of people already make a living from writing. But the question is, do you write novels, screenplays, or poetry?

And what about entrepreneurs who hire copywriters to help them with their print ads? And SEO is now incorporated in blogging for blogs to get more traffic and build readership.

Illustration is a very broad aspect in freelancing, too. Marketable skills in the arts include graphic and multi-media design, painting, and pen and ink drawing, among others.

Now, compare the previous statements to the following:

"I mostly cater to entrepreneurs who put up an online store. I engage potential customers by writing valuable content and encourage interaction through Facebook and Instagram."

"I team up with authors of children's books by providing illustrations rendered in Microsoft Paint." 

"I blog about being a stay-at-home mom, and I often accept guest blogging stints where I get to write about scrapbooking and DIY projects."

Have you noticed the difference in impact? If you're a writer or blogger and you introduce yourself in this brief yet pertinent manner, no one will just assume that you're a novelist or newspaper columnist. And as an artist who utilizes Microsoft Paint, potential clients get to know immediately that Microsoft Paint is your preferred medium in rendering artworks.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Savings, Investments, and Growing Old Wealthy

While I'm all for establishing regular cash flow as soon as possible in your freelancing career, I would also recommend the habits of saving and investing, even when you're just starting out in your career.

A good number of freelancers eventually make six-figure incomes, but more often than not, it doesn't depend on how much money you earn, but how much money is left after paying for your overhead expenses and drawing up a budget for the basic necessities of rent (if you don't own a house), meals, clothing, water, electricity, telephone bills, etc., that will spell out the difference between poverty and financial wellness in the long run.

Employees are advised to set aside 10 percent of their salaries for tithes, 10 percent for savings, and another 10 percent for investments while living on 70 percent of what's left.

While freelancing may offer us the flexibility and privilege of working at our own pace and charging more for a specialized service, we do not have the security derived from a regular paycheck.

And it's a fact in a freelancer's life that he may earn different amounts every week, every two weeks, or monthly, depending on how often he lands lucrative projects, and how often his pay-out is.

This is the main reason freelancing professionals need to learn to manage their money well. While freelancing is retirement-proof, the desire to work less and less as we age and, eventually, depend on our pension and passive income, plus savings, exists among freelancers, not just employees. 

Having said all of the above, it's wise to set aside around 15 to 20 percent, regardless of the amount you've been paid for each project.

This may leave you wondering, "Why that much money?" 

Simple answer: the faster we grow our cash stash, the quicker we can give investing a serious consideration. Also, you have to deal with "dry spells," at least during the first few years of your career, when jobs and projects won't always be available. Extra cash will ensure us of comfort until work comes rolling by again.

And saving is just the first step towards achieving financial wellness in freelancing. I strongly advice you to start doing research now about how much it would take for you to be able to invest.

You can seek the help of a financial adviser, who has all the credentials and is therefore qualified to orient you towards the right mindset in making investments, and possibly present you with a range of options.

Also, Google "frugal living," and decide to give up a few luxuries, or cut back on habits or expensive recreational activities that, in the long run, will surely put a hole in your pocket.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

After A Mid-Year Assessment...What Now?

You are now ready to take on the rest of 2014 with more confidence due to a better understanding of what worked and didn't work for you as a freelancer during the first six months of 2014.

Here are several suggestions for further tapping into your skills and potential:

Get personal --

  • with potential clients. Building a business is all about fostering relationships, and freelancing is no different. You're in the business of selling your services and making people see that you're worth their while.
  • by listening intently to your client's most pressing needs. Or even better, if he's representing a company, take time to understand their mission/vision statement.
  • by customizing your invoice, letterhead, business cards, and even right down to the labels that you use for CDs. This applies to your marketing materials, too. 
  • by making yourself stand out. Emphasize what makes you unique from other freelancers.
  • by establishing a platform. Aside from maintaining your own website, publish a blog, or offer to be a guest blogger. You can also write and sell ebooks or get yourself a number of subscribers and periodically send them newsletters.

Get rid --

  • of habits that keep you from being productive, like allowing yourself to be distracted by the TV or social media.
  • of the mindset that you should keep your rates somewhere at the low end of the payment spectrum in order to get more clients. In the long run, you will only feel undervalued, or worse, burnt out. It's very much possible to justify charging competitive rates by beefing up your credentials and gaining as much experience as possible.
  • of clients who don't value your time and worth as a freelancing professional. If they're habitually tardy in returning your follow-up calls or paying you on or before the deadline, it may be time to drop them and seek better clients.

Get inspired --

  • by reading books and articles related to your craft.
  • by keeping tab on blogs maintained by other freelancing professionals.
  • by joining or forming your own network, where each member can contribute in drafting guidelines that will benefit everyone in the group.
  • and be an inspiration to others. Give a talk, or team up with other freelancers in your network and facilitate a series of workshops or seminars.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Conducting A Mid-Year Assessment (Part 3)

Here's the final question when doing an evaluation on how you fared during your first six months in 2014 as a freelancing professional:

Did you set up a payment plan that made it convenient for your clients to fork out your freelancer's rates?

For a good number of freelancers, convenience means offering their clients several options (e.g. PayPal, making cash or check deposits through their preferred bank, money transfer, etc.)

For other freelancing professionals, it means adopting an installment plan, where clients pay them their required flat fee and a down payment (50 percent of the roughly estimated amount, or price quote, is the standard operating procedure in freelancing, but lowering it to 30 to 40 percent is reasonable if you're just starting out) before getting started with work. Afterwards, clients make succeeding payments, either within a 10- or 15-day interval, or according to his agreement with the freelancer.

Now, regardless of how you choose to get paid, an even more important financial aspect is establishing a regular cash flow as soon as possible, either through some or all of the following:

  • Planning your career, setting both short-term and long-term goals, and then breaking them down into daily routines. This may include deciding how many queries you'll send within a week, how many cold calls you'll make in a month, looking for conventions that would be good for networking, or saving up for that seminar or class that would beef up your credentials.
  • Teaming up with a fellow freelancer, or forming a network where several other freelancers are involved, and then setting up an earning-through-referral system. Whenever you get swamped with work and a potential client inquires about your services, you can simply refer him to another freelancer in your network and collect a commission once the project is done.
  • Deciding how and when you'll pay your bills, so that you can aim for a comfortable amount that you need to earn monthly to cover all your expenses.
  • Formulating strategies so that no client will have any amount left unpaid.
  • Having several repeat clients, like entrepreneurs owning small businesses that need an extra hand during tax season, or any company that outsource jobs each time the holidays roll around in order to cut costs and keep their workforce small.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Conducting A Mid-Year Assessment (Part 2)

I mentioned the importance of conducting a mid-year assessment so you can evaluate your performance, habits, and cash flow. And once you pinpoint anything that holds you back, whether from being the best that you can be in your craft or getting the maximum remuneration given your skills and years of experience, you can resolve to take steps to get better. 

The good news is you have the rest of 2014 to acquire more positive habits, get rid of the roadblocks, or simply maintain the ones that have been particularly helpful in keeping you efficient.

Having said all of the above, let's continue to prune your habits and routine. Carefully consider the next question: 

Were you able to handle "sticky" situations well?

Success in freelancing lies partly in being competent and skilled, while the rest lies in how well you communicate your terms to potential clients, listen and understand their needs, and being flexible enough to strike a compromise whenever necessary.

But just like any other career, freelancing has its share of problems, and, at one point or another, you'll find yourself caught in a tight spot, sometimes unintentionally; in other times, due to your lack of better judgment or miscalculations of the risks involved in a project.

To illustrate, let's say you promised a client to turn in six keyword-rich, 400-word articles on Wednesday for his website. You were aware that you were assigned a highly specialized topic (selling previously owned vehicles) that targets a niche market.

Now, you never anticipated the level of difficulty and amount of research you needed to undertake to meet your clients' desired result, which is to get the majority of potential buyers to choose a second-hand car over a brand-new one for economical reasons. It's Tuesday afternoon and you're still busy pounding on your keyboard. There's no way you can submit six finished drafts the following day.

Or how about this: your client still hasn't paid you the remaining 30 percent of your freelancer's fee and, after a few days past the deadline, you got a call from him, asking if you'd be willing to make further revisions because insiders in the company he was representing were dissatisfied with the results of your project.

Now, you've made it clear, as stated in your contract, that you'll allow free revisions only if your client got in touch with you within 48 hours after turning in the finished project. So if you'll agree to go ahead and revise your work, you would need to charge an additional fee. How do you explain this to your client without coming across as greedy?

By now you may have realized that any of these "sticky" situations can be turned into an opportunity to further improve the way you negotiate with clients. Regarding the first case, you can ask for an extension, like asking if you could submit the finished articles on Friday instead of Wednesday.

With the second case, see if your client's request for further revisions is reasonable, and write him an email, stating that you're charging him additional fees because this would mean an extension in your contract.

Stay tuned as I round up this series in my next few articles.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Conducting A Mid-Year Assessment (Part 1)

Part of your job as a freelancing professional is to make sure you're always seeking for new or better ways to improve or hone your craft.

Since the first half of 2014 is over, it's time to evaluate your work habits and accurately pinpoint the areas where you need the most improvement as opposed to the ones where you've proven to be the most effective.

Gather any records you may have, like spreadsheets, receipts, or any proof of payment. You may have also kept promissory notes from clients who have requested to extend the deadline you've given them to pay the remaining balance.

Now, set aside an entire day or two for your mid-year assessment, and then do the following:

Take note of the habits that have proven to be the most beneficial to your career.

A very good example of this is reducing the time you spend composing emails by having several email templates ready, or creating a business card that makes you stand out, to the point that potential clients can't help but sit up and take notice of you.

Attending conventions and networking is also an excellent way to meet fellow freelancers and professionals in other fields that may need your services. Keep a record of the clients that you've met in conventions, and see to it that they'd want to be among your stable of repeat clients.

Continually strive to streamline your weekly routine.

One of the keys to being effective is to plan ahead. Freelancing professionals need to schedule large blocks of time throughout their week if they want to make sure that they'll turn in exemplary work on time.

And time management is even more important for freelancers who have a nine-to-five job and treat this career as a sideline to augment their monthly paychecks.

If you've been successful in reducing the time you spend in front of the TV in order to concentrate more on your tasks, congratulations! If you've harnessed social media as a marketing tool rather than a distraction, then give yourself a pat on the back for learning how to build your own platform.

Assess your cash flow.

Did your clients find it easy or convenient to fork over your required flat fee and down payment? Have you provided your clients with a variety of options and payment schemes, like check deposits, bank or wire transfers, PayPal, Xoom, and, locally, Globe Gcash?

And how did you fare when it came to collecting the maintaining balance after a client has expressed that he was satisfied with your job? Usually, your invoice should be enough to do the talking.

Do come back next week for the second part of this post.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Power of A Testimonial (Part 4)

I'm now going to round up this article series with this last piece of advice:

You don't need to reveal your client's name nor the company he's representing after the testimonials, especially if you agreed to grant him his Right to Confidentiality.

There are a few things regarding business transactions that need to be kept confidential, and freelancing is not exempted from this. Whatever intentions your clients may have for wanting to keep things private, you should respect that as his preference.

I have mentioned in one of my earliest posts that you should provide your clients with the Right to Confidentiality, where you write down in a separate portion of your Freelancer's Contract that you will keep the details of your transactions under discretion.

While you will come across clients who will find it perfectly fine that you cite their names along with the work you've done for them for your portfolio, there will always be a few others who prefer not to have the details of their projects disclosed to a third party.

And the Right to Confidentiality is something that you, a freelancing professional, must not break no matter what the circumstances are. It's easy to prove your competence, much like acquiring and honing your skills. But gaining the trust of your clients and building a solid reputation will be much harder than you think.

So once you have collected a sizable number of testimonials (say, four to six, or even more), simply exclude all of your clients' names. Potential clients will never assume that you merely made up all those glowing testimonials proving your worth as a freelancing professional. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Power of A Testimonial (Part 3)

By now you may have realized how beneficial a glowing testimonial from a satisfied client can be. Here are the next few guidelines you would need to consider in order to achieve your goal of presenting yourself to potential clients:

Remember to proofread what your clients said for clarity and cohesiveness.

Usually, clients seek freelancers, especially writers, because they themselves aren't blessed with the ability to put words together to achieve their desired results, or they find it time-consuming to handle the operations of their business and still take care of marketing their products or services.

If you're not a writer or copy editor, get in touch with a fellow freelancer whose expertise includes proofreading, and ask him to streamline your clients' testimonials until they're lucid and concise.

In order to cut costs, you can negotiate with your fellow freelancer that you'll return the favor by offering one of your services that's not included among his set of skills, should the need come up in the future.

Be selective with the testimonials that you'll include in your marketing materials.

To illustrate, you should have a separate web page in your freelancer's website for at least three testimonials. Place them beside or underneath your portfolio, or the page where your contact information is provided.

If you have a couple of specialties, like corporate resumes, websites' landing pages, blogging, or shooting webinars, provide at least two testimonials for each specialty. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Power of A Testimonial (Part 2)

In the first part of this article series, I cited how a glowing testimonial from a satisfied client can boost your marketing strategy and get more potential clients to notice you.

In my 11-year stint as a freelancing professional, I have grown more and more convinced that a testimonial not only reduces a freelancer's marketing budget, it also works better in convincing potential clients to give you a try.

That's because testimonials, when written in a way that calls attention to you as a peak performer, only means that you've done the necessary work to build a solid reputation. 

Given the numerous benefits that a testimonial can give, it only makes sense to learn how to use it for maximum results.

The following is not an exhaustive list, but just a few general guidelines on soliciting testimonials:

Get in touch with three to five of your most recent clients and ask them to put in a good word for you.

You can do this by emailing or calling former clients or any repeat client of whose whereabouts you may be keeping tab. Since a testimonial would only need to highlight your competence and skills, it need not turn into a rambling of "how great you are," and surely the client need not rave over you.

Notice any recurring compliments or key phrases.

It's too generic when a client says that "Sally Kimbell is professional, resourceful, and easy to work with." If you possess a specific set of skills that you've utilized in a variety of projects, you want to make sure that these skills are highlighted in the best way possible.

Now, your "hard skills" are not more important than your "soft skills" (e.g. negotiating, being prompt when it comes to deadlines, etc.). Rather, your soft skills are what enable you to utilize your hard skills to the fullest, and this is what needs to be emphasized most to make a testimonial glowing.

Notice the impact when a testimonial is phrased this way:

"We were about to attempt an ambitious project that required a near overhaul of our company's website. We knew that in order to stand out, we needed a seasoned article writer who's also knowledgeable in SEO and is in tune with the interests and preferences of young adult, cosmopolitan women who frequent upscale places all over the metro. That's why, upon recommendation by one of her former clients, we decided that Sally Kimbell is the one most suited to do the job."

Here's another one:

"What made James Smith such a joy to work with is him being very systematic with the tasks we outsourced to him. All throughout the duration of his contract, he would make follow-up calls to our office to ensure that he was on the right track. Although it was apparent that he can work with minimum supervision, his desire to be accountable until the project was done was his most winning attitude."

See the difference? 

Come back next week for more on this article series.