Archive for July, 2010
Just like many people out there, I used to get spammed to death, so to try and cut down on the amount of spam, I changed from providing a contact email address clickable and visible, into a contact us form with a hidden email address. But technically, this is illegal.
Under the UK’s Electronic and Commerce Regulations Act 2002, any company that provides an online service including communication or a web site on the internet (that advertises, sells or provides information on goods or services) needs to comply with a number of rules. These are:
- The web site must provide a geographic contact address
- It must provide a clear email contact address, which goes through to a monitored inbox
- The geographic address must be a real address, and cannot be a PO box or redirection address
- The above must be available, even if a contact us form is provided
- The above must be provided in a form and manner which is ‘easily, directly and permanently accessible’
I had a look around at the web sites of a few other freelancers (who are also friends), and yes, they are all breaking the law as well.
Firstly, I don’t consider myself as an Entrepreneur. When I think of Entrepreneurs, I think of Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, and Donald Trump. Me, I am just a guy running my own computer freelance business with a few spin off products and services.
Next, I see people using it as a badge of honour – as if it’s something to be proud of. I don’t think being an Entrepreneur is anything to be proud of – in fact, its something to be ashamed of.
The reason why I say this is simple. The online dictionary defines an Entrepreneur as:
1. a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
2.an employer of productive labor; contractor.
The part I have a problem with in the above is Risk. Considerable Risk.
If I am going to do anything, I am going to plan it out, to work out the risks, to minimise those risks, to turn something into as much of a sure thing as it can be. If you want to take considerable risk, climb a ladder in the rain, park your car on a level crossing, give your credit card details to a Nigerian or bet your savings on Red at Las Vegas. If you want to run a successful business, whether it’s a contracting, freelancing or other small business, do the analyses, work out how to avoid possible risks, and don’t be an Entrepreneur.
Crunchbase is an index of companies and senior staff within the companies. Add yourself, your company, your blog and twitter feeds for more traffic.
This is a web site ranking area. To add your site, use the web site URL search prompt to search for your web site, it will then index and catalogue your web site
This web site lists companies across Europe. Whilst it has a pay-by-click advertising option, the free page will allow you to receive calls, emails and web traffic. A number of business directories take feeds from this directory.
Lists UK businesses based on services offered and geographic locations. Its unclear how much traffic this will generate, but it cant hurt, and like all the other suggestions, its free.
As per the printed version, any company would be daft not to be listed in the on-line version.
This is strictly Business to Business within the UK. Your business will be listed under its location and service type, and allows other businesses to contact you with requirements.
As with all the above, a directory of businesses, allowing your to be found by location, service type and keywords.
There are three very powerful, almost magical words used in advertising. We all know what they are, and despite us sneering at their use, we all fall for them because they are so effective and over time we have become programmed to associate value with them. Those words are; only, just and from.
Whatever we buy, it’s never £200. No, a price tag £200 sounds expensive, made up, of no value, and does not call us to buy it. How much is that TV? £200. Hmmmm… no sale.
But… How much is that other TV? Well that’s only £200. Only –makes it add value, gives a call to buy, and says that it should be so much more. Just £200 does the same.
From is the same, but different.. How much does it cost to produce a web site, press release, software application? Well that’s from £200. From is the minimum, it gets our foot in the door, and allows us to define the project and then produce the real quote (with the only and just words thrown in to show real value).
Using the words only, just and from in quotes and conversations is actually quite hard (I despise the words), but they work. Its why in every advert you see in a shop window, newspaper, on the radio or on the television, I can guarantee that at least one of those words will be used.
Try it in your next quote.
How much are you worth? By this, I mean how much is your day rate worth? But hang on, before you answer this (in your mind), let me clarify the question just a touch more – how much are you worth per day if there was no competition to bring your day rate down, and you could charge (without ripping people off) what you really thought you were worth? Is it a different number to what you currently charge per day?
If the answer is yes, then let me ask you two more questions – why are you not charging this larger day rate? Have you tried asking for it?
A few weeks ago, I tried something. It may sound crazy, but I decided that the next prospect or lead that came my way, when they asked for my day rate or a quote on a project, regardless of the size of work or type of work, I was going to take my standard day rate – AND DOUBLE IT – just to see what happens.
What actually happened was this… I actually crumbled before I said the day rate. In my mind I heard me saying it, and in a split second, just as the rate was on my lips, I realised how massive it was, and I just could not do it. Instead, I said a day rate which was 50% above my current day rate. And you know what, the prospect said yes!!!!! Just like that – yes!
All this time, I had been charging a day rate 50% lower than they were willing to pay. Imagine if I had actually doubled my day rate – and they had said yes. It’s not worth thinking about, because if I had, if they had, I have actually taken a 25% pay reduction on the job, compared to what they were willing to pay.
The point is this, the next time a prospect comes along, take a risk, raise your rate (day rate, hourly rate, product rate etc). See what happens. They could say yes. Of course, they could say no, but then you can always haggle it down to a bit more than your current rate.
Its just extra money, for the same work.
So are you still having a battle with trying to work out the Unique Selling Point (USP) of your product, your service or indeed you as a freelancing or contracting individual? If so, you are not alone. In a recent survey by PCG (professional Contractors Group), over 82% stated the concept of a USP as their biggest hang-up. When you consider it, having a USP is so critical to business success, but so difficult to come up with.
So here are some tips about finding your USP:
- First of all, you need to understand that whilst a Unique Selling Point gives you a great headline on why somebody should select you or your product, most other products and people will also have a USP. Having a USP is just another view into your credentials – it can never make every sale yours, as other peoples USP will be just as strong – so don’t get hung up on that
- Your USP is your value add – its what you or your product brings beyond what is required as a bonus. Typical USPs for freelancers may be your experience, or your knowledge, or extra services you can offer, connections you may have, your method of working, things you can provide free such as reference information, extra steps you are willing to take, or delivery times.
- USPs are never about being the cheapest, newest or most sold services or products
Your USP can combine a number of factors. However, it should not be so complex as to confuse the prospect or provide a fuzzy message. When you create your USP, it should include 3 areas:
- The title or the product or service you offer
- The area or market you provide this service or product to (very specific here)
- The position of your product or service in the market, and what makes you unique – the heart of your USP.
So examples of a USP statement, combining all of the above might be:
Product or Service : I am a freelance data specialist….
Area or market : … that works with small manufacturing companies in North London.
Position/USP : My 16 years of IT and data experience in a manufacturing environment, together with my extensive contacts list of manufacturing suppliers allows me to optimise data for best return on manufacturing spend.
One of the topics most discussed by freelancers (or contractors looking for other external work) is how to locate new customers and freelance work. There are many internet discussions about pulling in new customers through forum posts, web traffic and blog posts. All may work with sufficient traffic, effort and time, but don’t forget about the Nine best places to seek out new freelance work:
Whilst we may prefer to be at home earning freelance money, getting out and meeting other freelancers, businesses and agencies can lead to new work. Network events are run by your local businesslink centre, chamber of commerce, or private companies such as 4networking; all holding regular morning and evening network events.
Both active and inactive (zombie) customers may have additional work that needs to be completed, or projects that they are just about to start. Go through your contacts list, create a mailing list and send out an email (or better still a printed news letter) with information on what you are up to, any new skills, recent projects and ask them if there is any more work that you can assist in.
Professional Social Sites
Professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn are great places to find new work. Keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date with your current availability and skills, making sure you are searchable, and linking to working groups based on your skills may draw in new roles. It is also worth monitoring your connections, as people sometimes list projects that are coming up or staff that they need.
In addition to the professional networks, keeping your status up to date on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and monitoring other people’s profiles allows you to look for those opportunities. People moving jobs are key targets, as they may be moving to a position where there are new projects to be started where you can assist.
There are numerous job boards available listing contract roles. Whilst most are listing contract jobs (which you may not want as a freelancer), some of the descriptions provide sufficient information to narrow down the company or organisation. Adverts which list “A well known hospital requires..” with a location of “bath” (there is only 1 hospital in bath) allows you to know the requirement, and contact them independently.
Bid boards allow prospective customers to advertise for work, and freelancers to bid for the completion of the work. Whilst you may find the work does not pay as well as regularly obtained work (bids from eastern European countries tend to push the value down), now and again there are specialist jobs listed which only you can do.
Family and Friends
Whilst it is unlikely your mother will need you to create a web site or your sister will need a data migration project to be completed, they may work for or know of people who need such services. Keeping your family and friends up to speed, and keeping an eye on who they work for may lead to open door introductions.
Other Freelancers and contractors
Fellow contractors and freelancers will all be busy working on their own projects and trying to land new customers and projects. However there will be times that they feel overloaded or happily land more work they can take on. Rather than wait for them to come to you, why not contact the freelancers you know and offer your sub-contracting services?
Twitter may not seem an obvious location for locating freelancing work (other than tweeting your blogs, web site, services and your profile), it is surprising how many freelance and contract jobs are listed on twitter. Using the filter options on tools such as tweetdeck allows you to restrict your searches to your skill, location and key words like “freelance” or “work”.
Most people who dabble in web site development have heard of Alexa. But in case you are one of the few who have never heard or used it, you are missing a trick. Alexa is generally referred to through its web site ranking system – the Alexa ranking. This ranking is very much like the Google PR (page rank) system in that it tells you how good your web site is in terms of inward links, use in discussions, content etc.
But in addition to the Alexa ranking system, tools are available for web site owners to boost the profile of their sites using a variety of FREE tools:
Site Claim – This allows you to claim your site, and enter details of your company. Not only does this provide a good PR link into your site, but it also gets your site listed in another set of search engines.
General Searches – Alexa provides a running index of the top sites, the top search terms, the top feeds by different countries, topics and uses. It’s always useful to see what people are searching for, and what sites the traffic is going towards.
Competitor Analysis – Whilst there is not actually a menu option for competition, Alexa allows you to use the site info to enter any URL and see its rankings, links in and out, traffic over a period of time, and the search terms people use to find the site. This is a very useful tool to use to boost your own traffic – simply enter the URL of a similar company or competitor, and it will give you an idea of web sites you should list your own site in, keywords you may want to target, and lots of other useful information.
Did I mention, Alexa is free?
Today I needed to travel by train to a customer site (you can’t spend each and every day working from the home office; sometimes the meetings just cannot be avoided). As I made my way to the train station, I walked past a man and women in business suits, who were handing out business cards to everybody who was walking by, telling these passers by that they were freelance writers offering their PR and writing services.
As a freelancer myself, I had two feelings on being passed this card. My first thought was admiration, of having the determination to stand on a street corner, trying to gain work out of the business people who walk by, to do what it takes to bring in the business. But then, another feeling crept in, the cringe-embarrassment of thinking whether I would do this – stand on a street and advertisement myself to bring in the money.
A few hours later, having completed my customer meeting and returned back to the sanctuary of my home office, my reflection is simply that their approach is wasted effort.
Whilst it may appear to these two that there was a steady stream of potential business clients going to and from the station, they were using a fairly blunt weapon, a shotgun approach to their marketing. Advertising and marketing for freelancers is not so much about creating brand awareness, but finding the need, being there as the need arises, and being in a position to fill that need. Ok, there may be commuters who are thinking about some PR work which is needed to be completed back at the office, but what is the likely hood that this is more pressing that the worries about catching the train, getting a seat on the train, or worrying about a million other things.
With our reduced marketing budget, effective marketing for freelancers is more about being smart. Rather than shooting a shotgun into a river and hoping that by chance a fish is nearby, it’s about going to where you know that the fish are, and using a targeted weapon. Even better is to give a weapon to a fisherman, and let them catch the fish for you.
If I was those freelance writers, rather than using my (valuable) freelancing time to use the shotgun approach at the station, I would have visited local service companies (real estate agents, attorneys, printing companies, web hosting companies, advertising companies), companies higher up in the food chain who have many customers, who in turn may have a need for talented writing services. Creating a real word affiliate partnership with the service providers is a targeted approach, with a much better return on the marketing hour.
Affiliated marketing is not just reserved for web pages and blogs. Its hard to imagine any type of freelance business that could not generate new business through real world affiliations. So what’s stopping you?
One of the concepts that is most likely to have any small business owner scratching their head is the concept of USP: Unique Selling Proposition (or Unique Selling Point). The Oxford English Dictionary defines a USP as:
A unique set of characteristics or features for a service or product, which can be used to differentiate an item from a competitor’s equivalent offering to provide a competitive sales advantage.
Business books are very good at telling the small business owner that as part of any sales or marketing activity it is vital to identify the USP for a service or product, but offer little guidance on how this can be accomplished. Whilst the method of identifying a USP will vary from service to service or product to product, the following steps can help you on this rather complex business process.
Start with what it the same
As a starting point, make a list of everything your service or product has, that is also present in your competitor’s equivalent. By creating a list of the similar attributes, it allows you to set these aside to identify the differences.
Assume that people will assume
When a customer is presented with a unique view, people will imagine the items which are not explicitly stated. As an example, if I were to advertise a hotel, situated in a pleasant country setting, with indoor swimming pool, spa and 5-star restaurant, you make a lot of assumptions. You assume you get a room, a bed, a TV in the room etc. Why waste the space on what every hotel has unless these features are part of the uniqueness (such as 4-poster bed, in room fire etc).
Ask Other People (including Customers)
If you have existing customers for your product or service, ask them what the unique features are and why they selected your service or product. There may be things that you have never even thought of. If you don’t yet have customers, ask friends for their view – it’s always useful to have an outside view of the situation.
Avoid the watered down USP
In todays over saturated marketplace, it is far too easy to treat customers as idiots, and assume that they will fall for watered down qualities or features. Throw away terms such as “100% guaranteed” or “Cutting Edge” mean nothing and are unlikely to be a USP when everybody else is saying the same thing. Avoid such phrases to leave space and impact for the true USPs.
Create a new USP
One of the tools that big companies use is to create new markets, features and USPs for their product. Hair products are especially good at this; when did shampoos move from being basic hair cleaning products to complex beauty products with pro-biotic complex serums? Create an impressive term for your product as a USP, but be cautious of using something so complex, people struggle to understand it.