Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I’m a freelancer, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so buy from me maybe.
~ Altered version of Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
I have wanted to write about this subject for a while – and could not work out the way to phrase it. Then, whilst on holiday, I watched a poor lad propose to a girl in front of everybody in a bar, and she said a massive big fat NO!!!
He was devastated. But at least it gave me my hook into this subject.
Entering marriage is very much like the relationship between a freelancer and their prospective customer. It’s true that some customers may just want to grab an item, pay for it and be done with the transaction (such as when using Amazon), but for most time, customers want to be romanced.
Freelancers are brought into companies to carry out important work. But before they will raise an order for the work, the prospect needs to feel special, they need to feel a bond is there, they need to feel important, and they need to feel respected. Above all, they need to feel they can trust you.
Responding to an initial enquiry with a proposal and price is like walking up to a girl in the street and saying “Hi, we have only just met, but will you marry me??”. Good luck with that approach.
Seasoned salesmen always sales say that people don’t buy products, they buy people and relationships.
Also, they need to feel like they are the ones making the decision. Yes, you can persuade them, talk them round, and generally ‘sell’ to them, but if you put them into a corner to force their decision, more likely than not their answer will be NO. That girl in the bar may have said yes if he had asked her on a beach, with just the two of them (its how I asked my wife with no pressure of other people watching.
And just like getting a partner to say yes to marriage, there has to be a demand and desire; a sense of ‘everybody else wants it’. If the poor chap in the bar had proposed marriage when no other woman had shown interest in years, there may be a feeling of desperation – such as “he is asking me because nobody else will have him” – which is never a strong sales position.
But, if other girls were always hitting on him (and of course he was politely turning them down), then he would be in demand which raises interest and he may have had more luck. Put it another way, nobody wants to commit to rejections or the out of date products on the shelf.
It’s why we have panic buying at Christmas time for the latest children’s toy. Everybody wants it because… everybody wants it. Even if they are not sure why.
Of course, being a small freelancer or small business, it’s almost impossible to create this demand (where everybody wants you and everybody knows it). But it is possible to create a cloud of pseudo demand by:
- Not being too demanding or pestering for the work (but that does not mean don’t chase, just do it in a casual way)
- Never say you can start immediately (or at least say you will have to reorganise other projects if the customer prospect demands a quick start)
- You can even use reverse demand by saying “of course, we are selective on the companies we work with, so just need to make sure you meet that criteria” (which puts them into a pseudo exclusive club)
So when you bring it all together, don’t be the chap in the bar. Get to know your prospect, take your time, make the setting right, and then create the demand so that when you propose doing business, they will be happy to say yes.
Every so often, I find myself having to retype text from a piece of paper. It could be a letter sent to me, or something printed out at a customer site, or even personal information provided to me in paper form.
Retyping such information can be a pain – and I always find it annoying when the individual or company involved refuses to provide an electronic copy (or a PDF which has no selectable text, just an image of the text).
As an example, when I recently booked my 2012 holidays, the travel agent would only issue the itinerary in printed format. This is no good to me when I want to copy the information into my TripIt travel planning software. As I say, having to retype the information is just such a waste of time.
So I went looking for a service which would allow me to upload scanned images (scanned on my local multi-functional printer/scanner/fax) to the cloud, would then perform text extraction (OCR) and would finally provide me an electronic text version of the pages. I tried 5 or 6 different systems, and have decided that for the rare occasions when I am not provided an electronic copy, OnLineOCR.net is the service I am going to use.
What I like about OnLineOCR.net
In my testing, I made my selection priorities (a) ease of use and (b) quality of OC recognition of the scanned text. Whilst there was not much difference in any of the services I tested, I did find that OnlineOCR.net was just ahead of the others in terms of conversion hit rate. Whilst none of the OCR services were 100% accurate in their recognition, OnLineOCR.net did seem to have the fewest mistakes – and any mistakes it did make were down to lines and marks on the original document (such as lines drawn across text). I also found the turn around time of the OCR process from OnLineOCR.net to be as fast as, or indeed faster, than the other services I tested.
Different Methods of Working
What I most liked about the OnLineOCR.net service is the different ways that you can get documents into the OCR engine. The basic method (which requires no registration) is a fairly uninteresting (outdated?) front end web application for browsing to a scanned image, uploading, and then a few seconds later a link is provided to download the text based version. Using this non-registration version, you scan and process up to 15 pages an hour (I assume this is checked against your computers IP address). Once you register (which is free), you then also have the ability to email them documents is a variety of formats (JPEG, TIFF, PDF, etc) and they will process and email you back a document of you preference (I use Word). I found using my phone, I could even take photos and upload to the web to get the text back.
One note on this, the scan needs to be as clean as possible and scanned at a minimum of 300DPI to get the best results.
One word of warning – its not totally free
Now one word of note is that the system is not totally free. Yes, you can avoid registration and still use it for the 15 page scan and OCR process per day – which is free and fine. But when you register, you are given 20 credits – a credit equals 1 page of OCR, so you get 20 pages for free. After this you have to pay or earn additional pages – but the cost is fairly cheap. Having checked a number of other ‘free’ cloud based OCR services, all the applications I could find had such ‘free’ limitations.’
If we are honest, in an ideal word this service should not be needed. Everything should come electronically and you should be able to cut and paste as with any electronic document. BUT, we don’t live in such a word, and there will be times when you want to quickly scan in a document and use the text in the document without having to retype it all. This service fits that bill.
For that reason, its worth signing up, adding the OCR email address to your contacts book, and have it ready and waiting for the odd times when you do need a page to be OCR’d.
One Final Word of caution, remember that this is a cloud based system. Therefore whilst I would be happy to upload letters, sales copy and reference text, I would still not suggest scanning in and emailing bank statements and the like to OnLineOCR.net– just in case.
As I type this, I am currently sitting in the airport departure lounge of a small American city, waiting for my flight home to be called, having completed a whistle stop visit to the USA for a new customer project. Having spent a couple of days working with other American companies, I am struck how much easier it must be to be a freelancer or small business owner in the USA.
Here are my top 10 reasons why it MUST be easier to be a freelancer in the USA than in the UK:
The postal system is so much better – apart from having a massive range of postal options, the US postal service has decided to simplify their system by proving a range of boxes. Each box has a postal price – if it fits in a box, it ships for that boxes price regardless of destination or weight. Compare that to our UK system of weight, by size, by location. Plus, the US postal service will deliver the blank empty boxes to you, and collect from your door – no more queuing at the post office.
It’s an accepted way of Life – Being a freelancer or small business owner is not only a dream for Americans, it’s an accepted way of life. In the USA, if you say you’re a freelancer it seems to be regarded as the norm. In the UK, it is viewed with suspicion.
Free WiFi is EVRYWHERE – and I mean everywhere. Good, fast, secure and free – from the local bar, to cinemas, to restaurants and even on the road– it’s impossible not to be on line.
Office space is plentiful and CHEAP – This may not be true in big built up cities, but in the places I visited, there were plenty of short lease, long lease and rental office space. All were ridiculously cheap (we used a large meeting room for 2 days for less that £80 all in), and all are clean, modern and well equipped.
Fuel is at our early 1990’s prices – when I tell people in the US how much our fuel is, they are shocked. Fuel here is around £3.62 a gallon.
Americans buy American – Americans have pride in American products, and buy American whenever possible (even buying American cars when foreign are better). American flags are on most products. When is the last time you saw the words “Made in Britain” and felt pride?
Everything is delivered to your door – Nothing is too much. I stayed in a hotel, and had printing, pizza, drinks and software delivered right to my hotel room – not the lobby – but the room. It’s standard practice.
Web sites are geared for Americans – Lets be honest, the vast majority of web sites are hosted and run from America, which gives Americans the home advantage. I have lost count the times I have tried to work out the way to get a UK post code into an American zip code prompt.
No (little) Health and Safety Laws – In all the times I have visited the states, I have never heard the words “No, because Health and Safety dictates that….”. It just doesn’t happen. Health and Safety has handcuffed what we do and how we do it. But not in the USA. You want to plug your laptop into a wall socket in a hotel lobby or airport terminal – there is nothing to stop you.
Everybody has a Can Do attitude – Everybody in America really does have the Can Do Attitude. Nothing is too much trouble. Whereas in the UK, just try to get service in a shop by the bored teenage school kid part timing, and too busy talking about tonight’s party to serve you.
Does this man I want to move to the USA to run my business? No!! I love living in the UK. Its just that at times, we just make it so hard for ourselves. Things need to change.
In a world where there is a lot of competition to be noticed, or where there are a lot of other companies or individuals doing similar work to you, it is very easy to be lost in the crush or be overlooked in favour of a competitor. I have found that one of the most professional things that individuals or small business can do to elevate themselves above the crowd is through documentation.
Yes, we all have nice web sites, and yes, our skills and products are just what the potential customer needs, but who is telling this to the customer after we have walked away or they are busy deciding which way to go? That’s where documentation comes in, and when selling yourself or your products/services, nothing does this better than a great brochure.
When you have a good story to tell, I am a firm believer that leaving a follow up story in the form of an impressive brochure is strong ammunition for a sale. Documentation boosts your profile, is always handy for telling people what you do, and is a wonderful tool for networking. Even if you are a contractor sent to interviews by agencies, leaving a small brochure with some more information (more references, a picture of yourself, more details of your skills) can land you that role.
It used to be that the thought of documentation conjured up images of wasted effort, large price tags, and stocks of paper floating around unused. Now, it could not be easier to create a brochure without any outside assistance, and they can be printed on demand at home.
I am a great fan of Microsoft Publisher – if you have never used it, it comes with Microsoft office (professional edition, it will be there on the Office START menu in windows), and is the Microsoft Desktop Publishing solution. But there are other good products on the Mac architecture (Swift Publisher) and lots of Freebie tools such as PagePlus SE or Scribus.
The reason I like Publisher so much, is because it comes crammed with templates for all kinds of nicely laid out documents which you can customise with your own graphics, text and logos. In a matter of minutes, you will have sales collateral worth handing out.
In the 2nd party of this two part post, I will share with you my brochure design.
Despite all our best efforts, there will be times when you have to work at a remote office, a customer’s site or whilst on the move from one location to another (train, plane or in a cab). The following tools when used together provide the ultimate resource for ensuring information is easy synchronised between all your different working locations:
For copying bookmarks – Xmarks
Xmarks originated as a Firefox only add on, but is now available for all major search engines including mobile platforms and on-line enquiry, and is used to synchronise bookmarks between locations. Bookmark a useful web resource at home or whilst working off site, and the same bookmark magically appears on all other computers you login to.
For copying snippets – Evernote
Whether its snippets of source code, pictures, text for documents, technical information or any other form of document, Evernote provides a snippet synchronisation tool. Snippet is actually a bad description as each snippet can be many pages in length. Any snippet captured will be available in your on-line catalogue, and will be downloaded to all other computers you use next time they are switched on. Evernote provides clever searching and categorisation facilities, links into mobile devices (iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile etc) for mobile searching and capturing (including photos), and will even perform text recognition (OCR) on text within photos for searching – very useful for taking photos of somebody’s business card. Capturing can be from Windows, Mac or most web browsers.
For easy access to files – Dropbox
Dropbox is designed to be a chargeable product, but as long as you stay within the file sizes and total content limits (1 to 2Gb depending on file types), it provides a free service for synchronising your important files into a secure location on the cloud. Interface is with Windows File explorer (or mac) and appears as a logical directory on your computer – copy the files to the new directory, and the files are then easily accessible to any other computer. Copy shortcuts, and any changes to your local copy of the files are also copied into the cloud.
I love keeping up to date with what others are doing in terms of technology, IT contracting/freelancing and what techniques are being used for growing their own small businesses. Of course, information can come in many forms, and whilst I like reading blogs and news sites, podcasts can also be useful as you can listen to these on the move through MP3 players/ipods, or in your car.
I subscribe to a number of podcasts on a variety of different subjects. The ones that I currently find most useful are listed below. Don’t forget that these podcasts also have a back-catalogue of episodes covering a wide variety of subjects.
Freelance Switch podcast
A regular American podcast on practical tips and advice for freelancers and contractors working in IT. Topics covered so far include what to do when the work dries up, finding work, advertising, slow paying clients, accounting. They also talk about tools and techniques for better freelancing.
The podcast is linked to this UK based freelancers discussion site. As above, this podcast covers a whole host of IT contracting and freelancing subjects, but has a UK basis for all discussions.
The Startup Podcast
Again, another American based podcast which is very IT based, geared around freelancers working with Microsoft technologies. However, every 2nd episode covers other topics such as keeping yourself motivated, finding investment and expanding your business.
The host (Alex Bellinger) produces regular UK based podcasts where he interviews a wide range of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Whilst this provides less practical advise than the other podcasts, it is still worth listening to for the odd snippet on how others have launched businesses, expanded them and in some cases, taken them into the wider business arena.
BBC Radio4 – The bottom Line
A BBC Radio4 radio broadcast, also available for download as a podcast. This is a seasonal program. When it is scheduled to run, Evan Davis hosts the business conversation show with people at the top giving insight into what matters in business.
BBC Radio4 – MoneyBox
A BBC Radio4 radio broadcast, also available for download as a podcast. This is a seasonal program. When it is scheduled to run, it provides the latest news from the world of personal finance plus advice for those trying to make the most of their money. It is worth listening to as it does cover money changes for business.
Greetings to you surfer. Somehow, you have managed to stumble across this new blog site, which is fresh off of the production line.
Truth be told, this is not a new blog, but in fact a re-boot of an old blog site I used to run (and still exists on the google Blogger web site), dealing with all the in’s and out’s of running a small IT SME (Small, Medium Enterprise) company in the UK IT Industry. In other words, how to get the most from being an IT Consultant.
Over the years, I have learnt a lot, made an awful lot of mistakes, made a lot of silly (in hindsight) decisions, and wasted a lot of time and effort. But at the same time, for the majority of the time, I have made the right decisions, made a lot of good products, delivered good services, and of course, made a lot of money (which is also good).
I have been helped along the way by the use of the right skills, tools, products, services and of course, information. All of this I will share through this blog.
So please, stick with me, add me to your RSS feeds, or just stop by from time to time, and I will try and provide you information, tips and tools on running an IT consultant or freelance company.