Posts Tagged ‘contractor’
Do you think it’s the end users of your service – the staff within the company who will use the products, services, management or consultation you are providing?
Do you think it is the top level boss of the company – the MD, FD or CEO?
Do you think its that person who insists you help them – the one who always goes whining to everybody when they are not happy?
Do you think it’s the person who pays the bills – the head of the finance department?
I am going to suggest the most important person is…. the person who originally agreed for you to start work on the contract. Simply because – it is they who will make the decision whether to keep you on when it comes to contract renewal time.
You may have done a lot of great work for the MD, helped out one thousand end users, and assisted all your new friends in the desks around you with their technical work, but if that person who employed you is not aware of all your activity, then your perceived value is greatly reduced, and this will impact you when they are weighing up whether to renew you or just let your existing contract end and let you leave.
So whatever you do, make sure that person who controls your contract is your VIP.
Give them a special “I always pick up for you” ring tone on your phone, make sure your client email system highlights all their emails, and make sure their work is always a high propriety in your do list (dropping other work when they give you a new action).
That is, assuming you want to be renewed in your contract.
One of the things that has been playing on my mind for the last couple of years has been newsletters. I have read many books, read many blogs and heard many presenters talk about how a newsletter can keep you in a customers/prospects mind. Yes, it all sounds great, but why would anybody want to read a newsletter about my small insignificant company? I mean, ‘breaking news – we have a new pot plant’ just seemed so ridiculous. Yet people go on and on about having a newsletter.
Last week I had a breakthrough, thanks to a fellow freelancer who I met at a technical seminar. Over lunch we got chatting about freelancing, about the time drain that is ‘social media’ and then about newsletters. He said that newsletters had generated a lot of business for him – so I asked what he did.
Newsletters – Are not about News
The advice I received was that newsletters are not in fact about news. He agreed that nobody really cares about you, or your company or your products, or your services, or the new office pot plant. None of this does anything for them. In a word, it’s not useful.
What he did was to turn it into something which delivered value – but didn’t try to sell. Having your name. company name and company logo in front of people on a regular basis is enough to keep you in their mind. He let the constant contact keep his name in everybody’s in tray, but added value to make sure the emails were opened.
So what was his technique?
Share your knowledge on what you do
Its as simple as that. Don’t have a newsletter full of your latest projects – just have a newsletter full of your latest tips. Create from what you know and do.
If you create databases, have regular updates on new functions you have created, clever SQL scripts for doing calculations, or methods of moving databases. If you are a coder or web designer, have a newsletter with CSS examples, or useful subroutines or functions. Provide value to make sure your newsletter is opened every time – and maybe even shared with other people.
It’s a small piece of the Puzzle
Now it may seem that by having a newsletter with a subroutine or function or other bit of code may be giving stuff away for free – and your right, it is just that – free work. But, the bit you give away is a tiny, insignificant, but useful single part of the whole puzzle. That routine may be useful to an old customer or future prospect, but because it’s so small, they cannot complete the whole jigsaw with just that one piece – they still need somebody to create the whole thing and put it together.
A useful technique is to make sure that when you do send out useful stuff in your newsletters, you include comment lines in any example functions and procedures to show what it does, how it works, and make sure to include your name, company and contact details (web URL, email and phone number). That way, if it does add value, your details are always on hand should they look to expand their project and need your assistance (or your details are in the code at their office if they just cut and paste the code you send out).
After all, the whole point of a newsletter is to keep your name and contact details in front of your old contacts and future prospects.
How to get Four times the value
The other technique that I learned (from a 2nd freelancer who joined in our conversation) was to get multiple value from each entry – by reuse.
I have written in the past about my technique of storing useful new techniques and functions I create in Evernote so I can use them in future projects – well this reuse idea just expands for the newsletter.
When I am working on a customer project and I develop a new useful function (say a SQL function to turn a date into a financial month and/or year), I copy that to Evernote for future use. But now what I do is I also turn this into a quick newsletter for my contact list – it doesn’t have to be a long letter (in fact the shorter, the better) – I just explain what it is, how it works, and include the function. Another free newsletter is created.
Then what I do, is I take the exact same newsletter text, and post it on my company blog web site – so it adds value and search ability to my web site.
One bit of created script or function (for a customer project that I am already being paid for) is then used 4 times – on the project, into Evernote for future projects, into my newsletter, and then on my company blog. Maximum value for minimum effort. Perfect.
Next time, I am going to talk about how I get names on my newsletter list, and what software I use.
So here’s one for you – business travel – do you charge for it? I am not talking about business mileage, trains and planes – I am talking about billable time. Yes, we all prefer to work from our homes or offices – but sometimes business travel is required, and can’t be avoided – but should you charge for it? Let me give you two situations, see what you think!
Situation 1 : A customer wants an hour long ‘sort out disagreements’ meeting – face to face. It’s to sort out problems, and they insist on a real meeting – skype just won’t do. But the problem is that they are a 3 hour drive away – each way? So you will be out for 7 hours for a 1 hour meeting! Do you charge 1 hour or a day?
Situation 2 : The customer says they want you to install the product at one of their European offices. They want 1 day of training, but it will take a day of travel each way to get there with connections, travel to and from airports etc. Do you charge for 1 day or 3?
It’s tricky – there is no real right or wrong decision. But I think as small business owners we should have a line in the sand where everybody knows what to expect. I am used to early starts and late finishes, so generally travelling a fair distance to customers is not personally a problem for me. But, I still need cover for those ‘extended trips’. So, after a chat with a few people, I have drawn my line in the sand at 4 hours. If a journey either direction takes more that 4 hours, I charge for it.
And to reflect this, on the off chance that one of my customers wants me to travel; I have added an additional clause in my companies Terms and Conditions to reflect this. This clause is fairly complex (as it needs to cover what the rate will be), but reads as follows:
Extended Travel Provision
Where travel is required to or from an agreed location where the travel in either direction takes longer than 4 hours (including connections), the Company shall reserve the right to charge for travel time where travel is required during normal working hours on scheduled working days. Travel time will be billed at the published day rate of the service being carried out by the individual(s) effected, and is rounded up to the nearest half day. This travel provision will be notified to the Client prior to travel being commenced.
But what about you? What do you charge?
I know a freelancer/contractor who has a problem. His problem is that when it comes to applying for work – he always worries that he does not have ALL the skills that a customer is looking for. Therefore, he is very selective of the contracts that he applies for, with the result that he often finds himself on the bench rather than working and bringing in the money.
Finding yourself faced with a requirement for knowledge on a skill that you do not have is a fairly common occurrence. In my line of work, typically contracts will be posted with between 10 and 12 skill sets required (or at least desirable), and typically a contractor can only expect to be able to hit 80% of the skills. But from my point of view, rather than being something to be scared of, this is in fact the perfect situation.
For me, being a successful contractor or freelancer is all about knowledge, and without our boundaries being pushed, that knowledge will soon become confined, specialised and worse – dated. I much prefer to have a requirement for 10 skill sets of which I have no knowledge of 1 or 2 of the skills required. As long as it’s not the main skill the client needs, I am happy to either bluff my way thorough the interview or just admit I have no real knowledge of these skills, and then pick up the skill during the life of the contract work.
It’s a perfect win situation. I can fulfil the majority of the requirements, I can pick up the new skill at the customers site as I work on the project, and effectively, I am getting paid to be trained. I cannot think of a single contract or freelance job which I have undertaken which has not pushed my experience beyond my current knowledge, and where I have come out the other side more skilled than when I went in.
So don’t be afraid of the lack of those skills – instead embrace the lack of knowledge and use the contract to expand yourself.
This morning I had a fairly heated email exchange with a freelancing friend who accused me of being confused in what I do. In a nutshell, his email stated “How can you run a web blog about freelancing? You’re not a freelancer”. Hmmmmmm. His argument was, because I worked for a Limited Company (which I help set up) and we now employed a handful of staff, I was… a business.
To some people, there are clean lines which say whether you are a contractor, a freelancer, an SME, or a fully fledged business. For me, the lines are so fuzzy to make any differentiation impossible. Let’s put it this way…
You may a contractor, and contractors work for a contracted period of time, at a customer’s site. But I have known freelancers who work on a project, at a customer’s office on projects with a known end date – so does that not make them a contractor? And contracts generally start Limited companies for the tax breaks, so they are also a business.
You may be a freelancer – which typically means working for customers on generally fixed price work, on a project. But then, for larger projects you may outsource elements to other people, or team up to use other peoples skills, and if its invoiced through one company, doesn’t that make them small business?
So what about me, working in a small limited company, which employees a handful of staff – some permanent and some not so (you pick whether they are contractors or freelancers). My company performs work in the same way as freelancers- for customers, maybe supplying one person, sometimes a small team – so are we not freelancers?
The reason I raise all of this (apart from the fact that I got a little annoyed in my friends branding accusations) is that at the end of the day, however you want to brand yourself, if you have made the commitment to go it alone that you have the right to call yourself whatever titles you want – even if you do end up working in teams for some projects.
So throw away the titles, the slots, the boxes and the stereotypes. Instead, enjoy the freedom that being a contractor/freelancer/business owner provides.