Posts Tagged ‘grow’
Today’s final post is a letter which I dearly wish I could send back in time to myself in the past; a younger me from ten years ago when I first made the leap from permanent employment status to Freelancer. I think it will be useful to other freelancers who are either just starting out, or are struggling.
Without any further delay or waffle…
Dear younger and more inexperienced me,
As you read this, you will be just starting out freelancing. It’s a scary experience. There is nobody to hold your hand, or guide you, or give you advice. At least, I know it seems this way. But I wanted to drop you a quick line to reassure you about a few things. Plus I wanted to include some really good advice, which will stop you making some silly and expensive mistakes.
It may seem that you are own your own, but there are a lot of great resources out there. The web is full of freelancers who have gone through what you are going through, and some people have been kind enough to write those experiences down in books or web blogs (such as this one) – all it takes is for you to take the effort to read them, understand them, and follow the advice. But remember, if you don’t bother looking, or take that advice, and you make the mistakes other are trying to help you avoid – then there is nobody to blame than yourself.
I am sorry to say that there will be hard times, and tough times, times full of worry when you wont be able to sleep at night, times of self doubt, and times where things seem very unfair. All freelancers and small business owners go through this, but at the end of the day, you will do OK. Anybody who makes the effort to rise above the average, who has put in the hard work, and uses the resources that are out there will do OK – better than OK in fact. In the end, choosing a freelance life will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
But there are things that will help you on your way. Dear younger me, please listen to these, because these are nuggets of wisdom from years of experience. These tips will save you time, money, effort, and will make the whole thing so much more enjoyable. They will also allow you to rise above the troubling times.
My advice to you as you start out freelancing is:
- When times seem tough, don’t sweat the small stuff. If things seem unfair – that’s because they are – nobody ever said life was going to be a fair game. Either accept those things as unfair and move on, or change them. But don’t lose sleep about the small or unfair things
- Build up your list of supporters from the start. Have a good bank manager who you can contact whenever you want, an accountant who will explain things to you in detail, and make sure your partner (wife/husband) is included in everything you do
- Do not let the accountant run your finances. Keep everything close. Don’t let the accountant charge you too much or have your accounts vanish in to a black hole. Instead, use online accounting from day one (the accountant should be there to sign off the accounts and save your money). Having a clear picture of your accounts and cash flow every moment is key not only in making decisions, but allowing you to sleep at night.
- Know what you are doing it all for. Have a set of goals, and review them regularly. Get hold of a copy of the success principles, and read it – twice a year. It’s the best book on the planet! Trust me on that
- Do not waste effort trying to keep everybody up to date on project progress – you will end up stressing about projects and being overworked. Instead, invest in a cloud based project management system – the moment you do, your business world will change in leaps and bounds. You will never look back
- Don’t chase the money. Customers will try to take you in directions you are not prepared to go. It’s ok to say no if the work does not interest you, is not inline with what you want to do, or how you picture your small company. Be strong with customers.
- Don’t be scared to take on work involving skills you don’t have. Whilst you will be reluctant to do this initially, eventually you will come to realise that this will lead to you growing in skills and confidence, which will make your time more valuable.
- Invest in time management tools. Your time is money, so use tools like Evernote to keep track of everything you do and create, and re-use it over and over again. When you start doing this, you will see your worth grow.
- Get everything down on paper – simple terms, agreements and contracts – and get them signed. This will get you out of more problems than you could possibly imagine.
- And get a mentor. Approach your old bosses, or a local mentoring group, and become accountable. It’s also a great way to make new friends and stay in touch with what is happening ion the business world.
Younger me, its important to remember to enjoy the ride. Yes, times will be tough, customers nasty, and sometimes money will be tight – but nether the less, enjoy the ride. Getting where ever you are going is half the fun.
A more experienced Me
And that’s It!!
At the start of 2012, I said that this blog would finished at the end of 2012 – and as I type this, it’s December 2012. So that’s it – the blog is done. There is no more.
Dear reader, whoever you are, I really hope that you have found this blog useful. I have found it fun to create, and get my thoughts, systems, and processes down on (electronic) paper. I hope that you have gained something from reading my advice.
My advice does work. I am not perfect, I do not run the perfect company, I make as many mistakes as any other person out there, but my company has grown year in and year out using the tips I have written down. Most of my advice comes from people who are far more experienced and successful than me – so if any of my advice, or systems I describe feel right to you – give them a try – see if they will help you grow your own company.
As I sign off from my blog, I wish you dear reader well. I hope your company grows as you want it to, and I hope to meet you in the real world at some point.
As for me, I will continue on with growing my business, heading towards my goals, but now without the need to document it here. This blog will remain on the net until the end of 2013, at which time it will then be consigned to the great internet dustbin.
Goodbye and good luck.
Author of this Web site , Freelancer, Small Business Owner and passionate goal setter/achiever
December 20th, 2012.
I recently had a dinner with my business mentor.
I have great respect for my mentor. He has been in business for over fifty years, and worked his way up from a 1 man band business, to his current position of owning and running three major IT companies with a joint turnover of over £50million a year. When he gives advice and thoughts, I listen.
During the course of the meal, we started talking about social networks media. After all, every other blog post, tweet and conversation seems to be about one form of social media or other.
His thoughts on social media were as follows:
It’s great – for what it is, but think of it this way….
In Africa, wildebeest, zebras and antelopes travel in packs. During the big migrations, these packs can number several million animals. The reason they travel in packs is protection. By traveling in a pack of so many animals, all the same, all in the same direction, the chance of being picked off by a lion or hyena is a lot slimmer. The lesson for such African ‘cattle’ is- do what others do to blend in.
BUT, in business, you don’t want to blend in. Being another zebra amongst the other 10,000 zebras is bad. How are customers supposed to tell one zebra from another? And shouting how different you are, when there are 9,999 voices raised in the same pack, all shouting there own message – well, your message just gets lost in the noise.
And social networking is just like zebras in a pack – yes it’s useful for some situations and it serves a purpose (and should not be ignored), but you will never stand out from the crowd if you are doing the exact same thing as everybody else
So whilst all the social media advice is to create blogs, create twitter streams, facebook pages and the like, maybe the best way of gaining attention is standing away from the crowd.
Again using my business mentors words, when everybody else Zigs, its time for you to Zag. In other words, time to revisit those ‘old school’ marketing techniques that everybody else is now ignoring.
For me, I love reading blogs by other freelancers, marketers and small business owners. Some can lead to advice and ideas which I can directly link to growing my business. But whilst I like reading blogs, I never let the blogs get in the way of my normal day job. Reading blogs for me is an activity reserved for when I am waiting in a queue, or on a train or erm, busy in the smallest room.
I also find myself reading a blog, understanding what the author is trying to say, thinking to myself that “that sounds like a reasonable idea” but never acting on it. I must have read hundreds of posts which caused me to take no action (for whatever reason). I am sure you are the same.
Well, rather than waste any more of your time, can I present to you a list of some of my action suggestions?
Any one of these actions (and associated posts) cover changes I have made in my own business. Each and every one of the suggested actions has grown my revenue, customer base and profits.
Pick one or try them all – I promise all will boost your business.
Ditch your accountant and go Cloud Based I wasted so much money on my accountant that in hindsight it scares me. Since moving to a cloud based accounts system, I have more control, more visibility, and I am saving so much money.
Get Your Terms and Conditions in Order. I know it does not sound sexy, but I know that having a straight forward, short but good set of T&Cs has landed me business whilst boosting my own business protection.
Be Bold, and Ask for the Business. I am a strong believer in asking for what you want (after all, nobody is a mind reader). I have won a lot of business simply by asking for it.
Set Goals. Your business needs goals in order to give it direction and something to aim for. Setting ambitious business goals has really helped me move forward
Reuse your previous work. This is one of my best tips for generating more revenue (cash) each and every day. Try it – you will be amazed!
Add communication and Control through Cloud Project Management. I have been using a cloud based project management system for the past 2 years and it has saved me so much time, effort and money. And my customers love the visibility it gives them. Perfect!
Streamline reading blogs and other content. I have moved reading content onto my mobile devices – and it means I can squeeze more productive time into the day. Free and Easy.
Keep the cash flow by Chasing Customers. My accounts system automatically chases overdue invoices with different levels of warning – which means I no longer have cash flow worries.
Offer a Bonus. And as my bonus suggestion, I recommend any serious Freelancer or Small Business Owner read The Wealth Freelancer – its packed with a whole lot more useful ideas for growth.
Regardless of the size of your business, as either an owner or a manager, you need to have a plan and a goal for your business. Initially, this goal may just have been to start or manage a business (and get you out of the rat race), but once your business is up and running, you need something else to keep you motivated and moving forward.
When I meet other owners of businesses, most have business goals that they have set themselves. Clearly, with the economic environment being what it is at the moment, a lot simply have the goal of staying afloat, but many want more than just survival. From experience, business goals tend to run in phases….
Phase1 – The creation. Creation of a business is the biggest leap, either by setting up your own business or joining a small existing company, this phase is leaving the standard ‘working for somebody’ job and going it alone. Most small business owners and managers complete this phase normally not by small steps, but by a push or a big jump. Redundancy seems to be the biggest push owner/managers get.
Phase2 – Survival. Once a business is up and running, for the first year or so, the game is survival – to get enough customers and money in to keep afloat. It’s as simple as that.
Phase3 – The Money. Once a business has been running for a few months through to a couple of years, then it becomes about the money – making as much as possible. A lot of companies wind up stuck in this phase, including a lot of multinationals. If money is what drives you, then maybe this phase is the natural place for you.
Phase4 – The Goal. And this is the hardest phase – deciding what you need, what you really want, and what you want your company to become. Some people I have met have wanted to just run a business and end up not doing any actual work, some want to have a business that only takes 2 days a week of their time, some people want their business to be the best in a market, or supply the best quality product or service. Money clearly helps to allow your business to reach the goal you set, but in order to have a really successful business (from your point of view), you need to define the goal and work out what you need to reach that goal.
For me, my business goal is for my company to supply the best products and services it can, to assist other companies in reaching their goals, to provide honesty and integrity where others fail to deliver, and to eventually allow the company to feed into my own personal retirement goals.
Now and again, you need to step away from working in your business, and spend a few hours or a few days working on your business – working out what phase you are in, what you need to do to reach the next phase, and make your business what you want it to be. Doesn’t matter if you run a one man consultancy company, a partnership, or like me, a small business which employees a handful of staff – you need to take the time.
So why not schedule a few hours in your diary to work on your business today.
The longer you spend in freelancing, the more you realise that there are some ideas that work, and some ideas that are just a waste of time, effort and money. I have tried my hand at a number of these over the years, and seen a lot of friends and fellow freelancers try them as well.
Here is my list of 10 things that are no longer viable for money making freelancing….
Web site Design
For a lot of first time freelancers, this seems the ideal first step into freelancing. However, this industry is riddled with overseas web site designers (charging $20 for a web site), free web site templates, and students making money part time. The competition is too intense, and the returns too low to make any return on a time investment.
As with web site design, there are thousands of low cost overseas SEO service companies and individuals advertising themselves in web SEO directories, on web pages, and as spam into my inbox. Most of them offer radically low prices for SEO effort, so it is a cut throat industry with little in return.
Web Site Directories
Web Site directories are advertised in some freelance circles as the perfect passive income source. With ready made directory templates, create a web site and wait for people to register their web sites, with some paying you to review and list their web site. However, there are currently over 9,000 such directories, many directories are killed (or not renewed) before the end of the first year, and very very few people ever pay to have their web site listed.
iPhone,iPad or Android application development
As I detailed in a previous post, creating applications for the iPhone, iPAD and Android may have generated a few people some large sums of money, but with so many applications now available and most apps now free, the chances of making any money back is almost impossible unless you have some something very new and original.
This is one my personal favourite ideas that I hear discussed at parties, networking events or at business meetings. People say “I know a lot about xxxx, so I will create an ebook and sell it and make millions”. Really? Googling “ebook secrets” and you get over 2million results – it’s an idea that has been done to death. Besides, I know a lot about small business, want to pay for reading this blog? No? Well what makes anybody think I will pay for your ebook?
Advertising revenue from Blogs
Now don’t get me wrong, I think money can be made from advertising on a web site. However, you have to have a massive (and I mean really massive) amount of traffic coming through your web site. Its one of the reason why I don’t have adwords on this blog – it makes it look messy and I am not blogging for the money. I am doing it to get my thoughts down on (virtual) paper as I try things out.
As with the concept of web directories, there are tens of thousands of web sites offering directories of software for all platforms; PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. Unless you are one of the established big sites (iStore, Android Market Place), you will be a very small fish in a very big ocean. The returns will not cover the cost of setup and maintenance.
I have seen a few people make money on eBay trading – either buying cheap items in bulk and selling them individually on eBay, or buying badly listed items and reselling for a profit. But once a few people started having success, everybody wanted their slice. The Governments (USA, UK and European) now make ebay profits taxable (failure to declare is illegal), and ebay increased its fees to make the returns not worth while. If you have a mainstream product range (you sell something in a shop or whatever) and want to use ebay to supplement the sales that’s fine, but general trading is a low profit idea.
This is more of a personally way of making money (rather than making money via freelancing) – to dabble in stocks and shares for short (day or week) based trading. Buy low, sell high, make profits – sounds great. But wait, the dealers in London and New York are in trouble, the FTSE is falling – and those guys do this for a job. Unless you have some inside information, day trading is a risky venture. But remember, if you do buy and the shares drop, it’s only a real loss if you sell when they are down.
Add On Sales Sites
The final idea I have personally seen go badly wrong is add on sales. By add on’s I refer to add-ons for major purchase items such as cases, holders etc. An example is the idea of selling (on ebay, amazon, a web site or the street) iPAD covers. I have seen a few people view other peoples product launches as the ideal way to sell bolt on items, purchasing bulk lots of items (headphones, covers etc) for bulk discounts, only to find a thousand other people have the same idea, and they end with a garage full of items that nobody wants (or have to sell at a loss)
If you Build It, They will Come.
~ Shoeless Joe Jackson, From the film Field Of Dreams
Web sites are great. Whether it’s a blog, a semi-static web page for your company web site, or a dynamic fully functional application, they are a great way to reach your existing and potential customers. You spend days working out what the site will do, weeks designing the look and feel, and months creating the content. When it’s ready, you upload it, tell Google about it, link it in from a couple of your other web sites, and happily sit back waiting for the people to visit.
But then something happens, the Google Analytics don’t change – your web site shows 5 hits for a day, and when you look, they are all you. Why aren’t people visiting your web site?
Today, with over 35 billion web pages available, getting web search sites such as Google to rank your site and generate traffic takes a lot of work – far more than putting the site together in the first place. You have to have all your pages optimised for SEO (with the meta tags of title, description and title in place, keywords repeated in the page text over and over, and links with the correct descriptions), have good links in, publicise your page on social media, have it indexed in directories etc – its an awful lot of work.
Which is why for my new Web 2.0 application (www.anooyoo.com), I have decided to outsource my web page SEO and indexing. Yes, I could save a bit of cash doing it myself, but under the rule of freelancing which states “do what your good at, and outsource the rest”, it makes financial sense to have somebody do it who knows what they are doing.
I selected Freelancer.com, placed a request for the SEO and indexing work, and received lots of bids. I selected two people (based on previous work, reviews by others who had used them for SEO, and cost) – one changing $299 for a fairly extensive package (paid on results and on completion), and also (just to see how it goes) a student who is going to do indexing for $30 (yes $30, if he sucks, well it has cost me nothing as he doesn’t get paid).
So for the cost of just over $300, I am getting at least 1 person (possibly 2) who knows what they are doing, 500+ quality links to my web site, and hopefully high quality traffic which would take me months to generate. It seems like a bargain to me.
I was recently listening to a small business and freelancers show on BBC Radio4, and there was a really good item on a small business in trouble. In this radio show, a small business guru visited this company (it was a door sales company) and found out the company was having problems landing new customers. It was a small company, 7 people in total, of which 4 people were salesmen. Out of the 4 salesmen, 1 got his sales quota each and every month (had done for years) and the other 3 were making next to no sales.
They interviewed the salesmen. The one making all the sales felt letdown by the other 3, felt the company could go bust because they were not making their quota of sales, and was really feeling under pressure. On the other hand, the three other salesmen were all saying the same thing; they were trying their hardest, leads had dried up, nobody was buying and they were worried about their jobs.
Of course, as an outsider, its easy to spot the problem – the good salesman is overworked and should be passing some of his leads down. But they had already tried this, and the other 3 salesman could still not close the sales.
After interviewing each of the salesmen individually, the Business “Guru” got all 4 salesmen together and asked one simple question…
“Have any of you spoken to the guy making the sales to ask what he is doing which make the sales, and try to do the same thing”? There was a long awkward silence.
For me, its one of the great things about the Internet. All around the world, no matter what you are trying to do, somebody has been there before, done it, and can lend advice (or at least answer some of your questions). Just the fact that you stand back and ask the questions can cause somebody to point out the obvious thing that you (as somebody too close to the problem) cannot see.
When you are a small business owner, an IT contractor or freelancer, you can spend a lot of time on your own and it’s useful to have locations where you can discuss ideas, get business advice or just shoot the breeze. Whilst I prefer the face-to-face mentoring type approach, a couple of good sources for bouncing ideas are:
Freelance advisor has forum sections covering freelancing, contracting, accounts, agencies and general chit-chat.
The UK general business forum covers all other areas of business both big and small. Here you will find people discussions their business ideas (for feedback), asking for advice on how to tackle business problems, and business news. It’s a VERY active forum.
PCG (professional contractors group) Members Forum is for registered PCG members only. However, if you are not a member, it is worth joining just for the insurance perks (see main PCG site), and if you are a PCG member, it’s a great place for contracting and freelancing advise.
I talked yesterday about taking an hour from your hectic schedule of running a freelancing or other small business to review your costs. Today, I would like to suggest that another break worth taking is for business planning.
If you are anything like me, you are either so busy working on customer projects or business promotion that you don’t have time to think about where you want your business to go, or you are a money chaser, jumping from purchase order to purchase order, keeping the cash rolling in, and just letting the demand for your services shape where you go and what you do.
Many years ago when I managed a division of a medium sized company (back in the horrible days of working for somebody else). One day my wise boss took me aside and instructed me that every week, I should put two or three hours aside, turn off phones, emails and other distractions, and spend some time thinking and planning for the future growth of the division. Now whilst I would not suggest that as a small business owner you can afford to invest 3 hours a week into business planning, it is sensible advice to spend at least some time on this critical area of your business. As per my boss’s suggestion, it needs to be a solid block of time, free of distractions. Catching 10 minutes here or there, or do this whilst driving does not seem to work.
I find for myself, the best time for business ideas is when I am lying in the bath. I make sure the door is closed, there are no distractions, and just relax and think about different aspects of my business (existing customers, what I did to land them as customers, future prospects, marketing ideas, ideas for new services, ideas for new products, etc). I don’t actually try and think of ideas or answers to questions, I just think of the problem or area, relax into the warm water and then let my mind go blank. Normally, my mind will wander and then ideas will form.
I firmly believe that if you don’t make time to plan where you want to go and how you want to get there, your small business will run you rather than you running your business. It might be that in these troubled economic times we need to go where the money is, but by having plans in place or ideas where we want to go in the future, when opportunities arrive we will be better placed to decide if they take us in the direction we want to go,
As a final thought, I also find it very useful to keep small pads of paper and pens dotted around the house in strategic locations (next to the bed, by the bath, in the toilet). When the ideas and plans come to me, they can come really fast and if I don’t get them down on paper, they are lost as quickly as they appear.
In business (including small business), there are a few basic principles. Firstly, ways of making money; there are only a few ways of making money:
- Provide a service for which there is a demand from people who cannot or will not perform that service themselves (a service industry)
- Purchase items or services at a low value, and sell them at higher value (trading or dealing)
- Locate natural resources, extract the resources and resell (mining and exploration)
- Take individual items and resources, combine these into new items with more value than the component parts (manufacturing)
- Provide goods or services for a value, take the money, but never deliver (illegal)
Any and all business falls into one or more of the above. As a freelancer or contractor, we normally fall into the service area. Although for authors and software designers, if could be argued that this is really manufacturing (the resources are our time and effort).
The 2nd and less obvious but equally important business principle is the monitoring of the 1st principle. Heads of corporations never really run businesses, they spend all of their time monitoring (and fighting) with the 1st principle. That’s all they do, day in, and day out. As contractors and freelancers, we don’t have to spend so long on the monitoring aspect, but we still need to have the methods of monitoring.
For manufacturers, heads of industry, managers of multi nationals and Managing Directors of listed companies up and down the country, they spend their day controlling the numbers and monitoring the first principle. The numbers they monitor may be the share price, the company value, the bank balance, the order book, the turnover, the cost of parts, the resale value, discounts and profit. All will have their metrics they watch day by day, hour by hour. These metrics are the company Key Performance Indicators. Where an indicator goes red (or however it is displayed to them), they change supplier, negotiate discounts, raise prices, hire or fire.
As small business owners, we also need our measures, metrics and Key Performance indicators. Whilst they won’t be as grand as a share price, they need to be monitored, controlled and tweaked as required. Typical measures and KPI’s for a small business will include:
- Company Bank Balance – is it growing, shrinking, staying the same
- Invoices generated
- Outstanding Payments
- Cash Flow
- Spending (a credit card is useful for this) – is it getting out of hand
- Likely sales in the future (sales pipeline)
- Yearly/Quarterly/Monthly Profit and Loss (are we spending too much, generating too little)
- Stock on hand (if we deal in any type of physical items)
All of these indicators tell us a story about our small business. By monitoring these on a regular basis, it tells us if we need to cut down on our spending, look for new customers, raise our day rate, look for expenses to reduce (such as changing for a cheaper supplier) or chase outstanding payments.
Of course, depending on your systems for tracking your bank balance, invoices, payments, receipts, cash and P&L, this can take 5 minutes, or it can take a lot longer. Systems such as FreeAgent help contractors and freelancers do all of this monitoring as part of their everyday processes. BUT, regardless of the system you use, monitoring of your business is a critical business process.
Sometimes, when I create a blog post, I sit in front of an empty word page (like today), stare at the white space, and sit back to see what I type. Sometimes I have a list of topics I want to put down in words, and sometimes, I just see where the words take me. When the latter happens, sometimes the ending results are as much as a surprise to me as they will be to any reader.
When you run a small business, your working days can be very much like that. Some days, you wake up and you head off in a specific direction – creating products, starting sales campaigns, completing tasks or a variety of other productive things. Some days, you wake up lost – not really knowing what to do, what steps to take, how to start finding more work or more clients –with no real ideas.
Whilst I have a number of personal and business goals which help point me in the right direction, one of the areas that I recognised would help me get the most out of my business was to find a business Mentor. Now, whilst the idea of a mentor may sound very West coast USA, let me explain what I mean. A business mentor is just somebody who has been there before, has run their own company (be it as an IT freelancer or any other type of small business), and can offer advice or suggestions.
To be honest, sometimes it would just be good to sit down now and again with other business owners, and just talk things through. To ask a question such as “I am thinking of adding a new service that will (do whatever), what do others think” and to get unbiased, honest feedback from other business owners. Yes, I might disregard their advice, or use it just to tweak the idea, but real advice, without any agenda other than to provide advice, is priceless.
Recently, I have managed to find a small business group with such a purpose, to allow us to collectively come together, share our business goals (and I hope in the next few meetings, our business ideas and problems), and talk them through. We meet once a month in the mornings before the working day really starts. It is run by a business development professional, and I have great expectations of good things for the future.
I found my group (based near Reading, Berkshire) through the LinkedIn ambitious owner managers group (there are other groups setup for face to face meetings on the same LinkedIn group in other areas of the country). Other groups are available through government organisations such as BusinessLink, or from private companies such as InnovationGrowth.
If you are stuck for ideas, or need the support of other small business owners such as freelancers, why not give them a try?