Posts Tagged ‘growth’
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.
You want your freelance or small business to grow, right? You want an easy life, and happy customers or staff, yes? And you don’t want people complaining to or about you, do you?
If so, then can I recommend the following five rules of business communication (which were handed down to me by one of my old business mentors)? He taught me that if you follow these rules in all communication (with prospects, staff, customers and even in personal matters), it will make things run a lot easier and will head off a lot of problems before they occur.
I have these rules on a small card pinned next to my computer screen – just so I don’t forget them, and I try to follow them in all my communication.
Anyway – on with the rules…
Rule 1 – Keep people up-to-speed
One of the worst things in business is not knowing what is going on. It’s an easy situation for people to find themselves in. They ask you to do something, and the response is silence – they can only guess whether you are working on their request, they are number 100 in your queue of actions, or if you are ignoring them. So remember to communicate whenever anything significant changes, or just send them a regular status email to keep them informed.
Rule 2 – Be explicit in what you are saying and asking
Miss-communication is bad. But what is worse, is expecting somebody else to read your mind, or in-between the lines. If you want something, say exactly what it is you want. As an example, don’t say fuzzy things such as “well, your support ends next month, so what do you want to do about it?” – Say what you want – “your support ends next month, so I need you to raise a new purchase order for £5,000 which needs to be with me by Friday because without this….”.
Rule 3 – Make it easy, simple and obvious
Keep the communication short, use simple words, and keep it obvious in terms of subject and content. Think of each communication as costing you money – every word you can cut out saves you a pound, and every word that isn’t used on a day to day basis (the extra long padding words such as ‘conceptualize’, ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘leverage’) costs you £2.
Rule 4 – If in doubt, pick up the phone
Some things are better said than typed. If emails or letters have turned into a multi-bouncing discussion or too many people have been copied in, pick up the phone and have the discussion. If its bad news, pick up the phone and take the heat rather than taking the cowards way out with a text or email.
Rule 5 – Automate the communication
Where possible – automate the communication. This doesn’t mean adopting a spam generating system which will churn out useless sales rubbish, but use a system that either allows people to find the information themselves (such as using a really good online project portal allowing customers to keep track of their projects when they want), or create manual processes where you keep people up to date with the current situation.
A quick one from me on a internet service I have just discovered – Meetup.com
If you have an interest (be it a hobby, interest, desire, need or even a business aspiration), there will be a group of people out there in your local area who meet on a regular basis to explore and share that interest.
Meetup.com is a free service which allows you to connect to these groups, and attend the meet-ups for a nominal administration charge (typically £1 to £2 per event).
For personal activities, I attend interesting photography events (I have a passion for photography, and the meetups are always at great locations with great subjects) and personal growth events. But I also attend London based business mentoring meet ups as well, where small business owners give each over advice, review each others plans, and allow people to sanity check their ideas.
If you are into business networking, there will also be multiple networking groups in your local area as well.
Meetup allows you to search in your area (or any other specific areas) and you can set a geographical range for meet-ups.
Once you have identified interesting groups, you can join groups to take part in on-line discussions and to be notified of new face to face meet-ups. If a meetup strikes your interest, just RSVP and you will be sent details of the event by email.
As I say, a very useful resource for finding other business (or personal interest) groups for…. as the name suggests…. meeting up.
Over the weekend I met up with another small business owner and we got chatting over a few beers. He was slightly depressed about the state of his business, and that fact in the last two years he had seen no growth. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. His turnover and profits for 2011 and 2010 were almost identical to 2009.
This made him nervous, because everybody was talking about growth. New customers, new was of selling, new products, new price structures – grow, grow, grow was the key messages he was seeing. To stay static was to stagnate and die.
If your business is static – I congratulate you. If your 2011 figures were the same or even close to your 2009 figures – well done. If you are doing the same work as two or three years ago – have a beer to celebrate.
Right now, the world is in a pickle. Regardless of whether you are in the USA, Europe or anywhere else in the world, the economic picture is not so good. Greece is about to go bang, Spain will follow, which will hurt (maybe kill) the Euro, which in turn will hurt the US dollar, which will infect China and Japan.
The future looks bleak, but the past has been just as bad. The last four years have been just painful for most companies, people and countries. Cutbacks, no credit, recession – its been bad.
So if you are managing to stay static (both in your personal finances and in your business)– good for you.
After all, you don’t need to be taking steps forward when everybody else is taking a step backwards.
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.
One of the things I have found really useful over the past 18 months was to find business mentors. I have 2 sources of mentors; one is a small business group or 6 people which gets together once a month (or so) and we discuss problems, work out solutions and challenge each other to grow our businesses.
I have also been lucky to find a new Entrepreneur friend who has a lot of business experience. Over 25 years, he created a business which started as just him, and grew to employ 150 people with a turnover of over 80million a year. Now and again we meet up, and he gives me advice.
Both forms of resource have really helped my business over the last 12 to 18 months grow in size and turnover. But Alex has been the best – he has really guided me.
Words on the BIG CHANGE
Just after the new year, I met with Alex for a meal and we got talking about the BIG CHANGE that most business owners look for to quantum leap their business from a struggling start-up into the fully fledged profit generating machine we all yearn for.
Without doubt, the advice on the BIG CHANGE is the one thing that has allowed me to double the size of my company in a year, and as Alex allows me to record the conversations, I provide the key part of the conversation for you:
Alex : The problem is that most small businesses, most freelancers, even most independent high street shops are looking for the BIG CHANGE that will move them up a gear. Let me tell you a secret – there never is a BIG change that works!
Alex: No. The only thing that works is making small, constant and positive small changes. They all add up, and become bigger than the one BIG CHANGE that everybody is looking for. Even when a company appears to make a big change, it’s just an outside perception of lots of small changes made from the inside.
Me: So what types of changes, and how do I know if they are positive?
Alex: That’s the thing, the changes can and should cover everything. Marketing, accounting, money management, working, customers, support, products – cover them all with small changes, just make a small change in one area, then move onto something else. How do you know if they are positive – well most times you can just tell – in your gut. But if you have a doubt, measure the impact, and if it doesn’t move your company forward, just reverse the change and try something else.
Me: It all sounds great – but sometimes I am just so busy….
Alex: We all are. We all are. But, try this. At the end of every working day, just before you finish, think to yourself “what did I do that moved me forward today?” The answer has to be something other than normal work – completing some code, or making a sale or creating a quote – they are the day to day stuff, it has to be a process change, or a system change or a mind set change or a direction change – something positive. If you haven’t done anything on that day, stop, and do something positive. Most positive steps will only take 5 or 10 minutes.
Me: And how will I know what steps to do?
Alex: That’s the easy part – if I asked you to write down some ideas, I bet you could already think of 40 or 50 you could do. As you think of something you can do, write it down for future action. If you see a company do something which may work for you, write it down, an article which gives a tip, write it down, you experience bad service but can turn it on its head for your company, write it down. The hard part is finding the time. So just aim to do one single positive small change per day, and before you know it, your company will be flying.
You know what, Alex was right on the money. One small change, each day, and my business is really flying.
One of the many problems you have when you run a small company is you get stretched in every direction possible. I probably don’t need to tell you how many business hats you have to wear in a day; marketing, selling, finance, support, trouble shooting and even Human Resources. Oh, and once you have finished all of these, then there is the actual work – you know, the stuff that generates revenue.
If you try and do it all, you could go mad. Yes, you could try working 24 hours a day and work all the weekends available to you, but there is more to life than money. Health, happiness and Mental Stability are all important. If you try to do too much, it will pull you down and you will end up achieving nothing.
One option which is worth considering is the use of a Virtual Assistant: A person to help you out on all the ‘small stuff’. Used in the right way, they can make you more productive, and actually save you money.
Virtual Assistants- Overcoming the Cost Restriction
When I first thought about using a virtual assistant, I have to admit I was worried about the cost. Why on earth would I pay somebody to do something when I could do it myself and pocket the money? Then I sat down and looked at the maths. Lets say I charge £500 a day (a figure I picked from the air). If I work an 8 hour day, that means I earn £62.50p an hour. So if I pay somebody £20 an hour to do something and I can fill the extra hour with my normal work, I actually make £42 more than I would doing the ‘small stuff’ myself.
So not getting help is actually costing me money. Doh!!
Work that Virtual Assistants can do
Virtual Assistants are just that – virtual. They don’t sit near you, you can’t pass them a bit of paper, and you can’t say ‘look at this – watch how I do this, now you do the same’. But you can email them tasks, post them packs and of course call them. They may be local, or they may work on the other side of the world. As long as they can do a decent job, make the minimum of mistakes, and can speak the same language as you – there is lots they can be getting on with.
Depending on the type of business you run, tasks they can perform could include:
- Chase invoice payments
- Call or email back on sales enquiries
- Scan documents and file them on your computer/file store
- SEO your web site
- Perform web site submission
- Proof reading of your documents
- Research into competitors
- Research into customers
- Web/Printed content layout and graphical design
- Stuff envelopes for mail shots
- Transcribe voice dictation notes (very useful if you drive a lot)
- Research and book hotels, flights and restaurants
- Send follow up/thank you/initial contact/meeting request emails on your behalf
- Review CVs
- Assist in processes (including creating ISO processes)
- Software coding and Testing
Yes, the last one on the list is correct; they can do heavily technical jobs too. When you employ a Virtual Assistant, you have the option of employing a ‘virtual person’ from a team with different skills. You pay by the hour, and the person with the best skills for the task is allocated. You still have a principle contact, but they may get their co-worker to do the task as their friend has stronger skills for the task.
Costs and Location
Now, it’s a fairly safe bet that you live somewhere in Europe or the USA where costs can be high (and are rising). But there are plenty of highly skilled educated people all over the world you can use. Depending on how you view cost saving vs. exploitation and the skill set your require, the rates can be low – very low. Typical cost varies between £5 (overseas) or £15 and £25 an hour for UK/USA. Whilst you may think that working with somebody in Asia may have its disadvantages, it also has the advantage that you can assign work, go to sleep, and wake with the report/task/project in your in tray.
There are lots of companies that list, support and manage Virtual Assistants for you. The advantage of going through a managing agent is that it takes the headache out of finding somebody, managing them and you can end the relationship when ever you want.
Whilst it’s hard to recommend any particular company or service as it will vary depending on the location you want to pick a VA from and the skill set required, it is well worth looking at the following sites: Odesk, RemoteWorkMate and TalantGurus.
One of the small business rules that was drilled into me by a number of former bosses (and small business owners themselves), was that no matter how well or bad things are going, no matter how busy you are, no matter how much money you do or don’t have… NEVER STOP MARKETING! Today’s customers could walk away or go out of business, and the work you are doing now may be completed or dry up… then what????
Marketing is important, no matter if you are a one man band, a contractor or a fully fledged small business – you need to do some form of marketing to have tomorrow’s customers ready to order. But being a small business means you don’t have a marketing department or the big bucks to carry out the marketing activities that other companies may carry out.
That is where this book (Small Business Powerful Marketing On A Shoestring Budget) comes in. It is like having a marketing department of your own with tips and ideas – but in printed format.
This book will show how you can grow your business on a small budget with some incredibly simple but powerful tips and tools. Topics covered include all the common options including PR work, targeted direct mail, exhibitions, business networking, e-marketing, advertising and telephone cold calling. Plus, it includes some newer more interesting ideas that will help push your business to the next stage.
This is a great marketing book, as it covers a little of the theory of marketing, but then cracks on with the practical steps needed to win new customers. It never assumes that you have either the time to spend on marketing, or the budget of a large company. Every idea is quick, simple and relatively cheap.
The book is sectioned in such a way that as well as flowing really well if you read it cover to cover, it can also be read by just going to the sections that particularly interest you.