Hello everyone! Today, we have a guest post from another freelancer (and, it must be said, one who has far more years of experience than I do). Thanks for your contribution! Readers, if you’d ever like to submit anything similar, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at the bottom of the page.
I’d like to share with you some reflections and tips from my own experience of being self-employed…
Build your network:
Do you have the personality to handle being on your own and having the responsibility for driving your business? Everyone needs a network, whether this is a supportive family member or friend, a fellow self-employed person you can meet for coffee and a chat to compare notes or a formal networking group.
Incidentally, on the subject of networking groups, you could spend all your time networking. So choose your groups carefully and go for ones where members are genuinely interested in collaborating and passing on one another’s details. I have been to some networking groups where people in permanent employment treat the event as a fun day out and an opportunity to get away from the office.
Don’t forget online networking, too. Join carefully chosen groups and, without giving away too much intellectual property (see below), contribute your own ‘thought leadership’.
You can’t afford to be a shrinking violet:
Don’t be shy to ask for referrals and recommendations, preferably in writing so you can use the positive comments on your website and in your marketing.
Keep on top of invoicing:
One thing for sure is you must make invoicing a priority, and be organised about doing so. After all, it’s not a sale until the money is in the bank!
When you take on a corporate client, make sure you understand their purchasing and accounts payable processes. If the client has a cut-off point for supplier half-way through the month, an invoice sent on the 16th could take 6 weeks, not 4 weeks, to be paid. Similarly, don’t miss the end of the month, a very common cut-off point.
Try to get the email address of the accounts payable person and copy them in on all invoices, so they can’t claim not to have seen it.
Be firm about payment:
Remind the client when payment is due by sending a statement of account. Chase at once when a payment is overdue. One company accountant told me: “I pay the ‘squeaky wheels’ first”. Be a squeaky wheel.
If you can retain your hold on materials or part of the job until you receive payment, exercise this right. For example, release copyright for any writing only once payment is received.
I no longer take on clients who pay after 45 days; it’s payment within 30 days or I don’t accept their work. This is harder in your early days of freelancing, I know, but a large company screwing down a small supplier tends to reflect an aggressive approach in general to doing business.
Don’t give away too much:
In the attempt to impress a prospect or help an existing client, there’s a risk of giving away too much free consultancy.
Recently, a client I’d worked with previously when she was with another company asked me for help with a brochure; so I outlined some key points they should change and suggested a new structure, with a view to then rewriting it for them. She eventually came back to me saying their deadline had been too pressing to commission me to rewrite the brochure but they had put in place some of my suggestions and thank you very much!
The trick is clearly to strike a balance between proving you know your stuff and not enabling the client/customer to DIY.
As you can see, clients still have the ability to surprise me, even after being freelance for a fair while!
Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to a client:
This may seem strange advice and in the early days you’ll probably be happy to take any work that comes your way, whatever the egos you have to deal with and whatever the rate of pay.
However, as you become established, think about your customer base. Which are so high-maintenance that you spend double the time on a project that you estimated? Which expect instant service – and want it yesterday? Which consistently delay payment?
Ask yourself: if I divest myself of this customer, would it free up my time and energy to seek and take on a new customer? You don’t have to be confrontational; you can say truthfully that you’re too busy to give their work the time and attention it deserves at the moment, or you’re not taking on that type of work currently.
Alternatively, you can try to ‘train’ them in better ways. Make sure they know that there’s a lead time or tackle the fact that you always have to chase their accounts payable department. They might just improve their behaviour, rather than having to source a new supplier.
Do what you do best and delegate the rest:
Running your own business involves being a man or woman of many parts in addition to providing your core skill: sales executive, business planner, project manager, purchaser, bookkeeper… At best, this makes it immensely varied. At worst, it can be stressful.
Do you know anyone with whom you can do a skills exchange? If not, it may be best to pay a professional to take on tasks with which you struggle, as again this frees you to focus where you can be truly productive. Certainly, having sound advice from an accountant is pretty essential.
I hope this advice helps. Good luck!
Photos by Penelope. Thanks again to our anonymous guest poster for her contribution.