Office Space Solutions

Freelancers can work productively anytime,  anywhere.  That flexibility and control is perhaps our greatest advantage.  We are not tethered to a particular place for a specific time.  The many amazing technological advances that have occurred over the past 20 or so years have allowed us to be mobile.

But sometimes,  conducting business from the kitchen table,  coffee shop or library is neither practical nor sufficient.  We may need access to certain technical equipment or we may need appropriate meeting space.  We may need to demonstrate to a certain prospective client that we are not only capable,  but also  “real”   and occupancy in the right office space may be part of the sales pitch.  Temporary shared office space is the solution.   Shared offices give Freelancers access to workspaces that look,  feel and function like traditional office space.

The phenomenon of sharing office space,  called coworking,  reportedly was born 10+ years ago in San Francisco.  Coworking spaces are now available in many locales,  but finding the kind of space you need when you need it may not be easy.  You can always search Craig’s List,  but now there is a website that specializes in connecting Freelancers to the coworking spaces we need and at affordable prices.

Loosecubes http://loosecubes.com calls itself a community marketplace for workspace.  Loosecubes has office spaces available around the globe,  from St. Louis to Sao Paulo to South Africa.  You must join the  (free)  service and then you can browse and sign up for office space that fits your needs.  It’s also possible to offer workspaces for rent on Loosecubes.  Anyone with available space can post a listing on the site.  Interested Freelancers can contact the space owner and negotiate a rental timeframe and payment.

Workspaces can be categorized in any number of ways to reflect the types of businesses they would best serve,  e.g. architects,  photographers,  web designers,  writers,  etc.  Amenities provided is anther way to filter:  printing and scanning,  parking and access to public transit,  Power Point LCD and screen,  coffee and tea.  Loosecubes is linked to social media and members can obtain recommendations for workspaces based on their needs and preferences on Twitter,  Tumblr,  Meetup and Facebook.

To evaluate the service,  I searched Boston and found workspaces listed for $200 – $600/month,  both in the city and near suburbs.  Per diem listings ranged from $0 – $50.  Nearly all listings were accompanied by a photo.

Loosecubes promotes also the intangible benefits of their service.  Through coworking,  Freelancers will meet and interact with peers and have opportunities to build relationships,  expand professional networks,   create referral arrangements and  even team up to work together on projects.

Every once in a while I need a good space to meet a client and a restaurant or coffee shop just won’t do,  much less my home office.  I just may check out  Loosecubes to see what’s available.  It sounds like an excellent resource for us Freelancers  (BTW,  I’m not on their payroll).

Thanks for reading,

Kim

No More Self-Sabotage

You’ve got the expertise and the enthusiasm.  You may have a few key relationships.  But for some annoying and worrisome reason,  your Freelance consulting practice is not realizing its financial potential.  No doubt a sluggish economy is a factor,  but might there be another factor as well? Could a fear of failure —or success— be keeping you from laying claim to your just rewards and causing you to subtly and persistently sabotage your business?  Take a look at these items and see if you recognize your behavior:

I.     Fear of selling

Many people fear and loathe selling.  Selling oneself can be overwhelming and may even seem impolite,  like bragging.  I spent many years in sales and yet confess I get sick of it myself.  But the fact is that if one is in business,  then one is in sales,  so you’d better get used to it.  Sales takes self-confidence and the right message.

Realize that friends and family want to know what you do so they can refer you to prospects.  Prospective clients want to know if you have the expertise to help them to achieve their organization’s objectives.  You must create a clear and simple message to facilitate that process.

Make a list of 2-3 competencies for which you are typically hired,  or would like to be known for.  Attach a compelling benefit to each one,  to emphasize the reason that you should be hired to perform that service.  Next,  describe 2-3 clients who typically hire you,  or for whom you feel your services are especially well-suited.  Your task is to create a 1 minute maximum elevator pitch that communicates what you do,  for whom you do it and the benefits derived.

Write it up and express your sales message in language that is comfortable for you and will be understood by those who can hire you.  Learn also to ask for the business:  “Do you have use for this type of service”?  “Do you have a project in mind? Would you like to set up a time to talk specifics”?  “Is there a budget for this project? Are you ready to move forward”?  “I would like to work with you.  Do you feel ready to  talk about how we can get started?”

II.    Fear of charging fees that reflect your value

Particularly in this economy,  many Freelancers feel too intimidated by the fear of rejection to ask for the money they deserve.  Many clients are,  unfortunately,  prone to minimize the price they will pay for your services,  even if they have the budget.  It is a buyer’s market.  Admittedly,  compromises may need to be made when it comes to setting your fee.  Nevertheless,  you must not undermine your sense of the value that your expertise brings and do what is necessary to obtain your just financial reward.  See my October 11 post for more tips on pricing.

III.   Performing too much pro bono work

Especially when starting out as a Freelance consultant,  the temptation is to throw oneself into either deeply discounted or pro bono projects as a way to gain experience,  create referrals and build a client list.  Judicious use of those methods may apply at any time in a Freelance career,  but be sure that you’re getting something of value in return.  Promises of future paid work are mostly empty,  I’m sorry to say.  Once such  “clients”  have learned that they can get your talents for free,  they will be reluctant to pay you for work.  They’ll just look for another hungry Freelancer to sucker.

IV.    Failure to get press

Are you speaking on a panel,  teaching a course or presenting a workshop? Are you taking a leadership role in a local business association,  chamber of commerce or charity event?  If so,  you must write up a press release and send it to the business editors of local newspapers and blogs.  Follow up by telephone to make sure that the notice was received and answer any questions.

Offer to take the reporter to lunch or coffee,  to start building relationships with the press.  If an article is written,  first thank the reporter and then post the link on your website,  Facebook page,  LinkedIn page and/or Twitter feed.  Good publicity enhances your bona fides and often translates into increased business and additional requests to speak or teach.  Publicity enhances your reputation and helps you to obtain the fees that you know you deserve.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Raise Prices? In This Economy?

An effective pricing strategy is essential to every business,  because one goes into business to make money.  Freelancers and business owners deserve to be paid just as every worker expects payment for services or labor performed.  Determining how to price products is fairly straightforward  (what is the cost of materials? what is the price of labor?),  but pricing services,  especially intangibles,  can be daunting.  Many Freelancers operate in the knowledge economy  (e.g., providing leadership training)  and it’s not always possible to benchmark your prices against that of competitors’.

Add to the mix that clients are well aware that they have the upper hand in nearly all fee negotiations.  Exploitation is alive and well and there can be shameless manipulation to obtain your top-drawer services at bargain-basement prices.  The smug assumption is that if you refuse to work dirt cheap,  then it will be easy enough to find someone else who will.

Then there are the  “clients”  who request free services in exchange for  “opportunities for exposure”  or  “future paid work”  that I strongly suspect never materializes.  (Why would it?  Once you’ve built their website for free,  they no longer need you.)   In my experience,  nonprofits are the worse offenders and they do it with a clear conscience.  They rationalize their disrespectful behavior because their budgets are thinly stretched and their organization is all about doing good.  Ha!

Yes,  there is risk to raising prices in this climate of hyper cost-consciousness,  but every once in a while one must raise prices and there may be compelling reasons to do so now.  Your price increase may be in response to any number of factors,  not the least of which is to synchronize the value you bring with the fees you charge.  Or maybe you just plain old need more money to maintain your preferred standard of living as you hand over more money than you should for groceries and gasoline.

The art of pricing is to charge a fee that simultaneously reflects your perceived value to clients and allows you to achieve your desired bottom line.  To that end,  you can discover useful competitive intelligence at http://gsa.gov/mobis and learn what others in your specialty charge the US government for consulting services rendered.

To access,  see the search box at top right and enter a professional category  (e.g. project management).  Scroll through the businesses listed until you find one based in your geography.  Look to the right,  click  “terms and conditions”  and view the services and prices revealed.

If you learn that your prices are rather low by comparison,  then it might be time for a price increase.  Additionally,  if clients remark that your services are a wonderful bargain,  then it’s definitely time to give yourself a raise.

Be aware that billing practices can either help or hinder the introduction and acceptance of a price increase.  It’s easier to bill by the hour and for small jobs that may suffice.  But hourly billing can expose you to haggling over your hourly rate,  making a price increase unpalatable for those who’ve worked with you before.

A flat project fee holds many advantages and typically benefits both Freelancer and client.  A project fee also makes it easier to institute your price increase.  To make sure that you don’t lose money on a job,  obtain written project specifications  (to avoid  “mission creep”)  and calculate the number of hours/week it should take to successfully complete the job.

Be sure to add in at least 2 – 3 hours extra per week to accommodate unexpected delays.  You may even choose to discount your  (discreetly increased)  fee somewhat,  in exchange for the stability of working on a long-term project  (because those extra hours allotted may not all be used).  Furthermore,  you should also specify a weekly cap for hours worked and set an hourly rate for time worked in excess of the cap.

Your mission,  should you decide to accept,  is to get paid what you’re worth.  Investigate MOBIS to learn how your prices compare to competitors’.  Whatever your pricing,  if you feel that an increase is in order,  be strategic about your approach.

Billing a flat project fee whenever possible is likely to be helpful to you and your clients  (they’ll know the project cost up front).  A modest price increase may be best,  or perhaps increase only the prices of selected services.  Most of all,  as discussed in previous posts,  you must work with the right clients and sell the value of your services.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Mine Your Search Engine Data

What are interested parties interested in when they visit your website?  That very critical marketing intelligence is often not quite obvious when we plan and contract to build our website. We know to include a description of the products and/or services we sell.  Those who sell products on their site know to include an e-commerce function.  Those who schedule on-line appointments know to include a booking function and perhaps also a pay online feature.

But what information,  surveys,  videos,  white papers or whatever grab attention and keep visitors on a certain website page and convey details that prospective customers need to make a decision about doing business with you,  helping to convert prospects into customers?  Well,  you have to build the thing before you figure out the nuances of what information and features best serve your prospects and business,  but once you’ve done that Google Analytics can help in a big way and as of September 29,  even more than before.  Let’s take a look at Site Search Analysis (SSA) and two new Google offerings,  Real-Time Analytics and Analytics Premium.

SSA functions as  Search Engine Optimization  (SEO)  for your website,  extracting  and reporting valuable data about  site visitors that will provide clues on how to effectively fine-tune the sales tool that is your website.  This is not inbound lead generation  (nor is it actual SEO).  SSA analyzes data generated by your website’s own search engine.  Analytics Premium and Real-Time Analytics will make the information more timely and comprehensive.

The big advantage of Real-Time Analytics is that it will produce a set of reports that show what’s happening on your website as it happens.  You will receive instant insight into the visit count and much other valuable information about what resonates with visitors directly from the search engine of your website.  Real-Time will also measure the activity of social media linked to your website and it will allow you to monitor the impact of new content and marketing campaigns.  Once you’re registered with Google Analytics,  you must enable the Real-Time feature by clicking “new version.”

The more traffic your website receives and the more search queries occur,  the more extensive and revealing the story.  The data from this internal search process will identify what prospective customers want from your website and your business.  What are they curious about?  What information do they seek?  SSA internal search data lets you know the ways your website does and does not deliver information and answer visitor’s questions.

You will be able to evaluate website content—do you provide enough of the right information,  do you tell the right story in the way that prospective customers can understand?  Or you may have the right content,  but analyzing search data can tell you if visitors to your site somehow become frustrated and wind up exiting the site,  perhaps because the desired information is hard to find because it’s buried somewhere that prospects don’t expect to find it,  meaning you need to re-arrange and re-configure pages.  Maybe your information needs to be presented in a more eye-catching fashion or the text and terms used should be clarified,  expressed in language that your clients use and will better understand?

Analytics Premium is a paid service that reportedly will produce more specific website traffic data than the free service.  Premium will offer more customizable variables and downloadable reports.   There will also be guaranteed service level agreements for data collection,  processing and reporting,  plus  24/7  customer service reps available to assist with installing the program.

In closing,  I offer you a caveat:  SSA provides much intriguing data about how prospective customers respond to your website,  but you have to interpret the meaning of it all and decide what smart thing to do with the information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim