Freelancers Hiring Freelancers

Are you preparing to submit a proposal for a big assignment you hope to win and know that the project specifications will cause you to subcontract some of the work? Congratulations! You will have the pleasure of hiring one or more of your Freelancer peers. Together, you will become a team whose mission will be to produce the client’s deliverables by achieving outcomes of the highest quality, on or in advance of the project deadline and on budget.

You, the external team leader, must understand the skills that the project requires, know how much it will cost to secure the services of your Freelancer team and write a winning proposal.  Project management is an everyday reality for Freelance consultants and the bigger the project, the more planning is involved. Your reputation is forever on the line and when subcontracted work is involved, you must be diligent in your search to identify the best talent to bring on board.  Read on and get some helpful advice on how to assemble a winning team that will enhance your brand and your billable hours, current and future.

Get budget estimate

Get a reliable project budget estimate from your client, if possible.  If the client prefers playing possum with that amount, then make sure you are able to accurately estimate both the quantity and quality of work the project requires so that you can first, calculate your own labor cost and target profit margin and next, understand what you must budget to pay your subcontractors.

Hire specialists

Directly ask candidates you interview and confirm that the skill you need is a competency in which that candidate excels and that s/he has performed often enough to claim deep experience.  You are in no position to train someone on the job.  You must guarantee superior results.

Pay well

Why not ask candidates what they want to make as a subcontractor on the project? Start by researching the going rate range for that specialty, so that you’ll know what to expect to pay and you can rule out those who attempt to take advantage of you.  People will do their best work when they feel valued. They’ll be happy to give extra to make you look good and make themselves shine along with you.  They’ll go above and beyond because they’ll want to be hired to work with you again since you value their capabilities.

If you encounter someone who seems a perfect fit for the project but his/her subcontracting fee is somewhat beyond what you planned to offer, then ask what perks might make that person happy, in addition to money.  You may be able to get who you want for a little less money if you give a little more in another area that demonstrates how you value the skill set.

Set clear expectations

If the project is on a tight time frame and in order to meet the deadline long hours and a seven-days-a-week schedule will be needed then you, the external team leader, must present this schedule information to your candidates in the interview.  You need team members who are able to block out the necessary time and are willing to work hard.  If time is an issue, expect to pay a premium to your subcontractors and add a premium to your own fee as well. Develop a contract for your subcontractors, so that all responsibilities, relevant milestones, the project deadline and the rate of pay are in writing.

Communicate often

Request weekly or bi-weekly written progress reports from your subcontractors and send similar updates to your client.  Announce to the client and your subcontractors whenever a project milestone has been met.  Interim victories will give you an opportunity to thank and congratulate your subcontractors and inspire them as you do.  Learning that you and your team have reached a milestone gives your client confidence in you.

View work samples

In the subcontractor interviews, be sure that work samples provided correspond with the project specs, to confirm that you are evaluating what is relevant.

Check references

Ask to speak with two of your candidate’s clients.  Confirm the type of work that the candidate has done for each reference.  Inquire about the quality of that work and the candidate’s willingness to do what was needed to get the job done.  Ask what it’s like to work with the candidate—is s/he positive and upbeat, or a constant complainer? Finally, ask if there’s anything else you should know about the experience of working with the candidate.

Paperwork

Once you understand the project specs, the role that your subcontractors will play and what you will pay for their services, you can then write a draft contract.  Also, download from the IRS website tax form W-9 for your subcontractors to complete and return to you. You’ll retain the W-9 and use it to prepare and mail to subcontractors IRS form 1099 before January 31 of the following year if payments to any subcontractor reach $600.

Finally, set up an accounting method that will allow you to easily and accurately calculate hours worked and dollars earned for each subcontractor.  If you’ve seldom worked with subcontractors, then speak with a bookkeeper or accountant for more information.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Seven Samurai (Japan, 1954) Directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune (foreground)

 

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Ready To Fly Freelance!

According to the Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans, 34% of the workforce, engaged in some level of Freelance work in 2014 (that includes workers like Uber drivers, who are classified as private contractors). Of that number, 45% were Freelancers who consider themselves self-employed professionals; 27% were moonlighters, doing Freelance projects in addition to their primary employment; and 18% were considered “diversified” workers, who cobbled together three or more revenue raising activities to support themselves.

Businesses large and small continue to eliminate traditional full-time employment and push American workers into figuring out how to support themselves independently. Some workers have an entrepreneurial mindset and an independent spirit and would strike out on their own regardless. Maybe that is you? Whatever the circumstances, the time may be right for you to plan to work for yourself. Here are some signifiers:

You are confident You’ve honed a set of skills over the years that you are certain others will pay you to provide to them. You have access to potential clients who are familiar with you and your work and you are fairly certain that you can build a successful organization that will yield an income that will allow you to pay your bills and maybe even exceed your current salary.

You have a very good professional network and colleagues who will make referrals for you (and you will be able to return the favors and make referrals as well). You believe in yourself and your abilities and you are not afraid to step out and go it alone.

You are self-motivated You want to be independently employed, the captain of your own ship. You are a self-disciplined leader who is comfortable working alone or in a team. You are able to meet deadlines and enjoy meeting and especially exceeding expectations.

You cannot get a better job The new economy is unkind to so many. Middle-class jobs have been disappearing since the late 1980s as a result of computer technology, globalization, the off-shoring of labor and most of all, unprecedented corporate greed that has driven down wages, restricted merit raises for the vast majority and made billionaires of the 1%.

Age, race and gender discrimination are real and well-documented. The pervasive use of “search committees” that control the hire of even administrative assistants, whose members apparently aim to hire minimally competent functionaries who are incapable of out-shining the committee members, effectively block the employment of many talented workers.

Regardless of your skill set and experience, work ethic and track record of working collaboratively, you may not be able to get either a promotion or a new job anywhere. Breaking into a new field with “transferable” skills is usually limited to either the enormously well-connected or the very fortunate.

You’re a good salesperson  Freelancers and business owners are salespeople, first and foremost. Devising and implementing a marketing plan (and financial and operations plans as well) requires that you promote your venture in ways that will put you on the radar screens of potential clients and referral sources. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you must effectively talk up your business, in particular to those with money and motive to do business with you.

You have money saved You’ve been able to save 6 months + wages that will float you as you bring in projects and rack up billable hours. To further cushion your Freelance experience, you would be wise to identify and pursue other revenue streams, better known as flexible part-time employment. Teaching is a popular sideline for consultants, but do not be embarrassed to consider taking a low-level job that will not bring you into contact with potential clients. You just want to discreetly make money and also have time to pursue your real work.

Flexibility matters You may have aging parents who need your help; you are the parent of school-age children; or you prefer to work intermittently (or all three). Being saddled with the ongoing requirements of a 40 hour + job may not blend well with your personal obligations.

If you think that you have a marketable skill, arrange to let potential customers know and try to get hired for a few projects while you still have traditional employment. The strategy also applies to those who are retired or about to retire. Join the 27% of Freelancers who moonlight and beta test your business concept. You could be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy running your own empire!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Freelancers Union

Front page top half of the Sunday March 24 New York Times business section features a lengthy article on the Freelancers Union,  a Brooklyn,  New York based 501 (c) (3) organization that benefits Freelancers.  The organization was founded in 2001 by Sara Horowitz,  a New York City labor law attorney who 20 years ago was hired into a Manhattan law firm as a contract worker and found aspects of the experience unsettling.  There was a precursor group Horowitz founded in 1995,  Working Today.

The Freelancers Union is not a certified union,  but an association of independent workers,  from screenwriters to management consultants to nannies,  that promotes the interests of Freelancers.  It has no collective bargaining power,  does not negotiate contracts and does not represent members in grievances.  If a client stiffs you on an invoice,  the Freelancers Union will not go to bat and help you collect.  Members pay no dues or membership fee.

Freelancers Union keeps issues of concern to Freelancers alive in the media,  as a strategy to impact government policies that benefit us.  The group advocates for legal reform on worker’s compensation,  unemployment benefits and tax relief  (our taxes are higher, as you know),  areas in which we are vulnerable.   In 2009,  the group successfully persuaded New York City to eliminate the unincorporated business tax levied on Freelancers who earn less than $100,000,  a saving of up to $3,400/year.

An internal Freelancers Union survey found that 58%  of its members earn less than $50, 000/year and 29%  earn less than $25,000/ year.  Bear in mind that most members reside in Metro New York City and pay rates are usually higher there than in other areas of the country.  Also,  some prefer to work part-time and that limits earning potential.

In the March 24 article,  there were questions about the practical value of Freelancers Union beyond the delivery of health insurance.  Gordon Lafer,  professor of labor relations at University of Oregon said,  “The question is,  can they get any leverage to get a fair shake from employers,  to get companies to give a fair share of their profits to Freelancers? They may need to be more creative to do that.”

Still,  Freelancers Union is a fast-growing group that has 207,000+ members and more than 50%  live and work in New York state.  The website states that there are 42 million independent and part-time workers in this country,  workers who are not eligible for benefits of any kind.  In response,  the Freelancers Union’s primary deliverable is providing affordable insurance through its for-profit insurance company: medical,  dental,  disability,  retirement and life insurance policies.  Unfortunately,  not every form of insurance is available in every state.  I cannot at this time obtain medical insurance in my state,  but all other forms offered are available.

Its health insurance company has enrolled 23,000 Freelancers in New York state.  Premiums are $225.00 – $600.00/month.  The Obama administration recently awarded Freelancers Union $340 million in low-interest loans to help the organization establish in New York,  New Jersey and Oregon cooperatives that will provide health insurance to Freelancers and others who need coverage.

For Sara Horowitz,  the goal is to persuade Freelancers to band together and set up social purpose institutions that serve our mutual needs.  “The social unionism of the 1920’s had it right”,  she stated in the March 24 New York Times article.  “They said: we serve workers 360 degrees.  It’s not just about their work.  It’s about their whole life.  We  (Freelancers Union)  view things the same way.”   See  http://freelancersunion.org for more info.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Where the Freelance Money Is

You’ve written a business plan—now what?  Kim is the midwife who helps you take your business from the drawing board to reality in  “Business Plans:  Next Steps”.  Bring your completed business plan and join Kim and other hopeful entrepreneurs in round robin discussions where you’ll get a critique of your business model;  smart marketing/PR/social media  advice;  insights into sales distribution channels that make sense for you and your customers;  and suggestions on how to finance your business in today’s economy.  Wednesdays March 13,  20  & 27  5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston.  Register at  http://bit.ly/Zd9dqR   or call 617.267.4430 class ID 9074.

Some Freelancers are more likely to earn the coveted but elusive six-figure annual revenue than others.   Maybe you’re there or could be,  with some good luck and timing,  opening doors with the right skills.  Here are six potentially lucrative occupations that attract Freelancers:

Writing

Magazines do not often pay $2.00/word anymore and there are only so many 5000 word articles bring commissioned in this era of short attention spans,   but allegedly there a number of Freelancers still able to pull in big money through writing assignments of various kinds.  This category includes not only magazine and newspaper article generation,  but also technical writing.  I am acquainted with two or three Freelancers who’ve made a nice piece of change in the latter category.  It’s very boom and bust,  but the money is sometimes there.   Also,  Freelancers pay Freelancer colleagues to produce content for websites,  blogs,  newsletters and marketing collateral.   Writers need no special equipment,  other that a computer and writing software like Apache OpenOffice or Scrivener.  

Translating

I have a friend who regularly gets assignments translating Arabic and German to English and vice versa  (hello George!),  although he has other revenue streams in addition.   According to the American Translators Association,  their certified translators average $72,000/year and those without that certification average $53,000.   As you’d expect,  much depends upon the language you translate.   No surprise that there is a big demand for Spanish translation,  with Arabic,  Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin),  French,  German,  Japanese and Korean also showing strong demand.

Photography

Photography has long had the potential to produce a healthy Freelance income.   Wedding photographers have traditionally commanded large sums and they continue to do so,  in spite of robust competition from videographers.   Portrait photographers also command high prices—business owners and corpoate execs need a professional headshot for websites,  annual reports and other promotional uses.   E-commerce fattens the wallets of product photographers,  who make items sold on-line look appealing.  Food photography and fashion photography are lucrative sub-specialties.   Those lucky enough to have an  “in”  with colleges and/or big corporations can make a nice living,   as do those who have relationships with busy special event planners.  The downside is that good cameras and Adobe Photo Shop editing software are expensive.

SEO Search Engine Optimization

Freelancers who hope to drive traffic to their website pay confreres Freelancers for this potentially revenue-generating service.   Those new to the field can expect to bill $50.00/hour and allegedly the best known can command up to $500.00/hour from big corporate clients.  It is furthermore essential to be well-versed in the various metrics that prove your worth to clients,  so that satisfied customers can be recruited to give testimonials that help you obtain more clients.

Mobile App Development

Writing software applications for mobile devices like cell phones and tablets lured one million Freelancers to the field in 2010 and no doubt that number has grown significantly.  App development is like a modern day gold rush.   I recently read an article in the New York Times  (11/17/12)  about those who aren’t making money in the app development business and that is the usual scenario.  As author David Streitfeld details in his comprehensive article,  don”t quit your day job and developing for Apple is akin to sharecropping.   Still,  you may be the one who can retire on the residuals of the next  “Angry Birds”.  Another downside is that you must spend a hefty sum on the technology needed to test your apps in development.

Social Media Strategy

Millions of Freelance consultants and owners of businesses large and small feel that social media cannot be ignored and that in order to maximize its potential and not leave money on the table,  a specialist must be hired.  If you can convince decision-makers that you know how to choose social media that is appropriate for their business,   plan and execute a social media campaign and know how to  demonstrate measurable results,  you can be off to the races.  Newbies to the field can expect to bill $25.00 /hour and top-drawer known experts can allegedly bill $250.00 /hour to big corporate clients.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Find the Time to Do What You Must Do

It is not easy to stay focused and manage one’s time effectively,  especially when Freelancing.   Working from home presents so many opportunities for distraction,  from the laundry,  to the vacuuming,  to the suddenly gross- looking bathroom sink.  How can you avoid letting the household chores fester and still successfully complete an in-house project,  keep an eye open for potential new assignments,  create additional revenue streams that sustain financially during the inevitable gaps in contracts or client slow-pay situations and somehow find time for professional development and networking?  Fear not,  Freelancer friend,  there is a way to keep those plates in the air.

The secret is to prioritize and be resolute about it.  Learn to value yourself and your time.   Allow yourself  to acknowledge and honor those things that you Must Do and things that you Want To Do.  Equally important,   allow yourself to recognize low-priority tasks and have the courage to let them fall to the wayside. 

We all have obligations and preferred activities and we have about 16 waking hours each day in which to act upon them.   To manage time effectively,  become more productive and refrain from burning yourself out,  priorities must be made and adhered to.   Be brave.  Climb into the driver’s seat and decide which activities and people mean the most to you and let those choices guide how you allocate your time.

Where to begin? Start with work,  because that is how you earn money.   Make a time line for important projects and/or goals and create a what you Must Do manifesto.  Draw up an action plan to ensure that all deliverables are in hand by the desired date.  Identify important milestones along the way and reward yourself when they are reached.  This will help you to establish the right things to do and when to do them and that is the essence of prioritizing.

Next,  think about your personal life and what you Want To Do.   Are you married,  maybe with children,  or do you have someone special in your life with whom you want to spend quality time?  Refer back to your project/goal time line and brainstorm approaches to Must Do priorities that can increase the amount of Want To Do time.  You still may not show up at all of your son’s football games,  but you’ll be more likely to be at the important ones. 

 When on a serious deadline you’ll probably be basically unavailable while the pressure’s on,  but with careful planning you’ll meet most obligations  (buy take-out food and consider hiring a cleaning service to get you and the family over the hump during a crazy-busy period).   You might even be able to have the occasional quiet dinner with the family or that special someone,  which will give you some much-needed relaxation and battery-charging.  You might be able to accept an invitation to a good party,  too.

Other aspects of your personal life involve only you and those needs should likewise be honored,  because they are what you Want To Do.   One way to get more things done  is to get out of bed earlier,  so consider going to the gym at 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM.   If you’re really busy,  exercise will help you to stay strong,  focused,  creative and in reasonably good humor.  If necessary,  limit work-outs to 30 – 45 minutes,  so that you’ll stay on your time line,  checking off the boxes of what you Must Do.

Along the way,   it will be necessary to recognize which activities and unfortunately,  people,  are time-wasters and limit or eliminate your exposure.  Toxic and/or time-wasting people should be diplomatically ushered to the door.  You have no time available to indulge  nonsense. 

Social media is yet another potential time-waster.  Limit social media activity  to 30 minutes two to four times a week.  Even if your custom has been to spend  lots of time on Twitter because it could be good for business,   ask yourself if you need to post every day? If the verdict is that you must,  then limit tweet  time to 15 minutes/day.

Finally,  learn to forgive yourself if a few things don’t get done.  Do what is necessary to achieve what you Must Do and Want To Do and maybe let the vacuuming wait a few days.  Celebrate your progress and remember to find time to relax and enjoy time with yourself,  family,  friends and special someone.  Give yourself the gift of work – life balance.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Freelancer’s Dilemma : W2 or 1099

So we continue with the get-your-house-in-order year-end organization.  This week,  you can think about your tax status in an even more elemental way:  are you a Freelance consultant who is on a very long assignment,  or are you an employee?  The federal government continues its focus on the proper classification of employees and contract workers.  Businesses are cutting back on hiring workers who must be paid benefits and the feds are snooping around.  Improper classification of workers violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

As you know,   Freelance consultants are not covered by federal or state wage or hour laws;  are ineligible for employee benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans; and cannot form or join a union.   Our employers are not required to make any withholding whatsoever and so we do not receive unemployment benefits and no one pays into our social security or medicare accounts,  no one deducts federal and state taxes for us.

The good thing is that we have 100%  of our money in hand when the check arrives and that has probably saved you more than once!  The downside is that we are left with a tax bill,  including self-employment  tax,  every quarter.

Businesses may be totally flummoxed about how to classify workers.  For example,  the Internal Revenue Service may classify a worker as an employee and determine that he/she is entitled to participate in the company retirement plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  State government officials may classify that same worker as an independent contractor when determining whether or not that worker is entitled to unemployment benefits.

There are different tests for distinguishing independent contractors from employees.  A big factor is whether the worker or the company controls the manner in which the work is performed.  The more the Freelancer,  as opposed to the employer/client,  controls where,  when and how the work is performed,  the more likely that an independent contractor arrangement exists.   To further clarify,  individuals who are free to provide services to other clients and are able to sub-contract their work are more likely to be classified as independent contractors.

Other considerations include:

  • Whether the worker uses his/her own supplies and equipment to perform the work wherever it is convenient  (like on a computer in a library,  or a cell phone in a coffee shop).
  • Whether the worker can reject an assignment without  fearing termination of the work arrangement.
  • Whether the worker pays his/her own business and travel expenses.

The above conditions would incline that worker toward classification as an independent contractor.  Whether or not a worker has independent contractor or employee status has huge economic implications for both the employer/client and the W2/1099 worker.  Unfortunately,  in today’s job market,  workers are in a vulnerable position,  regardless of the government’s heightened scrutiny of possible mis-classification.

Very few Freelancers who ought to be classified as employees will turn in an employer who is offering steady work,  particularly if the hourly rate is considered acceptable.   We will put up with a few things to get a reliable check.  If you suspect that you are really a W2 who is treated as a 1099 by a business that wants  (or maybe really needs)  to save money,  look at the big picture.

Are you happy working there?  Is the money good?  Is the work good for your CV and the name good for your client list? Are you able to squeeze in work for other clients  (with or without that employer’s knowledge)?

Without exactly letting on that you know the employer is breaking the law,  you might be able to bargain for a few perks,  such as less face time in the office,  or perhaps a shot at working on better projects.  It’s a touchy situation and you don’t want to kill the golden goose.  I’d probably speak with an employment attorney to figure out a strategy.  You don’t want to lose either a regular revenue stream or a reference.  Chalk it up to what one does to remain in business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Be a First Class Freelancer

What do clients want when they look to hire a Freelance contractor?  On a conscious level they know that a job must be done and that the time and/or expertise to do the job does not reside within the organization and so outside help must be brought in.  They know certain deliverables must be produced within a particular time frame and they know what can be spent to achieve their objectives.  But what makes a client hire one Freelancer over others who may be interviewed?  What is the secret sauce that can make you be The One?

Be creative,  perceptive and adaptable

During the first meeting,  First Class Freelancers can quickly and accurately assess client needs.  Failing that,  s/he will know the right questions to ask that draw out and clarify objectives and priorities.  The First Class Freelancer will know whether and how their own skill set will match with client needs and will be able to articulate that assessment in language that is readily understood.   As a result,  trust and confidence in your abilities are quickly established and the foundation for rapport-building and a productive working relationship is set.

An experienced pro

If you nail Step One,  the client will know that you have the goods to meet and very likely exceed expectations and that there is no doubt that you will get the job done and make him/her look good to both superiors and subordinates.  First Class Freelancers let it be known through their grasp of the client’s big picture needs that the ROI of bringing them in will be substantial.  Deadlines will be met and work will be of the highest quality.  This allows the first class crew to command  premium prices and the client doesn’t quibble,  because his/her reputation is about to be enhanced.  If necessary,  s/he’ll go to bat for you and get more money appropriated for the project to cover your fee.

Operate like a business

Be highly professional in client interactions and all forms of business communication.  Follow-up promptly,  invoice at the appropriate times and write good proposals  (that are really confirmations,  because you’ve impressed the decision-maker and pretty much know you’ll win the contract).  Present yourself as an equal and a peer,  but respect boundaries and remember that you have a green card but you’re not a citizen.  Radiate confidence and success  (but never smugness or arrogance).  Create the impression that although times are tough,  you have a viable client roster because you have credibility and competence.

After you’ve been out on your own for a while and identified the types of projects that you like and the types of clients that tend to hire you,  carve out a specialty niche where you can excel.  Resist the temptation to take any and every project that comes your way  (unless the cupboard is bare).  Develop the corresponding verbal packaging that will be your business introduction and elevator pitch,  as well as online and print collaterals that effectively represent and communicate your brand.

Smart negotiator

It’s during contract negotiation that your prospective client will know what you think your time and talent are worth,  how experienced you really are and the prestige level of the projects you’ve previously worked on.  If you accept the first offer that’s given and consequently sign for noticeably less than expected,  they’ll know you’re wet behind the ears or you’ve only done low-budget projects.  They’ll know you’re not in the big-time.  This information will also be telegraphed if you fail to discuss payment terms during contract negotiations and ask for some percentage of up-front money before you start work.

Get busy and write yourself a fist class ticket so you can get paid to travel in style!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The Road to Freelance

Many established professionals consider leaving the world of traditional employment and launching a Freelance consulting career.  The growing lack of job security,  as evidenced by the unemployment rate,  along with the increasing occurrence of toxic work environments endured by those who are working,  have caused many people to give serious thought to self-employment.

I’ve found much personal and professional satisfaction in Freelance nation but there are challenges.  Preparation is key and if you’re still on the job,  begin now to build the infrastructure that will support your transition.   Take the steps while on the corporate dime to sock away some cash and learn how to approach your business clients and contacts as an independent professional.  Learn how to package and sell your services and determine and negotiate fees for the scope of work you will perform.  Visit professional associations and meet Freelancers who do what you aspire to do and ask some questions,  especially on how to build visibility and credibility as an independent consultant in your industry.

Build your savings account

Aim to have savings that will allow you to cover your living expenses for 12 months.  You don’t know how long it will take to sign your first client,  or the one after that.  Freelancers,  especially in the beginning,  will need cash to float themselves,  especially if one is the sole or primary breadwinner.  Furthermore,  scheduled  projects have a nasty habit of being delayed or even canceled.

Start saving money now by eliminating those $5.00 coffee drinks.  Brown bag your lunch whenever possible and cut back on nights out eating and drinking by 75%.  Do not buy any clothing you don’t absolutely need and cancel any vacation plans.  Remember that in addition to paying for living expenses,  you may need to buy or upgrade technology hardware and/or software and will also need to pay for marketing materials  (business cards, website, etc.)  so that you can effectively operate and promote your business.

Business plan and business model

You must figure out how you will get clients,  select the services you will offer and how to determine your fees.  You must choose the marketing materials you will use and decide what they will look like.  You must define the best target client groups and know how to approach them and convince them to hire you for Freelance work—even if you’ve worked with them as an employee of you current organization.  Do you need to be accepted onto an approved vendor list in order to be considered for hire?  Discreetly ask questions of those you can trust to not rat you out to your boss.   Also get an understanding of the typical length of the sales cycle.

Additionally,  it is necessary that you assess the competitive landscape.  The presence of competition is good,  as it demonstrates the need for services you provide and shows that Freelancers are hired to fulfill those needs.  However,  you don’t want to be in an over-crowded marketplace,  unless you are a very heavy-hitter.

Finally,  summon the discipline to write a business plan.  A mission statement,  comprehensive marketing plan and basic cash flow and profit and loss statements will provide a useful road map to get you started and encourage you to examine what will be required to make your Freelance venture successful.  I wish you the best of luck.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

From Employee to Freelancer

Perhaps the handwriting is on the wall?  Is your intuition talking to you?  Anyway,  rumor has it that a few jobs will be eliminated and you suspect that your head may eventually be on the chopping block.  In addition to sprucing up your resume and LinkedIn page,  you wonder if perhaps you might go out on your own?  If you must face insecurity,  why not have it on your own terms?  You may be right.  Millions of Americans have done exactly that,  including your humble diarist.

If you’re still collecting a check consider yourself fortunate,  as tense as things may be at the office.  Having a job gives you two enormous luxuries: time and money.  I was not so lucky.  I tried for many months to get a job after losing my long-held corporate gig.  I knew nothing about how to Freelance,  although I had long harbored the desire to strike out on my own.  Unfortunately,  I had to learn the hard way.  It was an expensive lesson that continues to reverberate.  On the other hand,  I am in business and somehow manage to support myself.

Self-employment is difficult in any economy.  It’s necessary to work hard and work smart,  plus be resourceful,  resilient and rather lucky.  I know a few people who are making good money,  but I’ve read that a 30%  decrease in income is typical.  Freelancers must campaign and compete for assignments and there will be gaps. 

Clients are known to pay when they feel like it and collecting in 15 – 30 days is not always possible.  Furthermore,  there are many expenses that we must shoulder:  professional training seminars,  technology and office supplies,  retirement plan,  health insurance,  life insurance  (yes, we do need it,  even if unmarried and childless).  On top of that,  we have no paid sick days,  vacation time or holidays.

But if you’re trying to explore all income generating options because unemployment checks do not last forever and you wonder if your next employer might be you,  here are a few Freelancer start-up guidelines for you to follow:

Expand your network

It’s almost impossible to secure work assignments when you’re not well-known to potential clients and there are few who can give testimonials that will vouch for your expertise.  Growing your network is the most important step you can take in preparing to become a Freelance consultant.  Ideally,  you will consult in a field and specialty where you have deep expertise and credibility. 

Immediately begin to cultivate and solidify client relationships with those who can green-light projects you would want.  Identify professional associations that cater to consultants in your industry and also seminars that clients attend and get on mailing lists,  so you’ll know where to network.  Read industry blogs and other publications,  so you will be up-to-date with important issues.

Check your credentials

Be sure that whatever competencies and qualifications,  degrees,  certificates,  licenses and/or  insurance necessary to do business are in hand.  Whatever you don’t have and can get on your employer’s dime,  take steps to do so ASAP.   Otherwise,  consider professional development expenses as a 2012 tax write-off.  If nothing else,  the improved credentials might help you get your next job if you decide to hold off going out on your own.

More next week,

Kim

Pick the Right Clients

As a coda to last week’s post about understanding,  communicating and being rewarded with money and respect for your value, I add thoughts about how to recognize good and bad prospective clients so that you will be positioned to sell on value and avoid being treated as a mere commodity.

As mentioned last week,  it’s important to develop the confidence to understand and accept that your services are not meant for every possible prospect.  Those who intend to exploit and devalue Freelancers will get us nothing but a knot in the stomach and lousy pay.

I know all too well,  however,  that sometimes it’s about paying the rent and keeping the phone on.  Who among us has not worked with a client who was a complete jerk early in the game,  but we kept telling ourselves that we’re pros,  we’ll make it work,  just get the frigging money and pay the g-d bills?

Other times,  it’s about getting the right name on the client list and catapulting yourself to the next level.  So you roll with the punches and vow never to work with the SOB ever again.  Even billionaires wind up doing business with those they’d rather not, so they can stay billionaires.  Business is like that.

Yet we do have some measure of control over the clients we work with,  no matter how dismal the economy.  It starts with our very own business model and whom we envision as our target clients: Fortune 1000s and large not-for-profits,  arts or social service organizations,  medical device and biotech.  Perhaps you decline to pursue chemical companies that create seeds for genetically engineered crops,  or tobacco companies,  or start-ups of any kind.

Whoever your target clients,  you must avoid like the plague those who display disrespectful or unethical behavior.  The sorting process takes place in the initial meetings.  First,  pay attention to how the particulars of the project and its scope are presented.  There should be attainable goals,  specific deliverables,  a clear idea of what your role will be and a reasonable project time-table.

The client should probably do 70% of the talking in your first meeting,  but there should be space for you to add your insights to the discussion as well.  Your second clue is,  have you been invited to add your thoughts about possible solutions and strategies,  or is your prospective client the supreme expert who casts you in the role of supplicant?

Several months ago,  I spoke with a prospect who had one set of goals during a phone meeting and our first face to face and a rather different set of goals in our second meeting.  Our first meeting was great,  our second meeting was revealing.  The prospect did all the talking and blocked a true dialogue.  Goals had changed and they seemed unattainable to me.  My perspective was not sought and my value seemed unappreciated.  Further talks were postponed as the prospect decided to take a vacation.  Eventually,  she opted to shelve the project. I was furious at the time but  now realize that she did me a favor.

As you get to know your prospective client do not ignore how he/she speaks in reference to other Freelancers with whom he/she may have worked.  Very early in Freelancing,  I met a prospect who was oh,  so charming in meeting #1.  But in the second meeting,  he showed his true colors by making frequent references to how he was reliably able to hire Freelancers to work  “cheap”.  Also,  as he described the project,  my role and the deliverable,  he stipulated ridiculously scant hours and short time frame for project completion.

Definitely,  I should have walked right out of that clown’s office after politely suggesting that it might be best if he contacted one of his  “cheap”  Freelancers for that assignment  (I wanted to, believe me).  But I was needy and desperate for both money and a better client list,  so I meekly sat there and sucked up the attack on my professional value,  signed the contract and began work.

The whole impossible task was going nowhere and I was not even close to producing the deliverable as scheduled when lucky for me,  a ranking staff member realized the whole thing was untenable and stepped in to work with me.  That staff member understood my value and appreciated the contributions that I made to setting the stage for the project’s eventual successful completion (and also ensured that I was paid on time).

So what is the moral of this story?  As always,  learn to appreciate and communicate your value as a competent professional and insist that all who aspire to work with you do so as well.  It’s the only way to be a successful Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim