Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

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Survey Results: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud-based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners  http://freshbooks.com.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)

 

 

 

5 Customer Survey Questions That Work

Every once in a while, it makes sense to address your client feedback metric, so that you will receive some lived-experience insight into your operation’s strengths and weaknesses.  You need to learn what can be done better, which service delivery or other operational processes might be simplified and what clients would like to see more of.

The smartest way to begin the client feedback process is to decide what you want to know and what purpose that information will serve.  Are you trying to develop new products or services, so that you’ll be able to give clients what they want before they know they want it? Or is business dwindling and you’re in damage control mode, attempting to win back clients?

Some market research questions are best explored through the eyes of clients and others around the conference table with your leadership team (or maybe your front-line staff, who have loads of on-the-ground experience that they’d love to share). Let’s examine when it makes sense to query your clients and when you’ll learn more from in-house research.  Given below are five standard yet very clever survey questions, some that apply to clients and others that apply to you and your team:

  1. What are the challenges that clients (in a given industry or category) are facing?
  2. Which of these problems is our organization equipped to address?
  3. What solutions are we offering now and what can we/should we add, re-tool, or quit?
  4. How effective are our solutions—what do clients most often hire us to do?
  5. What do we do next?

Note that questions 1 and 4 would best be put to your clients and that questions 2, 3 & 5 involve business strategy and would be addressed in-house, once you’ve spoken with selected clients to figure out questions 1 and 4.

How you conduct the client survey deserves some thought, as well. It might be best for Freelance consultants and small business owners to run a low-key survey by setting up an environment that enables comfortable and candid conversation.  Consider making the process informal and perhaps even seemingly impromptu.  Larger companies may feel comfortable running a formal focus group, perhaps facilitated by an outside market research firm.

Question 1: What are the primary challenges facing your client’s organization?

Whether the client comes to you or you go the client, start by asking a “how are things going in your office” question, or inquire about the next big project or objective (whether or not it would involve your organization). Find out what’s going on and let the client talk.

Questions 2 and 3: Which challenges do you want to solve? How will that be done?

Given the expertise and resources you have, coupled with the client’s inclination to contract for the necessary billable hours, which additional client challenges might you be asked to take on (or what can you cleverly propose to be hired to do)? Can your organization successfully deliver the desired outcomes, or will you need to subcontract some portion? Can you learn how clients are managing these responsibilities now? Is there a competitor who gets hired to do that work , or is nothing being done because the client isn’t sure what to do, or lacks the budget to complete the job?

Question 4: Have our solutions satisfactorily resolved the clients’ challenges?

What project did the client hire you to do? What are the projects that your organization is most often hired to do? How does do clients feel about your performance—is your expertise and ability to deliver the service trusted and respected by clients? Does it seem that you’ll receive more business from several of your clients, on a similar project or another type?

Question 5: What do you do next, based on client responses?

Now here is the judgment call for you and the team. The essence of the process is interpreting the data compiled.  What can you realistically do, based on the responses from clients in questions 1 and 4 and the opportunities and strengths within your organization, as noted in questions 2, 3 and 5?

Remember, it is most likely possible to beta test a new or re-tooled service  with a trusted client who would receive a reduced project fee in exchange for helping your organization to perfect the business model.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Freelancers: We Are the Future

Presented for your perusal are relevant statistics and observations gleaned from the third annual “Freelancing in America” survey, conducted by the Freelancer’s Union.  According to the organization, “Freelancing in America” is the largest and most comprehensive measure of independent workers conducted in the U.S.

Who we are

In 2015 55 million of our fellow citizens, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce,  participated in the Freelance economy to greater or lesser degree and we earned $1 trillion.  The survey found that 63 % of us were Freelancers by choice, rather than by necessity, and we enjoy this way of working.  Freelancers reported feeling positive about our work and 79 % preferred Freelancing to traditional employment.  We’re much more likely than our traditionally employed counterparts to feel respected, empowered and engaged in our working environment.  The survey assigned categories to different types Freelancing:

  1. Independent contractors (35 %, 19.1 million) — Full-time Freelance Consultants whose only income is derived from client work.
  2. Diversified workers (28 %, 15.2 million)– Freelance Consultants who regularly do client work, but provide themselves a guaranteed income floor by working part-time (maybe as an adjunct professor at a local college or maybe as a bartender and possibly both!).
  3. Moonlighters (25 %, 13.5 million)– those who take occasional side projects along with their traditional employment.
  4. Freelance business owners (7 %, 3.6 million)– Full-time Freelance Consultants who put together a more-or-less permanent team to form a consultancy, so that more complex and lucrative client work can be taken on.
  5. Temporary workers (7 %, 3.6 million)

What we like

Flexibility is a huge perceived benefit for the majority of Freelance Consultants and 60 % felt that a Freelance Consulting career is a respectable choice.  Further, more than 50 % of workers who left full-time employment to join the Freelance economy were able to earn more money within the first year of Freelancing.  46 % of us raised our project fees/hourly rates in 2015 and 54 % said they planned to do so in 2016.

Serious challenges

Money is an issue for Freelancers.  Survey respondents reported that adequate billable hours, negotiating fair project fees or hourly rates and receiving timely payment of invoices (or receiving full payment of accounts receivable) could be problematic.  On average, full-time Freelance Consultants obtain 36 billable hours/week. When the billable hourly rate or project fee is considered inadequate,  cash-flow is impacted and there can be a struggle to meet financial obligations.  As a result, the survey also found that debt is a real concern for us Freelancers.

Access to health insurance and retirement benefits remain major concerns.  Full-time Freelance Consultants rank medical and dental insurance as a primary concern; 20 % of us have no health insurance.  Of those who had health insurance, 54 % faced increased premium rates or deductibles in 2015 as compared to 2014.

Surprisingly, the matter of retirement funding was not addressed by the survey.  Freelance Consultants, unless we are moonlighters who have full-time traditional employment or we’re married to a spouse who receives that important benefit, must completely self-fund our retirement and many millions of us do not have the income to build a worthwhile retirement account. Please see my recent post on retirement planning for Freelancers Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

Shaping the future

As traditional full-time, middle class paying employment continues to disappear, the ranks of Freelance Consultants can only increase, making us a fast-growing segment of the American workforce.  Sadly, politicians have paid no attention whatsoever to either our special challenges or our voting-bloc potential.

85 % of survey respondents said that they planned to vote in the 2016 election cycle.  If that statistic can be applied to the entirety of Freelance Consultants in this country (and I feel it is unrealistically optimistic) it would represent nearly 47 million voters, more than enough to influence a presidential election.  70 % of survey respondents would appreciate candidates and political representatives addressing Freelancer needs, because no matter how lovely things may be for the chosen few who command lucrative project fees, Freelance Consultants (and most part-time workers) are vulnerable.

The holiday season approaches and that means drastically fewer billable hours will be available to the vast majority of us, as many clients limit work from about December 15 to January 2.  We will not receive holiday pay for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day.  How do we fund our retirement accounts and buy health insurance when it may be all we can do to cover basic living expenses? We need political representation, advocates and activism.  The Freelancer’s Union is what we have now.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/business/freelancers-union-tackles-concerns-of-independent-workers.html

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

12 Sample Customer Survey Questions

In numerous posts over the years,  I’ve recommended that you conduct customer service surveys to guide your decision-making as you refresh your brand,  update your business model,  promote client retention,  stimulate referrals or initiate any other changes in your business practices.  Customer surveys can unearth all sorts of interesting and actionable data.  A dozen well-written questions can  give revealing insights into what drives the need for your services,  what persuades decision-makers to choose you instead of a competitor and customer expectations that may not be immediately apparent.  Surveys help you learn how your operation stacks up against the competition and can identify business strengths and weaknesses.

To give you inspiration,  I hereby provide a few sample questions.  Send your customer survey along with the final invoice of a project.  Include it on your website,  Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn page.  Announce it on your Twitter feed.

  1. What service did (the company) provide for you?
  2. What factors made you decide to hire (the company) for this project?
  3. Do you feel that your project contact/manager acted in your best interests and your organization’s?
  4. How closely did (the company) adhere to the agreed-upon project timeline?
  5. Do you feel that your project contact/manager responded to your requests for information and other inquiries in a timely fashion?
  6. Considering the value of this project to your organization,  how do you feel about the amount paid as compared to the value received?
  7. If you feel that you received poor value,  please describe the problem (s).  How do you feel about the process of providing resolution?
  8. Would you be willing to invite (the company) to work with you on another project?
  9. Are there additional services that you wish (the company) would provide?
  10. How often do you typically hire outside project-specific workers?
  11. Based on the experience of working with (the company) would you be willing to recommend to a friend or colleague?
  12. Do you have any suggestions for improving the services provided,  or related administrative matters?

Thank you for your feedback. Your honest opinions are sincerely appreciated.

A big part of growing a successful business is through referrals and repeat business.  Clients only return to you or recommend your services when they are extremely satisfied with your performance and have a high degree of confidence in your operation.  Your clients possess a wealth of information that may not only give you the opportunity to bring solutions to their problems and increase your revenues as a result,  but may also give you ideas about how you might attract new business.  The only way to access this information is to ask your clients and listen to their answers.

Thanks for reading,

Kim