Tag Archives: business

Before You Start Freelancing

Before you decide to start freelancing full-time you need to make sure you’re ready. Are you financially, mentally, and emotionally ready to take the plunge?

Even if you’re planning to do it on the side or moonlight, you still need to prepare yourself.

Being a freelancer is the same as running a “real” business. If you’ve been an employee all your life, you’ll be learning a lot of new things when you start.

The most important decisions you’ll make are deciding what your freelancing goals are. These will define what kind of business you build and provide a framework for making decisions. Should you take that extra project for more cash or is it better to learn about a new technology that just came out?

You’ll also need three qualities to become a freelancer. These qualities should be ingrained into your business DNA from the first day if you want to be successful. Sure you could get away without them but you won’t reach your full potential.

Finally you’ll need to learn or brush up on the skills needed to become a freelancer. Ranging from your core skills like software development or copywriting to business skills, you’ll need a mix of these to get your new freelance business off the ground.

Make sure you take care of all three of these areas before you start freelancing. Missing them could slow you down and set you back months or years in your business development.

Eric Davis

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Always Try to Help Your Client

The one goal of every freelancer should be to always act in the best interests of a client.

Or as a less formal version: always help a client.

Sure you need to protect yourself and your time from unreasonable requests.

Sure you need to pay your own bills and not give away work for free.

But you need to hold your client in as high of a regard as possible.

Clients want help

Your clients come to you because they need help.

Maybe they’re entering an area they don’t have expertise with.

Maybe they can’t get the right people or staff on a project to make it successful.

Or maybe they don’t have an idea about what they’re doing.

But they need your help. That’s why they’re here.

(And if they don’t need your help, then they really aren’t a client are they?)

You’re at the end of a long process

One thing you might not think about when talking with a client, is that they might have been dealing with this problem for a long time. They might have noticed it a long time ago but only now it’s become painful enough to address. Or they tried addressing it themselves without any success.

Just like having a toothache. You can deal with a little bit of discomfort and pain at first. But after a few days this discomfort grows and grows until you just can’t stand it anymore. Where is the phone number for the dentist?!?!

Similarly in some organizations your client might have already taken some political flack admitting that they need outside help. In large organizations (and some smaller ones) the culture is that the “organization” possess everything it needs to run. Which may be true in the strictest sense of the word but just because they can make changes to their website in three weeks doesn’t mean they are the best or fastest at making changes.

(This is why a hardened bureaucracy often hires outside help. Their culture and internal processes are so slow or screwed up that it’s impractical or impossible to get anything important done. I’ve written a short guide How to Hire Outside Development Help for my clients to make this easier.)

Help even before they’re a client

This dwelling and delay in getting outside help from a freelancer is even more important before they are a client.

They have admitted to themselves that the problem is there but they might not have admitted that they need outside help yet. But by talking with outside freelancers, they can feel like their fear is soothed without being fixed. They’re treating the symptoms, not the problem.

Tip: By making your client feel good about their decision to talk to you about their problem, you can really bond and connect with them. Something as simple as “I’m glad you took the time to talk with me today. This problem does look complicated and it’s respectable that you decided to get an outside perspective on it” can work.

Build the relationship through help

Always try to helpful.

At first you’re helping them confront their fears about the problem, save face, or any of the other thirty dozen psychological sticking points us humans have.

This empathy will help build the relationship with them. And the relationship is what you need to have if you’re going to work with them as a client.

Second, if you are able to, give them the best advice you can. Most freelancers I know have a huge amount of knowledge they can share with a client, from industry practices, norms, or even similar experiences with a past client. This advice is free in that it doesn’t cost you anything to share it, but the client will get a ton of value from it.

Not necessarily comp work

Even if you’re in the business of selling advice, the advice you can give from a 30 minute meet-and-greet isn’t going to be specific enough for most clients. They’ll like the ideas but it’s too generic for them to go around you and do it themselves. It’s not taking into account all of the differences and oddities this client has.

And if you do implementation work too, don’t feel that you have to work for free.

The key here is helping and offering some value.

You can’t always help everyone

On the flip-side, by always trying to help your client you will discover times when you can’t help.

It may be functional. They just don’t need the help you can provide.

Or cultural. They or their organization aren’t accepting or acting on your advice.

Or it might even be a weakness in the relationship. They don’t trust you enough to believe the help you give them or that they don’t believe you know about that.

Whatever the reason, if your client isn’t getting the benefit of your help, then they shouldn’t be a client. At least for this task, project, or problem.

One of the worst situations you can get yourself in with a client is where they are paying you but you’re not giving them anything that benefits them. It will poison the relationship and the repercussions of forcing it aren’t worth it (business, professional, and personal-wise).

A golden rule of freelancing for clients is to always try to help them. Act in their best interests and do everything you can.

Eric Davis

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Skills needed to become a freelancer

Running a freelancing business will take a variety of skills. You don’t have to become an expert at them all, but you need to be able to understand the basics enough to keep your business running.

Your Core Skill

Your “core skill” is the set of skills that are behind the services you provide. A web software developer will need to know their programming language, HTML, and how to build software.

Since you’re going to be hired as an expert or at least as someone experienced with your core skill, you will need to master it or be on the road to mastering it.

Your Satellite Skills

Your satellite skills are the skills that revolve around your core skill. Following the web software developer example, their satellite skills might include:

  • Web design (CSS)
  • Graphic design (Photoshop, color theory)
  • JavaScript
  • System administration
  • Automation (shell scripting, build tools)
  • Version control

You won’t need to be advanced or an expert at all of these satellite skills. You’ll need to know enough to complement your core skill and to be able to work with experts in the other areas.

That said, becoming an expert in a satellite skill is a great way to stand out or change your core skill over the long-term. e.g. a web developer who can design the frontend and the backend.

Your Business Skills

The previous skills have all been about the service you provide, the technical “thing you do”. They are all different from person to person. Even if two people have identical core skills, they might have different satellite skills based on their focus (full-stack developer vs devops).

I have more of a focus on automation and system administration to complement my software development but I know a developer who focused more on web and graphic design.

Business skills are different though.

They are the same.

Every business requires the same set of activities in order to function. The amount and actual details of each activity will be different from business to business, but they all share a common function.

At a minimum freelancers need to learn:

  • accounting – enough to do basic bookkeeping
  • finance – enough to understand the relationship between income, expenses, and cash
  • marketing – enough to have a systematic way of attracting potential clients and leads
  • sales – enough to build a relationship with potential clients and have them become actual clients

Of course going beyond the basics will be beneficial to you business. Of them all, sales and marketing are the two with the highest leverage. This is because they affect the income side of the P&L statement (which you’ll understand once you understand finance).

Once you have a basic understanding of each skill, then you can evaluate if hiring our outsourcing it to someone else makes sense. But not until you have learned enough about it.

Your Management Skills

The next set of skills are between your business skills and your core skill. These are your management skills.

Management skills are your ability to keep things moving and remove roadblocks to your core skill while performing your service. It includes:

  • communication
  • running meetings
  • creating reports
  • following up
  • fire-fighting

Even if you have no employees or subcontractors, you’ll have to manage your projects and clients.

Start small

This probably sounds overwhelming. There are dozens of skills you could learn and you need at least a basic understanding of many of them.

But you can learn many of them as you go. With the exception of your core skill, everything else can be learned just-in-time (JIT). Basically right before you need it.

You do need to start and I recommend starting small. Start with each of the four areas above and then learn one tiny skill from each. Spend a few minutes researching and practicing it. Once you understand it, pick a new tiny skill.

Continuous growth and learning is a big part of freelancing.

Eric Davis

Want weekly freelancer training like this?

Guides for Businesses to Automate Marketing and Rescue Projects

I’m happy to announce that I’ve just released two free guides for software businesses over at Little Stream Software.

How to Use Software to Improve Your Marketing

Businesses live and die by their customers. They are either trying to get more customers or build better relationships with the ones they already have.

Marketing can find more customers but it can take a lot of time, effort, and failures to find what works.

In this guide, I explain how software and automation can improve your marketing and give examples of how software can be used for the first stage, lead generation.

Download How to Use Software to Improve Your Marketing

Software Rescue Projects

No one enjoys a failed software project. But before it’s failed there is the chance to rescue it.

Software Rescue projects have become more common as the speed of development and change increase.

In this guide you’ll learn the causes of failing projects as well as ways to rescue them before they become total failures.

Download Software Rescue Projects

I’m working on additional guides, which I’ll be releasing as I finish them. By signing up for the Little Stream Software newsletter you can hear about them when they’re released.

Eric Davis

30 Days to Become a Freelancer

I hope you enjoyed the bonus content this week around the launch of 30 Days to Become a Freelancer.

If you’re thinking about going freelance or have just jumped, I think the 30 day action plan would be a tremendous help.

And if you’re already freelancing but feel like things aren’t going right, you might have missed some important steps along the way.

Really if you’re a freelancer or thinking about becoming one, you have nothing to lose because 30 Days to Become a Freelancer comes with a 1 year guarantee. If the plan doesn’t work for you, if you don’t like my writing, or whatever the reason, I’ll send you a refund within 365 days of your purchase.

Eric Davis