Freelance

PageBreak Podcast with Niki Brown & Liz Andrade

(Hey, that’s me!)

So the wait is finally over, Niki and I have been scheming about this for a long time now and then over the last couple weeks pulled it all off…

PageBreak is a design, business and marketing-themed book club and podcast, started by Liz Andrade and Niki Brown. The main goal of the club is to build a strong online community of designers, developers, freelancer (like ourselves) and to discuss and enjoy books about the stuff we love to do!

We’re starting out with the plan to pick a new book and record a show at the end of each month, so if you have a suggestion we’d love to hear them! You can subscribe to the show via iTunes or stream the show at pagebreakpodcast.com (we’re working on a site with commenting and all that jazz, so stay tuned…)

Book #1? Rework by 37Signals Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Make it through the show (or download it and skip to the end) to find out what we’ll be reading for September, maybe you’d like to read along? If you’ve read Rework and you want to discuss it with me and Niki or other listeners of the show – head over to the GoodReads PageBreak group!

I Don't Work Weekends

CATURDAYAfter 2.5 years in business — I still think of myself as new to the game. I am just getting started, still learning and still have plenty of room to grow! However sometimes those who are even newer to running a business than me ask how I do it. How do I market myself, get clients, get money, do projects, etc, etc? I don’t have much of a strategy or a secret. My business plan consist of this, “Do work I am proud of for businesses that I want to see succeed.” I realize this isn’t very helpful information to any of you who might be looking to me to help you find your path on the entrepreneurial road, sorry about that. After my last post and the response I got from everyone about it, I have this idea that maybe instead of talking about the things I do that may contribute to me staying in business, perhaps it will be more informative to talk about some of the things I DON’T do. So, some of you may be shocked by this one…

I don’t work weekends.

From Friday evening through Monday morning my home office stands untouched (unless my cat sneaks atop the desk to chew on a pencil – the little bugger!) I have a separate laptop for personal use, like laying on my couch watching youtube videos or making mixed CD’s. If you were to call my work phone on a Saturday evening — you’d hear my outgoing message informing you of my regular office hours and that the office is currently closed and many of you who follow me on Twitter even know — my stream slows a bit as the work week comes to an end.

I don’t work weekends, Except For When I do.

I’m not going to lie, I do check in on email at least a couple times a day — But (perhaps it is because I’ve already set the standard with my clients,)  I rarely GET emails and never get phone calls on weekends!

Now, there are exceptions. If a client has an expedited project with me, I work whatever hours are needed to finish the job on time — weekend, holiday, day or night. If I commit to doing a rushed project and my client pays the additional fees involved — I am at their beck and call until we finish. Also… while I never tell a client I will be working on their project over the weekend and I never promise any deliverables during my days off — sometimes I work cause I just like to! …I love what I do and it can be a lot of fun, so sometimes I am typing up a style sheet at 9PM or laying out a blog comment form on a Sunday morning. But, shhh… don’t let my clients know. ;)

Family > Business

If you love what you do so much, why don’t you work weekends?

I love what I do, yes — but even more… I love my family and spending time with them (and my friends — which I group in that “family” label.) is something I value. Doing work you love is important, but having people to share your life with — there isn’t anything more important than that!

Over-Time is Over-Rated

But if you work more hours, you could make more money and build your business faster!

In some cases this may be true. But, the general rule that working more hours means you get more done, is bullshit.

At my old 9to5, I spent the better part of my 4 years with the company skipping lunch breaks, logging 50 – 60 hour average weeks. I took work home, I worked on weekends and eventually… as you might have guessed — I got burnt out! I started having terrible anxiety problems, I gained about 30lbs as a result of skipping meals and binge eating before bed. I found myself overworked and under appreciated. And then one day, I decided to change that.

You’re thinking “Oh! This is the part where she quits!” No.. no…  by the time I left to start my business I had actually found myself in a much healthier situation at my former post. The reason for THAT is because I made a conscious decision to stop with all the extra hours. I deleted all my work files from my home computer, deactivated office email from coming to my house. I started eating lunch (mostly) everyday and made it a regular habit to be out of the office no later than 6PM. After a week of this, I was amazed that instead of getting less done — I was getting MORE done! I felt less burnt out and happier, I was more productive! Since I knew my time at the office was limited, I worked smarter and prioritized tasks in a more efficient way. I was logging a fraction of the hours and getting the same amount (if not more) work done!

My Final Thought

So there you go… I don’t have some crazy secret strategy on getting more client leads… just a glimpse at how and why I do (or don’t do) the things I do. Is my logic on this warranted or do you think it’s in spite of this practice that I’m staying in business?

Signs You Will Not Become My Client

Anyone who knows me knows — I LOVE my clients Seriously! My clients have some awesome businesses that I am lucky enough to play a part in growing… they are all really dedicated passionate people who truly love what they do. They appreciate and respect the work I do with them, they have kind hearts, open minds and great senses of humor. They tell me I am a pleasure to work with and I say the same back to them — and it is true.

I’m not bragging here — and I’m not some mythical freelance fantasy. Having awesome clients isn’t much about luck, but more about defining the client base you are after and not being afraid to turn down work with clients who are not desirable to you.

OK, i know — we’re in a tough economy! One cannot turn down an honest dollar! But, I tell you… if I worked as cheaply as 85% (that may be a bit of hyberbole,) of the people who email me wanted, I would work four times the hours each week and make a quarter of the money! How do I spot and weed out these less than amazing clients?

Streamline your Inquiry System

While my portfolio site does have a prominent phone number available, most make their first approach to me via the small contact form — they are able to specify that they are looking to get a  quote and have space for sharing some details about their design needs.

By using a simple Google Mail Filter set up, I am able to track each quote request that comes in from my website, making responding to each a much more productive task. I will usually check in on these about 3 times a week and follow up accordingly. My follow up system has also been streamlined over time, mainly because of the large number of exremely vauge inquiries. Who else gets stuff like this;

”I need a website, how much will that be?”

I actually have a canned response for these that sends out a list of questions about the clients business, industry and specific needs, budget and deadlines. My first lesson I learned here? Most people who cannot be bothered to write a proper inquiry are not very serious about the project at hand. This simple step of following up with some questions weeds out a large percentage.. so … for those who follow up with a response?

Define Your Pricing and Policies

Clients who are asking for you to quote them on something WANT to know a price. Don’t be shy! Too many of us get weird talking about money, but it’s something you have got to get over. I rarely work on an hourly rate, usually define a project price. So once I have a general idea of what my client is looking for — I can get them an estimate. This is based on my experience with previous projects that may have been similar, and that clients particular needs. I send them a quote and if at this stage the project seems even a tiny bit undefined, I let them know that the pricing is based on the information they have supplied — if the scope of the project needs to expand, we can adjust the price accordingly.

Clients who make it with me through the quoting step… go on to be one of my prized clients — the rest fall into a few categories…

The Disappearing Client

This is easy. Some dissappear after I email asking for more information about thier needs… but some hold on and then disappear after I send them a quote. Is it outside of thier budget? Did they just change thier mind? Who knows — these ones never respond. They disappear into the client abyss.

There is a small subset of the Disappearing Client, they do follow up to let you know they will “let you know” or that they will be starting the project “down the road.” 99.9% of this subset will never be heard from again, but that small sliver of them — they DO come back. I’ve had people write back and say flat out ”I want to work with you, but don’t have this in my budget right now. I’ll contact you once I do!” …and then one day, they do! (yay!)

The Cheapskate

Unfortunately, this category seems to be a crowded one and I have heard it all. “I was hoping to get something for about $200.” or “I watched a youtube tutorial on Dreamweaver and already did all the design and development myself, but the navigation looks weird on my husbands computer and I just need a blog added. Could you just fix what I have here? It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes work.”

Look. I am a small business too. I don’t own a home (I don’t even own a car!), I do not have a fancy office or a staff of hundereds. I understand that you have to be smart about the money you spend when you’re starting out… but I would never say anything like this to someone who I am looking to do legitament work for me that is going to help grow my business. For these folks, be polite — but you can tell them “thanks, but no thanks.”

And then there is…

“I saw this design here and I like it a lot, can you do my site JUST like this, but with my logo – of course!”

…Oh yes, of course, because otherwise that would be stealing! No. I can not will not do that.

“This is not in my budget, but maybe you could just walk me through my current website and let me know what you would suggest I change about each page to make it look a little nicer and be more user-friendly and then I can just have my grandson who likes computers do it for me.”

…Sure. This is called Consulting… here is my hourly rate for that type of work.

“I really like the work on your website, but could you mock up what you would do for me so I can see if I like it first?”

If you like my work, you can hire me to work with you on a design. I wor really hard to make sure my clients are happy (no, THRILLED) with the product they get from me — but if you find it isn’t working out with us, here is my policy on canceling a project…

My Final Thought

I don’t usually rant on this blog and I really dislike those who talk shit about their clients. But, here’s the magic — these aren’t my clients… and I intend to keep it that way.