Monday, October 12, 2009

Freelancing - Are You Ready? by April McCallum

Are you ready to be your own boss? This article will help you consider some of the practical and essential parts of freelancing, while also offering key tips and posing targeted questions that will enable you to plan ahead for success.

Following are some of the people you might expect to meet in a company. As a freelancer you are in essence, these people rolled into one. We will take a high-level look at some of the roles that are vital to operating a successful company and sample Questions, Remedies and Things to Consider as you contemplate a transition into the world of freelancing.

Receptionist - We are all familiar with the "front face"-- the first person who greets us as we call or enter a place of business. As a freelancer, you won't have the luxury of your own personal greeter and gatekeeper. However, it is important to realize the impact on the overall customer experience.

Remedy: You can handle the frontline work yourself or, consider outsourcing to a virtual receptionist or phone service center that can handle your incoming calls, messages or even schedule meetings for you. The most important objective is to ensure that the experience is as welcoming and informational as you would expect from a good host. The quality of reception will set the tone of your business when people "enter the front door".

Sales - No one will be more passionate about your work than you. So, who better to sell products, services, concepts or consult than you? Whether you are building a business around technology, art, travel, communications or education, you will need to successfully and repeatedly persuade others of the benefits of working with you.

Questions to Ask Yourself: Why should they engage me? What is my unique offering? What features and benefits do I offer? What makes me a better choice than my competitors? Is my pricing where it needs to be? After my first sale, what is my strategy for repeat business?

Marketing & Advertising - You are your Marketing and Advertising department now. No matter how awesome your products or services are, people cannot engage you to do business if they do not know that you exist. It is essential that you do your research and develop a marketing plan that will position you for positive exposure and ultimate success. Also remember, if your message is not compelling, you will not win in a competitive market.

Questions to Ask Yourself: How will I present my products or services in such a way as to convince people to buy from me? What will be my unique marketing mix (price, place, product, promotion and people elements)? Take your time and do your homework, it will pay off in the long run.

Business Development - For creative and entrepreneurial types, business development and lead generation can actually be a lot of fun. For those who don't fall into those categories, it can be a big drag. No matter, it is an essential part of building and growing your business as a solo-professional. You can no longer rely on the guy down the hall to bring you a stack of new business leads or hot new strategies to increase business.

For Your Consideration: You will need to identify new business opportunities including markets, partners, ideas, strategies and products. Equally vital, is finding ways to extend strategic relationships and expand opportunities within existing accounts in order to increase current revenue streams.

PR - No matter what business you are in, you will be relating to the public to one degree or another. In a company, there are people whose job it is to handle the flow of information, protect the best interest of the company in a public forum and promote the best image possible. You can have the best product out there, but if you fall down on your public interface, it will damage your ultimate goal of success.

For Your Consideration: Remember that you are the most significant asset to your freelance career. Think of yourself as a walking, talking advertisement. When you leave the comfort of your privacy, you enter into shared public space. Your business "brand" should carry over as a reflection of you to every situation and person you touch. Your communication, body language, attitude and character all serve to project an image.

Accountant - Not everyone is a bean counter, so true. But, if you are running your own business and expect to be profitable, you will either learn to, a) count beans, or, b) die. It's so much easier to just be handed a budget by someone whose job it is to "figure all that out", so we can just be about what we do best. When you are working for yourself, that guy isn't a simple phone call away. You are that guy.

For Your Consideration: There's no need to get all fancy straight out of the chute. Keep your bookkeeping as straightforward as possible. Take a course, read some guidebooks and do your research up front. Barter with someone to help you set up, or mentor you in, establishing a comprehensive system. Know how to budget and keep your priorities on track, because no one will be there to police you. Understand tax implications, keep meticulous files and save receipts with notations.

CEO - Every organization has its top dogs. The CEO is one of the highest- ranking executives or corporate officers. He is ultimately responsible for the total management and execution of the mission. They are at the top rung when it comes to leading, strategic planning, staffing and organizing.

For Your Consideration: The most exciting, yet most challenging part is that you are now "THE guy" -- the buck stops with you. You are responsible for the ultimate success or failure of your freelance career.

Supervisors & Managers - No more Managers breathing down your neck, challenging you, handing you assignments, mentoring you, keeping you accountable, setting goals and expectations or giving you unsolicited feedback. Sounds like freedom, doesn't it? But for some freelancers, it's too much freedom. You will need to be brutally realistic about defining goals, meeting deadlines, learning how to challenge yourself, soliciting useful feedback, delivering quality, managing your time and energy, self-motivation and keeping yourself on a successful track.

For Your Consideration: The more you learn about management (of process, dealing with people, goals, understanding your market, expectations, time, money, etc.), self-discipline and consistently apply what you have learned, the more likely it is that you will succeed.

Think Tank - Remember the good old days when you had the opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate intellectually and creatively in a group context? As a freelancer you will just need to find new ways to garner results.

For Your Consideration: Think of mental, physical or spiritual exercises that stimulate your thought processes. Consider meeting with other freelancers periodically just to kick around ideas and learn from each other in a group setting. Keep your input channels wide open by reading, listening, inquiring, dreaming and any other creative activities that engage your innovative side. Inspiration is buzzing all around us -- we just need to find ways to tap into it.

IT Department - What happens when your network goes down, your computer or other equipment starts doing "funny" things or you need to figure out how to set up that newfangled "Whatchamacallit"? You get the distinct privilege of walking into your bathroom, looking in the mirror and saying "hello" to your new assistant. Congratulations - it's you! Those propeller hats and pocket protectors are suddenly looking rather stylish.

For Your Consideration: Try to keep your initial setup as simple as possible. Determine what tools are absolute necessities, and start there. The need will vary based on the type of work you do. For example, landline and/or cell phones, fax, scanner, copy and print machines, software, hardware, peripherals, data storage, GPS and wireless, etc. Consider the importance of flexibility, networking, speed, connectivity and shared information options for your line of work. There is a myriad of online tips, courses, and how-to guidebooks. Ask around to learn if someone in your current network knows an IT professional (emphasis on "professional") that you can consult with. This is an area you may also be able to barter your services for.

Graphics Department - Remember those great people from the corporate office that "magically" made everything look so professional? Things like logos, business cards, marketing brochures, letterhead, PowerPoint presentations, customized materials and reports? Well, they are no longer here.

For Your Consideration: The good news is that there are many businesses that cater to small businesses and freelancers who need to outsource print and graphic jobs - just check in your local phone book. There are volumes of online resources and do-it-yourself options available as well. Just be aware that you need to put your best foot forward, and presentation is key when introducing or promoting a successful image. You may want to outsource or barter with another freelancer who is an expert in this field.

Shipping Department - Whether your freelance business involves products or services, you will have a need for shipping and receiving -- a delivery process. Part of the success of any business, is the ability to deliver what your clients need, when they need it.

Remedy: Set up a system that ensures you deliver what you promise in a timely fashion. Familiarize yourself with the most reliable and sensible ways to ship and receive. If you are selling a product that requires physical inventory, be sure to understand the process, requirements, pros and cons. Get to know your local mail and service centers -- they can be extremely helpful in educating you about the most time and cost-effective options. Don't forget to factor in shipping costs when planning your budget.

Board of Directors - Don't forget that most companies have a Board of Directors. And you? You have a family, a dog and a cat. You may get some feedback, but they won't hold you accountable like a corporate stakeholder or investor, ask the tough questions and advise you like a Board of Directors would.

For Your Consideration: Just because you are self-employed doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't have an accountability structure in place. You may not need a full-blown advisory and accountability group, but the premise still applies. It is good practice to have intelligent and creative people in your circle whom you can solicit wise and timely counsel from.

Fan Club - Okay, most businesses don't actually have a Fan Club. But, they do have customers, partners, donors, clients - people whom they relate to through services or products and bring value to through their working relationship. Without people, you would not be in business. Are you ready to take on the challenging, dynamic and rewarding opportunity to be your own boss, start building your own satisfied "Fan Club" and find success as a solo-professional? If so, it's time to put on your party hat, buckle your seatbelt and roll up your sleeves. Here's to your Freelancing Success!