The Freelancers Union Spark events often address topics specific to self-employed life, but this month’s subject centered on a practice that’s key to any successful business: creating a client pipeline with a customer relationship management (CRM) system. In the daily hustle of submitting deliverables to clients, it’s easy to lose track of the backbone of your business. When no one is paying you to sit down for a few hours each week and work on bookkeeping, site updates, or contract revisions, these tasks can quickly fall to the bottom of the never-ending to-do list. What you have to remember is the long-term impact of putting time and energy into your business. By starting with a CRM system, you can begin to develop a valuable way track your clients from initial contact to signed contract and beyond.
STEP 1: Craft a form to record your leads. Include basic information like name, contact information, lead source, and services requested.
LONG-TERM IMPACT: No matter what information you choose to include, the most important piece of data is the lead source. By identifying where your leads come from (particularly leads that become clients), you can learn which channels are best to invest your time, energy, and resources in order to gain business.
Step 2: Qualify your leads by establishing a set of basic questions to ask each potential client. For example: What’s the timeline for the project? What are the deliverables? What’s the budget? To streamline this process, consider creating a form email you can send to your leads after first contact is made. You may also want to make this step part of your CRM system – add a section to track client communication, record their answers to your questions, and prepare for following up. (Fun Fact: 90% of sales are lost when no second contact is made!)
LONG-TERM IMPACT: The answers to your individualized set of basic questions should begin to inform you if your potential client is going to be a good fit. For example: Does the timeline for this project fit into your current workload? Can the requested deliverables be completed within the given timeline? Does the budget align with your rates?
Step 3: Have your process down pat by preparing for every possible outcome. If the answers to your basic questions aren’t quite ideal, don’t rule out this potential client just yet! Know how to address some of the most common client issues before they arise. For instance, what’s your policy when a potential client requests a tight turnaround? Do you add a rush fee? What if you typically require a certain percentage of a project fee upfront, and a client requests to pay in a lump sum at completion? How do you handle clients who don’t have a clear vision for their project and want your input?
LONG-TERM IMPACT: When you have your policies in place and know how to answer tough questions from clients, you’re not only protecting yourself and your client relationships but also putting yourself one step closer to building a successful business. Addressing issues on a case-by-case basis can get murky – it’s easy for emotions to get involved and cloud your decision-making abilities. Standing firm in your businesses practices will pay off in the long run!
Step 4: It’s the moment of truth: is your lead signing a contract or taking the project elsewhere? Either way, you can add the results to your CRM system. After you score a new client, continue to track the progress of the project to completion. If your lead didn’t work out, remember that you can always gain something from a loss. Go back through the pipeline and identify where you and the lead diverged.
LONG-TERM IMPACT: Once you sign a client, it’s important to continue to track the progress of the project to completion because it will help you if you work with that client on future projects. It also gives you the opportunity to create a case study for the project that could be useful to future clients looking for similar work. Taking a little time to assess why a particular project didn’t work out is equally important. It could help you refine your process, policies, or pricing and improve your pipeline for future opportunities.
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Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. Next month’s event is a freelancers tax workshop – you won’t want to miss it! If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading! For more information about Freelancers Union or Spark events, feel free to tweet me @AOCBlogGirl – I’d be happy to answer your questions.
As I stepped off the escalator and headed toward the stairs leading down to the subway, I could see the uptown train waiting. I started sprinting, as every good New Yorker does, but as I reached the platform, I could see the train doors were closed. Damn, I thought, just missed it.
I stood there, expecting the train to depart any second, but it didn’t. It sat, doors closed, for another couple minutes before it finally took off. I sighed and rolled my eyes in frustration, and I noticed another woman on the platform who had experienced the same misfortune. We both glanced around the station and quickly caught each other’s gaze. It’s the worst when that happens, I said, and we struck up a conversation.
At first, we commiserated over the occasional annoyances, like this one, that come with relying on public transportation. Another train arrived, and we sat, continuing to chat about the usual things. As the conversation inevitably shifted to work, we began to click. Before we parted ways at the station where we both needed to transfer, we exchanged business cards. This woman is now one of my clients.
Why should you always dress to impress? Because you never know who you’re going to meet. As artists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, and the like, we often live in our loungewear and activewear. Full disclosure: there are days when I work in my pajamas and only throw a coat on to run to the bodega up the block. Living in New York City (where the streets are filled with people bringing their fashion a-game) has inspired me to put a little more effort into my appearance before I leave the apartment. Fortunately, on the day of my subway debacle, I happened to have done my hair, thrown on some makeup, and put on “real clothes.”
When you work from your home office a majority of the time, it makes sense to only dress for video calls or in-person meetings. Most of the time, the first contact we have with our potential clients is on the web. They see the styled and polished images depicted in our bios and on our contact pages, not the girl in the yoga pants and oversized sweater on the other side of the screen. In our self-employed lives, we can’t forget to maintain a certain level of professionalism outside of our online presence. You never know if your next client may be behind you in line at Starbucks.
What you wear says something about you and your brand. Not the designers or trends you sport but how you present yourself. Just like the story you use to introduce yourself, clothing is a medium you can use to portray something about your business. Is your brand bold and colorful or sleek and minimal? Look at your company’s aesthetic, imagine how it could be translated into an outfit, and take it into consideration next time you’re running errands around town or walking your dog in the park. If you need a little guidance translating your brand’s image into your personal style, connect with me. In addition to writing, I happen to do a bit of styling on the side!
Many of the Freelancer’s Union Spark event topics are very straightforward – for example, how to make your contract your best ally or how to negotiate the rates you deserve – but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from November’s topic, how to build an inspired business. When I arrived, I was excited to learn that a guest speaker, Life Coach Laurie Gerber of the Handel Group, would be leading the discussion. She began by having us collectively make a list of who or what inspires us.
Some of My Favorite Bits of Freelancer Inspiration:
- Learning from clients
- People who follow-through, execute, and get the job done
- Collaborating with others
- Businesses that help you to think of something in a new way
- Failing and pressing forward anyway
I contributed to the discussion by sharing what inspires me most in my freelance career: those who choose an unconventional path. This is what motivated me to pursue freelancing in the first place – I didn’t want a typical 9-5 job, and I didn’t want to climb a company ladder. I wanted to carve my own way and create a career for myself. I’m continually excited by the artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups I work with who share this same desire and practice it in their work.
Next, we were encouraged to draw from what inspires us in order to create a mission statement for our own work – not for our business, not to publish on our websites or portfolios – a personal mission statement. We had to ask ourselves what drives and inspires us to do what we do. For me, this task was much more difficult than I anticipated, and it’s still a work in progress. I tried both re-working the type of mission statement I have on my portfolio site and starting from scratch, but I wasn’t satisfied. I really began to question why I do what I do and how it could be summed up in one sentence. I urge you to take this challenge! If you’re having difficulty like I was, here are some tips from Laurie:
What makes an inspired personal mission?
- Consider how your work allows you to give value
- Be specific, clear, and concise
- Avoid clichés
- Think about breathing life into your work – give it a persona and a voice
- Reflect on what makes you and your work unique and authentic
The third and final step toward building an inspired business was rating ourselves based on five characteristics of an inspired freelancer:
- You’ve got a clear vision for your business
- Your work is a reflection of what inspires you
- You can easily express what you do and why you do it
- You take risks, and your business improves as a result
- You learn from your mistakes, and your business improves as a result
Those of you who know me can probably guess which of these characteristics got the lowest ranking: risk-taking. I may have taken the great leap to leave the traditional workforce and forgo health insurance, job security, and consistent paychecks, but since then, I haven’t taken many risks in my freelance career. The biggest leap I’ve taken was deciding on a bare minimum rate I was willing to accept and declining to negotiate or work with clients who weren’t willing to pay that amount. Fortunately, Laurie offered a solution for combatting your lowest ranked attribute: make a promise with a consequence. For example: I promise to take one small risk every day before noon or else I’m not allowed to watch TV that day.
Let’s continue the conversation! Share who or what inspires you, your personal mission, or your promise with a consequence tagging @FreelancersU and me, @AOCBlogGirl, using the hashtag #InspiredBiz. AND, if you have any questions about the Freelancer’s Union Spark events, feel free to tweet me – I’ve just signed on as a co-leader for the Manhattan Spark events, so I have all the inside scoop!
Social media was intended to connect and build community, but as these platforms have evolved, we’ve started to use them to disengage. Social media has become an escape not a meeting place. All too often, we hide behind 140 carefully composed characters or the perfectly staged Instagram image. We feign enthusiasm or conviction, and we show the portion or version of ourselves we want to portray. What happened to true authenticity in social media? I found it on Periscope.
With the live-stream platform, it’s much more challenging to customize your persona. You can’t sit down for an hour and compose your scopes for the month, and you can’t schedule a Periscope broadcast on Hootsuite. Instead, you have to be present and engaged, and best of all, you have a live audience and interaction with real people.
I believe that Periscope represents the direction social media is heading. It’s getting back to the original purpose: to connect and build communities among likeminded people. This platform is forward-thinking, and I sense that people are intimidated by it. Yes, it’s much more comfortable and safe to hide within the confines of other social media platforms, and it’s a little bit terrifying to actually consider being vulnerable and truly authentic in the digital landscape. I urge you to face your fears! Download this application. Give it a try. Start out as an observer. You can join and never broadcast a livestream. You can simply watch others and join the conversation.
If you want to learn more about Periscope before creating an account, I highly recommend visiting the Facebook group Inspired Scope, created by Cathy Olson, the founder of Love Inspired. This group is a great place to start to understand Periscope better and receive support from others who are exploring the platform and helping it grow.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and join, I’ve made a list of ten interesting people you should check out and follow. Finally, join me on Periscope @AOCBlogGirl every Friday at 5:30P ET for #FridayUnfiltered, a community building scope for artists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and anyone who is self-employed! I hope to see you on Periscope TODAY!
10 People to Follow on Periscope:
@LoveInspired: daily business scopes
@CyndieSpiegel: business strategy scopes for creative entrepreneurs and badass women
@JessGrippo: dance breaks and creative inspiration
@JelloydJMJ: behind the scenes scopes of a recording artist
@DanelleMercurio: daily guided meditations and weekly horoscopes
@CourtRJ: daily copywriting and business scopes
@JennMSterling: health and wellness tips
@LindaUgelow: guided mediations and creative inspiration
@LizDiAlto: guided meditations and inspiration for women to connect with their bodies
@MelissaEEarle: photography and design tips for amateurs and professionals
“Goals take commitment but are much more achievable when handled realistically and from a place of possibility.” – Cyndie Spiegel
Cyndie Spiegel is a business strategy coach for creative entrepreneurs who believes in the profound effects available through integrating meditation into your career. I first discovered her on Periscope and instantly connected with her upbeat personality and creative spirit as well as her background in fashion. I also find Cyndie particularly relatable because she never fails to lighten the mood or emphasize a point with a swear word (or two). I finally had the chance to meet her in person at the Freelancer’s Union popup event, Meditate, Create, and Cultivate.
Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly curious about meditation. I read a couple books (both of which I would highly recommend – a personal narrative by Dan Harris called 10% Happier and a beginner’s guide called 8 Minute Meditation). I started practicing but never consistently. Then, within the past couple weeks, meditation started popping up in various facets of my life – in a yoga class, on Periscope, and in my horoscope. When I saw Cyndie’s workshop, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to delve deeper.
Meditation is often thought of as a spiritual practice. However, Cyndie believes in approaching it in a more practical way. She guided us through a basic ten minute meditation followed by a series of activities focused on letting go of limiting beliefs and gaining clarity in goalsetting. First, Cyndie directed us to sit comfortably, close our eyes, and root ourselves in the present moment. Next, she encouraged us to honor the time to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom. As the minutes went on, Cyndie reminded us to be patient, keep sitting, and focus on our breath. The activities that followed aimed to harness the clarity and openness gained through meditation and apply it to a goal we intend to accomplish in the next three months.
To me, goalsetting can be intimidating and overwhelming. The simple act of stating a goal can make you feel vulnerable or anxious as the pressure to achieve it amounts. Detailing the steps, checkpoints, and barriers to accomplishing a goal can be equally staggering. You may begin to realize that the path to your goal is long or that there may be a number of roadblocks along the way. These feelings and beliefs are the exact limitations that can prevent you from realizing your goal. After using Cyndie’s meditation method, I felt the negativity dissipate, and I was able to approach the goalsetting process with more confidence. I left the event feeling incredibly energized and excited to expand my meditation practice into my career and my current and future goals.