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.
“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.
Nothing will rally a group of freelancers living in New York City like the promise of drink specials. The August Freelancers Spark event took a departure from the typical topic-driven meetups and simply offered an opportunity for freelancers to mingle and network over wallet-friendly cocktails. To get the conversation started, we were handed a classic BINGO board upon arrival.
The mission: find fellow freelancers with the given qualities and write their name in the corresponding spot on the board. Get five in a row, and win Freelancers Union swag, either The Freelancer’s Bible or a fun tote.
The most difficult items to match on the board included….
- Has achieved inbox zero,
- Gets dressed everyday (sweats don’t count), and
- Enjoys working on the weekend
I quickly became known as the freelancer who “handwrites their to-do list.” Yes, I still use a physical planner in tandem with Google Calendar to build my schedule, write notes, and track my to-do lists. In extreme cases, I even write outlines or excerpts for pieces in a notebook then retype and edit them on my computer. Somehow, creatively, my brain still works best that way, and although it’s much more inefficient, I write something by hand on a daily basis. Next time you’re in a creative rut, give it a try – it might work for you too.
The Freelancers Union Spark Happy Hour was a purely fun Spark event (even though I didn’t win bingo or any swag). However, most Spark events centralize around a specific topic relevant to freelancers (and bloggers too – Freelancers Union has a ton of applicable information for my fellow bloggers as well!). September’s Spark will focus on how to hook clients with an authentic story (for obvious reasons, I’m pretty excited for this one). Spark events go down once a month in 18 cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find yours. Plus, if there’s not a Spark in your city, you can apply to be a Spark leader and bring these awesome events to your neighborhood.
Athens, GA, 2008
ME: That’s an awesome leather bag. Where’d you get it?
JULIE: Thanks! Actually, my friend Elke made it.
It’s hard to forget a name like Elke. So, when my friend Julie shared that By Elke had recently launched a new site, I had to check out the latest designs from the maker of the bag I’d coveted seven years prior. Within a few clicks, I fell in love all over again.
NYC, Upper West Side Trunk Show
One of a Kind Summer Bags, Accessories, and Jewelry
By Elke & Kim Clary Designs
Please contact me for details as this is a private event
It was a beautiful spring day on the evening of the trunk show. When I arrived at the Upper West Side high-rise, I was greeted by a doorman who directed me to the elevator. I entered the third floor apartment warily and walked toward the buzz of chatter and laughter. The spacious living area was lined wall to wall with handbags, satchels, totes, and cross-bodies galore. In the center were tables decorated with clutches, wallets, and other small accessories. The smell of fresh, supple leather permeated the room. Some women were holding up the bags, inspecting their insides, and discussing the various colors and styles. Others were modeling prospective purchases in front of a large wall-mounted mirror.
I kept walking, through a threshold and into another open space with tables of beaded baubles. In this room, women were piling on stacks of bracelets and layering varying lengths of necklaces, contemplating the perfect combinations.
At first, I was overwhelmed. I was standing in the midst of a trunk show in a home on the UWS with a porch larger than my entire East River-adjacent apartment. I was wearing jeans and my comfortable city shoes because I’d walked across town nearly three miles since “the weather was nice” but really to save on cab fare. I was surrounded by some of the most beautiful handmade leather bags and beaded jewelry I’d ever seen, and dozens of well-dressed uptown women were whirling around me, modeling bags and jewelry in the midst of their own personal fashion shows. I needed a drink to diffuse my insecurities.
After hitting up the spread of refreshments in the kitchen, I was ready to shop. First, I composed a bohemian arm party by pairing beaded bracelets by Kim Clary Designs with By Elke’s leather bangle. Then, it was onto the handbags! Once I spotted this woven clutch (similar here) with tassel detail, I was smitten. After I made my purchases, I took one final moment to bask in the beauty of the spacious UWS home before heading back across five avenues, twenty blocks, and through Central Park to my humble East River-adjacent apartment.
Photography by Sonali Prabhu of So Narly
I didn’t attend Columbia, but when I stepped out of the cab and onto the campus, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Nothing compares to the energy of a buzzing college campus.
I walked into the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and took a seat next to my friend Alyssa. My youthful feelings faded as I quickly realized we were two of the only non-students at the lecture. At the front of the room sat a long, lanky lady with fitted jeans, a black tee, brown lace-up ankle boots, hair in an effortlessly coiffed topknot, and bright red lips: Ann Friedman.
You may think you don’t know Ann Friedman, when in fact, you probably know Ann Friedman. She writes regularly for New York magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review in addition to contributing to publications like The New Yorker, Elle, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Guardian, and countless others. Still not sure if you’re familiar with Ann Friedman’s work? Then maybe you know her by her famous pie charts regularly featured on The Hairpin.
Ann Friedman is a full-time freelance writer. No, she’s not secretly unemployed. No, she does not live a life of non-office-regulated luxury. No, she’s not flaky or a weird loner or any of the other all too common freelance stereotypes. If you’re wondering exactly what a freelance writer is, look to Ann Friedman. She’s a pretty successful one.
Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Ann’s lecture on Pitching for the Digital Space:
- Kissing Sideways: Don’t kiss up. You should always be kissing down and sideways, to the people who are going to be working alongside you and coming up behind you. Create a strong support group of colleagues rather than seeking out one powerful person to shape your career.
- Writing Something You’re Excited About: It’s a privilege to write something you’re excited about. It took Ann ten years to reach this point in her career. Working with difficult clients, being published in less-prominent publications, writing on subject matter that is of little or no interest to you, getting paid abysmally or *gasp* not at all are all part of the process. Do something on the side (might I suggest a blog?) that represents the work you want to do.
- Breaking the Story: In today’s digital writing world, it’s no longer about breaking the story and being the first person to write on a particular subject matter. It’s about writing on a topic in a new way, with a distinct voice, or for a particular audience that makes a great story.
The backbone of each of these three takeaways is that freelance writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The right person, a particular publication, or a single story will not “make you.” Relentless perseverance, unfading passion, and above all, time are the keys to a successful freelance writing career and ultimately making a name for yourself as a writer.