A majority of the monthly Freelancers Union Spark events are educational and focused around a specific topic or speaker. However, once or twice a year, Spark hosts an open networking happy hour. In addition to offering drink specials, snacks, and opportunities to win free drinks and Freelancers Union swag, these particular events tend to draw a strong crowd because of the promise to connect.
As freelancers, we don’t have traditional co-workers, clients, or employees. Most of the time, our work is done remotely, our meetings are conducted over phone or video, and our day-to-day operations take place in our home offices. There are things that seem commonplace to those in more conventional jobs, like getting up and getting out of the house each day, bouncing ideas off your office-mate, or taking a lunch break with your boss. However, these things are luxuries to freelancers. So, when a chance to connect with our peers presents itself, it’s no surprise that we’ll flock there.
This month at the Manhattan Spark happy hour, we convened in Tribeca over cocktails, craft beer, pub fare, and prizes. Freelancers gathered around high-top tables, and the other co-leaders and I circulated the space. As we moved from table to table, we asked the attendees who they’d like to meet at the event and worked to connect them.
While the topics discussed in the more educational workshops are always incredibly relevant and useful, this ability to connect is what makes the monthly Freelancers Union Spark events invaluable. Before I became a co-leader, I connected with two girls through Spark events, one who has become a dear friend and another who has become an incredible accountability partner and friend. Now, as a co-leader, I’m honored and thrilled to be able to facilitate connections among other freelancers.
Freelancing can be a lonely and isolating line of work, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking to make more connections with fellow freelancers and grow your work community, I highly recommend checking out a Freelancers Union Spark event. There will likely be another happy hour event later this year. However, at the end of every Spark, there’s about half an hour of open networking following the workshop. To find an event near you, check out the Freelancers Union website. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan event and say hi – I’ll be there co-leading, and I’d love to connect!
Talking about money is uncomfortable. This has never been more apparent than at the most recent Freelancers Union Spark event. In Manhattan, we typically draw a crowd of forty to fifty freelancers, and we have to actively stop discussions short – our freelancers normally have so much to say, it’s near impossible for everyone to have a chance to share their thoughts. This month, the turnout and engagement at the workshop were noticeably lower than usual. Even in the freelance world where, like it or not, we have to have conversations about money with each and every client, it still feels like a taboo topic.
Fortunately, we enlisted some help to facilitate the discussion on this sticky subject. One of the experts from our partner Moven kicked things off by setting the foundation for the way in which we should approach our finances. The pathway to financial freedom starts with a basic understanding of your spending habits on a macro level, not a micro level. Approach this practice with mindfulness. Don’t psych yourself out by getting caught up in every single expense, and never make judgement on yourself in the process. Remember that step one is simply the gathering of information – what do your spending habits look like over the course of ninety days?
Once you’ve gathered this data, start working on a deeper level. Divide your expenses into categories and classify the elements within the categories as “wants” or “needs.” For example, within the category of Food/Drink, a Starbucks coffee might be classified as a “want” and a trip to Trader Joe’s might be classified as a “need.” It’s important to organize items within a category as opposed to identifying an entire category as a “want” or “need” to get the best assessment of your spending habits. Another component you might want to consider here is the “happiness factor.” Identify which expenses are making you feel fulfilled, well-rounded, and balanced. Although an expense may be a “want” and not a “need,” this step will help you recognize which nonessential expenses are still beneficial to your well-being.
After you’ve taken a look at your expenses, shift the focus to your income. One of the key differences and challenges between freelancing and having a traditional job is consistent income. Without a fixed salary, your income is likely going to fluctuate from month-to-month depending on the number and scope of projects you’re working on. The key to creating stability with your earnings is to diversify. There are numerous ways to create multiple income streams – passive income projects, physical products, courses, teaching, and even working a part-time gig in addition to freelancing. Remember to think about diversifying from multiple angles – this could be breaking down your projects into daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly work or finding alternative ways to generate income like consigning or selling on eBay. Just start brainstorming, and you may be surprised by the ideas you come up with.
The final element of creating pathways to financial freedom is to assess your rates. In order to determine the rates you need to charge, you must know your spending habits – what does it cost you to live, work, and play? Compare this against industry standards, and you’ll find the sweet spot. Don’t forget the importance of varying your income streams. By taking on multiple types of projects and work, you’re not only diversifying your income but also allowing yourself to diversify your rates. When you’ve got an array of offerings at a range of prices, you’re able to attract a wider scope of clients and, ideally, more work.
Talking about money may be uncomfortable, but it’s time to break out of your comfort zone. Let’s continue the conversation – tweet me at @AOCBlogGirl using the hashtag #FreelanceSpark with questions or tips on how you’re creating pathways to financial freedom in your freelance business.
Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in over twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading!
Last week I had a girl’s night with one of my friends and fellow Spark co-leaders. After much-needed mani/pedis, we sat down over wine and cheese to catch up. Inevitably, the conversation shifted to our work and, eventually, to the upcoming Spark event, focusing on growing your freelance business. We commiserated about feeling underqualified to lead a discussion on the topic since it was something we each struggled with in our careers.
A week later, the moment of truth arrived: the night of the monthly Spark event. I approached it optimistically, hoping a freelance veteran would attend and spill the magic secret to get from point A to point B in your freelance career. Of course there is no magic or secret to growing your freelance business. What I took away from the discussion is that in order to take your freelance career to the next level, you have to achieve a careful balance of give and take – it’s all about knowing what’s worth investing to get a better return.
What You Put In
Bottom line: you have to put something in to get something out. Your most valuable resources are time and money, and you have to learn to invest both wisely to successfully grow your business.
One of the most common time investments for freelancers is pitching – pitching concepts to leads in hopes of gaining a new client or pitching new ideas to existing clients in hopes of expanding their scope of work. Once you begin to grow your freelance business, time becomes an increasingly precious (and sometimes scarce) resource – your cash flow may vary, but there are only 24-hours in a day! When time starts to become your limiting factor, it may mean that you need to invest some money into outsourcing a portion of your workload by either hiring an employee or automating some of your tasks.
Investment: Time Investment: Money
Example: Pitching Example: Outsourcing
What You Get Out
The amount of money you earn isn’t the only way to measure your success as a freelancer. The amount of time you get back and can re-invest in your business is another good indicator of a growing and thriving freelance career.
Passive income is one way to give yourself more time. Yes, the term “passive income” is a bit misleading – it’s not completely passive. It typically requires you to devote a certain amount of time, and possibly money, upfront. The goal of passive income is for the return to eventually exceed that initial investment. It’s crucial that you’re clear on how much time or money will need to go into a passive income project upfront and what you’ll need to achieve in order to profit.
Another way to regulate your cash flow without raising your rates is to explore retainer packages and value-based pricing. A retainer may be a good option for a long-term client who gives you consistent work. With a retainer, a standard fee is agreed upon and paid upfront in order to secure your services on an as-needed basis. Value-based pricing is perfect for the client who’s in a rush or panic – one who’s either under a tight deadline or who’s had a hiccup in-house and needs help fixing the mishap. Having a standard rush-fee for these types of projects can help you to get more value for your time.
Return: Time Return: Money
Example: Passive Income Example: Retainer or Value-Based Pricing
If your business is on the way to reaching that next level, you may be wondering, what now? The next step could be considering an LLC or incorporation. Whether you want to grow your team, better protect your personal assets, or just add some extra credibility to your business, restructuring may be the way to go. Like everything you need to grow your freelance business, taking this step requires both time and money. Not sure if you’re ready to take the leap or if this would be a smart move for your business? Check out incorporate.com for more details on the process.
Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in over twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. Next month’s event is focused on financial freedom – 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.
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.
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!