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Free Rein

You’ve decided to strike out on your own and go freelance. Here’s how to establish yourself in your field and work your way toward success

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Perhaps you’re a graphic artist and feel you’ve outgrown your stint at a PR company, or you’re an accountant eager to be your own boss. Or maybe you’ve chosen to start that way from the beginning, because you’ve no need for a social office atmosphere and love the flexibility of creating your own schedule.

But while it’s nice there’s no manager tracking your performance, there’s also no one advising you on how and where you can improve. And you’re not being provided with clients, either.

 

Get the Word Out

You want to get your name out there — fast. In freelancing lingo, you want to market yourself.

A fantastic move in that direction is using your own name to do so, suggests seasoned freelancer Chaya Murik who, in addition to running her own graphic design studio, teaches marketing and graphic design at Neve Yerushalayim, Maalot, Sharfman’s, and her very own online Professional Standard Design School.

“Say I called myself ‘Butterfly Creative.’ People would have to remember that ‘Butterfly Creative’ is Chaya Murik. There’s no connection, and word doesn’t spread as smoothly and as quickly.”

New York–based web developer Chumi Faibish of Fast Track Web doesn’t think that using an adaptation of your own name for your business is vital. “It’s a great idea if you’re in a field that’s creative and quirky,” she says, “but if you’re in a more logical and technical field like mine, using your own name can come off as strange.”

A good compromise, she suggests, might be to just use your initials, as in NK Tax Consultancy (if your name’s Naomi Klein and you’re a tax consultant). “With time and confidence in what you do, word of mouth alone should be enough to get your name around, regardless of the business name you’ve chosen for yourself,” she says.

Word of mouth seems to be a common theme among freelancers, and many rely on that to grow their client base.

“Now isn’t the time to be shy. Don’t hide what you do,” says Chaya. Slip it into conversation frequently, with other moms at the park, with the shopper behind you in line at the supermarket, anyone really. “People love helping out people they know. They’ll want to use you as their service provider — you just have to let them know you’re doing this. Word spreads, people will hear and reach out, they’ll tell more people.”

The general consensus among freelancers is that freebie and newspaper advertising, as opposed to online marketing, usually works better for products or for business-to-consumer companies (B2C) rather than business-to-business (B2B) companies.

For B2B companies, having an online presence is essential. This means having a website, or at the very least, a solid online portfolio of your work and a good LinkedIn profile — and staying on top of them. Some sort of social media profile is preferable as well, if your customers are social media users.

“Today, people are always Googling,” says Chaya. “So if someone gets three suggestions and your name is among them — which, by the way, means you’ve got a good gauge on how well you’re getting the word out — it’s what they notice on Google that will basically determine their choice.”

Chaya says it’s a standard recommendation to set aside about 20 percent of your work time per week for promoting your business online. That’s one day out of five working days. If that surprises you, because where in the world would you find the time, then you can probably assume whatever effort you’ve put into promoting yourself has already brought you a steady stream of clients. Cutting down at this stage won’t send your business crashing.

But “done is better than perfect,” advises Chaya. So even if you’re over-the-top busy and just about have time to catch your breath between projects, it’s worthwhile to spend some time on it so that your online presence is kept up.

 

NAIL YOUR NICHE

To go niche or not? That’s every service provider’s question. Does it swing you clients — or does it not?

If you’re new to freelancing, in all likelihood you’ll be accepting every project that comes your way — if not grabbing them with both hands. And so you should, suggests freelancer Mimi Lieber, a copywriter who works out of her home office in Jerusalem.

Starting out with a niche is a mistake, she says. The initial goal of a freelancer is to build up a client base, as well as make a decent profit — and targeted niches may prevent you from connecting with excellent clients and projects that can get your name out there.

“As you gain trust and popularity, going niche will likely become a business choice,” Mimi explains. “Having a niche not only highlights your expertise to the right clients, it can also ease your workload by cutting out the research you’ll need to do if you started on a project in a brand-new industry. And of course, the better you know your niche industry, the more effective your work can be.”

But even if you’re a newcomer, it’s good to know exactly what it is you want to do, what your penchants are, and who you want your target audience to be, explains Chumi. Even if in the beginning you decide to put your preferences or professional goals aside to take on projects that don’t fit that bill. Doing so “will help you figure out how you want to describe your work,” Chumi says.

VAMPIRE CLIENTS

No freelancer wants to work with difficult clients— but it happens to the best of us. All. The. Time. Use these sorts of clients as springboards to fine-tune your preferences and, as with all mistakes, try to grow and learn from the experience.

But even if you’re just beginning, “listen carefully and you’ll pick up on the client type very, very quickly,” assures Mimi. “In many cases, a good indication of someone you probably don’t want to work with is a client who wants a lot of different things at once, wants to pay very little, and expects to get it yesterday.”

It’s hard to reason with the unreasonable, Mimi acknowledges, but depending where you are in your freelancing career, there’ll be times you’ll need — or want — to take on even a challenging client. Do it, but just be very clear upfront about what and what you’re not willing to provide, and what you expect in terms of payment (see sidebar).

Difficult clients aren’t always easy to detect from the start, Chumi testifies. She’ll usually manage to figure it out if after two phone conversations, when there isn’t yet a plan in place and/or the client’s still too ambivalent about what he wants and keeps vacillating between the options.

“Another warning sign is when a caller who doesn’t know me personally or didn’t get my name through a referral comes across as overly confident in terms of what I can do for him. Often, these are the people who end up expecting a lot from you — and for little cost. There’s this vibe that says, ‘I’m flattering you, so be there for me to do as I say.’ ”

And then there’s the caller who turns to you complaining about his previous provider, and the two before that, but if you were to ask him to articulate exactly what went wrong for him, he couldn’t tell you. “If it’s because of, say, a slow turnaround time, I get that, and I’ll correct it,” Chumi explains, “but if you refuse or are unable to be specific, how can I know if I’ll do any better? I can’t solve your problems if you don’t tell me what they are, and if you weren’t happy with three providers, I’ll probably just be the fourth.”

In that situation, Chumi will send a polite e-mail explaining that either she doesn’t think she’s the right person for the project, or that her current schedule won’t allow for projects of this scope, and they’d be best off finding another provider.

How you actually ensure your client pays you in the end is the elephant in the room surrounding any payment discussion among freelancers. To some, it’s obvious. You talk to your client, listen to what they want, design a proposal that includes all the “rules,” and have them agree to it, sign it, and return it, along with a 50-percent deposit.

Packages can come in many sizes: how many samples you’re willing to create, how many rounds of corrections you offer, if your client wants the work trademarked — these are all things you can lay out in advance.

Even still, “no one can ensure anything,” says Mimi. “I listen to my callers before I start and negotiate a price they’re happy with. If their budget doesn’t fit what they’re asking me to do, I’ll try and simplify the project for them in advance, perhaps offering to revise their existing content if necessary, instead of rewriting their site or brochure from scratch.”

It’s rare that a client actually refuses to pay altogether, says Chumi. “The most I’ve gotten are clients who haven’t been able to pay on time, but I’ll listen to them and try and give leeway if their reason is genuine and if we have a good working relationship in place.”

There are things you can do to protect yourself, like refusing to send final files before you get paid in full, or, if you’re in a field like Chumi, creating a hack that renders a website unusable (“Which I’ve never yet needed to use,” she says, and she hopes she never will).

CLIENTS FOR KEEP

On the flip side, what makes a client a pleasure to work with? Someone who has a good idea about what he wants from the start, accepts your price quote with grace, is grateful for your effort and time, and maybe even offers to pay extra when you go out of your way to produce something beyond your expertise.

These are the clients you want to keep.

Here’s how. First off, when a serious caller gets in touch, try to give them something of value before they hire you, says Chaya. Make a point of helping them develop their ideas; show them you understand their vision.

“I try to share my knowledge whenever I can,” says Mimi. “Sure, you’re asking me to write content for your website, but over the course of our consultations, I’m going to give you as many best practices or overall marketing tips I can. It costs me nothing, and it helps another Yid make a parnassah.”

The result, Mimi hopes, is a mutually trusting relationship.

“Follow up with callers after you’ve spoken to them,” proposes Chaya, “with clear, pointed directions of what they need to do to get started with you.”

It should sound something like this: “1) Following our discussion, please review the attached proposal. 2) Please sign and return it or otherwise call me to negotiate anything that does not meet your satisfaction. 3) Once I receive your signed proposal and your deposit, I’m excited to get started.”

If they decide not to go ahead, respectfully inquire as to why. This way you’ll get the information you need to do better next time.

“Log your calls,” Chaya says, “and try to find patterns. If no one is using me, say, for my logos, perhaps that tells me my charge for logos is too expensive.”

Even once rapport is well established, you don’t want it to go sour. “Set aside time for e-mailing,” suggests Chaya, “and become known as someone who’s available to communicate and respond.”

Mimi is active on LinkedIn, posting and engaging with both clients and colleagues. But she also makes sure to be there for her longer-standing clients offline in times of need, like when they call for an urgent rush job, even if it means pausing other work or increasing her hours for a while.

“Do what you feel is right to build and sustain relationships with your clients so that they trust you and know that you have their best interests at heart,” she says.

BRING IN THE BUCKS

So, the million-dollar question: Do freelancers actually make more money?

It’s all about knowing how to price, say the pros.

Whereas in the past you may’ve been charging an hourly rate, today the trend has moved toward fixed-bid pricing, which means you set a project rate.

Champions of the charging-by-hour system will argue that if you want to make sure to get paid for every minute, charging for your time is the way. This also works well for clients who aren’t exactly sure how their project will evolve. For many freelancers, however, charging by hour means that you can easily run into issues of halachah. With creative work especially — when your best ideas occur on your subway ride or when you awake to a flash of inspiration at three in the morning — charging this way can become complicated.

Fixed-bid pricing works especially well with projects for which you know more or less how long they will take you. And, according to Chaya, charging exclusively for your time can also overlook the value you’re giving your client; in other words, what you’re handing over is worth more in value than the time you spent, and for that you deserve to be compensated.

Last, but surely not least, which client doesn’t like to know in advance how much he’d be paying? It’s more comfortable for everyone that way; otherwise a client may feel like he’s getting into a cab with the meter on — suspicious the driver is taking the long route on purpose.

But even if you’re charging by project, it’s good to know the approximate amount you’d want to be earning per hour, because that knowledge will give you the basis from which to figure out how much to charge for any given project.

Chaya’s formula works like this: “For freelancing newbies, a good way to work out how much they’d like to earn an hour is to look at entry-level employee rates for that specific field — and charge double that amount.”

Double, because as a freelancer you’ll be paying your own taxes in full, you don’t get paid anything for answering e-mails, or for taking coffee breaks, and neither will you be paid for any of your equipment or overheads. As you build yourself up, this hourly rate will increase to meet your level of experience. The question to ask yourself is always: What are other people with my level of experience making?

If you’re particular to log your time when you work — and you should be — after a while, you’ll have a pretty good picture in advance of how long a project should take you, including research and revisions. That’s one way of working out how much you’d like to charge for a project: You have a rough idea of how long it’s going to take you, you multiply that by your hypothetical “hourly rate,” and add on as you see fit for a certain amount of revisions and corrections.

Additional factors you’d like to include in your fixed-bid consideration are what Chaya terms “value” and “budget.” Value means that you increase your charge according to the worth of the work you’re producing.

Imagine for example, if you were asked by El Al, a huge company, to create the text for an ad. Now, that particular project won’t take you more than three hours. But to charge solely for three hours of your time means that you’re not factoring in the immense value you’re offering the company. If the ad is successful, they could be earning tens of thousands of dollars on it. Sometimes you will have to speak to other people in the industry to gauge what an appropriate value-oriented price would be.

Always ask about your client’s budget. If after calculating your time and weighing the value, you decided a fair price would be, say, $400, but the company tells you their budget is actually $350, you can negotiate with them and offer, say, $380. If they tell you their budget is higher than you expected, say $600, either offer to do it for slightly less than that price, even though you think it’s more than the market price, but add on more rounds of corrections or other perks into the package.

And always: communicate, communicate, communicate. Talk to your clients and figure it out along with them — you always want them to feel they got value for their money, while you were fairly compensated.

DRUM UP BUSINESS

How good you are at what you do, says Chaya Murik, is only one part of the complex picture for success as a freelancer. Knowing how to run your business and acquiring the skills to do so is another. There’s a name for this: It’s called hishtadlus.

There are many professional practices you can undertake to help you stay on top of your work. The advice from freelancers? Keep learning — always. Read, read, read. Include courses, workshops, and webinars in your overheads. Know what’s evolving in your field. Check out what’s new on Google; there’s a lot of information out there.

“Know what’s trending, know what’s classic, and know how to create blends,” says Chumi Faibish. “Technology is changing so fast, you want to stay in pace.”

For some, attending conferences and joining networking groups are what helps them keep up with their line of work. Is there someone in a higher position whose work you admire?

“Ask them out for coffee,” says Chaya Murik, “and chat with them about their tricks of the trade. That’s another kind of networking.”

Others like to utilize online tutorials, or simply just keep their eyes open for anything that may be relevant.

What about emunah?

Having real emunah isn’t easy, admits Mimi, when you have to get through a particularly difficult project or when things seem to be drying up for a while. True, it’s more of a spiritual practice than a professional one, but it affects a lot of how we go about our work as freelancers.

For Mimi, reminding herself of the One truly in charge allows her to confidently refer potential clients to other professionals when she thinks that going that route will mean a better service for her clients.

“It happens regularly,” she says, “and nothing makes me feel truer to myself than referring another client onward if I don’t feel we’re the best fit for each other. I’m transparent and honest in whichever way I can be, I don’t make promises I can’t keep, and I’m happy to negotiate project scope and cost with specific budgets or needs.”

As believers, we know that ultimately parnassah is not in our hands. But we aim to give it our very best shot.

 

Keep It Legal

The line between ethics and law is often a vague one, says lawyer Tova Lutz of the Lutz Law Group. But maintaining a high standard of ethics means you’ll be far less likely to run afoul with the law.

Some things you should avoid include producing content that’s misleading, casting aspersions on a competitor, passing on or making use of proprietary items without permission, and disclosing confidential information about another company. If you’re asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement, be comfortable doing so.

How particular must you be to have your clients sign a contract? Strictly speaking and contrary to popular belief, the law doesn’t usually necessitate having a written contract. In fact, says Tova, if all the essential elements of a contract are present, even in verbal form, an agreement may become legally binding.

Nevertheless, having a written contract is more than a good idea, says Tova. “Think of it as an essential practicality: It’s what becomes your point of reference if anything goes awry in your communication or in the partnership.” You or your clients aren’t likely to argue over small deals, but even if not for your own protection, you come off sounding more professional when you show them what you know.

Should you invest in a meeting with a lawyer to help you delineate your written contact? It depends, says Tova. “On the one hand, if you’re already doing something, why not do it right? Pay a lawyer for his time and get his advice.

“On the other hand, money is often tight when you’re just starting out. It’s not a necessity, but certainly a good idea — an early expense that will potentially save you more money and heartache down the road.”

 

Apps for Freelancers

Looking for ways to streamline your work? Here’s a list of 21 apps recommended by The Simple Dollar:

For general productivity: Evernote, Wunderlist, Pocket

For time tracking: RescueTime, Toggl, Eternity Time Log

For project management: Basecamp, Trello, Asana

For team communication: Slack, Stride, Skype

For customer relationship management: Streak, Insightly, Nimble

For accepting payments: Square, PayPal Here, Dwolla

For accounting: QuickBooks Online, Freshbooks, Wave

Cloud backups, which is important for any business, can be provided through software like Dropbox, Google Drive, or IDrive.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 659)

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