How to Avoid Rework Across All Your Business Activities

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Categories: Accounting, Business, Freelancing

Avoiding Rework and Stress

Freelancing is a rewarding yet challenging job.  You are in control of your time and processes.  You are also responsible for sales, marketing, accounting and invoicing.  When you’re responsible for everything, it can be difficult to do things correctly and efficiently when deadlines are looming.

Speaking from personal experience, getting sloppy with your processes and work can be a slippery slope you want to avoid. It will come back to you at some point.

If you’re a developer, poor or rushed coding can lead to bugs, rework and/or make updates time consuming and frustrating.  If you’re a designer, not properly laying out your workspaces correctly can make future updates difficult without a lot of rework.

Before you start any project, take the time to get everything in order.

  1. Get the project setup in your time tracking, invoice and project management applications if you use them.
  2. Get your project files setup and organized correctly.
  3. Outline all the steps necessary to complete the project before you start.
  4. Create a schedule of when you’ll work on the project.

Having a game plan in place before you start will keep you organized and allow you to work efficiently.  If you’re not rushing to complete a project, you can take the time necessary to do the work correctly and completely.

The same can be said for all the non-billable work you must do like invoicing, marketing, etc. Setting time aside each week for these activities will help you stay on top of things because even the little things can add up quickly.

Running your own freelance business is has many ups and downs.  Find a process that works best for you and stick with it. Don’t complicate things by being disorganized and rushed, it can lead to rework or work you can’t reuse on future projects.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download. If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

 

Managing the Ups and Downs of Your Freelance Finance

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Categories: Accounting, Business

Managing the ups and downs of your freelance finance

Managing the ups and downs of your freelance finance can be challenging since most of us don’t receive regularly scheduled payments from our customers. Typically, we start a project with a deposit and do not get paid until the project is completed. This in itself is a challenge for some since projects can go on hold or linger which puts a lot of time between the deposit and payment for remaining balances. This creates a lull in our payment cycle and can cause us to come up short some months depending on how many hours you have out in a project. There are a few things that we can do systematically that can help reduce these highs and lows to level off our payment cycles. Some are easier than others and do take practice to develop good practices.

Project deposits

Project deposits help kickstart our money flow and help get projects off on the right foot. Starting a project off with a 30-50% deposit can quickly put us back on track when we’re experiencing an unusually slow month. The bigger our projects are the bigger our deposits are. I outline the payment requirements in my proposals using Bidsketch, then invoice as soon as I have sign off with Blinksale. For me, a 50% deposit has proven to work well for both myself and my customers. This creates an income boost for me and allows my customers to become invested in the projects. Once the project is complete I’ll bill the remaining balance.

Getting paid

At times customers will take their time submitting payment which can cause money flow problems as well. I typically give my clients 15-30 days to pay invoices depending on whether it’s an initial down payment or a final down payment. If the customer is in a hurry, I’ll ask for payment due upon receipt to speed projects up. When a customer is late on a payment I follow up immediately. I don’t wait a few days with hopes that they pay. I follow up the day after their late to show them that I’m paying attention. Giving them those extra days after the invoice is due says that you may not be paying attention or may not be following your own policies. Following up on invoices promptly reduces the amount of days you’re going to wait to get paid.

Retainer agreements

All of us remember the days when we had regular full time jobs and our checks came every pay cycle no matter what. Retainer agreements are about as close as we can come to this as a freelancer. Retainer agreements are harder to find but are an excellent way to balance our monthly cash flow. They’re typically for a set amount of hours and pay each month, which provides us with a set amount we can depend on. If you don’t currently have a retainer agreement, look at your current customer list to see if any of them are good candidates. Typically a good candidate would be a customer your working a good amount of hours for each month rather than one-off projects. This offers a more predictable amount your customers can budget for and helps smooth out your monthly income.

Forecasting

Nothing is more valuable than planning your finances ahead of time. This requires knowing, down to the penny, your monthly expenses so you know where you stand. If you’ve had an usually busy month, you may find yourself in good shape financially for months to come due to having the extra hours to bill. On the other hand, you may come up short with an unusually slow month which means you should probably start following up with past clients to drum up opportunities for work or you may want to shift your efforts over to marketing to get the work coming in a again. Looking ahead 2-3 months at a time will tell you where you need to spend your efforts. A good tip for marketing though, don’t wait until the last minute. Have a regular marketing plan in place that allows you to stay in touch with past clients and prospects.

Saving

Of all of my tips, I’d say this is probably the most challenging for some. A good method is to have a set amount of savings you’re comfortable with and shoot for that goal. Is it $5,000, $10,000, or maybe more? Whatever the amount, work toward banking that amount over time. Having saved this amount will give you peace of mind that you can cover a gap of slow time, which WILL come eventually if you’re a serious freelancer. You may hover above or below you goal, but try to bank it and leave it. Create a separate account if it helps you separate it from accounts you spend from.

Managing cash flow is always a big topic for freelancers. It’s a challenge for all of us, but an issue worth conquering for the opportunity to be a freelancer. This is how any business runs and we shouldn’t treat our freelance businesses any differently. Money comes in and goes out and some months are leaner than others. This is the nature of our work and we must embrace the change to be successfully long term.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download. If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

4 Reasons You’re Ready to Ask For Help

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Categories: Business, Freelancing

Guy sleeping while at work

For most of us our workloads fluctuate during the year depending on what kind of services we offer and who our clients are. Sometimes our workloads fluctuate for no reason at all. It’s important to have a plan in place to accommodate the influx of work so we’re not working until 3am every day or stressing out wondering how we’ll get the work accomplished. It’s not easy finding dependable people to work with so planning ahead of time, setting up interviews and reviewing portfolios will save headaches when you need the help. Once you find someone you’re comfortable working with, make sure they’re familiar with how you manage projects and communicate with clients. Add them to your project management software ahead of time so they’re familiar with the platform. Show them past projects and your process for completing projects. This way they won’t be a fish out of water when you begin a project. The following are 4 reasons you might be ready to ask for help.

Your client list is growing

If you’ve been freelancing a while you may find your client list growing with each project. Referrals from past clients are a great way to grow your client list. With more clients you have more work and potentially longer days. Each new client means more emails to send throughout the day, more project estimating to provide and more communication in general. With only so many hours in the day it’s easy to find ourselves behind on emails which can potentially leave clients hanging. If you have someone on your side taking on work to lighten your workload, this frees up time to take care of the extra communication required to manage more clients.

You’re working a lot of hours

One of the first things many freelancers do when they get busy is work more hours. Rather than working 9 to 5, they work 8 to 6 or even more. Working long hours can help in the short term but isn’t a good solution in the long term. We risk getting burned out and losing focus during our day due to lack of sleep. Keeping regular hours during our workday is important for planning schedules, determining deadlines, and meeting client expectations. Having others to give overflow work to can keep us on a more regular schedule and allows us to stay in our daily rhythm which is the key to staying creative and productive. Work hard to establish a rock solid routine.

You’re taking on larger projects

A huge benefit of working with others with different skills is the ability to take on projects you wouldn’t normally accept. If you’re stronger in the area of design rather than coding, working with a developer would give you the ability to take on web projects with bigger functionality needs. Offering a wider range of skills gives your clients a much wider selection of services to work from. It reduces roadblocks and workarounds you might have had before by not having sufficient skills to get the job done correctly. You’ll find you also grow your own skill set by working and being around others with different skills. Your friends will also learn from you, so it’s a win win situation.

You decide to take on a different role

In your journey as a freelancer you may find yourself wanting to do more directing than actual work. Having someone you can depend on can allow you to take on more creative direction, marketing, and big picture decisions you may not have had time for before. This also means that you’ll have to let go of some control of the everyday details. As we all probably know, no one likes a micro-manager. With extra time to see the big picture, you can think more about keeping the work coming in, seeking out new business, and strengthening relationships with existing clients. We’re able to see things more from a CEO role rather than account executive.

Take a step back now and then to look at how much work you have coming in and how many hours a day you’re working. Ask your clients if they’re happy with turnaround times and client services. If your responses are negative, it may be time to look for some assistance to increase productivity or to offer better client service.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download. If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

Managing Scope Creep

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Categories: Accounting, Business, Freelancing

Managing Scope Creep

Managing scope creep on any project can be challenging.  It can happen on both sides.  Many clients push the boundaries of the contract and/or ask for things that seem simple and quick to implement.  Our the other side, you want the client to be happy and/or want to try something new to learn additional skills.  Regardless of the reasons, letting project scope go beyond what is outlined in the contract will impact your profit margin.

Pushing the Boundaries of the Contract

When a client asks for something beyond what was outlined in the contract, you should consider these four things.

  1. Would the request be simple or complex to implement?
  2. Is the client easy to work with?
  3. What type of long term relationship do you want with the client?
  4. Did you miss something important in the contact?

I’ll be honest, if the client is easy to work with and reasonable with their requests, I will jump through a few hoops to get it done. If that same clients starts asking for more and more work though, I’ll let them know what the extra work will costs.  If they push back, I can reference the earlier “free” work I already did.

If the work is more complex and would take more than a few hours, I’ll go back to the client with an estimate for the extra work.

If the client has been difficult to work with, doing extra work on any level could lead to more and more requests.

I  try to consider what type of long term relationship I want with the client before making any decisions.  Doing free work sets a precedent. Charging for every little request sets one as well. Finding the perfect middle ground will be different for every client and every project.

Every so often, I miss something in the contract.  Sometimes there are things we talked about that didn’t make it into the contract.  Other times, I didn’t account for a key piece of the project in the contract. Either way, I do the work.  It isn’t the client’s fault I missed it in the contract.

Learning New Skills

Sometimes, I’ll spend extra time to try new things are beyond the scope of the contract.  I rarely share this with the client though.

A Slippery Slope

Once you start doing extra work for free, you open the door to more and more requests. In most cases, it is best to stick to the contract.  There will be times when it is in your best interests to let things “slide”. When those times arrive, consider the four items outlined above.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download.  If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

Benefits of getting out of your home office

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Categories: Freelancing

Getting out of your home office

I’ve worked from a home office for several years and I’m usually able to focus and be productive during my day. At times though, I get cabin fever and need to get out or grab a cup of coffee at the coffee shop. It’s refreshing to meet new people, see different perspectives and opinions from others.

Working from home can be productive, but can also be quiet at times. As a freelancer you don’t typically have someone in the cubicle next door to talk about ideas. I reach a point where I need outside influence to talk about a project, hardware upgrades, or design trends. That’s when I get out to meet with a friend or to work on a project. Even though I’m used to a quiet office, I’m able to concentrate just as well in a noisy coffee shop. It’s energizing to be in a room full of freelancers or small business owners with similar goals. I always find myself talking about projects or handing out a business card to someone new. I always tend to have a different experience and usually meet someone new.

Sitting at the same desk, with the same surroundings ever day can get monotonous. Most of us are not meant to sit for 8 hours a day staring at a computer, doing the same things over and over. We’re meant to have variety in our lives to keep us motivated and energized about our work. We need outside influence to give constructive criticism or passing ours along to others. It broadens our perspective on how others perceive our work and helps us improve.

Meeting new people is always refreshing. I like to listen to others and how they approach their businesses. I listen to how others approach problems, solutions and how they’ve become successful or failed. There are lessons to be learned from success and failure. No matter what your business, it’s likely that you’ll have things in common with other small businesses owners.

Having a home office can be great, but let’s not forget to get out and network with others. Set up a meeting with a friend or local business owner to talk about what they do. Learn how they go about their business, how long they’ve owned their business, and what their plans on for the next 5 years. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to share their business experiences with you. We learn from others by listening to their experiences. So get out of that home office and get refreshed.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download.  If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

Getting Payment Before Starting a Project

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Categories: Accounting, Business, Freelancing

Getting Payment Up-front

I’m always reading stories of people not getting paid for their work. When you’re just starting out on your own, this can really hurt you mentally and financially.  The solution is fairly simple though. You should always have a contract and some up-front payment before you start a project.  In some cases, an up-front payment is more important than a contract.  A contract is vital, but nothing says commitment more than money.

Typically, the initial payment is somewhere between 25% to 50% of the total project investment.  What I expect is based on total investment amount and the time it will take to complete the work.  For large projects, I break the payment into thirds or fourths.  For smaller projects, it is 50%.

I learned the importance of contracts and up-front payments the hard way a few times early in my career.  Unfortunately, I was burned by this recently as well…

When a client is ready and willing to write you a check to get started, you know you’re working with somebody that understands business, understands the value of your time and wants the work to get completed.  If the client isn’t ready or unwilling to write a check (or swipe their card), you should be questioning their commitment to the project.  On a few occasions early in my career, I either needed the work and/or was so excited to get started I didn’t ask for an up-front payment.  I got burned when the client backed out of the project.

I was also burned by this recently when I didn’t prepare a contract or ask for up-front money from a long standing client.  I wrongly assumed that our past relationship combined with the small value of the project negated the need for a contract and up-front payment.  Things didn’t work out and I was out the entire project amount.  Besides my obvious mistakes, I learned that when the client has nothing to loose, they are much less willing to work with you when disagreements occur.

Having a contract in place is great if you’re willing and able to get a lawyer to enforce it.  Having money in the bank is even better.

It doesn’t matter who the client is, how big the project is or how much you need/want the work, get a signed contact and more importantly, an up-front payment before you start.  Besides saving you a few headaches, it tells the client you’re a professional and take your business and their business seriously.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download.  If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

5 Ways to Stay Creative When You’re Busy

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Categories: Freelancing

5 Ways to Stay Creative When You're Busy

As a freelancer, I sometimes find it hard to be creative when I have several projects going at once and multiple deadlines to attend to. Even the best planning and forecasting can sometimes fall to the side when issues come up or more urgent requests come up. When this happens, it’s easy to work long hours with little sleep to try to accomplish everything that needs to be done. What’s happening is that we’re tricking ourselves into thinking we’re being more productive when in fact we’re getting outside our regular routine which causes us to be less productive in the days ahead. We need a certain amount of sleep, food and breaks to stay creative and productive. When we don’t receive these things, we start to lose focus and struggle to stay on task. Think of our days activities as a rhythm we repeat day after day. When we get outside of that rhythm, that’s when things start to fall apart. That said, here are a few things I focus on when I’m busy to stay focused and creative.

Take regular breaks

I find that I typically work well in 90 minute sprints. After the 90 minutes, I feel myself starting to lose focus. At this point, I’ll read a book for 10-15 minutes or take a short walk to get the blood flowing. I try to take this break away from my computer screen or phone since I get plenty of that during the day. After that 10-15 minute break I get back to it for another 90 minutes. This creates a rhythm throughout the day to keep yourself energized and creative.

Get plenty sleep

I try to go to bed around the same time every day. For me, I’m in bed about 10:30 at night and get up around 7:00. This is going to be different for everyone depending on how much sleep you require, family schedules, etc. The important thing is to keep regular times so your body knows when to start winding down and when it’s time to rise and shine. Without this regular routine, it’s possible you’ll feel groggy with a later bedtime or restless with an early bedtime. All resulting in less productive time during the day.

Exercise regularly

I try to exercise everyday. Some days it’s 30-40 minutes, others only 15-20. To me the daily frequency is more important than the length of a particular day to stay with the habit. It’s the days when I’ve had two or three days between workouts that are the hardest to exercise. Exercise gets the blood flowing which is great for creativity and maintaining focus. It’s not unusual for me to have ideas or solutions come up while I’m exercising. For that reason, I’ll keep my phone or a notepad nearby to jot down notes.

Don’t skip meals

Food is fuel for creativity. Trying to sketch ideas for a new logo, or planning a new website are nearly impossible for me on an empty stomach. This is one of the easiest things to overlook when you’re busy working toward a deadline or trying to launch a website. You work, work, work until you’re exhausted and hungry which reduces you’re energy levels to a point where you’re running on fumes. It sometimes takes hours to recover and at that point the day may be close to being over. Eating regular sized meals at regular times of the day keep you fueled throughout the day without running out of gas.

Stay with your routine

Like I mentioned, even though you’re busy it’s important to stay with your regular routine. If you’re a successful freelancer, chances are the work is going to be there regardless of if you’re working until 1am or 2am every day or if you’re taking care of yourself by getting proper sleep, eating correctly and exercising. Burning the midnight oil night after night may feel like you’re getting more done, but you’ll eventually find yourself experiencing burn out caused by lack of sleep which will show in your work. Take care of yourself and you’ll find yourself more creative over the long haul and you’ll do better work as a result.

 

The Importance of Tracking Your Time

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Categories: Accounting, Business, Freelancing, Web Apps

The Importance of Time Tracking

Today I’m going to talk about the importance of tracking your time.

If your in business to make money, you need to know how long it takes to perform all your tasks.  That could be how long it takes to reconcile your monthly income and expenses to how long it takes you to design a logo.  If it takes you twice as long to complete a task, you just lost money.  It doesn’t matter whether that is a billable task or not.  The more time it takes to complete non-billable tasks reduces the time you can spend on billable work.

Dennis and I both use time tracking apps to monitor how we spend our work hours.  It can be an eye opener to see just how long it takes to complete tasks.  If you’re finding a wide variation for the same task over time, it could indicate that you’re getting distracted and maybe need to turn off Twitter or the background music.

For billable work, knowing how long it takes to complete individual tasks and the entire project enables you to create accurate quotes.  If you don’t know, you could end up spending twice as much time as you estimated.  If you’re doing a fixed price project, you just cut your margin in half.  If you’re doing hourly work, you’re going to have one very unhappy client.

There are a ton of time tracking applications (both software and web-based) out there.  I use a web-based solution called Harvest. It has both time tracking and invoicing, so I’m getting two apps in one.  I’ve been very happy with it but I know there are many other great solutions out there, so find one and start tracking your time today.

This topic was taken for our free 101 Simple Freelancing Tips download.  If you haven’t already downloaded it, get our copy today.

Three great apps for freelance designers

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Categories: Business, Freelancing

Three Great Apps For Freelancers

As a freelancer I’m always looking for web apps, or native iOS apps that make my project tasks easier. I’m not always sitting at my desktop computer, so any app that stores it’s data in the cloud and is mobile friendly is going to be at the top of the list for me. Creating wireframes and flowcharts are a key part of my web design process. I have two apps, Moqups and Slickplan that make these two steps easy and fun to work on. I also use Prevue for a very quick and simple way of sharing and recieving feedback on design mockups. Here’s a quick summary of the three apps.

Moqups

Moqups is a web based application for creating wireframes for websites or web applications. It allows you to create the pages you need for your website or application and lets you link your pages together to create a semi-functional prototype. The toolbar has all the web page elements you need to create your pages. You simply drag over the element where you would like it to be and drop it on the page. Once your element is on the page you can customize it to fit your needs. Most elements give you the option to customize the color and border treatment to fit your look along with more options depending on the element you’re editing. It’s easy to create wireframes for mobile or desktop purposes since it offers web elements for both platforms. I’ve tried a lot of different applications for wireframing and feel this one has everything I need, looks great and has a great workflow.

website: www.moqups.com
price: $9 / month

Slickplan

Slickplan is a web based app for creating flowcharts for websites or applications. The interface is clean, simple and allows you to quickly create flowcharts with multiple levels for pages. You have the option to select a predefined color scheme or you’re welcome to create your own. I’m picky about color schemes for flowcharts so this was an item that caught my eye right away. It also allows you to designate a page type for each page such as a form, listing, gallery etc. to better define your pages. If your page type isn’t there, you can create a custom page type for your purposes. One of my biggest concerns with any app I use is workflow. I feel like Slickplan nailed it by providing multiple ways to share a link to your flowchart by giving options to email it, post it to Basecamp or even share it on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. You can easily export it as a PDF, EPS, PNG, or a web page depending of what’s best for you.

website: www.slickplan.com
price: $3.99 / month

Prevue

Prevue is a web app that lets you upload, manage and share your designs through a super clean and simple interface. Prevue has taken the simple and clean user interface to the max by having a simple left hand sidebar with all of your projects in the center of the page. You can create groups for your projects that can be shared or protected depending on your needs. The commenting feature allows your viewers to leave feedback on your designs within the app so everything is organized. A stats tab allows you to see what template was viewed and how many times it was viewed to be sure your designs are being viewed. Sharing options include a dedicated URL to each project and a Twitter sharing link. You can also add annotations if you need to call out particular elements if your projects.

website: www.prevue.it
price: $25 / year

Getting paid when you’re a freelancer

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Categories: Freelancing

Getting paid as a freelancerLet’s face it, as freelancer you’re busy designing, developing, or writing and don’t always have the time you need to follow up with clients who are late to pay their invoices. Your clients are busy too and paying you may not always be on the top of their priority list. It’s up to you to stay diligent to make sure you get paid to keep a good stream of income. This is key to survival as a freelancer and will help you avoid the feast or famine problems.

Be clear about your terms

Take time to carefully write your payment terms in your proposals, contracts and invoices so your clients are clear about when you would like to be paid. If this is left up to your clients you won’t have a good way of estimating when you’ll receive payments and may thin your bank account for some time until you receive your payment. This is especially tough when you have large projects with a significant amount of hours you’re waiting to get paid for. Most of you don’t have the luxury to wait 60-90 days to be paid for a 50 hour project. That’s the nature of being a freelancer.

Get paid before you begin

Having a down payment ahead of time can help you cover expenses for contract work, purchasing assets to start a project, or to simply fill an income gap while you’re waiting to receive final payment from a recently completed project. Down payments not only help you balance your income, it is a financial commitment from your clients before beginning a project. This tells you they’re interested and ready to get started with the work. It sets a positive tone for both you and your client and lets you hit the ground running when you’re ready to begin.

Follow up right away

Be very diligent and timely when following up on your overdue invoices. If you ask to be paid within 30 days, follow up with your client on day 30 to ask when you’ll receive payment. This says that you’re paying attention and expect to be paid according to what you’ve outlined in your agreements. Being passive and waiting a week or two to follow up on overdue invoices can send the wrong message saying you’re not following your own policies and can set wrong expectations on future projects.

Always say thank you

A small note of appreciation always goes a long way and can end a project on a positive note. Establishing good habits when it comes to sending and receiving invoices says that you’re a professional and appreciate the opportunity to work together with your clients. They’ll remember their experience working with you and are likely to work with you again if the experience was a positive one.