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Review: Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I recently finished reading Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer by Liam Veitch. The author is a web developer who grew his ‘doing okay’ freelance business into a million-dollar operation. In the book, Veitch begins with a story of his freelance failure which turns in to a silver-lining corporate job where he learns how to actually run a business. Learning the skill of running a business is a crucial step that most freelancers miss. Many freelancers are doing nothing more than engaging in a hobby that almost pays the bills.

Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer is a quick read that will help you stop running a ‘hobby’ and step in to the world of running a business. The business world is where you need to be if you want to enjoy a life that’s more than just scraping by.

Get Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer on Amazon.

The core of the book is centered around 5 phases of running and growing your business.

1. Get evolution ready

An evolution-ready business owner has foundations for success, she understands what her vision is, she has mapped out a strategy to get there, and she understands that “getting better” never stops. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

The core of Phase One is addressing your mindset and building a strategy to move your business forward. It starts by realizing you run a business and starting to act like it by setting goals and creating a plan to achieve those goals.

If you’re not ready for evolution then you’re not ready for the rest of the cycle.

2. Repel bad apples, attract dream clients

I have an inconvenient truth to put to you. If you have lower-paying, frustrating, impatient, throw-them-out-the-window type clients, it’s your fault. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I love how Section Two of the book begins — with a challenge for the reader/freelancer to start taking responsibility. All of the freelancers I talk to who are struggling have things ‘happen to them’ and seem to feel helpless when it comes to controlling their circumstances. If you’re one of those, remember — you said yes to that bad client.

In the second phase of building a business, Veitch describes how to position your business for your ideal client. That comes down to you doing intentional marketing for your ideal clients, once you’ve identified them, and saying no to the ones that don’t meet the criteria you’ve defined.

3. Multiply exposure, build your platform

I know the feeling of hopelessly refreshing the screen of a virtually blank Google Analytics profile, only to see the blue-line chart keep looking more like low-lying hills than an epic mountain range. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

How many of you blog…weekly? Yup almost no one.

If you blog, are you actually writing content that answers the questions your clients ask? I’m even at fault on this second one. Sure I write lots for my peers here, but I’ve slacked a bunch on writing for my clients on my agency site  which is something I’m changing in 2015.

Veitch writes that Phase Three is all about generating content that your clients want to read. If you do that you’re going to be in the top 1% of businesses that actually practice what they preach, adopting the same habits for success that they recommend to their clients.

4. Level out the income roller-coaster, build predictability

Some weeks are great, but in others you feel the pinch. The difficulty is that you want the good weeks to be more frequent, but instead it’s more bad weeks than good. This up-and-down uncertainty is usually the reason freelancers give for throwing in the towel – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

I’ve been there and many of you are there.

Phase Four is all about building some more predictability into your income streams. Maybe you offer backup and recovery services for $100/month. If you sign on 10 clients for that service, you’re $1000/month closer to your income goal for the month.

Maybe it’s clients on a retainer for conversion work (A/B testing on their site), or maybe it’s something totally different like some other product (Hrm like I sell here?).

Start thinking creatively about recurring services you offer and sell some of your by-products. More clients on recurring plans means more predictability in your model.

5. Loosen the reins, work less, earn more

Freelancers wear lots of hats. We occupy every role in our businesses. It’s exhausting. We’re responsible for sales, marketing, customer service, production, accounts and everything in between. – Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer

Phase Five is all about building a team to do some of the work. I’ve got a great assistant that sets up my emails for the email list after I give her content. She also enters all my receipts and sends out many of my invoices.

I’ve automated my appointment scheduling with Calendly and send those receipts above from Evernote to Redbooth via Zapier.

This phase is all about where to do that in your business. It talks a bit about outsourcing but can’t be as complete as a book like  The Virtual Assistant Solution though you do get a great starting point in a few pages of content.

Wrapping the book up

Veitch wraps up the book by addressing 10 mistakes he believes he made in his first run at freelancing. Simply avoiding these will help you run a better business.

Two of the failures I see all the time in other freelancers are:

1. Magic Bullet

This is where you sign up for 9 courses and 12 email lists, then you experiment with bits and pieces of advice from all these different sources, looking for that one solution that will finally help you turn the corner in your business.

There is no magic bullet. Instead of constantly searching for one, pick one well-known program or strategy and stick to it for a year or two. Stick to your specialty and keep telling people about it.

Then you’re going to win.

2. Ambiguous Goals

Sure you want to make ‘more’ next year, but how much is more? Technically if you make $20k this year and $21k next year you made ‘more’ but is that really the goal you had? Did you invest the time and thought to come up with a real number for how much more you wanted to make?

I’ve learned that many freelancers avoid setting concrete goals because if they miss them, they feel like they failed.

Stop coddling yourself, set a goal and make a plan to hit that goal.

Recommendation?

Yup I recommend this book for freelancers of all levels and types. Even if you think of yourself as a business owner and not just a freelancer you’re still going to pick up a few tips which will help you run your business better. The aggregate of all those tips you pick up is how your business becomes extra awesome.

Get Stop Thinking Like a Freelancer on Amazon.

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How can you double your take-home profit?

This week has been focused on talking about how to grow your business 10x bigger than it is currently.

Tuesday I talked about why just trying to increase 2% or 3% or even 10% can be harder than going for a jump like a 10x increase.

Yesterday I talked about why I love working with clients that have a 10x reach.

When I originally tweeted about the 10x thoughts Jason Cohen came back with this awesome thought.

If you don’t know Jason maybe you’ve heard of this little company he founded called WP Engine? Or maybe you’ve read his blog a smart bear.

If you still don’t know who I’m talking about then just trust me that Jason is a smart cookie.

So double profits

We’d all like to double our profits, right? “But how, exactly, can I double my profits?” you may ask. Well, off the top of my head, I can think of a few ways:

Stronger marketing so that you have to spend less time prospecting for clients.

Automating your client acquisition.

Cut expenses in half.

But the one that interests me (and you probably) the most is to double your rates.

Easy to say

Yeah it’s easy to say that you need to double your rates but it’s harder to do unless your current rate is fairly low, like in the $50-$75/hour range.

That’s where I was in 2012, charging $75-$90 an hour and ending up with around $50k/yr in business invoices to show for it.

That’s before taxes and expenses, so my take home was actually close to 50%, maybe 60%, of that amount.

I actually just had a hobby that mostly paid the bills, but I wasn’t yet running a legitimate, viable business.

Then I read Double Your Freelancing Rate and ended up doubling my freelancing rate. Currently, my ‘hourly’ rate is around $200/hour. (I don’t work hourly but this is a good round number to use for illustrative purposes.)

Now, doubling your rates may provide an instant financial boost to your business, but creating a profitable and sustainable business involves so much more. You still need to master pricing and providing the most value possible to your customers. Understanding the value you bring is going to be key to growing your business even bigger.

My top resources (and where all of my Q1 ‘extra time’ will be devoted) on this path are:

I’d like to double my fees again and boost my current income with ‘passive’ income streams in 2015.

Ambitious? HELL yes, but if I’m going to take my business to the next level, something needs to change — including my mindset.

What can you do to double your take-home profits in 2015? Do you need to raise your rates, or raise the value of what you offer?

Most likely you need to do both!

photo credit: jed_september cc

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How about 10x the reach?

This week we’re talking about your goals for 2015 in the context of 10x.

As in how can you 10x your business, not just double the revenue?

10x Reach

I build eCommerce and Membership sites (you can hire me here) so in theory I get to reach a lot of people already but most of my clients don’t really change the lives of their customers.

Purchasing a new coffee cup does little to truly affect the position of a customer.

One of my favourite clients this year was Greater Impact. Greater Impact has courses that help women have awesome marriages.

When someone goes through a Greater Impact course it not only affects them, it affects their kids, and spouse, and usually others around them since they’re likely to pass on information from the course to friends.

My work with Greater Impact has a huge reach. It changes lives all around and that makes the work feel so much more awesome.

2015 Projects

As I look ahead at 2015, one of my goals is to work on more projects that have that type of reach.

I want to work with clients that don’t just ‘sell things’. I want to work with clients that bring transformational value to their customers so that my work has a 10x reach.

When I talk in terms of 10x for my business, it’s about so much more than revenue — it’s about impact.

What would it look like for your business to have a 10x reach? How can you change your business or your habits so you’re having a greater impact?

photo credit: kthai cc

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Getting your goals ready for the next year – go for 10x

It’s that time of year when you should be drafting your goals for the next year.

If you’re serious about growing your business, I want to challenge you to aim high. Don’t just think what you need to do to grow your business by 20% — or even double your business. As you work on your goals for next year, my challenge to you is to consider thinking big. Can you imagine growing your business by 10X?

As you set your goals, I urge you to ask yourself some hard questions, and be brave enough to answer them honestly.

How much do you want to grow your business? Don’t be shy. Admit how much you want to grow it, no matter how high the number.

What client do you want to fire because they no longer fit the model of your ideal client? Who is that person who’s tempting you to compromise? Name names.

How many hours do you want to work? Better yet how much time do you want to take off?

What are your goals with your family for the year?

Is it big enough?

In 2013 I doubled my income, moving from $50K to $100K.

My goal for 2014 was to move to $175K, and I didn’t hit it. I ended up right around $100K again.

I did work less this year, taking about 13 weeks of vacation this year. True I do take every Friday off client work and come in ‘late’ 2 days a week and leave ‘early’ two days a week, but even with that schedule, my goal was to reach $175K.

As I set my goals for next year, it’s time for me to assess why I missed my target this year.

Which leads me to think that my $175K target wasn’t a big enough jump. I’m now asking myself if a $75K increase in income was enough to really force me to start to change processes, or was I just doing more of the same and expecting my income to go up?

Honest answer? I think I spent most of the year thinking about doing more of what I did in 2013. I looked for ‘similar but better’ clients without redefining the specifics of what those clients would look like.

I really didn’t change any of my marketing to look for those clients that are just a bit ‘aspirational’ for me.

I let myself range around on cool personal and business projects that didn’t really push me deeper in to my niche or do more to establish myself as a category leader in eCommerce and Membership sites.

So doing all the same things in 2014 as I did in 2013 got me right about the same outcome in my income.

Take a second and watch this video:

This week I actually shut down MY client work to focus on my plan for 2015.

My big goal is to turn my $100K business into a $1M business. Obviously, that’s a much bigger leap than $75K, and a target that’s going to force me to make much harder decisions about what I produce and where I spend my time.

I’m going to have to get much more strategic about the type of clients and projects I take.

Is it going to happen in 2015? Part of me would love to say yes and my heart races because it feels like a huge scary thing.

Even if it doesn’t happen in 2015 I’m telling you today that SFNdesign will be a $1M/year company and that’s how I’m going to continue to think of it to force myself to make those hard decisions.

Are your goals for 2015 big enough to force you to make hard decisions or are you just going to do more of the same and expect better results?

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Present and Practice

I was recently at an event put on by Atlassian. The main topic for the event was Git, with 2 talks given by 2 different developer evangelists.

Outside of the talks being very salesy for Atlassian products (way more than I anticipated), the big thing that stood out to me was that both of these people were 100% developers and not speakers.

For some it’s easy, for some…

Now, I can appreciate that challenge of organizing an event like this. Attendees want to learn from the best, so 99% of the time, developer evangelists are booked because they’re some of the best in their field and people like me look up to them for their knowledge, skill, and the awesome code they write.

But sadly, little consideration seems to be given to their ability to convey ideas in a public speaking setting. These people may be the best of the best when it comes to coding, but if you’re in the audience expect lots of start…and stops…and ‘um’…and no stories.

Basically expect to be bored by a poor presenter.

Not acceptable

This is unacceptable. If this is you and you’re running a business that requires you to interact with clients then it’s going to hurt your business lots.

Talking to prospects well and selling them on your services requires all the same skills as public speaking. Have you thought about that? If not, take a minute and let that sink in. Your clients want to be ‘wowed’ just as much as the audience members at a keynote address.

You need to be confident.

You need to be able to tell them a story about how their lives will change once they start working with you.

You need to draw them in and be engaging.

If you’re an employee, you need to bring the same skills to a job interview. Sell your potential employer on the benefit that you will bring to their business. Tell them a story about how awesome their future will be with you around.

Okay so how do I?

So how do you learn to teach and influence well?

You could join Toastmasters to experience a variety of opportunities to speak to a group. Practice and honest, caring critique will make you better.

Need an intermediate step? Check out Sticky Teaching by Chris Lema, who is an awesome speaker on all sorts of topics. For some validation on his awesomeness check out all the talks he’s done a WordCamps. (update December 11, 2014 2:43 PM So Chris took the course down due to VATMOSS and I can’t really blame him at all. I mean why would I want to suddenly pay taxes in the EU?)

Start diving in now and learn to be a better presenter. Hone your pitch so you can tell your prospects the awesome story about how you will change their lives.

photo credit: hazzat cc

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The problem with pricing calculators

I admit that when I started working as a developer I used a pricing calculator to try and figure out what I should charge because I didn’t have a clue how to handle this part of my business. While the one I used is no longer around, you don’t go to many weeks without finding a new one pop up.

Way too simple

The biggest problem with all of these pricing calculators is that they are too simplistic.

They’re designed with a one-size-fits-all approach, based only on the tangible aspects of offering a service. They aren’t designed to account for the valuable but intangibles, such as your value to a client. You simply plug in some basic information about your service (not you and your skill and experience), and the calculator spits out a number for you to charge.

Even the one I used way back when, which did include a savings goal and your expenses, failed to account for what a business owner provides day to day.

Let’s think for a moment about the pricing calculator I used. Yes, it did factor expenses into the calculator, which is important. But if you’re using, or tempted to use, a pricing calculator, ask yourself this: does your client care about your costs?

No they don’t. And justifying a price based purely on your costs is a waste of time. Your client could care less about your costs, but they do care about your value to them.

I understand

Out-of-the-box pricing calculators are attractive and enticing because they save us time, and they save us the headache of learning how to price properly.

You simply fill in a few details and then you’re off to the races, confident that you’ve got a price. And it must be a good one, because the fancy calculator gave you a number, right?

And of course, the Internet is never wrong.

I want to challenge you to skip the price calculators and take the time to learn how to price with these awesome resources.

Once you’ve got through those dig deeper with:

Sure the easy way out is…well, easier. But if you want a truly profitable business then dig in and start learning how to price your business properly for profitability.

Or, you know, stick with the pricing calculators to help you run your hobby.

photo credit: whatleydude cc

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You’re not there yet so you better keep learning

It feels odd to say, but I know that a bunch of you awesome people who read my site appreciate the advice I give, and I’ve earned some credibility with you. Acquiring this level of trust feels odd because I’m just some dude building sites for clients in a small town in British Columbia. The ‘tech scene’ here in my part of the world is me and maybe 2 other people.

But I know from talking to some of you that I’ve really helped you improve the way you run your business.

I know that I’ve helped some of you increase your income after just one coaching call.

But in spite of having great clients, a growing business, and getting a positive response to the advice I’ve been offering, I’m still not as great as I want to be. I want to continue getting better at what I do and increasing my value to my clients.

Defining your value is a process

I stated above that it feels odd to realize my credibility is growing and that I do indeed have something to offer my clients and readers. That I’m providing value. Like I said, I’m just some dude in a small town.

Defining your value is hard. You may be struggling with this part of your business, and if so, rest assured I’ve struggled with it too.

But I know that defining my value is a process, not a light-bulb moment. Not only a process to define my value, but also a process because I’m increasing my value to my clients as I learn more, develop new skills, acquire more experience, and generally get better at what I do.

One tool that’s helped me in this process is courses. This is a commitment to learning that helps me get better at what I do and increase my value to clients. Let me be clear here: I’m careful about investing in, and committing to, courses. I choose one, complete it, then choose another that will provide value. Don’t be like that guy who buys every damn course he sees, but never completes any of them.

I just finished Day 5 of Brennan Dunn’s Charge What You’re Worth email course.

As I got into the course, I was a little disappointed to discover I’ve already done most of the work Brennan outlines in the first 4 days of his course. I don’t struggle with many of the issues he covers in the first 4 days. (That’s not to say the material in the first 4 days wouldn’t be awesome for you, though.)

Because of this, I was tempted to discount the course as irrelevant to me — and I suspect others who have taken this course may have done so. But I was glad I stuck with the course until the end, because I found some awesome content in Day 5. In the final lesson of this course, I discovered some rich material that helped me improve my client vetting process.

Email templates

A while back I wrote about my email templates when vetting prospects for my business. Brennan’s course inspired me to add 2 new questions to my email templates. They are:

1.  What would happen if we didn’t do (your feature)? What opportunities would be lost?
2.  After we build it (client project) what is your dream for its success?

I love these, because the first one makes the prospective client think about a lost opportunity and engages in a bit of loss aversion since they don’t want to have it not happen.

The second question is aspirational and gets them to dream about the success of their product or idea. The other powerful thing about this second question is that it moves us away from the negative of dwelling on a lost opportunity and pushes them toward engaging with you to make their dream a reality.

Even if you have a client process and know your value, I highly recommend you go through Brennan’s course. I believe it can help you refine your process and gain a more solid understanding of your value, and it might just lead you to make some significant improvements to your own business.

Are you as good as you want to be? Are you giving your own clients as much value as you’d like? Will a commitment to learning make you better?

photo credit: ltdemartinet cc

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Don’t Make That Sale

I’ve been tempted more than once to sell a client on a site that they didn’t really need.

Oh sure, in these cases maybe the client’s existing site design was ‘terrible’ or there was a better way accomplish their technical goals.

But better design and slicker features aren’t the secret formula to increasing a client’s revenue. Selling a client a new site may or may not be the best way for me to serve that customer.

I was reminded of this while reading Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus.

“no sale is a good sale for Neiman-Marcus, unless it is a good buy for the customer.” – Minding the Store

That’s a bold stance for a retailer to take, and I love it.

In Minding the Store, Marcus recounts times when Neiman-Marcus has turned down big-ticket sales ($5000 or more) simply because the item is the wrong product for the wrong person.

On one occasion, Marcus chose not to sell a mink coat for a 16-year-old girl, knowing its usefulness to her would be short-lived. Marcus not only lost profits from that sale, but endured an upset kid and her upset father storming out of the store.

The wrong project

When I have a ‘value’ discussion with a client, it’s about figuring out if my services and my costs are a good fit for their needs.

Sometimes I even get to tell clients that the work they want done isn’t worth the cost of actually doing it.

Occasionally I’ve been the only person that’s told the client that the work isn’t worth it for them.

There is no return on investment.

The turnaround

Back to that story from Minding the Store.

Turns out when dad and daughter went home, dad’s sister couldn’t have agreed more with Mr. Marcus, that a mink coat is not appropriate for a 16-year old. It’s going to wear out way to quickly.

The sister told the man to go back and buy his daughter whatever Mr. Marcus recommended because Mr. Marcus was the person in Dallas to talk to about furs. That turned the father (and daughter) in to life long customers and Mr. Marcus came up with a special coat for her wedding, it was mink.

You’re the one that was really honest with them.

Don’t make that sale unless it’s actually worth it for the client.

photo credit: kaptainkobold cc

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Curtis McHale

Helping you answer the hard questions about your business