Sunday, 19 May 2019

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline.

The first thing people think about in response is work-and-life balance.

Yes, being overworked is not good for balance, but there is a different point to raise:

If you decline a lot simply because you don't have free slots, it means you've sold your capacity out and the demand still exists.

Without getting into theory, that means you could probably charge more.

It's not certain you could get away with charging more, it's only probable — and worth checking if you can do so without taking on too much risk.

And it's difficult to tell how much more — there are too many variable factors to play guesses here without knowing details of your situation.

But it's probable you could get away with quoting at least a little higher fees than you quote now.

Note: This applies if running out of capacity occurs regularly to you, not just once in a blue moon.

If you simply have peak periods that throw you off balance, develop a coping strategy for that specifically, e.g. a network of colleagues not all of whom will be experiencing peaks at the same time.

But if you regularly run out of capacity at your current rates, those rates should be going up.

Remember, as a freelancer you won't get a raise from your clients. Just like a law firm, private clinic or design studio, clients won't normally spontaneously offer to pay you more than they did one or two years ago or than you quoted them. You'll only be paid more if you charge more.

Some ethical doubts may arise here, and I want to deal with them separately in the section below the line. If you don't have any such doubts, don't waste your time reading further.

Ethically, you shouldn't worry about whether or not you deserve the raise based on the circumstances, the circumstances being e.g. that you like more time off and begin to wonder if something like that should affect how much you charge or entitles you to a raise.

I suggest focusing instead on the ultimate rates you'll end up charging. Will they be fair? Sticking a knife to someone's throat to help yourself get an objectively fair fee would be unethical. But using supply & demand to stop being underpaid by taking a tougher position? Hardly!

Using legitimately obtained knowledge for the legitimate purpose of resisting demands for rebates that your clients don't deserve is hardly unethical.

Next point, if you believe you're already making enough, however low that could be, so you believe you don't need more. Fine. Great. You don't have to keep the money. Donate it to a charity of your choice. Or work less (charge more, so you'll work fewer hours) and donate your time instead. But undercharging for work that generates real money for your clients is not the answer, especially if it puts financial pressure on your colleagues, some of whom may be in a tougher situation than you are.

If you want to spend your time doing the job you love and still don't feel comfortable charging more than you honestly believe you need, then perhaps work for charities and pro bono causes rather than business clients. Undercharging business clients does no good, and it destroys the market for everybody else.

If you're a single guy who lives on bread and water, owns no property to maintain, pays very little rent and bills, doesn't like to travel, doesn't like hobbies, doesn't like to travel, doesn't need anything really, or somoene who doesn't depend on the job for income, then like I said there's still the matter of what undercharging does to your colleagues and the matter of who's the best qualified recipient of your charity.

It's your time and your money, of course, so I don't want to give the impression of accusing you of doing something wrong, but perhaps think if that's really what you want to be doing. My goal is not to denigrate that approach but to show that any moral high ground would be up to debate, as there are better uses for whatever talents you may have than semi-donating them to for-profit enterprises.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

A Different Voice on How to Become a Successful Freelancer or What It Means to Be One

There has recently been a discussion, yet another discussion in the endless succession of such discussions to be sure, about what it takes to succeed as a freelancer.

I am not qualified by reason of personal achievement to speak as an authority on that, but I want to look analytically and synthetically at where we are with those discussions.

I will inevitably be drawing on the collective experience of such discussions that fit in my attention span.

I will be applying a ruthless, no-nonsense method of intuitive analysis focused on getting right to the point without wasting time on too much mumbo jumbo.

So what does it take to succeed as a freelancer?

It is a platitude to say we need to define success first. It nonetheless needs to be said. It needs to be said because we can't keep comparing apples to oranges to strawberries and melons.

There are up to as many planes and criteria upon which success can be judged as there are the 'judges' of it. Some trimming is therefore necessary. Let's cut it down to two things:

1) Being good at what you do.

This one is easy to define and take further. There exist objective criteria to assess skill. Who wants to can use those, end of analysis for us here. Let's move on to the next one:

2) Money and other benefits to you.

For 'other benefits', generally see no. 1. Let's focus on money now.

Contrary to what some suggest, being successful on this front does not include frugal lifestyles. However you choose to spend your 'salary' does not affect how much you are paid, which is the primary question.

Frugality in *business* expenditure may count, however. Still, money is not created by spending less. It is created by earning more.

The more you earn, the bigger your business success, simple as that.

And that is a matter of:

  • finding and landing clients and jobs, and secondarily keeping them
  • justifying your fees

In other words, it's basically successful sales — generating enough leads and turning them into enough conversions at good enough fee rates to cut a nice profit. The rest is footnotes.

Therefore the kind of advice people need to hear is not a reminder after reminder of how they are not the people who succeeded and how they differ (at some level we aren't all brilliant scientists because we aren't all geniuses), but practical advice on how to actually:

  • get clients/jobs
  • get good rates

Just two things. The essentials.

The whole science of the 'get'. It can be a million words, a thousand books, but it basically comes down to the how to of getting things done.

We can expand this a little as we delve into more detail, viz. how to:

  • get clients with jobs
  • keep them coming/returning, get more coming
  • avoid losing the ones you already have (which tends to be easier than winning new ones and has the same effect)
  • avoid making other stupid mistakes that are easily avoidable (to avoid small mistakes that lose you big money is generally easier than to make the same amount of money back from scratch)
  • keep keeping keeping up

The rest is a matter of degree:

  1. If the degree is low, you struggle. Your success is minimal and consists mostly in not having failed as of yet.
  2. If the degree is moderate, you get by. That is some success, if only in not failing.
  3. If the degree is comfortable, you make it. There is a modicum of success in that.
  4. If the degree gets closer to the wow point, congratulations, you're 'successful' in the typical sense of the word.
We want people to get to point four, but we can't always achieve that by skipping the previous steps. We need the 'A to B' — practical advice on making the small steps.

We don't really need to raise more awareness in people that they are not successful and that that is because they are doing something wrong — they already know that.

'Just do what I did,' is helpful advice provided you explain what you did, in a way that can be repeated, and in a way that demonstrates it was a methodical approach with justified expectations of a desirable outcome, not just a lucky turn of events.

Simply reminding people they aren't quite where you are, and that you are there and they are not, is not helpful. Again, they already know that anyway. Repeating the point time after time again is not helpful advice, it's more self-promotion (not that there's anything wrong with self-promotion per se, but let's just tell that one apart from helpful advice).

'You aren't doing it right,' is not helpful advice. They already know that. And if you keep focusing on how they aren't getting it right without being able to tell them how to do it right, then it gives an impression that you yourself don't quite know what it was that you did right — happens to all of us a lot of the time. The point is, it's not a recipe if it can't be followed with some assurance of achieving the intended result if nothing is done wrong along the way.

And again, people already know they are doing things wrong or at least not doing them right. Presumably they want to change that. So no point dwelling on these two. What everybody needs is some practical, followable, mumbo-jumbo-free advice on — and at least in the form of pointers toward — these two things:

  • how to get clients/jobs
  • how to justify nice rates

(This presupposes the recipient of the advice already knows how to do the actual job and doesn't need to be taught that first.)

To the vast majority of people, myself included, I would suggest leaving the personality/mindset/coaching/esoteric/whatever stuff aside and just simply reading up on:

client acquisition
client retention
communicating your value, being assertive about it, persuading the clients/prospects you deserve the fees you charge or persuading them that it pays to pay what you charge

A lot of this is sales, marketing, negotiation and communication in general, with some aspects of economy and management thrown in, of which a lot of people are unaware simply because of being self-taught (or rather not yet taught) entrepreneurs and not having gone to business school. Some are naturals at it, some aren't. The latter need to learn the basics and expand on that. It starts with reading a book or two about the subject. But people need to be told where to look for the knowledge they need.

My own view is that there is simply not enough knowledge of the basics actually reaching most freelancers, i.e. those who are not business naturals.

Once you've got the basics, you can go on to more advanced stuff, such as image management, successful PR, streamlining your processes, selecting the right prospects, the right deals, honing your deal-closing skills, etc. Discussing these before covering the basics may in fact be counterproductive — confusing and discouraging.

Consequently, I would give people pointers, as specific as possible, to the right resources where they can learn basics and then pointers in the basics of the more advanced stuff they need. From A to B without skipping the basics, unless there is a valid single-issue question that somehow needs to be addressed right then and there (provided it actually can).

Where self-learning from books doesn't seem to cut it, perhaps class would be more helpful. Everyone's learning style is different, as is everybody's learning curve (and in fact slow learners initially are not prevented from becoming big successes in the long run).

Probably some personal practical advice will be necessary on how to apply book knowledge to life in one's specific line of business, which is perhaps what we should focus on when giving people advice — once they're back from the library having covered the basics we asked them to.

If they don't want to, well, that's their problem, I guess. You can't force them. You can't save those who don't want to be saved.

One other thing to consider is that some of us are bottlenecked not so much by any lack of business aptitude as by general life issues such as depression, anxiety, lack of confidence or self-esteem, lack of motivation or agency. All of these need to addressed on the plane they exist, which is not business but life in general.  In those cases reasserting the need to get up, get down to work and get things going will generally not be successful advice (pun somewhat intended).

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Short Reflection on the Synergy Between Productivity and Comfort (and the Lost Profit)

The relationship between productivity and comfort has doubtless been the subject of much proper  research and analysis, and I'm not going there now. For that we have Google. Instead, I want to focus on some obvious things we miss in everyday freelance life:

(1) Comfort improves productivity, and (2) productivity — the sensation, the experience of being productive, the sense of achievement — also improves comfort. (3) There is thus a mutually stimulating relationship between productivity and comfort. And (4) that is something we can use, because nothing prevents us — no corporate policies, no spending limits, no standardization, no employer branding, no issues of rank, paygrade, status, etc.

We all know we're in charge of the home office. But it somehow fails to fully sink in sometimes, and so we fail to employ the fact usefully and reap the benefits.

I'm not encouraging anyone to overspend and be wasteful just because there's no accounting department to vet and veto the spend. But it's important to fully realize that the typical constraints faced by inhouse employees within an organization and structure don't apply to us.

So get yourself the right chair, the right keyboard, the right monitor(s), move the desk around a bit, adjust, optimize. Your workplace is worth spending some time tweaking before you spend months and years in it.

It's important to note that scale of all things is not an issue. Whatever you buy, you buy it just once. $1000 for a super super comfortable chair is a thousand, because the upgrade doesn't apply to 999 other people in the same paygrade. If you overspend $200 of the amount, you overspend $200 and not $ 200 thousand. The same applies to an easily adjustable desk or a mechanical or ergonomic keyboard, or better monitor, or I don't know, furniture, flowers, whatever.

By getting the right equipment and figuring out the best arrangement for your long-term comfort and productivity, removing distractions and obstacles, your physical comfort will improve, you will tire less and at a slower rate, and your satisfaction levels will improve. You will work faster and need less rest, less often, and will find it easier to maintain focus.

The resulting productivity gain will soon translate into more income, and the investment will pay off before you even realize. Let's say you manage to squeeze one or two medium-sized projects more during the year — that will more than pay back for a proper 24/7 chair or a monitor that protects your eyes, or a keyboard that goes easy on your wrists.

If you don't, chances are you're being frugal to the point of gimping yourself in the thousands just to avoid spending hundreds.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Annoyed They're Asking for a Free Sample? You Should Be Happy! And Let Me Tell You Why.

Before we move on, let's keep in mind a sample is not the same as a test. There is a difference between being sampled and being more or less formally graded, and most translators should be more wary of the latter than they already are.

… Not so with free samples, however.

I understand the annoyance and discomfort of being asked to provide some of your work free of charge, but let me be open with you — you can get over it. Suspend your displeasure and allow me to explain.

What I'm proposing is a pragmatic look. Imagine yourself sitting at the chessboard. You're playing to win the whole, not to find pleasure or comfort, or avoid displeasure or discomfort, in the individual moves. A move is good or bad depending on how it serves your goals. If you come out on top and win the game because of that move, then it was a good move, even if you allowed the opponent to take your queen with short-term impunity.

There's a military saying that no fire hits home better than friendly fire. Doubtless you're familiar with the concept of being caught in one's own snare, poetically speaking; falling into your own trap. This is precisely what can happening to your counterparty in the negotiation if you keep your calm and consider how providing them with that sample can serve your goals in the longer run and advance your position instead of the opposite.

Generally speaking, there is no better marketing than good work and happy clients. There's a reason all those companies are peppering the market with free testers and tasters, satisfaction guarantees and generous cancellation terms. They want the product or service to touch the client!

And when you provide a free sample, your service, the product of your work, touches the client. And that is a very powerful message. If you're good, the client can take a look and see that with his own eyes, hear it, touch it, smell it; it's tangible, it feels more real, it connects better, it hits harder. In a way, this is similar to how having some face time with the client is usually better than mailing, chatting or even calling.

By exposing the client to your work in this way, you're getting so much closer to your goal, which is convincing your client that you're good and better than the alternatives.

This goes down to 'show, not tell'. Feel like explaining to your client, verbally, how your degrees, years of experience and whathaveyou make you (more) qualified and justify paying you (more) serious money?

Instead of have to plead your case like that, where the client turns into a powerful judge and jury and you're like that small-town lawyer dominated by an overbearing judge, you can simply throw your bait and wait to see the results.

If your your work is good, it will speak for itself and make its own case, at least if the client is serious, such as the typical semi-sophisticated buyer in B2B who may not be an expert but has been there, done that and has the scars to show.

In the last decade I've noted how certain companies delay the discussion of your rates to the last, making you jump through all their hoops first, almost asking you to sign the actual contract before filling in the rate.

Obviously, one of the effects of that strategy is escalation of commitment, making it more and more difficult for you psychologically to quit the negotiation after (i) all the declarations of readiness to co-operate that you've already made (which makes you look inconsistent or even unreliable, as in less of a man or woman of your word for turning around) and (ii) so much investment of your time, effort and hopes that you're now unwilling to accept as a total loss and move on, so you look for a compromise solution to cut your losses.

They will exploit that further by boiling the frog, gradually asking small concessions from you until the sum total of them becomes significant and you've moved, in small steps, a huge distance away from where you were and where you wanted to be (but each and every individual concession was too trivial on its own to put up much of a fight, not worth damaging the goodwill, etc., as they may have been amply, and aptly, reminding you along the way).

Depressing, ain't it?

But you can turn the table around on them.

They're asking for bait, so throw it to them. Grant their request, make them think — consistently with objective reality — that they got what they want and are moving on as planned, according to their own game plan.

… Except you've been forewarned about all the potential psychological effects, so you can shrug them off more easily as they come and even plan your time investment in that negotiation in a conscious way, keeping things under control and avoiding uncontrolled escalations (or escalations controlled by the other party).

Now, there's no obligation and no reason for you to in any way let them know that you know their game plan.

So you just give them the sample they requested, which will from now on act as your fishing bait, you put on your psychological kevlar suit, sit back and watch as the bait does its work. And they aren't expecting it!

Something to consider:

If you actually paid for a marketing/advertising campaign, it would probably largely come down to highlighting your good work to date and the promise of more. Also targeted direct marketing would most probably involve having a decision-maker take a look at your existing work, be impressed and give you some projects as a result. And this is exactly what you're going to achieve by giving someone with decisionmaking authority a sample when requested.

The difference comes down to who's asking whom to show or look. Don't allow such meaningless minutiae to distract you from your goal, which is to close the deal by establishing your value — one way or other. Getting your way in the short term and in small details shouldn't distract you from getting your way in the long term and big picture.

And you aren't even sacrificing your queen here. It's a knight or bishop, tops.

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline. Th...