BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

How to freelance ... starting TODAY!

OK, so I'm a member of IWOC (Independent Writers of Chicago – kind of like Ewoks, but somewhat bigger and less furry), and have been pretty diligent in attending meetings. A month or so back, the presenter was one of our members talking about “Maximizing Your Freelance Income” … a subject dear to my heart wallet. Her presentation was fairly useful, and she (of course) was eventually pitching her book on the subject. Now, after my years of penning the looking-for-work blog over on Chicago Now, The Job Stalker, (and reviewing numerous books for that) I have a certain cynicism about “how to” books, having found that the vast majority of these (especially in the job search niche – which this comes close to as a “finding work” book) are typically useless, unless one is in a particularly small slice out of the Venn Diagram of the author's experience (with some examples being sufficiently idiosyncratic to be of use to an audience of one). So, to a large extent, I ordered Diana Schneidman's Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less “just to be polite”, without any great expectations that it would be a help.

Fortunately, I found this to be one of those rare and wondrous books written by somebody who “has been in the trenches” and is not interested in blowing smoke up one's nether regions. Not that I'm going to be a big cheerleader for this either, as Ms. Schneidman is advocating a lot of processes that I have a great deal of resistance to (which is why I have never aspired to being a freelancer, but have only ended up needing to be one due to the notable paucity of full-time gigs for somebody in my demographic niche) … but I can recognize solid advice when I read it, and this book is chock full of it (no doubt why it has a 4.8/5.0 star rating on Amazon).

And, while the book is structured on a very step-by-step arc (including stuff you want to do now and stuff that sounds like it might be important to do that can be basically put off until never), it's comfortably nestled into a continuing series of reminiscences from the author's own life … starting with one of her (three that she was raising on her own) kids asking her, when she was coming home with tear-reddened eyes and a boxful of desk items, “You've been fired again, right?” … a context that makes even the most resistance-producing instructions ring as true, and, perhaps, necessary. She notes right up front: “You don't need passion right now. You don't need the answer to every question and comfort for every self-doubt to get paying work. … Intelligent effort, applied consistently over time, will bring you success!” … and, as she further notes: “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

One of the things I liked most about how the book is set up is that there are these “to the point” sections at the end of each chapter which feature bullet points extracting the essence of the main action elements of each. They're not exactly the “Cliff's Notes” version that one could read through and pick up the basics of the book, but they function to “anchor” the main things you need to recall as you read through it.

Following the Introduction, she has a section called “Why Go Solopro?” (her term for the freelancer role here), with thirteen reasons … ranging from the basic: 1. Earn Money, to the somewhat esoteric: 11. Repair You Soul (which, frankly, spoke directly to me – in having been beaten down so much by job search frustration “that you exude, and therefore attract, negativity” and that the “small victories”, or, as she puts them “quick pats on the back” [noting “most people don't care enough to reject you!”] can build back up confidence and positivity). Also, as a “solopro”, you're not just a job seeker, you're a provider of services, and that's more positive as well.

In the first chapter she presents “three guiding ideas” for going solopro:
      – First, offer a service as similar as possible to what you did in your last good full-time job.
      – Second, contact the best prospects individually. And …
      – Third, get real! Let's define quickly as thirty days and not thirty minutes.
To this she adds what could be taken as “auto-suggestions” and their implementation:
      Your most important personal belief is that your work and your service are exceptional. You care deeply about your clients and do the best you can for them. You deserve top rates.
      Are these your beliefs? If not, make them true or get out of the business. Are you exceptional? Then believe you will succeed. And if you don't believe you are exceptional? Why not?
      If this is something you can fix, fix it immediately. Need more training? Sign up for it. Spend money on it if necessary. … Need more experience? Get it. It may be worth your while to work for free or at a low rate for a volunteer organization or smaller company. ...
The second step is “Determine Your Service and Your Niche” … with a hint to “Select a niche in which you can make a living.” … she gives the example that she at one point was writing résumés – this didn't conform to her further advice to “select one in which you feel comfortable charging an attractive fee for your work”, as she found herself constantly trimming her bills trying to be a “Girl Scout” (“if you don't have the guts to require payment for all the hours you work, you're a Girl Scout”) – and eventually had to focus on doing writing for the insurance and asset management industries.

The third step is “Take a Grown-Up Approach to Marketing” … this chapter runs through quite a lot of material and situations, but one key element is under the heading “Embrace what does not come naturally.”
      If phoning is the most effective means of finding buyers for your service, and I'm here to tell you it often is, then you pick up the phone.
      If you dread telephoning or any other direct interaction with prospects and clients, consider it is more efficient to push beyond your comfort zone than to constrict your marketing effort around your fears.
That last bit could just as well have been directly addressed to me … she even suggests the possibility of hiring a coach to help one start phoning. This takes us right into Step 4 - “Say "Hi" to Our Friend the Phone” … a chapter that is very dense with details, from sample scripts to pre-call checklists, to “philosophical” bits like:
      The authorities preach that knowing and liking mus precede trusting, but that hasn't been my experience as a freelancer. I've found it easy to skip directly to trust. And to me, establishing trust is the essence of what I'm doing when I call prospects.
One of the essential things here is “the list” … which she discusses various ways of developing. If you're going to make her recommended call volume you'll need a serious list, as she says “the secret” of getting solid, dependable, freelance work is to call large numbers of people … and, yeah, I was horrified when I saw the number she was thinking of … 1,000 … yep, a thousand names … did I mention “resistance”?
      You only need to make fifty calls a day. Then do that five work days a week for four weeks. At the end of four weeks you will have made 1,000 calls.

      What's it like in practice to make 1,000 calls in a single month? Well, I still don't know. Every time work has slowed down … I've resumed marketing and have filled my plate with assignments way before I have completed 1,000. …

… The 1,000 number is for those who are highly motivated to earn money quickly. Alternatively, it is for those who are desperate . (The two situations can be pretty similar in real life.) Either way, it is a course of intense action to obtain paying results soon. … But the more calls you make, the faster you get work.
Now, how can you tell how you're doing? (I really hate this part too.) In terms of people who are interested (not necessarily giving you assignments at this time), “5% is tremendous, 2% is excellent, and 1% is acceptable”. Schneidman makes the point that those 99-95% of essential “no” (or “null”, as most of the time you'll simply be ignored) responses are NOT rejections … of course, being the type of guy who wants to curl up in a ball under his desk after “no” number 3 (out of 1k???), that's hard for me to process.

Oh, and she recommends keeping a spreadsheet of your calls … this not only appeals to my OCD tendencies, but it removes that “am I being a nuisance?” thinking … if somebody tells you to not call again, you can make sure they're on your own personal “do not call” list.

Step 5 is “Price, Bill, and Collect for Success” … in which the author delves into how much to charge (by the hour, by the project, or by the “value”), how to determine hourly rates (this is one thing I've fallen down on before), gauging competition and market rates, etc. … and goes into pages and pages and pages on how to present, negotiate and stay firm on your fees. She also provides a sample invoice, and goes into detail on how to collect when the client isn't being financially forthcoming. She also insists that the first thing you do every morning is determine if you should be invoicing a client, and then getting that out to them (“Never postpone invoicing more than twenty-four hours from the event that triggers it.” – I've been bad on this one as well).

Step 6 is “Manage Yourself: Do the Work and Manage Your Time” … interestingly, this starts out in the “philosophy” sphere – with defining what you're doing – come up with an “I am” statement, “I am a writer”, or “I design”, or whatever your particular thing is. This is again one of those auto-suggestion kinds of approaches … it solidifies the reality as opposed to a a vague or future-looking phrase. The solopro has a challenge in time management, as there is doing the work and there is getting the work and only one of those is billable. She suggests that the second task (following getting the invoices out) is doing a top-priority task that one has determined (and written down) the previous evening.

Step 7 is quite a firehose of information … it is “Start Fast! Get Up and Running in One Day” and is just what it sounds like – a step-by-step walk through of getting your solopro business up and running NOW. This is structured as a 15-item checklist that gives you the broad strokes of each element, the time estimation she figures for that, and a list of “next steps” for these (obviously, not in the one-day estimate). She has a section up front on this called “Let me make many of your decisions.” which she does rather bluntly all through this (your logo will be blue, your font will be Verdana, she gives you a specific template for an email sig, etc.) … which no doubt aids in being able to get all 15 elements of starting your business done in a day! This chapter also has a plan for Day Two … which should include phone calls … but also sets up a few things that might take a bit more time (a portfolio, a website, etc.). Which then brings us to Step 8 (which I sort of alluded to up top), which is “Stand Still! Postpone These Marketing Techniques Until Later … or Until Never” and includes a list of 17 activities that she argues against. Some of these are practical (like don't email to info@ addresses – get the actual target email), some of them are … well, a bit odd (like “Don't attend networking meetings.” – when I've been attending at least two a week for years – but given my success rate for finding a job, she might have something there).

The book ends up with a couple of Appendixes, first a very brief one with sample prospecting email copy, and then one that's written by somebody else on the subject of becoming a Virtual Assistant. I found this latter inclusion, frankly bizarre, as it kind of veered off into a whole different area (I suppose it could be argued that being a V.A. Is sort of like being a type of freelancer, but still), and left me wondering what the author of that piece “had on” Ms. Schneidman to get it inserted in the book!

Anyway, as noted above, Real Skills, Real Income is quite a system for getting somebody up and running as a freelancer FAST … and nothing in it (except for the second Appendix) seemed off-kilter – even if frequently running counter to my own comfort zones. The cover price on this is pretty reasonable, and the on-line big boys have it at a bit of a discount. If you are considering going into the “solopro” channel, I'd definitely recommend you picking up a copy … great “been there, done that” words of wisdom here!

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Tags: book review
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