Reader’s letters: How do I find clients and get paid?

I received this message via Facebook and will answer it here so everyone can read the reply.

“Hi, I need your advise and thoughts. I am a SharePoint trainer cum Consultant. I have been working since 2006 and started freelance in 2015. It was a terrible ride. In my country, many trainers are not paid by institutes who force the trainers to do hectic training. I was lucky to get paid though the payment came after 45 days. It was very difficult. Many many clients from USA used to make me work very hard and some forget to pay. I used to put police/lawyer in cc and somehow got my money from various clients. Some did not even listen to police and abused me who used to ask to me to work and never pay.

Things have not changed much in 2019 also. Many students are terrible who do not even do assignments. I have tried Udemy which is little ok, however the pricing is terribly cheap and many students are getting my content for almost free and I am struggling to get needs met. I am pained. I do like making self paced videos, blogs etc, however, slowly I want people to pay. Also, I tried consulting and again one client in USA did the same thing of not paying and making me work.

I have stopped the client search till July. I get disturbed by many though who want my help and have no sense to pay. At least Youtube students were thankful and the udemy students are very abusive. I am planning to use Thinkific. I am totally angry with majority clients and students and I just like my work and want money for my work and no clients. Good clients are/were there and one is free and other busy.

I still am positive and hope that good clients will come. I want to consult once I finish all my books and not really interested in selling/sharing all my codes. I want to do many apps and sell there again will people buy apps. I am pretty sure that there are clients who need my works and can pay. I used to get all I want in my life before. Very strange that the right clients are not able to reach me. I am expecting few or 1 long term. I am determined to make clients/students pay in full first.”

First off, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had trouble getting paid. That can be a major issue for freelancers. One of the best ways to avoid clients that do this is to use a contract where you receive a large portion of the fee up-front and the rest before delivery of the final deliverables. This will filter out the time wasters who don’t have any intention of paying you for your work. It can be scary reducing your number of clients, but you’re better off not working with people where you stand a chance of not getting paid. You can then spend your time finding better clients and doing good work for them.

It’s sadly the case that many business people will play ‘hard ball’ and will either stall payment, need to be threatened to pay up or never actually pay at all.

The second point I get from your message is that while you have some valuable you’re trying various things and none of them are paying off. It can be hard to find your market, but changing approach or platform constantly means you’re always starting from scratch. Leaving bad platforms or changing tactics isn’t a bad thing if it’s not working however. The market is out there – you’ve just got to reach it!

I started off by doing a couple of websites for cheap and paying people to refer me. This mushroomed into a full time business within a year without having to spend a lot on marketing. If I was starting again, I’d specialise in one thing, build a portfolio, use a blog/book/YouTube channel to build credibility and then start marketing to the people I wanted to work with. More tips on how to become a freelancer

Choosing clients is very important so you do good work, get paid and get good referrals. I’m skeptical about online freelance marketplaces, but if you want to work with people in different countries that might be the fastest way to get started.

Nick

Daily routine and how it can help your freelance career

Read on to find out the benefits of having a daily routine, rather than winging it.

I’m not a morning person. Every day I have to coax, persuade or downright trick myself out of bed to start the day. Whether it’s good coffee, bacon or an hour of gaming before I start work I sometimes have to get creative to escape the duvet. Once I’m out of bed, it takes a couple of hours to warm up enough that I can work effectively. Trying to start too quickly results in mistakes and frustration.

A good routine is vital to my productivity, as is setting a focus for the day and working towards medium term goals like the website redesign projects I often do. We get tired and distracted as the day goes on, so working on important things first makes it more likely they get done. Getting my thoughts in order is vital before I start work so I can focus.

After some experimenting and some mentoring, I settled on the following for my freelance life:

8am – Alarm, quick walk, breakfast, shower, get dressed in proper clothes
9am – Meditate and journal, set priorities for the day
10am – Begin focused, scheduled work
11.15 – Short break, move around
1pm – Lunch
2pm – Check emails and phone messages, admin, meetings, smaller tasks
4pm – Short break, move around
5-6pm – Finish work, log time and go to gym/run/socialise
10pm – Stop using screens
11pm – Sleep

Weekends off

This routine ensures enough sleep, gets everything done and has space for exercise and socialising. Sitting down all day means I need to make sure I move around during the day and get runs or workouts in regularly to keep some kind of fitness. Working from home a lot of the time can be lonely, so planning social things in is vital. It also focuses me on paid, priority work instead of opening my emails first thing and getting waylaid with bitty tasks (more on email management here).

Some of us might tend towards being night owls. I’m curious if that could work – it’s tempting but there are definite benefits to sleeping when it’s dark and being awake when everyone else is too.

We all have fluctuating energy and focus levels during the day, so being freelance can be a great chance to work at our best times rather than when our boss says so. Being able to enjoy the sun/daylight in the UK (especially during winter) could result in a different routine that allow you to be outside during the short day and get your work done around that. If you’re an early riser, you could have a few hours racked up before us night people are even out of bed!

What does your daily routine look like? Let me know in the comments below…

Nick

Sales Tips For Freelancers

As freelancers we have to sell ourselves and our services to potential clients. Possibly due to shady tactics and high pressure sales from other people and companies (looking at you, car dealers), it’s easy to feel bad about ‘selling’. There’s no need however as it’s possible to sell yourself without any need to mislead or pressure people.

When thinking about ‘selling’ yourself or your services, it can be more useful to think about how you can clearly let people know what you can offer. It’s not hard selling but rather giving them the information and letting them make up their own minds.

Selling Yourself As A Freelancer

When speaking to potential clients, ask yourself can you do the job, and do you want to do the job? You can (probably) choose your jobs now you’re freelance. If it’s a good fit, then let them know and explain how you can help. Stating that you’re a ‘consultant’ or using other vague terms can turn a lot of people off as it sound expensive and it’s not clear what you offer.

I make websites, so if I’m talking to someone and can help, I let them know that I can design and build them a fast, easy to use and mobile friendly website that will help them promote their business. I don’t need to tell them I use Sketch, code in PHP or jQuery and use SASS. They don’t care about that bit – they want the end product.

I believe that confidence and clarity will get you more jobs. If people trust you can do the job, you’re enthusiastic and are clear about the end result it’s an easy choice for them.

Selling your Products and Services

When selling your products and services you can ask yourself is it a good fit and is this what they need right now? Selling people things you know are not fit for purpose or that they don’t need is pretty shady – leave that to telesales drones and used car salespeople. Chances are you went freelance to avoid the shady end of business and do good work, so these questions will help you stick to that.

Ask for the sale

After discussing things with a potential client and providing a quote, ask if that is within their budget and if they’d like to go ahead. There’s no need for months of back and forth or work up front – they either want it or they don’t. It’s up to you whether you negotiate, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to pay your bills and continue to do good work for people.

There are people out there who will try and waste your time either by being confused, or more rarely, because they enjoy it. Don’t let them steal your time – move on to better prospects.

Summary

I’ve covered some selling tips for freelancers including asking if the job is a good fit and if you can deliver, as well as being clear about what you can offer and asking for the sale.

Tech security tips for freelancers and digital nomads

While working remotely from Thailand, Bali, Gran Canaria and Lisbon I have seen a worrying lack of security awareness in fellow nomads.  We’re responsible for not only our own data and passwords but also client related files and passwords so a security breach would be more significant than a tourist losing their phone. This is even more important in light of the recent GDPR laws in the UK and the consequences of breaking them. Here are a few simple tech security tips for any freelancers or digital nomads working on the road.

VPN

Some websites are blocked in other countries and a VPN gets around this. I was using Tunnelbear (love their branding) but found that FTP connections to our server were not reliable via this VPN so I switched to Private Internet Access which has worked great. It runs on my laptop, tablet and iOS/Android phones.

Another benefit of a VPN is that it secures your traffic which is peace of mind when working from busy coworking spaces and cafes.

Password manager

With sites and services constantly getting attacked and compromised, it’s vital to have hard to crack, unique passwords. This makes remembering them hard though and that’s where a password manager comes in handy. I use 1Password as it works on my Mac, tablet and phones.

I also use the team version so my tech support guy can access client passwords without me having to provide them manually. Different password vaults allow granular access to various logins and passwords.

Cloud storage

The worst case scenario is losing the laptop and my data through theft or hardware failure. To get back up and running as fast as possible, I keep all my important data in cloud drive systems. I use (paid) Dropbox and (free) Google Drive.

I also keep filling my iCloud up with pictures of sunsets so can back files up to Dropbox or Google Photos to free up space and not have to pay for a larger iCloud account.

Drive encryption

To prepare for the worst, I encrypted my hard drive before leaving the UK. This way even if the laptop is stolen the data cannot be read without my login details.

Lock screen passcodes

I work from home most of the time in the UK so don’t have lock screen codes as they annoy me. I enable these on all devices while traveling though to reduce the chances of someone accessing my personal and business stuff.

Summary

These were some quick and easy security tips to help keep your data safe while working remotely as a freelancer or digital nomad.

How To Set Up A Freelancer Website

As a new freelancer you’ll probably need a website to promote yourself and your freelance services. You might be wondering how to set up a freelancer website. You can easily spend days of your life Googling things and getting confused. As a freelance web designer, I’ve got you covered with these tips.

Self Hosted or Website Platform?

You can either get your own website, or you can use a website builder like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace etc. If you want to get up and running quickly, a website builder can be a great choice. Once you’re established, making money and need something more customisable you can look at setting up your own site or having one designed for you.

Domain Name

Whatever option you choose, you will need a domain name. You can choose your name, company name or a keyword domain like freelancedesigner.com to try and get some search engine traffic. There are hundreds of domain registrars – I’d recommend sticking with a reputable one as losing access to your domain could be fatal to your business.

I’ve used Namecheap as they are, well, cheap for the first year. After ten years of using various domain registrars for myself and clients, I mostly use LCN.com as you can ring them up and speak to someone if you have an issue. I can’t stand 123reg, 1and1 and Heart.

Your emails will be something@yourdomain.com so choose wisely and avoid domains that are difficult to spell or appear unprofessional.

Domain Name System (DNS) Settings

If you want your emails in one place (like Google Apps) and your website somewhere else, you’ll have to make changes to the DNS settings on your domain. It’s fairly straightforward to do the above but you may need to read their help files, call support or get a technical mate to help.

Self Hosted

Website Hosting

Once you’ve got a domain name you’ll need some website hosting which is where your website and emails (probably) live. You can redirect your domain name to this hosting from the control panel of your domain registrar.

Alternatively, you can buy your domain and hosting from the same company and you won’t have to do this step.

Website Software

There are lots of options and I recommend using WordPress. It’s free, easy to use and has millions of themes and plugins available (also mostly free, or cheap). Old installs of WordPress can be easy to hack, but it’s also easy to keep WordPress up to date.  Crap passwords are also a security risk, so use a solid password and get a password manager app like Lastpass or 1password.

Website Theme

If you’re just starting off, get a simple free WordPress theme from the approved directory and you can upgrade to a custom theme further down the line. Getting distracted and wasting time messing around with the visuals of your site will prevent you from getting online quickly, so focus on getting a simple site with good content out there first.

Without wanting to sound harsh, hardly anyone is going to see your site to start with so don’t get hung up on details at this point.

Recommended WordPress Plugins

Here are some plugins we always install – they are regularly updated and don’t upsell too aggressively (apart from Yoast, but it’s an awesome free plugin so I’ll let them off)

  • Analytify – Adds Google Analytics tracking code to your site along with nice dashboard widget showing an overview of your traffic
  • Contact Form 7 – Allows you to add easily contact forms to your site
  • Yoast SEO – Allows you to optimise each page on your site with an easy to follow traffic light system
  • Wordfence – Security plugin that protects your login page and alerts you to any changed files or other weird stuff happening on your site.

Website Builders – Wix, Weebly, Squarespace etc

If you’re using Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or one that comes with your website hosting, these website builders allow you to login, choose a theme and create pages. You are limited in what you can achieve, but these systems are a great way to get started quickly, especially if you’re not very technically inclined.

Content Is King

Your content is absolutely vital. Having the right tone that matches how you do business, focusing on the benefits to the client rather than waffling about yourself and making sure it’s free from errors are key points. Employing a copywriter and/or proofreader can be a fantastic investment and mean the difference between people leaving your site or getting in touch.

Regular updates are vital too, if you want to get the attention of search engines. Projects you’re working on, opinion pieces about your industry and client feedback can all be great content for your site.

Search Engine Setup

A new site is unlikely to immediately appear in search results for any competitive keyword. 

You’re up against established sites that have been marketing themselves for years and might have a team of experts working on improving their rankings.

If you want instant traffic, you may need to pay for advertising and get busy on social media. We’ll cover marketing in a future article – for now make sure your site is running Google Analytics and you’ve set it up in Google Search Console so you get a heads up of any technical issues that might be preventing search engines from picking up your content.