8 Ways to Rev Up Your Freelance Business Before the Holidays

Freelance_900

As we move into December with the holidays quickly approaching, your freelance work can slow down because many businesses go into vacation mode. If your workload is lighter than usual, we have a few tips for picking up new year-end business or revving up your freelance business in 2016.

1. Take Advantage of Holiday Promotions that Businesses Offer

Before and during the holidays, many B2C companies and some B2B companies are running online holiday promotions to increase revenue before the year ends. Whether you’re an IT professional, writer or in design/multimedia, you’ll find that many of your clients need extra help during this time to get their promotions online. Assuming you have a clientele list, contact existing and past clients and prospects to inquire whether they are in need of support during the holiday season.

2. It’s Winter – Time to Cold Call

The holiday season is a great time to cold call potential clients to which you can offer services. Making personal phone calls and creating individual email messages that address pain points that these potential clients might have is a good way to get your foot in the door. If they aren’t in need of your services during the month of December, they’ll likely be interested when the new year begins and their 2016 budgets are approved.

3. Perform Website Housekeeping

If you’re finding that your workload is a little light during the holiday season, take advantage of this time to improve your website. When you’re a freelancer and you generate clients from your website, you need to ensure it is optimized for search and conversions and that it also presents a favorable first impression.

Write down your objectives and ensure your website accurately reflects your goals. Highlight and showcase your latest and best work. If your website is out of date and looking a bit tired, don’t be afraid to update the theme. Ensure you utilize a responsive theme – meaning it adapts to mobile devices and functions great on any device. If you want to learn about new trends in web design, check out this great article from Search Engine Watch, “12 Good, Bad and Ugly Web Design Trends for 2016.”

4. Keep in Touch with Freelance Clients Via Holiday Cards

The holiday season is a perfect time to thank your freelance clients for their business during the year. Take a look at the clients in your Contacts App or database and create custom greeting cards that thank them for their support during the year. During the holiday season, many of us are bombarded with email promotions and we tend to tune them out. A snail mail greeting card can make you stand out in a crowd.

Consider including your brand, logo and contact information (in a tasteful way) on your greeting card to help your clients and prospects keep you on top of mind. Moreover, ensure that you write a personal message on each card. Cards Direct, TinyPrints and VistaPrint provide customizable greeting cards that you can utilize for this purpose.

5. Enhance Your Social Media Presence

Social media is a fantastic way to help freelancers drum up new business. If you’re already using social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, you know that it takes a significant amount of time to post new content each day. The slower holiday season is a perfect time to focus on your social media posts and interactions to highlight your best work, present yourself as a knowledgeable expert and to reconnect with clients and build prospects.

For example, if you’re a writer, highlight any articles or web copy that you created during the year on your social media channels. If you’re looking for holiday work, emphasize your holiday promotional materials. In addition, if you’re a graphic designer, social media is a great avenue for showing off your best visual content, especially if it’s holiday themed. Of course, it’s important to ensure any sharing is cleared with your clients.

6. Showcase Your Best and Newest Work Using Your Online Portfolio

If you’re in a creative field and you haven’t already done so, utilize this time to update, showcase and highlight your work with an online portfolio. Many companies use these sites to recruit their freelance and contract resources. Moreover, if you already have an online portfolio, the holiday season is a great time to update it with your best and latest work.

If online portfolio sites are new to you, check out the following websites:

  • Coroflot: Launched in 1997, Coroflot hosts over 2 million images and over 150,000 new projects are published each month.
  • Dribbble: Launched in 2009, Dribbble is described as a “show and tell” for designers. Illustrators, graphic designers and other creative professionals share small screenshots that show their work.
  • Behance Network: Launched in 2006, Behance is a growing business unit of Adobe based in New York City. It allows you to create a portfolio that’s connected so you can update work in one place and easily broadcast it.
  • CarbonMade: Launched in 2005, CarbonMade showcases more than 950,000 portfolios for illustrators, copywriters, fashion designers, stylists and others.

7. Network, Network, Network

When you’re a freelancer, it’s very important to network with friends, family, colleagues and other connections especially if you’re a social person – not just to gain clients, but for your happiness and well-being. The holiday season is an ideal time to reconnect with those you know over lunch, happy hours, parties or other social outlets. Keep in mind that referrals are super important for growing your freelance business. Utilize the holiday season to reconnect with past clients, ex-coworkers and friends. Explain to people in your network what you do, how you help businesses succeed or about the products that you sell.

8. Gain Recommendations and Testimonials

If you have some downtime during the holiday season, consider obtaining recommendations or testimonials from current or past clients and posting them on your website, social media accounts and online portfolio. Testimonials are equally as important as having an exceptional portfolio. Many freelancers obtain new clients from the endorsements of their current or past clients. This is why testimonials are of upmost importance when building a successful freelancing career.

An easy way to obtain recommendations is to utilize the LinkedIn “Request a Recommendation” tool. Alternatively, you can email clients or contact them via social media to request testimonials. There are also software solutions to help. Capture video testimonials with Bravo or use a product such as Boast to collect, organize and manage testimonials.

Your Turn

As a freelancer, what will you be doing to increase your success during the holiday season? Please comment and let us know.

10 Strategies for Solopreneurs and Entrepreneurs to Ease Overwhelm

Solopreneur

Solopreneurs, entrepreneurs and founders of early stage startups and businesses are frequently overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to get done. Being overwhelmed is a state of mind that is not always firmly planted in reality. It’s a direct result of the choices and actions that we take. There are several strategies for managing choices and actions that can ease these feelings of overwhelm.

If you’re one of the many who are overwhelmed, keep reading to learn about strategies to help you alleviate overwhelm, your workload, worry and stress.

1. Develop a Realistic Action Plan

Many solopreneurs and entrepreneurs are “idea people” and right-brain thinkers. They have an endless supply of innovative ideas for product, customer acquisition, and brand awareness; but they forget one of the most important strategies, which is to get these ideas into a system. They successfully build a business plan and a prototype – and perhaps they’ve sought and obtained investment from angel investors, but many fall short on implementation because they fail to develop a comprehensive action plan. They have too many ideas in their brains, but not in a well-structured plan, which leads to overwhelm over the number of things they need to do to get things done.

When you start your business, simplicity is key. It’s important to make a plan of action, but focus on the execution. Understand your long-term goals, and build an action plan for the first 30, 60 and 90 days based on those goals. Your plan should include the tasks, costs and schedules required to achieve the objectives of the business plan. Our advice is to use a mobile solution such as LifeTopix to record your goals, projects and tasks – and to store supporting information about those projects and tasks.

2. Trust Your Instincts to Make Decisions

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.

Solopreneurs and entrepreneurs make a variety of decisions every day and this can be overwhelming. Some take longer than others to make decisions – listing the pros and cons of their options; examining the data; and weighing their options. Decision-making takes time and energy, and when you’re starting a new business, you don’t have historical data to do a complete cost/benefit analysis.

Let go of overwhelm by trusting yourself. Your perseverance, intelligence and ingenuity got you started – now trust it to help you make the best decisions for your company. Take a test and learn approach. Trust your gut and instincts to help you make decisions, and stick with them until the data tells you otherwise.

3. Overcome Fear of Failure

Many solopreneurs and entrepreneurs suffer from fear of failure. It’s a natural feeling and no matter who you are, you’ve felt it in your life. Often times, fear of failure can cause anxiety and hold back progress. In fact, according to the article Fear of Failure by Timothy A. Pychyl, studies show that higher fear of failure leads to procrastination. As a result of your fears, procrastination leads to overwhelm because as you let things go, too many items pile up on your plate.

There are several strategies to overcome fear of failure, but first and foremost, you must have confidence that you’re doing the right things, have the right skills to do them, and know what it takes to achieve your goals.

4. Supercharge Health, Energy and Focus

Entrepreneurship requires strong energy and focus. Giving into distractions and shiny objects destroys focus and promotes overwhelm. Just like most things in life, developing good life habits that stimulate your energy level supports focus.

There are several ways to improve focus; however, some simple changes are to consume brain foods, exercise and learn to meditate.

The best brain foods contain omega-3 fats, and flavonoids and nonflavonoids (anti-oxidant compounds). Berries, salmon, avocados, walnuts, olive oil, spinach, dark chocolate and garlic are good choices. Limit partially hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, fructose, carbohydrates, gluten and processed foods.

Exercise is proven to improve focus, energy and attitude. The proper amount of exercise is debatable; however, guidelines from health organizations recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

These days, even western doctors recommend meditation to reduce stress, to improve focus and to promote better sleep habits. You can learn more about the benefits of meditation from the Mayo Clinic.

5. Get Support from Others

Much of success develops from having the support of your family, friends and others. If you don’t have this support, overwhelm can consume you. Before you start your business, ensure you build clear expectations with your partner, spouse, family members or others. Your time is precious and you will be pulled in many different directions.

Many of the day-to-day things that you accomplish in your personal life fall by the wayside when your business becomes your priority. Consider outsourcing activities such as house cleaning, lawn mowing and personal errands. Make meals easy by using pre-portioned, ready to cook meal delivery services such as Blue Apron or Plated.

6. Seek Advice from Successful Entrepreneurs

Support can also come from fellow solopreneurs and entrepreneurs. Knowing that others are going through the same journey is both encouraging and invigorating – and it can reduce your feelings of overwhelm.

You can find and get to know other entrepreneurs through Meetups, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, and other networking groups. Attend meetings, find a mentor and pick the brains of others to find effective strategies for your endeavor.

7. Keep Tools Simple

Many solopreneurs tend to jump in immediately with heavyweight cloud-based tech tools to run their businesses. Setting up this infrastructure can lead to overwhelm, especially when you’re flying solo.

It’s typically not necessary to invest in heavyweight marketing, customer support, human resources, operations and sales/CRM systems. Focus first on customer acquisition, then implement these tools as your business grows. You’ll know when it’s the right time.

8. Let Go of Perfectionism

Paul Arden once said,

Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it along the way.

When you’re already spread thin, having a tendency to set high standards can lead to overwhelm and put a stop to progress. Making mistakes and minor imperfections will happen. Don’t agonize over details and become overly cautious. Understand, as a solopreneur or entrepreneur that “perfect is the enemy of good.” Your desire for perfection can result in being your biggest impediment.

9. See the Forest For the Trees

At times, entrepreneurs can get too deep in the details, that they don’t see the big picture. Being hyper-focused on the details can overwhelm you and impede progress. For example, checking the language of an email campaign for the umpteenth time to decide which adjective works best is a waste of time. In the scope of things, it’s important to let go of these types of meaningless details and, instead, move quickly.

10. Consider Finding a Co-founder

If you’ve clearly defined your plan and it appears that realistically, there is simply too much work, you might consider finding a cofounder. As a solopreneur, this might be one of the biggest decisions that you make in your business. A co-founder is much like your life partner – they’ll be with you for the long haul so ensure their personality, energy, passion, skills and expertise complement those that you have.

Your Turn

As a solopreneur or entrepreneur, how do you avoid overwhelm and achieve success? Please share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

5 Ways Freelancers Can Develop Focus and Improve Productivity

Productive Freelancer

One of the greatest challenges of a freelancer or those who work from home is staying focused, which leads to improved productivity. Many freelancers indicate that technology distractions and boredom are the focus-zapping culprits that plague their days.

Traditional workers might be in disbelief when the freelancer complains that they’re troubled by distractions. In their opinion, the freelancer doesn’t deal with loud office mates, chattering colleagues, persistent pestering from a helicopter boss and the never-ending meetings.

The distractions that freelancers face differ from those of the traditional worker. For example, in our modern environments, we’re bombarded with information that is competing for our attention. Facebook, Twitter and text messages are just to name a few. As marketers get more and more savvy and the messages and information we see become more and more personalized, it’s harder to resist the temptations that are presented – especially when unsupervised and when managing our own deadlines.

For freelancers, increased productivity means a bigger payday so the benefits of increased focus are clear. If you too are plagued by distractions, keep reading to learn a few tricks to increase your focus.

1. Turn Off Notifications

If universities offered Productivity 101 classes, this nugget of advice would be offered on day one. If you haven’t already turned off your visual and audible notifications on your devices from text messages, email, phone, apps and social media, then start today.

If the nature of your work or personal life prevents this strategy, turn off as many notifications as possible or schedule blocks of time or “sprints,” as described in the next section, without distracting notifications.

2. Take a Break Every 90 Minutes

Studies show that our brains can only focus for about 90 to 120 minutes at a time. Working for 90 minutes without interruptions and then taking 10 to 20 minute breaks in between each work sprint can boost focus and productivity.

There’s science that backs up this theory. Nathaniel Kleitman is credited for discovering the “basic rest-activity cycle,” which is described as cyclical sleep stages that start from light sleep and progress to deep sleep. Each cycle takes from 90 to 110 minutes.

What you might not know is that these 90-minute cycles also apply to daytime, which researchers describe as “ultradian rhythms.” Incorporating these cycles into your work pattern can greatly improve focus and productivity. You’ll also feel more refreshed at the end of the day.

An easy way to set 90 or 110-minute time blocks is to use your smartphone. If you’re using an iPhone, use the Timer function in your Clock app.

3. Learn to Focus Through Meditation or Yoga

As mentioned earlier, the messages and information we see on the Internet become more and more personalized and it’s harder to resist the temptations we see. In addition stress builds up as a result of this information overload. Practicing meditation and yoga can train your brain to focus and to make better decisions – thus, not giving in to those distractions.

Skeptical? There’s proven science that backs it up. Some studies show that meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, decreases the volume of grey matter in the amygdala and increases the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala controls your “flight or fight” responses while the pre-frontal cortex controls planning, emotions and decision-making. Consequently, a regular practice of meditation can increase your power to concentrate and focus.

4. Use a Digital To Do List or Task Manager

When you don’t have a clear plan for the day, you tend to just go with the flow and nasty distractions rear their ugly heads. Before you know it, you’re updating your Facebook status bragging about the five-pound bass you just caught or that your golf score broke 100.

It’s important to build a roadmap for the day. To improve focus, a great use of technology is to use a productivity app with a digital to-do list or task manager, such as LifeTopix. With this all-in-one organizer, you can easily re-prioritize, update, copy and share your to do list and tasks. I suggest that you create a to do list every morning and review what you completed at the end of each day and re-prioritize as necessary.

5. Zap Boredom

Boredom – need I say more? Boredom can destroy your focus and energy before you even know what happened. Have you noticed that when you’re bored every distraction becomes more and more tempting?

Boredom is generally a result of monotonous tasks. I found a great technology solution to this problem – “Automation.” If you automate as many mundane tasks as possible, you can focus on more interesting and lucrative freelance work.

A great tool for automation is IFTTT. Essentially IFTTT is your personal assistant for your social media posts, applications you use and your smart devices. Essentially, you create “recipes” or use others’ published recipes, which are conditional statements triggered by changes that occur on the web. For example, when you create a new blog post, an IFTTT recipe can automatically post it to all your social networks. The good news is that you don’t need to be a programmer to use it.

As a freelancer, do you ever get distracted? What are your methods for staying focused? Please share and comment.

Freelance Writing Organization: Spreadsheets, Money, and Pretty Colors

 

Freelance Writing

Guest Author, Sulagna Misra, talks about challenges with organizing her writing schedules and deadlines as a freelance author. More on the author below.

I got a check in the mail today! It was great until I realized it was for two different invoices — #5 and #7, which means I wasn’t being paid consecutively. I checked past checks and saw I had been paid for invoices #1 and #4. I double-checked the excel spreadsheet where I keep track of all these payments – blue stands for published and paid, orange stands for published and unpaid, etc. – to highlight the correct ones. The spreadsheet is more orange than blue, and also contains a huge patch of red – the color of stuff I should be working on.

Admittedly, most of those things are blessedly free from deadlines. And it took me forever to get to that level of red – in the beginning I did not even need a chart to keep track of my work, because I would work on one essay at a time. After it would publish I would agonize over the fact that I had nothing in the pipeline and spend the next few days pitching ideas and letting my anxiety and fear fuel me. Would I ever write again? Was that last essay my final hurrah?

To my shock, this has yet to be the case. In part because of my anxiety, I now have a wealth of editors to pitch to and a long list of essays to write. The problem was that my mind had yet to catch up with my work. I had left my job in August to work on writing full time and it took me until this past dark wintry February to realize that while I had a lot of work I needed to be doing, I would wake up in the morning still unsure of what my schedule was to be that day. Usually I would keep a cluster of notes on an essay before taking the day of the deadline to finish the piece and send it to the editor. I still do this, but at the time it had become unsustainable, as I realized when I had three deadlines for three articles due on the same day. I had to email each editor to ask for more time, and while it worked out fine in the end, I realized I needed more organization in my life.

First, I needed a writing schedule that staggered out my deadlines, anticipated that I would gain work in the future, and gave me an idea of what I needed to accomplish each day. And while I am an anxious person, I’m also very much about looking for any available possible opportunities both in terms of interesting people and interesting work, so my days could be quite nebulous – I wouldn’t know when I would get edits on a certain piece, or hear back about a pitch and either have new work or want to pitch the idea elsewhere. I bought a notebook and created and drew in my own schedule for these things, creating a weekly agenda but with two extra columns: one for what happened beyond my to-do list that would factor into future to-do lists and another for interesting, fun things: having a piece published, finishing a book or watching a TV show, making a new connection, even hearing a nice comment or seeing a friend. The last column was to appease my anxiety — when I felt unproductive or like a failure, a gratitude column gave me a way to put things in perspective.

Second, I reorganized the aforementioned excel spreadsheet. I separated 2014 and 2015, separated what was already published and what was in progress, and made note of what exactly had been paid. After a muddle with invoice numbers, I always checked to see what each check was paying for, and noted when I received them. (I already deposited them immediately through my bank’s mobile app, though. I don’t understand people who wait! It’s your hard-earned money! How can you stand waiting for it?) I’m still waiting on one outlet to pay me – if I don’t get a check this week they will get a flurry of stern emails – but I always feel calmer when I know the rhythms of how a place pays me, even if it takes two months. Yes, I know they all have to pay me, but it’s the same problem as the Anxiety of the Final Essay – if they have yet to pay me, I wonder if they’ll ever pay me.

Third, after reading a particularly horrifying article on how a writer’s clips disappeared from the internet as the sites they worked at went defunct, I archived all my past clips. It was beyond time to do so, anyway – I had enough clips that I couldn’t easily ramble off each one I’d written anymore. I also created subfolders in my “Freelancing” folder, putting invoices and articles and notes in a folder marked with each outlet. It isn’t yet perfect – I still have random documents floating around in that folder – but it’s given me a system to stick to from now on. Now every week, I take about fifteen minutes and update my website (http://sulagnamisra.com) with newly published pieces.

And fourth, I kept track of the money. On the advice of my family’s accountant, I went back through my cards and bank accounts to note my taxable spending in January, February, and March, in order to gear up for paying my first freelance balance in April. I’ve decided to spend about fifteen minutes a week on that as well. I also created sections in my work spreadsheet so I could sum up how much money I had made and could expect to be paid and how much money I could expect to make in the future based on my in progress projects.

I am so, so grateful to my system now, as it saves me a lot of worry and has helped me figure out steps to prevent unneeded stress and burnout from excessive work. Unfortunately, it has also given me the time and mental space to think of new projects. So I might end up creating five, six, or seven more points of organization in my life.

 

Sulagna Misra, in her own words, is “a freelance writer in New York. She also draws, reads, blogs, reblogs, edits, journals, scribbles, and watches things, like TV and gifs and the bug that just ran across the floor, ahhh!!” Sulagna Misra on Twitter.