Three Simple Tips For Managing Freelance Projects

In an ideal world, every client would have her act together.Desktop with Macbook, monitor, and notebook, etc.

 

But as fulfilling as a freelancer’s world is, it’s rarely ideal.

  • Some clients don’t know what they want.
  • Some clients change their minds—often.
  • Some clients don’t communicate well.
  • Some clients [Fill in the blank—the list goes on.]

 

Besides doing your craft well, freelancing demands a flair for project management, too. You will find yourself in situations when you’ll need to grab the reins to keep assignments on track.

 

That means having your act together. Here are three simple steps to help start projects on a clear note and see them through successfully.

1. Get confirmation of all deliverables and determine dependencies BEFORE you start the project and agree to a deadline.

Often, projects involve more than just your work. For example, if I’m writing content for a website, I typically cannot begin until the layout of the site is determined and SEO requirements have been defined. Make it clear that your ability to start or finish your to-dos is dependent on others pulling their weight. If you have slackers on a project team, you will need additional time to complete your work.

 

2. Reserve time on your calendar for the different components you need to tackle.

This will save you headaches and help prevent the onset of panic attacks because you’ll have a plan for getting your work done.

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” said a wise man named Benjamin Franklin.

Block out periods of time on your calendar for attending to the tasks associated with the project. It’s best to overestimate to give yourself some wiggle room in case not everything goes as planned.

 

3. Ask for feedback as you go.

Presenting your entire body of work at the project deadline can lead to disaster. Just one incorrect element or a misunderstanding can snowball into a giant re-do requiring hours and hours and hours of labor.

To get a pulse on whether or not you’re on target with your work, check in with clients regularly to present sections of completed work. As you get feedback and input, you can fine-tune what you’ve done and use that knowledge to make sure everything you do from that point onward will be closer to spot on.

I’ve found this tip invaluable. It enables me to make changes as I go in the event my writing tone is slightly off, or I need to rephrase certain terminology.

 

Keep Calm – And Get It Done.

Most freelancing projects are never completely free of challenges. But when you have a solid project management approach in your back pocket, you can keep a cool head and help steer the work process in the right direction.

 

What tips do you have for managing your freelance projects?

 

Is Fear Putting The Freeze On Your Small Business Dreams?

One of the biggest hurdles to accomplishing anything is gaining the confidence to get started. That’s certainly true for launchingMarie-Curie-Quote-Green-background-black-text your own business.

I was ‘fortunate’ when I started out as a freelance writer seven years ago. The corporation I had worked for (for 17 years) was acquired and my position was eliminated, therefore forcing me to buck up and make a change. What started out as a career upset has led me to this fulfilling career that offers flexibility and an opportunity to shape my own professional destiny.

But had I not needed to make a change, I honestly don’t know that I would have taken the leap. The prospect of self-employment was scary to me. Having been a SCORE mentor several years ago, I’ve talked to other aspiring entrepreneurs who have found it scary, too. So scary, in fact, that they failed to launch. They gave in and gave up before they got going.

Is fear standing in your way of starting your own business?

  • Fear of being laughed at
  • Fear of not knowing enough
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of wasting your time
  • Fear of other people’s criticism
  • Fear of not making enough money
  • Fear of hard work
  • Fear of letting other people down
  • Fear of letting yourself down

These fears aren’t to be downplayed as insignificant or silly, but they are to be overcome.

How can you do that?

  1. Assess your skills realistically, not through the lens of self-criticism.
  2. Do your homework to find out what’s involved.
  3. Prepare by making a plan.
  4. Start.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” ~ Marie Curie

 

Your turn! What fears are you facing in your business pursuits? What fears have you overcome and how have you done that?

4 Tips To Help Solopreneurs And Freelancers Survive Tax Time

stressed business woman with hand on head looking down on desk

Another tax season wrapped up for Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC.

 

[Sighs with relief.]

 

Over my past seven years as a self-employed freelancer, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ve learned some lessons—some painless, others excruciating.

 

I’ve listed them here, in hopes they might help you and other solopreneurs avoid stress (and distress) through your tax preparation process.

 

Four Tax Time Survival Tips For Freelancers and Solopreneurs

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Unless you are an accountant or professional tax advisor, I recommend getting help. Reputable professional tax preparers/advisors are on top of the latest changes and rules. They know what business expenses are deductible and whether you’ve categorized them appropriately. Having someone with that knowledge to guide you and raise red flags on bookkeeping that’s amiss can potentially save you from falling into hot water with the IRS and state. And recognize that bigger doesn’t mean better. I used a larger accounting/tax preparation firm, but after a few years of not getting timely responses to questions and being treated like just a number, I switched to a solopreneur tax adviser/preparer. He has been far more thorough and attentive—and less expensive.

 

  1. It pays to keep your act together all year long.

The more organized you are year-round, the more painless the tax return filing process will be. Track your income and expenses when they occur rather than allowing deposit slips and receipts to pile up. For my business, I use QuickBooks online, which I’ve found to have intuitive software with the intelligence to automatically categorize expenses correctly through ‘remembering’ what I’ve entered in the past. Regardless of what system or software you use, you need to put forth effort to make sure you haven’t missed anything that will impact your taxes. Good luck to you if you ignore that responsibility until tax time is upon you!

 

  1. Yours and your clients’ records might not match.

It happens. For example, I discovered a client mistakenly included a payment they made to another vendor in the amount on my 1099. I also had a client who included payments made in the new tax year on the 1099 for the tax year prior. To make incidents like these less of a hassle, consider confirming 1099 amounts with your clients before they send their forms to you. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to verify their records match yours in advance of when they or their accountants prepare and submit their forms. By doing so, if you find discrepancies, you and your clients can investigate and correct them right away. If errors are in your clients’ records, you’ll save them the trouble of issuing a corrected 1099. If the errors are in your records, you’ll be able to make the correction and ensure you’re including accurate income amounts on your tax return.

 

  1. What you don’t know could hurt you.

Twice—that’s right, twice—in my seven years of self-employment, I underestimated my revenue and I failed to pay enough tax. As a result, I had to write a substantive check to Uncle Sam upon filing my taxes for those years. That hurt—especially because I had to also cut a check for my quarterly estimated tax payments by April 15. Double whammy! My suggestion to you is to watch your net income closely and adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments if needed so you’re not stuck owing a bundle at tax filing time. In my case, I’ve found checking in with my tax advisor mid-year has helped. I send my profit and loss statement and other info as requested to him at least once during the tax year, so he can let me know if I should increase or decrease my quarterly payments.

 

Keep Calm: And Make Tax Time Less Taxing

Paying taxes is not the most glamorous part of having your own business, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a massively difficult ordeal. I hope considering these lessons learned along with getting the help of a qualified tax advisor will help you minimize some of the stress that accompanies tax time.

 

Your turn! What tips can you share with other small business owners to help them make tax time less tumultuous?

Freelancers And Small Business Owners: Being Great At Your Craft Isn’t Enough

You’re an experienced and talented [insert professional specialty here]. That’s a fabulous selling point, but it may not be enough Black text Value Is Everything on blue backgroundto attract your ideal clients or keep them happy for the long-term.

 

Sure, when you excel at the work you do, you have a competitive edge. To sharpen that edge, however, you may need to demonstrate other important skills, too.

 

Besides seeing yourself as a freelancer/professional extraordinaire doing your craft, strive to fulfill other roles, as well, to make yourself an invaluable resource to your customers.

 

Three Personas To Improve Your Professionalism

 

Competent Project Manager

Some clients have it all together—others not so much. If you have project management skills, you can fill a critical void for customers who lack the ability to organize efforts and keep projects on track. I was fortunate to have had the experience of working as a telecom product manager in my past career. Tasked with managing time lines and deliverables across various groups, the competence I developed in coordinating projects has become one of my biggest value propositions as a freelance writer.

 

Kick-Ass Communicator

Describing products and services, proposing rates, setting expectations, confirming responsibilities, explaining processes, and so on—things every business owner needs to do almost daily—all require communicating clearly. Concentrate on organizing your thoughts and getting to the point in conversations written and spoken. As an accomplished communicator, you can more effectively avoid misunderstandings and ensure you and your clients will be on the same page.

 

Intuitive Listener

Listening so you absorb what clients are saying, recognizing the motivation behind their words, and going a little above and beyond to understand their challenges can really set you apart. By getting to the heart of your clients’ issues rather than simply treating symptoms with Band-Aid solutions, you will earn trust, respect, and hopefully long-term business relationships. For example, I regularly have prospects come to me thinking their websites’ existing content is why they aren’t generating online leads. But after listening to them, reviewing their content, and looking at the big picture, I often find content alone isn’t their problem, and my services independently wouldn’t significantly improve their outcomes. In those situations, I refer these customers to other professionals who have the ability to fill the voids I cannot (like website design/development, SEO, and social media strategy).

 

The Value Of Being More

By developing these identities within your professional persona, you become more than just a service provider—you become an indispensable asset to your clients.

 

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” ~ Warren Buffett

 

Give them value and you’ll gain trust, respect, and loyalty.

 

What will you do to be more today?

What if? “La La Land”-inspired Food For Thought For Small Business Owners

If you wander back in time through my posts on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll find evidence I fell in love with the movie “La La Land.”

I’m often skeptical when a film gets obscene amounts of accolades, but this one deserves every single ounce of the kudos heaped Screen shot of Dawn Mentzer's Facebook post about movie La La Landupon it.

It’s a story of chasing dreams, the sting of reality, love found, hopes dashed, and fresh starts.

It’s also a story of “what ifs.” It’s a story of looking back and wondering how life and career would be different if we had done just one thing differently.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? Personally and professionally we wonder what our lives would be like if we had made other choices.

What if I had said that more tactfully?

What if I hadn’t lost my temper?

What if I had gone to that networking event?

What if I had quoted a different rate for that project?

What if I had said “no”?

What if I had said “yes”?

What if I had taken my time?

What if I had been more careful?

What if I hadn’t jumped to conclusions?

What if I had told the truth?

What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?

What if I had spoken my mind?

What if I had tried to be more understanding?

What if I had tried harder?

What if I had been more caring?

What if I hadn’t given up?

Every decision we make, every action we take—no matter how seemingly insignificant—affects how the future will progress. Turning down a coffee meeting, posting a contradictory comment on someone’s social media post, deleting an email before reading it…you never know when something you decide to do—or not do—will make or break opportunities and shape how your relationships develop.

What if we all put a little more thought into the little decisions we make every day?

Your turn: What “what ifs” make you wonder how things might be different today if you had made some other choices yesterday?

The Satisfaction Of Creating Doesn’t Pay The Bills

Some people would have you believe if you want a profitable business in a creative field, something’s not morally right with you.Words "Reality Check" In blue and yellow on white background

Sadly, in certain social circles there’s some stigma attached to wanting to make money so you can afford nice things and take part in the recreational pursuits you enjoy.

 

As someone who is self-employed in a creative role, I’ve sometimes questioned my motivation, purpose, and the rates I charge upon reading articles and social media posts that hint we’re misguided if we’re looking out for our bottom line.

 

Enough already.

 

Starving Artist Reality Check

There’s no shame in wanting to come out ahead and have the means to provide for yourself and your family.

 

Not every creative professional finds glory in “starving artist” status. While the creative process is enough to satisfy some writers, painters, photographers, and other artistic sorts, others of us want to make a decent living and have a little extra for our trouble and talent, as well. We want not only the satisfaction of creating, but we also aspire to achieve and sustain a desirable standard of living.

 

Don’t let anyone fool you. Wanting to do well financially in your business of being a creative doesn’t make you greedy, self-centered, or unethical.

 

To the contrary, it demands you must be even more fair, customer-focused, and responsible.

 

Running a profitable business in a creative field doesn’t mean you’ve sold out. It instead shows you have the heart, soul, and determination to not only survive but also thrive when doing the work you love.

 

Think and share your thoughts: Have your love of creativity and desire for profitability ever collided? How have you struck the right balance?

Three Sure-Fire Cost-Cutting Moves For Solopreneurs And Small Business Owners

Ever since I started my own solo business, something a SCORE mentor said during a startup workshop six years ago has stuck Dollar bills graphicwith me:

 

“Money is the language of business. For your business to thrive, you need to learn to speak the language.”

 

He didn’t mean that all that matters in business is the money, but rather that your business financials tell how effectively you’re running your business. You need to have some understanding of profit and loss and other accounting basics.

 

No business is too small to care about profitability. Even for a very small business like mine, a healthy profit matters.

 

But what if, like me, you only have so many viable options for increasing your revenue without adding headcount or complexity to your operations? How do you boost your profitability then?

 

I think you already know the answer: Cut costs.

 

Three Ways Your Small Business Can Cut Costs

 

Think Before You Spend

Is it a “must have” or a “nice to have”? Obviously, the “must haves”—the things you need to do your job and keep your business running—shouldn’t be ignored. But the “nice to haves” can usually wait.

 

Before you buy, ask yourself…

 

  • Do I need this to effectively create or deliver my products and services to my clients?
  • Will my brand be at a competitive disadvantage if I don’t buy this?
  • Can I make more money if I buy this?
  • Will I use this?

 

This applies to anything and everything—from business software to networking group memberships.

 

Use Tools That Free Up Your Time

When you’re running a very small business, especially one that’s service-based, your time IS money. The more time you spend on the administrative and marketing aspects of your business, the less time you have to spend on revenue-producing work. Over the past several years, I’ve been using—and have seen others use—a number of online platforms and mobile apps that make various tasks far less cumbersome and time consuming.

 

A few you might want to check out include:

 

Quote Roller powered by PandaDoc – Online software for generating proposals and securing contracts

 

With Quote Roller becoming PandaDoc in 2015, the software also provides sales document management capabilities. I’ve been using Quote Roller for the past two years to send proposals to clients, which then become executed agreements when they sign off with their electronic signatures. With the ability to save pre-written text blocks to a library for future use, the platform makes it far quicker and easier to “roll out” proposals than crafting all pieces from scratch.

 

Trello – For coordinating efforts and managing projects

 

I’ve used several other project management tools when clients have insisted, and I have yet to experience one that is more streamlined and straightforward than Trello. The drag-and-drop interface and simple collaborative features have helped me keep projects with multiple moving parts and players well organized and on track.

 

QuickBooks Online* – For invoicing clients, recording all business financial transactions, and keeping tax information in one central place

 

I’ve used this for the past three years and I enjoy the intuitive interface in addition to the peace of mind that all of my financial data is automatically backed up.

 

Invoice2go – Mobile app providing the ability to invoice clients immediately onsite with a debit or credit card

 

Invoice2go can save entrepreneurs time and help them get paid faster by giving them a convenient, on-the-spot way to take care of business. I haven’t used this app because it’s rare that I would need to invoice clients at their locations, but I can see how it would save other small businesses a lot of time and headaches.

 

Hootsuite – Social media management tool for posting to and monitoring activity on social media platforms

 

I primarily use Hootsuite for keeping up with the fast pace of Twitter. It has saved me gobs of time, enabling me to see activity of users on my various Twitter lists through a single dashboard. And I don’t know what I’d do without the Hootlet browser extension. With it, I can compose and schedule tweets to share content directly from the web pages I’m visiting.

 

Shop Around For The Best Deal

I feel almost silly including this tip, but I know people who buy from the first place they find an item if the price sounds reasonable enough. As you’re equipping your office, whether it’s at home or at another site, look for sales and special deals in print and online. It just seems wrong to buy anything (especially big ticket items like copiers/printers, computers, etc.) at full retail price when there are ALWAYS deals somewhere at all times. Yes, it may take a little research and time, but what you save will likely make it well worth your while.

 

Frugality Pays Off  

Don’t confuse frugality with being cheap. There’s a difference.

 

If you’re frugal, you’re economically savvy and conscious of getting the best products and services at the best possible price.

 

Cheap means wanting whatever costs the very least regardless of quality.

 

Frugality will give you the wherewithal to cut costs without compromising your business integrity and reputation.

Four Common Email Shortcuts and Sidesteps That Could Cost You

When you have a crazy-busy schedule and not nearly enough hours in the day, it makes sense to look for ways to save time. As Email @ symbol and envelopeyou’re squeezing in everything you possibly can in the limited time you have, you might find yourself taking some shortcuts and sidesteps with mundane, everyday processes—like handling email.

 

While some of those shortcuts (such as setting up filters or a priority mailbox format) streamline and boost efficiency, others can potentially cause you to lose opportunities, put business relationships at risk, and…well…make you look like a fool.

 

Four Email Mistakes That Could Hurt Your Business

All of the below are oopses that I’ve made or that I’ve seen made first-hand. Are you guilty of any of them?

 

Never checking who has sent the emails that landed in your spam folder.

I’ve learned the hard way that emails from prospects and clients sometimes turn up in spam rather than my inbox. Don’t miss out on viable opportunities or important information by completely ignoring your spam folder or deleting emails in spam without checking who they’re from first.

Not double-checking (BEFORE you hit send) to make sure you’ve included only the intended recipients.

This can trip you up in many ways. You might send confidential information to someone you shouldn’t have disclosed it to. As a means of venting frustration, you might have written something not so favorable about someone and then inadvertently included that person in the distribution (This happened to one of my friends who is by all accounts an accomplished professional.)

Bcing (blind-copying) someone on an email.

This can set you up for another email faux pas. Under most circumstances, people Bc other people in emails when they secretly want to let those people know what they’ve sent to the “To” recipient(s). That’s fine and dandy until someone who has been Bced “replies all.” Yep. Awkward. It can destroy trust and create hard feelings. If you want to keep others in the loop, consider Ccing them so it’s all up-front or forward them the email you had sent to the recipient. The latter is more stealth than a Cc but less risky than rolling the dice with a Bc.

Thinking that you’ll remember to put a commitment on your calendar later.

Assume you won’t, and reserve the time as soon as you’ve responded to an email with agreement to a meeting, a task, or an event. If your brain is pulled in diverse directions at nearly all times, trust me on this—your memory isn’t as phenomenal as you think it is.

 

The Fix For These Email Faux Pas?

All it takes is a few extra seconds and some attention to make sure you don’t make any of the mistakes above. Your email communications have the potential to make or break your business relationships. Why risk missteps that could make you look unprofessional or alienate clients or project partners?

 

What other easily preventable email mistakes have you seen other professionals make? What’s the worst one you’ve ever made?

7 Signs It’s Time To Kick A Client To The Curb

Not all business is good business. I learned that early on when I first started my freelance writing business in 2010. And it’s aThanks But No Thanks piece of advice I give to every new freelancer who asks me for tips that might help them survive and thrive as a solopreneur.

 

Although turning away revenue isn’t typically an attractive option, for a variety of reasons, accepting work from a new client or continuing to work with an existing client may not be worth your while. Sometimes, earning a buck can cost you more time than you bargained for, frustrate you, and rob you of your mojo.

 

As an example:

 

Several years ago, I said “no” to a prospect who offered an ongoing writing/editing assignment for a print publication that would have given me a steady and perfectly respectable stream revenue indefinitely. During the contract discussion process, she was calling me multiple times every day to chitchat. And when I’d ask specific questions related to our prospective business relationship, she wouldn’t provide firm answers. Quickly, I realized she would completely deplete my energy and patience. Thanks, but no thanks.

And I’ve turned work away from other prospects and clients, as well, when I’ve seen signs of trouble and felt uneasy about going down the path of no return.

7 Reasons You Might Consider Kicking A Client (Or Prospect) To The Curb

If you have a prospective client or existing customer who exhibits any of following characteristics/qualities, you may want to second guess accepting work from them:

  • Always springs assignments on you at the very last minute.
  • Never knows what they want and then reprimands you for not being on target with what you deliver.
  • Tries to nickel and dime you.
  • Never pays on time and only pays after you’ve sent numerous payment due reminders.
  • Is so needy and demanding that they distract you from giving proper time and focus to clients who do value and respect you.
  • Calls or texts you at all hours of the day/night, expecting you to drop whatever you’re doing to tend to their needs.
  • Working with them drains you emotionally.

 

Sometimes it’s easier than others to recognize if you’re better off parting ways. Sometimes the signs are subtle and you need to go with your gut (which will become more intuitive with experience). But always pay attention to what will be in the best interest of you and your business.

 

Your turn! Have you ever kicked a client to the curb? What qualities or habits are deal breakers for you?

Three Vital Points To Keep In Mind When Creating Marketing Content

As I prepare to be a part of a marketing panel discussion in a few days, I’ve been thinking about content creation from a differentTo-Do-Creating-Content perspective.

 

If I weren’t a freelancer who writes content for a living, what questions would I have about content’s role in marketing?

 

One thing I’d want to get a grip on are the things I should consider regardless of the type of content I’m creating. So, here’s a question I anticipate receiving in some form during the panel event—and how I would answer it:

 

What does a business owner need to keep in mind when creating content as part of a comprehensive marketing plan?

 

  • Maintain a consistent voice for your brand.

Whether you’re a solopreneur who is the face of your business or a business owner or manager at a larger company with multiple people creating content for you, strive to make your content consistent in its “personality.” Your tone, your level of formality, your values…your brand’s voice is “who” your brand is more so than what your brand does. A consistent voice builds trust as it enables your audience to know what to expect of you. Don’t confuse “consistent” with “boring,” though. You can still be creative when developing content that’s consistent!

 

  • Don’t make content all about “me, me, me.”

Focus on what’s in it for your audience and not how spectacularly wonderful your company is. A constant barrage of content that sings a business’s praises rather than giving prospective customers information they can learn from or be entertained by is a turnoff. Write content that is audience-centric. Use more sentences with “you” rather than “we” or “I” as the subject, and share insight that will help customers live and work smarter, save money, save time, accomplish their goals…you get the idea. Yes, that may mean sharing bits of expertise for free.

  • Realize creating content doesn’t guarantee people will find and consume it.

There’s a lot of content out there competing for your audience’s eyeballs. YOU have to make the effort to get it in front of your customers. Share content on LinkedIn (if you publish it as a post, all your connections will be notified about it), include it in your status updates on your social media channels, send it to your email marketing list, and directly share it with individuals you absolutely know can benefit from it.

 

Of course, there’s far more to creating content and making it an integral part of your overall marketing strategy. But I think these three considerations stand as a good foundation for guiding how to approach the creation of content for your business.

Your turn: What underlying principles or rules do you follow in your content efforts?