I’m a Solopreneur and I Need HELP: How to Prepare to Outsource Tasks to an Independent Contractor

It’s a tricky spot to be in. You’re a solopreneur – an independent contractor to your clients – and now YOU are at capacitySolopreneurs sometimes need help and turn to independent contractors as personal assistants with your work and need to outsource some responsibilities. Whether you’re bringing in a virtual assistant or someone in your field who does some of the things you do on a freelance basis, you’ll want to prepare for the new working arrangement.

Before you hire an Independent Contractor consider having these things in place before you start working together:

A list of tasks/responsibilities you will delegate – While you might not have specific assignments determined, at least know and communicate the types of tasks you’ll be outsourcing. For example, a few of the things I’m getting assistance with include: research for blog posts, proofreading, and keeping record of my business mileage. You’ll want to discuss your needs with your independent contractor to make sure the work is in line with their expectations and capabilities.

Independent contracting agreement – Having one of these puts it in black and white that the person helping you is NOT an employee. That’s extremely important because they are responsible for submitting all applicable federal, state, and local income taxes, and you’re not responsible for providing health insurance or other benefits. Besides that, you can define the type of work the independent contractor will do and the compensation rate, which will confirm you mutually agree on those points.

You can find samples and templates of agreements online to use as a starting point, or perhaps one of your professional contacts might be willing to share their format with you. Here’s one on docracy.com that appears rather straightforward and customizable. When I created my independent contracting agreement, I was fortunate to have a template available to me via Gosmallbiz.com, a membership-based resource for small business owners. Having subscribed to pre-paid legal services through LegalShield, I also gained the benefit of membership to Gosmallbiz.com. After I tweaked the agreement template to include the particulars of my situation, I emailed the document for review to the law office assigned to me via LegalShield. I then made adjustments based on my attorney’s advice and forwarded the agreement to my new assistant.

Confidentiality agreement – While we’d all like to think the people we work with will respect our confidential and proprietary information, it doesn’t hurt to ask them to agree to it in writing. A confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement will state that the independent contractor will not share the  information you disclose to them with third parties or the public without your permission. Of course, any information already in the public domain or that is common knowledge doesn’t apply. This agreement is to get acknowledgement that your independent contractor isn’t going to share your financial info, business plans, client info, private emails, etc. with anyone without your O.K.

As with independent contracting agreements, you can also find plenty of sources of confidentiality agreement templates online (like this one on nolo.com for example). I found one through Gosmallbiz.com and added a non-compete clause.

I’ve also seen some examples of combined independent contracting and confidentiality agreements. Regardless, it’s advisable to have an attorney review any agreements you plan to use or sign.

A system for working together – The success of your working relationship will depend on how well you communicate and define how you’ll work together.

  • How will you exchange information?
  • How often will you meet or talk by phone?
  • When are tasks due?
  • Where will you store digital files that you both need to access?
  • How – and how often – will the contractor track and report her time?
  • What tools will you use to manage projects?

And prepare to have to write out processes for certain assignments. While they might be second nature to you because you’re so familiar with them, your independent contractor may need step-by-step instructions.

Going from doing everything yourself as a solopreneur to delegating tasks to another person is a big leap. Not only is it not easy to admit you can’t do it all effectively by yourself, but it can be difficult to put your trust in someone else. And you might question, will it be worth it?

There’s one way to find out.

Have you used an  independent contractor as a personal assistant in your solo business? What tips do you have to share with other solopreneurs?

(Please note that the content of this post is for informational purposes only and in now way should be considered legal advice.)

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

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Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Myths and Misconceptions about Freelancers

Although freelancing has become a popular and socially accepted professional path, a lot of people still have misconceptionsTrue/False Compass image about what freelancers are all about. Individual freelancers do what they do for diverse reasons, and they all operate in their own unique ways. While no two are exactly alike, there are some common myths about freelancers in general that sometimes lead to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations when working with them.

Myths and Misconceptions about Freelancers

 

Freelancers freelance because they’re between jobs or they can’t find a job.

The freelancers I know have marketable skills and talents that companies would be thrilled to have in-house. Having been approached about positions at several companies locally, I’d certainly like to think I could get a “day job” if I really wanted one. The freelancers in my circles have made an active decision to take that career path. They’re not doing it because they don’t have other options.

Freelancing is a “side job.”

While some freelancers hold other jobs and do their freelance work on the side, many are freelancers full-time. Freelancing is their business – and they treat it that way.

Freelancers will work for peanuts. 

Indeed, if you look for them on Elance or the like, you will find freelancers who work for next to nothing. Hire them and I guarantee you’ll get what you pay for. Most freelancers are professionals and know what they’re worth; they’re not going to accept less. Sure, at times we’ll meet clients in the middle if our rates and their budgets don’t match up, but we’re not desperate and won’t be intimidated or bullied into giving our time and talent away.

Freelancers have a lot of spare time. 

While that might be true of freelancers who are starting out, established freelancers have an established clientele and will probably have a full project schedule. Don’t wait until the last minute to call a freelancer about a project and expect them to turn it around the next day.

All Freelancers are introverts. 

Some are, but not all. I personally thrive on collaboration and interaction with clients and colleagues. Yes, I need my alone time to focus on projects and get my work done, but what I love most about freelancing is my limitless freedom to build relationships with others in the business community.

Freelancers are willing to work at all hours of the day and on weekends.

While working hours for freelancers can vary depending on their professional and personal situations, many of us like to have structure so we have some separation from our work to rest and refresh. Some freelancers will answer emails on evenings and weekends, some won’t. I occasionally will, but if a client starts to invade my personal time too much, I cease and desist. The best way to know what to expect with freelancers is to ask them about their working hours up front.

 

Freelancers work in their pajamas. 

OK, we all have at one time or another, but PJs aren’t the universally accepted uniform of the freelancer. Yes to comfy clothes in the home office, but working in what I slept in the night before isn’t conducive to productivity. Other freelancers have shared the same. Freelancers are hard-working professionals, not lazy loungers!

Again, all freelancers are unique and you’ll find exceptions to every rule. When or – better yet – before you work with freelancers, ask about their working style, typical project turn-around time, work hours and anything else that might impact how you collaborate and communicate. Realistic expectations and understanding are the keys to a mutually beneficial working relationship.

What other myths and misconceptions have you encountered about freelancers?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of David Castillo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Show that You Mean Business in your Freelance Business

One of the biggest challenges with a freelancing career can be getting others to recognize that you’re running a business. Serious business womanFriends, family, colleagues, and, yes, even clients – because they haven’t ventured down the path themselves – often have a difficult time grasping that like any other business, you have processes, procedures and boundaries. If you don’t yet have any operating principles for managing your business – and your time – you should really work on getting some in place. The first step in convincing others to take your business seriously is for you to take it seriously.

Your business. Your way.

Though you might not need a fully-documented operating procedures manual for your business, you should have some general guidelines set for how you’ll go about your work. That’s not to say that you won’t sometimes want – or need – to bend your own rules at times. But having a plan for dealing with leads, clients, projects and administrative duties can help your productivity and keep you on track toward your goals.

Some suggestions to consider as you define your freelancing M.O.:

  • Avoid emailing or making business phone calls after hours and on weekends. Why? Because you’ll give the impression that you’re a 24/7 shop and clients and prospects might start to expect that you’ll get back to them at all hours of the day and night. I admit that I do at times email clients when I’m “off the clock,” but those clients are people who I have a strong relationship with and who I know won’t unnecessarily infringe on my personal time.

 

  • If you can take care of it with a phone call or email, don’t spend time commuting to an off-site meeting. Though it’s nice to meet face to face with clients, doing too much of that can pull you away from your work unnecessarily. Besides the actual time you spend meeting, you’ll also spend precious time dressing for the occasion, packing up your notes and electronics, driving there and driving back. Unless you’re meeting about a new project or have other important business that can truly benefit from an in-person collaborative session, push to take care of business by phone or by email.

 

  • Cluster your out-of-office meetings and appointments to save time. When you do need or want to meet with clients or prospects in person, try to schedule your meetings on the same day and at nearby locations. Though you might be forfeiting a full day of in-office work, overall you’ll save time by consolidating some of the commute and other aspects of preparing for out-of-office meetings.

 

  • You’ve got voice mail. Use it! Unless you really do have the time to talk on the phone, resist the urge to answer it every single time that it rings. If you’re in the throes of working on a project, grabbing a phone call will set your productivity back a heap. Not only will you lose time, but you’ll also lose your concentration. I have yet to find a prospect or client who seemed inconvenienced or angry about leaving a voice mail message. Just be sure to respond as promptly as possible – that’s the key!

 

  • Have a work plan every day.  Before any given day arrives, have a plan set for it. Know what work you’ll need to accomplish and block out time to do it on your calendar. When you’ve got multiple clients’ projects, marketing, plus administrative tasks that need attention, setting dedicated time aside for all of it will help you stay organized and efficient.

 

  • Don’t let unpaid work go without a reminder that it’s unpaid. Unlike larger businesses, freelancers usually don’t have the volume of customers and steady stream of revenue to give them the luxury to wait until clients’ invoices are 30 days or more overdue before sending reminders. I usually send a gentle, polite email reminder to clients after an invoice is a week overdue. I’ve never had a client take unkindly to my reminders – and I think that has a lot to do with using an approach that’s not in any way confrontational or accusatory. Usually, there was an oversight or the invoice simply got lost in the shuffle – keep in mind that you’ll probably work with some clients who simply don’t have a system in place for working with freelancers. Again, a simple and friendly reminder will keep your cash flow flowing.

 

  • Provide a way for clients to pay electronically. Some clients will want to pay you by credit card. An easy way to allow them to do that is by having a PayPal or Intuit account set up. That way you won’t have to establish your own relationship directly with credit card companies, but you will enable your clients to pay with credit or debit through those electronic payment systems. I use PayPal – and find that invoices issued through PayPal to clients get paid much more quickly than those that I email and receive checks for later. Yes, there are transaction fees attached, but to me they’re worth it. Plus, they’re tax deductible.

 

  • Don’t undervalue – and don’t let others undervalue – what you do. Business Strategist for Solopreneurs, Michele Christensen, recently shared some tips for handling situations when people are looking for you to provide your billable services for free. Sometimes it is appropriate and beneficial to give your time away for nada, but be wary of doing too much of it and setting a precedent that makes others believe you’re willing to do it for everyone all of the time. Saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t want to help. It demonstrates that you know your services are worth something. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be building a business around them!

Of course, the list could go on and on and on when setting up your own ground rules for how you’ll approach your freelance business to make others realize that you mean business. Stay in tune with what’s working and not working for you, build your M.O. – and get your business the respect it deserves.

Do you have any ground rules for how you do business? How have they helped you get others to take your freelancing business more seriously? 

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Sure-fire Ways to Boost Your Freelance Business

Starting out as a freelancer is exciting – but it can be scary, too. When you’ve got specific income goals you want – or need – to meet, you’ve got to find ways to effectively get the word out about your services. And you’ve got to prove yourself. The pressure is on!

Fortunately, you have it within your power to give your freelance business the boost it needs to move it onward and upward.

  • Don’t be shy! When you decide to enter into the world of freelancing, you need to come out of your shell. It’s up to YOU to raise awareness of your services to everyone you know and then some. Tell everyone you come in contact with (friends, family, doctors, your kid’s teachers, fellow gym rats, former work colleagues, your pastor, the guy in line behind you at the grocery store, and on and on) what you’re doing and that you’re ready to serve clients. Seriously, prospective clients sometimes come from the most unexpected places. For example, I met three clients through taking Kung Fu classes at a local martial arts studio. You just never know – so view every interaction as a potential opportunity.
  • Beef up your portfolio with pro bono work. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, volunteering your skills and talent can help you build a repository of real world samples to share. Even as an established freelancer, a portfolio is essential to show prospects what you’re capable of. But as a new solopreneur, it’s even more important because you won’t have a long-standing reputation to back you up. And doing pro bono work can also help you garner testimonials from prominent people within your business community. Just be sure to temper the time you spend on volunteer endeavors – if you over-commit, you’ll find it difficult to focus on growing your business.
  • Link up with LinkedIn.  And for goodness sake, complete your profile! LinkedIn is the most powerful professional social network online. Yes, it takes some upfront time to set it up, but it’s easy, intuitive and FREE. With a profile that’s well-written and full of relevant information about your experience, skills and capabilities, you increase your chances of getting found by prospects looking for a professional in your field in your geographic area. For me, my time on LinkedIn has absolutely paid off. 15% of my clients have come directly through LinkedIn – most of them are local, but they also include a mobile-app development company based in NYC who found me via a search for a freelancing marketing content writer geographically located in the Lancaster, PA area. Yes, LinkedIn can be a freelancer’s best friend.
  • Spend a little – time and money. To make it as a freelancer, you’ve got to invest yourself to the cause. That means spending time on establishing your personal brand. Social media networks give you a phenomenal opportunity to do that. The key to success is to consistently put forth the effort to build a loyal following around your professional persona. And consider putting some cold hard cash toward making yourself known in your local business community. Local chambers of commerce and networking organizations provide all sorts of face-to-face meeting opportunities that – over time – enable you to develop strong professional relationships that lead to new clients. Just remember, what you get out of memberships to these organizations directly reflects what you put into them. Don’t expect to attend just one mixer all year and walk away with a dozen leads. Besides the promise of new business, I love my chamber membership for the opportunity to maintain a personal connection with existing clients and other wonderful people in our local community. Though I’m a huge fan of social media, nothing beats talking up close and personal.

Above all, be diligent in all of your efforts to build your freelance business. There’s no fast track to success. Developing your reputation, assembling a respectable portfolio and making the right connections will take not only time, but also a heck of a lot of energy. Remember to keep your eye on the prize – a career of flexibility, variety and limitless possibilities – and you’ll stay motivated to move forward.

What strategies and tactics have helped you build your freelance business the most? What online and offline networking efforts have delivered results?