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?

“Better Is The Enemy Of Good”—Fortune Cookie Friday Small Biz Wisdom

Complacency to remain “status quo” as a solopreneur or freelancer can mean a shorter shelf life for your small business.Fortune Cookie Friday

 

This week’s fortune cookie reading, “Better is the enemy of good,” reminds us of that.

 

Good is…well…good. But only by getting better can our businesses achieve respect and create greater demand for our services.

 

Good might get the contract, but better is the key to keeping a client for life.

 

Lots of other businesses are good. What are you going to do to be better—to give clients a reason to work with you rather than your competition?

 

Fortunately, striving for better doesn’t always require significant effort. Tweaking minor aspects of your M.O. can make a big difference in the perceived value of your services.

 

Doing business better and adding value can mean:

 

  • Reading one article a day that can strengthen your knowledge in your field or help you hone your skills.
  • Returning emails and phone calls more quickly.
  • Responding to inquiries from your website contact form within 8 business hours.
  • Never forgetting the personal touch when communicating with clients. Show you care by starting with sentiments like, “How was your weekend?” or “I hope all is well with you.” End on a note of, “Have a wonderful day,” and “Thanks again for the opportunity to work with you.”
  • Sending customers links to blog posts and articles relevant to a particular challenge they’re facing or a topic you’ve recently discussed with them.
  • Showing clients some love on social media by connecting with them on the channels you share and liking or sharing their content regularly.
  • Proactively suggesting projects that can either save them time, money, or make them more money.

 

Now the question: If better is the enemy of good, is best the enemy of better?

 

Endeavoring to be your best (not to be confused with the unattainable goal of perfection) will always take you farther on the road to success. But take care not to thwart your efforts to better yourself by comparing yourself too closely to your competition. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, but focus on developing your own unique value.

 

Good. Better. Best. Raising the bar is the enemy of ordinary.

 

Over to you! What do you do to continually better your business and raise its value to your clients?

Client Relationships: There’s No Room for “Us” vs. “Them” – Only “We” in Small Business

Building strong relationships with clients stands at the center of the the small business universe.

An “us” vs. “them” mentality when working with clients isn’t only unproductive, it can be debilitating. What joy and No us vs. them - just we in small businesssatisfaction is there in working with people you view as your opponents?  Clients aren’t the enemy. Sure, occasionally you’ll meet one who puts your patience to the test, but if you’ve been careful about choosing who you work with, overall you’ll find clients are good people with good intentions. And to state the obvious, your business needs them!

From the very start of my freelance career nearly 5 years ago, I quickly discovered the best way to establish trust and loyalty when working with clients is to interact with them as partners.

When you approach relationships with clients as partnerships, your clients feel comfortable to approach them that way, too. I believe the way to “we” starts with us and how we interact with clients.

Ways to demonstrate a “We” mindset when building and maintaining client relationships:

  • Communicate often.
  • Communicate clearly.
  • Take an interest in them as people, not just income sources.
  • Make an effort to understand their expectations and goals.
  • Go the extra mile to share articles and resources you think might benefit their businesses.
  • Interact with them on social media.
  • Apologize if you make a mistake.
  • When clients make mistakes, gently present the facts rather than point fingers.
  • Address misunderstandings quickly and politely.
  • Be honest.
  • Be attentive.
  • Be responsive.
  • Let them in…Be open to sharing about yourself beyond your business.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate their successes.

The benefits a “We” mindset brings to your small business:

  • Strengthens clients’ loyalty to you.
  • Results in mutual respect/less stress.
  • More relaxed working environment.
  • Leads to repeat business.
  • Creates camaraderie – and often friendships.
  • Can lead to higher quality referrals.
  • Makes work seem less like work.

While a We mindset takes two, you can move your client relationships in that direction by how you choose to interact with and treat your clients. It requires some extra effort to approach business that way, but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Can you?

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

So, You Want to be a Freelancer? Make Sure You Have This One Thing First.

According to a study by Intuit in 2010, an estimated over 40% of the American workforce will be “contingent workers” Confident professional woman showing thumbs up(i.e. independent professionals including freelancers, contractors, temps and part-time employees) by 2020. Where full-time employment with companies owned by someone else has always been the norm, the trend is shifting to make freelancing/solopreneurship far more common.

As a freelancer and solopreneur, I find that exciting! With more acceptance of freelancing as a viable career path will come more information, tools and resources geared toward making solo professionals more efficient and successful. Honestly, I think the time is ripe for exploring freelancing – provided you’ve got the one thing all freelancers need to get their businesses off the ground and to sustain them.

Confidence!

“A feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something” (as Merriam-Webster defines it), confidence needs to be at the root of your freelance endeavors. It’s the realization you have skills, knowledge and talents that will render you valuable to clients. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be considering a freelance career, right?

What’s equally important to having confidence in yourself and your abilities? Your attention to projecting that self-assuredness in all you do and to everyone you meet.

Be careful, however, not to confuse projecting confidence with bragging and appearing vain. When starting your freelance business, you’ll want to share about your capabilities and unique value without sounding like you have an over-inflated ego.

How to Project Confidence With Appropriate Confidence…

  • Be real.

    Share the facts.  Your real-life professional achievements, educational background, and examples of your work in your field will speak volumes without any embellishment.

  • Share what others have said about your capabilities.

    It can be a turn off if you pat yourself on the back and tell someone how great you are, but it’s much more acceptable and palatable to others when they hear the praises someone else has sung about you and your work.

  • Be gracious.

    As you’re sharing about yourself, your expertise, and your capabilities, don’t neglect the opportunity to generate goodwill by showing an interest in the people you’re talking with. Making others feel included and important demonstrates a collaborative nature – a quality that’s essential as a freelancer!

Confidence – expect yours to be tested.

Know it’s perfectly natural to find your confidence shaken at times. Whether your work on a project isn’t going as smoothly as you had hoped, or you’re dealing with an extra-demanding client, or some other force in the freelance universe rattles you, you’ll discover self-doubt may stalk you on occasion. When it does, revisit and reflect on the foundation of your confidence as a freelancer. Your knowledge, skills, experience and talents are with you always…and will only get stronger as you venture farther down the path of freelancing.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The One Thing ALL Small Businesses Need to Communicate

As a small business owner or solopreneur, your communications skills – or lack of – can directly affect your bottom line.Lady using tablet Professionals with a flair for engaging people and getting their message across clearly have more success in building relationships and converting leads to clients. Some people seem to be born with those interpersonal gifts,  but what if they don’t come quite as naturally to you?

Don’t be discouraged! You don’t have to be an accomplished writer, polished speaker or master networker to communicate effectively.  By ensuring that one single element is at the foundation of all your business interactions, you can set the stage for people wanting to learn more about your brand – and put the odds in your favor of gaining and retaining loyal clients.

Respect!

Whether you’re interacting with prospects by phone, in person, through email, via your blog, or on social media, demonstrate respect for your audience.

Put respect at the center of all you do when interacting with your prospects, clients and colleagues…

  • Respect their time.
    Be prepared.  Think things through. Be organized and have purpose so you communicate what your audience needs to know without going on tangents that waste their precious time.
  • Respect their intellect.
    Although you might know more about something than they do, check your tone and approach so you’re not perceived as condescending. Also, ask them for their insight, opinions, and feedback whenever appropriate.
  • Respect their need to take things slow.
    Never ever be pushy about selling your wares! While hard-sell/now-or-never tactics may have worked in the past when all we knew was one-way, push marketing, they’re now annoying and a turn-off to most people. Especially as a professional services business owner, you’ll find it can take months or sometimes years to nurture relationships that turn prospects into clients. Sometimes it’s because they view your offerings as more of a luxury than a need. Sometimes it’s because they have budget constraints. Sometimes they’re just so busy running their businesses they don’t have time to really think about working with you. Be patient. And stay top of mind (social media makes this so very easy!) so when they are ready or need the services you provide, you’ll be the one they call without hesitation.

Communicate with respect…and you’ll gain respect for you as a professional and for your brand.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 Things Freelance Professionals Need to Get Over

To run your own freelance business, you can’t afford to be your own worst enemy. There are times when it gets toughMan jumping over obstacle having your work scrutinized, waiting for  responses from clients, prospecting for new business, and putting your foot down. But these things come with the territory when you freelance, so to get on with business, you need to get over a few things first.

Don’t let these things hold you back in your freelancing business:

Sensitivity to criticism

The beauty of what freelancers do is generally in the eye of the beholder. Clients are subjective…their unique styles, likes, and dislikes will play a role in determining whether or not they like your work. There’s no room for Prima Donnas in freelancing. Accept that not everyone will love all of your work all of the time.

Perfectionism

You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. No freelancer is. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes – but own them and do what it takes to make them right. Most important, recognize if there are areas of business where you make mistakes repeatedly. You might need to take more time when tackling them or outsource tasks when possible.

Dislike of networking

Want to get quality clients? Network, network, network – online and in person! I know a fair share of freelancers who very much dislike mixing and mingling in social settings. Avoiding networking activities puts you at a disadvantage. Face-to-face networking can give you a major edge as prospects hear your voice, see your smile, feel your personality up close and personal. You’ll need to embrace social media, too. Used consistently, it builds professional relationships and goodwill because it makes it easy to show support of and interest in prospects and clients.

Impatience

Freelancing requires a willingness  to wait. It takes time to build a portfolio of work, a solid base of clients, and a reputation as the “go to” pro in your field. Sometimes it can take years before a contact turns into a client. Beyond that, the day-to-day stuff requires patience, too. You’ll encounter prospects who don’t respond to your proposals, clients who don’t get back to you with feedback on your work, and occasional payments that won’t arrive by the due date you posted on your invoices. Instant gratification is rare in freelancing – you need to develop a tolerance for waiting.

Discomfort at following up about client payments

That said…while practicing patience in most things, stay politely vigilant about following up on client payments that are overdue. Freelancers aren’t high-volume service providers who can afford to let payments go 30 days…60 days…90 days past due. I’ve found missed payments are not intentional and almost always an oversight. Generally, I wait 7 days past the due date and then send an email to inquire (always in a non-accusatory tone).

Traveling the freelancing career path requires the guts and gumption to put preconceived habits and inclinations aside. You won’t always find it comfortable to change your thoughts and practices. But after you start reaping the rewards from altering elements of your M.O., you’ll find it easier to get past the other things that might be holding your freelance business down.

What have you needed to get over to go forward in your freelance biz? What methods and ways of thinking have you found most difficult to set aside?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / 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

Dealing with Small Biz Stress: How Solopreneurs Can Take Control and Get Better Life Balance

Solopreneurs come from all industries, diverse business backgrounds, and  with varied expertise and skills. I find it Yoga personfascinating to discover what other solo biz owners like most about being solopreneurs – and what they find most challenging.  Although we’re “solo,” we’re all in it together really. We can learn from each other and all become better small business owners as a result.

My Q&A with Solopreneur Dr. Ann Lee.

Ann owns Health for Life Clinic in Lancaster, PA. As a solopreneur in the healthcare field, she faces some unique business challenges, but there’s also a lot that she has in common with the rest of us. Within this post, not only does she share what she believes are the perks and pitfalls of solo biz ownership, she also provides some helpful advice on how we can all better deal with the stresses of solopreneurship.

As a solopreneur, what do you find most rewarding about owning your own small business?

Ann: The freedom and creativity you can have with owning your own small business . . . if you have an idea – you can implement it quickly and see right away if it works or not. You get instant feedback, and can work on improvements quickly. Clients can give you feedback, and they can see them incorporated the next day. You can really make a difference in people’s lives, and clients notice and appreciate the work that you do.

As a solopreneur, what do you find most challenging about owning your own small business?

Ann: Because your business is your lifeline, you will dedicate and sacrifice a lot of time and effort into it. It is totally rewarding in the end, but it is up to you to set your own boundaries and still have a ‘good work life balance.’ So the most challenging is setting those boundaries.

In your practice, what health complaints do you hear most from patients who are solopreneurs or professionals which can be attributed to the stresses of being in business?

Ann: The most common health complaints are those attributed to stress: high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive complaints, sore/aching muscles and joints, chronic fatigue and dependence on coffee.

What are some lifestyle changes business professionals could consider for alleviating stress and performing better mentally and physically when under pressure?

Ann: The most challenging thing to do, as I mentioned before, is actually scheduling time regularly throughout your schedule for mini-vacations or stress relieving activities. If you don’t schedule it, it doesn’t happen. And if you don’t make it a priority, it doesn’t happen either. I find professionals who schedule relaxing activities regularly such as golf, yoga, meditation, perform better and are able to create better business relationships. There are many options available for relaxing activities that resonate with you and fit into your schedule.

A simple nutrition tip is to never skip breakfast, to start off your day with a full tank of gas.

To maximize restful sleep, it helps to unload your thoughts on a piece of paper before going to bed, or to have a to-do list always on hand so that it doesn’t stay on your mind to ruminate over while trying to go to sleep.

Ball’s in your court!

Some wonderful takeaways, right?! I think Ann hit on one of the biggest challenges we all face as solopreneurs. We put so much time, energy, and focus into our businesses, but we often neglect the bodies and minds our businesses need to succeed. I know I could definitely do a better job at getting enough sleep, stepping away from the stress, and living in the moment when with family and friends. How about you?

My thanks to Ann for sharing her experience as a solopreneur and for giving us sound, sensible advice. Now it’s up to us to use it!

Dr. Ann Lee of Health for Life ClinicAbout Dr. Ann Lee
Ann Lee, is a naturopathic doctor & acupuncturist, serving Lancaster, PA in complementary & alternative medicine, with a specialty in infertility (natural fertility). At Health For Life Clinic, Inc., she provides patients with comprehensive, personalized healthcare through acupuncture, naturopathic and holistic medicine, nutrition, homeopathy, herbs, and lifestyle improvement. For more information about her and her practice, visit her website.

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By Dawn Mentzer

Yoga Image courtesy of sattva / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Business Untruths Solopreneurs Need to Ignore

Don’t believe everything people tell you about running a business.

As you start and build your business as a solopreneur, you’ll discover that not everything people tell you is right. While whatTime for Truth image they tell you may be true in their particular situations, that doesn’t mean following their advice will be right for your business. I’m now in my fourth year as a freelance writing solopreneneur, and along the way I’ve discovered a few myths (which I believe truly are myths for nearly all solopreneurs) in need of busting.

 4 Business Untruths You Can Kick to the Curb

  • You need to have something other than a home office. – Unless your business depends on you working with clients in your office, you can do just fine with a home office. If you need to occasionally meet with clients, you can see them at their location (always convenient for them!), take them out for coffee or lunch, or book a meeting room at your local library or other facility that offers conference rooms by the hour. I’ve never had a client frown upon the fact that I don’t have an out-of-home office. And with the growth of freelancing as a career, working from a home office is becoming more of a rule than the exception. Just be sure you have a home office that is purely a business space where you have all the amenities you need and where you’ll be free from other distractions within your house .

  • Before you can include a particular type of project in your suite of services, you need to have done that type of work before. – Yes. You must have the knowledge and skill set needed to work on a project, but it’s not always necessary to have the same type of project under your belt to get the business and do the job well. As long as your talents are transferrable, there’s no reason why you can’t add a service to your offerings or take on projects clients inquire about. DO be honest with your clients and tell them if you haven’t worked on the type of project they’re asking about. Then go on to say why you believe you’ll be a good fit regardless. In my own case, it wasn’t until recently when I was approached about writing the audio for marketing-focused video scripts. I immediately disclosed to my client I hadn’t worked on those types of projects before, but that I had full confidence I could do a great job for him. He was more than willing to bring me onto the job – and since then we’ve worked together on those types of projects several times over the past few months.
  • You can’t walk away from business – You can. And you should when clients or projects don’t align with your goals, values, or available time. Know the warning signs of difficult clients – unreasonable deadlines, unresponsive when asked questions or for feedback on work, disrespectful of your “off hours” time, constantly changing the scope of work. Also, carefully consider taking on projects you will absolutely abhor or that are outside of what you want to focus on in your business. Nearly a year ago, I opted to no longer take on proofreading projects. Why? I don’t enjoy them. AT ALL! I had to forfeit a good client as a result and have turned that type of work from other prospects away since I made the decision. I also ran into a situation where I turned business away from what could have been a quite lucrative ongoing endeavor. After just a brief amount of time dealing with the client contact, I decided the interpersonal deficiencies (OK, that’s my very nice way of saying she was a total B to me!) were something I was in no way willing to put up with on a continual basis.No matter the situation, respectfully explain why you’re not interested in taking on the work or doing business with someone.
  • You won’t be able to grow your business unless you hire employees. – Payroll, turn-over, Obama-Care…No thanks! But just because you’ve decided to be a business of one employee (a.k.a. YOU), doesn’t mean you can’t grow your revenue or your suite of available services or products. Much of what you can do depends on how well you manage your time and resources. Take advantage of the free and low-cost productivity and business organizational tools available to you. A few of my personal favorites are Trello, Evernote, and Toggl. Save time and effort logging into the online networks you access with an online password manager like LastPass. Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite. Outsource a few administrative tasks to a bookkeeping pro or virtual assistant. And if you’re looking to expand your business offerings to clients, partner with other freelancers who provide complementary services.

The more time you spend as a solopreneur, the more advice you’ll get from others in business. Remember, not everything you hear will apply to you. When you receive well-meaning guidance, listen. Then consider how it meshes with your own unique business and aspirations before acting – or not acting – on it.

Your turn! What business myths have you busted in your solo-business?

By Dawn Mentzer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

F is for “Freelancing”…and 8 Other F-Words Freelancers Can’t Ignore

F is for “freelancing,” and it also stands for a few other words that strongly represent what being a freelancing solopreneur isF-words for Freelancers all about. As today is a Friday, I thought it appropriate to keep the tone light and the content fun with a list of some fwords that freelancers and all solo-pros can relate to:

Faithful – When you make freelancing your career choice, you need to faithfully show up for work – physically and mentally – every day and stay the course.

Focus – Distractions are a freelancer’s worst enemy. Your level of productivity and progress toward your goals depends on your ability to block out the noise and remain on task.

Fastidious – As a freelancer, you always need to be on top of the details and aim for accuracy in all you do.

Frustration – It goes with the territory. There are times when not all will be going your way and you won’t like it one bit.

Failure – You’ll succeed at some things as a solopreneur, but you’ll also fail at times as you grow your business. Realize that you can learn from those moments and become better and more successful as a result.

Fair – To earn a reputation as someone other professionals like to do business with, you need to be fair in how you treat all people. Don’t jump to conclusions or judge based on first impressions. Don’t make mountains out of mole hills.

Firm – As a freelancer, you offer value. Project confidence in what you bring to the table and stand firm when the occasional prospect questions your worth and puts you up against the wall for a lower rate. It’s not always easy to hold your ground, but never undervalue your expertise and services.

Fears – Like every small business owner, you’ll encounter uncertainty and risk that could threaten your ability to succeed and sustain your business. It’s scary. Don’t feel inferior for having fears. The important thing is that you face them head on and do what needs to be done to overcome adversity and move past what stands in your way.

What other F-words can you add to the list? I drew the line at 8, but I know there are probably 800 more!

by Dawn Mentzer