Freelance Business

  • How to create a client checklist

    Client ChecklistWhen a potential client approaches you about working together, it can be pretty exciting. But hold your horses! Just because they’ve approached you, doesn’t mean you have to say yes. In fact, you should ask yourself a few questions to make sure they’re the right fit for your business.

    Recently, I’ve been using the following checklist of questions before I proceed:

    • Do they fit with my values?

    My three values are passion, freedom and choice. If a client doesn’t share their values, the relationship is less likely to work. This is more the case for work I do for The Freelance Lifestyle, but it’s important that these values are respected by other clients too.

    • Do they value what I do?

    This is one everyone should have. If they can’t respect what you do and the price you charge, it’s unlikely a positive client relationship will be created. If they try to barter you down in price to something you’re uncomfortable with, let them go. This is one thing I’ve been learning this year – it’s ok to be too expensive for some people. You can’t please everyone.

    • Are they ethical?

    This one depends on what you consider ethical. Personally from a social media manager point of view, mine includes things like not buying large amounts of fans on Facebook, not lying to customers/fans or copying other’s content. One way to find out this is to have a peek on Glass Door, where you’ll see reviews of how companies treat their staff. This can give you a small indication of how they work.

    • Do any alarm bells ring?

    Every time I’ve ignored my gut instinct, I’ve regretted it. The key is working out the difference between gut instinct and nerves (the previous checklist items should help)

    • Do I have the resources?

    Finally, do you have the resources to take on the client? Do you have the time, the technology and the know how to make sure you can do the job well?

    EDIT November 2017: Another question to ask! Are they happy to sign off on my terms and conditions? Make sure you get their confirmation before you proceed with any work. You can find a Terms And Conditions template here.

    What’s on your client checklist?

  • IPSE’s self-employment manifesto: how government can help freelancers

    manifesto_cover_smallYesterday, I jumped on the early train to London and made my way to Westminster for IPSE’s (pronounced ip-say) Manifesto launch. For those of you that don’t recognise the name, IPSE was previously known as PCG, the membership body for the self-employed. A rebrand occurred early this year when the association realising that PCG (Professional Contractors Group) didn’t really reflect who they represented.

    (The term ‘Contractors’ tends to conjure up images of old school IT types, rather than the self-employed market as a whole, doesn’t it?)

    So, the Independant Professionals and Self-Employed (IPSE) was born. Much more inclusive, don’t you think? I’ll explain a bit more about what IPSE does in another post, but for now I want to explain what their manifesto covers – and how it can help us.

    I should point out that this isn’t a sponsored post, just something I’m very passionate about.

    The Manifesto, titled Britain’s Secret Weapon (which you can download and read here), outlines what measures need to be taken by government in order to support the growing number of UK workers who are opting for self-employment. We make up 15% of the workforce and growing, and it therefore makes sense that we’re catered for.

    Want to know what the manifesto includes? Here are some of the suggested policies:

    • Appoint a minister for self-employment. We have the small business minister, Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, but freelancers are very different beasts to small business owners. We have different needs, and many of the benefits offered to small businesses (especially encouragement around hiring) are irrelevant to us.
    • Support female freelancers. 4 in 10 self-employed individuals are now women, and according to the research the number of mothers who are self-employed has grown by a huge 55% in the last five years. The biggest change IPSE wants to see is a change to maternity and paternity benefits.
    • Help the self-employed deal with late payers. Hurrah! Late payers are one of the hardest things about freelancing, so having something to back us up will make a big difference. An anonymous system which allows late or non-payer to be reported is one suggestion, and a strong Prompt Payment Code.
    • Support young people in going freelance. This is one of the areas I was most excited about. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I had no idea what a freelancer was until I became one at 23. Most non-freelance people I speak to STILL don’t know what freelancing is. But it’s a viable option for young people, allowing them to gain experience, working in new areas and fill employment gaps. Additionally, for some, it’s a BETTER option than employment. I’d love to see this taught in schools and universities, and see a reverse in the negative opinions people have when they hear the term ‘freelance’ (low paid, part time, small time). IPSE want to help young people by providing more education about it in secondary school and 6th form.
    • More co-working spaces. Walked through your local high street recently and noticed dozens of empty offices? IPSE want these to become work hubs and co-working spaces. This would be a smart move for not only supporting freelancers, but also landlords with empty spaces.
    • A better tax system. The current tax system for self-employed people is terrifying for those new to it, and a pain for most of us who have been doing it for a few years. Essentially, the self-employed aren’t really catered for, and the IR35 only complicates things further. I’d also love to see more flexibility with paying monthly for a student loan repayment, but this may be out of the government’s hands now with many student loan companies now owned by private companies.

    That’s an overview of just a few of the things that IPSE are calling for in their manifesto. But what would you like to see the government do to support us?

    p.s If you have a look at the manifesto, flick to page 10 and you’ll see my face. IPSE wanted the photos in the document to be of REAL freelancers, so I popped along to a photoshoot with them a couple of weeks back. I’m not the most photogenic or model-like woman, but that’s part of the point – freelancers are normal people doing awesome things 🙂

  • Anatomy of a Freelancer

    Sponsored post

    When Vonage sent me over this infographic of the anatomy of a freelancer, I had to share it with you. Did you know that there are 4.6million self-employed people in the UK as of January 2014? We’re contributing a massive £202bn to the economy every year. It’s also good news for us ladies – we’re leading the huge boom in freelancing, with the number of female freelancers increasing by 12% between 2011 and 2013 (compared to only a 5% increase for men.)

    Freelancing could be a financially savvy move too. In fact, the average freelance annual income (£50,258) is almost double that of an employed person (£26,000)

    It’s not all good news though. Women still being paid less (£32.91 an hour compared to £34.41 an hour for men). Time to up our prices perhaps?

    Have a read below of some of the other facts and figures about freelancing, including which sectors are the best paid for freelancers and what skills are in demand.

    (Click on the image to see a big version of this)

    anatomyfreelancer

  • How to structure your new business

    DeathtoStock_Wired2

    One of the questions I get on this site on a regular basis is ‘what’s the difference between a sole trader and a limited company’? Today, I have a guest post from Emily at FreeAgent, who has broken down the different business structures for you. 

    When you set up a new business you need to think about how you’re going to structure it, because this will affect its legal status, how much tax it pays and when. This applies no matter how small your business is.

    There are four different alternative business structures in the UK: sole trader, partnership, limited liability partnership (LLP for short) and limited company.

    Emily Coltman FCA, Chief Accountant to FreeAgent – who provide a multi-award winning online accounting system for freelancers and small businesses – explains how they each work:

    Sole trader

    This is the simplest kind of business structure.  It’s just you, your computer and your dog – there’s nobody else involved in running the business.

    You need to register with HMRC as a sole trader and this can be done by filling in a simple online form.  You have to do this by 5th October after the end of the tax year (which runs from 6th April to 5th April the following year).

    Once you’ve registered, you have to file a tax return every year, and if you file it online then you have until the following 31st January to do this.  But you don’t have to file accounts anywhere – so, because your tax return is not on the public record, your business’s figures are kept private.

    There’s no legal difference between a sole trader and his or her business.  As a sole trader, you are the business as far as the law is concerned.  So that means that if the business is sued, you are personally sued, and your own assets – for example, your home and your car – could be taken to pay the debts.

    Partnership

    A partnership is just like a sole trader except that there is more than one person running the business.

    This does mean that there’s no legal difference between the partners and the business, so if the business is sued, or one partner vanishes with the partnership’s money or other assets, the other partner or partners could lose their personal assets to pay the business’s debts.

    To set up a partnership, you will need to register the business with HMRC.  One partner would be the nominated partner responsible for filing tax returns to HMRC, and that person must register the partnership.  The other partner(s) must also register.  The deadlines for registering and for filing tax returns are the same as for sole traders, but not only must the partnership file a tax return, each partner must also file one – so there will be at least three tax returns to file each year.

    Make sure that you draw up a partnership agreement covering important issues like what happens if a partner leaves the business or dies, how much money each partner will put into the business and how much he/she can take out.

    Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

    The “limited liability” part of this structure’s name comes from the fact that it’s a separate legal entity from the partners, with a legal identity in its own right.  This protects the partners’ own assets if the business is sued, unless they have been guilty of wrongdoing or given personal guarantees.

    What’s the catch? Loss of privacy. An LLP must file accounts every year with Companies House, and a document called an annual return which lists the partners (or “members” for an LLP).  These documents are on the public record, so anyone can buy a copy of them for a couple of pounds.

    For tax an LLP is treated the same as a partnership, so it must be registered with HMRC and each partner must register, and then there are tax returns to file each year.

    Limited company

    Running your business through a limited company can often result in a smaller tax and National Insurance bill than for the same business as a sole trader or partnership, which makes it a very popular business structure.

    The company is a separate legal entity from the people who run it (its directors) and those who own it (its shareholders). For small companies, the directors will often own all the shares, but even if there is only one director who owns all the shares, the company remains a separate legal entity from that person.

    This means that it has the same protection of limited liability for the owners’ assets as an LLP but – like an LLP – the quid pro quo is having to file accounts and an annual return at Companies House each year.

    Company directors are also subject to legal obligations, for example they must not let the company keep trading if it can’t pay its debts, and they must look after the business’s machinery and other assets.

    And, if a company’s costs outweigh its income in its early years, it’s not possible to put those losses against the directors’ other income and claim tax back.  The company will only be able to reduce its tax bill by means of the losses once it starts making a profit.  For all the other business structures, losses in early years can often be used to claim a tax refund against the owners’ other income.

    It’s important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each business structure and decide which best suits your business and your circumstances.

    Emily Coltman FCA is Chief Accountant to FreeAgent, who provide a multi-award winning online accounting system to meet the needs of small businesses and freelancers. Try it for free at http://www.freeagent.com

     

  • How to find a freelancing mentor

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    A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece about the benefits of having a mentor (both as a freelancer and if you’re in employment). A few people asked me in the comments and on social media how they could find a mentor.

    First things first

    Before you start looking, work out what you want from a mentor. Ideally, you want someone a few years ahead of you so they can advise you on what you want to do next. Do you want an accountability partner, someone who has knowledge in an area you haven’t ventured into yet or someone who can connect you with others?

    Got an idea? Great. Let’s go mentor hunting.

    Social media

    Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are all great places to do a shout out for a mentor. I started my search doing this, and had several recommendations. The one downside (depending on how you look at it), is that several of these recommendations will be mentors you have to pay for. There are pros and cons to paying for a mentor. On the one hand, it can be costly. But it’s an investment (one you can expense) in your personal development in the same way buying an ecourse or going to a business seminar would be. Paying for a mentor may lead to a more professional, committed working relationship.

    (With the launch of the brand new Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group, you can feel free to do a shout out for a mentor or buddy in the group too! Why not join and chat with others? It’s completely free.)

    Contacts

    Next up, speak to your contacts. I found one mentor through a recommendation from a friend to chat with her business partner. Her business partner has plenty of great experience, had already built up her own business and gave me a HUGE amount of great advice. All for the price of a coffee. Personally, I would say reaching out to your contacts is the best way to start, and you’re more likely to find a free mentor this way.

    Networking

    Networking is a great way to meet potential mentors (you are networking now, right?)

    When you’re out networking, keep your mind open to potential mentors. They don’t have to be in the same industry, but ideally you do want to get on well with them. Swap business cards, and ask them if they’d be interested in meeting up for a coffee in exchange for a little advice.

    Mentor websites

    Finally, there are a number of websites you can use to find a mentor. Try MentorsMe, and I’ve recently discovered Horses Mouth which looks interesting too. Some of them are paid (for example, the Association of Business Mentors charges £75 a year, but you get a bunch of benefits like six months free Regus Gold lounge membership).

    Further tips

    • When it comes to arranging a mentor relationship, you ideally want to organise meetings/catch ups every few months. This gives you a goal to aim for each time, and some accountability.
    • They’re giving up their time for you, so make it clear you appreciate it and don’t bug them (e.g. too many emails, or chasing for info after only a day).
    • It’s a two way relationship! Refer work back to your mentor when you can, help them with areas they might be unsure of and share useful articles with them.
    • Not getting much from your mentor or feel like the relationship is coming to an end. Move on (in a dignified way, burnt bridges in business will come back to bite you in the bum).
    • In fact, why not try a couple of different mentors? There’s no reason why you should stick to one mentor forever.
    • Want in depth help with freelancing? I offer freelancing 1-2-1 consultations over Skype or G+ (or face to face if you’re in the Berkshire area).

    Have you got a mentor? How did you find them, and what advise would you give others?

  • Battle of the VA companies: Fancy Hands vs. TimeEtc vs. SuperTasker

    Virtual Assistant companies

    Virtual Assistants are not a new concept. But I’ve noticed a crop of services recently that have popped up, offering admin services from a number of handpicked VAs. I suspect this has occurred as a backlash against the rise of very low price, (often, but not always) low quality VAs. Freelance marketplaces are waking up to the concept that paying a freelance VA a good hourly rate often leads to a good outcome for both the client and contractor.

    Three companies in particular have popped up recently to help businesses with their admin and general tasks: Fancy Hands, TimeEtc and Supertasker. Read on to find out what each of them offers.

    Fancy Hands

    Fancy Hands was the first site like this that I discovered, thanks to Jo Gifford. For a monthly plan ranging from $25 (5 tasks) to $65 (25 tasks), Fancy Hands gives you access to personal assistants who can do tasks for you like book appointments, book a table at a restaurant, source a product online, research something for a blog post or find a cleaner. They’re the most affordable of the three services, but the tasks in general appear to be smaller.

    Although I love the idea of Fancy Hands, but most of those are tasks I’d happily do myself. When it comes to hiring a VA, I’d usually do it because a) I can’t do the task myself (at least not well), or b) it’s time consuming and I’d rather spend that time bringing on new business.

    TimeEtc

    TimeEtc is the site that I’ve had some experience using. They offer $25 of free credit to give it a try (little warning though, if you don’t sign up and top up your credit at the end of your trial, get ready for a LOT of emails). The basic concept with TimeEtc is that you send them a task, and they assign one of their (UK-based, very talented) VAs to do the task. When I gave it a try, my task was to create a comparison report of other blogs in the UK. Not only did the service, and my assigned VA, produce a report in just a couple of days (my deadline was relaxed), but she also gave me a few suggestions of what I could do going forward. Very impressive!

    TimeEtc’s pricing is more than Fancy Hands,  but it’s easy to get your head around – a flat rate of £26 an hour. The tasks are definitely more advanced than what Fancy Hands would do too (have a look at some of them here). While I can’t afford it this month, I’ll definitely consider topping up my credit and using it in the future.

    SuperTasker

    Finally, we come to PeoplePerHour’s latest product. SuperTasker was launched earlier this month, offering services at a one-off price. For example, you can buy an infographic for $150, a blog post for $45 (delivered in 3 hours, up to 400words) or $5 for image resizing/cropping delivered in an hour. Like TimeEtc and Fancy Hands, the freelancers providing these services are vetted, and it’s super-easy to use. I’d definitely consider using SuperTasker for a a few one-off tasks (especially as it doesn’t require a membership like TimeEtc and Fancy Hands).

    Have you experienced Fancy Hands, TimeEtc or SuperTasker? Know of any other similar services? Let me know in the comments!

  • Six reasons why you should hire a freelancer

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    While the USA seems to have a good grasp of the concept of hiring freelancers, it’s still a largely foreign concept in the UK – especially outside the creative industry. This is starting to change though, with the economy improving and companies looking at what options they have with hiring. The question is, should they bring someone in full time, or hire a freelancer by the day?

    So, why would you hire a freelancer over an employee?

    Being paid by the hour or day makes us more productive

    When you’re paid by the hour or day, you’re a lot more conscious of the work you’re producing. Knowing you have a day to turn a project around is likely to lead to more efficient results than passing a project to an employee who has a dozen other things to do. Essentially, we’re there to get the job done – not lose hours in meetings, dealing with colleagues or on Facebook.

    Short term work makes us more focused

    In most roles, an employee will get to a point where they start to lose interest and coast a little. Freelancers tend to work on a short term basis, so we’re fresh and enthusiastic to a project – then move on to the next client/project once the job is done.

    We can bring an expert approach

    Freelancers tend to have a specialism, so you can hire one in to offer consultation on a particular topic. For example, you may want to train your employees on how they should be using social media from a business point of view. Bringing in a freelance social media consultant for a workshop means you’ll have a team of more savvy employees – for the cost of one day of freelancing.

    It could be cheaper than hiring someone

    While freelancers are by no means cheap (or shouldn’t be), it can still be a cheaper option than hiring someone. For example, hiring in a freelancer for a couple of days a month could cost you £600 – but hiring a PR full time would undoubtedly cost you more each month. Plus the employee is paid by the month – while the freelancer is paid by the work done.

    You’re not limited by location

    Buffer recently wrote a great post on why having a remote team works well for them. Hiring a freelancer means you’re not limited to the candidate pool in your local area, so you could end up with a team that is more experienced and higher skilled.

    We’re self-improvers

    Good freelancers will constantly be learning and teaching ourselves new skills. After all, the more skills we have, the more valuable we can be.

    Know of any other benefits to hiring a freelancer? Tell me about them in the comments.

  • Five ways to be a better public speaker

    (c) Sunny Gill
    (c) Sunny Gill

    Public speaking is one of the hardest skills to learn as a freelancer. Standing in front of a crowd of people, presenting your thoughts on a topic can be nightmare inducing. As someone who was a shaking, stuttering red-face mess at school when presenting anything to more than two people, I know this fear well. I’m the introvert who felt uncomfortable being the centre of attention at my own wedding.

    Even two years ago, I’d have stayed away from anything that involved the words ‘public’ and ‘speaking’. Embarrass myself publically? No ta.

    But I kinda love it now. I get what people mean when they talk about the buzz you get.

    So, how did I go from bumbling mess to someone who feels more comfortable with public speaking? (not TED talk comfortable, but room full of 100 people comfortable). Here are five steps I took.

    1) Using PowerPoint? Update to Prezi

    Update: I now use Canva for my presentations, both to create them and present them directly through Canva. You can have a nosy at their presentation templates here.

    As tech is something I both enjoy using and find keeps me calm, my first step was to look at what I was using. Mainly my presentation tools. PowerPoint has been doing the same thing for years and it shows. Prezi is far more impressive and a little bit more intuitive (plus if you activate it with your iPhone, people tend to get very excited). Other tools you could try are Haiku Deck and Slideshark.

    2) Make it funny

    One of the best ways to keep the attention of your audience during your presentation is to make it funny. I’m not talking about using an entire stand-up routine, but the occasional funny picture in your presentation or perhaps a funny experience you can share will keep them hooked.

    3) Make it interactive

    Ask the audience questions or for a show of hands throughout your presentation. If you show you’re interested in what they think, they’ll be interested in what YOU think. Also, it keeps everyone awake…

    4) Do it YOUR way

    The danger of watching too many TED talks is that you can feel pressurised to use the same approach. You know the one. Dramatic pauses for effects. Not a single indication of nerves. It’s brilliant, but if that’s not you, then don’t do it! The more natural you are, the more the audience will enjoy it. So if you prefer to use a bunch of props, pace around the stage (I’m a pacer and a hand mover), do it! It’s worth filming yourself beforehand though, so you can pick up on anything you’re doing wrong (such as talking into your boobs or failing to look at the audience).

    One thing EVERY public speaker needs to do though, is plan what they’re going to say. The idea of blagging it may seem appealing, but it rarely works out well.

    5) Practice, practice, practice

    This is the best advice I can offer. I’ve been fortunate to get a year of experience under my belt, working at a business school for young people. A couple of friends who saw me present at Blognix last year and this year mentioned they could tell the difference. Teaching classes of 16-year olds can do that!

    The more practice you can get, the better. Volunteer at local networking events to kick things off. Do training events at companies. It’s all great experience and will help you create your own personal presenting style. If you can’t do any of those, try YouTube. Set up an account (make it private if you want), and get talking about things. Or try podcasting (check out my lovely friends Sam and Lea at The High Tea Cast for more info on podcasting)

    I can’t promise you’ll be rivalling Tony Robbins anytime soon. And you’ll still worry that your legs will give way when you stand up to do your talk. But hopefully, you’ll also start to kind of enjoy public speaking.

    Do you have any tips for being a better public speaker?