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  • How hiring a Virtual Assistant boosted my freelance business

    hiring a virtual assistant

    Just before I discuss hiring a virtual assistant…

    [su_box title=”Hello…it’s me” style=”glass” box_color=”#0f734e”]*Tumbleweed* It’s been a bit quiet round here, hasn’t it? I’m still here (and have been chatting away in my Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group, come join us), but had to put the blog on the backburner a little while I got used to juggling an increasingly active baby with building my business back up since having him. I wanted to share this post though, which I wrote a while ago and didn’t get round to publishing, as I’ll be able to hire a virtual assistant again now work is coming in after a maternity break [/su_box]*Tumbleweed*

    I’ve rabbited on quite a bit in the past about how beneficial outsourcing is, and in particular hiring a virtual assistant. But it’s something I put off doing for YEARS. Last January, I finally hired Jo Shock (a fantastic Virtual Assistant who now specialises in social enterprises). I think pregnancy had spurred me on, as I needed to prepare some kind of cover for my clients, but I’d also read so much about the benefits of outsourcing from people like Jo Gifford and Denise Duffield Thomas. That’s not to say I didn’t have some hesitations (more of that a little further down). But hiring a VA is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business.

    How has hiring a Virtual Assistant benefited my business?

    Here are a few of the reasons why:

    • It gave me the ability to remove the small jobs that acted as barriers to getting the big stuff done. And often, those small jobs are done much faster by a VA than they would by me. As a result, things that had been sitting on my To Do list for months (if not years) were finally getting ticked off, giving me much-needed clarity.
    • It gave me accountability. I work best when I know someone else is relying on me to get something done. Knowing I had to send something to Jo by a deadline so she can do her part of her job really helps get stuff done.
    • It gave me support and confidence to continue with new ideas. I often found that as a freelancer, after the first rush of excitement of a new idea, I’d get a bit despondent. Having Jo to bounce ideas off and make practical suggestions really helped and I know I launched more products and services because of her help.
    • The Devil is no longer in the detail. I’m really not detail-orientated. Having someone to check things over means I don’t spend hours of wasted time procrastinating.

    What took me so long?

    Here are some of my justifications for not hiring a VA:

    Why hire someone to do something that I can do myself?

    Because, actually, I wasn’t doing some of the things in my business that well. I adore being creative, but on the flipside I’m chronically disorganised. So while I can put together my newsletter, before hiring a VA I’d often let it fall down to the bottom of my To Do list.

    I don’t have enough work for a VA to help with!

    The best thing someone recommended I do is start with a couple of hours a month, and build up from there. Jo from StreamLines Virtual Support started out putting together my newsletters (I write the content) and the A Day In The Life Of A Freelancer posts, and on to also research potential opportunities and posts, update the Facebook group when I was unwell during pregnancy and was an amazing asset when I went on maternity leave. For me though, once I realised how liberating it was to offload those ‘I have to do it but I don’t want to do it’ tasks from my To Do list to Jo, I discovered more and more things she was able to help me with.

    I can’t afford it.

    Actually, the time I save by hiring a VA is time I now spend working on new projects which bring in more money (and my VA Jo Shock is a total star for letting me bounce around ideas and shape them which makes it easier when I get to the sticky details bit which usually derails me)

    Who do I think I am, hiring a VA? VAs are for proper professionals.

    Hello imposter syndrome! Ironically, I didn’t start to feel like I was taking my business really seriously until I hired a VA. Suddenly, I was responsible for paying someone else and creating enough work for us both to do. Which is a very good thing for someone like me who needs some accountability.

    Top tips for hiring a Virtual Assistant

    OK, so are you interested in hiring a VA? Here are a few of my top tips.

    [su_icon_panel icon=”icon: lightbulb-o” icon_size=”41″]

    • Start small. Lots of VAs will be happy to start out with just a couple of hours a month
    • Speak to a few VAs. Jo felt like a great fit for me as she brought the organisation that I lacked, and really understands freelancers and social enterprises. Before you start, make a list of the things you want from a VA
    • Check in regularly. I had a Skype catch up with Jo every couple of weeks which really helps.
    • Make it as easy to share info as possible. Jo set me up on Asana which is fab for tracking what tasks we each have to do, and we use Slack to communicate rather than email (because I HATE email).[/su_icon_panel]

    I can’t wait to get working with a VA again, and would recommend it to anyone who is reaching the overwhelm stage.

    Have you thought about hiring a Virtual Assistant? What’s stopping you?

  • How To Create Freelance Terms And Conditions

    One of the easiest ways to get yourself in a tricky situation with a client, is to skip the freelance Terms and Conditions stage. Charging into a client relationship without setting boundaries means you don’t have anything to fall back on if they’re a late/non-payer, if they like to conduct meetings at ridic-o’clock or if they expect many, many revisions at no extra cost. T&Cs set the standards of your working relationship, and also highlight any issues that may crop up later on. Plus, it just looks more professional!

    When you’re new to freelancing, Terms and Conditions can seem like an intimidating concept, but when you’re starting out, a basic email T&C (which they can reply to, to confirm), will suffice. Below is an example of a very basic one I use.

    Freelance Terms And Conditions Template

    1. Notice Period: My notice period, for both myself and the client, is 30 days.

    2. Payment Terms: The below payment terms are based on my current 21 day payment period.
    An early payment discount – Invoices paid within 7 days of receipt will benefit from a 4% discount on the total. This can either be applied as a credit to your account against future invoices, or I can apply it to the current invoice. Please note, this only applies to bank transfer and Paypal payments (my preferred payment methods).

    A late payment fee – Invoices unpaid after 30 days will incur a fixed charge of £40, £70 or £100 depending on the size of the invoice (under £1,000, under £10,000, and higher). This is in accordance with the Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002, and will be applied automatically by my invoicing software. The software will automatically send a reminder 22 days after sending an invoice, if it is unpaid, with a reminder about the late fee.

    I currently submit my invoices around the 24th of each month in order to fit in with the monthly payroll run of most businesses. However, if you’d like me to amend this date to a more suitable time, please do let me know and I’d be happy to discuss.

    3. Availability My general work hours are 8-5 Monday-Friday. If a task is requested to be done over the weekend, overtime pay may apply.

    Late Payment Fees & Early Payment Discounts

    Late payment fees and early payment discounts are processes I use to encourage prompt payment of invoices. The latter works better, especially with larger clients, but the late payment fees cover me if someone does pay late.

    This is a very basic idea, and I tend to add to it and tweak it depending on the client and work. For example, for copywriting gigs I’ll add something about the number of revisions included. If it’s a client you’ve never worked with before, it may also be worth adding something in about the process if the original contract needs to be changed.

    What else could I include?

    Other things you may want to include:

    • Details of your charges
    • Expenses
    • Part payment if you’re taking a deposit
    • Intellectual Property Ownership (including usage and resale)

    My recommendation would be that you don’t start the work until they confirm they’re happy with your terms in writing.

    Want an extra check?

    As you progress, you may want to use a contract instead. Companies like Lawbite offer contracts, with a lawyer who can check it over for you, and Practical Law has a free one you can create by answering some questions.

  • The best Slack apps for freelancing

    www.freelancelifestyle.co.uk (1)I’ve been using Slack for a while for my business, and it’s revolutionised my freelance communications. If you haven’t used it before, it’s like a collection of chat rooms for businesses, removing a lot of the clutter from your inbox and really improving the speed of communication and decision making. With more and more businesses hiring remote talent, it’s becoming one of the easiest way to check in with everyone.

    Slack have just announced their app directory, full of bots and apps you can integrate with your Slack channel. App integration isn’t entirely new, I’ve had Asana integrated into my Slack for a while thanks to my VA Jo Shock, but it does make it a lot easier to search for and add new ones.

    Here are a few of my favourites so far for freelancers.

    • Growbot – If you’re working in a team, this is a nice app to measure acknowledgements and ‘wins’, boosting team morale
    • Birdly – I’m still testing this one, but in theory you upload your expenses (either a screengrab or pdf) and it will process it for you
    • Trello – If you’re a big fan of the project management tool, you can now import it into Slack so you’ll get updates in there every time you update it.
    • Asana – As I mentioned, this is one I already use. Every time an item is added or ticked off my Asana list, a notification pops up in Slack
    • Wunderlist – Although I use Asana for some of my project management, Wunderlist is my go-to for quick lists. The Wunderlist app will now update Slack with your progress
    • 99designs task – I know quite a few freelancers use 99designs to outsource small design jobs, and this app will update you with the progress of each task within your chosen Slack channel.
    • Google+ Hangouts – Yup! You can start a Hangout from within Slack!
    • CatFacts – Just for fun (and because cats power the internet)

    You can find all the above in the Slack App Directory (lots more to come apparently).

    P.S If you use Slack, you might also like the Slack Hacks at SlackStacks, and this tutorial for importing your Google Analytics into Slack.

    Are you a Slack user? Which apps do you rate? Let me know in the comments below!

  • How to run your business from your iPhone/iPad: Blogging

    StockholmEver since I had Oscar, the bulk of my online business is run from my iPhone or iPad. I thought it might be useful to share a few of the workflows I have in place to make creating, sharing and organising content easier – whether you have a little one or work on the go.

    First up, blog posts.

    Step 1: Draft it out

    Since becoming a mum, I’ve fully embraced drafting up either the bare bones of a post or the full post in Evernote on my phone or tablet. For example, with this post I brainstormed lots of blog post ideas that I really want to write, then create a draft format to help me flesh them out. You don’t have to use Evernote, Google Drive and WordPress’s own app are great), but I’ve found it the easiest to use with Siri.
    Using Siri is a game changer when it comes to writing posts now. I use it to transcribe by speaking into it using this button.
    siriblogpost
    (You can also use the record audio button to record it as an audio file and either turn it into a podcast or send it to someone on Fiverr to transcribe for you)
    I also use it to Google for other useful links or information.
    Step 2: Create your image
    Once I’ve drafted the blog post, I’ll switch to the Canva app on my iPad to create an image for the post. If I’m on my phone and just want a simple text image, I’ll use Instaquote. I get a lot of my images from Picjumbo (you don’t need to credit the images and they’re free) or buy them on Etsy or CreativeMarket if there are any great bundles.
    Step 3: Publish
    It’s perfectly possible to then take your post text and image and pop them into the WordPress app and hit publish. I have to confess though that I like to have a quick look at how it looks on a computer before I hit publish. If you’re like me and have a habit of forgetting to take the next step, schedule it on the app, and then check it on your laptop before it goes live.
    Step 4: Promote
     
    Finally, I have IFTTT recipes set up to promote it across social networks. One for Facebook, one for Pinterest and one for Google+. Once it’s live, I’ll also use Buffer to share it across Twitter a few times and into a few of my groups if relevant.

    Do you blog from your phone or tablet? Any apps you’d love to share? Leave them in the comments below!

  • Do you have any accounting question?

     Morning everyone! A quick post from me today about an upcoming series of posts from my freelancing accountant friend Raj Dhokia. Raj is going to be answering your accounting questions on the blog. I know this is an area lots of you (and I) struggle with, so I’m really excited to read what Raj’s pearls of wisdom are. He really knows his stuff, and as his partner is Elizabeth Sellars of Blognix, Rosalilium and Awesome Wave, he understands the financial woes of anyone running a business online.

    So, what questions do you have about accounting? Comment with them below, or email me on hello@emmacossey.com

  • How to overcome a freelancing setback

    shareasimage (33)Freelancing can be empowering, exciting and freeing. But it can also deal you with the odd whammy that leaves you feeling unconfident and a bit…well, a bit rubbish. It could be criticism from a client, a wobble when presenting something or a contract coming to an unexpected end. For me, a few weeks ago, it was a radio interview. I babbled, got my facts mixed up and came off the call wanting to faceplant a big slice of chocolate cake/cry. Thankfully it was a pre-recording, and I never tuned in to see if they used it, but it sent me into a bit of a flap and a confidence dip.

    So, I turned to the Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group. And they gave me a whole bundle of excellent advice and tips for what they do when they need to bounce back after a freelancing confidence bash.

    • Penny Golightly, one of my favourite frugal living bloggers, said “Don’t try to immediately flip into positive mode – let it out, have a cry, be sad, be angry, or whatever else you need. Give yourself a set amount of time to feel bad if you like”
    • Melissa Reynolds-Lawrence from Honey Bee Copywriting advised “To turn a negative into a positive, I usually find that a bad experience makes me feel a little more confident because even if it was bad, I didn’t die and ask myself ‘In a year, will this matter?’. The answer is usually ‘no’ because I’ll be doing something else really brave and the world’s focus will be on someone else”
    • Kathryn Hall, introvert expert at The Business Of Introverts, shared “Whenever things go wrong the absolute first thing I do is step back from work and have some ‘me’ time. I’ll do a bit of moping but generally I try and do something non-work related that will make me feel good and help to clear my thoughts. I love being out in the countryside and I’m a total introvert so for me that means going for a long hike in the fresh air on my own which always makes me feel better. I’m also a big fan of practicing gratitude and writing down my achievements to date can be helpful if my confidence has taken a knock. Looking forward to reading your post!”
    • Emily Jayne Phillips, my Birmingham-based stylist buddy, shared something her fiancé said “Just remember how many ‘bad days’ and set backs there were when you were in your ‘proper job’ (for me, I regularly used to have a cry when I got home and feel constantly frustrated!) compared to now. Everyone has set backs in our professional lives, and we’re lucky to be able to take more control of our careers as freelancers”
    • Megan Kerr, freelancer writer, also agreed about taking time out to deal with the emotional side “Really agree with taking some time to have the feels first, negative emotion gets a bad rep but we have to be allowed to feel stuff to be emotionally balanced.”
    • Jo Shock, the brilliant VA I work with, reminded me about perspective “even if it all seemed like waffle to you, that’s probably through the filter of your own expectations and understanding.”

    I completely agree with all the above. You have to take time to deal with the emotions, and if you’re anything like me, you get a big burst of adrenaline in that sort of situation which can power you to do all sorts of stuff. Er, let’s just say my office got a big declutter that day. But getting out of the house for a run, walk or simply to get away from your laptop for a bit will help. I also find chatting it out with other freelancers or loved ones helps, as does revisiting some previous success stories. If you don’t already, keep a little folder in your email account or Dropbox/Google Drive of your top moments as a freelancer. If you’re reflective, you may also find writing it all down helps to brain dump it out of your head and onto paper.

    And I promise, if you’re feeling rubbish right now, that feeling will list. Probably in a matter of hours!

    One final thing to add. Often, situations like this are there to highlight an area you can improve on. For me, it’s improving my knowledge of maternity pay for freelancers. For others, it might be developing a regular pitching habit to make sure you’re never without work, taking the emotion out of client feedback and seeing the learning opportunity, or simply understanding what situations/clients/decisions are not suited to you and your business. Every negative situation is a learning opportunity.

    Have you had a freelancing setback? How do you deal with these situations?

     

  • My freelance favourites for growing my business in 2015

    grow my freelance businessEvery few months or so, I like to share which tools, courses and books I rate as a freelancer. The ones that help me grow my freelance business. Below are a few of my current favourites. A few of them are affiliate links, which I’ve marked. I only recommend things that I have used and loved myself.

    Tools I use to grow my freelance business

    Freeagent for my accounting and invoicing (affil link). I’ve been using Freeagent for over a year now. I love that I can quickly and easily import my bank activity, send invoices in minutes (or automate them), input my expenses straight from my iPhone and even submit your Self-Assessment to HMRC.

    Opinion for recording and editing podcasts (read my guide for how to record, edit, upload and blog about your podcast in minutes from your iPhone here)

    Buffer for social media scheduling. I’ve tried so many of the social media management tools out there, and while I still use Hootsuite’s basic (free) package for monitoring my accounts, I love Buffer for scheduling up large amounts of content in one go then analysis what does best. You can also now schedule to Pinterest, something very few other services offer.

    Flipboard, Feedly and Bloglovin’. When it comes to keeping up with my favourite blogs, social networks and RSS feeds, these three are my favourites. They’re mobile-friendly, making them great for using with Buffer to schedule up content when you can’t get to your laptop.

    Get It Done. I adore this app for creating long-term, short-term and daily goals, as well as reflecting on my day.

    Evernote. I use Evernote every day to save documents, draft blog posts, record audio, scan any important documents and share content with team collaborators. The best advice anyone gave me about Evernote is that you have to go ‘all in’.

    IFTTT. Ever since becoming a mum, I’ve been relying on IFTTT more and more to get more done through automating certain processes. IFTTT does this brilliantly. Whether it be saving emails with ‘receipt’ in the subject to a spreadsheet for me to save for my expenses or saving my favourites tweets to Pocket.

    Courses I love

    Kerri Walker’s DIY PR club (affil link). I’ve known Kerri for a while now, and she has been a huge inspiration to me when it comes to running a business with a baby. Kerri is also a fantastic source of information and ideas for getting your business out there and doing your own PR. Her DIY PR club is perfect for anyone who wants to know how to grow awareness of their business.

    Denise Duffield Thomas bootcamp (affil link). Denise Duffield Thomas’s bootcamp is one of the most valuable money bootcamps I’ve ever taken. She tackles the kind of money blocks business women often face – whether it be a lack of confidence in their pricing, the belief that they’re not good enough to actually sell their product/service or that it’s greedy to want more. If you feel like there’s a mental block holding you back from working out how to grow your business further, or you’ve ever wobbled about charging someone for a service or product you offer, Denise’s course is a must-have. She’s got a bundle of freebies on her site too.

    Psst! Have you checked out The Freelance Lifestyle School of courses? It’s on the excellent Teachable platform, which you can find out more about here. 

    Books

    Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. If you want to read more about the psychology of habits, Gretchin Rubin’s book (and podcast) is a must. This is probably one of the key things I’ve read and implemented which has helped grow my freelance business.

    Jump Start Your Money Confidence: Personal finance confidence in 30 days for the overwhelmed and anyone who thinks they’re useless with money. Penny Golightly was one of the first few people I followed on Twitter back in 2009. Her blog posts, books and courses on money are realistic and practical. Her Jump Start Your Money Confidence book is the latest in her series and will make a significant difference to your money outlook.

    The Jump Start Journal: One small action every day to improve your personal finances and quality of life. Another book by Penny, perfect for kicking off 2016 with.

    ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever. If you’re looking for a book that challenges the traditional ideas of how offices, businesses and the modern working world should run, this is the book for you.
    `
    Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. If you suspect you might be introverted, this book really is an essential read. It made me feel like I could have control and power as an introvert – and that’s a very empowering thing indeed.

    Those are my 2015 favourites to grow my freelance business. What’s yours?

  • 5 ways to be more assertive at work

    A few of the lovely freelancers in my Facebook community have kindly agreed to contribute some guest posts while I’m busy with my biggest project yet – looking after my newborn son! I’m so excited about Hayley’s post below on being assertive as I know it’s a topic a lot of freelancers I know struggle with. Have a read, then let me know in the comments how you plan to be a little more assertive. 

    shareasimage (30)Why is that on some occasions you have absolutely no issue in saying exactly how you feel and standing your ground, yet on others you walk away wishing you’d been able to say no, share what you really thought and just been little more assertive? Sometimes the word “assertive” can be negatively mistaken for dominating conversation, always getting your own way or always being right. But in reality isn’t assertiveness really about having the confidence to ensure your opinion is heard, feeling like an equal in the relationship and being able to state your case where necessary?

    So here’s 5 tips that will help you to assert yourself more confidently and with real authenticity in those more difficult moments

    1. Remember that power comes from within!

    Job status, seniority, wealth are all typically things people associate with power. But if you base your definition of power on external factors then what happens when these elements are stripped away? Seeing power as coming from within, sourced from your strengths and your experience, allows you to feel powerful at any given time and making you less likely to feel intimidated by those who may try to use their seniority, status or even wealth as power over you. If you feel less powerful with certain individuals or in certain situations, spend some time exploring what it is about these particular people or occasions. Think about the actions you could take to prepare yourself beforehand in order to feel more confident.

    2. Use neutral language

    If you find it difficult to give negative feedback or share how you feel about something for fear of upsetting others, then try using objective language. You’ll find this makes the conversation much less personal for the individual on the receiving end and stops you from feeling as though you’re attacking them. Avoiding judgemental terms such as “You should / you shouldn’t” or “You make me feel” or “I’m disappointed ” and replacing them with more neutral phrases such as “When I hear the words ….. the impact is that I feel……it would be helpful for me if” will make the conversation feel less confrontational.

    3. Think about the other perspective

    Before proposing new ideas or sharing alternative viewpoints, try to think about how the other person may receive the information. Think about their current situation, what else may they be dealing with and when would be a good time for you speak to them. By spending time understanding things from their perspective, you’ll find it easier to anticipate potential objections or reactions. This means you can confidently plan your response or solutions in advance. It will also help you choose your words and approach to the conversation, meaning you’ll come across with greater confidence and be able to influence more effectively.

    4. Be clear on your own values

    When you know what’s important for you, your own work ethos and what you expect from other people then you’ll feel more confident in dealing with issues that don’t align with your values. If you work with people regularly then letting them know what’s important for you and finding out the same from them will help you to ensure expectations are clear on both sides.

    5. No doesn’t mean never

    Saying no can be difficult as you don’t want to let others down but often this can end up with you taking on more than you want or can handle. However, saying “no” doesn’t have to mean “NEVER” but simply “not right now”. Next time someone asks you to do something or sets a deadline that isn’t really feasible for you, try proposing a different timeframe or offer to help with as much as you can do in that time instead. This way you’re still helping but it’s an agreement between both of you. After all they need your help so if they want it, they need to be flexible! Think win: win ; collaboration not compromise. And never be afraid to ask for time to reflect! Sometimes taking a little time out to process your thoughts can instantly give you a sense of power and confidence. You don’t always need to have the answer straight away!

    [su_testimonial photo=”http://www.freelancelifestyle.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/H13-bw-crop-720×1024.jpg” url=”www.hayleywintermantle.com.”]Hayley Wintermantle is a Career Development Coach who helps women step up in their careers, step out into work that aligns with their passion and strengths and truly step into their own. For support, guidance or to find out more about this globe-trotting foodie you can find her at http://www.hayleywintermantle.com.[/su_testimonial]