How to find clients that fit

When you interview with a client, understand that you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. And it’s OK to decide that they are not a good fit.

Finding clients when you’re new to freelancing is challenging — finding the right clients is even more so. It’s so tempting to just cast your net wide and accept the first thing that comes your way, but that’s just not going to get you where you want to be.

You’re a professional and you have goals. You’ve defined your skill set and you know the type of work you want to be doing, now you need to understand the type of client you want to be doing it for. Here are a few ways to refine your search and weed out the clients who aren’t going to be your best fit.  

Think like an HR professional

Think about it. When brick-and-mortar companies are hiring for a position, they don’t just hire the first person who submits an application. They screen them. And only a few make it to the interview process. I once interviewed with the same company twice before I was offered a job — I simply didn’t match up with their needs the first time through.

When you’re scanning job boards or reaching out to potential clients, you need to be reaching out to the ones that are going to best fit your skills and work style. Otherwise, you’re going to be wasting not only your own precious time and resources, but the time and resources of the people you contact. On that note…

Network, don’t spam

How annoying is it to get a promising email from a recruiter only to read the listing and realize it’s nowhere near what you’re looking for? For example, I get countless emails from recruiters who clearly haven’t even read my bio — no, I’m not interested in a sales position at your insurance agency, thank you very much.

I immediately know that the person (if they’re a real person at all) has not put much thought into whether I’d be interested in the opportunity they’re presenting me with, and I dismiss it as spam. When you reach out to potential clients this way, they know. Don’t do it. This is spam and it’s annoying and unprofessional.  

However, you may come across professionals who don’t need your services, but might have contacts who do. If you think a person in your industry might be able to point you in the right direction, make contact and ask. Tell them that you think they may know someone who would benefit from your services and that you would love if they could pass on your information. Offer to do the same for them. When done correctly, this is called networking.

Be choosy

Chances are, when you were working a regular 9 to 5, you weren’t applying for jobs you didn’t want. Don’t do it as a freelancer. That seems like sort of a step in the wrong direction, doesn’t it?

Pro tip: Set yourself up for success by being honest with potential clients about your skill level. They’ll be pleasantly surprised when you perform beyond their expectations and they’ll be more likely to hire you again and refer you to other businesses.

Consider this: You probably do your best work when you’re doing something you’re good at in an industry you already understand. An article in the “Gallup Business Journal” ranked “the ability to do what they do best” as the No. 1 factor in employees choosing a role in an organization that fits them best. Gallup has also linked high engagement to better business outcomes. Read the full article here.

This makes sense. If you enjoy and understand fitness, look for clients in that field, rather than clients in the financial industry. Chances are, you know more about fitness than finance, and this knowledge is going to come through to the client in your proposal and your final deliverable.

Also, looking for jobs in an industry you are familiar with means you’re going to spend less of your time on background research and more on the actual job. This doesn’t mean you won’t have to conduct research at all, but it does mean you’ll have the savvy to know how to research what you need efficiently. And clients (and yourself) will appreciate your efficiency.

Understand your needs

Before you and a client agree to terms on a job, there’s going to be an interview (or two). Please believe that you are interviewing the client as much as they are interviewing you. There are a few things you need to consider before you decide a client is a good fit for you. Ask questions. Both about the job and the client. Consider the following:

Time. I’m not talking about deadlines here. If you’re not looking strictly at local jobs, there’s the possibility that you’ll be working with clients in different time zones.

Ask about the best way to contact a client during a job, including which times are best for them and how they prefer to communicate. You may find that they keep a very different schedule than you do, making it difficult to connect. Or maybe, they prefer to speak on the phone when you prefer to email. Are you going to be available to have a phone conversation?

Experience. You’ve already assessed your experience, but the client’s experience is also important because it’s going to inform their expectations. You might consider asking them questions about past jobs with freelancers. What went well? What would they have liked to see handled differently?

If they’re a new business, ask why they decide to start their new e-commerce site or blog. This can give you a few insights into their industry knowledge and, more importantly, their expectations for the work they get from you.

If you come across a client who has little industry knowledge and no clear direction, you can still decide to work with them, but you might decide to approach things a little differently. And don’t discount them right away — they might turn out to be your favorite clients to work with!

Scope. Does the client appear to understand what they want and the work that is going to go into achieving it? You’re going to come across clients all day long that just don’t understand what they’re asking for. And that isn’t necessarily a deal breaker — it may just be that they haven’t done this before.

In many cases, this can be cleared up by having an honest conversation with the client about your process and the amount of work their job is going to entail. This can accomplish two things: One, it weeds out the clients who just want the cheapest price regardless of quality; and two, it establishes reasonable expectations should you decide to move forward.

It’s OK to say “no”

If, even after screening the jobs and interviewing with the client, you decide that this just isn’t a good fit, say “no.” Just as you’re not going to be right for every job, not every client is going to right for you. Don’t set yourself up for the frustration of working with someone you just can’t have a productive and rewarding working relationship with.  

There are professionals out there who will argue that you just can’t be that picky when you’re first starting out. Sure. But is pursuing jobs with clients whose price doesn’t match the scope of the project or who expect a deliverable that doesn’t make sense for the industry really helping you reach your business goals?

You have to understand that the work you do in these cases is going to present you with challenges outside of what you might reasonably expect. These challenges are going to affect the deliverable and maybe not reflect as well on you as you would like. Don’t feel like you have to take this job just because it’s available.

If you focus on choosing clients who fit you as well as you fit their job, you can skip unnecessary conflict and get straight to the work you want to do. There will always be challenges in any job you take on — if there weren’t, life would be boring and we wouldn’t grow professionally. But, don’t take on challenges that aren’t going to make you better at your job.


Planning for social media marketing success

There’s just something about self-promotion that makes me cringe. But it really can’t be avoided. I was evaluating my own social media marketing efforts and realized that I wasn’t really leveraging social media at all, other than throwing my blog posts up on my personal Facebook page (which hardly counts). So, in the spirit of intentional marketing, here are a few tips and tricks to make social media marketing a little less hairy.

Define your marketing goals

You should know ahead of time what you’re hoping to get out of your social media efforts. It can be anything from brand awareness to sales, but you have to know what you’re trying to do in order to develop a plan to do it. A quick survey of these three questions can set you on the right path:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What do want to gain?
  3. How much time do you have?

Once you figure out who you want to connect with, what you expect them to do once you’ve connected, and how much time you have to dedicate to connecting, you can start choosing your platforms.

Also, understand that social media requires man power. Know your limitations so you can avoid overextending yourself — your clients are going to expect full access to you once you connect, so make sure you’ll be available to respond.

Choose your platform

There are a lot of options out there and they all offer something that’s just a little bit different. I really like Facebook, because it offers the ability to write much longer posts than other platforms and you can create a dedicated business page linked to your personal page. This is nice because it separates my personal and business pages while still leveraging my personal page and all of the connections I already have.

Twitter is more of a conversation happening in real time and offers you the ability to connect and respond quickly. Twitter is a bit intimidating for me, but I’ve found that following a few hashtags relevant to my business allows me to ease into the conversation when I feel I have something interesting to say.

Instagram is about sharing images rather than body copy, but a short snippet of information and a few relevant hashtags in the caption is appropriate and can help grow brand awareness.

These are just my top three, but there’s also LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr and many others. Take a look at this blog post for a more in-depth look at what each platform can add to your marketing efforts.

Pro tip: Not all social media platforms will be right for you. Start with the top two or three that fit your needs best.

Curate content

You want to post your own content on your social media pages, but don’t get so focused on what you have to say that you exclusively post your own stuff. Be social and take the opportunity to feature content from other brands on your social media.

At a webinar I attended, the presenter addressed linking to other brands. He said that while you may not want to feature your competitors, you can share content from brands that are complementary to yours. For example, if you’re an editor, you might share something from a graphic designer whose work you admire.

Sharing content from brands in the same industry can open up new opportunities. You may be able to pick up a few new client and build relationships with other professionals who can refer you business.

Direct traffic back to your site

When crafting your posts, don’t forget to point people back to your website. This is where you tie it all together in a neat little package for your audience. Hey, audience, not only do I have interesting things to say about what I do, but here’s where you can go to see more (hire me, please). The most obvious way to direct traffic back to your site is by popping your link into each post, but it goes beyond that.

First, you need to make sure your profile is completely and accurately filled in. Tell people about who you are and what you do and don’t make people search for answers. Everything needs to be easily accessible.

Second, post engaging content regularly and make it super easy for visitors to share that content. Getting your content out there and into your audience’s feeds can help grow brand awareness and get new visitors to your site.

Third, include calls to action. People might be reading your stuff, but if you’re not asking for their business, it might never progress past that point. Give clear, actionable steps for your readers to take next. This might be “click here to read more” or “need an editor, contact me here.” Make the ask.

Measure and adjust

Once you’ve got your formula figured out, you need to know that it’s working and where you might need to adjust if it’s not. This is where analytics comes in.

Analytics are important for many reasons, but especially because it tells you everything you need to know about the people who are visiting your site and then some. And a really good analytics tool will break it down into helpful graphics and bullet points for those of us who don’t really understand the intricate workings of data mining.

I use Google analytics, but there are plenty of free options out there. The bottom line is you can’t expect to change the things that aren’t working if you don’t know what they are — analytics bridges that gap. Find a tool you like and get a plugin for your site.

Get going!

Social media can be a great way to drive traffic back to your site and gain more clients, sales, blog followers, etc. While simply being on social media doesn’t guarantee marketing success, having a plan that includes the basic who, what, where and how, can get you started, and the data can keep you on the right path. So get your social media profiles together and start achieving your goals!

Do you have tips that have really helped your own social media efforts? Share them in the comments!


3 ways to demonstrate skill, sans portfolio

If you’re like me and you’re transitioning from the corporate workforce into the freelance one, you’re probably familiar with the portfolio struggle. Every profile you create will have an option to link to your portfolio and most job postings you bid on will ask for one. It’s the most visible record of your past work and achievements.

Coming straight out of corporate town, you likely can’t use work from your previous job in your portfolio because it’s proprietary to the company you worked for. Sharing it (if you can access it) would be unethical.

Proprietary: n. held under patent, trademark, or copyright by a private person or company [a proprietary medicine]. — Webster’s New World Dictionary

So how do you showcase your skill? Change strategies. The portfolio is only one in a list of tools at your disposal. Until you can build a portfolio based on your freelancing work, there are plenty of other ways to prove your worth.

Create samples

If you work in an industry that’s focused on deliverables, like writing or design, create a few pieces that showcase your skill. And make them specific to the job you’re looking for.

This may mean that you create something new for each client you interview with. Or maybe you’re always creating something new (like blog posts). The trick is to provide enough of a sample that it represents your expertise without giving away your work.

Pro tip: Export samples to PDF format if you’re sending them out so they can’t be lifted by an unscrupulous client.

Publish

Send work out for publishing. There are tons of trade magazines out there accepting submissions from novice writers. The Writer accepts submissions for both its online and print versions. You’re a google search away validation.

Being able to point a potential client to work that someone else has bought is a testament to your skill. Look, potential client, other people pay for my work — you should, too. It solidifies your claim that you’re an authority in your industry, even without a folder of previous work to show off.

Pro tip: To give your article the best shot at being seen, make sure you’ve read the submission guidelines before you submit. Don’t just send your work out into the void and hope for the best.

Solve a problem

Not the current client’s problem, though. They don’t get that for free. Instead, talk about past or similar problems you’ve solved and how you did it. Walk the client through your process and talk about best practices.

In a previous post, I talked about addressing a client’s uncertainty by telling him more about my quality control practices. Remember, you’re an authority — act like it. This on its own can demonstrate your understanding of your role and the industry you’re working in. It might even help you avoid the topic of portfolio altogether.

Takeaway

Portfolios are useful, but by no means are they the only way of impressing future clients. If you can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing, it won’t matter that you lack a portfolio. Leverage what you have — the skills and best practices you gained, rather than physical evidence of work done — combined with one (or more) of the above methods and demonstrate your value.

How to tell a client they’re wrong

When I worked as a copy editor for a healthcare marketing agency, there wasn’t a week that went by without a client request at proof that just made me go “huh?”

My saving grace is that I sat next to, and was trained by, a copy editor who possessed an abundance of patience and experience. Enough of both to understand that sometimes clients don’t care about grammar. And that’s OK. “As long as it doesn’t make them look stupid, let them have it. If it’s really bad, query,” she would often remind me.

Genius. (It still made me twitchy though.)

My job is to be an expert in grammar, style and punctuation. To rid the client’s content of error and even provide help with flow and clarity. But the client is the expert in their brand voice. And sometimes that demands a more casual approach to the written word.

It sounds straight forward, but when the request goes against a clients’ own style preferences, it’s difficult not to query, “You do know this is in your style guide right? You know, the one you provided us with? The very one you pointed to at last proof when we didn’t want to capitalize ‘department’ when it stood alone?” Yeah … true story.

But my coworker was right. It is less important to be correct according to a style guide than it is to give the client their say in their content. It is, after all, their content.

But! But! What if it’s an egregious error? Then it’s time for a bit of diplomacy. Sometimes it’s your job to tell the client they’re wrong enough that something needs to be done differently. And you have to be nice.

I had an interesting conversation with a bank manager whose friend was a book editor at one time. The bank manager told me a story about how his friend was asked to edit a book for someone whose writing needed quite a bit of help.

The editor friend tore the book apart, suggested changes and sent it back. The writer was offended. And the editor friend decided it was time to switch gears in his career. It wasn’t explicitly stated that the career change was entirely due to this writer’s hurt feelings, but I got the idea that this was something the editor friend came up against a lot.

“It’s too bad, too, my friend was a brilliant editor,” the bank manager told me.

And he probably was. I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter.

The thing is, people don’t like to be told they did something incorrectly. Even when they know it. There are a few ways to handle this however, in a way that moves the job — and the relationship — forward. The key here is to always offer a solution. Never tell someone they’re wrong without telling them how to fix it.

The simplest way to address a client-requested error is to rewrite the sentence or phrase, or offer multiple rewrites for the client to choose from. One of the go-to query phrases I picked up from past coworkers is, “I made some edits to this section for grammar and clarity. Please let me know if you would like to make any changes.”

This corrects the error and includes the client in the solution. It also lets them know that if they don’t like your fix, they can tweak it. Most clients won’t make further changes at this point, but if they do, the end result is still better than the original.

Another great way to address a client request that creates an error is to ask for clarification. “When you say this, do you mean to say this? I would like to clarify for the reader.” Again, this includes the client in the solution and helps keep their voice in mind. It also focuses the content on the target audience. And if you can tie your fix into a benefit for the client’s readers — money.  

And finally, if a client is adamant about something that just isn’t consistent with their style preferences (or the English language in general) ask them if they would like to add it to their style guide. As my college journalism professor would say, “be right or be wrong, but be consistent.”

Ultimately, when I’m editing something, it’s my job to make sure the content that’s put out is as error-free as possible. Every piece of content I work on reflects on me professionally. In a perfect world, a client would hire me and then let me loose to do my job. In reality, the world’s not perfect and clients want (not surprisingly) control over their content. The back and forth between clients and editors is really what makes the job interesting and contributes to engaging content. So I try to pick my battles and keep my clients’ voices in mind when I edit.

Selling your value: What does it cost?

Probably the hardest thing about striking out on your own is finding work. Luckily, I started out with clients. But finding more is a challenge. Especially without much of a portfolio.

Is it worth it to work for cheap to build your portfolio? Some would argue yes. And I agree with them to a point. My strategy here is to proceed with caution.

I recently had an encounter with a potential client that really got me thinking about what my time is worth and how to sell my value as a relatively inexperienced editor.

The client had been burned on a job by a previous freelancer. The freelancer had delivered content that was well below the client’s expectations and the client was now in the position of paying someone new to fix it.

What the client told me was something along the lines of “I’m not trying to be cheap, I’ve just already spent so much on this job and I haven’t really gotten what I want out of it yet.”

I took a look at the links the client sent me and explained what I thought needed to be done and quoted an estimate on time and expense.

And then the client stopped messaging me. Damn.

I took a second look at our message history and analyzed what it is was the client was telling me they needed. And I followed up. This client had been burned by a bad experience and was looking for a solution.

I offered a courtesy proof and a fixed rate for the job. I offered the client the ability to exercise quality control over the content before it went live so that they could feel confident in the end product. Benefits over features.

A more experienced editor would have focused on this from the beginning. I’m still learning — I got so excited about the prospect of a new client that I didn’t pay close enough attention to their needs.

While I’ll make many more mistakes, this won’t be one I’ll be repeating any time soon.

Some people will argue that working for a reduced rate devalues your brand. I feel that. But sometimes getting a foot in the door is more important. And you can always renegotiate once you’ve proven your value.

If you have a similar story, tell me about it in the comments. Sharing our failures helps us grow!

Learning How to Let Go

Letting go of expectations is always hard. As parents there’s a lot of pressure to fit the mold. Forget the mold. You’ll be happier.

Esquivel House X4

With the holiday season in full swing and party invitations are coming in left and right, you likely have more balls in the air than ever before, and you may be struggling to keep it all running smoothly and keep everybody happy—yourself included.

But the reality is there’s only so much you can control. And the more you cling to the idea of having the perfect schedule or the perfect holiday activity or the perfect family weekend, the more you will find yourself frustrated, run ragged, and let down.

Trust me when I say I know how it feels, to have this idea in your head and the execution or expectations failed your reality.

That may just be a sign that you need to let go. That’s not to say you intentionally drop all of those balls in the air, or stop caring about your kids or your…

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The entrepreneur’s guide to licensing

First things first. Before one can begin working as a freelancer, one must satisfy certain licensing requirements.

In Washington state that means state and city licenses. Basically, you need to be licensed where you work. My own experience was shades of “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” So I decided to write my own guide to save you some time and frustration. This is specific to Washington State, but maybe it’s easier elsewhere? If you have an experience you would like to share, tell me about it in the comments and we can commiserate. 

Before I started this process, I did some light research, reading several blogs to get an idea of what other people’s experiences had been. Most blogs were vague about the process and focused instead on the differences between a sole proprietorship and an LLC. There wasn’t really much instruction to be found on how to go about licensing your business, even on the actual licensing websites. For that reason, I’ll be focusing on the process. 

Having armed myself with as much knowledge as I could find, I got started. I gave myself 30 days to get my licenses to account for potentially slow processing times — because Vogons, affectionately referred to as government employees, are notoriously slow. Surprisingly, most of the processing is automated and takes little to no time. Just the 7 to 10 business days it takes to mail a hard copy of your license. But finding the correct paperwork is another story.

First off, it’s important to note that things must be done in the correct order. It’s disappointing filling out your paperwork only to realize that you can’t complete it. Trust me. In Washington state, you must first file with the Secretary of State — either online or by mailing in your paperwork. I filed online. It costs $20 more, but it almost immediately grants you your Washington State Unified Business Identifier (UBI) — which is required for step two. #worthit. 

Once you have your UBI, you can file for any city licenses you may need here. You just need to know which licenses you need. This is where I had trouble. Regardless of how tech savvy a person is, redundant links will almost always defeat you. Clearly, government sites are also built by Vogons.  

But, if you’ve been at it for an hour (or two) and haven’t made meaningful progress, ask your mom. Mine is a small business owner with loads of experience combing through government sites — it’s a talent I have yet to acquire. She was able to find this licensing wizard. If you don’t already know which licenses you need, I recommend it — there are a few hundred options.

The licensing wizard is a throwback to the early days of the internet, but it gets the job done. Just answer a few questions about how your business will be run. The wizard then provides a reference number and link to DOL site where you can apply for the appropriate licenses. 

I also chose to request an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. It’s free and banks will require one to open a business account with them. This step is technically optional. It’s also the easiest, but you must complete this paperwork in one sitting. You can get one here

If you can cut through the white noise that comprises most of the Washington State websites, the process itself is pretty straight-forward. Hopefully this post clears the way for you to help yourself. And seriously. That licensing wizard.