What 6 months of freelancing has taught me

I took the plunge and start my own consulting business 6 months ago (see my post summarizing my first full week as a freelancer:Three things I’ve learned on my first week as a freelancer ). It feels like it was only yesterday… time sure moves fast when you’re enjoying yourself, and it was sure a very interesting period for me.  I will admit, it was not all fun, but I’ve learned so much, made lots of new connections and really feel I’ve made a significant progress in my career, that it was all worth it.

new office.PNG
My new office- The coffee shop

 

Through trial and error, and sometimes through good fortune of instinctively making the right decision, I’ve learned some valuable lessons I’m happy to share we you all:

  1. Choose your customers
    this is a tricky one. As a first time freelancer it’s really tempting to take on any client that is willing to pay you. But in addition to making sure you are well compensated for your hard work and not stretching yourself too thin, you need to make sure you and clients see eye to eye. If not, you will constantly defending your work, or worse, apologizing. Two actionable tips I can provide here are to set the expectations up front, in writing, and be VERY SPECIFIC about what you are expected to deliver. The second is to trust your instincts. If your gut feeling is that a certain client will be a pain in the neck, he will probably be (telltale signs are clients who negotiate hard over your pay and insist on being hand-on throughout the process). It is better to forfeit an annoying customer in advanced than to untangle a contract halfway through.   
  2. Price yourself right
    a tricky issue. At first you will agree to dismal pay only to start rolling, but you must quickly adjust and resist “discounting” yourself in order to gain another customer. The reasons being that this client is most likely of the negative type (see first article), but more importantly, as a freelance consultant you are really selling yourself- your time and know-how. You cannot scale these things, so if you agree to charge less you are effectively eroding your own value, which, unlike in product sales, you cannot compensate by volume.  
  3. Don’t over commit
    at first, assessing how much time and effort a task will take is very difficult since you don’t have enough experience. But after you’ve gained sufficient experience, make sure you don’t load yourself too much. This serves 2 purposes: it makes sure you deliver the goods and that you don’t burn yourself- both of which are detrimental to long term business.  
  4. Always be scouting
    keep in mind that all your current, paying customer could be gone tomorrow, and actively look for new prospects. Some people estimate they spend 20% of their time looking for the next business. That may be too much, but make sure you divert at least some of your attention to scouting for new business. You can outsource this to a degree- ask others to offer your services to their friends and business associates, and ask your current customer if they would be willing to serve as a reference or even refer you to other companies in the field.
  5. Don’t forget that managing the business is part of the business
    many people focus on deliver the professional output they are hired to deliver, and forget that they are, in fact, business owners. If you don’t negotiate, sign a contract, submit an invoice and make sure the money is wired to your bank you are effectively working for free. Do not compromise on any business aspect of your activity- submit all your invoices on time, check your bank account on a regular basis and make sure you plan ahead to maintain positive cash-flow. If someone fails to pay or delay a payment- stop all activities at once. Be polite yet determined- people need to realize you cannot be pushed around. This does become easier with time, and you learn to hedge yourself in advanced (take some of the money up front, insist on better payment terms and negotiate cheaper credit from your bank).
  6. Be frugal and agile
    The beauty of starting an independent consulting business today is that you don’t need to invest much capital. All you need is a laptop, mobile phone, an accountant (which can be a virtual one) and you are good to go. Do not make any investments (like a new computer, latest iPhone model or car) until you are 100% sure you need it. I work from home, cafés, at the customers ‘offices, public library and other places and avoid expensive rent or fee for places like Wework. I use public transportation as much as possible and have not bought any piece of equipment. I’ve learnt to make do with much less than I had working in a corporate office, and happy I don’t have to pay and worry about long term lease and out of pocket expenses I may never be able to recuperate.
  7. Always deliver value- in the end, this is what matters. Clients won’t pay you (or would stop working with you) if they don’t feel they are getting their money’s worth. That does not mean they own your time, but it does mean they expect you to be responsive and attentive, deliver what you committed to deliver (and more, if possible), and help their business thrive. If you can deliver value in way they don’t expect- even better. I’m usually hired to help with marketing, but if I spot a business opportunity I try to help and make it happen, as I feel the client’s success would also mean my own. Clients sense this and are thankful for this.
  8. Remember the end game- Being a freelancer isn’t for everyone, and is pose challenges a full time employee might never encounter. So make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and occasionally ask yourself if this is still working for you. I decided to take this as a trial year and then decide if I want to continue this way, commit to a single customer or found my own company. I have not decided yet, but I feel at the end of this year I would have gained enough knowledge of my own preference and the industry to make the best decision.

And try to have fun! remember, you’ve started on your own because you wanted to rid yourself of pesky bosses and mundane 9-5 routine. This is your chance to test if this lifestyle works for you. Even though it’s not always easy, it sure is more exciting and motivating, so try to enjoy the ride!

I’ll check in at the end of the year, to let you all know how my first full year felt like.

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What I’ve learned from arranging my first Meetup

It started as some kind of joke or a dare- a guy I don’t know asked on Quora if there are any meetups for local Quora users. The replay was that it sounded like a good idea but it was never done before. So I thought to myself- why not?

So I started a new meetup group called the Israeli Quora meetup (neatly labeled “IQ”) and set a tentative date for a meetup.

IQmeetup

I published the existence of the group and the meeting on social media and Quora itself and waited. Pretty soon people started joining the group and RSVPing to the meetup. Now that it became more tangible I had to actually find a place and set an agenda for the meeting. Finding a location proved more difficult than I first expected. All the places I knew that could host us for free were unavailable. I didn’t want to start collecting money to fund this activity. Through open discussion we’ve reached the conclusion that it would be ok to hold the meeting in some public place, as long as it had ample parking and access to public transportation. 

I then came across an unexpected hurdle- I originally set the date to 7.7 to make it memorable, but it turned out my wife had to be abroad that day and I had no one to look after my kids. So I postponed it one week to the 14.7. I booked us a large table at a local beergarden and waited. 18 RSVP, but I was almost certain not everyone would show up. It didn’t bother me much since I knew at least several people were actually going to make it and I would not have to sit at a table set for 18 people all alone.

Long story short- they came, we dined and drank beer, talked and talked and had a great time. We said goodbye some 2.5 hours later and everyone, self-included, were pleased. I took some notes (written and mental ones) during the meeting and I’d like to share these with you here:

1.      Quorans (that’s insider jargon for Quora users) like to talk. A lot.

2.      Quorans interesting and merry folks. There were people from all over the country (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other places) aged 18-60 (I think, I never asked but some were fresh from high school and others had gray hair. I dare not guess the ladies’ age…)

3.      “If you arrange it, they will come”- People like to meet like-minded people. Period.
No professional agenda is needed, no high profile speaker or hip location…  just provide people the platform to meet face to face and they would gladly come.

4.      Networking works better face to face (and over beer)- Sure, I’ve been following and corresponding with these people over several months on various platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora and meetup inmail platform) – but 5 minutes sitting next to them were so much more meaningful.

5.      People really appreciate others who take initiative- all the participants thanked me and people that I didn’t even think of praise me for arranging this meetup. In reality all it took was 5 minutes to setup the Meetup accounts, some 20-30$ for the account fee, a few emails and phone calls. Nonetheless, people see you as the facilitator and acknowledge you’ve done something they’ve only dreamed or talked about. 

And they respect you for it.

So what am I taking from all this? Will I arrange another meetup?

You bet.

I just extended my subscription to Meetup and moved to unlimited account, which means that more than 50 people can actually join the online group. I will certainly push for another meeting in the fall, and make sure we will be meeting in a more convenient location. And yes- I will delegate most of the work to others. There are at least a dozen of IQ members that know how fun such a meeting can be and will surely help me arrange the next one.

One last note- I’m looking at 2016 as a year in which I experiment and try new things. Arranging this meetup, while not planned or thought of as part of this experience, was a great learning experience for me, and I’m really glad I’ve made the effort to pull it off.

And I know my fellow Quorans are grateful, too.

How I used social media in real-time to support a sale

As part of my role as a marketing consultant, I support my clients during live events. This support includes twitting, posting Facebook and LinkedIn updates and engaging with the event audience online.

This usually results in some buzz, better traffic to the site and increase in social media followership. But sometimes, I can actually support the sales process in real time. Last week o a cybersecurity company I work with presented in a conference in Washington, D.C.

I monitored the online chatter and discussions around it and made sure my clients were active and present. I posted pictures (sent back to me by the sales guy on -site) and updated the audience about events happening at the booth. Then I saw a person I didn’t know tweet about being targeted by a phishing attack. He found it funny this happened during his visit to a cybersecurity conference. I was this as an opportunity. It was, in fact, a terrific opportunity, because my client was selling a product which could have blocked this same attack.

social media support in RT
Tweet and response

 

I tweeted back to him saying he should visit the booth to see how their solution could help him. I then checked his profile on LinkedIn, and sent a quick email to the sales person on site advising him to contact the gentleman ASAP.

He did, the guy visited the booth and was impressed with the product, and no less than that- of us “hunting” him so quickly.

Hearing a sales guy rave about the marketing’s performance is unusual, but that’s exactly what happened. He thanked me and said he will definitely continue the dialog with this prospect.

All in all, a great example of the power of social media, amplified by the power of real-time action to achieve maximum effect.