4 myths about freelance introverts…

MBTI-Results…and why they’re wrong, wrong, wrong.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t master the skills of interacting with people and generating freelance business; it simply means the process feels effortful, especially in groups.

Many extroverts claim you should just “get over it” and act like an extrovert (or better yet, force yourself to become one). But there’s a much better solution for freelance introverts: use your natural introvert strengths to get ahead.

Read Part 1 on the Creative Freelancer Blog.
Read Part 2 on the Creative Freelancer Blog.

  The “problem” of more work than you can handle

HelpFinding enough work to fill your pipeline can be a challenge, especially in the early days of your freelance career. But if you do your marketing work consistently, provide great service, and eat your Wheaties long enough, your business will eventually reach a point where you’re pushing the limits of your capacity.

This doesn’t mean you’ll break free of the “feast or famine” cycle. That will always be a risk, and your best defense is to keep your marketing machine running even when you’re crazy busy.

No, the milestone I’m talking about here is when you realize that taking on additional jobs that you handle personally is no longer a viable way for your business to grow because you’re stretched to the limit—or beyond.

Read the full story on the Creative Freelancer Blog.

  Marketing Yourself After a Monster Project

get-noticedI was recently interviewed for a great article by my colleague Bryn Mooth about re-starting your marketing machine after a major project. Check it out!

You’ve been immersed in a Monster Project that has consumed all your billable hours for months. Or, perhaps, you’ve been working on a lengthy contract assignment for a client. Time to start marketing yourself again. Here’s how.

Read the full story on The Creative Group Blog.

  Currents featured on Marketing Mentor

marketing-mentorI don’t often toot my own horn here, but I’m pleased to note that Currents was recently featured by Marketing Mentor in a collection of newsletters published by creative professionals.

Each of the newsletters were chosen “because they are excellent models, each approaching email marketing from a different angle AND because the content is also very useful.”

Check out the other great samples in the collection on the newly-relaunched Marketing Mentor website.

  Why every freelancer should take a vacation

beach-vacation-icnBeing self-employed means you can take a day off—or a week, or a month, or even more—whenever you like. Yet ironically many freelancers find it stressful to take a vacation.

That’s because too many freelancers overlook the business case for getting out of the office. When you get burned out you become less productive, less patient, less creative, and less a lot of other stuff. All of these things make you less profitable.

Read the full story on the Creative Freelancer Blog.

  5 Ways to Stay on Deadline

deadline-clockThe task of managing deadlines is one of the leading causes of stress for many writers. Even seasoned professionals struggle with them, especially when they start to pile up. While there’s no “silver bullet” for eliminating deadline stress altogether, I’ve learned that a few simple management tricks keep me on schedule while keeping my blood pressure low. (By the way, they work just as well for designers and other creative pros too.)

1. Track all your deadlines in one place.

Using a system that allows you to see all your deadlines at a glance gives you a complete picture of what you’ve committed to. It also minimizes nasty surprises by reducing the chance that something will fall through the cracks. Whether you choose to go high- or low-tech depends on your personal preference. What matters most is that your system be easily accessible and flexible enough to make quick adjustments easily as priorities change.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with 3×5 cards in a pocket board, digital calendar programs, and an Evernote “hot list.” My current favorite is Wunderlist, a versatile app that synchronizes across all my digital devices and allows me to add and rearrange tasks easily.

2. Practice “The Great Deadline Deception”

Here’s a secret your editor doesn’t want you to know: the “official” deadline isn’t always the real deadline. Flaky writers often assume that this gives them a little extra time, but that strategy can backfire in a big way when the deadline turns out to be the deadline.

Instead, practice the same technique on yourself by assigning deadlines that are earlier than they need to be. If the client says the project is due Friday, mark it on your schedule as being due on Wednesday, or even earlier if it’s a big project. This may not seem like a very effective method since you’re fully aware of the game you’re playing with yourself, but believe me, it really works. Less than a week after I started using this method, I forgot that I had built this buffer into my schedule. I was about to stress out over a project that was going to take an extra day until I realized that I had two extra days built in. Not only did the client never know about my anxiety, they still got their job a day early.

3. Break big deadlines into smaller ones.

Big deadlines can be overwhelming, but small ones are so easy! If you have something huge looming over you, break it down. Say you’re designing a website. Instead of one entry that says “everything for the website needs to be done by date X, create smaller deadlines based on key milestones. For example, you may decide that wireframes need to be done by date X, copy draft 1 by date Y, and so forth.

4. Work ahead.

Believe it or not, if you don’t wait until the last minute to start working toward a deadline, it will be far less stressful. Sounds simple, right? Yet strangely, most creatives struggle with this one.

The key to this strategy is to prioritize your list from step 1, then start working on your tasks in that order. The most obvious way to prioritize is by due date. Getting the most pressing item out of the way first allows you to move on to the next hottest item, and so on.

If you regularly write similar scheduled pieces, such as blog posts or newsletters, it’s also helpful to have several extras loaded ahead of time. For example, I’m currently working with a graphic design partner on a new monthly newsletter. Part of our strategy was to write the first three months of content prior to launch. Not only did this give us a comfortable buffer to work with, it also made us aware of how different our newsletter topics will be. Some, for example, will more image-heavy than others. That was valuable information for the designer to have as he created the newsletter template.

Having a few months’ worth of content in the hopper doesn’t prevent you from being current or topical. If something big happens in your industry that you need to comment on right away, you can always slide something into the content schedule and push the “evergreen” pieces back.

5. Write in batches.

Getting started is often the most difficult part of the writing process. Whenever I have a lot of similar content to create, I try to write at least two or three of them in one session.

This practice will save you time by leveraging your momentum. It also improves the connections between related pieces. This can have significant value, whether you’re writing a series of blog posts that focus on different aspects of a larger topic over time or a set of brochures that will appear together in the same display.

  Do you like the people you work with? You should.

HOWnow-icnOne of the reasons I have the best job in the world is that I like my regular clients and collaborators. All of them. I enjoy relationships of mutual trust and respect with them. We value what we each bring to the table. They pay me well and on time. They’re friendly. They respect my personal time. They’re reasonable. They have great senses of humor.

These utopian relationships aren’t just a happy accident. They’re like this by design.

Read the full story on the Creative Freelancer Blog.

  Writing insights from a puppy

puppyOn Valentine’s Day weekend, my wife Toni and I drove to nearby Columbus to meet four delightful Shetland Sheepdog puppies (responsibly bred…not from a puppy mill).

Toni had been craving another canine companion in the house for some time, but didn’t think that I would approve. After all, I work from home, am closely attached to the pooch we already have, and she didn’t think I’d want to mess with training a newcomer all day. Much to her surprise, I had already made up my mind before we left home that she’d be getting something more than a box of chocolate and the new Austenland DVD this year.

That evening we drove home with a new family member, who we’ve dubbed “Tilney,” the sweetest little 3.4 pound ball of fur you’ve ever seen. (Okay, maybe I’m slightly biased.) He was just seven weeks old the next day, so everything about his world was fresh and new.

I don’t remember much of anything from the time I was seven weeks old, so I can only imagine what it must be like for Tilney to be seeing the world for the first time. Some things make him anxious, like the vacuum cleaner, while others—notably Bingley, our adult pooch—excite his eager curiosity. But in either case he’s jumping into our lives with only seven weeks of experience to use as a frame of reference. What must the world look like through his eyes?

Tilney’s arrival also means I can’t take anything for granted for a while. I’m used to sharing my office with Bingley, a dog who already knows how to sit, stay, and let me know when he needs to go outside. Adorable as he is, Tilney still has most of that learning curve ahead of him—a fact I need to remember even as his training begins.

So what does all this have to do with writing (apart from blatant nods to characters from Jane Austen novels)?

When you reach out to new prospects—whether you’re promoting your business, introducing a new product, or expanding your audience—it’s a lot like trying to communicate with a newborn puppy. Some will know you by reputation, but many more will know nothing about you. The messaging you use to introduce yourself can excite their interest, turn them away, or (less common in puppies) leave them feeling uncertain about whether or not you’re right for them.

Your approach can be different when you’re dealing with people who already know you—your existing clients, prospects you’ve already had some contact with, or even people who are likely to know about you from high-profile projects. These readers already have a frame of reference that you can draw upon to build a more sophisticated message.

When it comes to totally new readers, though, you need to think like a puppy. You can’t assume that they’ll know the jargon you’ve lived with throughout your career, be familiar with the technology you use, or understand the significance of current events on your business. This doesn’t mean you should talk down to your prospects. Simply think of them as intelligent people who don’t have as much information as you do.

Prospects who are unfamiliar with you also won’t care about behind-the-scenes pressures that affect you, especially deadlines for other clients or your pet peeves about minutiae in your field. (Hint: Many of your long-established clients don’t care about these things either.) Save that stuff for conversations with your industry peers or close friends.

The key to mastering “puppy’s mind” is to ask yourself what’s in it for the puppy. Your message should have a single goal…to encourage the reader to take the next step in your action chain. That can be clicking through to your website, placing an order, or giving you a call. Cut everything else. Focus on what will encourage your prospects to take action, and they’ll be far more likely to join the big dogs on your client list.

  Employee to Freelancer: 6 ways to plan for the jump

leap-of-faithContemplating the plunge into freelancing? So were several of the attendees at a Strategies for Creative Freelancers session I attended in January. Many of the questions they asked were familiar because I had asked them myself — or should have — when I was starting my career in 2002.

As I surfed the discussion boards, many lessons from those early years came flooding back. A few were things I did right the first time, but many more had to be learned from repeated trial and error.

Here then, in no particular order, are the things I wish someone had told me before I took the freelancer’s leap of faith.

1. Save your pennies

I highly recommend starting your freelance career with a savings cushion. If you can launch your business with enough saved up to cover six months of expenses or more, you’ll have a lot more peace of mind going in. (I had four when I launched my business.)

2. Know thy customer

Know who your target market is going to be and get to know them well before you start. Learn what they need and what challenges you are best suited to solve for them. Beware the temptation to market yourself as someone who can do any type of work for anyone. Even if that’s a business reality for you at first, your self-promotion will be far more effective if you nail down some specifics about what it is you do.

3. Crank up the marketing machine

Freelance work can be sporadic, especially when you’re getting started. Regular self-promotion will be critical to your survival. Many new freelancers fear and loathe this task, but here’s a message from the other side: there is no better way to protect yourself from the dreaded “feast or famine” cycle. Conquer your fear by mastering the skill.

Some of the best resources out there are the marketing plans from Marketing Mentor. They’re among the few resources that will tell you exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to make sure that it doesn’t take a lot of time. Your “marketing machine” will take some time to get up to speed, but you’ll be very glad to have it once it’s humming along.

Two final points about self-promotion:

  1. The most important time to do self-promotion is when you have plenty of business coming in. Think of your marketing machine as the tool that generates the work you’ll do six months to a year from now.
  2. You don’t have to do it alone. One of the best deals I’ve ever made was a trade with a graphic designer — I ended up with an awesome redesign of my website in exchange for helping him launch an awesome newsletter campaign. Which leads us to…

4. Build a partner network

Make connections with other freelancers whose skills complement your own. Freelancer networks offer multiple benefits: you can team up on jobs, refer one another to clients, hold each another accountable for business tasks, trade ideas, and more. One of the best places I forge connections is the annual HOW Design Live conference. Closer to home I’m also a fan of Creative Mornings events, which feel like local gatherings of my tribe. Look for similar events where you can find people who match your own needs or fill gaps in your skill set.

5. Consider a specialization

Specialization is great because it makes it easier for buyers to understand what you do. It also enables you to justify higher rates in your specialty field.

You can define a specialization “vertically” (i.e. by industry, such as healthcare, finance, nonprofits, etc.) or “horizontally” (categories of work every business needs, like annual reports, websites, packaging, and so on).

You can start with a type of work you have deep experience with, choose a field that gives you a lot of satisfaction, or pursue a niche where you’re already well-connected with potential clients. I became a specialist in financial copy practically by accident. I just happened to land a lot of that type of work early in my career.

Specializations don’t have to limit the type of work you accept, especially if you need cash flow to pay the rent early on. And remember that specialization doesn’t mean forever. You can add additional specializations or let them lapse as your business grows and changes.

6. Pay yourself a living wage…or better

When setting your rates, remember you’re paying for all of your business expenses, from equipment to taxes to insurance, etc. In his book Secrets of a Freelance Copywriter, Bob Bly offers the rough calculation that freelancers should charge about 2.5 times what they would make working as someone else’s employee to make a comparable wage as a freelancer.

If you think you’ll lose business if you don’t charge rock-bottom prices, you’re right. You won’t get business from cheapskates who want to take advantage of the lowest bidder. The clients you want to work for understand they get what they pay for. There are plenty of them out there. Do yourself and the rest of the freelance community a big favor by charging what you’re worth.

Above all, do your best-quality work for everyone, and remember that what you do has a value many businesses and organizations are desperately looking for. You’ll need that for the days you feel like a fraud for having one of the best jobs in the world.

Good luck!