Posts By: Kim Lawler

Should You Niche Down or Branch Out?

niche-down-branch-out

When I started my freelance web design business I was all about making bank.

I didn’t want to live on noodles and I had a mortgage to pay. I took on any scrappy bit of work that came my way, tried my hand at anything, and learnt a bunch of skills along the way. Over the past few years I’ve become a lot more selective with the work I take on, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try my hand at different things.

“Niching Down” is becoming a very popular career choice amongst web design freelancers. Choosing one particular route on which to focus their career (PDF/eBook design, websites for certain professions only, working with just one CMS or framework) and making it clear that they don’t do anything outside their realm.

How incredibly fucking boring.

For me, one of the most exciting things about being a freelance designer and developer is the ability to work on a variety of different projects. I get to work with interesting people in different fields, learn more about what they do, and build up my skills. I get to try out new CMSs, explore new technologies and future proof my career with a bevy of transferable skills.

Jack of all trades, master of none…

Are we really still banging on about that old adage?

Things are different now. Things are fluid. People expect you to have a variety of skills, especially as a freelancer, rather than just one core attribute.

I work with a lot of independent companies and one-person shops who want the whole shebang — branding, print design, web design and development. It makes it a whole lot easier for them to work with just me (and maybe another person) rather than having to hire 3 or 4 separate people.

Skills in the web design business are pretty transferable, we’re in a really good position to diversify and leverage what we know.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s awesome to specialise in stuff (I specialise in Web Design, WordPress development and Shopify), but don’t disregard new opportunities to learn and experiment — who knows, you might find you really do enjoy making interactive PDFs.

Along with specialising, you can cherry pick projects that appeal to you more and tailor your portfolio with the work you really enjoy.

But doesn’t niching down mean I can charge more?

Yes and no.

If you become the best PDF designer, then yeah, sure, you can charge more than the other PDF designers out there.

But here’s the thing…

A client comes to you wanting a PDF for a new service they’re offering. They want to use it as a free promotional tool to gain sign-ups. Sure, you say, and get underway with the project, finish it in no time (you’re the best, after all!), and the client is super happy.

However, you’ve just served your client what they asked for, rather than solved their problem.

Your client wanted a promotional tool for the new service they’re offering, they’re looking for a PDF because that’s what they think they need. It’s what everyone else in their field is doing, so it must be the thing they need too, right?

Your job is to figure out if it actually is what they need. Maybe they’d be better served with a small information website? Or a social media campaign? Maybe there are other things you could bolt on to what your client initially wants to more successfully solve their problem.

Having a broader knowledge of the different ways you can solve your client’s problem will serve them better, and they’ll pay even more for that.

Here’s what I think…

Niching down in such a strict sense closes a lot of doors, doors that hide some really interesting and exciting projects. When you niche down you get comfortable and complacent, which is a very dangerous place to be in a fast-moving business like web design (and other design fields, for that matter).

Having a broad skill set can really help to future proof your career, if you’ve devoted yourself to one CMS, or PDFs, or even a particular profession, what would you do if that CMS became obsolete? If a brand new universal document format took over? If the work there suddenly dried up?

If you enjoy the variety that freelance work provides (and I mean, who wouldn’t?) then why restrict yourself by niching down? I much prefer the idea of specialising, a route that leaves you & your business in a flexible and agile position.

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How to Get Paid

how-to-get-paid

When you’re a freelancer or solo-worker, one of the most important parts of your job is controlling cash flow. Getting invoices paid can sometimes be a pain in the ass, especially when you’re working with smaller companies and new clients.

Over the past few years I’ve managed to keep a good cash flow with only a few late payments, here are my top tips for making sure that you get your invoices paid in a timely manner.

Start with a contract

As with everything related to business, you should start with a contract. My contract has a section devoted to payment terms and a payment schedule. I only contract for my web design business, it’s not a normal thing for smaller wholesale orders.

Get a deposit

For my service based web design business I take a 50% deposit upon the signing of the contract. The projects I work on are generally around the £2-3k mark, so I really need that initial investment & security from the client.

I’ve never had a problem with getting this deposit from the client, it’s pretty standard practice. You can be flexible with your deposit terms if the client isn’t super comfortable with dropping the full 50% in the first instance – I’ve split the full project cost over various deliverable points of a project before (25% on contract, 25% on wireframes + design, 25% on development and the remaining payment on “go live”).

I’d also say that in the case of large wholesale orders for product based businesses (the kind where you have to heavily invest in raw materials) then definitely get a deposit! Why shouldn’t you? I’d also suggest sorting out a contract for those orders, too. Cover your damn ass!

Send out your invoices straight away

It goes without saying that the sooner you get your invoices out, the sooner you’ll get paid. You might want to send your invoice as soon as you finish up on a project or send out a contract, or you might keep a list to send out all your invoices on Friday morning (oh, is that ever a good end to a week!). Either way, make sure you’re prompt with the sending of invoices!

Make sure your invoicing system leaves no room for confusion

I use an accounting system that includes a really neat invoicing set-up. It alerts me when invoices are overdue, it numbers invoices appropriately (so that I can reference which invoices are outstanding), and it lets me keep track of the accounts of each client. Kashflow gives me a really quick at-a-glance look at who owes what and leaves no room for confusion between me and the client.

If you’re sending out a lot of invoices it can get quite confusing very quickly, make sure you have a system in place so you can easily see what’s what with your outstanding invoices.

Include all the key information on your invoice

Make sure that everything, EV-ER-Y-TH-IN-G, the client could possibly need to question is available on the invoice:

  • The project reference
  • A breakdown of costs (if appropriate to the project or order)
  • Your address
  • Whether you’re VAT registered
  • Your company number
  • Your payment terms
  • The payment reference
  • A purchase order (if appropriate)
  • The invoice date
  • The due date
  • Your bank details
  • Other payment options
  • Your email address and/or phone number

Make it as hard as possible for your client to claim a lack of information as a cause for late payment

Know your Net 30s from your Net 60s, and find out your client’s usual terms

My payment terms are generally Net 30 for product based orders, but a little different for my service based stuff. I ask for my deposit invoice to be paid ASAP after the contract is signed, and state that work can’t started until the deposit is in place (although to be fair I sometimes start anyway for clients who I know are good for it). My final invoice after the “go live” part of the web design process is contractually requested to be paid no more than 14 days after the invoice is sent (I sometimes change that depending on client discussion).

Make sure both you and your client are aware of the payment terms, and make sure you’ve discussed any different terms with clients. I have some wholesale customers who work on 60 day terms (ouch!), but I know they’re good customers and will pay, so I’m okay with it. Don’t let lengthy terms ruin your cash flow though, 60 days is A LONG time not to get paid for something.

Email your invoices and prompt the client the day after late payment

I send all my invoices by email. It’s 2015, people, no one needs a paper copy. Kashflow lets me send my invoices directly from the dashboard, which is super convenient and I can keep track on when I’ve emailed invoices to the clients.

If an invoice is overdue I tend to send a friendly reminder email (and another copy of the invoice) the day after the payment was due to arrive. I’m not a dick about it, things happen, people forget, it’s usually an innocent mistake and people are mortified that it’s slipped off their radar.

Stand your ground

Sometimes people are wankers and don’t pay, though, even after your friendly reminder. Every attempt at contacting leads to silence, and you can try calling, sending out paper invoice, and they still don’t pay.

It’s time to bring in the contract they signed at the start of your project. It’s time for strongly worded emails and a mention of claims and lawyers. It might even be time for naming and shaming (but be careful there, don’t do anything rash that might invalidate any claims/get you in hot water).

You can start introducing interest on to the invoice once it’s gone beyond its payment date, and you can start to look at more serious routes of claiming the money that you’re owed.

Here’re some helpful links for when things go really sour:

Have you ever had to chase a late payment? Do you have any tips for making sure you get paid on time? I’d love to hear them!

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Why I moved my online shop to Shopify

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The best thing about running a blog, a product based business and a service based Web Design business, is that I can shower my clients with my own personal experience. With the clients I work with, and the majority of projects I work on, I’ve actually been there and done that, reaped the rewards and trudged through the failures. I can tell my clients what’s worked for me, alongside giving them advice seated in experience rather than speculation.

Recently I’ve been working a lot with Shopify, both for new clients and existing clients. In the past I might have suggested other ecommerce solutions to my clients, in fact I’ve built a fair few ecommerce sites on Magento, WordPress (with Woocommerce and Jigoshop), Big Cartel, OsCommerce… you name it!

I’ve enjoyed working with Shopify on my client’s shops so much that I decided to move my own shop over there, too. I was previously on Magento and not really enjoying it, before that I was on Zencart. While both served their purpose, I’m super glad that I’m now running through Shopify.

Here’s why Shopify is winning for me at the moment

  • Ease of use. Compared to Magento, and even Woocommerce, Shopify comes out on top for me (and for my clients) because its admin area is bomb-awesome. It’s really easy to use, both for seasoned web people and for those with just a little web knowledge. If you can send an email, you can use Shopify’s admin area.
  • Security. I’ve had a few issues with Magento over the past few years, and even with the strictest security settings I had a client’s store get hacked last year. There seemed to ALWAYS be security patches and updates coming through for Magento, which didn’t give me much confidence in it. Shopify, however, is hosted on their own servers so you don’t need to worry about security – you’re paying them to deal with that for you! You also don’t need to worry about purchasing an SSL certificate as the payment system is all taken care of on the Shopify side.
  • Templating system. For me, the templating system on Shopify is really easy to use. I won’t get too in depth about it, but I will say that it’s a lot more flexible and easy to understand than the system for Magento (and even Woocommerce).
  • Updates. With any hosted ecommerce solution (Woocommerce, Magento) you’re going to need to run updates. With both Woocommerce and Magento, I’ve had some seriously shit experiences (Magento was determined to break every. damn. time. an update was run, and Woocommerce would update and break the theme). Shopify, however, runs all of its updates on its own server, so you don’t need to do anything. It’s bliss. BLISS.
  • SEO. Since moving to Shopify I’ve definitely noticed an increase in SEO. The site load time is really fast, which I think is a big contributing factor, and I was sure to use a theme that was well made for SEO.
  • Updates Pt 2. Shopify is continually rolling out new features. I kept seeing all these cool new things appearing with my client’s shops, really great features that make the day-to-day running of the shop really fun. There’s even a really cool new feature where you can sell directly on Pinterest using your Shopify store as a feed (not yet available in GBP, unfortunately).
  • Choice. Shopify does have a monthly cost attached (I believe it’s totally worth the fee), but you can choose between three levels of subscription, each one with different benefits and incrementally lower fees. I have clients successfully running stores on all three levels, and one of my clients has even gone so far as to use Shopify for her brick-and-mortar POS. I use the Professional (middle) level subscription, which gives me more than enough features for my needs.
  • Apps. The Shopify App store lets you add “apps” to your shopify shop to extend its basic functionality. Some of these are free and others are premium, but they let you customise your shop to your own specifications. It’s not as in depth as customising with Magento (you can really get into the nuts and bolts with that one), but that might be a good thing!! My “go to” apps are Mailchimp, Product Reviews and Order Printer.
  • Support. I’ve found the level of support for Shopify to be superb, and that’s just from me requesting features from a developer point of view. They’re always quick to respond on email, and really want your input on making their product better. My clients have also been in touch with the Shopify support team and had nothing but good things to say.
  • Community. There’s a great community forum around Shopify, and chances are if you’ve got a question, it’ll have been answered there.

These are the not-so-good things I’ve found about Shopify

Unfortunately it can’t all be smooth sailing, and there are a few little irks that frustrate me with Shopify. I’ve notified the Shopify team about a few of these and as they’re always rolling out improvements for the system, I’m hoping that some of them will be addressed soon. None of these were game changers for me, but they might be for you…

  • You can’t have sub-categories (or “collections” in the Shopify vernacular). This is a bit of a bummer as I really wanted to subcategorise my jewellery “Jewellery > Necklaces”, “Jewellery > Brooches”. Instead, you need to create all collections as top-level items and then just fib a little in your navigation.
  • The front-end (admin facing) theme customiser isn’t as good as it could be. This is just me being a spoilt and picky developer, but I can certainly see room for improvement here.
  • The basic order printer is very basic. I use integrated labels to ship items (so I print out an order on one piece of paper that has labels for you to peel off with the address) and needed a way of customising the invoices to work with this. In the end, I needed to use an (albeit free) app to achieve this level of customisation.
  • Email isn’t supported through Shopify so you do need to have email hosting elsewhere. You can either use Google Apps, or a small hosting package through a host of your choice (I always recommend Krystal or A Small Orange).
  • The blogging system on Shopify isn’t that great, but it’s not built to be a blogging platform after all. For my clients I tend to build a blog subdomain running WordPress.

So there you go! That’s why I moved my shop to Shopify and why I’m very happy with the service they provide. I’ll continue to recommend Shopify to my clients, and hey, if you want to hire me to help you set-up your own Shopify store (even if it’s just getting you going with a default theme) then do get in touch!

Disclaimer: I’m a Shopify Partner, this means that if you sign-up for Shopify through any of my links then I stand to get a monetary bonus. I do honestly love the service though, which is why I use it for my own product based business. 

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My Skincare Routine

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Since turning 30 I’ve been paying my skin a bit more attention than before. I’ve become a total Caroline Hirons fangirl, and have really started giving my skin to love and attention it needs. I love reading about what other people use for their skincare routines, and I posted on Instagram last week that I might do a post about my own, lots of you wanted to hear about what I was using so here goes!

My skin is 30 years old, is prone to a little redness and a few large pores just around the nose. I have hormonal zits on my chin sometimes, and the starts of a few fine lines around my eyes. It’s neither greasy or dry, and isn’t too sensitive (I can handle new products pretty well).

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Cleansing

Hi, my name’s Kim, and I’m a reformed facewiper.

I used to use and abuse those dirt-pushy-roundy environmentally unfriendly squares of scented trash, and think it was a job well done if I remembered to use one each morning and night. How wrong I was! And how, looking back, my skin suffered. Breakouts, uneven skin tone, large pores, you name it.

Now, I’m a one flannel a day double cleanser. I have a whole bunch of white flannels that I keep in a small crate by my sink. I use the same one for my morning and evening wash, and then it goes in the laundry. Damp flannels are a breeding ground for bacteria, bacteria that you end up smearing on your face and causes you to breakout.

For my morning cleanse I choose my cleanser depending on how my skin looks, and the products that I’ve used the night before. Usually, I’ll use something light such as the REN gel cleanser or REN cleansing milk, there’s not much to wash away in the morning so a single cleanse is fine. If I want something a bit more nourishing I might use a hot cloth cleanser, I’m currently using Soap and Glory’s Ultimelt which is lovely (and kind on the old wallet.. it has a nice herbal scent, something I like a lot with skincare products). I’ll make sure to give a good massage with whatever cleanser I’m using, getting the cleanser right into the pores and waking my skin up.

For my evening cleanse I’ll start with a pre-cleanser, this is mainly to remove makeup or SPF. My favourites are the Body Shop’s camomile cleansing butter and Una Brennan’s Superfacialist Rose Miracle Makeover Oil (the scent of this has my heart forever, it’s beautiful, and very much like the expensive Liz Earle facial concentrate oil). Once that’s been taken off with a hand-hot flannel, I’ll get down to the actual skin cleansing with a superior cleanser such as Emma Hardie’s Moringa Balm (I was dubious about the smell of this when I bought it, but it’s such a lovely cleanser!) or a hot-cloth cleanser such as REN Rosa Centifolia.

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Exfoliating

I don’t use a physical exfoliator anymore,  I get a pretty good level of exfoliation from my cleansing flannel, however I do use some low level AHAs for a brightening & replenishing boost. Every other morning I’ll give my skin a wipe of the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance pads, I could probably get away with using these every day if I wanted, but I’m still a bit scared to throw too much at my skin! Every other night (or, when I remember, more like) I’ll use 5 drops of REN resurfacing AHA concentrate.

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Treatments

I’ve recently started using m”My First Retinol”, which is a bit scary because “NEVER GO IN THE SUN AGAIN” etc. However, I’m already an SPF addict, so it’s not too bad. The retinol I use is La Roche-Posay Redermic [R], and I think I can attribute my smaller pores and the decrease in my (not too bad anyway) fine lines to this product. I don’t use it everyday, but I probably could/should as I continue to wither get older. I’ve had no reactions to it, which is good, and I’ve just ordered the eye version.

I’m just getting into the world of serums & oils, and I have two that I use regularly. The first is REN Vita Mineral Omega 3 Optimum Skin Oil, which I adore. I occasionally use this in the morning if I need a bit of a boost, and I sometimes use it without a moisturiser and it’s really moisturising in its own right. The second I use is a budget hero, Body Shop’s Vitimin E Serum in Oil. It’s actually really nice, and sinks into the skin really easily. I tend to only use this one in an evening.

One day I’ll get a Sunday Riley oil, one day.

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Eyes

I’m not big on eye creams. Oops. I probably should be. I use a little Emu Oil Well (when I remember), and a couple of other samples from Liz Earle and REN that I’ve picked up. I’ve just ordered the Redermic [R] retinol eyecream, though, so things might change!

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Moisturiser

I’m pretty much a moisturise-and-go kinda gal. My morning moisturiser is currently shared between Bare Minerals SPF 20 moisturiser, REN evercalm global protection day cream, and REN Vita Mineral daily supplement moisturising cream (I love REN moisturisers, they sink into the skin really nicely, and have unobtrusive scents – I’m looking at you Liz Earle, wtf is with your janky moisturiser scents?!).

I get lazy with my evening moisturiser sometimes, the two oil/serums I use are pretty moisturising in their own right so I sometimes skip another layer. I have, however, just bought the Soap and Glory night and flight moisturiser to try (it smells good, kinda like apricot).

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SPF

Thou shalt never forget thine SPF. I do one of a few things depending on my day, I either user my bare minerals SPF 20 moisturiser if I’m not going to be outside too much/the UV rays aren’t too bad, or, I use my La Roche-Posay 50+ SPF on top of a non-SPF moisturiser, OR, if I’m wearing makeup, I’ll rely on a 20+ SPF BB/Tint cream.

The La Roche-Posay stuff is great for a facial SPF, it’s not too heavy, doesn’t cause breakouts (just be sure to double cleanse at night), and sinks in really quickly.

Just whatever you do, wear a fucking SPF.

There, is over 1000 words on how I wash my face enough? I hope so! What are your favourite products? Any recommendations? Want any more info on the products I’ve mentioned above? Write it in the comments below!

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Clean your list

clean-your-list

You’ve got a mailing list for your business, right? You should have, anyway. It’s a great way of collecting customer and client leads, and yourself on their radar. Mailing lists have been around forever, unlike twitter/instagram/facebook/periscope. They’re not going anywhere fast.

I’ve been working on building the mailing lists for my two businesses for the past few years. They’ve got a fair number of subscribers, and I send out occasional newsletters about sales, blog updates, new products etc. I get a fair level of engagement, and a low unsubscribe rate.

My lists are on Mailchimp, I looooove Mailchimp and have been a long time fan. You might have yours on Aweber, Mad Mimi, or any of the other mailing list providers out there. Chances are you pay a certain amount each month, or per send, for your mailing list. It’s usually dependent on the number of subscribers you have and can sometimes come to quite a hefty business expense.

So here’s what I did last week…

I removed around 25% of the subscribers from each of my lists.

Whhhaatttt? From the lists I’ve been building for years? Isn’t that like, a whole year’s worth of subscribers?! Pretty close, actually. But here’s the thing…

I removed subscribers who hadn’t opened, let alone clicked through from, the last 5 email campaigns they’d received. 

Considering the frequency I send out emails that’s around 6 months worth of no engagement. I was paying hard earned money to send emails to these addresses that either:

  • Deleted the email without opening
  • Had it disappearing into spam
  • No longer used that account

What a waste!

(NB: open rate tracking can be a little unreliable, but it’s a good starting point with clearing out your list)

Here’s what’s awesome about having a list clear out

Clearing out your list this way means that the stats from your remaining subscribers should be much improved (your open rate, click through rate, and overall enagement percentages will increase), which is AWESOME if you have a business that relies more on engagement than subscriber numbers (and let’s be honest here, it’s the engagement that counts).

It also means that you’re not gonna be invading the inbox of someone who obviously doesn’t want you there anymore (Bye, Felicia!). They might come across you again at some point, and it’d be better for them to think “oh! I thought I was subscribed to that list, I better sign-up again” than “Ugh, there’s that annoying brand that I keep trashing in gmail”.

You’re list is less likely to be flagged as spam. Chances are, if someone’s trashing your newsletter without engagement, it won’t be long before they report your emails as spam. Erk.

And of course, they amount you spend on your list each month will decrease until you get your list back up to the same numbers.

My Challenge for you!

Go take a hard look at your lists. What’s your engagement like? How many people didn’t open any of your last 5 emails? What about the last 10?

Mailchimp has some really great segmenting tools to allow you to create groups based on the engagement of your subscribers, which is even more powerful than open-rate. You can read more about how that works here.

You could also try and run a campaign to re-engage those subscribers who haven’t been very active lately, maybe offering a discount, or a special reward for opening the email.

Either way, I want you to give your list a good hard clean. Dust off those cobwebs, make your list even more powerful for your business, and engage with the subscribers who really want to get your emails!

This post isn’t sponsored by Mailchimp by the way, I just really, really like their service! The links to mailchimp throughout the article are affiliate links, though, so clicking them and signing up for Mailchimp could yield an affiliate bonus for me. 

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