Posts Categorised: Working for Yourself

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!

Be prompt with sending invoices; the sooner they're sent, the sooner they're paid! Click To Tweet

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.

Don't be a dick about a day-late payment, it's usually an innocent mistake! Click To Tweet

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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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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Standing Still

standing-still

I’ve just got back from a brilliant weekend in London where I got to hang with friends and attend the wonderful Blogtacular weekend.

It was the first time in the past few months that I’ve really had chance to breathe. I’ve been working non-stop, which is always better than the alternative when you’re a one-woman-shop, but it also means that you don’t  always get chance to stand back and look at the big picture.

I posted about it on Instagram earlier today and wanted to follow up to that with a bit more about where I feel I’m at right now. There’s a lot of navel gazing here, you’ve been warned.

My business is strong, I have lots of work coming in, excellent projects for exceptional people. There aren’t enough superlatives to explain how awesome my clients are. I love working with them, helping them build their businesses, and even just being a small part of that process is very rewarding. I’m under no illusions that I’m very lucky* to do what I do.

However…

Working on other people’s businesses means that I’ve been neglecting my own. I don’t mean that I’ve just been sat around doing nothing, I’ve been tweaking my processes, keeping up with enquiries, and booking new work. But I feel like I’ve been stood still on my own path.

When you have a successful** business, it’s hard to see where to make changes. Should you aim for more money? more holidays? better equipment? bigger clients? more renown? press? When I started out on my own almost 4 years ago, my aim was to make sure my business could support my lifestyle, and it does, with abundance. I wanted to be happy with what I did, and I am, in the main. And I wanted flexibility, which my lengthy gym sessions and day-time baths illustrate nicely.

I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve.

So where do I go from here? 

It’s taken me a little soul searching to see what I need to do, and I think it all goes back to creating & experimenting with my own businesses again. I just don’t feel as excited with my own shit at the moment and something needs to change.

Things need shaking up, untested ground needs stamping on, and new opportunities need exploring.

I’m not going to stop what I’m already doing, but I’m going to make space for the new by getting really picky with the old.

I’m going to question whether every move I make, project I take on, or interview I do will take me further down the path to my ultimate goal. I haven’t quite figured out what the ultimate goal is yet (does anyone really ever know? It shifts all the time), but it’s definitely not going to be found by keeping things exactly the same.

And I’m going to keep coming back to this post and remembering my promise to myself: keep moving forward.

* Well, not “lucky”, I’ve worked damn hard to get here.
** However you measure success.

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Why I won’t book a call to discuss your potential project…

why-i-wont-book-a-call-to-discuss-your-project

I don’t do calls.

Well, hardly ever. If I can avoid a call, I will.

Calls suck. They suck time, they suck because I work from home and get a billion deliveries a day, and they suck even harder when you ask for video on Skype (because I don’t feel the need to dress fancy for my colleagues, the dog and cats). But mainly it’s the time thing.

Don’t get me wrong, Skype has its uses, mainly in the text-chat capacity. And if we’re kicking off a project and you want to chat around some ideas, then I’m usually pretty happy to schedule call then, but otherwise? …

Let me break it down further…

  • Calls, of any kind, require scheduling. We have to block out time from both our schedules. While 10am on a Monday might be convenient to me, it might not be to you.
  • Calls over-run, we might have said ‘this is just a quick call’, but that soon turns in to 40 minutes!
  • We’ll spend at least 10 minutes going over niceties, getting our shit together, and saying goodbye. During those 10 minutes we both could’ve been doing something way more awesome.
  • Unless we’re taking endless notes (which prolongs the length of the call anyway), everything’s lost once it’s been said. The written word is so much better for referencing after the fact.
  • You might have an in-depth question about something relating to a bit of web development you need, things like that usually require a little research – totally not easy to do whilst on a call.

A call just pisses at least an hour of everyone’s time up the wall. And you know what’s worse? When we have to email to follow up after the call! Dude! That should’ve been the only bit of correspondence we needed.

So, if you try and schedule a call with me to discuss your potential project, I’m gonna be pointing you towards your email. If you insist that we chat, then I’ll have to charge you a consulting rate for the duration of the call. Time is valuable for both of us, and it’s totally not cost effective for me to dedicate an hours worth of time to a project that might not even make it to my table!

“But Kim!” I hear you exclaim, “How can we figure out if you can work on my project if we can’t talk on the phone?! How do I possibly know what to include in an email!”.

I’m glad you asked!

You see, I’ve been doing this making-websites-for-other-people thing for a few years now, and I know what questions to ask. Infact, I have a fabulous form that you fill in! Actually, I have two! I have one that I have you fill in to give me the low down on what you want me to do, and I have another for you to fill in when we kick off the project.

The answers on these forms give me all the information I need, and they even work in your favour — you get to sit down and really concentrate on what you need from the person you’re hiring, whether that ends up being me or someone else.

I know a lot of my peers will scoff at my not taking calls, bad client relationships they say, but honestly? It’s never been an issue in my business. I’ve conducted huge projects just via email and project management systems, and I’ve also been sat silent for 2 hours on group calls in big agencies (man, I do love billing for those two hours, though) when I could’ve been doing something way more productive.

If calls work for you and your business, and you’re 100% sure that there’s not a better way of communicating that’ll save both parties time, then great! Carry on! But me? I don’t do calls.

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