Top 5 Spring Cleaning Tasks For Busy Entrepreneurs

messy desk

You wouldn’t know it with all that white stuff lying on the ground, but Spring has sprung in Colorado. Though most people are busy organizing closets or washing windows, Spring cleaning doesn’t only happen around the house.

The changing of the season also indicates the start of a new fiscal year, a good time to take stock of your last year of business, and set yourself up for success over the next 12 months. As freelancers and solopreneurs, we thrive on flying by the seat of our pants, but sometimes that makes for a disorganized style of business–and disorganization always costs time and money.

If you’ve been feeling a little chaotic and claustrophobic lately, here are five spring cleanup tasks that will bring order your desk, work flow, and professional life.

Sort and Delete

How many unused files still live on your hard drive? A final edit, software you tested, or CSS files from an old client? Yes, keeping them for a month after the project completes is normal. Keeping them a year after is not. It’s just digital clutter making it harder for you to access active files (and probably slowing down your machine, too). Take a couple of hours to open these archives and send what you don’t need to the recycling bin.

Pro tip! Store client work in the cloud or sign up for an organizational tool like Doo to keep things better organized in the future.

Update your Portfolio

Was 2012 a busy year? Proud of the work you’ve produced? Then it’s time to update your profile. Remember, portfolios are meant to be beautiful, exciting, and show your diversity as a professional. No matter what type of client you’re pitching, you want to be sure they’ll see the talent they’re looking for among examples of past work. Pro tip! Always make sure to ask client permission to include their project in a portfolio (or build that language into the contract).

Unsubscribe to Junk Mail

Throughout the year we sign up for lots of newsletters and email alerts that we don’t really need. Months later we find ourselves slogging through this same junk mail every morning. Reduce the clutter in your inbox by unsubscribing to any automatic emails that you don’t read or utilize on the regular.

Pro tip! Sometimes purchases or registrations for useful services come with unwanted email. Be sure to uncheck the newseltter/special offer box next time you’re signing up for something online.

Financial Facelift

For most entrepreneurs, tax time is a gut check. The IRS tells you in no uncertain terms whether you’re making and setting aside enough of your income. Take a few extra minute with your accountant or tax prep professional to ask questions about what you could do differently in the coming year. Maybe you need to up your savings. Or maybe you just need to up your rates. Thing about where you want to be financially next spring, and set the goals now that will help you get there.

Pro tip! Think about making quarterly tax payments this year if you haven’t been doing so already. Your tax professional can help you estimate how much these should be.

Reinvest in You

You spend thousands of hours doing what’s right for your clients, but when’s the last time you did something nice for your professional self? It’s very important for entrepreneurs to keep learning, experimenting, and discovering. Continually challenging yourself with new ideas and tools keeps your mind sharp, and that’s why clients keep coming back! Sign up for a class, attend a workshop, or get a change of scenery. New environments and people are the chisel’s that can help reveal new opportunities and talents hidden within your community.

Pro tip! Sign up for Cohere’s free day pass and come see what it’s like to work in a great space full of great people striving to be the best at what they do.

Image via MarketMeSuite/Flickr

Freelance Issues: Dealing With Deadbeat Clients

“Take chances. When rowing forward, the boat may rock.” -Chinese Proverb

If most freelancers were honest, they would tell you that they got into this game without much of an idea about how to run, grow, or market a business.

No business can survive without revenue, and getting clients to pay (on time and in full) is one of the hardest elements of self-employment. You are just you, but you are also a business. Freelancers deserve no less respect than giant companies. Unfortunately, there are lots of skeezy clients out there who will try to convince you otherwise.

Crappy clients deserve to be fired (and here are 5 dignified ways to do that). But firing a client mid-contract sometimes means kissing that last invoice goodbye.

According to a December 2010 poll of 1,600+ independent professionals by Freelance Switch, a whopping 48.8 percent of freelancers have had a client refuse to pay, and never recovered a penny. Thirty-three percent eventually managed to get their money, and 18 percent are still waiting.

Deadbeat clients are a reality of freelancing, and it’s ESSENTIAL that you have a plan for dealing with them. Under no circumstances should you surrender payment just because you don’t want to rock the boat (see kick-ass Chinese proverb above).

Basic Strategies For Dealing With Deadbeat Clients

1. Use A Freaking Contract

Never, never, NEVER start a project without a contract. These documents are your first and sometimes only line of defense against a deadbeat client. A contract can never be too detailed, especially when it comes to payment rate and terms. Make sure it states due dates for payment explicitly. If it’s an ongoing project, make sure it includes details about how long the client has to pay after an invoice is issued, and how you will handle it if payments are late. When dealing with a brand new client, it may also be advisable to require a certain percentage to be paid upfront.

Cohere Perk! Local Attorney Kevin Houchin now holds a FREE open office hour in the Cohere conference room twice a month so members can come in and get business/legal advice at no charge.  Kevin can review your contracts, help you learn better negotiation skills and more.

1st Tuesday of the month at 9:30am
3rd Wednesday of the month at 2:00pm

2. Remember The Golden Rule

Always deliver work on time. This leaves no room for excuses when it comes time to get paid. Issue invoices within three days of finishing a project, or on the same day of the month for ongoing work. If you’ve got a Net 15 in your contract, make sure you have a system in place to notify the client of their delinquency on the morning of day 16.

3. Cease and Desist
Don’t keep working for free. If a project has an outstanding invoice and the client keeps piling on more work, refuse (politely) and be frank about the reason. If the client appreciates your work, they’ll pay to keep you. If they don’t, do you really want to keep them as a client? Also, know that in some cases, it is permissible to repossess work for which the client has not paid.

4. Drop The “L” Word

Every freelancer should have someone they can turn to for solid legal advice. In most cases, the mere mention of involving a lawyer will scare deadbeat clients into quick payment. But don’t issue empty threats. If they continue to resist, commission a lawyer to write an official letter citing “breach of contract” and any other terrifying legal jargon they find appropriate. Lawyers will usually do this for a percentage of the recovered funds, and if you’re owed more than a couple hundred dollars, it’s usually worth it.

Takeaways:

  • Know your rights, and take steps to protect yourself by using a solid contract.
  • Keep it professional, but don’t be a pushover. Clients are clients, even when they’re friends.
  • Don’t wait too long to take action. If you don’t stay on top of payments, who will?
  • If you’re unsure, ask for help sooner rather than later.

Have you ever had a deadbeat client? How did you deal with it? Share your experience in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – steven depolo

What Freelancers Should Know About Google Plus

Hoping that the third time’s the charm (remember Buzz and Wave?) the company behind the world’s top search engine recently launched a new social networking platform: Google+.

If you’ve been on any of the other well-established social media sites in the past week, chances are you’ve heard a peep or two about it.

Let’s be serious, the notion that the web’s best search service has launched a social network that could combine the intuition of Facebook and the speed of Twitter with possibilities for seamless integration into any existing Google tool is enough to make nerds quiver with excitement.

However, the idea of learning how to use a new social media tool correctly and efficiently hardly brings on the same jovial feelings. Let’s face it, until you know what you’re doing, using social media can be a time suck as well as a frustrating endeavor.

As freelancers with limited time, the big question is: Should we bother?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from freelancing experts and social media “gurus” around the web:

1. Ease into it: Go ahead and create a personal profile (if you can get an invite) and play around in your spare time, but don’t worry about migrating your business profile just yet. Chances are, you’ve had at least a few contacts “add you to their circles” and if you’ve got a few minutes, it’s worth poking around in the tool. Hell, if you’ve got gmail, that only takes one click. But for now, the “business experience” is still under development and Google is actually asking businesses and freelancers to avoid using “consumer profiles” for business purposes. When it’s ready, Google+ will have “rich analytics” and will be easy to integrate with Google Adwords and other goodies.

2. Get a jump on success: If your business is social media marketing, SEO, or content marketing, waiting too long to check out what Google+ has to offer could hurt you. This is the new frontier, and just like with Facebook and Twitter a few years ago, the people who figure out new and creative ways to engage online communities with this tool today will be the experts of tomorrow. Watch the platform carefully, look for avenues of opportunity nobody else is taking full advantage of, and move in with your own particular sales pitch.

3. Savvy sharing: Privacy and segmented sharing (two things that Twitter and Facebook have trouble with) are both prominent features of Google+. By creating circles of contacts, you make it possible to share links, ideas, pictures and more with only those that will appreciate it most (or judge you least). This has big implications for businesses and freelancers who are always looking for more efficient ways to communicate with their current clients as well as potential customers.

4. Impact your page rank: It’s also worth knowing that Google+ users themselves now have the opportunity to “vote” on the value of content and ultimately impact search engine rankings. This has the potential to level the page rank playing field, as simple blog post with 3,000 votes on Google+ may very well beat out a similar story with only 300 votes on a  major website. In the future, this may make SEO copywriting obsolete.

For more on Google+ and all it’s shiny possibilities, listen to Google PR Strategist David Allen talk about about an “optimized business experience” for Google+ in the video below.

And if it’s really keeping you awake at night, here are some additional resources:

Sources: WritingThoughts | PGC.org | Freelance-Zone

3 Easy Ways To Continue Your Freelance Education

Happy Monday!

Last week we talked about some reasons why continuing education is essential for freelancers. In a time when technology and modes of communication are changing rapidly, to become complacent in your knowledge is to become instantly outdated.

If you want to create a more robust network of clients and connections, and increase your value (aka your hourly rate), education is the key.

But it’s been a long time since most of us were in school, and I’m definitely not saying that getting another expensive degree is the way to go. So how does a busy freelancer continue his or her education without taking too many hours away from paying gigs?

Learn From Your Peers

For the past six months, Cohere has hosted an almost-weekly schedule of valuable workshops specifically targeted for working freelancers. We affectionately referred to it as the Winter of Learnin’, but high demand means this essential tradition has continued into the summer, and will probably stick around all year. We’ve learned about everything from copyright infringement to SEO strategy, all in the comfort of freelancers we know and experts we trust.

If you’re looking for an easy way to broaden your horizons, see what classes are available at your home coworking space. And if your home space doesn’t have workshops yet, offer to teach the first one. You might be surprised how much you learn when you teach.

Get Certified

Are you a self-taught whiz when it comes to graphic design? Do you love to manage large, complicated projects that involve contractors and vendors all over the world? These skills are worth their weight in gold, but only if your client believe that you truly possess them. Because a resume or online profile is usually the first introduction prospective clients will have to your skill set, the ability to brandish well-respected industry certifications will let them know that you mean business right from the start.

Check out this article on the Top 5 Certifications for Freelancers or this interesting blog post about certifications in various freelance industries from Fresh Books to learn more.

Brush Up On Your Business Skills

Almost everyone starts freelancing because working in the corporate world interfered with the pursuit of their passion. If you’re passionate about your career, you probably don’t need much motivation to continue building your knowledge base. But how skilled are you at owning and operating a business? The administration-side of working for oneself is a stumbling block for many freelancers, and often gets ignored until it’s too late.

Check with your local government or business development agency to see what they offer in the way of classes for new small business owners. Fort Collins, for example, is offering a Power Up Your Business! mini-conference on how to be a great leader within your business, increase visibility of your products and services and save money throughout your operations. It might not all be applicable to freelancing, but hey, it’s $15 and you’ll probably make some valuable connections in the community.

What other ways can freelancers continue their education? Share your ideas in a comment!

5 Must-Read Blogs For Freelancers

Five Must-Read Blogs For Freelancers

It’s the New Year. You’ve set your goals, and created your budgets. You’re ready to grow your business, but you’re a little low on inspiration. Or you still don’t know the answer to that nagging business/organizational/house-keeping question. Where can you turn?

Of course, the first place you should turn is the collection of creative minds sitting all around you as you cowork. But what about when your question stumps the coworkers as well? Ask the blogs.

We talk about, write, and link to blogs all the time, but how many of you are seeking out blogs that could actually make you a better freelancer? Here are 5  that should be added to your reader ASAP.

Freelance Switch This extremely popular blog–over 35,000 subscribers and multiple writers–includes advice, news and opinions for freelance workers, such as this insightful post on nurturing relationships with clients you’d like to keep. Also on Freelance Switch: forums and podcasts.

The Berkun Blog This Scott Berkun is a real hot shot hero to the technically inclined, but check out the archived blog entries–there’s stuff here for nearly every creatives freelancer, especially this lesson from a Dr. Seuss book.

Freelancers Union This union resource blog deals with the ethical and labor issues of contract work–including these thoughts on whether or not freelancers should lower their rates just because their clients are struggling.

Webworkerdaily: This blog tackles issues about productivity and other day-to-day issues in the freelance writing world.  It has advice on topics such as “Tackling Big Projects and Getting Things Done.”

Essentialkeystrokes: Check out this blog for general advice about freelancing, and about working on your computer.  It has useful posts such as “13 Ways to Move Big Files on the Web” as well as many others.

Thanks to oDesk (which runs a pretty snazzy blog for freelancers itself) and GuideToCareerEducation for these clips.

Image Credit: Flickr – filipe93

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