Why Continuing Education Is Essential For Freelancers

Lots of people hear the word “freelance” and interpret it to mean “between jobs.” While it might be true that some aspects of a freelance job are less concrete than punching a clock in an office building every day (like location or regularity of paycheck) many freelancers feel more secure with a diverse array of clients and skills to choose from.

The key to sustaining freelance success is continuing your education, both in your chosen field and as a general businessperson. If it’s been a while since you’ve learned something new, here are reasons to think about whipping those brain cells back into shape.

1. What’s New Is Already Old

Technology advances at the speed of light. What’s cutting-edge one day is obsolete the next. While it might not happen quite as quickly, business practices are changing too. Although you might be comfortable in your knowledge chances are there are new and more efficient ways of approaching client needs that you haven’t heard about yet. The key to attracting and retaining the best clients is your ability to offer professional expertise in the most advanced areas of your field.

2. Better Education = More Pay

“Worker skills must evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly globalized, technology-driven workplace,” found a 2007 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management. Even in a recession, large businesses realize that investing in personal and professional development makes sense. You’re a business too. If you want to compete with the big boys and increase your hourly fee, maintaining a current level of education and certification is a no-brainer.

3. It Keeps You Connected

Taking a workshop, signing up for a seminar, or attending an industry conference are all easy ways to expand your professional network as well as your knowledge base. If you want to be tapped in to the pulse of your profession, you need to be talking, sharing, and learning from other freelancers and industry leaders. Armed with the collaborative skills you’ve learned from coworking, these individuals could become your future clients and business partners.

>>Next Week: Easy Ways To Continue Your Freelance Education

5 Dignified Ways To Fire That Crappy Client

Trump Fire That Crappy Client

Last week, we talked about reasons to emancipate yourself from toxic clients: y’know, the clients you dread working for/calling/meeting with but think you have to tolerate because of the money.

We discovered staying with these crappy clients just for the money defeats the purpose of working for yourself (i.e. control) and often drags your business away from its true brand and goals.

But, firing a client isn’t an easy job. Since most of us can’t afford to fly George Clooney in for the afternoon, here are some ways for handling this uncomfortable situation like a professional:

1. The “I’ll pay when it’s convenient for me” client: Net 14 means nothing to this client. They wait until all their bills are paid to see if they have extra for your invoice. Or worse yet, they pay only after they’ve been paid by their clients, and who knows whether they’re crappy or not?! Unacceptable.

Pull a Donald by: Send this client a notice that you’re turning their unpaid invoices over to collections. That should send a pretty strong message. If they still don’t pay, actually send their unpaid invoices over to collections. Most importantly, refuse to take on more projects until you’re caught up. Either set up a strict payment schedule in the future or inform this client that you’re unavailable for more.

2. The “You’re a freelancer so you have to take my shit” client: This client wants you to offer all the bells and whistles of a large firm but still wants to pay you peanuts. This client enjoys your ability to come in under-budget and before deadline, but thinks that it gives license to nickle and dime you on rate, and expect things to be completed over night (you don’t need to sleep, do you?!) Worse yet, this client rarely has their shit together, meaning your schedule is thrown off and other projects suffer because of it.

How to pull a Donald: Let this client see what it’s like to return to the impersonal world of larger companies. Inform them (politely) that you think their needs would be better served by another company. You might even suggest one. You can also let them know that you’re taking your company in another direction, and not renewing any contracts at this time. The key here is to be clear without jeopardizing that unpaid invoice.

3. The “I know better than you” client: This client understands how to do your job because last weekend, his cousin showed him the basics of the computer program you use. Of course, he doesn’t realize that he needs your expert skills to use this tool to do the things he really wants to do. He’ll tell you exactly what to do and how to do it, turning you into a production house instead of letting you do what you do best.

How to pull a Donald: First of all, do your best to remove any references to your name or company on work you’ve done for this client. Why? Because he’ll probably try to tinker around on his own and completely mess up your work in the process. Then, stop the project, get caught up on invoices and give him whatever you’ve done so far. He’ll probably hand it off to his cousin to see if he can finish it.

4. The “keep this on the down-low” client: Reputation is everything when you’re a freelancer. Bending your integrity, even on something small, even for just one client, makes you feel icky and lowers the bar for the next guy. Avoid this slippery slope altogether.

How to pull a Donald: To reason with this client, you can explain why you prefer to do things the way you do. If she simply doesn’t understand or refuses to accept your methods, it’s time to cut ties. Explain the problems that her requests create for you and let her down easy. If you haven’t already, provide your alternative ideas for how to complete the job in a more ethical manner. Then, the ball’s in her court and either way, you win.

5. The “I know this isn’t your passion, but can’t you do it anyway?” client: People enter the uncertain life of a business owner for one simple reason: they love doing something and they want to do it 24 hours a day. There are very few things a person can be this passionate about. Money is nice, but accepting the wrong client means that you’ll be tied to a project that you probably hate. And with that kind of imprisonment, you might as well be back at the office.

How to pull a Donald: Use the age-old “it’s not you, it’s me.” Inform them that your core competencies just don’t jive with their strategic vision. Don’t feel pressured if this client starts to whine about all the other projects he had lined up for you. If you can, refer him to a colleague or competitor that you know can deliver what he wants. A referral is key, because you don’t want him to be unsatisfied and claim that you can’t do your job. You could do it, you just don’t want to :)

Sources: stuntdubl.com | insidecrm.com

Is Your Coworking Space Sending Mixed Messages About The Community?

Just like a laptop or lucky suit, coworking spaces have to be cared for or they won’t perform.

Last week we talked about myriad reasons why coworking spaces are not frat-houses for freelancers. We might occasionally binge on M&Ms or circulate a hilarious YouTube video, but for most, the coworking space is where we go to get work done.

In their attempt to create “friendly atmospheres” and “comfortable workspaces”, however, some coworking facilities have strayed far from (what I hope was) their original goal of creating a professional space in which the mobile workforce can be at its most productive.

Catalysts/owners: when a potential member visits your space or a traveling coworker stops in via the Visa Program you’ve got to take it up a notch…you’re the face of coworking for the entire community as far as visitors are concerned!

Here are some unsavory practices that could affect their impression of coworking and cost you a member:

  • The door is locked: There is nothing more confusing and off-putting than not being allowed to enter the facility during hours of operation. I once showed up well past 9 am (on a day that I’d informed the community manager I was coming) only to find the doors securely locked, with no one in sight. The only reason I eventually entered was because a member heard me rattling and opened the door. This member didn’t know me, and it wasn’t his responsibility, so he promptly returned to his office with a door (which he closed) and resumed working. I was left standing in the lobby, wondering whether I had the wrong direction. Which leads us to item 2…
  • No host on duty: I’m tired of arguments that the community can thrive without a manager, curator, or host. I don’t care what you call this person, but they need to exist and be located near the door during business hours. This smiling face should be available to show new people where the coffee pot is located, and where to put their coat. It’s also helpful if this person can get a few of the members to also smile, wave, and say a sentence about what they do. This makes people laugh, feel comfortable, and understand why coworking is so great. So do it.
  • A dirty bathroom: I hear you snickering already…”Thanks ‘Mom’ we’re all aware of how to clean a bathroom.” ARE YOU? In my travels, I’ve encountered coworking spaces with empty toilet paper rolls, hand towels that looked like they’d assisted in the open heart surgery of a car engine, and soap dispensers that made me want to skip the hand-washing all together. Think to yourself: if I were a member bringing my most important client in for a meeting, is this the bathroom I’d want to offer?
  • A cruddy kitchen: If you’re going to entice new members with kitchens or breakrooms in which to enjoy their lunch, for god’s sake, keep it enjoyable. I’ve seen kitchens with signs that say “please be courteous and wash your own dishes” with what looked like a 90 year-old sponge lurking in the sink and nothing but a dingy towel on which to place your “clean” dish. Unacceptable. We’re all adults here, so let’s nix the signs and act like it. Space owners, I’m pretty sure if you provide your members with soap, a touchable cleaning implement, and a rack in which to place them, the clean dishes will follow.
  • Weak power outlets: Freelancers are designed to travel light. Give them an outlet and a Wifi connection, and they’re happy. That’s why it shocks me that I’ve been in spaces where outlets are inconveniently located or missing altogether. If you want people to pay for a membership, they shouldn’t be forced to cross their fingers and plug their beloved computers into a scary tangle of extension cords and power strips.

Phew, that rant felt good!

Let’s face it people, even the most resilient community will falter and die if you can’t master the basics. Let’s not become so concerned with using our 30,000 foot lofts and cool-looking furniture to attract new members that we forget to care for the ones we already have.

Image Credit: funpicked.com

3 Ways Coworking Makes You A Better Professional

Professional ScarecrowWhat’s the first thing you think of when someone says they want to be “more professional?”

Most envision a freshly-pressed business suit, a noose tie, and maybe an ever-mysterious briefcase.

But these are merely the outer vestments society tells us to associate with a business-person. “Being thought of as a professional is not all suit and tie. It’s not all about qualifications either” (Employee Evolution). It’s about how you present yourself and the environment in which you operate.

As an independent, freelancer, or small business owner, the level of professionalism you bring to the table decides whether your client recommends you to a friend, or asks you back for another project.

Freelancers are constantly fighting the common misconception that we all live in our pajamas and hate social interaction.

So here are 3 important ways that coworking can help you become a better professional and get respect in your industry:

1. An address – Starting a small business often requires you to have a business mailing address, and most people opt for inconvenient (and sometimes expensive) post-office boxes. Many coworking facilities will allow you to receive mail on-location, saving you money, and giving your business a more concrete appearance on paper.

2. A place to meet clients – Ever tried to land a sale on the phone with the kids screaming bloody murder in the background? Or arranged a meeting with an important business partner at a coffee shop only to discover that they were having open-mic night? A perk of many coworking facilities is that they offer clean, quiet conference room space as a benefit of membership.

Note to space owners: if you’re not offering conference space, realize that this could be a deal-breaker for new members. Also, make sure the meeting space you offer is bright, clean, and features tables, chairs, presentation tools, and other things that will make your members proud to bring their clients there. Shoving a table into a dimly lit backroom doesn’t count.

3. Social skills – When you’re holed up in your basement or home office for days at a time, it can be easy to forget that teeth-brushing is a daily necessity, or that you’re not the world’s greatest authority on grammar. Coworking gets you out of the house, encourages showering, and reminds you that you have allies (and sometimes competitors!) in your field. Taking advantage of their collective brain-power can help you make tough decisions and avoid mistakes, but you have to show up first.

Has coworking helped you to be taken more seriously as an independent professional? Share it in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – battlecreekcvb

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