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How to stay motivated  
Depending very much upon your business and your profession, but if you are somebody who works from home, or somebody who is in charge of their own schedule, there will always be times when work is the last thing you want to focus on. One of the key factors to having a successful business is to stay motivated, and in some cases, a lack of motivation can have serious consequences on your monthly income. Sometimes we even start looking for distractions that we can use as an excuse to get out of progressing further, and we always hate ourselves later for wasting the time in retrospect, especially when we are forced to catch up during a time when we should be enjoying some time off. Here are a few tips for creating and maintaining motivation, that can also help you to manage your time.
Manage your time off - Time out of production may seem like a waste when you are driving to create a new business, but if you don’t take time out to relax and to rejuvenate it will have a larger negative impact on your productivity and time. Make sure you build some time into your schedule to sit back and to relax and to do whatever it is you enjoy doing. When you do go back to work, you will return with a fresh mind and spirit and feel more motivated to push forwards with what needs to be done.
Do the hard thing first - Is there a big problem that is intimidating you and making you dread going back to work? Is it looming over you every minute of every day, following you around like a little rain cloud? Get it done! The quicker you can get that problem out of your way and out of your life, the better you will feel about working and the easier it will be to progress on with everything else. If you leave this until later and keep putting it off, not only will it bring your mood down, but it could hinder the rest of your work and productivity.
Work in the morning - Get up, have breakfast and go! Much like procrastinating larger problems, procrastinating your productive time means you are more likely to let it slip away and to just not bother in the end. If you start early and keep pushing through, you will feel a more positive vibe and feel more motivated to finish.
Avoid the impossible - Some things just can’t be done, but if we hang onto these and convince ourselves that they are possible, we will just continue to hit brick walls. It seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people persistently insist that some things can be fixed. Focus on what you can achieve right now and get that done. This can all be done while keeping a larger and more difficult goal in mind, but the only way you will attack the bigger problems is by using small steps.
Stay healthy - Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in terms of regular exercise and food helps you maintain a positive mood. If you have a positive mood, you will feel better about attacking problems and large workloads. This goes hand in hand with ensuring you spend some time on yourself and doing what you love - a happy worker is a better worker. Staying healthy also ensures you minimise the chance of sickness and unscheduled time out, which can be a real killer when you are running your own business.
Make your bed - This is a bit of a strange one, but if you can visually represent to your subconscious that you are starting the day and leaving behind your sleep and the idea of being counter-productive (lying horizontally and sleeping being the opposite of getting work done) it can have a very positive effect on the mind. Generally speaking, being neat and tidy helps us keep a clean and tidy mind which helps when trying to organise thoughts.
Make a schedule - And most of all, stick to it! Manage your time in hourly blocks, but do remember to be reasonable and not to put too much pressure on yourself that you reject everything. Also make sure you schedule in time for scheduling time, which sounds ridiculous, but otherwise you will be behind before you’ve even started.
Reward yourself - You’ve completed some tasks. You’ve been productive. Give yourself a pat on the back! Self rewarding is a way to motivate yourself, and depriving yourself of little joys until you have finished what has to be done (providing you have the willpower to resist) should help you through big tasks.
Common Freelancing Mistakes  
Freelancing is becoming more and more popular in almost every industry sector. Companies are seeing benefits by charging per project instead of hiring people on the traditional 9-5 daily grind, but as a newbie to the world of freelancing, there are many traps you can fall into that can have very negative effects on your pay, your sanity, your reputation and in fact on your social life, which is probably one of the reasons you decided to move away working standard hours. Here are a few things to look out for when you are starting out to help you establish yourself well economically and professionally.
Taking on too much work - when you start out, it’s very easy just to keep saying “yes”, but it is very important to know your limitations. It is a good idea to start off by taking only one or two smaller projects until you are confident with taking on more work to tackle simultaneously, as this way, although you will most likely find yourself underworking at the start of your freelancing career, you will not find yourself drowning under your own ambitiousness. Taking on a little bit of work to begin with will also help you to establish just how long each piece of work can potentially take and will help you to plan out your schedule a lot more accurately. If you do take on too much, you can find yourself stressed and overworking which can have a very negative effect on the quality and the quantity of your output.
Lack of planning - working as a freelancer is similar to running a small self employed business. It is a good idea to have dedicated hours to work. It is a good idea to create a legal entity, to file your taxes, and to maintain thorough and accurate bookkeeping. It is important to recognise this as time for working as well, and sometimes it is worth considering this time when you are charging a client for your services. Stay professional, even when the contracts seem casual, and people will treat you more professionally. In another interpretation, planning will help you utilise your day and minimise your procrastination.
Becoming established - working as a freelancer often requires very short term contracts, and you can’t depend on your clients to provide long term work unless they offer a long term contract. In today’s market, new companies are constantly being set up and old companies are often fading out and the market is quickly changing, for better or for worse. Make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, that there is a backup plan for those difficult months when the income isn’t coming in as solidly as other months, and that you keep an eye on what is happening in your desired industry sector for new and improved opportunities. Sometimes it helps to make your clients people rather than businesses, as even if a person changes industry or company, he or she will have a good connection with you and will seek you out for your services.
Online presence - these days, almost everything is done online. Make sure you are promoting yourself on freelancing websites. Make sure you have a Facebook page for your business. Make sure you are savvy with all the social networking platforms that will benefit your business. Utilise your personal profiles to advertise for your business, as you never know which old contacts of yours may be looking for your services or who may know people who are. Make a profile on Linked In, so that other professionals can find you. And most of all, maintain all of these and keep them clean, professional, and well updated. Online presence is an excellent form of self advertising, and your name and reputation become like a business that you have to promote.
Undercharging - everybody needs money to survive, and freelancers are no different. It is easy for companies to pay freelancers too little, but you need to ensure that, while working competitively against other freelancers, that you are not undercharging for your services. Likewise, you don’t want to dissuade potential employers by charging too much, so finding the balance is essential for successful continuation of your business.
Charging for what you love   
One of the most difficult thing about Freelance work is getting paid. To begin with, quite often companies will offer work in exchange for exposure or experience, and this is quite commonly seen amongst people who are studying creative subjects at university going into voluntary apprenticeship programmes, but some studies have shown that this has very little effect on whether future employers will actually employ you, and in some cases, it actually has a negative effect, suggesting that knowing your worth before you start working portrays you as a confident and reliable person.
It is difficult to know where to start. There are no regulations, there are no rules, and everything feel likes a random guess. It is difficult to establish the balance between overcharging, which is likely to scare away potential employers, and undercharging, which undersells your abilities and can create financial problems and also problems with trying to earn more later as you may be pigeon-holed as a "cheap employee”. It is important to remember that your skills are valuable, otherwise there would be no market for them, but it is also important to stay competitive.
Before quoting your price, there are a few things you should consider. It helps to do some research and to find out how much other freelancers working in the same industry and in the same field are charging for their services. It is also difficult when you are paid by the project instead of paid an hourly wage. Sometimes it helps to tally up how long you feel each piece of work will take and to figure out if the total wages you are receiving are reflective of the time you have put into it, but don’t forget to include the time it takes for planning and all the other downtime included in producing the final product, because even if it is not productive time it still has to be accounted for. If you are working on a long project, maybe it is a good idea to add on an extra day or two on the end when you are making initial estimations as you never know what could happen to delay your finish, and this will leave you with slightly more flexibility and breathing space.
A good way to calculate a rate is to figure out how much a week you would expect to earn and how many hours you would expect to work to obtain that figure including all your downtime relating to the business. If you do some simple maths you can come up with an hourly rate which might start to point you in the right direction.
Sometimes you have to be flexible with how much you charge, but it is a good idea to start off charging high on the off chance that they accept that price, but be prepared to bring this price down, keeping in mind a reasonable absolute minimum that you are not prepared to work below. It is very easy for the company to push down your hourly rate, but very difficult for you to ask for more and to push this up, hence why it is a good idea to start at the top.
Another difficulty is sometimes getting paid. Once you have provided the finished product, the company has less motivation to send you the money, so sometimes it is a good idea to either charge before you start working, or, as is quite commonly seen these days, to charge for half or a proportion of it to work as a guarantee. Obviously if your client pays you up front, you are under more pressure to adhere to any strict deadlines to keep them happy and returning for more work.
It always pays to have a Paypal account set up, as many companies, particularly when you are working remotely, will opt to pay your wages this way instead of as a transaction to your bank account.
It is often frustrating trying to obtain your money, and it sometimes feels very rude to ask, but without wages you can’t afford to pay your bills or put food on the table, and while it is often difficult, it’
Benefits of Freelancing   
Deciding to become a freelancer is quite a bold and scary move for anybody, but there are a number of benefits which make it a really excellent choice for a lot of people. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider handing in your notice and becoming your own boss.
Scheduling - when you are a freelancer, you have more control over your own schedules. If you are working on projects that don’t require you to progress with them at particular times, you can work at any time of the day that suits you, so if you have friends visiting for the weekend, or a social evening planned, or even just the desire to stay in bed a little longer every day, you can model your schedule around your personal needs. Just make sure you actually put aside some time to actually work though!
Creative work - there is an increasing demand for creative work, and quite often in fields that are highly studied in college and university but with not much success of companies hiring on a standard hourly contract. Freelancing is a world where you can focus on your creative skills, such as writing, photography, graphic design, content producing and website creating which you thought you would never get paid for, and so you can work in a field that better suits your personality and allows you to express yourself a little more. You are also able to gain experience in fields that are traditionally difficult to get your foot in the door of, and so you can use a freelancing experience as a way to establish yourself and to work towards a big career move.
Working from home - depending on the type of freelance work you can do, you may never actually have to leave your house, which eliminates the commute to work every day (unless you still count the distance between your desk and your computer inside your house). In fact, as long as you have a laptop computer and a strong internet connection, you can work from anywhere, including your favourite cafe, the library or even from a bench in town, and if you have a portable internet modem, you can actually work from anywhere with a signal. So, when the sun is out and you don’t want to be stuck inside all day, you can set up a picnic blanket in the park and enjoy the good weather.
Money - while it is very difficult to start out as a freelancer, when you become established, there is not limit to how much you can earn. You become your own boss, so you can push yourself to improve and work your way into a better position, which of course can have very positive effects on your income. For those months when you are struggling to pay the bills, you have the flexibility to work as much or as little as you need. You also have the ability to negotiate your own rates, which can work both in favour or against you depending on your haggling skills.
Choosing your clients - as you are in control of your work, you can be flexible with who you choose to work with. It does help to say “yes” a lot to begin with, but over time you can refine who you are working for and you can control your working relationships to create a nicer and more personalised professional world for you to make your money in.
There are, of course, some disadvantages to freelance work that shouldn’t be overlooked when deciding to switch. Money can be difficult, and with no minimum wage, you have to be motivated and determined to start earning enough money to survive. There are also no traditional employment contracts, so when you become sick there is not likely to be sickness pay, there are not likely to be unions that support you, and there is of course no sympathy when it’s your computer that is playing up. There is no steady income, as you are in control of this, and there is a lot less stability and rules like there are in a normal work contract, however, if you are willing to take a few risks, and to jump into the unknown, the rewards are there to be reaped.
Whether you’re a sole trader or a limited or public company, if you are self-employed you need to be an on the ball person. Juggling jobs and organising your own finances and tax payments can be more stressful and time consuming than you imagine, and it certainly isn’t for everyone.
Below are some guidelines to give you an idea of what’s required if you want to set up your own business. But tax is a complex area, so you should always seek professional advice before you begin trading.
Running a business
As a self-employed person, you will receive gross earnings from your customers on which you pay tax through a self-assessment tax return. You must complete your tax return each year, doing so as promptly as possible so that you can begin to plan for your tax payments. It is essential that you keep proper records of all your business income and expenses, including copies of invoices to customers and receipts for purchases (especially if you are VAT registered). A bookkeeping software package is good for this, but a simple ledger will be fine. And although not essential, it might be an idea to hold a separate business bank account to keep your business affairs apart from your personal finances.
Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and VAT
You must tell the Inland Revenue (IR) that you are trading within three months of starting the business or else you will be liable for a penalty. If your turnover exceeds £83,000 in any 12-month period, you must register for VAT, informing Customs and Excise within 30 days of your turnover reaching this level. You can also register for VAT if you have a smaller turnover, and this allows you to reclaim the VAT element of all of your costs. Unlike income tax, VAT relates to single transactions so the VAT invoice or receipt must be kept for every transaction related to the business.
National Insurance
Self-employed people are required to pay Class 2 contributions unless you have an exception because of your age, because you already pay Class 1 contributions or because you have small earnings. The Class 2 rate is currently £2 per week. Direct debit is the easiest way to pay your National Insurance bills, although you can pay by other means if you prefer.
Limited company
Trading as a limited company gives you a measure of protection against commercial creditors. As a sole trader or partner, you are fully liable for any business debts and may be made bankrupt if the business fails. If you are a limited company, however, you are usually only liable for debts to the extent of your share capital in the company, except in cases of fraudulent trading.
Paying tax on profits
The calculation of a taxable profit depends upon the tax laws that apply to you and the amount of money you have earned in a year. Whatever your situation, your first tax bill will be on January 31st following your first tax year. And this first bill will include a payment on account for the next year. So basically, you will pay one and a half year's tax in one go, but this only happens in your first year of payment. After that, payments on account are made every year, based on the tax payment for the previous year, and fall due on January 31st in the tax year to which they relate and July 31st following. So, if your 2001/02 tax payment (due January 31st 2003) is £1,200, you will make payments on account for 2002/03 of £600 on January 31st 2003 and of £600 on July 31st 2003.
Tax investigation
The self-assessment tax procedure is accompanied by random tax audits to monitor the system. The Inland Revenue can investigate your business affairs at any time and without reason. In fact, it conducts 750,000 investigations each year, about 8.5% of all tax returns, which means that anyone may find himself being investigated without knowing why or what the IR is looking for.
If handled correctly, an investigation may not be so daunting. Remember three important tips:
• Keep accurate records. Records are the evidential backbone of your business. The more accurate and detailed they are the stronger your case. • Deal with enquiries promptly and efficiently. From your first response to an inspector's query, he will be building up a picture not only of your business but how responsibly you take your tax affairs. • Negotiation. An inspector has the power to negotiate on penalties and will take into account factors such as how you help with the enquiry and what course of action you offer to put matters right.
Employment status
Although there are no definitive rules as to a person’s employment status in the UK, the distinction is usually whether you are working under a contract of service (employment) or a contract for services (self-employment). The IR will usually look at the following factors.
You are employed if:
• You yourself do the work rather than hire someone else to do it for you • Someone can tell you at any time what to do or when and how to do it • You work at the premises of the person you work for or at a place he/she decides • You are paid by the hour, week or month and often for overtime • You work set hours or a given number of hours a week or month
You are self-employed if:
• You have the final say in how the business is run • You risk your own money in the business • You are responsible for meeting the losses as well as taking the profits • You provide the main items of equipment you need to do your job, not just the small tools many employees provide for themselves • You are free to hire other people on your own terms to do the work you have taken on and you pay them out of your own pocket • You have to correct unsatisfactory work in your own time and at your own expense
Occasional earnings
Do not confuse occasional income with seasonal income, which is always classed as self-employment. Occasional or intermittent earnings may not be classed as self-employment, but each case will be taken on its own merits. Occasional earnings must be disclosed on a self-assessment tax return and tax paid at the normal time.
Find out more
The people who deal with your tax payments are not the enemy you might think they are. In fact, of all the customer service personnel you will ever deal with, they rank among the friendliest and most efficient.
- For Inland Revenue, visit - For Customs and Excise, visit - For details about record keeping, go to the Customs and Excise site and download booklet 700/21 - For information about employment status, go to the Inland Revenue site and download booklet IR56 - For any other enquiries, visit or phone your local tax office
Your fabulous new embossed business cards have arrived. You've groomed your personal profile on And you’ve just gone broadband bananas so you can be sure not to miss out when you’re busy online and all those telephone calls, begging for your services, come flooding in.
Brilliant. Time to sit back and wait. Right? Wrong. However great you are at whatever it is that you do, business won’t gravitate towards you by the sheer forces of nature. You have to go out and get it.
The offline net
As an independent consultant, CreateWorker or freelancer of any sort, there is always more you can be doing towards ensuring the flow of future work.
Networking is one crucial and ongoing activity that every self-employed person must do to find business, bring it in and keep it coming. And one cornerstone of networking is the referral meeting.
A referral meeting can be any kind of contact with someone in a position to refer business to you. Whether it’s a formal office appointment or a brief chat at a social do, the aim is the same. To let other people know what you have to offer, while learning from them about contacts and connections that could help your business to grow.
Network means legwork
Rather than meeting with people who can hire you directly, referral meetings tend to be with those who have leads to the people or organisations that might hire you.
This can be more time efficient than your trying to pursue individual potential clients, as referral sources can spread the word about you to more potential clients than you could get to meet by yourself. It expands your business effort without the effort. Also, they will hopefully know the right people to target with their referral. (Something you can’t always gage before you’ve wasted time and energy traipsing across town, or towns, to meet someone who turns out to be a non-potential client after all.) It's like having a sales rep promoting you while you concentrate on the creative side of business.
Saying that, referral meetings can still be a toil. The success rate they produce is often a mere fraction of the legwork you have to do to achieve it. Several dozen meetings might yield just one or two potential jobs. And even then, it could be a long time before those briefs actually come in.
Everyone knows that freelance is famine or feast. What’s important is that you use your famine times to get out there meeting potential referral sources and working to bring the next feast to your table.
Relate yourself
Before any referral meeting, you of course have to prepare. If you don’t know the person well, you must get to know them through a little research. Consider their line of work so you can talk about your own business in a way that is meaningful to them. Bear in mind their level of knowledge in your area. Don’t use jargon that they won’t understand and don’t over explain something that they will.
The sales pitch
You are in this meeting to promote yourself, so be articulate about what you have to offer. Focus on selling the benefits of your service, not the features. Instead of describing what you do and the skills and tools you use to do it, talk about the end results of your work: how your service can improve people's businesses, increase their profits and encourage repeat custom. There's time later to get into the details of how you operate.
Present yourself in stereo
Good presentations combine both words and props. And people will want to see evidence that you can actually deliver. So take to the meeting something visual to back up what you say. A portfolio is a must, whether it’s a hard copy or online. Brochures and flyers also convey a professional image, although you don’t want to overwhelm someone with reams of paper. Equally, involved laptop presentations are a bit much for a one-to-one meeting. Simply take along enough to present yourself as a polished package.
It’s an idea to follow up the meeting by sending any additional material that you didn't give in person. Not only does it add to an otherwise brief thank you note or email but it makes a good indication that you intend to deliver (to future clients) everything you spoke about.
If your work doesn’t involve any tangible product that you can take to a referral meeting, then you’ll have to rely on description. Talk about previous projects you’ve worked on, real stories of accomplishments. Written case studies or client testimonials would be your best bet in this case.
Make it work both ways
Much as you are a creative rather than salesy person, this is still a mild game of PR you’re playing here, and there are certain rules you should follow if you want to stay in it. We’re not talking blatant schmoozing. Rather a simple case of running a two-way street.
Cultivating a relationship with your new ‘friend’ demands a genuine effort to stay in touch. True networking is give and take, so don't even think about developing a professional rapport unless you're willing to give as much as you get.
It’s a partnership
Every so often, remind them who you are and what you offer, remembering to find out how you can be of assistance to them. Tell your referral source about a feature that might be of use or of personal interest to them, be it a book or article you’ve read, a website you think is relevant or an event they might want to attend. Send them updates on your services and successes, an email newsletter or a pointer to developments on your website.
Where appropriate, you might even give a professional courtesy discount, offering your products or services at a reduced rate to the people who are particularly supportive of your business. And always show your appreciation for any referrals they do send your way, especially if they result in business for you. Send a small gift or take your referral source out for lunch or drinks.
Okay, so this last one is slight schmoozing. But we’re all only human.
Money is one of the reasons why people freelance. When the work is there, the rates can be excellent. So money is going to be a prime concern when it comes to renewing contracts with clients.
New terms time
It’s always slightly awkward to renegotiate a contract with an existing client. It’s particularly difficult when this is your biggest and oldest client. The client that’s so lasting, in fact, that the rates you’ve been charging him all this time are now well out of date. You’d never dream of charging so little to new clients these days. But how do you tell him that you’re raising your fee by what might seem to him a huge and perhaps cheeky leap?
Business is business
You don’t want to offend or alienate your most loyal source of business. Your personal relationship with him is important and it’s largely this rapport that’s kept the partnership going so long. But, while good personal relations are a valuable element of any consulting arrangement, the health and prosperity of your business must be your bottom line.
If you’re the kind of person who’s afraid to even barter at a rip-off tourist flea market while holidaying where haggling is quite the custom, you might have some trouble asking a long time supplier of work for more of his cash.
So how to renew a contract without squirming in your skin or burning bridges you can’t afford to char?
For starters, you don’t simply ask for more money without good reason. You need to give a rationale for increasing your fee.
You’re underrated
Higher expenses and overheads are perfectly good grounds. You could be renting extra office space, hiring new personnel or undergoing the latest training course in order to develop your own professional skills, all of which directly or indirectly help to improve the service you are offering your client.
Rather than simply increase your daily or per project rate, however, you could restructure your charges. This might mean asking for mileage reimbursement, if a client requires you to travel to his office, or charging for time spent at client meetings, if you didn’t do so before.
Intellectually speaking
Aside from increasing your price for actual hours devoted to a client or project, you can sometimes renegotiate your intellectual capital rights. Quite often, freelancers, either knowingly or unknowingly, sign an agreement to give away all rights to the intellectual assets they create. Looking back, this might be imprudent, but it’s by no means irreversible. Consider renegotiating the intellectual property terms of your agreement.
Whether it's a clever software code, a slick art design or a brilliant copy line, you might produce work for a client that you recognise to have commercial value beyond the company's specific needs. It’s worth asking the client to deed that intellectual property back to you, especially if it's something he will never use in the future. Satisfied with the results of the project at hand, he may not want to go to the trouble of realising the additional value you have created.
You may also think about asking for royalties on uses of future works created while you're under contract.
Intellectual rights are a complex issue so, if you’re unsure about the ins and outs, consult a lawyer before approaching your client.
Speak up
At the end of the day, when it comes to wanting more money, you’ve simply got to ask. You never know, your client might be anticipating your broaching the subject, bemused that he’s still enjoying your services for what he knows are sub-market rates and wondering why it’s taken you so long to get around to the question.
Freelance is a trade off: autonomy, satisfaction, variety and freedom in return for an equally compelling list of downsides. Immense insecurity and little opportunity to switch off from work are just two of the problems faced by freelance workers in all walks of industry.
Famines and feasts
Money worries. Financial risk and instability are part and parcel of working for yourself. But choosing to freelance is a calculated decision so you will have worked out that your contract rates of pay will normally make up for periods when business is slow.
But what if you’re busy working and simply not getting paid? This is a problem that you should learn to prevent rather than solve. When you first begin or agree to a new contract, ask straight up about the company’s pay procedures. Who signs off contracts? Should you complete timesheets? What expenses, if any, are reimbursed? When will you receive your cheque? If you're still sceptical about getting paid, it’s worth asking for half of your fee up front. You'll be surprised how many clients are willing to oblige.
Chasing up payment for a project you’ve already done is frustrating. You can’t turn to the person who brought you in on the project. It won’t be their job to worry about finances and you don’t want to appear such a pest that they won’t relish the hassle of hiring you again.
Instead, you must make direct contact with the company’s accounts payable team. Talk to them early and often. Long before you’d expect to see your cheque in the post, call them up to find out their standard payment terms for contractors. If it’s 60 or 90 days, you might be able to change this to 30 or 45 days by simply having spoken to the right person at the end of the phone. Don't wait for a problem to arise. And if you do have a problem, don't be shy about saying so. Accounts people are used to being pursued by suppliers and contractors. You’ve fulfilled your service to their company and you’re entitled to their attention. So do what you can to get it.
Highs and lows
An infuriating client . The work is fine. It’s the person you work for that’s driving you crazy. This is a personality clash like orange and pink.
Remember who’s boss and learn to say no. Part of your decision to go freelance will have included less stress and the choice to work with who you like. But how do you spot a potentially troublesome client before a project’s begun? Some of the telltale signs are a client who negotiates overly hard on your fee, demands an extensive written proposal or asks you to do a lot of preliminary work for no charge. If you sense any niggling doubt, go with it. If you're already committed to the contract from hell, finish the job, do it well, and then fire your client.
Ups and downs
No time to market yourself. When you’re busy juggling jobs for and meetings with a number of clients, there’s often no time to do that essential freelance task of marketing yourself to potential new ones.
If this is your problem, it needn’t be. You're probably thinking about marketing as if you still worked for a large corporation. Break out of the old mindset. Promoting yourself as a freelancer is not about responding to newspaper ads or dropping flyers through people’s doors. But it's about almost everything else, including the quality of your work, the reliability you demonstrate, the look of your website, the articles you write, the networks you join, the conferences you attend and the conversations you have with the people sitting next to you.
Peaks and troughs
All work and no play. Even if you do find time to update your website or revamp your business cards, freelance life can make Jack a very dull boy. If you are your own business then there’s a natural reluctance to close the business for even one second of the day for fear of missing an opportunity. Time to fix some boundaries. Set a daily quitting time, designate an hour for the gym and arrange a date to play squash. Schedule days off, and not necessarily at the weekends. You dictate your own timetable so treat yourself to a weekday away from your computer. The shops will be less crowded and you can enjoy a stroll in a relatively empty park. And the joy of being off work in the middle of the week, while everyone else is at their desks, will give you an added sense of appreciation and empowerment.
Swings and roundabouts
Feeling lonely. Having longed to escape all those corporate annoyances like time wasting meetings, political promotions, back stabbing gossip and obligatory socials, there are moments when every freelancer feels out on a limb. And if you do most of your work from home, you can go quite stir crazy.
Even the most hardened of loners crave personal interaction. But as a freelance worker, other people won’t come to you – you have to go to them. So call an old colleague. Call a new one too. Then call a friend who has nothing whatever to do with your work. Read magazines outside of your field. Surf websites on new topics of interest. Check out the latest film releases.
In short, stimulate yourself by whatever means are needed to keep your intellectual curiosity on its toes, while achieving a healthy balance between your professional life and the personal and social lives that keep you sane. It’s important to love what you do, but remember to work to live and not live to work.
Ever deprived yourself of a holiday because business has seen a quiet year and you don’t feel entitled to sitting back and relaxing? Or your bank balance is suffering from its latest Inland Revenue payment and you can’t justify the extravagance? Or else you’re expecting some big, juicy project to come your way any day now? Or you’re convinced that a new client referral is just around the corner and you’d hate to be away when the phone rings…?
Never mind tax dodging. Holiday evasion is one of the greatest crimes committed by contractors today (and one of the biggest ironies of all that freelance freedom). If it’s something of which you’re guilty, think again. You need time off as much as, if not more than, your permanent, full-time counterparts. Time to switch off, rest and recharge your batteries ready for the next stint of work and, often more exhausting, chasing work. So make sure you have your guilt-free day in the sun.
Do your sums. Making sure you can afford to take a break is step one toward feeling better about it, and you don’t need your accountant to do the maths for you. Simply subtract from 52 weeks the amount of holiday you want to take this year and divide your remaining number of income-generating weeks by the gross annual figure you want to earn. Remember to include holiday expenses and final tax deductions in your calculations.
Make yourself a promise. You don’t have a mandatory 25 days’ paid annual leave that head of HR will remind you to take by January lest it go to waste. The only way your break is going to happen is if you make it happen. So book the time in your diary, book your friends or family, get them to book the time in their diaries and stick to the plan.
Remember who’s boss. Many clients assume that freelancers are available at the click of their fingers, bank holidays and all. It’s up to you to change this attitude. The next time you negotiate a contract, let the client know when you’ll be taking time off and, if need be, arrange for an associate or subcontractor to cover for you in your absence. You’re self-employed, remember.
Book your seat. Lots of freelancers get this far in planning a holiday and then bail out. Something always comes up work wise, whether it’s a definite job, a project in the pipeline or simply a meeting that they feel they shouldn’t miss. But something always will come up if you let it. There is never a convenient time to just vanish. So, having made the commitment in your mind, put your money where your mouth is. Take out the credit cards, lay down the deposits and book the actual holiday - the hotel, the flights, the car, whatever. Now there’s no backing out.
Countdown to H-day. You’ve finally given yourself a real deadline to get things done. And that includes your work. But don’t panic. Draw up a timetable between now and your trip, remembering not to try to fit a month’s work into the very last week. Apart from packing beachwear, your final week should spare time for attending to any last minute cries from clients.
Cut off comms. You didn’t think you’d be allowed to slip your mobile phone or laptop into your luggage, did you? If you’re on call, you’re not on holiday. Let your clients know that you’ll be entirely offline and out of contact for the duration, and make arrangements for colleagues to handle emergencies. Give yourself a break. No one else will. And, besides, you deserve it.
Tempting fate and fortune
Venture capitalists, or VCs, receive thousands of business plans a month, so they only have time and inclination to consider the most convincing proposals. Make sure yours gets to the top of the pile.
Get to the point
Keep things short. A business plan should be no longer than 20 pages. And grab attention straight away. VCs will pretty much scan the plans on their desk, so cut to the chase quickly, giving all the main facts right at the start.
Your executive summary should tell six chief points in as little space as possible: your venture plan, your proposed market’s size and growth, your strategy to resist competition, your team, your unique selling points and – the reason you’re here – your required funding.
You’ve got to convince VCs that you are the right people in the right market at the right time. The rest of your business plan will then back up these assertions.
A sense of direction
Whatever you do, don’t ask for a preliminary meeting to chat about ideas. VCs expect you to have a firm picture of where you are taking your company and what you need. Make sure you have done every last piece of your homework.
A decent business proposal
To begin the main body of your plan, give a clear outline of what your company intends to do: the short, medium and long term direction. Long term plans should be ambitious. Venture capitalists like to see large potential markets. So consider expansion, be it into other countries or into other products and services. And show commitment to the company. Leaving your job and putting your own money into the project are significant gestures. VCs like to see 100 per cent dedication and they can spot business planners who are merely out to make a quick buck.
Keep the money rolling in
Explain exactly how the company intends to generate revenue. It may sound obvious, but ensure that your model is not based on weak streams such as banner ads on your site. And don’t rely on just one avenue. Consider as many different revenue-generating models as possible. If you have any guaranteed revenue streams already in place, then mention them. Keep this section basic. Forecasts and assumptions can wait until your financial projections.
Suss out the competition
Examine both existing and potential competition, bearing in mind real barriers to market entry. Show detailed research and statistics to indicate expected levels of demand. And explain your route to market including a marketing strategy. If VCs decide to invest in your project, they will do their own research of the competition, so give a full and candid disclosure from the outset.
Pick your teammates
Include brief CVs for your proposed management personnel. Also state which further team members are needed, although saying this, your main board positions should all be filled. VCs will not be impressed if you have to go shopping for crucial executives. They may decide to put one of their own nominated directors on the board but they won’t want to half fill it for you. Also, if you’re an essentially young team, try to get some older contingent on the board as non-executive directors, one or two people with wide business and IPO experience.
Make connections
Where possible, link up with other companies that can add value to your business. Large blue chip companies will look good in your plan, although alliances can range from mutual click-throughs on another company’s website to free advertising in exchange for equity.
Know your worth
If similar companies have recently floated or been bought out by trade buyers, include figures to show the potential valuation of your business.
It’s okay to gamble
Be frank with VCs from the start. Pinpoint all possible risks, pitfalls and weaknesses. As long as you demonstrate ways to combat or minimise them, you will be given credit for your realism and determination. All ventures have risks and VCs are in the business of taking them. They will not only appreciate your honesty but, if you say that there are no risks, they’ll think you’re being naive.
Show your workings out
Present a financial forecast as a projected profit and loss and cash flow account. Give anything between a three and five-year period that’s sufficient to show a profit, with justification for each assumption made in notes to the accounts. Use evidence, such as independent market research, where possible. If no profit is forecast for longer than five years, you are unlikely to receive finance.
Time it right
Be realistic with timing. Don’t ask VCs to sign a cheque at your first meeting. Although interested VCs move quickly, the legals will take at least a month. And if you do get an offer of investment, don’t spend too much time wrangling over the equity. By all means be greedy but don’t waste time. Some companies can increase in value 30 per cent month on month so it is not worth standing still for the sake of 1 or 2 per cent.
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