Freelance Austin Members Spill Their Success Secrets

Photo credit: Edwin Andrade

As freelancers, we often turn to experts for answers about taxes, marketing, and technology, but when the topic is freelancing, we don’t have to go very far to get the wisdom we seek.

During an unconventional monthly meeting on April 14, Kara Myers, VP of Freelance Austin, moderated a discussion – based on questions submitted in advance – in which members shared off-the-cuff, hard-won professional wisdom.

Below are the highlights from the Q&A session.

MARKETING/BRANDING/SCOPING

Sometimes early client conversations drift into advice that should be paid. Where do you draw the line between client questions that are necessary to on-board/scope a project and paid consultations?

  • I give away a litttle bit or give as much away as possible in one hour. Then I offer something that the client will easily want to say yes to.
  • I work in advertising/publications. When meeting with new clients, we talk broadly, but mostly the client wants to know how much money they can make. So giving them an idea of how to make more money usually opens the door to work. They think there are probably more ideas behind that first big idea.
  • Let the client know that you can create something specific and tangible for them, wrap up the consultation period, and go into “here’s what is next.”
  • I am a proponent of time limits on meetings. After 30 minutes, I might say, “I have to go, I have another call now.“ Anything beyond a proposal, and I need a contract to keep going.
  • We do an initial consult, followed by a Statement of Work of our understanding what the client wants, then we start the work.

What’s the best way for outsourcing strategically?

  • We outsource design for some projects. Our goal is for the subcontractor to get to a place of ownership and pride in what they can add to the project. Then they have an expectation that they will work with us again, we have an established relationship, and we are mutually interdependent. They depend on us for a piece of their revenue stream.
  • I believe everyone should ultimately only do the work they love to do. There is someone who will joyfully take over the things you don’t love – for me, that is spreadsheets and accounting. Outsource to people who love the thing you are outsourcing because that will be a long-term relationship.

Once you decide to outsource, how do you find the right person?

  • I look within this group. If someone is reliable doing volunteer work, they will be reliable in getting paid. If someone in this group doesn’t do that thing, they know someone who does.
  • The WCA Forum is a great resource.
  • It‘s important to be specific about what you need. Describe your “dream situation” and someone will hear that specific ask, and think “sounds exactly like my brother-in-law,” for example. If it’s too broad, the ask gets lost.

Aside from attending WCA events, how does one network during these strange times? 

  • Join Facebook groups – Social Media Marketers, for example.
  • Attend LinkedIn and Ad Age webinars, and connect with people on LinkedIn.
  • The majority of us do not love virtual networking, but learning is a place to connect.
  • One-to-one is a more intimate way to reconnect than a group meeting.

I am returning to freelance writing and editing after a 10-year hiatus. How do I find and approach potential clients?

  • Tap into your network.
  • Send letters of introduction – there are some great tips in Jennifer Gregory’s book. When things slow down, it‘s the top thing I do. I am targeted about the types of clients I want to work with because I might send 50 letters and get two responses.
  • Find channel partners. I used to knock on website developer‘s doors and ask if I could do content to help them get the sites done more quickly. This was work they didn’t want to do.
  • My clients are associations so I joined Texas Society of Assocation Executives. We sent out postcards to a lot of associations and asked if they were struggling in specific areas, and one of our biggest clients called us after getting the postcard because it resonated with them.
  • Online workshops offer an easy way to connect in smaller groups.

What is the best way to ask a client for a testimonial for your website?

  • Write something for them and ask them to approve it.
  • I agree. That way you get it to say what you want, and the client may be intimidated by writing.
  • Ask them to do it on LinkedIn. It is uneditable, and you can easily cut and paste it elsewhere.
  • Give them some ideas of what you’d like them to say – a prompt.
  • Timing is everything. When a client is really happy and sends you glowing feedback, ask them if you can use that as a testimonial. It often sounds much more authentic.

I need website & branding support. Do you have resources to help with those two issues?

  • If you are on a budget, do as much as you can. Spend some time with a Google doc, figure out what you are trying to say, and get your thoughts together. Once you gather the information, it’s a good project for someone. It can cost so much more to bring someone in from scratch.
  • Start off with questions about creating your brand: what are your core values, for example? We have discussed this in a previous monthly meeting – check out the blog recap.

SOFTWARE/TOOLS

It seems like Mailchimp is not the “go-to“ anymore. My client is just starting out with email marketing – what do you recommend and why?

  • I recently researched this, and Sender.net works for me. You can send up to 2000 contacts, the template is easy to use, and it feels intuitive. Mailchimp limits audience segmentation, but this is not an issue with Sender.net. I can chat with customer support when I have an issue, and there is a free version.
  • I like Hub Spot – CRM, email, and website tools are all rolled into one. It’s also very user-friendly.

I don’t have time to read the ins and outs of the new features of Dropbox, but we use it as our client support/comms platform. I would love for someone to help optimize our usage of Dropbox so it is organized and built out with thought so we’re using the features we pay for. Does anyone do this for a fee?

  • We like Dropbox Business because it adds a different level and gives you more administrative sophistication.
  • Dropbox has webinars about this, but it takes time. I suggest going to their webinar section.
  • Maybe select one feature to learn, and break it down into smaller bites.

Has anyone used Slack for client interactions? I’m considering this for a couple of clients and wondering about the pros and cons.

  • I love Slack. I also use Basecamp, but I just wish it was easier to flip between the two.
  • I have some clients on one platform and others on another. It is a hurdle to get clients into your Slack account. I don’t see value in owning a tool when your clients use different tools. The chat function is great, but it’s impossible if you are trying to keep up with lots of different clients. It can be overwhelming, but it’s great as a text message for a group.
  • It‘s awesome when everyone is using it, but you also have to set boundaries. Sometimes clients will say. “I threw it in Slack,“ so it can be a way for clients to shirk responsibility.
  • So far I like it because it keeps all the threads together all in one place.
  • Using Google docs and inviting them there is doing what Slack is trying to do. I use it as a bridge between email and an interruption tool like Slack.

What software or services do you find to be worth it or even non-negotiable? Examples include accounting software, IT subscriptions

  • Google Drive, and Airtable is life-changing – it is spreadsheet software that can sort better than any other software.
  • Fresh Books or Wave for easy invoicing. In Quick Books, you can upload your receipts.
  • Sucuri – if your site gets hacked, they will go in and clean things up.
  • Wordfence is a firewall service that gives peace of mind.
  • Harvest and Toggl for time tracking.
  • SiteGround for website hosting.
  • Backblaze and Carbonite to back up everything.
  • AppleCare and paid Zoom.

For more on these topics and others, check out previous Freelance Austin blog recaps.

 

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