Being a freelancer or being a professional freelancer

For the hobbyist freelancer, scoring an occasional project or assignment may be merely a way to make some extra cash. You may be helping a friend or business acquaintance out with a fresh website design or taking photos of your cousin’s kids just for a little extra spending money, or to keep your skill set fresh. But for the freelancer who is building his career one project at a time, each and every assignment is an opportunity to build a portfolio, gain networks and experience, and earn a living.

According to the Freelancers Union, nearly 30 percent of America’s workforce is now considered independent workers. Some are just working for pleasure while others are striving to build a lasting career. The two groups seem similar enough but there are a few core differentiators: commitment, dedication and hard work.

Quality versus Quantity

When trying to build a robust portfolio, many freelancers are forced to settle for less-than stellar jobs. Unfortunately, these are often the same jobs that demand more of your time but pay you less than you’re worth. Professional freelancers just starting out accept such jobs in hopes of securing a bigger and better gig down the road, while many hobbyists would simply bypass this type of job. For the professional, the focus must be on the long-term payoff, often making taking projects that seem lower level or lower pay than you’d expect a worthy endeavor.

Brand Marketing

Professional freelancers need to build their brand. In most cases, word of mouth is simply not enough to cultivate a flourishing career. It’s vital to market yourself just as any company would. Whether you use digital media, attend trade shows or utilize the facets of traditional media, connecting with those who need your services is critical. For professional freelancers, the time, money and energy required to market themselves is a good use of resources. As you gain experience, you become more knowledgeable about how to allocate your time between the marketing that will help you tomorrow and the projects that you’re getting paid for today.

Education

In the competitive world of freelancing, keeping your skill set sharp and up-to-date is essential. When hundreds of self-purported experts are vying for the same job, it’s the freelancer with the most relevant education and experience who is most likely to land the job. Your skills and experience must be fresh and timely, especially in the ever-changing world of technology. Again, this often means sacrificing time that could be used for job searches or project management in order to keep abreast of any changing trends within your respective industry.

Further, many professional freelancers opt to invest in certification courses, seminars and trainings, in addition to upgrading their equipment and software, in order to stay competitive and continuously expand their skill sets.

The life of the professional freelancer isn’t always easy. There are moments and days when you’re wondering when you’re going to land your next gig. Sometimes you feel you’ve wasted time and energy on some meaningless task in anticipation of some ROI.

And yet, there are other days your calendar is filled with exciting projects and potential clients knocking at your door. For the hobbyist, down times usually aren’t a big deal. But for the professional, downturns can be frustrating and devastating, and it’s in these circumstances many freelancers can feel the urge to give up. If you’re a dedicated professional and you can weather the storms while continuously pushing forward, you will ultimately reap the benefits of your hard work.

 

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Questions each freelancer should ask a potential client

Freelancers face numerous potential problems when dealing with clients. A quick Internet search reveals horror stories of non-paying clients, personality conflicts and unreasonable demands. Forward-thinking freelancers can gauge the worthiness of potential projects and clients by asking the following critical questions in advance of signing an agreement.

Image by svilen001 on Stock.xchng

Long-Term Vision

  • What are your long-term goals? Knowing the long-term direction can help freelancers develop strategies and tactics that can be built upon to continue advancing a business toward its goals.
  • How do you see contract talent as a part of your long-term vision? This helps you set your expectations — and your calendar. You will be able to determine whether this has the potential to be a long-term project for your or if you will be seeking new work within the next few months.

Working with Freelancers

  • Have you worked with freelancers in the past? What was your experience? Companies that have never worked with freelancers and those with a negative prior experience often require that you spend more time and energy in building trust.
  • Have you ever completed projects of this scale in the past? If this is a client’s first go at an e-book, a social media marketing campaign or blog, you may need to anticipate some additional consulting hours to help your client understand the process.
  • How often do you expect status updates or reports on progress? Knowing upfront how frequently a client expects a check-in can offer both security to the client and motivation to you, the freelancer.

Project Details

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  • What’s the deadline for this project? Deadlines should be set forth in advance, and in writing, to avoid misunderstandings.
  • What is your budget for the proposed project? Budget projections can help freelancers develop a complete project plan, including the number of hours spent on specific activities.
  • How many words or pages of content or design does this project require? Specifics are essential for proper budgetary planning. Combine this with the questions listed earlier to come up with a firm outline for the amount of work that can be completed to meet client expectations within the client’s deadline.
  • Are there any fundamentals to setting up this project you require my help with? For instance, a client seeking web design services may not yet have secured a domain name or hosting account.

Contract Information

  • What are your typical payment terms for outsourced contractors (e.g., Net 30)? As a freelancer, you often don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. But having an idea when to expect payment, especially from larger clients, is a major plus.
  • Is there a non-compete clause in the contract? Many businesses don’t want contractors to share their proprietary methods or inside knowledge with direct competitors. It’s not ethical to share information between clients; however, a non-compete clause could prevent you from working for a direct competitor during and for a period after your contract relationship.

Project Examples

  • Do you have specific examples of comparable websites, reports, presentations, etc. you particularly like? It’s always best to have a basic grasp of a client’s writing style or design preferences. You shouldn’t model past work precisely, but incorporate the right voice and tone in the materials you produce.
  • Can you provide samples of previous quality work, prior website design or content that can help me grasp the appropriate voice? When clients provide examples of other designs, content or projects that have resonated with them, it helps you develop a plan delivering the same level of satisfaction.

Taking on a new client is both exciting and nerve-wracking for freelancers. There are plenty of expectations to be met on both ends, but by asking the right questions upfront, freelancers can adequately prepare for the upcoming project in terms of budgeting and time commitment.

 

Helpful Google Tools for Your Small Business Website

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It’s hard to overstate the importance of Google for small businesses. While big brands are using their big budgets on flashy advertising strategies, Google provides an avenue for the underdogs to get their content out there by optimizing their sites for organic search. It doesn’t matter how big your budget is if your site isn’t coming up in your customers’ Google searches!

Google offers a number of helpful tools to help small business owners turn their sites into well-oiled traffic machines. Two we’d like to recommend that you look into are:

Google Analytics
Google Analytics is all about gaining insight into how people use your site so you can adjust your strategies to keep them happy, and bring in even more visitors in the future.

Use this tool to:

– Learn what content on your site is most popular with visitors, and which content needs your attention in order to improve interactions.

– See how social your site is by checking on interactions like social shares, and see which of your social profiles is bringing you the most traffic.

– Set up and track conversions to see how your visitors are interacting with the goals you set – whether that’s sales, reservations, or filling out a contact form.

Google Webmaster Tools
These tools are a great way to improve your site’s visibility and bring in more traffic from the web’s most popular search engine.

Use this tool to:

– Verify your site with Google so that it can be indexed. Verification isn’t necessary to get crawled (this will happen on its own later if you don’t verify), but verifying does give you access to great tools and products from Google.

– Understand how your site appears to Google, and fix problems that Google may be having in ‘seeing’ your website.

– Take control of how your site displays on Google by submitting your sitemap. Let Google know which pages you think are top priorities and how often they should be indexed. While you’re at it, you can also tell Google how you’d like your URLs to appear.

Today we’re looking at Google tools specifically, but you can get similar functionality with Bing Webmaster Tools. Looking to learn more about SEO optimization for your page? Check our the good people of SEOmoz.

The easy way to establish your expertise using Quora

Quora Book

Quora Book (Photo credit: jluster)

Book of Answers

Book of Answers (Photo credit: Caro’s Lines)

social networking

social networking (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

While big brands have long sought to be recognized as thought leaders in particular business areas, it’s now just as important for your own personal brand. Quora provides the platform for you to show your expertise across multiple subject areas and get you noticed, not just by your CV, but by the quality of your writing and knowledge.

In this article, I’ll look at how Quora can help you to find the right opportunities and have the right opportunities find you.

What is Quora?

Quora is a real-time questions and answers service. Launched in June 2009, it soon found a core audience in the Silicon Valley tech industry. This proved pivotal in driving uptake, as questions, especially from journalists, were getting answered by the people uniquely positioned to answer them. It has managed to stay relevant and authoritative as it has grown, blossoming into a vibrant and energetic community.

Quora: there are questions on a variety of topics, here it’s ‘How to get started as a freelancer’.

In Quora, anybody can post a question or an answer. Questions are divided into topics to make them easy to locate, and users can choose to follow individual questions or topics, receiving notifications whenever the question is updated. Answers can be voted up or down by users, dependent on their quality. The result of this is a series of questions with the best and most popular answers most visible.

Two newer additions are boards and credits. Boards allow users to curate content into pages where they can save interesting content from within Quora or on other sites. Other users can up- and down-vote content on a board in the same way that they can vote on a standard answer.

Credits are an in-service virtual currency. Credits can be earned by answering questions, getting your answers up-voted and also getting users to follow questions that you have asked. These earned credits can then be spent asking individual users to answer questions directly. All new users start with 500 credits to get them started. Both of these features can be used to your advantage.

How do I make the most of Quora?

1. Play your part

To establish yourself as an expert, answering questions is more important than asking them. By answering questions you start to build your online brand and create a marketable presence. Make sure you answer questions regularly, perhaps daily or weekly. To get people to vote your answer to the top of the pile, your answers should be considered, timely and authoritative. This is all about showing the depth and breadth of your knowledge. However, you should also choose your questions carefully; it may be difficult to make your answers stand out on overly popular questions. Find questions where your voice can be heard.

2. Follow the right topics

Identify the topic areas in which you have expertise – it will be where you can make the most impact. Follow them and make sure that you check each topic for new questions on a regular basis – getting the first answer in isn’t imperative, but it certainly helps get you noticed.

Other users can see the topics you follow on your profile, so these can form a good basis for showing others your interests. For each topic you follow, it’s also possible to write a short description of your experience in that topic. Make use of it to show people why they should read your contributions; the description gets shown next to your answer.

3. Follow the right people

Follow the thought-leaders within your own sphere of expertise and influence. These power users have a lot of followers, which will in turn get your answer a lot of visibility. The most erudite and revealing answers are not always from the most prominent users. Getting more up-votes on answers than established industry thought-leaders can be a powerful personal branding opportunity. Like many of the social networks, there are also many people who follow back if you follow them, so use them to swell your follower numbers.

4. Create your own board

Creating your own board is another good way to highlight your expertise and interests. Boards can include your own questions and answers on Quora, personal blog posts, paid blog posts and external articles, so can be used to showcase your contributions across many channels. Don’t be afraid to show your own work, even if it deals with niche subjects, Quora is a social network that relies on people’s expertise. If you have it, make sure that people know it. A good portfolio will help give your contributions more impact.

5. Fill out your profile

The profile section within Quora is pretty basic, but should not be ignored. A good title and bio is essential, and don’t forget a picture, it’s a crime to be seen with the ‘anonymous’ default image. If you want to stand out, make sure that people can put a face to the name. Finally, to increase visibility, make sure your contact permissions are open (allowing people to contact you and comment on your posts) and you’ve connected your other social networks.

How do I know I’ve been successful?

You’ll have some catching up to do to get as popular as Robert Scoble, but there’s no doubt that his influence is massive. He’s topical, opinionated and active.

While all success is relative, here are four ways to measure your influence.

 

  1. People pay you to answer – if users are paying you their hard-earned credits to get your opinion, then you are definitely sending out the right messages.
  2. People vote up your answers – good answers do get voted up, so if you find that your answers are regularly getting user’s votes, you can be sure that they are doing their job.
  3. People follow you – like any social platform, good content drives followers. If you are producing good answers on a regular basis (or asking good questions), you should see the number of followers swell.
  4. People start to contact you – best of all, if you’re getting involved and making an impact, you should get people contacting you. Make sure you have included a link to your personal homepage or to another social media account in your profile; users will not always contact you directly through Quora.

 

Why wait? Get started!

If you want any more proof, a certain editor not far from this blog once said to me: “I actually got in contact with a number of freelancers by seeing their answers on Quora.” For me, that seals the deal.

What are you waiting for? Get involved. Here’s some links from Quora to get you started.

Understanding exactly what the client wants

As a freelancer, you’re going to find yourself working with a multitude of clients. In some cases you’ll work with them just one time, while in others you’ll have the opportunity to develop lasting business relationships. Regardless if a client is new or old, it’s important to treat each project as new and be sure to understand exactly what the client wants.

Don’t ever make assumptions

Understanding the client’s expectations is crucial. Do not work based on assumptions. It’s vital to gain as much information from the client as possible before beginning and in some cases before accepting the job. Sometimes, a client may know they want an app, but have no idea what kind, what it should be for, or even whether it’s a reality. Other times you’ll have a client capable of providing you with in-depth details but doesn’t due to time constraints or communications issues.

It’s important to ask the client to explain their vision of the completed project. If they can articulate details, chances are they have done their homework and will provide you with a comprehensive framework of their vision. If their answers are broad in scope, vague or full of uncertainties, you may find yourself working with someone who is uncertain of the realities behind their request. These types of clients will depend upon your expertise for industry insights and project completion.

Question, Question, Question

To help fully analyze a client’s wishes, ask a few questions to gain a better perspective. You may need to adjust the questions based upon the project or the industry, but they may include question such as:

 

  • Who is the target audience the app/article/website?
  • What do you expect this project to do for your business?
  • Where do you expect this to go live or be published?
  • How did you come up with this project? Are any of your competitors doing something similar?
  • What is the time frame for completion?
  • What voice would you like this completed in? (Although this seems like a question for writers, this is essential in nearly all industries. The voice can be serious, whimsical, casual, or just about anything else.)

 

In addition to getting detailed information from the client, as a freelancer, it may be in your best interest to develop an outline or contract detailing the stages of the project. Consider having the client sign off on the project’s progress at pre-defined stopping points. For example, a website developer may want to have the client agree to the design structure after just a few pages are completed. This will help ensure the designer’s interpretation of the client’s wishes is truly in-line with what they want. By giving clients the opportunity to give feedback along the way will minimized the risk of them scrapping the project after completion because it’s not meeting their expectations or visions.

Unrealistic clients are par for the course

Inevitably, you’ll end up working with a client who has unrealistic expectations through all phases of a project. There may be some tell-tale signs, like constant phone calls or emails asking for updates, pressing for completion before the due date or nitpicking each and every detail. Despite extensive pre-assignment communications, you may also run across the know-it-all client who asserts his “knowledge” throughout the task, attempting to force your hand in a direction that may or may not be good for the end results.

As a freelancer, developing a communication protocol for each and every project is essential to fully understand the desires of each client. You may find that a stock template of questions works or you may need to customize your queries for each client or job. Regardless, communications before, during and after the project are vital to your success and your client’s happiness.