Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Today is Online Learning Day

This has been a hot topic for most parents out there but I also run across career-changers or college students who either love or hate online learning.  The reason for my putting up (another short and late) post is that many freelancers may be considering going back to school or getting a certification so that they can get paid on time...all the damn time.  Or so we hope anyway.

Many people have positive accounts to share about how online learning has helped them or their families get an education that may not have been available through the traditional method.  Read their stories here.

If you're like me, you've run across a number of online learning prospects that sound great on paper but may or may not be a fit for us personally.  While there are many options to explore and gain something from, there are also some questions regarding these new learning institutions.  Here are some that I base on personal experience- 

  • Why do some teachers use precious time to talk about themselves when it's a new class that may get canceled for good due to low enrollment?
  • Why do MOOC courses receive college credit when there's no real interaction between instructor and student?
  • Why is it that you can learn more from low/no-cost webinars than a for-credit college course?
  • What does it REALLY mean when you earn a continuing education certificate from a college or university?  Can you make it work or is it a waste of time and money?
Unfortunately, my experience runs the gamut and the only thing that helps me is reading online reviews like Rate My Professor or even Yelp.  The best way to know whether a course is any good is to research and not get sucked into things like the low price or enticing copy written to boost your spirits about signing up.

For fast answers written in everyday language, Goodwill has a website that teaches everything from 3-D printing to web design basics.  While some topics are common sense, bookmarking this site can help when you need an HTML refresher or are wondering if the college you're interested in is really a diploma mill

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Freelancers, Do You Know Your Worth or Pay Bills Instead?


I think you know where I'm going with this.  Do you stick by your skills, knowledge, and ability to go above and beyond, or are you satisfied with receiving crumbs?  We all know that even the perfect skillset is no good without clients but should you shortchange yourself just to satisfy them?  As the competition for jobs is going to intensify in the coming weeks, there's a lot to consider in the current state of freelancing.

My Recent Freelancing Horror

Ted Cruz may not have liked me last week because I had a flashback to my early days of freelancing.  Last month, I applied to be a content writer for a third party through a writing service.  The process was thorough but fairly easy and though I was told I'd be contacted in the next two weeks, it was closer to a month when I heard back.

Long story short (and I'm sure it's a familiar one to veteran freelancers), this client wanted to pay me an already low rate for test articles but that rate would be slashed by nearly half once I was accepted.  Now, this would take place after submitting FOUR test articles and I'd be blessed to write a minimum of 7K words monthly.  Assuming things went well, I'd be making less than $300 a month to start.

Do the Math Before Signing On

While rent in my area starts at around $1200 for a studio, there's something I remember about this type of client.  They're very picky, spend a lot of time on details, and overall a waste of time.  When I worked through oDesk, they were also slow-paying and we all know how that works.

Your bill collectors/landlords don't care about your good intentions, what happened, or anything that doesn't directly benefit them.  So these days, I'd rather cut them off at the early stages rather than haggle over money or other issues that impact performance.  It took dealing with an unreasonable (we did a lot of things he was responsible for on paper) landlord and roommate that had me trapped in this vicious cycle.  It takes a good-paying job (and crazy budgeting) to be set free, which I eventually got before getting sick.

Have a Reasonable Progression Plan

However, you may have a low-paying but reliable client you can count on for paying bills or luxuries.  Then there's the introductory rate business model a lot of new freelancers use to meet new clients or prospects.  While neither of these is a bad thing, two factors are necessary for this to work - 1) Have money in the bank to cover at least three months of expenses, and 2) Establish a deadline for introductory rates, don't make it a permanent thing.

A lot of people complain about how tough it is to be a freelancer these days.  While this is true, it doesn't mean you can't survive.  The difference is how you package yourself and letting prospects know that you mean business from the first contact.  I've had many Skype interviews with small (and some medium-sized) operators and often they have interesting perceptions about what they think freelancers of a certain niche do every day.

If You Believe You're Important, So Will They

Even if you're binge-watching Netflix or Cartoon Network in between jobs, it doesn't mean you can't be firm about rates or what you're willing to deal with while working with a client.  If you feel things are too loose (which can affect your pay), don't hesitate to get it in writing before starting.  It's a good idea to design your own work-for-hire forms when getting started anyway.

In the meantime, you can also look out for these beware (and possibly run) scenarios - 

1. There's a lot of talking in the beginning.  Discussing your qualifications or what they want is one thing but if the conversation gets into a lot of 'what-if' (usually negative) scenarios, then you may want to create a plus/minus inventory list before going further.

2. The rate is unusually low/they want free work.  Unfortunately, these go hand-in-hand.  A good client is often satisfied with a strong portfolio or profile and a brief interview.  A bad client normally wants a lot of time discussing the project (on your time), to pay as little as possible (and this may take longer than originally stated), and you may have to jump through several hoops just to receive decent feedback.  This type of relationship never works, no matter how hard you work.

3.  Nothing is in writing.  While email messages can hold up in some cases, these may not be enough when it comes to overseas clients that are slow-paying or leave you high and dry. Having a paper trail can tell you more about the client and it can protect both in the case of a discrepancy.  If the client refuses to complete any forms presented to them, consider this a major warning sign...and a possible blessing in disguise.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Build Your Online Profile with a Movie About...YOU!

This is a short post/week because of a project I just completed and the fact that I'm going back to the drawing board on another.  The former was a short movie featuring a family member that I'm pretty proud of but you can do this easily with a number of free/low-cost apps.  Making professional-quality videos at home may fall under presentations, animation software, or graphic design programs.  While I have some previous experience in this area, I can answer some questions you may have.

What if I Have Little Knowledge?

Programs like Animaker allow you to click-and-drag/drop while previewing how certain objects will look. By doing a search for the best animation software for beginners, you can see a basic rundown of features as well as costs.  When creating a video for promotional purposes, it's best to keep the time short anyway.  Shorter videos are easier to edit and once you find compatible software, you can add on elements and features as you please.

What Type of Content Should I Create?

Though you may envision yourself as a superhero, it may be best to steer clear of fantasy images (unless that's part of your brand).  What you create is entirely up to you but it helps to be unique as possible.  The above video may inspire some ideas for content.  I suppose the best rule of thumb is to create something that's memorable yet relevant.

What About My Office Suite Software?

Yes, Google Drive and Microsoft Office are free and already paid for, respectively but the selection is limited.  However, these are good places to get your feet wet and learn about basics, such as colors and layout.  If you were to visit the Microsoft Store, you may find an add-on that will help you add that special touch to your finished product.

Anything Else I Should Note?

If you have a FB account and you begin doing searches for products, you will be flooded with offers that sound a little too good to be true.  For instance, to subscribe by the month may cost $10 or $20 but the FB offer states the same program is sold as a $67 download.  All I can say is read the comments and you'll see why you may want to throw caution to the wind.

Also, Blender may be a part of the list of recommended animation programs for beginners.  As someone who once worked as a graphic artist, I can tell you that while it's reputable and free, user-friendly it is NOT.  A few reviewers share my sentiment and while it's quite the teaching tool for someone looking to be an animator without the high tuition, it's not for the novice who's in a rush.

And while it may go without saying, free anything online is seldom without obligation.  Though I'm currently having some FB security issues, programs like Canva may want your other social media account info.  While I've been using Canva for a couple of years with no problems, some may not like the watermark that lets everyone know you're on a freebie account.  This comes with a lot of free accounts and if you load onto YouTube, there are some creator tools that will allow you to crop any logo or other images you don't want.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Social Media Revamp...Does Your Brand Need One?


The Big Three - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (IG) ...or maybe swap IG for YouTube.  Maybe MySpace is still your friend in terms of traffic...or is it just a familiar place?  The thing is, we freelancers know not all social media channels are best for our brand.  Remember back in the day when the so-called "experts" would push The Big Three on anyone not knowing what our product was about?

Thank goodness those days are gone.  There's so much more to choose from, as social media has not only become more varied but targeted to the microniche.  Instead of just dealing with cartoons, comics, or crafts, more emphasis is placed on manga, needle arts, or where to find the best cosplay events in your area.

Of course, if your social media plan is played out (as in your traffic has dwindled in recent) or you never got on board, this may be the best time to change old habits  The first course of action should be to know how you will use social media, followed by getting an updated list of social media sites.

So Why Can't I Use My Personal Social Media Page?

Because it's always best to keep things separate.  Big or mid-money clients don't want to see an email that doesn't have a personalized domain.  When someone visits your social media page, they may not want to see your pets (unless Fluffy is out there hustling for you and that's your brand), kids, or personal opinions.  This holds especially true if some of the sentiments you've expressed in the past may be controversial.

Although another small business may not be as likely to check as an employer, it still helps to cover your tracks.  Not all business social media accounts cost a fortune and taking the time to set it up properly is sure to pay off.  However, it doesn't hurt to do a little tweaking to set yourself apart.  Here's a list of social media resources that are affordable and can improve your online presence.

I Want to Protect My Clients by Not Exposing their Personal Data

While it's safe to say who leads in the social media data breaches, all the transparency in the world isn't guaranteed to build everyone's confidence.  The only other measures you can take is to invest in an email marketing program that's been proven and ensure that your device or laptop is free of malware and scanned regularly.  If your email software allows users to manage the frequency and/or type of emails they want to receive, this not only saves time but promotes positive communication.

Why Would I Join a Site that Doesn't Allow Me to Sell My Goods?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What You Should Know About Guest Posting + Resources

j.swindell freelancing fun

Firstly, for those who don't know, the above image isn't 100% accurate but it's reality at least 90% of the time.  However, instead of worrying about the one-time payment a company may give you for a single submission, think about the traffic that visits the site every day.  This is a group of people that may want to be on your mailing list, become a social media friend, or better, become a paying customer.

Why Do It if There's No Pay?
People who should consider using guest posting are using this as a promotional effort for a product or service.  Another strategy may be to establish themselves as an expert on a subject.  Whatever the reason, it should not be used as a way to begin a writing or blogging career.  It's easier to own (or upgrade to) your own domain where you earn from advertising and other marketing tools.

Guest posting can also be used as a part of a B2B strategy, where a company blogger or contributor works with those who sell similar services or complementary products.  For example, a caterer who also specializes in food photography may want to write a post on simple camera tricks when shooting food pics.  This person may submit their post to sites (like Yahoo) that target general audiences but also novice shutterbug blogs, culinary student sites, or anywhere else that's not targeted to veteran caterers or photographers.

What's the Right Way to Do This?
Some people submit posts or other text content once a month, quarterly, or as opportunities arise.  The good thing is that every week, many people are creating successful blogs and websites that cater to a specific niche.  When people don't have to go searching through numerous categories and pages to get what they came for, they tend to be more loyal than visitors who stop by randomly.

As far as Google Page Rankings go, I couldn't find current information in regard to which pages rank the highest or lowest in terms of search engine visibility.  Diversifying content has always worked for me, as I may alternate between high-traffic sites with those that aren't as well known but have other endearing qualities.  Easy navigation or nice visuals (that load quickly) are sometimes enough to grow an audience faster than normal.  

Where Do I Find Opportunities?

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Do You Have a Freelancer Growth Strategy?

Not as complicated as it sounds but this can prepare you for unexpected events both bad and good.  Basically, what you're doing is planning for the next step in your venture by making the best use of your current resources.   While it may not be possible to work on upgrades (which can require a lot of money) when you're busy, it helps to have a plan ready to go in case the following happens - 

  • You need time off for personal reasons
  • A regular client wants to place a larger than usual order...and you REALLY can use the money.
  • Your latest marketing campaign has brought in a slew of new clients and you need an extra hand.

A good example is the Thanksgiving turkey sales of 2020 where data showed how smaller birds were in more demand than the usual 16 (or larger) -pounder.  This was mostly due to pandemic restrictions and those looking to cut back on meal plans.  During this time, anyone with a food business could negotiate a reduced price with their local grocer or wholesale and sell fried turkey meals.  Think about it, not everyone owns a fryer and the cooking process takes patience as well as a steady hand.  Unless you live in a major metro city where a restaurant may be your biggest competition, this can be the break your operation is looking for.

Sometimes opportunities can fall in our laps and knowing how to convert these into ongoing revenue can be tricky without an idea that doesn't cost a lot.  Although some may find inspiration immediately, no one who's survived these recent times should want to gamble on their impulses.  While creating such a plan will vary from one freelancer or small business owner to another, some basic ideas can diversify the business revenue.

1. Look for intersectional audiences within your current customer base.  If you sell a product that may require an instructional guide, you may find an audience that would appreciate a guidebook.  They may also be willing to pay a few dollars for such a thing.  With e-book software that's easy to use, you can draft, publish and promote over a period of three days.  Past customer purchases, social media accounts, and personal knowledge of an industry can inspire new ideas for residual income.

2. Hire an intern.  If you're thinking of some kid with zero work experience, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.  These days, many Gen X/Y and older millennials are returning to college or looking to get experience in a new career.  For a lot of companies, this is a definite win because most older workers are serious about networking, learning new skills, and most of all, doing a good job.  They want to ensure that they can have a reference for their next employer or start a business with success.

3. Find ways to buy wholesale.  If you live in a large city, you don't need a business account to buy supplies in volume.  You probably started out part-time but have grown enough to realize that it won't hurt to have extra supplies on hand.  Even if space is tight, a good storage chest with multiple uses can come in handy.  Some storage facility franchises also have lockers for rent priced under $50/month.

4. Connect with a networking group that offers access to local resources.  If you're burned out with doing the online outsourcing thing, then asking for referrals is the next best thing. Even you're not the most social, it helps to be at least familiar with niche groups that can provide leads on freelancers, complementary businesses, and anything else that will make operations run smoother.  While some may take issue with meeting people in a streaming environment, remember that options may be available.  An alternate might be a few members meeting in a small space that's set up for local social distancing guidelines.

While these tips may start with a lot of 'ifs', consider ideas that work best with your operation when the unexpected occurs.  Bookmark important web pages if you can't print these at the moment or add the links (with descriptions) to your online memo app.  It also can't hurt to inquire about the cost estimates early and compare with their competitors.  This way you won't feel pressured to pay premium costs or know how early to lock in a good price.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

When the Last Client is Gone (and Def Not Coming Back)

If you've spent most of your career being an employee, you'll find that communication is different than a boss to an employee.  The funny thing is that while many become freelancers to "be their own boss", the truth is the client is the one giving orders.  There's usually a happy medium that makes client-freelancer relationships work but sometimes, this isn't the case.  Some freelancers can become overzealous when it comes to their beliefs (which sometimes may be based on a hunch) and some clients can just be...not nice to work for.

Don't Hide Your True Feelings at the First Sign of Trouble

One thing that's worse than having a bad disposition (or refusing to give clear directions the first time) is lack of communication.  Sometimes people don't know how to say what's really on their mind or they just don't want to chance on rocking the boat.  If you communicate online or by phone, you have to find the most effective way to get your point across.  This applies to both clients and freelancers.

While most in either position may not have a problem delegating their wishes, this is where clarity comes in handy.  Do you feel the job tasks do NOT justify the pay?  Is the freelancer working too slow?  Is there a way the two of you can work without giving more money to an outsourcing company that offers little to no support (not naming names fill in the blank, LOL)?

Observe Patterns and Rectify Immediately

Back when you had to go to school or work on a schedule, you probably had a day when you missed a step in your usual grooming because you overslept.  Throughout the day, things were uncomfortable because people either made a strange face around you or appeared to ignore you entirely.  Maybe it was you or your imagination.  However, you realized that grooming affects not only your confidence but productivity.

In the remote working world, you can arrive stinky or in need of a pedicure but if your sick cat is getting you down, then time off may be necessary.  Taking a short leave early in the game (but try to finish remaining work first, especially if it's a new client) with a brief explanation is better than late and/or incorrect submissions, lack of communication, or being verbally aggressive with the client.  If the client goes elsewhere, you can at least say that the parting wasn't based on faulty work.  In most cases, people understand that life happens.

Encourage Open Communication From Day One

A while back, I stayed with a relative that did something I didn't appreciate.  I let them know I wasn't down for it though I eventually gave in to the pressure.  Their explanation for doing what they did was that they could because it was their home, etc.  From that day on, our dynamic changed.  While I managed to remain polite, it's years later that they realized the impact of their actions.  Yet, instead of addressing the matter directly, their response was 'If there's anything you want to discuss...'

For a lot of people, being over something is just moves on because you can't succeed while wallowing in the past.  Even if memories are fresh, a person that respects their business operation won't suffer because their current freelancer is hard to reach, rude, unpredictable - or all of the above.  While some of you may fear a talkative client with the potential to pay many future bills, there are ways to handle conversation without seeming ungrateful.

Getting a feel for what a client may be thinking about you can take time.  Although some people find surveys to be impersonal, you may want to send out a short questionnaire to all clients on a regular basis to find out their true satisfaction levels.  If there's an opportunity to remain anonymous (or at least offer some reward for completing the form), they may offer the constructive criticism you've been needing.