Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Are SBDCs Worth the Time and Energy?

If a person is looking to start or upgrade their small business or microventure, they should consider going to a Small Business Development Center, or SBDC.  These have been around for a minute and for the most part, have a good reputation for helping anyone get their business aspirations off the ground - no matter how large or small.  The majority have a direct connection to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and most interact with local SBDCs in a given area.

The SBA is a good place to get information about SBDCs in your area but it is important to know that not all of these places operate in the same fashion.  To date, I've worked with about three in the past decade and a half.  One reason for the constant change is money.

While some offer free training courses that cover everything from getting off the ground to personnel matters to tax issues.  Others may charge a small fee for things like training in basic accounting or marketing techniques.  Where I live, no one has to live in a specific area in order to participate in training sessions.

However, some programs may require clients participants to participate in a series of workshops in order to be eligible for funding and support. Workshops may be free or a nominal charge and at least 90% (average) attendance are required in order to qualify for the full range of services. Attending classes voluntarily allows prospects to see how each center operates and gauge what type of businesses they serve the best.

One center I dealt with last year had a preference for food-based operations.  The person in charge made this clear during the intake orientation and it appeared that microbusiness or solopreneurships weren't their priority.  Prior to this contact, I dealt with one center that had an abundance of resources and they were able to get me the funding I needed.

Now, if you should happen to speak with a counselor and find they don't have your best interests at heart, this does not have to be the end.  If a person is living paycheck-to-paycheck and has a reasonable business idea, these centers can be a gift from heaven.  It's just a matter of finding a compatible center.

This is why I highly encourage checking out more than one simultaneously.  Even though most of the staff may know one another, it may be possible to get in on specific items needed to get going.  For instance, finding a quiet place to work and meet clients can cost a nice penny.  Not all libraries operate the same and most coffee shops are about as quiet as a major airport.  Some of these centers have business incubators, or shared workspace, with amenities for less than what most private (paid) places charge.

Although you may have heard about people starting their six-figure operation for a ridiculous amount, we all know that it takes some money to make money.  Even small things, like office supplies, add up and money helps with consistency while business is growing.  Since a lot of SBDCs are run by the government, this is one of the best ways to make tax dollars work. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Getting Away From Cheap @ss Clients and Into Six Figures

Normally, I'm a pretty chill individual but the one thing that I hate is when clients get something for nothing.  Someone to write code for an entire website for less than $1000.  Writing a 700-word article for less than $10.  I also get steamed at companies that demand a quick turnaround for articles (or other tasks) that require extensive research to be delivered in a matter of hours.

The good news is that breaking the pattern is not impossible, even if you have been freelancing for a short period of time.  Business 2 Community has some realistic yet simple tips for making the transition over to the big bucks.  While not every method is suitable for every business or individual work style, it shouldn't take long to find a pattern that doesn't involve working round the clock all of the darn time.

Here are also a few tips that have made the freelance life more sane for me.

Learn how to say no.  Sometimes opportunities may sound too good to pass up but there's a reason why good freelancers turn down unpaid tryout periods or give away too much information without guarantee of a reasonable return.

Create the right loss leaders for your business.  If you have a newsletter, what purpose does it serve?  Is it possible to create a dual purpose, like creating paid ad space for a specialized niche?  There are possibilities to re-vamp marketing products so they will do more than one job at a time.

Establish boundaries early.  If a client wants for you to put in extra time on a project, you have the right to determine the terms.  Although it is best for the client to create milestones early, sometimes the unexpected can mean more money for the freelancer.  However, if they want corrections that were not your fault, don't be afraid to add on fees for your time.  It's been my experience that some clients will do a bait and switch on those who are new to freelancing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Considering Web Development as a New or Upgraded Career?

 Because just about everyone needs a professional website, it seems like the possibilities are endless...right?  Or mid-to-large companies as well as government agencies either need new pages or their directory updated.  Just from these factors alone, it seems like the perfect work-at-home opportunity that pays the big bucks.  Well, everything here is true BUT there are some things to consider.

While it may be too early to tell if web development is the new registered nurse in terms of career demand and salary, DataUSA reported more than 1.25 million developers in the States alone with an estimated job growth of nearly 18% over the next decade.  Other impressive factors are salary (though there's the big gender gap, as usual), locations with the highest demand, and the fact that it may be ideal for career changers since the average age is 40.
However, this field is not for everyone.  If your're a writer like me who's managed to learn enough HTML5 and CSS3 to tweak your website or create content for a client who wanted strong headers for an online article, this is a way different ball game.  But if you're curious about whether to invest in a boot camp or other training that costs from hundred to the ten thousands of dollars, sites like Microsoft Virtual Academy can teach you a thing or two without obligation.

If you feel that your creativity and/or organizational skills will set you apart from the competition (and it just might), then it may help to hone your networking skills while doing the free thing.  Why?  Because fellow freelancers or experts in the field may know of opportunities that may allow you to get paid while training or land a full-time job immediately after.

This is how some people manage to enter the field without a bachelor's.  While there are some college continuing education courses that are the happy medium when it comes to investing money and time, this is one career that demands you prove yourself upon contact. Having several sites and custom style sheets ready to show off are the real calling cards here.  Although having a badge or two cannot hurt either.

For those web writers who want to become developers, there's one problem that still exists.  People in other countries who'll work for much less.  If you have a specialty, this would be the time to upsell your knowledge of food, sports, or whatever your writing niche is.

Finally, the above video pretty much explains what newbies can expect.  If you choose to volunteer or work for less to gain experience, just made sure you've set career milestones and you're not just gigging.  For those who don't know, the gig mentality can be dangerous because for a number of reasons.  Although a person may be earning money, it's usually a fraction of what they can make.  Without setting milestones with a client or to build professional clout, a person can find themselves living from paycheck to paycheck, at best.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Are You a Good Decision Maker?

Decisions.  Decisions.  There are few days in the year of a freelancer when the ability to interpret information and come up with a resolution quickly affects overall longevity.  For those with weak decisiveness skills, the freelancing game may not be for you since thinking outside of the box is a trait many veterans use to prevent punching a clock.  However, if a workplace scenario feels like the blind leading the blind and punching your boss seems to be the perfect solution (or stress reliever), then this Forbes article may help you pinpoint some areas in need of work.

One of the main factors the article names is going with ideas instead of facts.  This had happened to me and others who are creative or idealistic and feel our concepts will overpower changes that we cannot control.  It cannot be stated enough that the majority who choose to go at it alone normally find themselves needing more that they assumed to keep the machine going.  Taking time out to research important factors that affect an industry should be a monthly, if not bi-weekly thing.

Just like any relationship, using facts to determine the status or find out if further investment of time or money will either pay off or prevent you from losing more money.  If a new entrepreneur does not remember anything at all, keep this little limerick in mind.  "Denial" is not just a river in Egypt but it's hella expensive.

If you're a person who believes that making any decision is better than none at all, hopefully you can apply filtering skills along the way.  The truth is that none of us are perfect and oftentimes, no amount of schooling can prevent mistakes from happening.  Having an BS antenna is great but for some of us, it takes a moment to hone this handy (and money-saving skill).  Here are some of the worst decisions new business owners have made:

Going in cheap.  Sorry but free websites with someone else's URL or other property information does not always transfer well.  Obvious exceptions are merchant sites with an SSL and consumer guarantee policies.  Even though many can make full-time income on Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, having a standalone online presence with professional-looking real estate goes a long way.

Letting friends have a piece of the action.  Offering to help for free is great for the entrepreneur is great when first starting out but when this is happening over a period of time, it's only fair to offer some form of compensation.  If you're not in the position to cough up any cash, then establish a barter system of some kind.  Even if they don't have a business, things like fixing their car, cleaning their home, or even washing their dog should pay off.

Taking out high-interest loans.  New business owners with bad credit are prey to these companies, who may charge an average of 25% APR.  Sometimes additional fees are included when minimum payments have been made on time.  Since some are still rebounding from the recession that occurred more than a decade ago, this can be a truly vicious cycle.  Making more money should never equal lo going into debt so speaking with a credit counselor.  Once personal finances are under control, contact a small business development center (SBDC), local SBA or SCORE office for assistance.