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How To Grow Without Actually Growing

I emailed 200 website companies recently.  I won’t bore you with the statistics of their responses but of the responses 3-4 told me they were too busy to take on work at this time. I find this hard to comprehend.  I understand why.  They have well paying, time consuming projects that are keeping them busy and don’t want to take on any more. But don’t they want to make more money?  If making more money doesn’t interest you then stop reading but if it does read on. How I Started Out When I first started creating websites for customers as a sideline business I was also working a full time job.  I would like to tell you that I slaved into the night working on projects after a long hard day at the office.  OK I did quite often, but after a year or so doing this I realised that I couldn’t sustain this every single day or week of they year. I also wasn’t in a position to leave my current job.  Ironically nothing did change when I did leave it so it was a mental thing. Over time even with the part time nature of my website design work I got more and more work which did fuel me leaving a comfortable, very well paying job.  But I had made a critical decision to get help even at that stage. Someone tuned me into Odesk (now Upwork) to get people to help me.  I primarily needed developers to help me as at  that stage I...

Keep Your Pants On (Customers v. Leads)

Keep Your Pants On (Customers v. Leads)

I used to confuse leads with clients.  I would get contacted by a potential lead.  We would discuss their project through various mediums, phone, emails and face to face. I would get a little excited about the project.  But a lot of the time the project didn’t happen for many different reasons. I used to get confused between a lead and a customer.  Here is the difference between a customer and a lead. A customer has paid you a deposit. One of my top tips (soon to be in a book of the same name out in 2024) is don’t do a scratch of work till you get a deposit,  If you have started projects without deposits in the past then you are an idiot. So don’t do a thing till the money is sitting in your account.  I don’t care if the cheque is in the mail. My parallel tip to this is don’t get excited about leads. Of course be professional with leads, be helpful, engaging and provide a great response to them.  This is what will convince them to use you for your services (and no it is rarely your Portfolio). But don’t count the chickens. I maintain two lists.  One is in Pipedrive for leads and a Google Sheet where I track my customers. But nobody on Pipedrive is on my sheet and vice versa. Thinking every lead is going to turn into a customer is hopelessly naive.  Not having an established process for following up on leads is borderline foolish. I used to...

Tick Tock – Your Time

Tick Tock – Your Time

I was lucky enough to get two calls yesterday in a traditionally quiet week for me.  Both calls ended up with a chat where we discussed them coming to my office.  Those who read the posts here know I rarely if ever go out to meet prospects. My calendar for this week is empty bar 2 calls with US clients.  In the past I would have rushed out to meet them but I stopped this a long time ago. I suggested instead 2 times later in the week to meet in my office (Geeky Note:  I use Calendly for arranging such meetings to reduce the back and forward of calendar bingO Structure and processes really help make the best use of your time.  A process doesn’t mean a long document witha flow chart but can be 2-5 steps for responding to clients, having some FAQs on your site to answer the questions that you always get asked. (like for me on of these is “What is your hourly rate?”) Process especially applies to how you protect your time and calendar. When you say come any time it translates into – “I need work (of course you do) come quick and save me”. Suggesting times on your calendar puts you in control.  You are the expert after all.  If you call the doctor they don’t say just drop in,  they suggest a range of times and you pick one. So make your calendar your friend and never ever again say “I am madly impossibly free, what time...

The Perfect Client

The Perfect Client

When I started out “on my own” I had this picture of the ideal client. They would be executives with large budgets begging me to do work for them.  Over time I would be one of the foremost people in web design in Ireland with an orderly line of CEOs with fat wallets lined up patiently outside my office, some would even have having slept over so as not lose their slot. Of course the reality is nothing like that. I now know customers come in all shapes and sizes and with hugely differing budgets and needs. I had a client last week who cycled across town to talk about his new blog, in contrast I just started a project  with a large charity in Dublin working on a large design and development project for 2017. Two vastly different clients. The most important thing I have learned is to treat all of these clients the same irrespective of  the project being delivered.  The paybacks are enormous. The reason is simple.  For freelancers referral business is golden.  When person A refers person B to you the odds that they are going to use someone else are unlikely. In addition I have never heard a referral client say to me Person A gave me your name because the graphics were great on the slider and your CSS was AMAZING!! The reasons I get referrals  are usually that I was prompt, did a good proposal, understood and interpreted their needs,  kept in touch and was generally decent to great to deal...

Saving Seconds

Saving Seconds

“Work Smart – Not Hard” I remember nearly 25 years ago working in the US in one of my first jobs I worked a full day editing some raw data to create a long structured report.  After about 4-5 hours work one of my colleagues came to me saw the report and asked if I had used the Perl scrip to create it.  I looked at him with despair in my eyes. There’s a Perl script to do this? There was and running it created the same result in about 5 seconds.  The task in question was something that in the following year (using the script) I did countless times often several times a day. Since then I have become addicted to trying to do mundane tasks quicker. Whenever I have a repeatable task I immediately ask myself if I can do it quicker or automate it in some way. The mistake you might make is thinking  that repetitive is equal to mundane and unimportant – it usually isn’t.  I have tons of little automated tasks that make my life so much easier. Here is one that I put in place just this week. Closing Out When I am finished with a customer one of the things that I usually request a Google review. It is good for local search and all reviews are great (if great).  It used to be a bit of a pain explaining to a non technical person how to go to Google Maps, find the link, post the review and...

Contracts Save Lives

Contracts Save Lives

If this is TL;DR then just one thing.  Always do a proposal no matter how small the job is and get the customer to sign or agree to its contents. But onwards. Leads that Turn into Customers I have done work for 30 euro and work for 10K.  For the smaller jobs I used to never ever write proposals.  I thought it was embarrassing to have to put something in front of a customer for a job that was under 2-300 euro even. This is a massive mistake. It is super easy to have a template (or use a cloud service which I do) to create a set of standard documents that outlines what you are delivering to a client.  Please don’t use email.  It sucks and can get lost in translation. My website proposals go basically something like this. I will create a website for you, it doesn’t include training, lifelong support till my eyes belled and you pay me a deposit, interim payment and until you pay the last payment you don’t get a site.  It will cost you XYZ. It is more detailed than that but you get the gist.  For smaller jobs I do the same.  Some of my proposals are just one page with a link to my terms and conditions.  I always drop my client a short email that ask “Did you read the Terms and Conditions?”   Until I get the yes (and the deposit) the work doesn’t start. Why Bother? There are many reasons but the most important one...

Why I Don’t Travel

I rarely leave my office these days to meet prospects or clients.  When I tell people this they look at me with shock. No I haven’t grown a beard and become a hermit.  I still leave for lunch, meet friends for coffee. Walk my dog, go for a run.  But hopping a car to drive to a prospect is something that I have practically eliminated. Here are the main reasons why. International Me I work with about 6-7 customers outside of Ireland in the UK, US and one in New Zealand(to a lesser extent).  So my hours vary wildly and I have the tools (Skype, email, Slack recently) to manage our conversations.  We have worked well for several years and I don’t need to visit them so visiting you in Cork may not be needed either and you can come to me. The Time Suck Its all about sucking time out of my week.  I like to work a normal work week of 35-40 hours. Sometimes I work a lot more and sometimes a bit less but 35-50 hours is my norm. If I have an 11AM meeting I am sitting outside your premises definitely at 10.45AM.  So say the journey takes 30 minutes, getting , organised in the office another 15 minutes (where are my damned keys!) you have an hour already befoe a meeting.  That doesn’t include perhaps pulling information together perhaps for the meeting. Add in the time for the meeting of worth (an hour) the journey back to the office and you can...

I Am Not A Shop

I Am Not A Shop

I got a phone call yesterday about 2pm.  I was in Mahon Point (a Cork shopping centre) finishing up lunch with a friend. John (not real name) is on his way over to your office at the moment said the persons secretary. Yes John had hopped in his car and was on his way to my office.  I work from a home office.  It is large and roomy and kicks the ass of any office I ever had when I was a cube slave.  It has tons of room.  I listen to music a lot there and work long, long hours there.  I also take long lunch breaks and can facilitate my sons when they need lifts and take Toby the dog for walks when others are locked into their 9-5. I more often than not work 50-60 hours per week. But I don’t take walk ins.  I don’t know of any company that would.  I am not retail.  And I value my time. The guys secretary seemed a bit miffed that I was not patiently waiting for this person to call. One of the things that I jealously guard is my time and access.  I don’t answer my phone every time it rings, don’t instantly respond to every email and when Skype burps I don’t charge to open it and reply.  I have actually contemplated turning off Voicemail on my phone.  Yes maybe slightly odd. One of the things I love about what I do is that I am in control.  I control when I have meetings,...

Getting Paid

Getting Paid

We all want to get paid.  As a freelancer (don’t like the word but it will do) you need to make a living.  When I first started out I made countless mistakes.  Still do. The biggest was thinking my dazzling personality and skills would ensure my success and riches and I would be sipping cocktails by the beach in a few years. I am not writing this from the beach. One of the main and massive improvements to my discipline is how I get payments and  write proposals. I don’t  claim to be perfect and wonderful but it works for me and I learned the hard way. Agree the Price AND the Scope Always have a proposal no matter how small the job.  Share it with your customer get it signed off. Make sure there is relatively no scope wiggle.  Don’t use any fuzzy words.  If needs wlak through it with your customer.  Many don’t  read them but still get it signed off so if there is payment or scope problems you have a reference point.  eMails, chats on the phone or SnapChats don’t  work.  Oh and have Terms and conditions that outline payments.  See where I am going here. Of course make sure the price is clear.  Get an email saying something like “I agree with the scope and price”. What a wonderful idea you cry. Now you may have gotten along wonderfully with your prospect who then turned into a client (hurrah!), but once they turn into a paying client the relationship is different. ...

Hoovering

Hoovering

I just finished hoovering the living room.  Why I did it is a complicated story involving teens being on holidays and refusing to do chores.  If you have teens you would understand and if you don’t its like trying to explain advanced astrophysics. I did it during work hours.  Heaven forbid! There are companies and people in my town who will clean your house from top to bottom in about 3 hours for about 90e uro,.  I used one of them once when my wife was on vacation.  They do a great job.  They did it while I was out and the house looked spotless and I was happy (as my wife was on her return). For the mathematicians amongst you the above task is about 30 euro per hour.  But hold on buddy.  Two of them do the job. I know as I arrived as they were leaving moving on briskly to their next job. So digging into the math book chapter 15 under long division that is more or less 15 euro per hour.  Good luck to them and their business is still going strong. Now while I was thinking about this as I pushed the vacuum cleaner around the house (along with how to dispose of a 15 year old boy’s body without the cops finding me) it brought me to one of my pet topics.  I will probably bore the shit out of you in a corner about this with a beer bottle in my hand if we ever meet. Its how valuable...