7 Changes I Made to My Freelance Business in 2017 (That I Won’t Regret in 2018)

2018   

As a freelance marketer for almost 20 years – many aspects remain constant – but 2017 wasn’t that year. Shifts happened in the way I do business – some of them painful and others enlightening. Maybe it was changing priorities, collective consulting experience, the political climate, or all three – but it happened and I’m grateful for it going into 2018.

#1 Don’t Hide Behind Your Brand

With Trump in office, many big brands decided took a stand – even us little “guys” (and women) got in on the action. Whether it was his immigration policy or slashing national monuments, I was inspired to express opinions on Twitter interspersed with my normal dose of industry content. I questioned: Should I be tweeting negative things about the administration? Should I open a pseudonym account? After all, personal branding 101 would advise that you put your “best self” forward, not necessarily your “true self.” But in these dangerous times, it was more important for me to be human than to worry if potential clients would be turned off by my views.

#2 Good Riddance to Client Drama

This year, after a short stint, I walked away from one of my all-star worst clients at a well-known Silicon Valley company. It wasn’t easy.  Yes, I was very unhappy there, but in the past, I would have gone through rigorous mental gymnastics to make a difficult situation work. But this past year I decided life is too short to spend time with difficult people. Of course, I’ve had occasional lively discussions with clients over the years, but when a person is downright unpleasant on a regular basis, it time to move on – no amount of money is worth it. Severing ties is a hard pill to swallow financially and emotionally, but it’s also liberating knowing there are always new clients I haven’t met yet. 

#3 Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Objects

AI. Chatbots. Self-driving cars. Bitcoin. Fintech. Sound familiar? Of course, these are important and trendy tech topics that dominate the daily headlines. Last year, I spent too much time reading sexy articles that have little to do with my work. While interesting for conversations and increasing my general knowledge, I now focus more effort on content that benefits my clients and business. That time investment has much higher ROI than learning about the latest fashion-forward wearable.

#4 Take More Work Chances

Speaking of shiny objects, in the past I would have said “no” to contracts out of my wheelhouse. This year, began saying “yes” and in the process, also became more open to change. Learning about new industries like cannabis testing, management consulting, and solar energy got my brain neurons firing overtime and fueled new work interests and ideas. I now have new expertise and fresh confidence that I can take with me when another client comes along in one of these fields, or for something completely new. 

#5 There is No “Free” in Freelancing

Let me explain. This past year, I interviewed for a communications gig at an older, well-known tech company looking to reinvent itself. As I moved through the interview process, I was told no candidate had yet met their criteria as the “purple unicorn,” (that should have been my sign that something was amiss). Soon thereafter, the potential client wanted me to write an article on their product as another step to get the contract. I declined and ended the opportunity. Why? I had delivered a range of writing samples to demonstrate my credibility as a freelancer. At this point in my career, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn’t, I’m not a good fit for the role. This is not meant in a “cocky’ way, it’s that I have the confidence in my skills, and so should my clients.

#6 Give Yourself a Work Check-Up

Freelancers rarely (to never) have the luxury to sit down and develop a business plan or ask hard the questions like: What could I be doing better to service my clients? Am I networking enough? Is my online content full of digital cobwebs? We often to get so focused on clients, we neglect our own business needs. Working on improvements requires extraordinary self-discipline, especially when you’re busy, but it’s also a necessity. For 2018, I’ve identified several business areas to tackle and incremental action plans to get there. Baby steps are better than no steps.

#7 Say Yes to Vacations or Staycations

It’s widely known that freelancers often plan their time around clients and don’t proactively plan vacations. When we do have time off, it’s typically a slow work cycle (in which case we’re not working so shun spending money). Instead, I took advantage of unplanned time off a few months ago with a last-minute vacation to South America (thank you 85K travel miles). It’s easier said than done when you have bills to pay, but breaks help recharge your creativity and readiness to conquer the business world.

Whether it’s a mid-life crisis, personal growth goals, or other transformations, listen to the voice and follow your gut. Though sometimes difficult, embrace these shifts and you’ll be a better and happier consultant (and person) because of it.  After all, the only thing that is constant is change.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Consulting Reality Checks

nickThere’s a reason for stereotypes: Sometimes they’re true. But a lot of times they’re not. As a freelancer for 16 years, I’ve gotten all of these questions, multiple times: Do you wake up at noon? Do you charge clients every time they pick up the phone? Do you hate any of your clients? The answer to all of these questions is an unequivocal no, but I will spill intel that you won’t hear elsewhere.#1 You’re either a consulting type or you’re not

Plenty of friends and colleagues talk about starting their own businesses. It’s fun to chat about but hard to do: You work your ass off most days. You scour for jobs on the others. Your business and your personal life blend too much. Vacations are a rarity. And there certainly is no job security. While not an easy path, it’s very rewarding. I’ve known some folks who go in and out of consulting, but 99% either stick with it or not—there’s not much in between.

#2 We have different rates for different clients

There, I said it. This might come as a shock and even seem unfair, but consulting is not a one size fits all business. If you’re a big corporate client, for instance, I know the going rates versus a small business who can’t afford as much or is cheaper. Or a nonprofit. Or a friend of the family. Or the project is long-term versus a one-off. There are lots of reasons for different pricing. You can be sure I won’t gouge you, but all factors are taken into consideration to come up with that magic number.

#3 Expenses. Are. High.

I’m not asking you to take out the violin, but understand that even if you think you’re shelling out a small fortune, much of that money is already allocated: besides life expenses like housing and food, there’s health insurance, office costs, gas/travel, marketing, client meals and gifts, and that little thing called taxes every quarter. Know that a fair chunk of that 1099 check is going to it. The high rolling consultant trope is only a fantasy held by clients and well, us.

#4 We’ll work harder for you than the typical employee

This might seem presumptuous and even downright cocky, but there is a reason we put such effort into our work: We’re only as good as our last job with you. Employees have an ongoing flow of work and opportunities to show their stuff, not to mention a semblance of job security. Us?

We’re judged on every engagement. Being too comfortable can be the biggest downfall. It’s a great motivator to go that extra mile, every time. Which leads me to the last truth…
#5 We’re committed to you, but we’re always dating.

It’s not that we’re planning to cheat on you by running off with the competition, but we don’t have blinders on either. And don’t forget we have other clients. Like any open relationship, we still go to networking events, meet with other work suitors, and scan the job ads. We know that you could leave your company or get laid off. Budgets get cut. Or a new person comes in with their own cronies. We have to protect our investment in you. Remember that variety is a reason consultants do what we do. We don’t just love working for ourselves; we love working with lots of you.

One last truth: We are nothing without you. Clients are the lifeblood of our business and we learn a lot from these relationships, even if we don’t tell you that. We become smarter, grow as a work partner, hold up a mirror to our strengths and weaknesses, become better problem solvers, and even help evolve our businesses.

So thank you for letting me do what I love—but my payment terms are still net 30.

Four LinkedIn Fails: Fix These Features Before Adding New Ones

In my last blog, I wrote about how great LinkedIn is—and I stand by that. It is by far the best online business networking tool out there and has added many useful capabilities in 2012. Taking its cue from the best of social media and sporting a more user-friendly interface and page design, LinkedIn is on a roll. But as with everything, there is always room for improvement. Here are four annoying features LinkedIn should fix before continuing to add new products.

#1 Better Activity Notification System: From the beginning, LinkedIn’s notification system for recommendations, invitations to connect, or anything else is inordinately slow, giving a digital meaning to the phrase “snail mail.” Sometimes hours or days later I will receive an email about something I saw or had already done. I’m starting to wonder if they are using AOL mail servers. LinkedIn recently added a “Notifications” function on the home activity page so, when logged in, you can see updates (think Facebook red)—but even that feature has its quirks. Often after I view a new notification, it will still show up as new the next time I log in. Let’s get it right, people.

Impact: To be so s-l-o-w or unreliable turns off current members and won’t attract new folks, plus it’s not keeping pace with LinkedIn’s other improvements.

#2 Banish Free Anonymous Profile Viewing Privileges: As a non-paying LinkedIn member, I am entitled to see the names of up to five people who have viewed my profile each time I log in. But guess what? I don’t always see who they are: You can be anonymous when you view a profile or merely “Someone in X industry.” Is it a potential client? Cyber stalker? The Facebook and Twitter models allow you to visit a profile page without the person knowing. Ignorance is bliss in this case. I consider it OK to allow LinkedIn members to be “anonymous,” but only as part of the upgraded service. No pay, no anonymity. Conversely, when you have a paid subscription, you get to see everyone who has viewed your profile.

Impact: Seeing “A LinkedIn Member” view my profile (which used to be called “Anonymous LinkedIn Member,” which sounded even more weird) gives me the creeps. We have a right to know who is checking us out, or else don’t bother to tell us that someone is looking.

#3 Better Target Practice on Jobs and Groups: I could guess how LinkedIn’s algorithm works in order to inform me of who I might know, by connecting the dots with people who are 2nd and 3rd connections, but with Jobs and Groups it seems the system is out to lunch, or even drinks. Potential jobs that LinkedIn sends my way should be based on criteria such as my industry, location, etc. Too often, however, the jobs are geo-incorrect or just out of left field. Same with Groups. I’m still flummoxed by the continual recommendation to join the Florida Communication Professionals group (hmm…maybe someone in that group looked at my profile anonymously).

Impact: It is a waste of time for LinkedIn to suggest jobs or anything else that is not relevant to our careers, and reflects poorly given all the rich data that LinkedIn has on users.

#4 Better Customization of Settings As with other social media, LinkedIn allows you to adjust settings such as privacy, but doesn’t allow customization of specific features. For instance, on your Activity Broadcast, it’s either all “On” or all “Off.” You’re stuck between no updates and being a potential over-poster. What if I want people to see who I am connected to, but not which companies I’m following? What if I want to post updates to Groups but not on the Activity Update? These are not options in the current system.

Impact: In an area as sensitive as career. where people are job-hunting and developing their professional and personal brand, these options should be available to allow users the most flexible options for presenting themselves.

So that’s my list of fixin’s. None of them are deal-breakers, but all of them have been noticed—some for a while now. I look forward to the new upgrades and enhancements that LinkedIn has in the works, but first let’s repair what’s already broken.

Calling All Skeptics: Five Reasons To Embrace LinkedIn Now

Disclaimer: I am not being paid for nor compensated in any way by LinkedIn for this blog. In fact, I’ve probably been one of the most vocal champions of LinkedIn since I joined on the site back in 2004 (I got an email recently congratulating me as one of their “first million” users—now how’s that for feeling special?) Moreover, I recently approached a milestone myself: having over 1,000 connections on LinkedIn.

How some people explain LinkedIn

Do I know all of them well? Hardly. Am I glad I have them all? Absolutely. But some regular, smart people don’t seem to understand the underlying, subtle and not-so-subtle value of LinkedIn, the largest business networking site on earth and can’t be bothered with it. If I had a dime for every time someone challenged me with: “Well, did you ever get a job from LinkedIn?” I could have a meal at Gary Danko every weekend. I always explain the answer, which ends up sounding more like “It’s complicated.” So here goes again, this time in writing. Here’s why you should get on board and some tips to get things started.

#1 Investment in your career Some call LinkedIn the granddaddy (or fuddy-duddy) of social media. It’s not exactly “fun”—you won’t be posting vacation photos or  food porn, but it serves a direct purpose that cannot be overlooked: your career. I’d say that’s pretty darn important. When LinkedIn first opened its internet doors, capabilities were somewhat rudimentary, offering the ability to create a simple profile and add connections. Over the years it’s expanded features and continues to at an accelerated rate: activity updates to let you know what your network is doing, applications, keywords so employers and connections can find you, job opportunity monitoring in your field, participation in groups, and much more. It’s like an online career center if you use all the bells and whistles.

Best Practice: Fine-tune your profile on a word processing document before you publish it. There is no way to see a “draft” on LinkedIn. Turn your activity broadcast off temporarily after you publish your profile to make sure it looks the way you want, no typos, etc.

#2 Build Your Brand: We’ve heard about building a “personal brand” a lot the past few years. For those working for corporations, this may seem unimportant, but in this digital age, recruiters and potential bosses want a 360° view of how you present yourself online. Add to that, a resume is a one-dimensional reflection of who you are as a person and a potential employee. A LinkedIn profile lets you show off skills, interests, and most importantly, give you a voice that cannot be heard on a CV. You can include books you are reading, events you are attending, companies you follow, and other professional and personal touches.

Best Practice: Check out all the applications and groups and posting options available on LinkedIn and sprinkle some into your profile. It shows that you are keeping current with your career, industry and care about your presence on LinkedIn.

#3 Get the 411 As a consultant, I am always on the look out for people I know or might want to meet and determine if I have a connection—LinkedIn is a great way to do that. You can see where people worked, what or who you might have in common and act accordingly. Conversely, many people over the years have asked me for an introduction to a network connection and I am happy to do it. It almost serves as a personal referral. Which leads me to my next reason to embrace Linkedin. But before that…

Best Practice: Though you will hear conflicting advice about connecting with people you don’t know, I recommend that you do if you have something in common: interests, industries, secondary connections, groups, etc. Reference anything you have in common in your invitation for context.

#4 Shortcut to Approval  Back in the day, it was standard practice to provide potential employers with references. Occasionally I still am asked for that, though it is becoming as rare as a first-class letter. When LinkedIn added Recommendations, it was something I jumped on. Gathering and displaying how others view my work gives potential clients an instant reference and increases trust immediately. This also applies to LinkedIn’s new Endorsements feature, or what I would call “Recommendations-Light”  to provide skill-based references with one-click. I am just starting to scratch the surface of that feature.

Best Practice: There is a fine line between showing recommendations and going overboard. Some people have 30 recommendations posted. Too. Many. Whittle down to those showcasing your variety of skills from different vantage points—bosses, colleagues and vendors. Though frowned upon by some, I think it’s fine to swap recommendations with colleagues as long as you honestly respect their work.

#5 You Can’t Afford Not To Being on LinkedIn is considered the norm at this point. If you don’t have a profile, or a lame one with information gaps, people will notice. Who exactly? Recruiters, potential managers, and colleagues, connections—and everyone that is looking you up on the web. It’s part of the digital landscape to be on LinkedIn. Even if you have an off-beat or small consulting business, are a student, or not even looking for a job, your absence will be noticed. It’s an inexpensive, easy and effective way to be a part of the online universe and you have everything to gain.

Best Practice: If you want to maximize your LinkedIn profile impact and network potential, use Branchout to connect the dots in your personal life with other social media.

And by the way, if you want to connect, I’m http://www.linkedin.com/in/janicecuban

Next up: Nobody’s perfect:  Suggestions for LinkedIn for the future.