Friday, November 18

Cabin Fever - 15 Ideas for Freelancers

Here's a guide to home working, I'm a complete expert at it, I've been doing it for a WHOLE YEAR!  OK, maybe I'm not, but these are my thoughts from year one. 

(This is a collection from the previous weeks posts).

1. Get Dressed

Seriously DO NOT work in your pyjamas, don't even work in your tracksuit bottoms, no you have to dress like you're going to work to feel like you're working, this means no bare feet, no nude under the desk, no nipples at monitor level. If you're going to take this seriously then 'Never Nude' is a good policy.

2. Work at Least Proper Hours

You might be more inspired in the evening, I tend to feel purple around 6pm and like to push through, but always make sure you're available the hours your clients work. Unfortunately for me, my voice always sounds like I've woken up, so even though I'm working from about 8.30, clients always ask me if I'm in bed, of course, I'm not, I'm ready for action, and my clients like this kind of reliability.

3. Get an Accountant

I've got an accountant, I call him Uncle Neil, I'm pretty sure he hates me, I ask him all sorts of stupid questions, all the time. When we have a meeting I make him explain everything about 12 times until I properly understand it, but that's what I'm paying for right? Getting a proper accountant to handle your Tax Return and other boring stuff is essential, it's really complicated and you don't want to waste your precious time on these kind of things. Everyone needs an Uncle Neil. (He doesn't know I call him 'Uncle', and he's not really my uncle).

4. Back-up Properly

However you do it, make sure you back up properly. I back up to TimeMachine throughout the day, then at the end of each month I have a separate drive that I transfer all of my completed project for the month onto. I also do automatic duplicated saves locally from Quark on even save. You can go a step further and back up these backup drives remotely, Amazon servers are excellent for this kind of security.

5. Manage Your Moods

Had a rough night's sleep? Feeling a bit fragile, then maybe don't send that email to your client questioning the need to make this particular amend. If you're in a bad mood, remember there's no account managers here to buffer your brooding apathy, if you annoy a client, it's very easy for them to find another designer. Take a minute, take a breath and come back it when when you feel a bit more like a pretty, pretty princess.

6. Plan Your Week on a Friday

Every Friday I'll plan the following week on my chalkboard (above), I'll make a list of jobs that I have on (bottom right), above that I'll list the tasks that need doing, and then break each day into AM and PM and divide these tasks through the week. Who needs Basecamp right? Chalkboard planning like this will help keep the motivation going over the weekend, and always mean you know exactly what needs doing when.

7. Take Walks, Play Sports

Cabin Fever is a killer when you work for yourself, whole days not talking to anyone can leave you a little strange of mind. Not long ago, I went nearly 2 weeks without leaving the office, and when I eventually did go out I felt very anxious. I've started to get out more, play some sports and make sure I'm seeing people regularly, these kinds of relationships are invaluable and they help to maintain sanity. Get some tight shorts a headband, and play some badders (badminton).

8. Be Cautious with Amends

When you're part of an agency you have that second line of defence in your Account Manager, they'll manage amends, and then check and sign them off. Every designer I ever met thought they could handle their own amends, and everyone of them couldn't. Be cautious, print the email out, tick off the ones you've done, then double check these and cross through the ticks. It's the only way to ensure you're not wasting everyone's time.

9. Get a System to Manage Work

When you're busy the last thing you want to do it to get a load more work drop on your desk, but you have to learn to manage your workflow. It's really important that you keep the momentum going through the properious times to minimise the lean times. I have a system that keeps me in check, I have a 'special' chart, and everyday I have to get a tick in at last 2 of the boxes. The Columns are 'Pitched'. 'Quoted' and 'invoice'. Then at the end of the week I add up my scores, each week has a max of 15, and if I'm under 10 I thrash myself with my mouse cable. Only joking of course, I use a Wireless Mouse.

10. Make Something Positive Happen Every Day

I know this sounds really annoying, and you probably hate me now, but it really works for me. I have a goal that I have to make something positive for Citizen happen every day, this can be anything from a good response to a blog, or quoting a new piece of work. A good business will move forward on positivity (I'm so sorry, I hate things like this as well), but you're on the only one that can make that happen (god, I can only apologise). Nobody put this on a motivational poster and we'll be alright.

11. Be Scallable

All freelancers rate themselves very highly, that's why they're freelance, they've got their targets and they're going to stick to them, it would be a total insult for them to go under their perceived hourly rate, and to a point I do agree. Often our skill are totally undervalued, but never lose a job because you couldn't bring yourself to adjust a quote to a client's budget (within something like 20%). At the end of the year add up the quotes for all the work you didn't get and halve it and tell me you don't want that kind of money sitting in your account. Work harder, be flexible and remember we're in a recession.

12. Have Resources for Backup

You need a team of reliable people to manage your overspill. Remember if you turn down a piece of work, your client is going to get it done somewhere else, the chances are that next designer is going to look at your work and say it sux, they all do it, you've done it! When that happens your client will be swept off their feet into their arms. Have a good back-up team in place, and don't worry about making money on a job to keep service levels consistent, just keep your clients happy.

13. Invite Feedback

You need to know where you're going wrong, nobody is flawless and the only people who can judge you are your clients, your wife, husband and parent don't count. Set up a feedback form on something like SurveyMonkey and send it to clients when their jobs close, ask questions about delivery, pricing and time scales and look for patterns in responses. Also don't just send it to the clients you know you've done a good job for, you have to be grown up about this in the history of the world there has never been a successful Business-Baby.

14. Charge for Account Management

As a designer you probably don't feel like you can charge for Account Management, but managing the job is always going to eat into your time, trips to meeting, expenses and phone calls are all going to cost you money, make sure you have an hourly rate, that's lower than your Creative rate and put some Account Management on every job, clients will expect to see it on there, and you have a right to charge it. Please note, this doesn't not make you an Account Manager, so don't start ruining your own ideas and going for really long lunches (only joking, KB, ST, HL, PB, CH, EP, JW, CH, TR, SS, and any others I might have worked with or known).

15. Commit to doing a lower number, and when it comes to it, do more, or say you'll do it on Tuesday and do it Monday... (OK!... Under Promise and Over Deliver.)

Yup, you made me say it! This is pure business talk, and you probably hate it, but it's a really good piece of advice, and one that's so easy to implement and makes you look great. Under promise on your delivery, so tell a client the work will be ready Wednesday and aim for Tuesday, tell them they'll see 3 concepts and get 5 ready, these kinds of things will create a positive aural around your company and make your client relations fluid and rewarding. Don't tell them you'll be at a meeting at 9am, and turn up at 7am, though that's just stupid.

What do you think? Have you got any good tips for Home Workers? Do Share them.

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