15 Minute Freelancer

38. #FreelanceChat: how to create sustainable services

October 29, 2021 Louise Shanahan Season 1 Episode 38
15 Minute Freelancer
38. #FreelanceChat: how to create sustainable services
Show Notes Transcript

#FreelanceChat is a weekly Twitter chat for freelancers around the world, hosted by Michelle Garrett (@PRisUs) on Thursdays, 12 noon ET.  On 21 October, Louise had the pleasure of co-hosting a chat about designing freelance services that get results for clients, but are also enjoyable, practical and profitable for you to deliver. 

This episode of 15 Minute Freelance is a super-fast round-up of all the brilliant tips and advice shared by the #FreelanceChat community in response to these Qs:

  • How do you strike a balance between offering what clients need and doing what you enjoy most? 
  • Choosing a niche can be one way to keep your services focused, whether by industry or by type of client or project. Where do you stand in the great niche debate? 
  • Fixed or flexible – do you prefer to offer services with a set process or create a bespoke proposal for each project, and why? 
  • Once you’ve decided on your services, how do you go about pricing them? 
  • How do you build in packages, upsells or added extras to help clients get more bang for their buck? 
  • Do you ever team up with other freelancers to offer a specific service or package, and what tips do you have for anyone considering this?

Huge thanks to Michelle Garrett and  everyone in the #FreelanceChat fam! Participants credited on this episode include:
Teodora Ema Pirciu (@EmaPirciu)
Matthew Fenton (@WinningSolo)
Jessica Thiefels (@JThiefels)
Ilaria Mangiardi (@imjardi)
Tom Basgil (@TomBasgil)
Amy Knightley (@AKnightleyMKT)
Karen Carps (@GuppyFishWeb)
Matt Stebbins (@StebbinsMatt)
Paula Hendrickson (@P_Hendrickson)
Jake Poinier (@DrFreelance) (and his book, The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid)
Masooma (@inkandcopy)
Holly Leber Simmons (@redpentweeting)
Tripti (@ttgarg_022)
Jen Johnson (@jentimecity)

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and health tech white paper writer. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Last week I had the pleasure and honour of being a special guest on the Freelance Chat Twitter hour, which is hosted by PR expert Michelle Garrett. This is an hour-long chat every week about all sorts of freelancing questions and conundrums. It’s on Thursdays at 12 noon ET and 5pm UK time, so I guess that’ll be 4pm after the clocks change, and I definitely recommend joining in if you haven’t already, just look for the hashtag FreelanceChat or follow Michelle @PRisUS. It was such a great conversation with some lovely freelancers all around the world so I thought I’d share some of the excellent ideas and advice here on the podcast.

I have been in the process of redesigning my freelance services recently, so I was curious to find out how other freelancers go about deciding what services to offer, how to design and price those services, and generally how to offer something that helps clients get the results they need in a way that builds an enjoyable and sustainable business for us as freelancers. So, this was the theme I picked for the questions I asked in last week’s chat. And as I said, the conversation was soo good – so many great ideas, tips and suggestions, so if you’re wondering about how to design your services in a way that works for you AND your clients, maybe this will be helpful for you too.

And if you want to dig out the chat itself, you’ll need to search for #FreelanceChat and look for the posts on the 21st of October.

Ok! So the first question I asked was about designing services that get results for clients, but are also enjoyable, practical + profitable for you. How do you strike a balance between offering what clients need and doing what you enjoy most?

I shared that I often have to hold myself back from wanting to do everything for clients! Some prompts that help me stay focused when considering a potential new project or service are to ask: 

  • Is this in my zone of joy (that is, skill and satisfaction, is it in the sweet spot of what I’m good at and what I enjoy)? 
  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? Because if I say yes to work that I don’t really want to do, that’s not my zone of joy, then I inevitably have to say no, or don’t have time to do other work that might be in my zone of joy or get me closer to finding clients and projects that are what I really want to be doing. 
  • Is there an expert I can refer the client to instead? If I don’t think a project is a good fit for me, I’ll look to refer them to another freelancer. That way, they get a freelancer who is better placed to help them with their project, the other freelancer has the opportunity to do a project that suits them, and I get karma points!

In the chat, most people (predictably) said they want to do work they enjoy and use their skills to help clients get results.  

Teodora said she focuses on services she enjoys, and stopped offering services that would bring anxiety or frustration. This might mean missing on other opportunities, but peace of mind is more important.

I totally agree. What's the point in having the freedom to be your own boss if you say yes to things you really don't want to do (and don’t have to do)?

Matthew at Winning Solo said that for him, the equation for deciding which services to offer is "your skill + your excitement + their need = a sustainable freelance biz".

He also gave some great tips on how to expand your expertise or skillset, by:

  • taking a "stretch" project, even at a discounted rate, if you can learn something new & still deliver
  • partnering with an expert & get paid to learn 
  • online courses.

Jessica said that for her, this question is about delegation – she has a team of writers so she can take on work she doesn't want to do personally. This helps her scale the business while also working on what she wants. So if you are maybe getting lost of enquiries for a particular service that you don’t especially enjoy, maybe subcontracting or delegating is a way to help clients and free up your time to focus on other work.  

We do have to be realistic about sometimes having to do work that isn’t our absolute dream project. But hopefully you get less of those over time. Tom said "When my business is fully booked, I start to remove those services that I dread doing. It's unrealistic to think you'll love every moment of your freelancing career. However, you should feel like every year is a "step up" towards your ideal life." I love this.

My next question was about choosing a niche, which can be a great way to keep your services focused, whether by industry or by type of client or project. 

As expected, people have mixed and strong opinions on this! Always prompts a bit of debate. I have done an episode on this before so you know I am a big fan of niching. It’s not for everyone, but I think niching helps you: 

  • Stand out in a sea of generalists 
  • Be the go-to for a specific industry/type of project 
  • Hone your skills 
  • Make faster decisions 
  • Charge more, sooner

 I think it was about half and half, nichers and generalists. Several people said they were interested in too many things to niche in one area, they don’t want to be boxed in, want to keep options open and experiment. I totally get that, but it’s important to remember that if you narrow down the services you actively market to get the aforementioned benefits, it doesn’t mean you can never say yes to other things. But I think several folk who have gone down the niche route have found that being known for something specific can be a great tool for building a sustainable business. 

Next, I was curious to know if other freelancers preferred to offer services with a set process or create a bespoke proposal for each project, and why? 

Personally, I do a bit of both. Have experimented with so-called productised services where you have a completely set service that the client pays for (e.g. web audits – if you go to Copy Health Check on my website you can see what that looks like) but I find many clients need a more tailored approach with bigger projects. I have fairly set workflows for how I like projects to run, with room for flexibility, to avoid dreaded scope creep!

And it seems most other folk do a mix of both, where they might use similar processes for their services but tailor it from client to client.

Ilaria said she uses templates to save time, but also gives them a twist based on the client's needs. I totally agree – templates are lifesavers! I went from spending hours on proposals to doing them in under 20 mins.

Tom says his services are mostly fixed. It's just easier and more efficient. he tailors his services and proposals to his clients, but his discovery process, reporting, content writing, advertising, etc. are all the same, which also helps get closer to "guaranteeing" results.

There was a bit of discussion about whether people charge for proposals. I’m always curious about this because it’s not something I typically do, but I know other freelancers do this if the proposal is something a bit more strategic and more like a plan for the work than simply saying here’s my process. 

Amy says she charges a strategy consulting fee to craft a custom proposal, because the client is buying her "How to Fix" ideas. If they hire her to do the work, the fee goes towards the total fee. If not, she doesn’t feel like her ideas and time have been used without compensation. 

Next, I asked how freelancers go about pricing their services, once they’ve decided what to offer. 

I price mostly by project to focus on expertise and results. It gives both parties clarity. If the parameters are harder to define, I’ll do it by the day. I increase rates with new projects.

Most people also do project-based pricing, some have an hourly rate in mind but don’t share it. Some of those working in PR consulting use hourly rates. The main theme is that we should all be trying to find a way that works for us and our clients, that is a number we feel good about.

Karen says it depends on the client, scope, and project. When people ask how much a website costs, she would ask how much a car costs. Are we talking Porsche or Hyundai with broken windows?

You kind of have to figure out an amount or range that makes you feel good about doing the work, and take it from there. 

Matt said his prices are based on intuition, knowing what peers charge, and also looking at rates sheets provided by organisations such as the EFA. If you’re a copywriter in the UK, you might take a look at the ProCopywriters survey. I’m sure there are others for other industries.

Matthew said As a rule of thumb, if you're not losing about 20% of your bids on price alone, your pricing is probably too low. That feels about right to me too. If everyone's saying no, on the other hand, maybe time to review.

Then, what happens if someone says your rates are too high? I think most people agreed that you should offer to reduce scope rather than reduce your fee. And remember, it’s not personal. Their budget isn’t about you. keep it friendly, stick to your boundaries, and then you never know, they may come back a year later when they do have the budget. I’ve had that happen a few times.

There was some chat about negotiation being hard. Paula recommended we read  @DrFreelance's book: The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid? I have not read this but definitely will be taking a look.

Then, for the fifth question, I asked if other freelancers build in packages, upsells or added extras at the end of a project, to help clients get more bang for their buck and continue the relationship?  

I like to offer a ‘next steps’ plan at the end of a project. E.g. if I’ve just finished writing a white paper, I’ll offer ways to repurpose it into other types of content. I always think about what might help the client get more out of their initial investment. 

Masooma said she asks if she can help with more similar content, with a view to converting them into retainer clients.

Finally, the bonus question was "Do you ever team up with other freelancers to offer a specific service or package? Any tips for others who are considering this?"

I don’t have any official partnerships, but def have a few freelancers I work with regularly, e.g. graphic designers, and sometimes subcontract to other freelancers. It's a great way to give clients end-to-end service and increase referrals.

People had mixed strategies for doing this – some connect the freelancer directly with the client, so they’re making an intro and then perhaps working together, but not officially teaming up in a partnership arrangement, or not managing the other person as a subcontractor. 

I've done both. Generally, I'm not interested in managing invoices for another person though. Their fees are not my business! I'm with Matt, who said this can be a bit like those group projects in school where suddenly you're responsible for the whole thing, but works in the right context and with the right people.

Tripti said delegating or subcontracting works for her, and her advice is to find someone who complements your services.

Jen said the most important thing is trusting the person you're partnering with and knowing they do great work.

Teodora said her tips for successful collaborations were to:

  • Choose people you like, and don’t try to change their processes to fit your needs. Just find people with similar working processes
  • Communicate all the time
  • Discuss timeline and deadlines from day one.

All brilliant advice in my opinion.

Ok! That was a really quick round-up of hashtag-FreelanceChat, which I hope you found helpful. It covered a lot of different topics but all around the theme of designing your freelance services. There’s a different theme for the twitter chat each week, but I 100% recommend you try to join if you can – it’s hashtag FreelanceChat on Thursdays at 12 noon ET/ whatever time that is in the UK depending on whether this podcast goes out before or after the clocks go back! Follow Michelle Garrett and she will keep you right, @prisus. I’ll put a link in the notes.

As always, thanks for listening, and if you have any questions or comments or suggestions for future episodes, please send me a DM on Twitter @louiseShanahan_ or on LinkedIn, or send me a voice note if you can’t be bothered typing, at memo.fm/15.

Thanks, bye!

You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me, Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want answered on the podcast find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing!