Every Tuesday at 11am, I run a Quick Fix Clinic over on my Facebook page, where freelancers, newbies and wannabes (nothing wrong with a wannabe!) can get personalised advice on the challenges they’re facing.

In QFC-3, we looked at how to work less and achieve more in your freelance or small business, and how to increase your rates once you’ve already been persuaded to lower them (plus how to avoid letting it happen again!).

How to work less and achieve more in your freelance business

First question from the inbox this week is a good one for these sunny days when sitting at your desk can feel like punishment.

The person says: “I started my own business last year and whilst things are going well, I often feel like I’m spending too much time doing stuff and not enough time achieving stuff, if you know what I mean. I need to streamline my work activities but I don’t know where to start.”

It’s a good query, and I think it’s probably one we can all relate to. First off, let me burst some bubbles: if you believe all that “You can run a successful freelance business in two hours a week!” stuff, you’ve been had. It’s not true – it’s just another dream people are trying to sell you.

The good news is that you *can* run a successful freelance business without working all the hours under the sun – more hours doesn’t necessarily equal more success; on the contrary, if you’re running a creative business, working yourself into the ground is likely to achieve the opposite of what you’re aiming for. What you need to do is (sorry for the rhetorical schtick here) work smarter, not harder.

First thing to do is (surprise!) sit down with a pen and paper and work out the following:

1) What are your core objectives? What do you want to do? What services do you want to offer? To whom? What do you want to earn?

2) Which of your current activities get you the best ROI – return on investment? Basically, what do you do that’s worthwhile? Do you get a great response on Facebook? Stick that in your yes pile. Do you get inbound leads from your email newsletter? Give that a big tick. Do you tweet into the void and get no response no matter what you try? Stick Twitter in the ‘no’ pile.

Make a commitment to prioritise the activities that get you the best results, and to actively de-prioritise the ones that aren’t working for you – and be ruthless. It doesn’t matter if the channels and activities in your ‘no’ pile work like a dream for someone else’s business, either – we’re talking about you and your business right now, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’.

3) Take a look at your natural rhythms. When do you work best? Are you an early bird? Do you have a daily slump around 4pm? I’ve talked about this before and it’s something I can’t stress enough – tackle the activities that require energy when you’ve got energy; save the easy stuff for the slumps. Maybe you work better in four busy days rather than five more relaxed days – if so, organise your week that way – and make sure you actively take the time off that you need.

4) Ditch the guilt. If you’re running a creative business, whether that’s a portrait photography company or an online craft shop, you simply *cannot* work 60-hour weeks and still be as creative as you need to be. Going for a walk in the sunshine and fresh air will recharge you. Working in a cafe might bring new ideas. Meeting up with a friend for a long lunch away from the computer will give your brain a chance to de-fuzz and refocus. Lose the guilt and recharge your creativity when you need to.

How to charge more and increase the rates you’ve already set

Second query is from a thread on a freelancers’ group here on Facebook, and it’s about what to do if you’ve set your rates too low. Seeing as this is a quick fix clinic, I thought I’d share some quick thoughts on how to rejig your rates and start earning the money you need to.

First up – and I can’t believe how often this needs saying – the first step is to recognise that you deserve to get paid for what you do. Taking into account your talent, your training and your time, you absolutely deserve fair compensation from your customers and clients. Find me one good reason you shouldn’t get paid, and I’ll take my hat off to you.

Second: know that there will always be people out there who are cheeky enough to ask for discounts and freebies – that has *no* bearing on you. That’s on them. It doesn’t mean your rates are too high; it means they’re out to see what they can get. Try not to imbue someone else’s bargain-hunting with any real importance – your business rates should be set around things like your time expenditure, your materials, the time you need for ongoing training and development, the market you’re in, and – why not? – what you want to earn.

Third: a good way to deal with people asking for discounts is to ask them why they want one. Bounce that ball back. If you feel cheeky for politely asking your client/customer why they feel entitled to ask for money off, just remind yourself that they didn’t feel cheeky asking in the first place. And don’t mistake me: this isn’t an exercise in passive aggression – it’s just an effective way of 1) making your client think about what they’re doing and 2) opening a dialogue where you can explain why your rates are as they are.

If you’re already in the position of getting paid too little, you know you’re going to have to bite the bullet. You know that, even if you don’t like it.

One client is just that – one client. If they’re paying too little but you can’t afford to ditch them, focus on getting new clients and giving them new, higher fees.

Consider not listing your fees on your website if possible; if you’re in a sector where you have to, review them regularly against your competitors and increase them gently whenever you feel the need to. Prices aren’t permanent; it’s OK to change them.

Communicate as clearly as you can with clients about price increases – don’t apologise, but be open, honest and positive. Higher prices may mean you need fewer clients and can focus more clearly on them. Higher fees mean more training time for you – and better products/services. And sometimes, higher fees are just what are needed for you. Be tactful, but don’t be apologetic.

Talk to freelance and small business owner friends. Get reassurance. Have a pep talk before making the call to your clients; send them the price increase email to review. Ask for their honest opinions on the value of your work. We’re often far less willing to champion ourselves than we are to champion our friends and colleagues.

Hope that’s all been helpful! Join us next week, Tuesday at 11am over at www.facebook.com/creativecontentcoach for answers to your own big questions!


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