Have you read this book? The highly recognized The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? The actual info on the back says that it’s one of the most influential books ever written.
Anyway, I actually ordered the book all the way from the UK to have it delivered to my doorstep in Poland (I wanted the original language version instead of the translated stuff, and yes, I prefer real books to Kindle).
But why am I even telling you all this, right?
Well, while reading the book, I was constantly getting the sensation of “I wonder how much of that can be applied to freelancing.” And even more curiously, the reverse idea of the habits of highly NOT effective freelancers has stuck with me for months.
This post presenting a set of 9 bad habits that will make a freelancer’s life harder. But just not to be all negative, I also present 9 counter-habits that will grow your business (along with actionable steps to take now). If I’ve left anything out, leave a comment and let me know.
Bad habit #1: Not having a quality contract
A very obvious bad habit, but it needs to be mentioned nevertheless. Preston has been talking a lot about this in his many posts.
He even launched his e-book package – Contracts for Creatives to help everybody out and guide them through a sometimes difficult process of finding a good template contract.
Not having a quality contract is probably even worse than not having a contract at all. The thing is that if you work without a contract, you know that the scenario is a bit uncertain and that different things can happen, so you are naturally more careful about what you do.
A crappy contract lowers your guard as it gives a false sense of security, which can lead to even more trouble. (My personal take, feel free to disagree.)
Good counter-habit #1: Never start a project without a quality contract. Note: the only thing I can add to what Preston is advising is that you should pay an equal amount of attention to the following four main elements when building your contract:
- Your rights as the freelancer.
- Your responsibilities as the freelancer.
- Your client’s rights.
- Your client’s responsibilities.
The idea is to make sure that every possible scenario can be explained and solved by looking at the contract. There’s nothing worse than having to find a solution for a situation that’s not dealt with in the contract.
Bad habit #2: Unprofessional style when working for your family
Every freelancer knows that working for your family or friends is the worst kind of work, and the simple solution would be to avoid such projects altogether.
But hold on, just because your “client” (in this case a family member) is very demanding, doesn’t treat you right and expects top results for low dollar, doesn’t actually mean that they are the bad guy in this picture. You are the bad guy for letting them do this.
Simply, if you start the project off by saying something like “okay, I’ll take care of this on Saturday in the evening, or something, then I’ll let you know later in the week” it makes you look extremely unprofessional and sends a clear message that you are not capable of managing the project, therefore your “client” will manage it for you. Fast forwards a couple of weeks, and you have another scenario of complaint over a family project.
Good counter-habit #2: Always start a family project with a contract. Always. Even if it’s for a relatively small amount of money.
First of all, your friend or family member might get discouraged (homerun), but even if they don’t, they now know very well that you’re treating your work seriously, so they will too.
Exception to the rule. Well, let me just say that signing a contract with your parents doesn’t sound quite right…
Bad habit #3: Having a “by the way” attitude towards business
This sort of mindset is the quiet killer of many freelancing businesses. Basically, a “by the way” attitude is when someone thinks that no matter what activities they focus on, there will always be a never-ending stream of clients to work with.
Well, the reality is often different. I mean, you are never safe as a business owner if you rely on clients coming to you and doing absolutely nothing to reach out to them actively, or to be in the places where your prospective clients are.
Good counter-habit #3: Treat your freelancing like a serious business. You’re not a freelancer; you’re a businessman. I’m mentioning this on the list purely because it’s an easy trap to fall into.
Bad habit #4: Not using beginner tools
I’m a big fan of beginner tools. I believe that they can speed our work up massively when used in a smart way. First of all, by beginner tools, I mean everything that is advertised as being beginner-friendly. Many professionals tend to avoid those thinking that the results they produce are nowhere near what can be done with some pros-only software.
Not always the case, though. Beginner tools have one great advantage over anything else; they bring massive value in relation to the time investment needed to produce a given result.
Good counter-habit #4: Use beginner tools whenever you can (no surprise here). Let me give you two examples:
- Presenter. It’s an online tool for creating web-friendly animations, interactive infographics (kind of a new thing on the web), online presentations and so on. The output is in an HTML5 format so you can integrate it with anything. Of course, you can animate things in Flash from scratch, but is it really necessary, especially if it’s just a simple effect you’re looking for?
- Drag and Drop Builder Plugin. This is a creation by Elegant Themes. The plugin allows you to build complex layouts in WordPress by using a handy drag-and-drop interface. I personally can’t imagine a quicker way of building a non-standard layout than with this thing.
Bad habit #5: Not being crazy about data backups
Okay, I admit it, I’m a bit crazy when it comes to backing up my data. Here’s the extent of my craziness:
- I have two separate cloud services in place backing up my data every minute.
- I have separate backing up services taking care of my sites.
- I have two main computers that receive all this cloud data – so they become an additional backup on their own.
- And to top it all off, I have two physical disks on one of those computers, where one disk is an exact copy of the other.
But guess what happens when one of my computers goes down?
I can restore my data in hours just like that on a completely different machine. And that’s the best thing. By being crazy about data backups, you don’t have to worry about anything that’s computer-equipment related. I guess that’s enough said.
Good counter-habit #5: Back up every piece of data that might come useful. Disk space is cheap anyway.
Bad habit #6: Not sending well-crafted proposals
The proposal is the first real decision point in your client-freelancer interaction. It’s where you say what you’ve got and what benefits it holds for the client, and ultimately, how much you’re going to charge for it. You only have one chance at making a good impression with your proposal.
Good counter-habit #6: Treat your client proposals seriously and spend some time creating your own perfect templates.
Since you’re a designer, you can build proposals using a combination of software, but a lot quicker solution is to simply use a tool like Bidsketch (this somewhat follows my advice about beginner-friendly tools). In short, it’s a piece of online software that speeds up the process of crafting your proposals, sending them out, and even letting your clients respond to them right away.
In a word, it does make you more effective, and that’s what we’re all about in this post.
Bad habit #7: Not increasing your rates
Let’s stick with finances for a minute.
Rates are a difficult topic for many people. When you first started out, you were most likely uncertain what rates you should charge early in your career, and arriving at a number surely felt a bit uncomfortable (“Is it enough? Is it too much? Am I worth that much?” – I bet these questions sound familiar).
Anyway, many freelancers forget (are afraid or don’t want) to increase their rates on a regular basis as they gain more experience.
Good counter-habit #7: Increase your rates gradually over time. You don’t have to have a reason. Do it just because. Try going bold with this.
As a test, you can even go as far as increasing your rates slightly for every other client. Be careful with returning clients, though. They are rarely receptive to increased rates.
Bad habit #8: Being a one man show
Hold on, I know that this might sound a little offensive at first, but I really have nothing against solo-entrepreneurs…at all.
The thing I have in mind here is that it will be very difficult to continue growing your business if you’re not ready to bring other people on board at some point.
Yes, you can grow your profits by increasing your rates (like mentioned earlier), but you can’t do it forever.
There’s always a limit – an amount of money that begins to look ridiculous for web design services.
There’s no limit, however, for the amount of business you can do when you have a team of people to work with.
Good counter-habit #8: Always think about expanding and bringing new people on board. The most effective way of approaching this is to start by hiring personal assistants, just to be able to get on with your mundane tasks better.
Then, you can start looking for other like-minded designers to help you out with your main projects. And then, well…the sky’s the limit (forgive for sounding a bit cliché).
Bad habit #9: Not growing in the community itself
Being an active member of the community (the community of designers) is a great thing on a number of levels.
First of all, you can boost your credibility by publishing links to your articles on prominent design sites. This sends a clear message to any prospective client that you are the real deal.
Secondly, you get to learn a ton of new stuff if you’re active on forums, blogs (comments) and a mastermind group or two.
And on a personal note, I regret to say that I didn’t do a lot of it when I had my design business. This was a mistake.
Good counter-habit #9: Spend at least some amount of time socializing with your fellow designers. You can start slow…with an hour on Sunday or something.
This sums up my point of view on the topic.
However, I’m sure there’s probably a dozen more habits of highly not effective freelance designers and their counter-habits that present a quick fix for the situation.
So the stage is all yours. What other things would look good on this list? Comments are here.