All over my desk are words of encouragement. Post-its blare at me:
“Do it! Do it NOW!”
“Are you being realistic?”
“It’s okay to say NO. In fact, it’s RIGHT to say no if you’re TOO BUSY!”
“No one will make you but YOU!”
This month (and the two before it) have been dedicated to getting awesome at delivering on my word.
So the first thing I had to do was to honestly assess what I could reasonably commit to. What CAN my word be?
That involved assessing what I CAN do in a day, week, month and year; analysing what I NEED to do in those same periods to break even, and also to thrive; and being utterly optimistic about what I’d LIKE to be able to deliver.
The next step was to create systems:
I needed to build capacity to manage my ideal scenario deadlines. That meant either hiring someone or taking on freelancers. The problem with hiring a person (or a few people) is one I’ve encountered before: salaries and obligations. Yes, they can help you achieve your targets. But on the low salary I can (theoretically) afford, there’s no buy-in, and in the end they take more time than they free up, needing training and management all the time. Also, in the lean months, when there’s no money to pay salaries, that can be quite a problem. As we’ve seen.
So the second option is freelancers. Here the problems are even more complex. First of all, a freelancer is already self-employed. This means that they are already set up to steal your clients, if they so desire. Or the clients can just go straight to them after the first iteration. Obviously there are wise ways to work around this, but a lot of these require more admin and effort than just doing the job yourself, and sacrificing a few hours’ sleep. The second issue is that freelancers earn more than employees, because they share the risk. No work = no pay. No payment from the client = no pay. So that means that you earn less for each job. It also means that if you can’t pay for a particular job, depending on the arrangement you have with you friendly freelancer, that could be manageable.
In the end, a friend needed freelance work and I had tons, so I outsourced to her. Because she is a really good friend, I trust her. And frankly, I think we’re on the same page and could build a pretty amazing business together as things pick up. All in all, so far, this is working out well.
Another aspect of systems, and this is key, is to document how we work. This applies to the very literal, day-to-day stuff, like get a lead – file it here – call back there – pipeline it like this, etc. But it also refers to the far more essential (and, until now, utterly untouched) aspect of our terms and conditions.
You see, until now, I’ve pretty much always worked on trust. I do whatever the client asks me – often without an up-front quote – and then we’re both surprised at the end when the bill is due. Them, by the cost. Me, by their refusal to pay. And that way I stay broke and everyone is frustrated.
What I’m realising (at long bloody last) is that people just want to know where they stand with you. Excellent delivery doesn’t necessarily mean faster OR cheaper. It simply means more honest, transparent and reliable.
So now I explain the terms and conditions up front. We don’t start work until a deposit has been paid. We don’t deliver a finished product until the balance has been paid. We don’t include weekends in our time budgets, and I no longer feel guilty when I need to be out of the office. It’s all been explained clearly and concisely, and managed appropriately every step of the way.
I feel more confident in my customer interactions. It;s easier to quote, and MUCH easier to estimate timelines and delivery. My clients are happier, as they know where they stand and what to expect. My freelancers are happier, as they have very clear briefs, with ETAs and time budgets, and a reasonable expectation of getting paid at the end of it all. Win-win-win.
The next step is to document this more tidily, then add the relevant bits to the appropriate websites. That way, no matter what else happens, they can never claim they didn’t know what to expect. And I have a THING I can refer to – kinda like a crutch or presentation aid – that makes my T’s and C’s look all professional and official and reasonable. And stuff.
With this all in place, stalling is becoming much less of a thing. I typically have enough information to get started (which has been a hindrance in the past: not asking enough questions was a chronic problem); and because I have a reasonable expectation of being paid, that whole sense of impending futility and dread at the start of each new project is starting to dissipate. With that out of the way, doing my work has become a lot easier – and a whole lot more fun!
Here’s to happier times ahead!