5 Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Business

5 Tips for Building a Successful Freelance Business

It’s pretty unbelievable to think about, but I have been running my business for five years now! I have learned a ton along the way, but it never ends, I’m continuously striving to improve both my work and my business. Today, I want to look back and share a few key things I’ve learned as a business owner and entrepreneur over the years. I hope they can help you build or grow a successful freelance business.

1. Find a Supportive Network

In the beginning, I tried to do everything myself. I filed my own taxes, started to learn web development, and basically just created stressful situations and wasted a lot of time. I realized I should focus on what I’m passionate about, visual brand development for creative businesses. I’m not passionate about learning code or figuring out how to file taxes.

Your support network can include many different types of people from your family and friends to fellow freelancers and blog buddies. Check if there are any local communities that you can join. If you don’t have any local meet-ups, you can start your own or participate in online networking like twitter chats and Facebook groups. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone!

 

2. Create an Effective Portfolio

A portfolio should showcase the work you want to do more of and NOT everything you have ever created. Don’t make the mistake of trying to show off too much of your work. Potential clients don’t need to see everything, be selective. Focus on your best work and consider the sort of projects that you’d like more of in the future.

 

3. Go the extra mile

This is one of my top pieces of advice. Word of mouth is powerful, nothing can help you or hurt you more. While I still had my full-time job, I started getting connections by doing pro bono work for a few New Orleans non-profits.  When I decided to make the leap out on my own in 2010, I let them know that I would not be available to work pro bono any more, and guess what? They decided to continue working with me anyway and I still work with many of them five years later! Just because I was doing the work for free in the beginning, I was never lazy and I did my best work. These clients have recommended me numerous times and continue to reach out even when they move on to new positions or totally different fields!

 

4. Learn to Say no

In business, what you DON’T do is just as important as what you do. Knowing your ideal client and the type of person you enjoy working with can make a huge difference in the success of your business and your sanity. Turning down work is scary but saying no to something that isn’t a good fit (or you just dislike) gives you the time and energy to do the things you love!

When I first starting freelancing, I said yes to just about everything but I quickly learned that there’s just not enough time for that. Take a look at your business. What is it that you LOVE doing? For me, it’s branding, art direction and invitation design. They’re my favorites, so that is what I want to make sure I have time for. You may not know your ideal client immediately, it can be a slow process and can also evolve over time.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs

 

5. Establish Systems and Processes

When I first started, I thought I could just jump right into freelancing since I had design experience in the real world. I didn’t really think about the business side. How I’d have to spend less time designing and more time networking, pursuing new work, meeting with clients, invoicing, updating my portfolio, accounting and lots of other things that I don’t necessarily enjoy doing. I didn’t know anything about business and I am still learning as I go.

I slowly created processes (client questionnaires, invoicing, contracts) as things came up. I didn’t even have a separate business bank account for my first few years. It would have saved me lots of time and headaches in the long run if I would have spent some time up front to get all of this in order. A lot of my processes get updated as time goes by, and that is okay! For me, the most important is to always use a contract no matter how large or small the job is, whether it is your best friend or a complete stranger. It is the only way that both designer and client can be on the same page.

I hope these tips can help you if you are thinking about ditching your 9-5 or looking to grow your own small business!

Do y’all have any other tips that I left out?

Related: 10 Ways To Expand Your Small Business and 4 Way To Make Your Brand Stand Out

Steps to Refining and Setting Mid-Year Goals

Mid-Year Goals Free Worksheet

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly believe that it is June already! The year is certainly flying by, and it is easy to start to feel panic that the year is almost halfway done when thinking about the goals you have set for your business and all that you want to accomplish in 2015.

Rather than panic, use it as a chance to evaluate the goals you set in January and see if they are still relevant. Didn’t set any? Now is the perfect time to gain focus for the second half of your year. Here are some simple ways to set or refine your goals:

Which aspect of your business is most important to you this year?

You may have a monetary goal for the year, or perhaps you want to achieve a work/life balance that suits your lifestyle needs. Whatever your ultimate intention for your year is, keep that front of mind while evaluating and setting your goals!

Which goals have you already met?

Look back at the goals you set at the beginning of the year and see which ones you can cross off. Whether it was a single item, like finding a new office space, or simply something you are ahead of schedule on, such as booking 15 new clients, take a moment to celebrate, then see how you can either update that goal or expand it for the second half of the year.

Which goals are you not on track to meet?

If you have any quantitative goals, such as “photograph 10 weddings” or “book 20 branding clients,” you should be close to reaching half of that value at this point. If you’re not close, it might be time to step up your efforts to meet that goal! Or, you may wish to adjust that goal if it no longer feels right. If you have a certain time of year that is your busy season, be sure to take that into account when calculating anything quantitative.

What has changed since the beginning of the year?

You may have had a change in your personal life that affects how much you can work. Perhaps you examined your business and started offering additional or new services. Major changes like these will alter the goals you have for the remainder of your year, so take the time to see how the changes in your life or business are affecting your goals.

How can you streamline your work?

A goal for anyone should be to operate in a way that doesn’t waste your time – or your client’s time. Take a look at your systems and see what items could be refined or made more efficient, such as finally writing those canned email replies, updating your website’s contact form to ask better questions or actually hiring that VA. Make it a goal to accomplish those smaller items that have big impact.

Download this free mid year goals worksheet to get you going.

While different businesses require different types of planning and goal setting, it is always crucial to have an objective and develop a plan to get there. Need more help with goal planning? Check out 3 Steps to Planning & Accomplishing Your Goals.

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

The Best Social Media Marketing Tools That Every Blogger Needs

Social Media Tools for Bloggers and Small Business Owners

It seems like a blogger’s work is never done. You write your post, edit, create graphics, insert screenshots and examples, promote your posts, engage with followers, and then rinse and repeat. So to say that we need a few tools in order to make things even the slightest bit easier for us is quite the understatement. And since social media is such a prevalent marketing avenue for those of us in the online blogosphere, I’m sharing with you my top eight favorite social media marketing tools for bloggers.

1. Buffer

Buffer is a social media scheduling app and I seriously cannot sing enough praises for it. I have said this time and time again. There are a number of reasons that I choose Buffer as my personal scheduling app:

  • Interface: I have used other scheduling apps before and the interface isn’t nearly as pretty or user-friendly as Buffer’s is.
  • Analytics: I love the analytics in Buffer–you’re able to see how many clicks, retweets, shares, etc., that each of your posts got. It shows you your top posts of the week and even emails you a weekly summary comparing this week’s posts to the previous week.
  • Bookmarklet: This is probably my favorite part. If I’m reading an article that I want to share (even on my phone or tablet), I can add it to my Buffer queue directly from the article. I have a browser bookmarklet on my computer and can add the app to my preferred sharing tools on my mobile devices.
  • Scheduling: One thing that is extremely time-consuming with Hootsuite is having to individually schedule each one of your outgoing posts. Buffer allows you to create a preset schedule so that each time you want to schedule an article, you only have to add them to your queue and they automatically go out at their specified time.
  • Pricing: They have both free and paid options

2. CoSchedule

This is probably one of the coolest scheduling apps because its interface is a freaking calendar. Um, genius? Yes, I think so. And it has multiple uses. You can use this plugin to view the posts you have published for the month, posts that are in the works, and the posts that you have planned. Not only that, but you can also share your blog posts to your social media right from the CoSchedule plugin! AND (this is my favorite part) it can be integrated with Buffer to up the social sharing ante even more.

3. Click to Tweet

One great way to encourage social shares in your blog posts is to include a one-click, pre-made tweet for your readers. CoSchedule has a really great FREE Click to Tweet WordPress Plugin that allows you to insert said pre-made tweets right into your blog post! Here is a sample, go ahead and try it out!

4. TweetDeck

Are you a Twitter chatter? If not, then you need to be. Check out this fantastic calendar for Twitter chats for creatives. (or join my favorite chat, #createlounge, every Wednesday at 7PM CST!) If so, then you know how incredibly fast those things move. TweetDeck is my absolute favorite way to keep up with the craziness.

Simply login with your Twitter handle and then create a separate column for: your notifications (so that you can see when someone replies to your tweets or directs a question/comment to you), the Twitter chat’s hashtag (so that you can see all of the tweets for the chat), and the host(s) of the chat (so that you never miss a question). I participate in Twitter chats once or twice a week and have found that this is the best way for me to not miss any of the action!

5. OnePress Social Locker

I personally have never used this plugin, but I think it’s a fantastic idea and I keep it on standby. This free WordPress plugin allows you to lock certain content until a reader shares it on social media. This guarantees a social share for each person who wants to read your post.

6. HelloBar

This is an awesome app to include on your blog and it has several different uses. I started a new Facebook Page when I rebranded my blog (one, because I couldn’t change the name of my old Facebook page and two, because I plan to do a case study of how I gained likes and exposure to my page), so I use the HelloBar social converter to add a box in the lower righthand corner of my blog that allows readers to easily like my Facebook page. It’s done really well so far, so I highly recommend it.

However, you can also use HelloBar to drive traffic to another page of your site or to gather email addresses for your e-newsletter. They also have both free and paid options.

7. Topsy

This tool is amazing for so many things:

  • Searching for relevant content to curate.
  • Searching for social media analytics on specific users, hashtags and keywords.
  • Checking out current trends on social media.

It’s seriously an all-in-one for any kind of social media information you could possibly look for. Search for a topic that you’re interested in finding good articles to share on your own social networks. Check out your own replies or the replies of fellow bloggers in your niche. And see what’s currently trending that you could play off of by writing your own blog post or social media post.

8. Google Docs

This is one of my favorite ways to create my social media editorial calendar. I create a document, add a table with seven columns (one for each day of the week), then I put all of my statuses, links, and images inside of the table before scheduling them all out. This makes it easy for me to visually see what content I have planned all at once. And you can use it fo’ free.

Haven’t started blogging yet or in a rut? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention and How to Give Your Readers Exactly What They Need.

Do you have any favorite tools that we missed here?

 

Chloe is a blogger and social media manager who creates content meant to help bloggers and small business owners learn how to DIY their own social media marketing.

6 Simple Ways to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas + A Free Worksheet

Free Worksheet to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas

Blogging can be a great tool for small business owners. It provides a way to connect with your audience, share your expertise, and even help convince people to work with you. It can also be a fun creative outlet or provide a needed break in your daily routine.

While the pros are easy to count, that doesn’t mean it is always easy to come up with new blog post ideas! Especially if you’ve been blogging for a while, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall with new post ideas. Luckily, there are several simple ways to generate some quality post ideas.

Why do you blog?

The first step for any blogger is to identify who you are trying to reach. Many bloggers get overwhelmed or feel unfocused when they aren’t sure who to write for. If you are a business owner, you might be writing to attract potential new clients. If you have a personal blog, you might be hoping to connect with fellow fashion lovers or food connoisseurs. When you identify this, it makes your focus that much clearer and the ideas easier to form.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Think about the blogs you read, and make a list of ones you can’t wait to dive into when you see a new post. What about their posts attracts you? Perhaps they share knowledge, share personal stories, or use a unique voice to tell their story. When you identify what attracts you to your favorite posts, it will help you write your own!

What is a problem you recently had and then solved?

People love reading free tips and learning from their peers. A great way to connect with your readers and contribute to your community is to share something you learned. Not only might you help someone with the same problem, it helps you relate to others by showing you are human and don’t always have all the answers right away either.

What is a question you get asked all the time?

Do you find yourself receiving similar emails, tweets, or queries often wanting to know the same things? Make the answer a blog post! Not only will this help position you as an expert with the answers people are looking for, it will make your responses oh-so fast by simply directing people to your post for an answer.

 

What is something you wish people knew about your business, industry or passions?

Is there a misconception about the industry you are in? Share your perspective and experiences! Do you find yourself running into the same problems with clients or customers? Write a post sharing your advice on dealing with the issue. Instead of feeling frustrated, use the energy to share a positive post and help others who might be fighting the same battles.

What resources or tools that you’ve found could help someone out?

Making a list of helpful resources is a great post generator. You could include tools you use to run your business, people in other fields that could be resources for your clients, or even podcasts within your niche that you love. As with many of these points, being generous with your knowledge not only builds trust with your readers, it will bring them back time and again.

To make this even easier, you can use this free brainstorming worksheet to get your creative vibes flowing. There is also space for those moments when you have a post idea and need to jot it down somewhere before you forget! Try setting aside a small amount of time each week to knock out your ideas, and writing will become even easier.

Download the Free Brainstorming Blog Post Ideas Worksheet

While blogging can seem overwhelming, it is a great tool for connecting with others in your industry, with clients, or with your community. When you look at it as a way to share and have fun, it won’t seem like a daunting chore anymore! Need even more help getting started? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention.

 

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

How to Create Color Palettes in Adobe Illustrator

How To Create Color Palettes

When working in Adobe Illustrator, I find that shortcuts help streamline my process, and make for a more efficient use of my time. I love discovering useful productivity tips, so I thought I would share one that has helped me stay both consistent in my brand and save production time. Here are three essential tips for working with color palettes in Adobe Illustrator.

Create a Color Palette

There are several resources online to help create unique color palettes, including Design Seeds, Kuler/Adobe Color CC and Pinterest. By far, my favorite tool to use is searching through color inspiration boards on Pinterest! They provide a great starting point for developing your color palette.

To create a color palette in Adobe Illustrator, you will first need to create a color swatch for each specific color. Select the color you want to add to your palette, and then select the “new swatch” tool in the swatches panel. After you have added each of the color swatches, you can select all of them at once (by clicking shift or command + clicking the swatch) and then select the “new color group” button on the swatches panel. Now you have your color palette in its own group!

Save the Color Palette for Future Use

Once you have your color palette established, you might want to save this palette and reference it for future Illustrator projects. This is especially handy if you have a blog or a brand that uses the same specific colors throughout multiple projects. I even have a color group of semi-neutral colors that are great for muted background tints. The possibilities are endless!

To save your new color palette, first edit the swatches in the swatches panel so that it only contains your color palette you want to save. Select “save swatch library” from the swatches panel menu, and you are good to go! You can edit this swatch library anytime you want by choosing File > Open, and locate the swatch file in your library (by default this is located here: Illustrator/Presets/Swatches folder). Edit the swatches, then click save.

To reference your swatches in a new file, you click “swatch libraries menu” from the swatches panel, and then select “user defined.” There, you will find the swatch palette you created in any future Illustrator file.

Convert Color Swatches to Pantone

When working with logo files, or large print runs, you might need to convert your color swatches in Illustrator to Pantone swatches. To do this, simply select the objects you would like to switch to Pantone. Then select “edit” > “edit colors” > “recolor artwork”. Select the swatches icon to limit the colors to a specific Pantone color group, and select the specific Pantone color book to limit your illustration to spot colors. Click “ok” to close the dialogue box and convert the CMYK colors to Pantone colors.

Speaking of shortcuts, Ciera and I are both sharing our favorite keyboard shortcuts over on Brigette Indelicato’s blog!

Jamie is the designer and blogger behind Spruce Rd., an independently run boutique design studio specializing in crafting brand identities and websites for creative entrepreneurs. When not collaborating with awesome people, she can be found whipping up a new dish in the kitchen, or exploring local coffee shops. She loves all things chocolate, Wes Anderson and Rifle Paper Co. 

How To Start A Local Event Series

Starting A Networking Event

I’m a graphic designer. I’m a content creator—a blogger, a crafter, a photographer. I had no experience in event design or planning until I created The Made In Mind Social a year and a half ago. Now, every other month, I plan a meet-up for creatives of all kinds to gather, meet, mingle, connect and collaborate.

In the beginning, I faced a million questions and more than a few challenges. The good news? I learned a lot about how to plan and host a successful event—and I’m ready to share that knowledge with others who hope to do the same! Like many strategies, you need to start with the 5 W’s (and 1 H) – Who, What, When, Why, Where and How.

 

WHY: Purpose, Passion, Goals

It’s not what you do but why you do it that matters. By creating a vision and setting goals upfront, you will be able to maintain a focus throughout the planning process and more easily define the event itself. A clear vision will set you up for success—and concrete goals will allow you to measure that success.

WHO: Partners, Attendees, Marketing

This process—planning and executing—is not a solitary one. Of course, you’ll want to think about attendees, who you’ll be inviting. But you’ll also want to consider who you want to work with.

WHAT: Event Format, Branding and Design

Now it’s time to get started on designing the event itself. This part of the process involves two aspects: deciding what type of event you want to host and developing the branding.

WHEN: Date and Time, Frequency, Planning Timeline

The type of event may dictate when or how often it happens. Or, if it doesn’t, your next step is to select when the event will take place and how often it will occur.

HOW: Budgeting, Securing Sponsors

Next think about the components that will make your event possible—your budget and your sponsors. Managing money and getting sponsors on board may seem intimidating, but with a little organization and a professional demeanor, you’ll be able to make things happen!

WHERE: Venue, Vendors, and All the Details

Now, you’ll want to nail down the very important question of “where” (the venue!) and make sure you plan for all the elements of the event itself—the décor, entertainment, food, photography, or anything else you want to include.

 

If you want to start your own local event, you don’t need to start from scratch. This list is just a taste of the insights and information I’ve collected in my e-book, The Meetup Guide: How to Create, Plan, and Host Your Own Local Event Series. It’s 60 pages of actionable advice and tried-and-true tips, including 10 worksheets to help you get organized and make things happen. Simply put, if you’re looking for a resource to guide you through the process, this is it! You’ll learn your own lessons along the way, but the great part about hosting an event series is that you have a chance to improve the event each time.

Still too overwhelming? Here’s the good news: The Made In Mind Social is now accepting chapter applications! Our one-time chapter fee includes use of The Made In Mind Social name, logo, website template, design elements and more.