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, Facebook groups and resource centers for freelancers. Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone!

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

An Exciting Announcement!

As I mentioned in January’s Made In Mind meet-up recap, we used this time to celebrate our accomplishments from 2014 and to set our most ambitious goals for 2015. We all displayed our goals and it was really great to see everyone’s enthusiasm for the new year!

Setting-Our-Most-Ambitious-Goals

Then Kristy and I, along with Justin from Invade NOLA, announced our plans for 2015… that we will be holding New Orleans’ First Creative Entrepreneur Conference!

New-Orleans-Creative-Entrepreneur-Conference-1

It’s crazy to think that it was a year and a half ago when I was telling y’all about my new venture, The Made In Mind Social. Ten meet-ups later, I felt that it was time to take it to the next level!

New-Orleans-Creative-Entrepreneur-Conference-Brainstorming

So far, we’ve created the event framework, divvied up tasks, are scouting locations and pulling together equally enthusiastic volunteers interested in being a part of something bigger. We are ambitiously working to build a killer conference!

Now, we are asking for your help in picking the perfect name and are starting to build volunteer teams to make this dream a reality! If you are interested just fill out this form, it takes 1 sec and we’d love your input.

Also, if you have any tips we’d love to hear them… (locations, things you like at other conferences, things you don’t like, sponsorships).

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.

Upcycled + Restyled Home Office Bookshelf

Upcycled-Home-Office-Bookshelf-6

Who has a to-do list a mile long of home projects and updates? I know I do! My dad is a bit of a dumpster diver so there’s never a shortage of furniture in our family, while abundant, it’s not always pretty. A while back he gave me a bookshelf that’s been really useful, but an eyesore in my office, see below. I just shoved a bunch of stuff on it and that was that. I’ve been meaning to give it an upgrade but just couldn’t get around to it.

Upcycled-Home-Office-Bookshelf-1

Well, BLACK+DECKER contacted me with a challenge to finish a project that I had been putting off as part of their Your Big Finish campaign. Through this campaign, BLACK+DECKER is encouraging homeowners and renters to finish neglected projects around their homes for a chance to win $10,000 and other prize packages. I knew immediately I wanted to tackle this bookshelf!

Upcycled-Home-Office-Bookshelf-2

Lucky for me it was easy to deconstruct. I cleared off the junk, took it apart, taped up the ends of the legs and got out my white spray paint! I needed to do a few coats since the original color was so dark. Once the paint was dry I reassembled the shelf. When I was putting items back on the shelf I kept it to a minimum instead of just cramming everything back on. I moved some of the extra books and boxes to a shelf that wasn’t so front and center in my office and focused on making this shelf both pretty and functional. It was so easy, I can’t believe I procrastinated for so long! It’s amazing that a little white spray paint can make such a huge difference.

A little white spray paint can make a huge difference!

Now it’s your turn to finish a project! BLACK+DECKER has launched this movement to get all the unfinished home projects moving again. Join them for the opportunity to win $10,000 cash and products. Plus, they might put you and your finished project on a billboard right in the middle of Times Square. So while your family may never notice that you finished hanging the crown molding, millions of others will!

 

Click Here To Enter Your Project

 

There are weekly BLACK+DECKER prize packages (valued at approximately $440), and one Grand Prize of $10,000. Check out the finished project gallery to browse other entries and get inspiration for your own project then submit your own entry for a chance to win!

finish those incomplete projects

Many thanks to BLACK+DECKER for sponsoring today’s story and inspiring me to FINALLY finish this project!

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud Storage

Today I want to tell you about why you should set up your own private cloud for your home office or creative business, but first a story.

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud Storage

My business has been going through quit a bit lately. Some good, some bad. Let’s get the bad out-of-the-way. I have been having some serious computer issues. I limped it along for months but finally had to send it off for repairs. As y’all know, my computer is a major part of how I make a living and it’s really not possible for me to get much done without it. Luckily I was able to borrow a computer but it still hasn’t been easy. I had to save all my files to a drive making sure I didn’t forget any fonts, graphics, working files, estimates, etc. Not fun.

Ciera-Design-Studio-Desk

Another challenge is that I’ve always worked from a laptop. I like the versatility but it’s not ideal as my only computer. I have been contemplating getting a desktop but I wasn’t sure how I’d work on both without constantly sending files back and forth.

Ciera-Design-Studio-Details

Now the good! Something else going on behind the scenes right now is that I’m bringing on some part-time help in the design studio, exciting but scary! I’m so used to working alone. Everything is organized in my head but having employees means that everyone needs to be on the same page. So I’m working on some new processes and implementing some new technology. We all need access to the same files, otherwise things will get very confusing.

Ciera-Design-Studio-Computer

I wasn’t really sure how to achieve all of this seamlessness that I was after. Then with absolutely perfect timing WD, a Western Digital Company saved the day by providing me with a My Cloud EX2 to use and review… serious dream come true. This is what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it. Personal cloud storage! Basically, it is a physical hard drive connected to your Internet that you can access from anywhere. Totally ideal for small office and home office businesses.

Ciera-Design-Studio-Workspace

Why I Love Private Cloud Storage

  • one-time cost – unlike many public cloud options, the My Cloud EX2 just has a one-time cost, purchase the drive and you’re done. You can also add as many users as you need!
  • easy setup – plug it in and go through the simple setup and you’re up and running with an intuitive interface
  • security – allows you to set up permissions-based folders so you can give an employee or family member limited access to access or upload files
  • peace of mind – knowing your data is backed up and secure with cloud storage for small businesses makes it easier to focus on other things to make your business successful
  • wireless back ups – the drive gets plugged into a power source and your internet during setup but never directly to your computer so your backups happen without you even thinking about it
  • file sharing – easily generate email links for files or folders. When a client clicks on the link they are given a zip of the files you selected. This allows you to send files that are too large for emailing.
  • anytime, anywhere access – with mobile and desktop apps you are not limited to what you can fit on your phone – if you download the app you can view all files from your drive at home. You can connect multiple computers and devices for seamless integration.
  • automatic transfer via camera – you can connect your camera directly to the My Cloud EX2 and it copies files automatically
  • storage space – photos from my blog take up a lot of space and I NEVER delete client projects. Luckily the My Cloud EX2 provides several capacity options, up to 8TB, to choose from.
  • speed – files load much faster to the EX2 than they do to a remote cloud.
  • working remotely – I want to be able to travel and I want employees to work from anywhere.My Cloud EX2 is such a huge benefit when working in multiple offices, computers or on the road.
  • streaming – stream videos and photos to connected TVs, media players, gaming consoles

If you have a small business, you really need to get one of these systems! I can’t believe I’m only now setting one up!

Many thanks to WD for letting me try the private cloud with the EX2. Thank you for supporting this blog by allowing me to post occasional sponsored content. All sponsored posts feature products or services that I truly feel would be of interest to you and all opinions are my own. The two photos of me are by Hannah Hudson Photography.

On Speaking at Alt Summit

On Speaking at Alt Summit 3

When I was at Alt last January I remember saying that I would NEVER be able to speak in public, and definitely not at a conference like Alt, with so many other bloggers and creatives that I look up to. I’m much more comfortable talking to people one-on-one and I get incredibly anxious in large groups of people, especially when I’m front and center. I’m an introvert so attending events like Alt are already out of my comfort zone, let alone speaking at one.

On Speaking at Alt Summit 1

When Mariah suggested that we pitch a panel idea together with Melissa, PJ and Tan, for some reason I said yes, secretly hoping we didn’t get picked, but to my surprise, they loved our topic idea and here we are, a year and a half after saying “I would NEVER”, I did it, I spoke on a panel at Alt Summit!

On Speaking at Alt Summit 7

It was the scariest thing I have ever done, but because of that, one of the most rewarding. I believe that if you are not pushing yourself or doing scary things then you are not going to grow as a person or grow professionally. One of my favorite quotes from Alt this year was from Emily McDowell “fear is an asshole and a liar” and I’m so glad I didn’t give in to my fear! I mean, I got to speak at the same conference as Martha Stewart!

On Speaking at Alt Summit 2

Our room was packed and it was awesome to see everyone so engaged and to hear how much people appreciated the content and hard work we put into making our panel special.

On Speaking at Alt Summit 6

On Speaking at Alt Summit 5

On Speaking at Alt Summit 4

On Speaking at Alt Summit 8

On Speaking at Alt Summit 9

I am so thankful for the opportunity. If you missed it, you can see the recap of what I spoke about, Growing Your Blog by Positioning Yourself as an Expert.

Photos by Justin Hackworth or Brooke Dennis for Alt Summit.