In case you haven’t heard of Dropbox before, it’s a file-hosting service that lets people access their files from their computers, smart phones, tablets, you name it. More than 50 million people worldwide use the software. Not too shabby for a couple of MIT graduates.
There is a ton of file sharing software out there on the market, so I was interested to hear how Dropbox got started and learn about it’s rise to success amongst its competitors. As freelancers, we have a lot of competitors out there in the marketplace. Houston’s experience helps us learn how to differentiate ourselves from our competition. Here are my take away’s from this article:
Take Good Ideas and Make Them Your Own
Houston got his idea for Dropbox from a similar program used by MIT students called Athena. The program was simple to use, and anytime someone sat down on a computer and logged in, their entire workstation was summoned to the computer in front of them—even the placement of their icons and folders.
Houston knew that someone in the future was going to build something like this for the general public. Houston wrote some code on the Chinatown bus between Boston and New York that he thought would work. He shared his idea with Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox’s other founder, and they got to work. Continue Reading
I try very hard not to procrastinate. I’ve been this way my whole life. In college, I’d work ahead of the syllabus just so I knew I would get everything done. For my job at the magazine, I work months, maybe a good year, ahead of time to plan and execute some feature stories.
I chalk this up to being a busy person. In college and grad schools, I worked a lot. I didn’t have a ton of free time so I had to plan on getting assignments done. In my working life, I have a job, I freelance, and I volunteer my time by sitting on the board of two nonprofits. I like to do it all, but I have been learning how to say no.
I also teach an undergraduate course at a local college. In my syllabus it clearly states that if students miss their deadline, they fail the assignment. In the real world, if they fail to pass in a story to their editor, they risk losing their jobs. This deadline also helps me when I go to grade them. I want to be sure I have enough time to read through each students’ work and not rush through it.
When I saw this article on how procrastination is essential to innovation, I was intrigued. I know people who thrive on procrastination as a means to get anything done. To be honest, these people drive me nuts. I find that when you are working on a team and one person puts all of their duties off until the last minute, the entire project suffers. However, when you aren’t working in a team, maybe there really is something to be said about the stress of adrenaline. Continue Reading
I’m going to tell you a little secret that causes me some embarrassment. I still use Photoshop CS3. I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that I am skeptical of constant software upgrades and the fact that I’m not a graphic designer. Still…I’m so behind the times. Please don’t make fun of me.
When Photoshop CS4 came out, the art director I work with and I went “poo-poo.” There wasn’t enough changes for our company to invest in an upgrade. We were OK with that. Then CS5 came around. We realized that with Photoshop 3 we couldn’t open files from people using Photoshop CS5. That just made us mad.
Call me a curmudgeon, but technology moves at such a rapid speed that I sometimes feel dizzy. It even sometimes paralyzes me. I don’t dare buy a new cell phone or computer, because I know that as soon as I do a new version will come out that is cooler, faster, better. Apple is notorious for doing this to me.
If my husband hadn’t bought me an iPad as a wedding gift, I still wouldn’t have one (even though I love it…). The fact that it doesn’t have a USB port confounds me! It doesn’t make any sense to me—except that in the next version (or the one after that) there will probably be one. Grrrrrr.
So when I heard Photoshop CS6 was coming out I felt two things: Old and cheap.
I am, primarily, a writer. Photoshop CS3 still gets me by—and I will continue to use it until I need something more.
You won’t be able to get CS6 until later on this year, but Photoshop has released five sneak peek videos on the Photoshop YouTube channel over the past few weeks. For all you clever designers out there, here are some things you have to look forward to… Continue Reading
I am a great proponent of saying thank you. I’ve written about gratitude on this blog before and know that you can’t go wrong by thanking someone. Who doesn’t like to be thanked?
I recently read a post on Business Insider about why an email thank you is preferred, and I bristled. On the shelf above my head is a huge box of thank you cards that I send out whenever the need arises. I know how much I love getting thank you notes in the mail from people, so I always send out handwritten notes. It’s just my preference—but it doesn’t mean that I am 100% right.
I thought I would take a look at the difference between an email thank you note and a handwritten one, and single out the pros and cons.
Jessica Liebman, the managing editor of Business Insider and the author of the “why you should send an email thank you instead of a handwritten one” also wrote a post about the importance of sending a thank you note. Liebman is in charge of all the editorial hiring at Business Insider and says that the majority of people she interviews have one thing in common: they never send a thank you email. Continue Reading
I love articles and blog posts telling me what NOT to do. I always read them with a little trepidation, hoping I’m not making the mistakes the writers are warning me about. But it’s also a good way to learn.
I’d much rather learn from someone else’s mistakes than my own!
Avoid the Self-Congratulatory Tweet
Self-promotion isn’t a bad thing—in moderation. You probably know someone who only talks about themselves or their kids, no matter what the conversation is about. The more times this person raves about how wonderful they are or their child is, the less likely you are to listen (and to believe them). The same thing goes for your online marketing.
If you just won a great award, or your story was published on the front page of the New York Times, by all means, shout it from the rooftops! Good news is fun to share. Just be sure you aren’t saturating your social media outlets with your good news. It’s always nice to let others speak for you.
If someone tweets about something you do or why they think you’re great, make sure that you thank them in a retweet with comment, but avoid retweeting without any humbling context or word of gratitude. —FastCompany.com
Avoid Bad Tweet Timing
About a year ago Kenneth Cole pushed “send” on an unfortunate tweet that caused a digital uproar. The fashion designer said ”Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Ouch. Timing was everything (wrong) with this message, which was sent during the dawn of the Arab Spring; it came off as crass rather than triumphant. —FastCompany.com
Yikes! I’m very happy to learn this lesson from Kenneth Cole than from my own mistake. You never want to fall prey to the hashtag #toosoon. Staying sensitive to others, especially in a time of national or international crisis, is important—especially if your followers and clients are going through the turmoil. Forgetting your filter is an easy way to make enemies. Continue Reading
I love notebooks. I am, after all, a writer.
In the world of iPads, smartphones, and other technological devices, there is still something wonderful about a notebook.
I have always been a pen-and-paper person. In college (in the late 90s before PDAs) I kept everything in my trusty planner. I carried that thing with me everywhere. If I lost it, I was doomed. But I never lost it. It had my calendar, address book, membership cards, and even a ruler! I put things I didn’t want to lose in it’s zippered pockets and wrote everything in it.
When I graduated, I ditched the planner. My life was much less chaotic with a full-time job and I didn’t need to keep track of assignments. So I started carrying around a blank, unlined notebook. I started collecting quotes I heard and liked, lists of books I wanted to read, and sketches I drew during my lunch hour spent in downtown Boston. It was like a journal without all the personal secrets.
My favorite kind of notebooks were Moleskine notebooks. They were small, sturdy, and came without those pesky lines. Some of them even had a built-in elastic to keep the books closed. When I saw this post on designboom about a new architecture book series Moleskein was publishing, I thought “Now that’s a great idea!” Continue Reading
When I first started freelancing, I was unhappy in my job. I was working in Boston during the dotcom bubble burst of the early 2000s. There was nowhere for me to go in my current position, and the constant layoffs and cutbacks were making me nervous. So I retreated back to what I knew I was good at—writing.
I started off slow at first, finding a few gigs on Craigslist. I started writing for a couple of local music magazines—one of them paid and one of them didn’t. Then I started writing lifestyle pieces for a free monthly tabloid. I kept those freelance jobs up when I started a new full-time job. I liked this new job, but it was working for a small video editing house. As the in-house producer, I didn’t get a chance to write.
I loved seeing my name in print—and that’s why I did it. I made hardly any money but I did get some perks—free movie tickets, a book or CD here and there—but I was building up my portfolio.
I decided that I wanted to make a career out of writing, so applied to grad school and moved to New York City to attend NYU. I was careful to keep every clip I wrote (including an early interview with the likes of an up-and-coming rapper named T.I.) and put them together in a binder.
During an internship fair (much like a career fair, just for internships) I whipped out my trusty portfolio. My fellow students oohed and aahed over my clips. “If you’ve been published, why the heck are you in grad school?” they asked. “Because I want to get paid for doing this!” was my reply. Continue Reading
Moving from a full-time job working for someone else to starting a freelance business is the dream of many. But before you make the switch there are a lot of things to think about: health insurance being one of them.
If you were taking advantage of your employers health insurance benefits, be ready for sticker shock when looking at plans meant for independent workers such as freelancers. In the United States, finding and paying for health care has been an issue for many home-based business people, and many go without because of the price tag.
Freelancers don’t have easy access to affordable health care, and they don’t have paid sick days, either. And even some small businesses don’t offer health insurance as part of their employment package any more. But going without is soon going to be against the law.
The Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, depending on what side of the fence you sit on), means that all people not covered by an employer sponsored health plan or public insurance program must purchase an approved private insurance policy or pay a penalty.
The good news? Supposedly there will be a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to compare policies and buy insurance from whomever they like, and will be able to get subsidies if they purchase insurance from these health insurance exchanges. The bad news? The government is taking money out of our pockets.
According to this blog post, freelancers who live in New York, New Jersery, or Oregon will have a new option when it comes to getting insurance coverage, thanks to a partnership between the Affordable Care Act and the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit made up of over 170,000 members who are independent workers. Continue Reading
You have Twitter followers, connections on LinkedIn, and people who like you on Facebook—but how engaged are these people with your brand?
There’s at least one person out there who believes that it’s not these social media platforms, but email marketing, that makes the most sense when it comes to your business.
Scott Stratten, a small business owner and author of Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging, has over 117,000 Twitter followers, but says that followers and likes are not worth as much as an email subscriber. Stratten’s advice is for people to pick one of the many social media options (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ to name a few) and put time into it.
”The problem I see entrepreneurs making is they open an account on every platform and spend five minutes on each,” he says. ”That’s like trying to go to five networking events in one night.
”You’ve got to pick one … Social media is not being scaleable on every platform – it’s being great at a few.” —The Sydney Morning Herald
This is welcome news to someone like me who feels overwhelmed with the amount of time required to really engage with followers on all these platforms. Personally I use two: Facebook and Twitter. I also have a blog. I’m on LinkedIn, but don’t really use it all that much other than to read the headlines.
Stratten emphasizes that business owners shouldn’t rely entirely on social media.
A Tweet will last minutes, a Facebook status will last minutes – and that’s if it’s even shown in the news feed – but a subscriber has to do something with that message,” Stratten says.
”They’ll see it in their inbox and, to me, it’s much more valuable.’ —The Sydney Morning Herald
As a freelancer, you do everything—manage the books, handle the sales, and make the coffee. All this on top of your actual job, be it writing, photography, graphic design, event planning…whatever.
There are some things you can outsource. You can hire a bookkeeper to keep your finances straight. These people already know how to use such software as Quickbooks, and outsourcing means you don’t have to spend the time learning the program or inputting numbers into a spreadsheet.
Did you know you can also outsource your social media? There are people out there whose job is to handle other peoples’ social media marketing, saving them oodles of time on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Constant Contact, you name it.
Maybe you aren’t good at keeping up a presence on these social media platforms. Maybe you don’t know how to leverage them. Maybe you are just so busy that you don’t really want to take the time to learn. But should you hand over your online branding to someone? This is the exact question answered by the Young Entrepreneur Council for The Washington Post. Some of their answers, included here, are worth pondering. Continue Reading
I found an article on startupsmart that I couldn’t resist reading and sharing with you. The story is about the top home-based business myths and I know you freelancers out there will be able to connect with at least one of these.
The Hours are Easy
PLEASE! If anything, the hours are harder than working for someone else at their office. When you work for yourself you have to not only do the primary job, you have to handle your own marketing, manage your own sales, handle your bookkeeping, answer the phones or spend money to hire people to do this for you. Many freelancers, especially those just starting out or dealing with a down economy, don’t have the funds to outsource, so all of these duties fall on their shoulders.
Being organized takes a lot of time, leaving less time to do your actual job. Many freelancers who work from home don’t have time for a leisurely lunch, afternoon work out, or even time to throw in a load of laundry.
You Can Sit Back and Get Rich Quickly
Ask any freelancer and they will tell you they work hard for every penny they make. There are a lot of ads out there that tell you that you can earn thousands a week from home—it’s all bunk. When you are a freelancer you have to find your own work, people aren’t beating down your door. It takes time to make and build successful relationships that will turn into a continued profit. There’s nothing “quick” about it. Continue Reading
Freelancers and small business owners can learn a lot from how bigger businesses use their social media. You’re not going to be able to capitalize on everything these larger companies can, because your business model is different. However, there are some things big companies do to leverage their Twitter followers that freelancers can put into practice.
Some of these ideas were found in this FastCompany article. I weeded through all 21 of their tips to find the ones FreelanceSwitch readers can put into practice.
Offering coupons on coffee would work great for Starbucks, but clearly not for freelancers. But giving out your own special offer can help entice someone to try your services for the very first time, or attract a repeat customer.
Most of the freelancers that I know who utilize this are photographers. They’ll offer a special deal during certain times of the year (holidays, for example) for a special rate. Customers use a promo code to sign up for a photo shoot. Sometimes photographers will create a contest where someone gets a photo shoot for free.
It’s all about enticing new customers to your small company. Whether you offer photography services, graphic design, or marketing solutions—offering a discount makes it less risky for new clients to use your services. Continue Reading