How Do You Do What You Do?
Or you might want to sell your freelancing business, and the buyer will want to know how you’ve been handling things.
In short, these are the times when you will need to explain what you do to others. Or you may need to tell others what you want them to do. At first, these tasks may leave you at a loss for words. This article will help you get your words back.
The first task in your explaining project will be to figure out exactly what it is you’ll need to explain. Here’s an outline of the three basic functions of a business, with questions to guide your thinking:
This is everyone’s favorite. Here you’re describing what you DO for money.
Let’s say that you’re a website designer. You don’t just pull those marvelous designs out of your head and dazzle the clients with them. You probably have some sort of prototyping process. How does it work? Do you create your layout ideas in Photoshop, then save them as JPEGs and post them in your server space for the clients to review? Or do you go straight into the coding and post rough drafts of your ideas?
Then, once you’re past the idea stage, how do you build websites? Are you building them out of HTML pages or are you using a content management system like WordPress or Drupal? Do you have subcontractors working with you on site buildouts? What kind of subcontractors? How do you instruct them?
Then, once the site is done, how do you hand the files off to the client? What sort of client training do you offer? How about service after the sale? Do you maintain websites? Do you offer related services like search engine optimization and website hosting?
Now, I just threw a whole bunch of questions at you, and you’re probably scratching your head, trying to figure out the answers. The good news is that you’ve answered them already. Here’s where you can find the answers:
- On your website. You may have a page devoted to describing your production process. Or you may have written a client’s guide to working with a WordPress-based website.
- In your proposals to prospective clients. Proposals are good places to find descriptions of production processes and the service you’ll offer after the sale.
- In your e-mail and texting exchanges with prospective and actual clients. Those question-and-answer fests are good places to find details on everything I’ve covered above.
How do you acquire new clients or drum up repeat business from existing clients?
This is the marketing and sales part of your business. For the purpose of this article, let’s define marketing as what you do to get people to come into your freelancing store. Sales? That’s persuading people to buy what’s on your shelves.
I’ve previously written about what can happen if you pay too much attention to marketing and not enough attention to sales. (Hint: your freelancing business suffers.) So, I’m going to devote most of this section to sales.
Sales consists of two activities:
- Defining your Ideal Client Profile and figuring out where you can find people who fit this profile.
- Reaching out to them.
As you may have guessed, a lot of people really enjoy the first activity, because it doesn’t require talking to strangers and asking them for their business. Heck, it’s kind of fun to write a little essay on who your Ideal Client is. And searching online and offline for leads lists? That can add up to hours of not talking to the people who might hire you.
Then there’s that second activity. Reaching out to people. Talk about scary. But using a script will make it a lot less scary. In my own business, I use scripts for making cold calls. Scripts for making warm calls. And I’ve created templates for cold and warm e-mails. I even have a scripted method for answering my telephone.
Scripts come in handy if Introverted You hires a vivacious employee to help you prospect for business. After all, you don’t want Vivacious Vincent to get on the phone and not know what to say. Or when the phone rings and Vincent is closest to it. What would you want him to say in that case?
So, what do you want your business scripts to say?
Now, a word (or two) about marketing:
It can consist of everything from placing advertisements to sending a monthly e-mail newsletter. Any marketing activity provokes a flurry of questions. For example, let’s look at advertising. You can place your ads in media ranging from printed publications to websites. What will those ads say? What will they look like? What do you want people to do after they’ve seen or heard them?
Same goes for your e-mail newsletter. Who will be on your list? What are you going to say? Will you use an HTML newsletter, or are you going to stick with tried-and-true plain text. (One of my friends still uses plain text for her newsletter. And she says it works just fine.)
Now this is a word that gets no respect. Some people even call it “administrivia.” But let the following things go, and watch your business run into the ground.
Accounting: Do you use accounting software? If so, what kind do you use? What sort of functions does it perform for you? Invoicing? If so, what information do you include on your invoices? What do your invoices look like? Can your software generate checks? What do your checks look like? Who do you order them from? What kind of financial reports can you generate with your accounting software? And how do you use those reports?
And, since I mentioned financial reports, I guess I don’t have to tell you that they’re needed for filing taxes. How do you handle that fun-filled task? Are you a DIY kind of tax filer? Or do you use a tax accountant? How do you communicate with your accountant? Do you consult with your accountant at times other than tax season? (I hope you do!)
Administration: That’s right. You the Administrator. That was probably the last thing you aspired to be during your job days. But, take heart. In your freelancing business, there isn’t a lot of administering to do. Unless you need to do some long-range planning. Like writing a business plan so you can get a bank loan or investor capital. Or developing a professional development plan. The word “plan” leads naturally to the next question: What will go into those plans?
Legal: This isn’t the part where you’re going to sue someone. Or (heaven forbid!) be sued.
But even the freest spirited of freelance business has some legalities to comply with. For example, do you live in a city that requires that businesses be licensed? If so, how did you apply for your business license? And how often does it need to be renewed? What’s the fee? And what about professional licensure? Are there certifications and licenses that you need in order to enter or continue in your field? How is this done? What about security clearances? Do you need those? If so, how do you apply and keep them current?
Office and Business Management: Okay, you don’t work in an office anymore. Which means that you’re now your very own office manager. Ever had to purchase equipment for your studio? A telephone or a computer? Or how about office supplies? As Internet-savvy as we like to be, there are times when we still need to send a letter to a client. What does the business stationery (letterhead, envelopes, and business cards) look like? And where do you order it from? And how do you manage all those projects that your business gets involved with? How do you supervise the work of your employees? Or, if you don’t have employees, your subcontractors?
Okay, that’s enough. I’ve asked you quite a few questions. And you’ll probably think of others. It will take time to answer them, but here’s what could happen if you do:
Years ago, I did business with a small accounting firm on the east side of Tucson. This firm documented everything that it did, and I do mean everything. They had quite a thick procedures manual, but no one felt overwhelmed by it. Rather, they regarded it as The Book. They turned to it many times a day.
The Book allowed this firm to run so smoothly that the boss and employees didn’t have to work through the weekend before April 15. (In the United States, April 15 is Tax Day, the federal tax deadline. A lot of accounting firms go flat-out during the last week or two before this date.) Matter of fact, Tax Day at this firm was so relaxed that the boss and her employees came to work in pajamas. And TV cameras would show up to document the occasion.
Now, you may be wondering why I’m referring to this accounting firm in the past tense. It’s because it no longer exists. Boss sold it to a larger firm, and, I’m told, the completeness of The Book helped to increase the sale price. That’s where documenting your business processes can get you.