April Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

April was another slow month for me. I consciously scaled back on work and turned down an opportunity for a new client. As my due date approaches, I’m focusing on finishing up tasks with my current clients and writing blog posts for my maternity leave.

Here’s what happened in April.

Positives

  • Gained one new client

I was contacted by a few referrals at the end of March and one turned into a client! Hopefully, this will be a long-term relationship that will continue after my maternity leave. I’ll be doing general virtual assistant work for this client.

  • Worked on a few bigger projects

I had a couple of bigger projects due this month for my long-time clients. These projects happen once each year and take approximately 10 hours to complete. I was able to boost my income a bit from these projects.

  • Received a tax refund

We overpaid our taxes this year, partially due to overestimating our quarterly taxes, so we got a nice refund. We normally don’t get refunds so that was a pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to the maternity fund.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I will continue to bring in less income until September when Norah starts preschool. I don’t have the time or energy to hustle for more business right now.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I’m going to focus on achieving this in the last quarter of 2017.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by late summer.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’m thinking that sponsoring something in the summer or fall would be the best bet. It may take that long to get my business back on track. I was in a much better position when I made this goal in December 2016 than I am now.

Income Snapshot

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

March 2017 Business Report

I’m pulling the curtain back on my small business!

In February 2017, I decided to start sharing my monthly business reports. In these reports, I discuss the month’s positives and negatives as well as progress I made towards my 2017 goals. I also give a snapshot of my earnings.

Things started looking up a bit in March although I feel like leads are slow everywhere. Some of my best resources for finding freelance leads have been very sparse this month. I also underestimated the impact that losing two major clients would have on my feelings about freelancing. I felt very defeated for most of the month and had a hard time getting in the right headspace to look for more clients. I do feel like this is a low point during my self-employment career, but I know that I will bounce back from it. I’m sure some of the feelings have to do with being pregnant, taking care of a toddler all day, and being exhausted.

Here’s what happened in March.

Positives

  • Hired a designer to redesign and rebrand Freelancing Mama

After spending some time looking at other great websites, I decided to hire Pixel Me Designs to create a new look for Freelancing Mama. I cannot wait to unveil the new look this summer. I’m redesigning my blog as part of my effort to monetize and grow this site. I’m finishing up an ebook on virtual assistance and hope to have some courses and other products available before the end of 2017.

  • Did project work for a former pitch

Freelancing is a tricky game. I applied for quite a few jobs in February and didn’t get most of them. I have a 10-20% success rate when pitching which is totally normal. One of the client I pitched for, who ended up going with another freelancer, contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing some research work. I took the assignment.

  • Was referred by a few people

I had three different people reach out to me based on referrals from former clients. I don’t know if any of these referrals will turn into gigs, but hopefully I will find out in April.

  • Negotiated a raise with a long-time client

I was able to negotiate a raise with a long-time client that helped boost my income a bit. I only spend about 10-15 hours per month working with this client, but every extra dollar per hour helps. If you’re looking to raise your rates, check out my post on how to do it.

Negatives

  • Less income coming in

I have not recovered financially from February’s client dropoff. It will probably take some time to get back where I was. I don’t expect to be at January 2017 income until after I return from my maternity leave in September.

  • Negative mindset and decreased motivation

I’ve had issues with feeling defeated this month. The combination of losing clients and the stress of my son’s approaching due date got to me. I spent some time on self-care and read a bunch of books in my downtime. Near the end of March I started feeling more optimistic and started putting myself out there again. Hopefully, things will continue to improve in April.

Progress towards business goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

I don’t want to say this goal is impossible for this year, but it will be difficult. I have a lot of ground to make up from my lost clients before I will be at the “increasing income” level. Right now I’m trying to get back to where I was in January.

2) Get another local client

I’ve begun the process of seeking out new local clients through cold emailing and word of mouth, but have not secured one yet.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

Hopefully, we’ll get something put together by April or May. This goal has moved down on the importance list for now.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I have not made any progress on this goal yet.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’m thinking that sponsoring something in the summer or fall would be the best bet. It may take that long to get my business back on track. I was in a much better position when I made this goal in December 2016 than I am now.

Income Snapshot

As you can see, my income went down in March. I had no remaining payments coming in from the February clients and I didn’t add any other income sources.

This income came from a mixture of social media management, virtual assistant work, one-off organization projects, and content writing.

I may eventually share the actual numbers associated with my income, but for now I’m not comfortable doing that. I will be sharing this income snapshot to show a trend of my income throughout the year.

Overall, March continued on a downward trend, but I’m hopeful that the rest of the year will improve.

Freelancing Mama: Amethyst Storey

The Freelancing Mama interview series features women who run their own businesses and balance working, often from home, with raising children.

 

I’m excited to kick off the series with Amethyst Storey!

Amethyst started her business, The Infinite Virtual Assistant, in December 2016 to provide medical billing, claims account management, scheduling, accounting, customer service, project management, troubleshooting, strategic positioning, and other virtual assistant services.

She has over 14 years of experience in customer service, billing, claims, and administrative work.

She is also a single mother of three amazing children, two with special needs.

1) What’s your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur/small business owner?

Amethyst: Setting my own hours and being able to work from anywhere I want and being able to spend more time with my children.

 

2) How has being a mother affected your business or drive to succeed?

Amethyst: Being a mother has given me more motivation than ever before. I want to spend more time with my kids so I work my business harder since I’m working to support 3 children on my own.

 

3) What challenges do you face as a mother and entrepreneur/small business owner?

Amethyst: I have 3 children and 2 have special needs so I have to balance raising my kids with working. I currently put in a lot of hours on my business because I’m a startup. I’ve been in business since December 2016 and am trying to build up my clientele.

 

4) Did becoming a mother change you? How?

Amethyst: Yes, it changed my entire focus in life for the better.

 

5) What is your favorite thing about being a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: My favorite thing about being a virtual assistant is that I get to help people build their business while earning an income and I get to network with some great people.

 

6) What’s your favorite thing about working from home/working remotely?

Amethyst: Working from anywhere I choose.

 

7) What’s the most challenging thing about working from home/working remotely?

Amethyst: Not letting myself get distracted.

 

8) Which tasks do you enjoy the most?

Amethyst: Graphic design and social media.

 

9) Which tasks do you dread?

Amethyst: Data Entry. I’m good at it but it bores me. I type at a rate of 85+ words per minute accurately.

 

10) Who could benefit from having a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: Anyone who has a business and wants to have more time to focus on what they are passionate about, wants to delegate out tasks that they aren’t great at because the right VA can get those tasks completed quicker, and anyone whose business is growing.

 

11) Why should someone hire a virtual assistant/hire you as a virtual assistant?

Amethyst: I offer a FREE 30 minute consultation to see why your needs are and if we are a fit. You can schedule a call on my website. I also offer package deals to keep my prices down and am flexible on pricing. I work with the client to meet their needs while staying within budget. Most VAs offer 2 revisions for free and I offer up to 5 because I want satisfied clients that will want to refer me to their friends.

 

12) What advice would you give someone who wants to start a virtual assistant business?

Amethyst: My advice would be to sit down and make a list of the softwares and online skills you have. Narrow it down to find your niche. Decide who your perfect client is. Choose a name for your company. Create a logo for your company. Get yourself out there on social media and network, network, network.

 

You can connect with Amethyst here:

Twitter.com/TheInfiniteVA
Facebook.com/TheInfiniteVA
Linkedin.com/in/amethyst-storey-6088613a
Instagram.com/the_infinite_virtual_assistant


Contact me
if you’d like to be featured in a future interview!

7 Lessons I’ve Learned from Two Years in Business

On March 1, 2015, I made a life-changing decision. I started my business, The Sturm Agency. My first day, I had one virtual assistant client and two marketing clients. Two years later, the business has grown to support nine clients and numerous one-time projects.

Here are seven of the most important lessons I’ve learned from two years in business:

1) Get a contract

I did a few deals early on without any formal contracts. The end result was not good for my business.

Contracts keep you safe as a freelancer. They help add a small element of security into an otherwise insecure job.

Contracts should include the following:

  • Your payment schedule and what happens if a client pays late
  • Your cancellation policy and how much notice a client is required to give you when they want to move on
  • Your terms and agreed upon duties/tasks

2) Expect the best, prepare for the worst

One of the most challenging things about being a freelancer, or someone who owns a small business, is the unpredictability of income.

In a traditional workplace, you can lose your job at any time, but usually you’re spoken to about the status of the company or your performance before that happens.

I’ve had a few issues with clients who refused to pay me. One client owned a particularly large sum and was 2+ months late with payment over the holiday season. They eventually paid up, but it was a stressful situation.

This year, I lost my largest client due to restructuring in his business. I have to admit, I wasn’t prepared for this. I let myself have a few days to mourn the loss and then sprung into action. I began submitting proposals for new positions and created a pitch log in Google Drive. Even though I remained optimistic, the hits kept on coming and I lost another long-term client that same month!

I needed to make up a certain amount of income per month to match what the clients were providing. I knew this would be difficult as they were two of my largest clients. However, I had always known that it wasn’t a great idea to have one or two clients constituting around 45% of my monthly income. I wanted that number to be no higher than 30% for one client, going forward.

Preparing for the inevitable loss of income, or lean times, is something you should do as a business owner. You don’t want to be left surprised and unable to pay your bills.

3) Get your systems in place

  • Use a project management system

I use Wunderlist for keeping track of my client’s tasks. I copy and paste each task into their list and give it a due date. Each morning I look through my Wunderlist tasks and make a paper list of what I need to do for the day. This ensures that nothing gets overlooked. It also keeps me from using my inbox as a to-do list.

  • Have an onboarding process

I onboard my new clients with a 20-30 minute introductory phone call. I get to know their needs and how they like to work. From there, I send an email that says how I work best, how to get in contact with me, and what my hours and turnaround times are. I also send over an engagement contract.

  • Use an organization system

I keep everything in Google Drive. This frees up space on my computer and allows me to access my files anywhere, should I need to.

I organize my folders this way:

Main folder: Current Clients

Subfolder: Client Name

Subfolder(s): Documents, Projects, Contracts (all with their own folder)

I also keep a Former Clients folder and a Potential Clients folder for people who decided to go with another person for the job or put the job on hold for the time being. These connections may come in handy in the future.

4) Get help from professionals

Although I have an MBA and could do my taxes and accounting, I choose to hire this work out to a CPA. I want to use my time to further my talents, not do work that I dislike. This minimal expense saves me a lot of time and frustration.

If you don’t like marketing, hire someone out. If you don’t do graphics or images, find someone who does. Trying to do everything in your business will cause burn out. One person cannot do everything.

5) Ask for reviews/testimonials/referrals

For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to ask for reviews or testimonials with my first few clients. I only recently started chasing people down for reviews after we completed work together.

Testimonials and reviews strengthen your brand and legitimize your business. The more you can get, the better. Start a reviews/testimonials page on your website and begin adding them as soon as you start working with clients.

6) Make it easy for people to find and contact you

You need a website. It should look good and be easy to navigate. You should have a place where people can easily find your contact information.

Recently, I added a contact form to my website. I should have done it a long time ago! Within one week of adding it, I had two clients contact me asking about my services. I can only assume it was because I made it very easy to work with me.

Create a separate page for contacting you titled “Hire me” or “Work with me” and have an easy-to-use form. People don’t want to have to copy your email address, open their email, and write up a message.

7) Stay grateful and humble

On a more philosophical note, I feel that having the right attitude does a lot for your business and your success.

There are a lot of people who are running their businesses with massive egos. These people are very difficult to work with. Often the biggest egos are the easiest to bruise.

I credit a lot of my success to staying grateful and humble. I am so thankful every time a new client reaches out to me. I think my appreciative attitude, both in my heart and outwardly to my clients, is something that sets me apart.

Running a business is no easy task and I’m proud to say that I’ve done it for two years. I hope to continue running my business for the rest of my working life.

Seven Lessons I've Learned From Two Years in Business

How Freelancing Can Help Boomerang Millennials

My generation has been called the Boomerang Generation. People from the ages of 22-33 who went to college, graduated, and moved back in with their parents indefinitely.

There are people who enjoy their families so much that they don’t want to leave. There are also cultures that expect children to live at home until they are married. Then there’s another sector of Millennials who are too intimidated, scared, unsure or apathetic to strike out in the world.

The Boomerang generation has a negative connotation of not wanting to leave home and grow up. It’s been suggested that the idea of committing to a full-time job scares this generation. This is where freelancing can help.

Freelancing gives the Boomerang generation the freedom to move around and be a bit unstable while still earning an income and supporting themselves.

If you’re a Boomerang Millennial by choice or circumstance, here’s how freelancing can help you launch from the nest.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be a 9-5 job

If you’re hesitant to commit to a traditional 9-5 job then freelancing is a great alternative. Put together a budget of how much money you need to live on. You may be able to find decent housing and pay all your bills for less than $2000 per month depending on where you live. With some effort, you could make $2000 per month freelancing without working the traditional 40+ hour workweeks.

For example, if you’re a website designer, you could make $2000 per month from 1-2 clients. As a writer, it may take several clients or jobs to make that amount. A virtual assistant could reach that goal with 2-6 virtual assistant clients.

Figure out how much you need to make by using this cost of living calculator then use this rate calculator to figure out how much you should be charging.

Freelancing keeps you location independent

If settling down in one place freaks you out then freelancing could solve that problem too. As a freelancer, you can do your work anywhere. The term digital nomad refers to freelancers/entrepreneurs that have embraced a lifestyle of traveling while working. There are many successful freelancers who are traveling all over the world while freelancing. They support their lifestyle through their work.

Freelancing can get your foot in the door

If you having a hard time finding a traditional job with benefits, freelancing could bring you closer to that goal. You can gain experience doing freelancing work that would boost your resume while you try to find a full-time job. Sometimes freelancing opportunities turn into bigger jobs. Numerous freelancers have been asked to take on full-time roles within the company they are freelancing with.

Freelancing can build your confidence

Freelancing can build your confidence. If you didn’t have much work experience prior to college than freelancing can help build your confidence. You got a degree in something. Besides the skills related to your major, you learned valuable skills like project management, organization, and self-sufficiency. You wouldn’t have graduated from college without being able to get your work done. You are already qualified to freelance in your field. Start with small projects and work your way up. Set a goal of sending out proposals and applying for 2-5 jobs per week.

Freelancing doesn’t have to be forever

Freelancing has a less “sign an agreement and sell your soul” feel than the traditional 9-5 job. Yes, you can quit a full-time job, preferably with at least two weeks notice, but the stigma is greater. Freelancing jobs end for a variety of reasons, often not related to the freelancer at all. The project can have a natural ending point, the department could cut the budget, the company could decide to hire someone full-time, or they could give the responsibilities to someone already on staff. Quitting can be your decision too. You could finish up a project and let your client know that you don’t want any future work. The beauty of freelancing is that it is inherently temporary. As a freelancer, it’s easier to change your mind and pivot course, whether that change is going to a traditional job or continuing on with another client.

Freelancing can keep your life (relatively) the same

If what’s turning you off about the working world is getting up early, wearing business casual clothing, commuting, and spending all your time in a cube farm then freelancing is a great alternative. You can keep whatever hours you want, dress however you like, and work from home or anywhere else you want. Your life could look a lot like college, if you want it to. You’ll have the same freedom as you had when you were going to classes for a portion of the day and spending the rest of the day doing what you wanted.

Freelancing could be just what Boomerang generation needs to get on their own two feet and gain the confidence to participate in the working world.

boomerang

Batching Your Work for Greater Productivity

Is time getting the best of you? Do you want to work less while maintaining your current income? If you’re nodding along, then batching will be your new favorite thing.

One of my favorite productivity hacks is batching. Batching is the process of grouping similar work together and completing it in one sitting. Batching your tasks can free up your time and mental energy.

As a freelancer, here’s how to realize the benefits of batching!

Find your batchable tasks

Think about the types of tasks you do. Which tasks do you need to do frequently? Which tasks are similar in nature? Your batchable tasks can be for the same client or for multiple clients.

If you can’t think of any tasks that you could batch off the top of your head, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you use the same program/application/software for several clients?
  2. Do you write content for multiple clients?
  3. Do you invoice clients at the end/beginning of each month?

How to batch

  • Gather all similar tasks
  • Figure out what you should work on first
  • Complete all like tasks before moving on to another category of tasks

For example, if you write copy you could batch it in the following ways:

  • Complete all first drafts before making any edits or doing read-throughs
  • Write all call-to-action prompts in one sitting

Benefits of batching

1) Your brain loves batching

  • Batching forces you to single-task

Our brains aren’t very good at multitasking, but we’ve tried to force it on them for a long time. Your brain will thank you if you can stay on one task for a few hours. It may get a bit boring, but you’ll get faster at doing the task and stay more productive.

  • Batching reduces stress and anxiety

Every time you open a new browser window and follow a new whim, you get a tiny dose of dopamine. It may feel awesome at the time, but doing it throughout the day can cause you to feel flustered, disorganized and overwhelmed. Staying on one task gives your brain space to relax.

  • Batching helps you enter the flow state

If you keep doing one thing eventually you’ll reach the elusive flow state where your work seems easy and effortless and you’re completing things more quickly than you normally do. This is especially true for writing or any other creative pursuit.

2) Batching saves time

Even though it seems like the seconds it takes to open a browser window, login to a program, refresh your email or check your Facebook feed don’t add up – they sure do! A minute here or there ends up being hours of unproductive time at the end of the week.

Doing your work in batches saves time logistically as well as mentally. You don’t have to get focused and refocused on the same task several times. You complete them and move on to something new.

3) Batching increases energy

Jumping in and out of work wastes your energy. It can take an average of up to 25 minutes to refocus on a task once you’ve been interrupted. In an office setting, you don’t have much control over other people interrupting you, but in any setting you have control over interrupting yourself with distractions.

Batching your work and staying focused will give you a jolt of energy and pride once you finish a group of tasks.

Batching for increased productivity

Some things we do on a daily basis are complete time wasters. The greatest one of all is email. Batching the tasks that tend to waste time is a great way to increase your overall productivity.

Batching suggestions

  • Answering all emails at set times per day

Three times per day, set your timer for 30 minutes, get in your inbox and clear it out. Answer all emails, delete all junk, forward, and delegate. Once you’re done, do another task. Don’t check your email again until the next designated time. If you use less than 30 minutes on this task, great! Move on to your next task or take a break with your remaining time.

  • Writing all blog posts in one sitting

Once you’ve figured out a blog posting schedule, hunker down and write all of that week or month’s blog posts in one sitting. Even though the topics will differ, the process will be the same. Doing this without interruption could help you get ahead in your content planning.

My habit of writing for 30 minutes per day has helped me plan out and write content through August 2017.

  • Doing all the work you have in one program

Whenever you go to a website or login to a program, take a moment to list all the tasks you need to do in that website or program. Then do them all in one sitting. This saves the time of opening the program, logging in and getting set up and it also keeps you in a state of flow. For example, if you need to edit images in Photoshop for several clients, stay in the program and edit all items before moving on to another task.

  • Scheduling/posting/moderating social media

If you are moderating several Facebook groups, set up a schedule for responding. Go into each group, answer questions and comments then stay out until your next designated check-in time. And, turn off notifications! You don’t need to be interrupted by someone asking what time a store opens while you’re doing a batch of unrelated work.

Keep in mind: batching goes beyond a single client’s tasks.

When batching you want to think about the big picture. What else could you be doing in the same vein for someone else? Once you get used to batching and realize the benefits, you won’t want to work any other way.

batching

Need a Virtual Assistant Job? Try Subcontracting!

As a virtual assistant, you can find clients on your own or you can choose to subcontract under another virtual assistant or agency.

The process for subcontracting is simple:

  • Find someone to subcontract with
  • Discuss your rate
  • Sign an agreement
  • Get tasks and complete work
  • Invoice and get paid

Find someone to subcontract with

A great place to start looking for subcontracting opportunities is Facebook. There are many great virtual assistant Facebook groups.

Some of my favorites include:

Often someone in these groups will post that they need a subcontractor. You can apply and see if you’re a good fit for the company.

If you already know someone who has a virtual assistant or marketing business, you could reach out and ask if there are any opportunities for subcontract work.

Subcontract work is very low risk for the company or person participating. They are under no obligation to send you a set amount of work and can end the contract at any time.

That’s not to say that subcontracting work isn’t good for freelancers too!

It gives freelancers another income stream and helps diversify their client base. It ensures that one client cannot end your business by moving on. It gives you the opportunity to gather more positive testimonials/reviews for your website. It also allows you to peek inside someone’s else’s successful business to see how they run things, what their pricing structure is like, and how you can grow your business to their level in the future. Subcontracting can be a great learning experience as well as an income generator.

I currently have three subcontracting positions. One is with my former employer and two are opportunities I found in Facebook groups.

Discuss your rate

The person who needs a subcontractor must be making enough to pay your rate. If you want to earn $30 per hour, you’re not going to be able to subcontract with someone who consistently makes $20 per hour.

Don’t be afraid to suggest what you think you’re worth. Remember, on average VAs are making $15-30 per hour. When you’re first starting out, you may want to ask for $15 per hour, but don’t go too far below that. Keep in mind, there are VAs making six figures per year.

The average amount I’ve seen for subcontracting jobs falls between $18-25 per hour.

That said, I’ve had to turn down a few subcontracting opportunities because the pay was too low. In one instance, I was told that the person couldn’t afford me, but would circle back as soon as they could because they wanted me on their team.

There’s no harm in pursuing as many leads as you have time to follow up on. They can often plant seeds that grow into business opportunities, partnerships, or relationships in the future.

Sign an agreement

When you subcontract with someone, you should be asked to sign a subcontractor agreement. If the person does not ask you to sign one, I would question whether it was a legitimate opportunity.

Typically the subcontractor agreement includes information on your pay, hours, confidentiality and noncompete disclosure that prevents you from poaching clients.

Get tasks and complete work

You will be assigned tasks by either the owner of the agency/company or the client themselves. It depends on the agency/company’s policies whether you will have direct interaction with clients.

When you receive a task, complete it correctly and efficiently. You want to make sure that you are using your time wisely so you don’t bill the agency/company unnecessarily.

Be honest about your skills. If you don’t know how to do something, ask the VA for help or instruction. You can also offer to research the topic on your own time.

Invoice and get paid

The company/agency will have a schedule for submitting invoices and receiving payment. Most companies use Paypal, but you can ask if you’d like to use another method. I’ve worked with subcontractors that pay weekly and some that pay monthly. It’s more common to be paid monthly.

Becoming a virtual assistant subcontractor is a great way to learn about someone’s else’s best practices and procedures. The process will make you a stronger VA and give you an idea of what else you can be offering. I’ve been able to learn a variety of programs that my current clients don’t use that may come in handy with future clients one day. If you’re looking for more work, you should consider subcontracting.

 

va-job

Freelancers, It’s Time to Raise Your Rates!

As a freelancer, raising your rates is an important part of your business strategy. Since you are your own boss, it’s unlikely that a client is going to offer you a raise because you don’t technically work for them. In order to get paid more this year, you will need to inform clients that you are raising your rates. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to send your rate increase emails!

As a freelancer, you should take the following things into consideration when thinking about rates:

  1. You pay your own taxes
  2. You receive no traditional benefits from clients (e.g. 401K contribution, paid time off)
  3. You may be paying your own insurance

Even as a young freelancer, you also need to think about savings and retirement.

Know Your Worth

Sometimes freelancing can become a race to the bottom, but it doesn’t have to be. There will always be someone willing to work for a lower rate. You can’t win the lowball game, you aren’t Walmart. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “fast, cheap or good – pick two”. Cheap and good are the least likely to go together.

If you know that you offer high-quality work then demand high-quality rates. If you undervalue yourself, no one is going to tell you so, they’ll just take advantage of your “good rates.” You need to feel secure in what you’re asking for. You don’t want to work for the client that tries to negotiate a lower rate because they’ve already placed a lesser value on your work then you think it’s worth.

Think about how much you’d like or need your annual salary to be. You can use this infographic to figure out your hourly rate. To find it, you need to divide your adjusted annual salary by billable hours per year.

It’s a good rule of thumb to increase your rates at least 5-10% per year to cover a cost of living increase. This could take a $20 per hour fee to a $24 two years later. It’s a subtle enough increase that your client is unlikely to decline it, but it will add up over time.

Raise Rates for Current Clients

There are a few options for raising rates for your current clients. The first option is to raise the rate at the work anniversary. Once you’ve hit one year together, you can let them know that your rate will increase from $X per hour to $Y per hour in 30 days.

The other option is to do a sweeping rate increase on the first day of each year. This increase does not take into account when you started working with the client. Even if you started working with them in November, they would be subject to your rate increase on January 1. Freelancers that choose this route often send out emails at the beginning of December informing clients of the upcoming change.

Raise Rates for New Clients

I would also suggest raising your rate for each new client you acquire.

When I started gaining clients I was accepting offers around $20. After a year, I wouldn’t accept anything under $25. Now, I’m not accepting anything under $35 and shooting for the $40+ range when pitching new clients.

I do this for two reasons:

  • My skills increase each year
  • My time becomes more valuable each year

My skills increase as I become more of an expert in my services. I pick up new methods and tools that increase my productivity and improve my offerings. I’m not the same quality of VA or social media marketer that I was two years ago. Therefore, I demand more.

My time becomes more valuable each year because of my increased skills and mentality. If I can earn $35 an hour, I’m not going to find it rewarding, exciting or useful to accept $20 per hour on a new project. My mental state will not be grateful and appreciative of my client. Instead, I will feel that I’m missing out on at least $15 for each hour I spend working with said client. I wouldn’t accept a client at that rate because I know that my heart would not be in the work. I would rather pass along the opportunity to someone at an earlier stage in their freelancing career who would appreciate it.

Phase Out Your Lowest Paying Clients

If you’ve already pitched a rate increase and a client can’t meet your new rates, you may want to phase them out.

There may be clients that you are willing to work with at a reduced rate. I work with a few charitable organizations at lower-than-normal rate. I work with them because I feel that I am doing some good in the community. Eventually, it may not make sense for me to do this because I only have so much time in the day, but for now, it works.

Raising your rates can be scary, but it’s an absolute necessity in the freelancer’s world. One of the best things about being a freelancer is that you have more control of your earning potential than in a traditional job. So, feel the fear and raise your rates anyway.

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2017 Goals

Every year, I set professional and personal goals for myself. These goals give me something to strive for throughout the year. I check my progress each month to determine whether I want to revise or remove goals. Setting goals and regularly reviewing them keeps me on track and motivated.

I believe that sharing your goals keeps you accountable. In that vein, here are my goals for 2017.

Professional goals

1) Increase my income by $10,000

The extra income would allow us to continue paying down our large student loans and the mortgage on our rental property. It would also allow us to invest more. In order to achieve this goal, I need to find around $835 of additional work each month. Part of that total will come from raising my rates. I have increased rates for new clients, but not bumped up the clients I currently have. I believe this goal is absolutely achievable by the end of the year.

2) Get another local client

Ideally, I’d like to have a few local clients. I currently have one. I’d like to bump it up to 3 or 4 in 2017. I’m interested in working with organizations that are making Rockford a better place. I need to continue reaching out via referrals or cold emails to local organizations. I plan to have at least one new local client by the end of June.

3) Launch The Sturm Agency website

My professional website has been www.erinsturm.com for several years now. However, I registered The Sturm Agency as a corporation in June 2015. I’d like to have The Sturm Agency’s website live by the end of March.

4) Launch my freelancer idea

I came up with a business idea for freelancers earlier this year. I registered the domain, but haven’t gotten a website up or started promoting it. I plan on launching the beta site before the end of June.

5) Sponsor something in the community

I’d love to sponsor something in the community, whether it’s a local baseball team or a donation to our local fair. I will look into my options and plan on making a move by September.

Personal goals

1) Lose 35-40 pounds

I’m still carrying around the 35 pounds I gained when pregnant with Norah. I’d like to get back to my pre-baby weight so I can fit back into 75% of my clothing. I need to clean up my diet. I’m a sugar addict and have way too many treats throughout the week. I need to eat healthier foods and see what effects it has on my body and mind. I hope to reach my goal, or be in a better position that I currently am, by the end of the year.

2) Focus on self-care

I’d like to spend 1-2 hours each week doing something that is just for me. I’m thinking some kind of class, seminar, etc. I want to get out of the house to do it. I tried to do this last year with a knitting class, but my husband’s travel schedule kept falling on the day of the class. I need to find something more flexible or find a regular babysittter. I plan to do this in the second half of the year.

3) Spend more time with friends

I’d like to go out every 2-3 weeks with a friend. I’ve made a few new friends in the past year and I want to make sure that I’m giving those friendships a chance to grow. I’m an introvert so it’s hard for me to convince myself to go do something. I’m good at taking my daughter to kid’s activities a few times per week, but I don’t always talk to other mothers while I’m there. I know it’s good to have a social circle and I could use more friends.

4) Learn hand-lettering

I’m really interested in teaching myself how to hand-letter. Not only does it look relaxing and fun, but it could also be a side business, assuming I’m any good at it. My husband gave me a book, some fancy paper and Tombow pens for Christmas so I just need to get started.

In addition to these goals, my husband and I have some family goals in place. They include things like organizing our kitchen/main floor, creating a chore schedule, getting Norah into preschool and other summer activities, and doing an online money course together.

Goals give me a sense of purpose for my year. I know that when I channel my focus, I achieve amazing things. If you need help setting goals, read my post on SMART goals.
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