Knowledge

Ultimate business tips for the self-employed

Posted on Dec 4th, 2018 | Running a business

Business tips are a valuable commodity for the self-employed. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to advance an area of your business, everyone’s looking for those secret nuggets that nobody else knows.

We’ve compiled a list of business tips that we’ve gathered over the years – from which hand to hold your drink in at networking events, to the secret tricks that the most successful people swear by, there’s something here for everyone.

This article covers:

Growing your business
Finances and rates
Social media, marketing and customer service
Working smarter

Growing your business

There’s an endless barrage of advice articles out there offering up the same old waffle about meeting a potential client for the first time. ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ – yes, we know, very clever.

Aside from these trite clichés, there are some helpful tips that you might not have considered:

  • Hold your drink in your left hand. Switching hands when you’re introducing yourself to someone can make you look clumsy – and a chilly, damp handshake is definitely a no-go;
  • Speaking of handshakes, keep them firm, not angry. Limp handshakes aren’t the end of the world, but not advised;
  • Do your research on your guests. You don’t want to look like a stalker by reeling off their Facebook information, but do get a feel for what they do beforehand – it’s always a nice ego-stroke when people think you’ve heard of them;
  • Make an elevator pitch – a summary of what you do that’s short enough to be delivered in a lift ride. Don’t waste people’s time with needless detail;
  • Send a debrief when all’s said and done. It’s a good chance to confirm what was agreed and discussed, and add in anything you may have forgotten.

Networking events are the perfect situation to meet like-minded folk that could become customers or business partners. But how do you make the most of these events?

Use your current contacts

The six degrees of separation theory suggests you’re only ever six or fewer steps away (by introduction of course) from any other person in the world, so ask around. Tell your friends you’re looking for work, and browse LinkedIn. Build up your contacts and use them to your advantage.

Attend the right networking events for your business

Check out social media feeds, hashtags and join local Facebook groups to keep your hand in (take a look at Crunch Chorus as well our community for the self-employed).

Research the local area and the major players

You’ll want to know all the hotspots and who the bigwigs are.

Take a pen, a notebook, your phone and some business cards

Don’t get caught on the hop when someone offers you their information or asks for yours.

Prepare an elevator pitch

As mentioned above, this is a summary of your business/service that’s so concise, you could deliver it the time it takes to ride the lift. Waffling is a huge turn-off.

Heed our first impression tips

You’ll be meeting a lot of new people, so it’s the perfect place to practise the tips we mentioned above.

Know when to call it a day

End conversations politely and courteously, and don’t overstay your welcome.

Follow up within a couple of days

If people gave you their contact information, don’t leave them hanging – if they haven’t forgotten you within a week of the event, then they’ll assume you’ve snubbed them. Neither are good.

Keep at it

Patience is key. It might sometimes feel like you’re doing a load of extra stuff and seeing no return – but it’s a long-term investment – which means you need to put in a little over a long period to see some return. Keep meeting people, keep putting yourself out there, and don’t get disheartened if you don’t see instant results.

Watching Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice can be infuriating viewing when you know how to pitch. There’s only so many times you can see a babbling, nervous wreck tell their potential investors everything they don’t need to know, and forget to mention everything they do need to know.

Here are seven golden rules to remember for your next business pitch:

  1. Go for the right business – While it’s tempting to pitch for everything, sometimes it’s better business to just say no. Put in place a formal screening process for every new pitch and keep reviewing it at each stage of the pitch process. This will focus your efforts on winning the right business for your business.
  2. Do your homework – It sounds like a no brainer, but the better you understand your client – and the better they understand you – the better your chances of winning.
  3. Think in headlines – Grab attention by sharing your best information first. Say the “headline” first and then the rest: the detail, the colour and the background information. They’ll want to hear more.
  4. Be concise and credible – Avoid the temptation to overwhelm your audience. Instead, cherry-pick two or three key points that you can talk about in a thousand different ways. Keep your messages brief and punchy to make them memorable.
  5. Practice makes perfect – Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Once you know your content inside out you will have the confidence to deliver your messages with clarity and conviction. Make sure your posture, your clothing and the tone of voice – your whole demeanour – conveys that certainty.
  6. Focus on them – You want to win new business to help your firm grow, but you need to convince the client that giving you the contract is good for them, too. Check that you’re using language like “you” and “your”, rather than “me” and “we”. A good pitch is about the client, their issues and needs. You’re just the supplier.
  7. Demonstrate teamwork – While highlighting your strengths, remember to include the talented people who are working on the project. Give the unwavering impression of a focused team. Ensure that everyone involved knows the details.

Your prospect wants to know what the timing, costing, and proposed outcomes of your service for them will be. They’re happy to discuss this in person or over the phone, but then… nothing. Your prospect seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth. So what’s the solution?

First things first, identify the stakeholders. When you initially arrange a meeting, ask who makes the decision to use you or not, and establish their current stance on the decision. Maybe it’s the finance director, and maybe the budget is tight – this is useful information to have.

If you can’t get hold of the stakeholders, consider asking the prospect about the format for quoting. It’s interesting to hear what comes back in response – you might learn that John likes things bullet-pointed, and Susanne prefers timelines.

Once you know who the decision-makers are, invite them to be a part of the sales meeting to expedite the process. This also gives you the chance to clear up any concerns or objections they may have. Once an agreement is made, send them a quote promptly and agree a time to talk to the overall decision-maker. You won’t always get that chance, but it doesn’t hurt to ask – particularly if you say, “It’s so I can immediately make any adjustments and answer any final queries.”

For more ideas read our “Generate leads for your business – the ultimate checklist“.

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Finances and rates

This is the six million dollar question, or is it the seven million dollar question? Anyway, it’s an important one so we’ve written a whole article about it.

You don’t want to upset your client or cause any tension, but if your work is good enough, why should you be paid less than you’re worth?

If you’d like to learn more about how to negotiate a raise, check out our “How to get a raise as a contractor” article.

Again this is a really important area so we’ve written a handy article looking at ten options for Startup Funding or Small Business Loans.

One of the most attractive aspects of freelancing is that despite working from home, working online offers you many opportunities to land projects from clients across the globe. There are a few hurdles you need to be prepared to face, however:

Different time zones

Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to assume your client is awake just because you are. Restrict yourself to emails where possible, and schedule calls and Skype only when necessary.

Different currencies

Take note of currency exchanges when charging a price for your work, and consider the acceptable rates in your client’s home nation, we’ve got an article looking at the options you have for getting paid in a foreign currency.

Method of payment

If your client pays you via an international bank transfer, remember to budget your finances to cater for the standard 3-5 working day processing.

Cultural differences

Talk in plain English with non-native speakers to lower the risk of a communications breakdown. Remember that each nation will have its own standards and methods, so keep an open mind.

Make sure you understand the tax implications

We’ve got an article with the answers you need if you’re contracting abroad or working for a foreign client.

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Social media, marketing and customer service

Most businesses, even if they’re purely online endeavours, will still have a base of customers in their local area. Crunch, for example, is an online service, yet we still have a very high concentration of clients in our hometown of Brighton.

For freelancers and contractors, working your local area can be absolutely key to success, and your local client-base can provide a solid foundation on which to expand. But how do you get started?

  • Chambers of Commerce organisations are set up and run by the local business community with a view to furthering the interests of all local businesses. To find your local group, check out the BCC website;
  • All large cities and most big towns will have some kind of job-specific business groups, like Java or WordPress. Google your location, your area of expertise and “group” or “meetup”, and you’ll likely find something;
  • You may find many local networking events are organised by the groups mentioned above. There’s nothing stopping you hosting your own event, either. We host regular events in Brighton with our Crunch Chorus community, and they’re always a winner;
  • Join/host a co-working event – co-working events are where groups of people come together (usually in coffee shops or community spaces) to get some work done and have a bit of company;
  • Print flyers, make pins and brand your pens and water bottles. Hand them out at meet-ups and put posters up where your target audience can’t miss them;
  • Work your contacts. You’ll gather a stack of business cards, so encourage them with complimentary services, referrals etc.;
  • Get in touch with the local press. Email early in the morning to land at the top of their inbox and let them know what your business is up to;
  • Don’t forget about the online side of the game. Make sure people can find you on Google Maps, optimise your website and follow the local businesses on social media;
  • Do something for charity. Whether you can give the homeless free food and drink or help raise money for a local cause, giving back to the community makes for good PR, and good karma.

There are now over 2 billion people worldwide using social media – the population of Great Britain thirty times over – and Statistica predicts that this figure is set to grow to almost 3 billion by 2020.

Social media is a beast that all companies need to conquer in the modern age. If you’re looking for some tips on how to make the most of your Twitter and Facebook accounts, check out our social media business guide.

There are a number of easy ways you can keep yourself “front of mind”, putting you in pole position should any more work come up.

  • Connect – Follow your clients on Twitter, LinkedIn, or wherever is appropriate. This way you can keep up with what their company is doing, and vice versa. You might even respond to them with the occasional comment or post to stay in touch;
  • Newsletters – If you’re the kind of thought-leading forward-thinker who delivers a monthly or fortnightly email newsletter to interested parties, consider adding your clients to the mailing list (or, as you want to be GDPR proof, ask them to sign up);
  • Send them a card – Christmas gifts to high-value customers may be beyond many small businesses, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. A nice card wishing them Merry Christmas never hurt anyone;
  • Follow up – Once your project is complete, follow up with the client a few weeks later to make sure everything worked out well. Ask for their comments and feedback, and suggest ways to grow the project in the future;
  • Frequent their website – Keep up to date with what the company is up to. Subscribe to their blog, leave some comments or link to useful content;
  • Leave a business card – You want to make your business card stand out from the pack, either through something funky like getting them crafted from metal or a really striking design;
  • Stay on top of the paperwork – Invoice straight away and include all the information your client will need (itemised bill, payment details, reference etc.) so there’s no back-and-forth;
  • Link to them – Everybody likes a link back to their website, and your client will be no different. Add the work you did for them to your portfolio and include a nice big link;
  • Do awesome work – Far and away the most effective method of generating repeat business is to be an amazing freelancer, day in and day out.

The rise of social media platforms, coupled with customers who aren’t shy of voicing an opinion or two, means that a complaint can quickly escalate.

Here’s a quick run-down of how to handle customer complaints:

  • Develop a clear, open, flexible, easily accessible complaints policy that values customers’ willingness to spend their time and energy sharing insights and, ultimately, helping your business to improve;
  • Whether complaints are issued verbally, on social media, via email or any other medium, every complaint should be logged, every customer promptly acknowledged and details kept of how the complaint was resolved (if at all);
  • Whether they’re well-intentioned or otherwise, try not to take complaints to heart. If in doubt, The Godfather mantra should serve you well: “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business”;
  • Fight the temptation to have the last word. Instead, listen to your customer’s complaint, empathise with them as far as you can and thank them for taking the time to bring their concerns to your attention. Then, say you’re sorry (and mean it);
  • Giving your customer a “free gift” may seem appealing, but oftentimes this just papers over the cracks. If you offer your customer a free gift in addition to resolving their complaint, then that’s all fine and dandy. Go for both;
  • If you can’t conjure up a solution to your customer’s problem, it’ll pay to be flexible in your approach to getting them back onboard. Only your customer knows what their wants and needs are in this situation, so why not ask them directly? Listen to their feedback and see if you can implement a change;
  • Remember to follow up and let your clients know you cared about their feedback. It could be sending a personalised email to your customer 24 to 48 hours after they made their complaint, extending a personal phone call or sending a handwritten letter – whatever works best for your customers;
  • Remember to move on. Some people can be nasty with their complaints, but when you’ve done what you can for them, make sure you let it go.

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Working smarter

If you own your own business, chances are it’s not only your passion, but your hobby and your life all rolled into one. Few would make the mistake of starting a business in a line of work that doesn’t make their heart skip a beat.

It’s no surprise then that a study by research group Penelope found that the UK’s swathe of passionate micro-business owners work a staggering 63% more than regular 9-to-5’ers – that’s an incredible 52 hours a week, compared to the national average 37 hours.

Are small business owners guilty of overworking themselves? And if so, how could they work smarter, not harder?

We’ve all heard the phrase “work-life balance” and the importance of adhering to an even mix of business and pleasure. For some, this could be making sure you spend enough time with your family, for others it could be ensuring you have one evening off a week to spend down the pub or seeing friends.

However you choose to relax and take time off of work – make sure you do it, your health can benefit. It’s already been recommended by healthcare professionals that the UK should cut down to a four-day working week in order to combat stress. Whereas our research in early 2018 found that many self-employed workers were more familiar with the work-life blur!

The UK isn’t known for being the most productive workforce – in fact we trail behind Canada, US, France, Germany and Italy in terms of productivity. If you’re working additional hours and think of this as being productive, it might be time to reassess your methods so you don’t have to put in the extra overtime.

If you feel like your to-do list is taking over your life and you’re manically chasing your tail, focus on one thing at a time. Could your time management skills do with brushing up? A great way to see how you’re spending your time is to annotate how you’ve spent each hour. Soon you might see patterns of behaviour that can be eradicated.

We all love to be in control, especially when it’s our own empire we’re building, but trying to do everything yourself won’t do you any favours. You’ll end up feeling burnt out, exhausted and quickly lose the pizazz that originally got you up in the morning. Maybe you need to hire an employee to share the load, or perhaps working with a short-term freelancer or contractor will get you through a particularly busy patch.

Outsourcing certain tasks can end up saving you both time and money. Website need a redesign? Sure, you could spend hours learning how to manipulate images in WordPress and teach yourself code – but surely the time and effort doing so would be better spent in other parts of your business that you have a firm understanding of?

Outsourcing work also allows you to network and build relationships with other businesses.

If you’re looking for some great tips and tricks to help you get work done more efficiently, we have a range of productivity articles that can help.

We all want to be successful, right? Well, we’ve outlined some of the best habits of successful people for freelancers, contractors and small business owners.

  • Unless you’re genuinely sorry for doing something wrong or interrupting, never start sentences with the word “sorry”;
  • Stop sending emails that give justification, like “I’m just writing to ask…” or “Sorry, but can I just ask…”;
  • Introduce yourself to all and sundry. It might sound obvious, but you never truly know when a valuable connection might occur;
  • Take ownership of responsibilities, problems, and work-related issues. Admitting mistakes and raising your hands takes courage, which is an admirable trait indeed;
  • Seek new opportunities. Network. Take online courses. Read for fun. Developing your skill set doesn’t have to be strictly for office hours only;
  • Take pride in yourself and your work. Ask for regular feedback, seek methods of how you can improve;
  • Think about what you want to achieve in the next five years. What are the steps that can get you there? Are you going to have to make any sideways moves? Will there be a need for you to relocate? Being aware of the directions you may be pushed or pulled in makes you career-smart;
  • Have a business plan – whether it’s to get additional funding or just so you can keep yourself motivated and sane – putting down on paper (or on a computer) what you plan to do with your business will help you be clear about what’s important and what you should focus on.

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Need accounting help?

If your business is growing and you need a bit more help, or you’ve been spending too long on your business finances, then help is at hand.

When you join Crunch, you get all the help and advice you need from experts and also access to great online accounting software to let you monitor the performance of your business at the click of a button. Whenever you want and wherever you are, with a super-secure, cloud-based system.

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Written by Ross Bramble

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