How I Turned My Biggest Freelance Fails Into Positives
Last week, I told you about some of my biggest fails in the last 3 years since I expanded into web design and marketing.
I hesitated over writing that post. And then I hesitated some more over posting it loud and proud on social media. But by the time I finished, I was quite enjoying airing all my grievances!
And I wanted to share with you that the freelance path can be rocky. It’s a business venture, after all and that’s never easy. We all know that.
But today, I want to show you how I took some of those freelance fails and turned them around. Because there’s nothing like stuffing up big time to realise clarity and wisdom!
So, here goes…
How I turned my freelance fails into positives
1. Fail: I piled my egg basket way too high
One of the first dumb things I did was to take on way too much. Web design, copywriting, features writing, food blogging, business blogging, SEO research and email newsletters. Rebranding and social media posts. Err... yeah.
I couldn't possibly do all of it. I didn't want to do them all. And I was stressing out over the thought of it all.
Positive: I assessed my priorities
I started old school with a pen and paper list. I wrote down everything I was doing and then prioritised it - 1, 2, 3.
I considered things like: what was making the most money? What was popular with my clients? What took the longest time? What did I dislike?
Then I started crossing things off, starting with what I didn’t like.
I didn’t like wasting time on my weekly Mailchimp newsletter for my Eat Drink Laos blog. I hated spending hours writing story pitches to editors and getting no response. I was pulling myself in 2 writing blog and newsletter posts in the same week. And I didn’t want to do custom quotes for every new web design client, or answer the same questions over and over.
So, I ruthlessly culled all those things from my business.
Then... I simplified my services.
Instead of custom quotes, I developed packages for my web design and SEO copywriting. I wrote a FAQ section on my Contact page to deflect repetitive questions. I set up canned emails on gmail so I wasn’t re-typing the same responses. And I repurposed my newsletter content into my blog posts.
And I automated.
I signed up to Buffer to manage my social media posts. Instead of hours, I only spent 30 minutes a week preparing all my posts. Then Buffer sent them off throughout the week on a pre-arranged schedule.
2. Fail: I outsourced too soon
In an attempt to manage my crazy multi-service workflow above, I thought I needed to hire my first virtual assistant, Emma.
What I really needed was to simply cut down on some of the things I was committed to. But often lessons have to be learned the hard way. So, I went through a process of Emma and I trying various things to streamline my work.
Positive: I set up systems
Systems are simply a streamlined process of how you manage a particular task or project. For example, I wrote out the step-by-step process of how I design websites, and sent it to all my clients. This has become one of my favourite systems and clients really enjoy getting a clear map of the whole process too.
Help with my rebranding
As I was also doing a major rebrand of my business at the time, I got Emma to design my branded blog post graphics. We used a shared folder in Canva. She also did my social media headers, web design packages, and other marketing graphics.
Help with strategy
Emma helped me with a marketing strategy and figuring out what was worked and what didn’t. This was pretty vital in showing me the best use of my time, and I still use the model now.
We also mapped out a blog calendar and she often helped with research for posts.
It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off. That’s what I liked most about having a VA.
RELATED POST: 21 Reasons Why You Need To Hire A Virtual Assistant
3. Fail: I became over-influenced
As a newbie business owner, I got carried away listening to and reading the wise words of several influencers in my field, including Amy Porterfield, XO Sarah and Elle & Company. Having someone to shine a light and tell you what to focus on can be very calming. Or it can be even more overwhelming and stressful.
Positive: I gave myself a pass
One of the hardest things for perfectionists like me is to take the pressure off myself. But I needed to. I told myself very seriously that I needed to pick and choose what to focus on right now. Instead of jumping between things like a meerkat on steroids.
The marketing strategy that I had developed with Emma helped. I saw that personal referrals were still my biggest source of web design work. I saw that targeting my business blog posts to new freelancers was popular. And I saw which social media platforms were dead weights.
4. Fail: I wasted time on the wrong social media platforms
It was a big relief to realise that I didn’t need to be across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. All at the same time! Instead, I focused on 2 or 3 platforms and built real engagement.
Positive: I downsized my social media interaction
I cut back on Buffer to post only 3 times a week, instead of daily, and only on 3 platforms. That meant I only needed to load up Buffer once every 3-4 weeks. That made a big difference time-wise.
I accepted that my target audience (of Australian freelancers) wasn’t on Pinterest. Goodbye Pinterest! And I relinquished my quasi popularity via Pinterest share numbers. I still have a Pinterest account but I don’t post to it anymore.
I adopted the same approach for Google+. I still have one foot in the door but I rarely spend time on the platform.
I let my Twitter time slide and only interacted through scheduled Buffer posts. I know that editors post a lot of callouts for stories etc on Twitter but it had more relevance in Australia rather than Laos.
I stay with LinkedIn but periodically. I knew I’d get back into it when I returned to Australia.
And finally, I amped it all up with Facebook. This is definitely my top performing platform for engagement, shares, clients and marketing. I re-worked my business page and started learning a lot more about Facebook.
5. Fail: I underpriced myself for ages
Pricing services is such a hard one for all freelancers. There are so many factors to consider and it's also a very competitive industry. You don't want to underbid yourself, or overbid and lose the job.
It took me an age to wise up, and I feel I’m still learning. After much research, and even a client's feedback that I was underpricing myself, something finally stuck.
Positive: I finally started to price my web design and copywriting services properly
It was the idea that charging higher prices attracts a better calibre of client. That is, if someone is willing to invest a decent sum of money for a project, they’re also likely to see it through. To be motivated, commit to deadlines, communicate on time and be more dedicated to the outcome.
So, I established fixed price web design packages and advertised my prices on my website. There's conflicting opinions about this but I think it limits the back and forth emails and negotiations with people who turn out to be the wrong kind of clients. And gives you more time and space for the clients you do want to work with.
6. Fail: I did too much stuff for free
This is always going to be a problem for me. I love helping others (that’s a good trait, right?).
But I found that I spent so much time on worthy causes that I neglected the business I'd worked so hard to build. Which then detracts from the whole feel-good aspect of selfless giving.
Positive: I made a conscious effort to prioritise my business
I needed to separate friends from business. And personal endeavours from work.
It's also about my own experience, time and money (and superannuation - see below).
It’s great to help others out but I decided that my own business has to come first.
7. Fail: I didn’t hustle enough
This is another tough one because I am a rock dweller, ie a bit introverted. I much prefer the online realm to actually speaking to people, much less selling (yikes!).
Perhaps I did miss a few opportunities by not pushing my wares while I’ve lived here in Vientiane for the last 3 years.
Positive: I’ve learned better now
And I've already started planning my business strategy in my next destination of Canberra. My ideas include:
Getting into Google My Business
Refocusing on my audience’s social media platforms
Redoing my business packages
Rewriting my website to better target my ideal audience
I’ve got big plans ahead! (Isn’t glorious when you feel energised like that?)
8. Fail: I didn’t invest in my superannuation sooner
Superannuation, the struggle of every woman who’s taken time out of her career to raise kids and care for others. Who’s with me on superannuation for parents juggling paid and unpaid (ie raising kids) work?
But such financial revolutions are not likely to happen soon enough to affect me. So I’m focusing on a different strategy.
Positive: I'm taking matters into my own hands
2 years ago I switched super accounts from my faceless-business-account to one with lower fees and better than average returns.
The second thing I did was to start contributing a regular monthly lump sum. Sure, sometimes I skip a month, then I double the next month’s contribution. But I try to keep it as regular as I can.
The third thing was to do a little research about super investment choices. 80% of Australians go with the default “balanced” option in their superannuation. But it's important to realise that different options work at different stages of your life.
I chose a mixture of growth and high growth (also known as “aggressive”) for my super. That means a riskier strategy but expected higher returns. And since I’m not accessing it anytime soon, I can afford ride out a bit of risk in order to maximise my returns.
Maths has never been my strong suit (oh, banish the thought!) but even I can see that regular payments coupled with a more gung ho investment plan gets better results.
Note: the links in this last section all lead to external (impartial) information because us women freelancers need the info we can get. I don’t recall ever receiving any advice in high school or university about superannuation or smart financial decisions. More’s the pity.
I hope this post helps you feel that most crappy business mistakes can be turned around. And maybe it will help you to avoid a few bumps in your road!
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is a freelance copywriter and web designer for businesses and organisations. Based in Canberra, she delivers smart, savvy SEO copywriting and professional Squarespace web design. She also writes an awesome newsletter on small business marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff".