March Review & Income Report - The First Big Month of the Year
After a very slow start to 2019, the end of Feb finally showed signs of picking up the pace when I landed a big new client, via a current client referral.
March then followed suit with a second large client, several smaller copywriting jobs, and my big curveball - the opportunity for a full time comms contract role.
March’s target was $5,000 and I made that.
What worked well for me in March
I developed bigger client packages
One of the reasons I got into website design back in 2015 was because I wanted to offer clients more than copywriting - a packaged deal for those who needed both design and content.
That strategy has worked really well and I’ve been lucky to work on lots of new businesses.
Then I added SEO research and audits, and more recently, Tone of Voice and Business Strategy as well. These are all services that I’ve done separately for various clients but in March, I signed up 2 clients who wanted more holistic business packages.
Bundling several services into one package means a) working with a single client for a much longer period of say, 2-4 months; b) being able to charge more; and c) doing a lot of the strategy and pre-writing development. There’s loads of good energy and enthusiasm for the new business which is always fun. And it also means I’m better placed to write the copy and design the site as I know the client well by the time we get to the writing stage.
Bigger client packages also mean (surprise) a lot more work, and I’ve realised that I need to map my time in a more structured way than just writing it on a calendar (hello spreadsheets!) And I need to factor in other client support systems like weekly progress calls and milestone emails. And remember to price for these things too.
But there’s definitely potential for these kinds of small business packages, with the right clients and only taking on 1-2 a month.
I offered graphic design as a service
I’ve been working with a great graphic designer (who was referred to me by the Wordpress designer I mention below; the circle goes round!) for some time now.
In the past, I simply referred clients directly to her for logo and branding but then I realised that the easier step for both client and (sometimes) designer, was for me to be the go-between and project manage things. So, I’ve started offering graphic design as a service on my site.
The client knows they’re working with a graphic designer but I handle the comms, paperwork and process, and I charge a commission fee for that. The graphic design essentially stays within my packaged service but the designer can also add the client to their portfolio.
The other option is to “white hat” the outsourced service, whereby the designer works directly to me and doesn’t have contact with the client at all. That’s popular with some people. But I like transparency, being open at every stage of the project, and giving people their due credit.
I started seeing results from local SEO
Happy dance! I signed up to Google My Business back in Nov but it’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve seen results. In March, I was contacted by 5 new clients who found me in Google searches which is great.
One thing I think is working well with GMB is that I keep my listing updated with fresh content every week. Luckily, I have about 3 years backlog of business blog posts that I can repurpose here. GMB sends me an email when one is expiring and I pop another up.
I also added my GMB link to my testimonial request and end of project form. Reviews are so important and nowhere more so than on Google.
I’ve found it really worthwhile investing time in my GMB listing and I count it as a very successful marketing strategy. Make sure you get into GMB too!
I got more selective about the jobs I took on
It’s surely one of the best parts of freelancing - getting to choose the type of clients and projects you want to work on. It’s a milestone I’m really happy to have achieved this month.
One reason that I could do it is because I’m a lot more confident about my prices. I raised them at the end of last year and I’m happy with that change. I also have a much better idea of how long things take me - something that really does come with experience.
As I’ve mentioned before, in the TCCS community, new jobs are advertised almost every day. You can pitch for them on a first come basis but your applications are capped per week so it’s fair to everyone.
When I first joined, I threw my hat in the ring for everything. I needed the work. But now, I’m more selective, based partly on a couple of bad experiences this year of clients shopping for quotes (tyre kickers), and also my dodgy no-pay client of last year. I’ve found that it’s better to go for jobs that I’m definitely experienced in and ones with a healthy budget.
Being more selective also means I can outsource jobs that I don’t feel were right for me. Or where I think the client would be better off with someone more experienced in that particular area. And then I get warm and fuzzies for doing someone else a good turn :)
In February, I was approached by a former web design client that I worked with almost 4 years ago. She was one of my first clients when I started doing web design. She was in a new job and needed a website revamp. I don’t work with Wordpress anymore, so I referred her over to a WP designer that I know. I collected a commission fee and everyone was happy.
In March, I outsourced a business writing job to another copywriter. The client had found me on Google (yay) but I didn’t feel I had the expertise to do the job and I was already bursting at the seams. Another win-win.
I outsourced part of or entire jobs
One of the great things about being a freelancer is that you develop a useful and generous community of other freelancers. And through TCCS, I have access to a great group of freelance copywriters, many of which also do SEO research.
I decided to test the outsourcing waters with an SEO audit for a new client. I always do a big 8-10 page SEO report for these audits with lots of strategy and recommendations. It’s a great tool for the client and their business moving forward. But a lot of the grunt work is spent sifting through Google Adwords, keyword tools, Excel spreadsheets and SEO software. It can take an age because it’s all absorbing, so I was keen to see how someone else would tackle it.
My contractor turned her research around quick smart and I was impressed by the level of detail she’d gone into. I was able to incorporate her findings into my report and send it off to the client, who was equally happy.
Outsourcing part of a job saved me loads of time and gave another copywriter a reliable job. I could also see how to make the process easier for both of us in the future. I’ll definitely look at doing that again.
Past clients reappeared
Successful freelancing is all about good relationships. People will always rather work with someone they know and who knows their business, than starting the process all over again.
So, it was great that in March, 3 of my past clients reappeared. Two were former web design clients who needed site tweaks and content advice. The other was a local agency that I worked with last year on a few big organisations’ comms products.
They wanted me to write copy for one of these national organisations again. And I was thrilled when I saw their current products and that they were using a slogan I’d thought up for them 6 months ago. Unfortunately, I can’t refer to them by name (as I am subcontracted through the agency) but it’s a huge organisation that helps people. So, that’s pretty special.
The other good thing about reconnecting with this agency is that they flagged with me a large potential copywriting project for an ACT government department. The agency were applying for the tender and needed a copywriter to work with. I went on to quote for it in April and I’ll tell you more about that next month.
What didn’t work so well in March
I was juggling work like a mofo thanks to the old “when it rains, it pours” adage. And that was a struggle in terms of time, energy and motivation.
In March, I had lots of new client enquiries, past clients returning and new, big package clients with multiple deadlines. I always try to prioritise existing and past clients as a big part of my work is based on referrals and those ongoing relationships are really important.
Plus, I was applying and then interviewing for a full time contract job. I pulled some long days, and worked nights and weekends where possible, which is never wise with persistently energetic small kids and a dog.
I’ve outgrown my systems
All of my juggling was stressful. And I found myself wasting time on things that really shouldn’t take forever, like preparing quotes and contracts.
I’ve developed all my own templates, documents and systems over the years - largely through Google Docs, Excel and email but it’s not enough. I think I’m ready for the next step up.
I found myself thinking, for the millionth time, that I really need to get a proper CRM (customer relationship management) system. One where I can put enter a new client in the system and a series of automatic emails go out. Pre-filled contracts. Branded payment pages. All that cool stuff.
And I needed someone to set it up for me so I wouldn’t waste more time figuring that out.
If I were writing a Christmas list, I also wanted someone to sort out my client database, make sure my financial systems were in order, and proof documents and articles as necessary.
In short, I need a VA.
I got sidetracked by a different career path
An unusual opportunity came across my path in March, in the form of a really interesting, full time, senior communications contract. It was too tempting to pass up. The application was due really soon so I decided, what the hell, let’s go for it.
However (spoiler alert), I didn’t get. I came second. It was disappointing of course but actually, the whole experience was somewhat stressful for a number of reasons:
First, it was a competitive recruitment process with 1 pre-interview, 2 actual interviews and a written test; to be honest, I hadn’t quite expected it to be so full on.
I’m used to a much different, though no less competitive, process for getting work these days - pitch, quote, negotiate, land. It’s short, straightforward and effective. Either you’ve got the experience and sell yourself succinctly and land the client, or you don’t.
I can’t think of a freelance gig that would involve multiple interviews and a test with questions around scenarios that may or may not happen. So, I feel I was a bit underprepared for that experience.
Second, like most people, I’m not great at selling myself in interviews and I think I stuffed up a bit there. Frankly, I like honest and open conversation but perhaps some personal attributes are better left unsaid. It’s quite unsettling to self-analyse afterwards and remember random and irrelevant things I said!
Most distracting though, was that this process made me think hard about being a freelancer - which I love in a feast, not famine, month. And did I want to give that up to work in a fun, professional office (with a cookie jar!) where I’d make great connections, have a reliable income and lead onto other opportunities in a key industry?
I had to decide that while simultaneously applying and interviewing for the job. There was a lot to process and no time in which to do it.
Anyway, I didn’t get it. But I’m hopeful that the connections are still there and that’s something I can try to develop over time.
Here are the facts for March:
Pitching/quoting on new projects
Pitched (on TCCS) for 9 new business copywriting projects
Quoted for 4 jobs from people who found me on Google
Quoted for 1 job that an agency brought to me
Outsourced 1 job to another copywriter
Completed 1 client site - check it out, it’s gorgeous https://nicolemotteux.com/
Signed up 1 new website client though the design won’t start till May
Signed up 3 new business copywriting clients
Continued working with 5 existing clients
Delivered 11 business copy jobs (including website copy and drafts, blog posts, articles, etc)
Strategy and branding
Completed 2 SEO strategy reports (1 a new client, 1 a former web design client)
Income report for March 2019
My income target was $5,000.
I invoiced for $5,605 and earned $5,365.
As before, my 1 outstanding invoice was from a local agency that has a 30-day payment cycle. I deliberately gave them a longer due date and penned their payment in for April.
Looking ahead, I currently have over $6,000 of commissions and unpaid invoices for April. So, I’ve ambitiously raised my target to $8,000. If I can sustain that to the end of the financial year (fyi, that’s end of June, if you’re not Australian), I’ll be a happy camper. Though after such a bleak start to the year, 8k/month feels almost reckless! Yes, I’m one crazy kid.
I do have a couple of solid copywriting leads in the pipeline which I’m currently negotiating on. So, here’s hoping we’re heading for a steady upward trajectory. Wish me luck!
I’m also planning to hire a VA (yay), register for GST for which I’ll definitely hit the threshold in the new financial year, and sign up to a new CRM system. I’ll keep you posted on all those developments in April.
And further on the horizon, I’m heading to CopyCon in early May! A whirlwind Melbourne weekend of meeting, learning and hobnobbing with some of Australia’s best copywriters. I’m so looking forward to it!
Now, I’d love to hear how your month is going. Has your year taken off yet?
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".