Free resources for the self-employed

If you’re self-employed, or even just thinking about it, you should definately check out the SCORE website. Offering free business counseling, SCORE is a wealth of information and resources for the self- employed.

You can connect with mentors that have direct experience in your field. Most of these counselors are successful entrepreneurs themselves, and volunteer time to counsel other business owners. SCORE also has regional offices across the US, and they offer free workshops and seminars on a regular basis.

From starting your business to selling it, the website offers information and help on every stage of the process.

Free publicity can be a great way to expand your customer base

Free publicity can be great for expanding your business, but how do you get your name in the news? The answer is simple: do something newsworthy and send out a press release. David Fray, president of Marketing Best Practices, explains the importance of press releases like this:

There [are] only two ways to land the name of your business in the local newspaper, by paying for an advertisement or by having a newsworthy event that is covered by the local press. Both can be very effective but the all-mighty news release can provide the level of credibility and respect that can spark on-the-spot sales for your business.

He goes on to give the reasons why some press releases are chosen over others, and offers advice on how to get yours published. David then gives the reader 20 ideas for making the news in a good way. Read the full article to find out more.

Navigating oDesk for Newbies…

I just joined oDesk in November 2008, after my Mother-in-law saw the site featured on GMA’s Great American Job Fair. I have to tell you, this was not necessarily the best time to join oDesk. I was one of thousands of “newbies” worldwide flocking in for a chance to find work. I have to say that I was a little skeptical at first, especially after signing up and reading some quite negative posts in the forum about low pay rates and buyers requesting experienced providers. Being the perpetual optimist that I am, I decided to ignore the negativity and see what I could accomplish.

I’ve learned many things about oDesk in the two months I’ve been a member. First and foremost is :

The importance of your profile

Having a complete profile is essential to success on oDesk. I spent my first week setting up my profile and taking all the free certification tests I could before I even started applying for assignments. Your profile is an online representation of your capabilities. If that doesn’t look professional, it’s pretty hard to convince a prospective buyer that you’re a professional.

Take the time to edit and proofread it carefully. Imagine applying for a writing position, and the prospective buyer finds your profile full of typos. Fill out the profile completely. Detail skills and experience, and back it up with high test scores and certifications. Show examples of your best work. Which leads me to lesson number two…

The importance of your portfolio

You need to have a strong portfolio to break through the “No oDesk experience” barrier. Many of the job postings I see on oDesk prefer providers with at least 1 hour billed. Many buyers may also want to see recent samples of your work. So how do you get that first assignment if you’re new to freelancing? What if you don’t have any samples to link to?

Simple answer: create some. You can write a few articles, publish a blog or design a simple web page. Draft a few business templates or record a voice sample.  Produce a few high quality samples for buyers to see when they pull up your profile, and your work will speak for itself. Now you need to get buyers to look at your profile.

The importance of your cover letters

All the hard work you’ve put into your profile and portfolio won’t do you any good if buyers never see it. This is why your cover letter is so important. Your cover letter is the first thing a potential buyer sees after you apply for an assignment, and it is very important that you take the time to personalize every one. Generalized cover letters are usually passed over quite quickly as spam applicants.

Think of your cover letter as a sales pitch. Any good sales pitch needs to be focused toward its audience. Read the entire job description carefully to make sure you can provide the requested skills/services. Address the specific needs of the buyer in your cover letter, and let the buyer know how you can fill them. A general outline for your cover letters would go something like this:

  1. Your introduction – Briefly tell the buyer a little bit about yourself, and mention any experience you have relative to the job post.
  2. Skills introduction – Go over specific skills/education/certifications you have that are directly related to the buyer’s needs.
  3. Questions – Make sure to ask the buyer any questions you might have related to the job posting. Answer any questions the buyer included in the post.
  4. Additional information – Provide the buyer some additional information about your work habits, efficiency, estimated turn around time for a project, availability, etc.
  5. Samples – Attach one or two portfolio samples relevant to the opening.
  6. Closing – Include times you are available for interview in case the buyer has questions.

After six weeks of trial and error, polishing my profile and learning about the oDesk market, I have finally earned my first billable hour. You won’t get rich quick here, but you can build a reputation and customer base if you’re willing to put some work into it.

For more information on how oDesk works, read Make More Money.

Helium – A great place to show off your writing skills

I recently became a member at Helium.com, an open marketplace for article submission. This site offers writers a chance to produce their best work on almost any topic. On first impression, this seems like a great site for new freelancers to beef up their portfolios.

If you haven’t heard of Helium, it works like this:

  • You can submit an article directly to a publisher in the Marketplace. If the publisher likes your article best, you get paid. If your article isn’t chosen, it transitions into Helium’s content. Based on the number of articles you’ve written and their rankings, you could earn a residual income on your work.
  • You can submit an article under a title on the Helium site. These articles are rated and ranked by the community. You can earn money on these articles based on your ranking scores. Publishers sometimes purchase stock content from Helium, another way you can make money from your writing.

The site also offers writing contests and other incentive bonuses for quality work. If you can write great articles and you want to pad your portfolio, you might consider joining the Helium community.

Freelancing with Kids

 

5 Tips for Success When Freelancing with Kids

Working from home when you have kids is a challenge, to say the least. Juggling their ever-changing schedules against the demand of your deadlines, while trying to find some occasional downtime for yourself, can seem next to impossible sometimes.

Here are 5 handy tips for making that juggling act seem like a breeze, and maybe even increasing your income while you’re at it.

Scheduling is the key to sanity…

I can’t stress this point enough – schedule as much of your day as you can. Flexibility of schedule was a very attractive feature of freelancing for me. No more clock to punch, no more daily grind. I could work around the kids, and maybe even be more spontaneous and creative in the process. Right.

Children thrive on a set schedule, and so will your business. Sit down and prioritize your commitments for next week. Now create a to-do list, and give these tasks little appointments in your calendar. Think of it as a game-plan for the week. Knowing what to expect from your day will not only increase your productivity, it will also reduce your stress levels.

Find ways to use your child’s schedule to your advantage. If your baby takes a short nap mid-morning, use that time to make your phone calls. If junior has a play date at his friend’s house on Wednesday, schedule that time to complete whatever that thing is you’ve been putting off for the last two weeks. Be creative with your scheduling. The possibilities are endless. You might even find some free time you didn’t know you had…

Stay Connected…

It’s easy to lose touch with former colleagues and associates after you transition to the home office environment. I’ve found that keeping in touch with former contacts, as well as creating new associations, can greatly increase your chances of success. Your connections can provide you with referrals and recommendations, and even the occasional job.

Staying connected doesn’t mean dedicating precious hours every month to social functions, or anything like that. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn provide an easy way to stay in touch with former co-workers, and they can add their recommendations right to your profile. Sending a simple card for birthdays and holidays is also a good way to keep yourself fresh in someone’s mind.

I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to create new contacts is by joining a local organization or association. Not only do you share in the prestige that comes with membership, but many of these organizations have regular newsletters you may be able to advertise in. Maintaining a wide base of contacts and associates is one of the keys to success as a freelancer. It’s not always what you know but who you know that can pay off in unexpected ways.

Continue learning…

With or without kids, it’s always a good idea to continue your education whenever you can. I don’t necessarily mean going back to school, though that is certainly an option. Contact your local Economic Development office and any community colleges in your area. Many times you will find they offer seminars or lectures either for free or a nominal registration fee. You can also expand your skills by teaching yourself to use new software or building a web page. If you have older children who are studying writing or computers, go over the course material with them. Even the occasional refresher on something you already know can help keep you on top of the game.

It’s OK to ask for help…

You don’t have to be a super-hero to see to everything on your to-do list, but having a support team will certainly make things easier. As deadlines approach, arrange for the kids to spend some quality time with Grandma or Aunt Sue. Many schools offer after-care, and some child care centers have special “drop-in” rates for part-time attendees.

Finding time to work uninterrupted may not be the only area where you could use a hand. There are lots of mundane tasks you can take off your list by allowing other people to do them for you. Enlist local teenagers looking for some pocket cash to weed your flower beds. Take advantage of meal preparation services to fill your freezer with no-fuss home cooked meals.

You might even consider hiring a maid service. This may sound a little extravagant at first, but I’m not talking about a full-time housekeeper. Even if you only use them once or twice a month, they can focus on suck tedious tasks as cleaning the blinds or washing the baseboards. When was the last time the top of the refrigerator was cleaned, anyway?

Use parenthood to your advantage…

There are many ways you can use parenthood to your advantage when trying to advance your freelance career. Volunteering your services for local children’s organizations is a good way to gain exposure for yourself while helping a worthy cause at the same time. You can also start a parent blog, giving you a chance to show off your skills while writing about challenges parents face. Don’t forget to link anything you create to your portfolio so prospective customers have solid samples of your work.

If you’re not a member already, consider joining parenting support groups, play groups or your local PTA. Again, you may find opportunities to beef up your portfolio by volunteering to design fliers or newsletters. You will probably meet other parents who are either self-employed or small business owners themselves, and you may even gain new customers.

There are a multitude of other ways in which you can use parenthood to your advantage. Be creative, and keep your eyes open to the possibilities. The opportunities for freelance work are only as limited as your imagination.