After 21 years in corporate communications (covering everything from graphic design, web design, video production and interactive multimedia, to conferences, events and exhibitions) I decided to go out on my own.
I wanted a business that would give me maximum freedom and flexibility with minimum overheads – a business I could run from my laptop, anywhere in the world. So I went about structuring it with all this in mind.
First, I decided to work from a home office – that way I wouldn’t have to commute or pay commercial rent.
I then decided to focus only on writing, editing and indexing – that way I wouldn’t need any hardware other than a laptop, a modem and a phone (which I owned anyway).
I initially set out to be a freelance editor, but I soon realised the limitations of this model:
- I could only charge ‘x’ amount per hour and work ‘x’ number of hours in a week, so my income potential had a cap to it
- After putting all my efforts into sales and marketing, I’d get a flood of work and be stressed trying to juggle deadlines. Then, while I was busy editing, I didn’t have time for marketing so the work would soon dry up, causing more stress
Work/life balance was up and down like a see-saw, so I then decided to focus on sales, and hire other people to do the editorial work. I didn’t want to hire staff – only subcontractors. That way they would only be paid for work that was chargeable, and I didn’t have to pay superannuation, annual leave, sick leave, parental leave or take out tax. This again kept overheads and my workload to a minimum.
My subcontractors loved the arrangement as it gave them an extra income stream without the need to chase the work themselves.
When I started hiring subcontractors, I initially based my decisions primarily on their hourly rate. I soon realised that this wasn’t saving me time or money as their rates reflected their experience and expertise, and I was continually having to check their work. Now I only use accredited editors with at least ten years’ experience, and I don’t have to review their work. The margins per project may not be as high, but it frees me up to get more work from more clients so the profits are greater.
My initial sales approach was the traditional cold-call, set up an appointment, meet the prospect and pitch my business. This was very successful but it took a lot of my time, so I developed ways to sell over the phone, thus maximising my time and also eliminating travel costs. I now spend around three days a year meeting with clients.
Next I got onto preferred supplier panels, which gave me access to corporations and government agencies I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do business with.
Once I’d honed the business model, work started to build steadily without the huge peaks and troughs of the previous model. Then, three years ago, I started offering a new service – providing contract editorial staff, both on-site and remote. As this work was on-going, it improved cash flow dramatically, allowing me to better plan ahead financially.
In the last year I’ve moved my entire business into the cloud and have hired a ‘virtual’ assistant in The Philippines. She looks after my admin, social media marketing, and is about to start managing projects as well.
When you’re working on your own, business mentoring is a great way to keep yourself on track and improve your business skills and knowledge.
I would highly recommend Business Blueprint, a mentoring organisation specifically for SMEs. They run four conferences a year, you have a coach on tap and access to hundreds of how-to videos, webinars and systems flowcharts on every aspect of running a small business. The quality of their information is, in my opinion, the best in Australia. Check out their free one-day workshops here.
Software to save you time
Find software that will speed up processes and save you time.
First, you need a good CRM (Customer Relations Management) program to build your client base, keep notes, and set activities and reminders.
If you have less than five staff, I’d recommend getting an accountant who has BankLink. It reduced my time spent on bookkeeping to five minutes a month. When you have five or more staff then I’d recommend Xero or similar.
Run all your email addresses through Gmail, so your emails are accessible from anywhere – all in the one spot.
Discipline is vital to success. It’s very easy to get distracted when you’re working from home, so set yourself a routine and stick to it. Measure what you’re doing. When I started cold calling, I created a single-page Sales Call Report which I would print out each week. It had a hundred boxes with the numbers 1-100 in each box. Every call I made I would mark the box:
‘/’ = I didn’t get through
‘C’ = I made contact
‘P’ = They were interested (Prospect)
‘A’ = I got an appointment
‘B’ = I got a brief
‘S’ = I made a sale.
At the end of the week I would write out the totals for each one. This told me that, out of every 100 calls I got through to 30 people and 10 were interested. And after three months, I divided total sales by the number of calls. It came to $25 per call initially. This is a great motivator when you’re lacking enthusiasm, because you know that whenever you dial a number, whether you get through to the person or not, you just earned ‘x’ dollars.
I remember when I started the business I realised I was saving myself two hours a day commuting. I decided to give that two hours to myself – not my business or my family – and I would take it from 12pm-2pm each day. I’d jog down to Avalon Beach, swim 40 laps, then come home for a leisurely lunch. At the time, SBS ran a documentary about people like me. They called us ‘the barefoot executives’ – it summed me up perfectly.