This Month’s Customer Profile: Brutal Pixie

We are starting a new thing: Customer Profiles. It’s a great way to find out how other people work. This month: It’s Leticia Mooney from Brutal Pixie.

What do you do? Content and Communication Strategy – I work with Web Devs to create outstanding client solutions

Describe your work day: I’m at work by 7 am, usually. If I’m not working from home, I’m in a co-working space among a bunch of entrepreneurial techie types. I have a list for every day, definite targets for acquisition, income, marketing, and R&D (yes, you read that right: R&D). I work through the list until about 3 pm, and then I knock off… if I can.

If you could be given one piece of advice when you started your business, what would it be? Don’t worry about the income, just start networking and it will happen.

How can people people contact you? leticia@brutalpixie.com, or @brutalpixie

Want to be profiled? Hit us up! And don’t forget that you can find us on twitter @88_Miles.

A simple work flow for quoting, tracking and invoicing.

It doesn’t matter what type of freelancer you are quoting, tracking and invoicing jobs is one thing you will have to do on a regular basis. While you can may get away with an ad-hoc system of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for a while, you will hit a point where they become unmanageable. Here is a simple workflow using some off-the-web tools that integrate with 88 Miles that will make your life easier.

Quoting

The sending out a quote is a big moment in the relationship between freelancer and client, and it’s important to make a good impression. You should make your quote clear and concise, outlining the scope of work and how much it is going to cost. It’s important to keep track of your quotes – you don’t want to miss an acceptance, and you can follow up with those clients that haven’t replied back to you yet.

Quotient allows you to create and send invoices

Quotient is a great way to keep all of your quotes in on place. Not only can it handle sending out professional looking quotes, it allows your clients to accept them in one click, and it shows you which jobs you have won, and which need a follow up. And! If you have one of the 88 Miles browser extensions installed, you can create a new 88 Miles project right from the Quotient interface!

Just view the invoice, and click the Add to 88 Miles link.

Project management

Once the quote has been accepted, the fun bit starts (Well, I think the work is the fun bit). It’s essential that you keep organised. Everyone has tried to use their email client as a project management tool, but all that leads to is a full inbox, and one frustrated freelancer. Keeping files and task lists in one place is a simple way to stay organised. Basecamp from 37 Signals is a simple project management tool that throws away boring gantt charts and instead concentrates on task lists, notes and files, putting them at your finger tips.

Track your project from inside basecamp

Using the 88 Miles browser extensions, you can track your time from inside Basecamp – each todo item has a little timer icon, which allows you to punch in and out as you do work.

Invoicing

It’s important to do your invoicing right – mistakes will cost you money. 88 Miles is able to push time sheets directly to Saasu, from which you can email out your invoice. It will also track which ones have yet to be paid. Once you have linked your Saasu account to 88 Miles, you can choose to create an invoice as soon as you sign off from a project.

Create a Saasu Invoice from inside 88 Miles

Once you have created the invoice, you can view it and sent it out via Saasu.

The invoice appears!

By using the 88 Miles integrations you can manage your whole project quickly and easily! Click the links below to download the 88 miles browser extensions that tie all of this together.

88 Miles plugin for Google Chrome88 Miles addon for Firefox88 Miles extension for Safari

 

Staff attendance tracking – the wrong way to track your time

Morning Ralph

I often get asked whether 88 Miles is suitable for tracking when staff turn up and leave the office. The answer, is yes – but not very well. And for good reason.

It’s not the best way to track you’re staff’s time.

Measuring time spent on tasks and projects is an important metric for any business. It helps you quote more accurately, and to identify processes in your business that can be improved. Is that process that took longer than you expected before, taking less time now? If not, why not?

Tracking when a staff member turns up, and when they leave isn’t a metric that is useful for improving your business; in fact, it can make it worse. It says that the one thing you care about is whether you have bums on seats for the required amount of time per day. Would it not be better to measure quality and output? Or improvement over time? At the end of the day, that is what you are selling – solutions that improve your clients lives and businesses.

But how will I know if my staff pulling fast one?

Bzzzt! Wrong question. Ask yourself this: Would you prefer a staff member that stretches out a two-hour job to take all day because they are expected to look busy, or one that gets it done in 2-hours and goes home at lunchtime?

You want the second one. Why? Because they get the same amount of work done, and they don’t resent wasting their lives sitting in front of your computer. Better yet, rather then them going home at lunchtime, what if you sat down with them, and asked them how the two-hour process be improved? Ask them to go off and research better ways to make that process better. Making processes more efficient frees them up to do other things.

Looking at staff output is much better than looking at a how long they were at the office.

And how do I do that?

Here are some ideas you can try out to improve the output of your staff:

  1. Talk to them. You’ll get a better idea of what they are doing and what they are struggling with if you ask. And for bonus points it allows you to explain to the staff member why they are doing what they are doing. It’s all about ownership.
  2. Look at how long tasks take. Track changes in how long things take. Are tasks getting quicker? If you need to train a new staff member to do the same task, how quickly can they get up to speed? Do you need to improve your training process?
  3. Don’t make your staff track their time – make them want to track their time. How you do this depends on your staff. If for example, you work with natural optimisers (like programmers) challenge them to make something more efficient.
  4. Don’t chastise people if they take longer than you or they expected. People are notoriously bad at estimating. And maybe they were having a bad day. Of course, you’d know that if you talk to them.
  5. Make it easy for them to track their time. Asking them to fill in a time sheet on a Friday afternoon is a terrible idea. For starters, what they did on Monday is long forgotten. And secondly, that sounds like a terrible way to spend a Friday afternoon. 88 Miles is pretty good at this – tracking your time as you go is less work, and more accurate. A stitch in time and all that.

The bottom line is that if you put trust in your staff, give them ownership of what they do, and talk to them about it, you’ll see a higher quality output. Quality takes time. Quantity wastes time.

88 Miles for neckbeards – track your time from the command line

It's a unix system. I know this!

If you are a developer like me, and you spend most of your day in terminal, it can be easy to forget to switch contexts to do things like tracking your time. So why not do it from the command line?

Now you can – using 88 Miles gem.

Installation is simple (you’ll need Ruby installed)

gem install 88miles

 

All you do is link a directory with an 88 Miles project, and then you can run

88miles start

and

88miles stop

From with in that directory. You can also bring up a realtime clock:

88miles status -f

and dump out all the shifts for that project:

88miles log

The gem is open source – you can find the code and instructions on our github page. Find a bug, or added something that was missing? We accept pull requests.

88 Miles puts time tracking back into Basecamp

88 Miles to Basecamp

Basecamp from 37 Signals is arguably the grandfather of software as a service. It’s clean, user-centric project management tools have simplified workflows for designers and developers everywhere. A couple of months ago, 37 Signals released the reworked version of Basecamp – but with one noticeable omission: The time tracking component had been removed.

The original time tracking module was very simple – you had to manually keep track of your time, then enter it in a text box, and 37 Signals argue that is isn’t a core part of their system which is why they dropped it. However, we believe that time tracking is a core component of project management – how do you know if your quotes are accurate or if you are working efficiently if you don’t track your output? So, to plug this hole 88 Miles now integrates with Basecamp.

By using our new Google Chrome, Safari or Firefox extension, you can punch in and out of 88 Miles directly from the new Basecamp project view.

Track your time directly from Basecamp

 

 

After you have enabled one of the plugins, and linked a Basecamp project to an 88 Miles project, you will see a new “Time tracking” section, which gives you an overview of time spent on the project. When you start a task, just click the clock icon next to the task name, and click it again to punch out! For more information, checkout out support page.

It’s really simple, and you never have to leave Basecamp!

You can download the plugins here:

88 Miles plugin for Google Chrome 88 Miles addon for Firefox 88 Miles extension for Safari

Getting paid

This post is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Congratulations! You’ve had your quote accepted! Now what… Oh, yeah – you need to get paid.

The first step to getting paid is invoicing the client. I have two rules for invoicing:

  1. Send the invoice on the day that the milestone or job is completed.
  2. Use an invoicing system to generate the email.

You want to send out the invoice straight away while it is still fresh in both your mind and the client’s mind. Surprisingly, it’s way too easy to forget to invoice a client, and they get a little snarky if you send them invoices for work that was completed months ago. Also: they can’t pay you if you don’t invoice them.

And you want to use an invoicing system so that you can keep track of outstanding invoices easily and so that you don’t accidentally miscalculate how much you need to charge! (Trust me – I’ve been there. Not fun.)

There are numerous online invoicing systems, such as SaasuXero or Freshbooks.

Protip: Put a due date on your invoice.

Now that the client has the invoice in their hot little hand, feel free to send them a friendly reminder before the due date and give them a call on the due date. People forget to pay invoices (we’ve all done it), and a friendly email a week before the due date can help jog their memory.

Just remember: Don’t hand over materials, or launch the website until the full payment has been made. Since they paid a deposit, there is more incentive for them to pay the rest of the money – if you still have the product.

Well, that’s it! I hope you have found this short course helpful. As always, if you have any other questions or comments, hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

PS. Remember how I said your time is your money? You should really be tracking it. Sign up for our 30 day trial!

Sending quotes

This post is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Part of the dance between client and freelancers is the gentle art of quoting. While it might take some time for you to get your process down pat, here are a couple of simple rules.

Be clear in the what you are offering

Work out what the deliverable is. Are you providing a print ready PDF, or a WordPress template? Make sure you are explicit about what happens if there are changes (Hint: the client needs to pay extra). Talk to your client, and come to an arrangement, but make sure you write it down – even if you aren’t a lawyer it gives you something to talk about if things go wrong.

Explain the payment terms

Depending on the size of the job, you may decide to split the payments into a deposit and final payment or a number of payments linked to milestones along the way. Make sure the client know that the deposit is non-refundable if they decide to cancel the job. Having multiple payment milestones helps your cash flow, and means that you can still get paid for work you have done to date if things go pear shaped.

Quotes take time

And you won’t win every one. Make sure you track the time that you spend generating your invoices – and increase your quoted hours to take that in to account. I have a “Quotes” job in my 88 Miles account specifically for this.

Action items:

  • Be clear in what you offer. Talk to the client, and write it down – it will save time later.
  • Always charge a non-refundable deposit. If the job is large, add payment milestones against deliverables
  • Track how long you spend quoting your clients.

Questions?

Do you have questions about sending quotes? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. If you’d like to get started tracking the time it takes to do your invoice, you don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

Finding new clients

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

A freelancer without clients is like a mule with a spinning wheel… or however that saying goes.

Your clients are your life blood – they are the ones that will pay your rent or your mortgage, so you will need to find some. As a freelancer, you don’t have a huge marketing budget to hire a team of sales people, nor do you have unlimited time to do sales yourself. So how can you become more efficient?

Short term

If you need clients quickly, you need to hit the pavement and talk to people. As I mentioned in the last email, talking to other freelancers to see if they have any overflow work or leads that aren’t suitable for them is a great way to fill your dance card. Find meet ups in your area where clients that you would like to deal with hang out. If your perfect client are medium to large businesses, give them a call. Talk to friends and relatives – and let them know what you do and that you are available. Don’t under estimate the power of “Oh, I know someone that does that”. This brings me to an important concept that many freelancers don’t do: The pitch.

You need to work out why potential clients will want to hire you. What special skills do you have? What are you really good at? Maybe you are a amazing technical writer, or a gun email newsletter builder. Perhaps you are an expert in a particular CMS that means you can complete modifications quicker than anyone else. When talking to new potential clients, ask them if they need that service – show them examples. The number of times I’ve landed a job because “that was exactly what they needed” at the time is uncanny. You should be able explain why you are awesome is just 15 seconds. And next time someone asks you “what do you do?” – Tell them!

Longer Term

Talking to people directly works, but it can be quite hit and miss, and time consuming. It’s also exhausting. Ultimately, you want people to call you. Longer term things  longer to get traction, but also work for longer. Start a blog about you area of expertise – not only does this help people find you in search engines, it tells other people that you know what you are talking about. Get on twitter, and follow other people that do what you do. Since you are freelancing, I’m going to assume you have some level of passion for that topic, so it should be easy to talk about it.

Action items:

  • Refine your Pitch. A 15 second explanation of why you rock.
  • Talk to other freelancers – see if they have overflow work
  • Let your family and friends know what you do
  • Call larger firms and see if they need your services
  • Start a blog, and get on twitter (and don’t forget to follow me!)

Questions?

Do you have questions about finding new clients? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. If you’d want to track how long you spend on marketing and sales, you don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

How much should you charge?

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Ah, the $64,000 question. How much should you charge as a freelancer. The short answer is enough so that you are making more than you are spending – the longer answer is enough so that you are providing maximum value to your clients (while still making more than you are spending).

Ask other freelancers

The easiest was to get an indicative rate is to ask other freelancers in your industry. This will give you a general range. Don’t be subversive though – I’ve heard stories of freelancers (and even bigger businesses) requesting fake quotes. This is a waste of everyones time – and you miss an opportunity: Freelancers tend to be a helpful bunch – if another freelancer has too much work, or it is outside their area of expertise, they will often pass clients on to other freelancers. This is a great way to get extra work, and to build up a support group of people that are doing the same thing you are.

Just be aware than many freelancers charge too low.

Use a calculator

You can work out what your minimum hourly rate needs to be by using an online calculator. 88 Miles has one associated with our business health dashboard. You can access it here.

First, work out how much you want to make before taxes (call an accountant to ask about this) and expenses each year. If you are just starting out, make an estimate of your expenses – think about things like the monthly cost of software that you use, include a budget for hardware (like computers) and using other services like hosting your website, email and hiring an accountant. Add this amount to into the Annual Revenue Goal field.

Next, work out how many billable hours you think you can do in a day. This is not 8 hours! When you take out time for lunch, breaks, admin, phone calls and brain fade time, it will probably be closer to 4.

Finally, enter the number of days a year you can work. If you are planning on working a full 5-day week and have a week holidays a year and get public or bank holidays off, and factor in some sick leave 240 days a year is a reasonable guestimate.

You should now see an estimated hourly rate. Is it higher or lower than what you expected?

Test it out

Now that you have a magic number, go and try it out. Call some of the people in your CRM, and see how they respond to your quotes.

Protip: If you win every job, you are not charging enough.

Increase it

As you do more work, try increasing your hourly rate for new jobs. You will eventually find that sweet spot where you are winning jobs because the client sees the value you provide them, and losing some jobs where the client isn’t a good fit.

If you are proud of the work you do, you should get paid for it!

Action items:

  • Ask other freelancers in your industry what they charge
  • Calculate the minimum you should charge using our online calculator
  • Test out hourly rate on potential clients
  • Increase your rate for new jobs

Questions?

Do you have questions about your hourly rate? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles
The guy from 88 Miles

P.S. Do you want to see if you are hitting your hour per day targets? You don’t have to wait for the rest of this course to do it; check out our free 30 day trial.

Just started freelancing? Let’s get you organised.

This email is from our 5-day email course. You can sign up for the rest at the bottom of the page.

Why did you start freelancing? Perhaps doing 9-5 was getting you down; or would you prefer to use your talents to make money for you and not someone else? Whatever your reason, you’ll definitely have more freedom to pick your work, and your hours – but there is a whole lot of other stuff that you will have to do now that you never had to do before.

Over the next 5 days, we’ll be looking at the different areas of running a freelance business, and working through some tips and tricks to make sure you are doing the best job you can.

Let’s start by getting organised.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start freelancing is there is much more to do. You have to talk to clients, take phone calls, go to meetings and do your accounts. If you aren’t organised, this eats in to your time – and when you freelance, time is money.

Work out your admin time.

I recommend blocking out an hour or two a week, as well as 15-30 minutes every day to do admin. You need to work out when is your least productive time and do it then. If you know that you won’t be able to make money on clients during that time, you may as well use it for your business. I know I work best in the mornings as soon as I start for the day, and I’m less productive after lunch, so I use that time after lunch to do my admin work. I also know that Fridays are generally a write off for me, so I try to plan my next week then, giving me I can have a running start on Monday morning.

Tracking you customers.

Whether you have to go out and find your first set of clients, or you already have a few people that you can do work for, you should be tracking your leads. This basically means taking note of people that you meet that have taken an interest in using your services.

During your admin time, pick someone on the list and email or call them to follow up. If they aren’t ready right away, make a note to call them in a month. When picking the person, make a judgement call on whether they look really likely to hire you (a hot lead), somewhat likely (a warm lead) or not likely (a cold lead). Contact the hot leads first. Try to make contact with at least 3 people per week.

And don’t forget to call past clients – people that have already used your services are far more likely to use you again! Try to call them a couple of months after a job has finished to see if they need follow up work, or have some new work to do.

There are software systems around that can help you to track your clients – they are called Customer Relation Managers or CRMs. Of course, you could start out with a simple Excel spreadsheet, or Google Doc, but once you have a number of clients, it will be easier to use a specialised piece of software. Look at tools like Highrise or CapsuleCRM.

Action items:

  • Work out what times and days are your least productive – use them for admin
  • Enter names and contact details for potential clients into a CRM
  • Call or email at least 3 hot leads a week.
  • Call an old client to see if they have more work for you

Questions?

Do you have questions about getting started as a freelancer? Hit me up on twitter or send me an email and ask away!

Cheers,

Myles

PS. Do you want to track how long you spend on admin tasks? Sign up for our 30 day trial!