Starting out as a freelancer or small business is a rush.
A rush of enthusiasm… and uncertainty.
You have your passion and your skill but what about running a business?
When I founded Copywrite Matters, eating lunch at my marketing job desk, I knew almost nothing about running a business. I’d seen them run, of course, from the inside, but most of my work experience was in corporate businesses. Big corporate businesses. And they’re entirely different beasts to striding out alone, as a freelance copywriter.
Working out the kinks in business processes is something most people do as they go along. I know I did. The same applies to the tools you use.
It took me a few years to really get settled in. Years of trials and errors. My processes and tools change as my business evolves and changes but I thought you might like some shortcuts.
Especially, if you’re just starting out.
Startup tip: make customer service a priority
Fantastic service will usually trump a mistake. And you will make mistakes. In those moments, you have to be more awesome but prevention is always better than a cure.
Make time to map out the steps between a customer getting in touch with you (or vice versa) until after the job has been done. Add as much detail as possible.
What emails need to be sent?
Which documents need to be created?
Who follows up and when?
This kind of process task list will help you guarantee a consistent customer service experience and give you the brain space to delight your customer, not just service them.
Startup tool: a CRM will help you keep track of your customers
A CRM is a customer relationship management tool and it helps you understand your interaction with customers: potential, existing and old customers.
Get a CRM from day one so you won’t lose your customer history.
You won’t struggle to find free versions of tools. I love CapsuleCRM as it integrates with other tools like my accounting system, email marketing tool and social media platforms. It means I can see if a customer is in arrears or all paid up, which emails they’ve received and opened and their last tweet or post. That kind of information is super useful when I email or pick up the phone to talk to them.
Startup tip: invest in your marketing
When you’re just starting out, you usually don’t have extra money to invest in outsourcing… so you invest your time. At least, that’s what I did.
You see, your marketing efforts are much like a big water wheel. It takes a lot of energy to get going but once it does, it just needs a little nudge to maintain the momentum. When you’re getting started, it can feel like everyone else is nailing it while you’re invisible, with no hope of making progress. But that’s just not true.
You just have to get started and create some momentum.
Start building a following by sharing valuable and useful content. If you’re not creating it yet, share content created by influencers in your field. Being an expert content curator can be just as big a drawcard as being an expert content creator.
Once you start creating content, you can start collecting the email addresses of people who are interested in you! Offer an incentive or just the promise of regular awesomeness via email. When someone gives you their email address, they give you permission to sell to them and that’s what you can do once you gain their trust.
Startup tool: social media tools can save you time
BufferApp is a free social media tool that lets you schedule posts but when I was starting out, I wasn’t creating content. I was reading and learning as much as I could. I would often binge read a lot of blogs and I wanted to share them but sharing six articles in quick succession isn’t a great social media strategy.
I used BufferApp to schedule posts I was reading, filling my social media profiles with useful content across the week!
Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that also has a free version. You can schedule posts and see all your social profiles in one place. The main objective is to see when someone is connecting with you on social media and respond quickly. It’s all about engagement.
Startup tool: email marketing is one of the most powerful ways to sell
Mailchimp is a great starter tool for your email marketing and it’s free for up to 2000 subscribers. It’s easy to use and integrates pretty sweetly with most website platforms.
Startup tip: discover if you’re actually profitable
Understanding your profitability starts with understanding how much of your time is billable. A trap many startups fall into is thinking that the hours they are working are the hours they are earning. After tracking my time for a few months, I understood that only 50% of my time was being paid for by clients. That made my earning hourly rate plummet but it also helped me focus my time quick smart!
Startup tool: track your time
There are a lot of time tracking apps and most of them are free or have free versions. Here is a neat summary. Toggl is popular and it’s one I’ve used. It can install as a browser addon and you just hit play when you start a task. Then you check your reports to see where you’re really spending your time.
The question to ask yourself, as you look at the reports, is: am I spending time on things that bring me closer to my goals? If the answer is no, time to whip your time management into shape!
Startup tip: understand your finances
When I started out, I used a spreadsheet to track my expenses, invoices and payments. It was relatively easy because I wasn’t doing very much! But once I got more regular copywriting clients, it got more complicated. I decided to bite the bullet and get an accounting package.
When you investigate these, as a startup, they can seem a bit pricey. Especially when you’ve not got a lot of money coming in. But the investment is worth it as they help keep your finances in a state that is easier for your accountant to interpret at tax time and give you more clarity through the year.
Startup tool: Accounting packages make tax time easier
While I won’t pretend to have a firm grasp on my finances, the reconciliation process is a breeze and the reports are easy to read. It certainly took the pressure off getting a bookkeeper and my accountant no longer weeps when I call!
So, there you have it. A whole bunch of tools that will help you start up without the usual horror stories of crashing and burning, taking customer goodwill down with it. And most of them free to boot. WINNING!
If you’re past the startup stage, I’d love to know: what tools saved your bacon once you found them?
Belinda (AKA The Copy Detective)