Going Solo class recap

13333_WEHt3FFL1Ji2NDzmx-H6EHPRG-Cs-iTR-WraAJIhEUgLast month I conducted my first class on how to become a better solopreneur (by which I mean someone who is a freelancer, consultant or micro-business owner). About 10 people attended and by all accounts the class was a success.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. For starters, it’s hard in the space of one three-hour session to address the different stages people are at. Some attendees were contemplating someday quitting and going solo, but were by no means committed to the path. Others knew they were going to make the leap, so they were focused on figuring out what they needed to do and how to do it. Finally, we had some folks who had already jumped and wanted to make sure they were doing everything they could do to be successful.

I also realized that three hours of lecture is difficult, even if it’s content you need and want (sorry, students!).

Despite the difference in people’s business stages, some concerns were fairly universal:

  • What should my focus be? (I am capable of many things, but what should I tell people I do?)
  • How do I describe my specialty in a way people will understand? (especially significant others and professional colleagues)
  • How do I price myself?
  • How do I write my proposals to win?

One really bright spot: after the class, one of the students launched a Google group and invited all everyone else, so they could share ideas, feedback, etc. It’s an awesome way of supporting others on the sam epath

So, with the benefit of hindsight, I am running a series of three workshops in December that are more interactive and more tailored to different stages of solopreneurship.

photo courtesy Mykl Roventine

The survey results are in! 78 freelancers weigh in on how they handle their biz

In October, I asked freelancers and consultants (primarily in the Twin Cities of MN, where my network is concentrated) to fill out an anonymous survey on how they handle the business side of their practice. The survey was conducted between Oct. 13 and Nov. 4. Below are the results in graphical form.

You can view the raw data here. Anyone good at working the data to identify strong correlations?

How many years have you been freelancing/consulting?

0 to 1 10 13%
1 to 2 14 18%
3 to 4 17 22%
4 to 5 11 14%
5 to 10 11 14%
10 to 20 12 15%
More than 20 3 4%

How do you describe yourself?

Designer – print 9 5%
Designer – Web 12 7%
Designer – animation/motion graphics 2 1%
Copywriter 7 4%
Developer – web 27 16%
Developer – mobile 14 8%
Developer – back end 23 14%
Strategist/consultant – social media 5 3%
Strategist/consultant – content 11 7%
Strategist/consultant – marketing 11 7%
Strategist/consultant – media relations 1 1%
Strategist/consultant – business/management 8 5%
Strategist/Consultant – usability 5 3%
Illustrator 1 1%
Art director 1 1%
Creative director 5 3%
Photographer 2 1%
Videographer 3 2%
Director 0 0%
Producer 1 1%
Project manager – traditional ad/marketing 1 1%
Project manager – interactive ad/marketing 3 2%
Other 17 10%

What is your hourly rate?

Less than $50 7 9%
$50 to $75 14 18%
$76 to $100 23 29%
$101 to $125 18 23%
$126 to $150 10 13%
$151 to $175 4 5%
$176 to $200 0 0%
$201 to $250 2 3%
$251 to $300 0 0%
More than $300 0 0%

How do you bill for your services?

Time & materials basis 51 37%
Fixed bid basis 23 17%
Based on scope of work 30 22%
Based on perceived value of work 16 12%
Retainer 16 12%
Other 3 2%

What are your billing terms?

Total due upon signing 1 1%
Total due upon completion 13 17%
Partial up front, remainder at specific project milestones or upon completion 25 32%
Monthly progress billing 24 31%
Weekly progress billing 7 9%
I don’t specify billing terms 5 6%
Other 3 4%

What are your payment terms?

Due upon receipt of invoice 18 23%
Due within 15 days of receipt of invoice (Net 15) 18 23%
Due within 30 days of receipt of invoice (Net 30) 27 35%
Due within 45 days of receipt of invoice (Net 45) 2 3%
Due within 60 days of receipt of invoice (Net 60) 0 0%
I don’t specify payment terms 8 10%
Other 5 6%

Have you raised your rates within the last year?

No 35 45%
Yes – by less than 10% 12 15%
Yes – 10 – 20 % 18 23%
Yes – more than 20% 13 17%

Do you plan on raising your rates within the next year?

No 30 38%
Yes – by less than 10% 8 10%
Yes – 10 – 20 % 24 31%
Yes – more than 20% 6 8%
Not sure 10 13%

How do you feel about your ability to charge for the value you deliver?

Excellent – I bill even more than what I’m worth 2 3%
Just right – I’m billing close to what I’m worth 45 58%
Needs improvement – I don’t quite bill what I’m worth 25 32%
Help! – I bill significantly less than I’m worth 5 6%
I have no idea 1 1%

Do you save for retirement?

No 22 28%
Yes – but not enough 35 45%
Yes – more than I need to 4 5%
Yes – probably the right amount 17 22%

Looking ahead, do you plan on making any changes to your business?

No 17 17%
Yes – I plan on expanding my services/capabilities 37 38%
Yes – I plan on hiring employees 12 12%
Yes – I plan on merging with another business 3 3%
Yes – I plan on creating a product 23 23%
Other 6 6%

How do you invest in yourself and your business?

I take continuing education classes 21 8%
I attend conferences in town 48 18%
I have a coworking membership 34 13%
I spend time/money marketing my services 35 13%
I spend time/money on networking 46 17%
I invest in new technology 46 17%
I lease an office space 5 2%
I travel to attend conferences 32 12%

Since you’ve been self-employed, have you taken vacations?

No – due to lack of time 9 12%
No – due to lack of money 11 14%
Yes – at least 1 week per year 19 24%
Yes – at least 2 weeks per year 27 35%
Yes – at least 1 month per year 5 6%
Yes – more than 1 month per year 7 9%

Does your spouse or significant other help support your household?

No 17 22%
Yes 40 51%
N/A 21 27%

How many dependents do you have?

None 35 45%
1 18 23%
2 13 17%
3 10 13%
4 1 1%
5 or more 1 1%

Do you have health insurance coverage?

No 9 12%
Yes – I pay for it directly 48 62%
Yes – provided by my spouse 21 27%

Do you have adequate savings for emergencies or unexpected expenses?

No 32 41%
Yes 46 59%

Do you feel supported by family & friends in your self-employment?

No 7 9%
Yes 55 71%
Depends on how well the business is doing 15 19%
Other 1 1%

How do you feel about getting a straight job?

I would never consider it 22 28%
I might consider it 39 50%
I’m thinking about it 11 14%
I’m actively hunting for a job 6 8%

On limitations

Watching a video recommended by a CoCo member, I came across this gem. It’s David Heinemeier Hansson, inventor of Ruby on Rails and partner at 37 Signals, talking about starting businesses that are not necessarily designed not to “go viral” and take over the world, or to be sold for gazillions … but simply to solve a problem that needs solving or to do something better than how it’s being done.

At 21:20 in the video, he talks about the conditions under which Basecamp, 37 Signals’ flagship project management software was built. If you don’t know the story, Basecamp was the side project for people doing other stuff, built with limited hours. Disadvantage? Quite the opposite, according to Hansson.

Of course these days, with an estimated annual revenue of $19MM, Basecamp is a bit more than a side project.

Meet Google’s Jolly Good Fellow

“Meng at 37, the Chinese guy, not the black guy ” (Meng’s own caption on his website.) At Google, it’s a tradition that famous visitors pose for a picture with Meng. Why? Why not?


Meng’s card, which nobody can deny.

A digital gallery at Google HQ, which features Meng with hundreds of famous visitors, starting with Jimmy Carter and including the Dalai Lama. (photo by Adaline Lau, ClickZ)

Yes, that’s his official title.

Chade-Meng Tan is an early Googler (meaning he probably never needs to work another day in his life) who I had the luck of hearing last week on a visit to the Google campus in Mountain View.

Never once did he stop smiling as he told us about “Search Inside Yourself,” the emotional intelligence program he created and teaches at Google. And his jokes were often corny. But Meng gave us just a glimpse into a surprisingly powerful way of looking at the world. He made a case for how kindness and compassion are keys for personal happiness and peace. All with self-deprecating humor. “I think it’s funny that Google entrusted an engineer to teach emotional intelligence,” he quipped.

As he talked, we were lulled into his world view, which was the last thing I expected, on a visit to what is arguably the most powerful and influential corporation on planet Earth.

But here we was, asking us to learn how to separate ourselves from our emotions. And to practice a daily ritual of looking at total strangers and wishing them happiness.

So, when he described his vision for “creating the conditions for world peace in my lifetime,” I thought, he just might be onto something. Even if he’s wrong, what would be the harm in trying?

I highly encourage you to take 15 minutes to watch Meng’s TED talk, in which he covers some of the ideas he walked us through. Or read about him in the New York Times. Or if you see me around CoCo, ask to borrow my copy (which I just ordered!) of Meng’s book, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace).

Peace out! No, really.

Secrets of highly creative people

Like many uber-creatives, Beethoven subscribed to policy of early to bed and early to rise.

Allow me, dear reader, to point you to a recent book review at the Guardian of “Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey, which summarizes some of the most common strategies of authors, composers, artists and scientists across the centuries:

  1. Be a morning person
  2. Don’t give up the day job
  3. Take lots of walks
  4. Stick to a schedule
  5. Practice strategic substance abuse
  6. Learn to work anywhere

I can get behind #3 and #6, but could barely bring myself to type #1. Oh well, to each his own. But I did enjoy learning about Ludwig von Beethoven, whose morning ritual was to count out the precisely 60 beans used to make his morning coffee.

Trying tripe

Those aren’t honeycombs.

In life, maybe it’s best not to know what you’re getting yourself into.

The first time I tasted the, it was part of a tasty Peruvian stew called Cau Cau. I asked for seconds and only then found out the offal truth.

You don’t like tripe? You’re not trying hard enough
From marmite to oysters, there’s food people say they can’t stand. Maybe they should make an effort (but with some things, once is definitely enough)



Are we making money yet? A survey on the money side of self-employment

Last weekend, I spoke on the pros and cons of self-employment at WordUp, the annual get-together of the Minneapolis-St.Paul Word Press Users Group. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest on the topic of money – how much to charge, how to bill, how to collect.

When you go solo, nobody sits you down to explain how the money side of the business works. So, most of us are running around, taking what clients give us and hoping we won’t get burned and that we’ll get paid in time.

So, let’s see what can do together to banish ignorance. I’ve created an anonymous survey with the goal of collecting information on how freelancers and consultants are handling their biz. I hope to be able to report back with some helpful aggregate data and patterns – so you can evaluate whether you can improve your approach to pricing and billing.

Please take the survey!


A class on how to go solo

So, you want to go solo as a freelancer or consultant? No question about it, having passion and enthusiasm for your area of expertise is critical.

However, there are a few more skills you’ll need to master if you really want to make it as a freelancer or consultant. On Nov. 4, I’ll be teaching a class that gives you an overview of the tradecraft of being a successful solopreneur.

“Chapters” will include:

  • The right way to quit your job
  • Critical steps in setting up your new business
  • Being comfortable being in business
  • Designing a better business model
  • How to position yourself in a crowded market
  • Branding: thinking beyond your logo
  • Creating a powerful sales pitch
  • Considering your service/product mix
  • Pricing your way to success
  • How to do less of the stuff you hate (accounting)
  • Building momentum through partnerships, alliances & joint ventures

This class is the first in a series. In follow-up classes, I will dive deeper into some particular areas, such as positioning and branding, successful proposal writing, how to raise your rates and how to expand your practice.

Eventbrite - Going Solo: Self-Employment & Small Business Fundamentals

What’s your big idea?

And would it be bigger or better if you were to develop it in another country, along with a group of people each bringing their own big ideas?

That’s what Startup Abroad purports to do: to gather 14 people for 14 days in an amazing location, all with the goal of working collaboratively to give birth to each participant’s big idea. The image above is the house in Ubud, Bali, where Startup Abroad went in 2012.

At this very moment, another group of 14 are finishing up their 14 days in Matera, Italy. I’d love to know what new businesses and projects come out of this trip. Also, I wonder how the intense, collaborative time with other founders helps to improve the quality and impact of each person’s idea.

A big congratulations to the founder of Startup Abroad, Chelsea Rustrum, for creating such a compelling option for those of us who want to make a splash in life!

What is job security?

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 2.09.49 PM


Is job security something that’s given to you? Or can you create it for yourself? It’s a question worth asking whenever we see large employers shuffling off employees en masse. We’re reminded once again that even with a apparently stable employers, there are no guarantees.

No question about it: big employers are able to pay big salaries and offer big benefits. The true value of, say, an $80k salary is probably twice that amount. In other words, to provide yourself with the equivalent benefits (retirement, healthcare, tuition reimbursement, etc.) after tax, you need to make twice as much as you probably think you do.

However, if you’re a freelancer or small business owner who has a diverse array of clients and customers, you have a form of job security corporate and government(!) employees will ever know. The odds of all your clients firing you at once are next to zero.