Category Archives: Intermediate

For those who have been freelancing for more than a year, already grasp the basics, just want to “level up” their game by raising their rates and finding better clients.

How I Got My First Premium Clients [Transparency Report #2]

Remember how I promised to be more transparent on this blog? This led me to write my first Transparency Report, where I talked about my beginnings as a freelancer. I wrote about my early starts, the “official” beginning of my online freelance career in 2004, and my first two years of being an online freelancer.

For this transparency report, we’re digging deep into 2006 to 2009 – the 3 years when I started “leveling-up” and targeting high profile, premium clients. How did I transition from being paid $10 per article for content jobs, to writing $100 per article for high profile blogs?

NOTE: This is a looong one because this was the most eventful part of my career.

Here’s the story:

Continue reading

5 Simple Strategies to Get More Freelance Work

Today we have another guest writer, Stef Gonzaga, founder of The Freelance Pinoy. You might know Stef from her blog, or from the webinar we did together last year, or from her various writing work.

Or you might know her from “Better Work” – a podcast that I co-host with her. It’s for Filipino freelancers who want to do better work, get creative, and make a difference. If you haven’t tried listening to the show yet, you might want to start with our episode on 6 simple ways to increase your freelancing income (no need to change your services or learn new skills) or our episode on the things we wish we knew when we started freelancing.

For her contribution today, Stef shares 5 ways you can get more projects from your current clients. Take it away, Stef:

Continue reading

The #1 Thing to Ask Your Clients if You Want to Be Indispensable

Since last week’s update was a long guide, I’ll share a quick tip for you this week. It’s something you can start doing TODAY.

[Sidenote: As much as possible I like sharing simple, tactical things that freelancers of any industry and any experience level can apply. Para lahat tayo may ma-achieve na improvements, kahit pa-konti-konti. 🙂 Plus I try to make sure these are things I’ve done or am doing, para may ma-report akong authentic results. I’ll do my best to stay away from generic tips with no next steps.]

Here’s the tip, the next time you’re in a client interview, ask them this question:

 “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”

Why this question will make you indispensable

Among all the questions I ask my potential clients, this is the most powerful (which is why I’m sharing it). I have many other versions of this question, including “What’s the most painful problem in your business right now?” Basically the goal is to know and understand the things that truly hurt your client, the things that worry them, the things that keep them up at night. Here’s why this question is so powerful:

This is one of the “great questions” that clients tend to praise. To those who have been following my material for a long time, you already know that I ask 10 to 20 questions during my first meeting with new clients. This is one of those questions where a handful of my clients say “Wow, that’s a great question!” and hearing this boosts my confidence during the meeting. I’ve been doing this for a while, but every time I hear that during the first few minutes of a meeting, nawawala yung kaba ko. It’s like I magically transform into a serious, assertive business person.

For someone as shy and introverted as I am, that’s reason enough to ask the question because it helps me get into the right mindset for the rest of the meeting.

It shows that you are the type of proactive freelancer who is really interested in helping their business – even if it’s just to hear them out – and that you’re not only interested in getting paid. Another reaction I tend to get is hearing the client give a deep sigh, often followed by a long rant about everything that’s wrong with their business (the one with the longest record among my clients is this U.S. speaker and marketer who spent more than an hour and a half just answering this question!) This is a good thing. Not only are they telling you everything you need to know to help them out, they will also see you as a trusted confidant.

Anybody among your competitors can do an OK job performing the task. But how many among them will be the client’s trusted confidant? I’m guessing not many. Probably only you. From now on, as long as you do end up addressing their most frustrating problems, the client will think of you as “The person who listens to and solves my most painful business problems” and not just “a VA” or “a designer” or “a writer”.

It gives you “openings” for new projects to propose. When your client opens up about the most frustrating thing in their business, make it your #1 job to take a look at your own skills and see how you can minimize or eliminate those frustrations – then turn those into suggestions or project proposals. You’ll have a better chance of getting your projects approved this way, because you’ll be proposing tasks that address their most painful and frustrating problems.

Usually, akala ng mga freelancers na it’s their website or social media accounts that will help them get more business – but in my experience it’s usually this consultative approach that leads to more recurring projects and more referrals. Because of the different apps available today, every freelancer and her mother can quickly come up with a stellar-looking website and an automated social media account. Still, there’s no app that transforms a person into an interested, attentive listener, so you’ll have an edge in the key department that your competitors might be neglecting.

 Just Ask

Applying this is simple: the next time you find yourself in an interview with a potential client, just ask “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” Here are some ways you can introduce the question (note this down where you can see it the next time you’re on an interview):

  • “I really want to do my best to help you out. With that said, can you tell me what’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”
  • “Is it alright if I ask you a few questions about your business, just to understand it a bit better?” (Wait for their answer.) “My first question is: What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” (You can follow this up with a bunch of other questions, including the ones that filter out scammy clients.)

That’s it! You’ll be surprised that something as simple as asking the right questions can have such a dramatic impact in the way clients treat you, and even in the way you see yourself as a professional.

 

3 Simple Ways to Avoid Being Scammed by Bad Clients

Sometime within my second year as a freelance writer, I was scammed by a client.

The client was the owner of a modeling agency based in California. He asked me to write content for the agency’s website, but before that he hired me to write a legal document (I forgot what, but it was some kind of contract).Red flag na dapat yun.

If a client is running a legitimate business, lawyers or notaries or even online legal template sites should be doing this stuff for him – not a freelance writer with no background in law. If I just dug deeper, I would’ve realized that this meant that he did not care how tight or accurate his contracts were – and these contracts could make or break his business.

After I finished writing up the contract, I billed him for $15. And he did not pay.

I chased after him, sending him email after email – but he wouldn’t respond. I was so angry, not even because of the amount, but because of the principle. The cost to me wasn’t just $15 or a few hours of my time, the real cost was that I was actually easy to exploit. If I didn’t find a way to fix it, clients were going to do this to me over and over again. I didn’t want that.

So I looked for his posts on several online forums and posted a response to ALL his discussions. This response included screenshots of our emails and a warning not to do business with him.

Eventually, he found these posts and emailed me. I then demanded payment of the $15. He paid me, but within a day PayPal canceled the transaction because it came from a fraudulent credit card number.

Only You Can Protect Yourself

I quickly learned that there was no organization, system, or department that could look out for me. And even if there was, how would they chase the scammer? I wasn’t even sure if the name I had on file was real. It eventually became clear to me that any information he gave me about his business was fraudulent.

More surprisingly, I found that things like contracts don’t really do much to protect freelancers – especially if their clients are overseas. I had a contract with that client, yet he did not honor it.

Since I don’t like playing the role of “helpless victim” and I didn’t want to gamble, I wondered if there was any other way to protect myself. After some research and trial and error, I decided to establish a system that would help me avoid and prevent being scammed. And I’ve never been scammed since.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

#1 – Know more than one way to reach the client.

Upon first contact with the potential client, I try to answer the following questions:

  • What is their full name (if an individual) or the full name of your contact person (if an organization)?
  • What is the name of their business?
  • Where is their business based?
  • Does your main contact person have social media accounts? How many and how old are his/her accounts?
  • Can you find their full street address? What about their phone number?

All of these questions can typically be answered with a bit of Googling, or by asking new potential clients to fill up an information sheet before your first meeting or before you discuss the details of the project.

If you’re going to use an information sheet, you can use tools like Wufoo or SurveyMonkey to create this information sheet (the free accounts will do). Here are some of the key fields you should include:

  • Contact Person’s Full Name
  • Business Name
  • Complete Business Street Address
  • Business Email Address
  • Business Phone Number
  • Website URL
  • Business Social Media Account URLs
  • Optional preliminary questions like:
    • “Briefly describe what your business does:”
    • “Why do you need my help?”

While most job bidding sites have some security measures in place that prevent freelancers from getting scammed, it’s still helpful to know their identity and business details. What’s even more surprising is that once in a while, I see seasoned freelancers work with clients outside the verification process of job bidding sites without even knowing the client’s full name! In all cases where I’ve seen a situation like this, the freelancer was scammed into doing a lot of work upfront, and the client disappears by the time they have to make the first payment.

Even if I’ve personally never used job bidding sites to get clients, I have all the above information about them and have verified it with simple searches.

Knowing all the possible ways to contact your client isn’t just a way to protect you from scams, it’s a standard business practice for consultants. (Even your doctors or lawyers do it!)

#2 – Start the relationship by asking the “Inside Look” question.

It’s easy to meet a new potential client, just receive instructions, and start doing your work. Yung hindi ka na masyado mag-iisip, naka-depende sa ideas ng client lahat ng gagawin mo. All you have to do is say “yes”.

While that approach is fine for some people and it was fine for me at first, I found it very risky later on because:

  • I didn’t know or understand how my clients made money. If you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know what your role is in the business. If you don’t know your role in the business, it’s hard for you to justify pay increases, or even your existence as their freelancer.
  • I didn’t know how stable the job was. Relevant to the above point, if you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know how secure your position is. Kumikita ba sila at all? Passion project lang ba nila ito or business talaga ito? The stability of your job or project depends on the stability of the client’s business. If they are losing money, you wouldn’t know it – magugulat ka na lang na wala na yung project.
  • I didn’t know if my clients were scammers or not. There’s more than one way to be a scammer. Clients could be paying their freelancers, but this doesn’t mean that what they do is 100% legit. If your client’s business model is scammy, it could fall apart or change any day. Remember how my scammy client tried to pay me but PayPal canceled the payment? This was because my clients’ credit card number was reported as fraudulent! Who does that? Scammers.

This is why I developed the “Inside Look” question. During my first meeting with my client, this is the first thing I ask:

“Can you give me an inside look on how your business works? Take me from the moment that your target customer first hears about you, to the moment when you make the sale. What happens in between?”

Though it’s best to ask this via an audio call/chat, which scammers often hate doing, shy freelancers can ask this via email or via their client information form (see above). The advantage of the audio call is that you’d be able to hear any hesitation or overthinking in your client’s part. (Plus, you’d hear how impressed they are with your question! I find that most clients are impressed when you have a deep interest in their business.)

 #3 – Send the “Sandwich Schedule”.

Another way that I’ve avoided scams is by presenting the client with a concrete work schedule that sandwiches the payments in between. See a sample from one of my archives below:

project-milestones

As you can see, work is sandwiched between payments. I ask for an upfront downpayment (this could be anywhere between 10% to 50%), then I submit some deliverables to the client, then they send another payment, then I send more deliverables until the project is finished.

A lot of Filipino freelancers seem hesitant to ask for upfront downpayment. Some of you might feel shy about it, or you might think “Baka isipin ng client na ako naman yung scammer at itatakbo ko lang yung downpayment niya!” Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t worry about it:

  • It’s a standard business practice among consultants and freelancers almost everywhere.
  • There are many ways to build a client’s trust before you even discuss pricing. If you show them your previous work, LinkedIn profile, and testimonials from previous clients, it’s unlikely that they will be worried about you being a scammer.
  • Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen if your client doesn’t want to give you the downpayment? They will say “No” to the downpayment and ask you if it’s possible to waive it! It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t mean that they won’t hire you – especially if they saw that you put the work into preparing such a detailed and itemized work schedule. If they passed the other tests you had for them (the information sheet, the “Inside Look” question, the thorough Google searches about their name and business name), then you often have nothing to worry about.

The goal here is not to get the client to immediately agree to your Sandwich Schedule – it’s to observe and analyze your client’s reaction to it. Did they hesitate? If so, how? Were they calm and clear, or did they panic? What are their reasons for hesitating? Can you address those reasons? Do they seem legit anyway and did they pass your other tests even if they hesitated with the down payment?

Other Things That Worked

While the above 3 things are simple enough for you to start doing TODAY, there are some other more long term and more difficult things that I did that protected me from scams:

  • Charging higher rates. Once I started charging at least $20 per article, I was no longer approached by scammers. I don’t know if it’s the number itself or the fact that when you do charge higher rates, you tend to look for clients in scam-free zones. I suspect it’s also because legitimate businesses know that you get what you pay for and that a $20 article is more likely to give them better returns than a $1, while those who are obsessed with cutting costs and getting as much free stuff as possible would browse more towards the lower price points.
  • Looking “legit”. If you look at my online folio, you’ll notice that it’s very bare, contains the logos of my highest-profile clients, and has a big picture of my face. Having a well-designed portfolio with client logos and containing your best work makes you look like a pro. And nothing terrifies a scammer more than a pro, because pros know what they’re doing.
  • Having an initial “phone call” rather than relying on email to discuss the project. As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to gather your potential client’s information via an audio call at the very least. This helps you build rapport with them, gives you the opportunity to ask as many spontaneous questions as you want, and helps you hear their real-time reactions to your questions and statements. I very rarely get into a working arrangement with a client without having an audio call with them first.

Staying Scam-Free

I’ve mentioned earlier that since that first time I was scammed, I was never scammed by a client again. But scam clients and fake job opportunities are still out there. There will always be scammers who are out to get articles, design work, research, and any other services for free. The question is: what can YOU do to repel them?

If you find yourself being scammed by a client more than twice, it’s time to ask yourself if there’s something that should change in the way you attract, acquire, and communicate with potential clients. Even if you just copy one thing from my process above, you’re already setting up your first layer of armor against them.

How much do you want me to reveal?

This is going to be an unusual update since I won’t be sharing any tactics and strategies with you today. Instead, this is a personal appeal. I want to hear what YOU think.

See, something’s been bothering me a lot lately. It has to do with transparency.

As many of you know, I am a freelance writer and marketer. I’ve been freelancing online since 2003, when I was 20 years old, initially as an effort to support myself through college. It didn’t become a regular, stable thing until 2004.

Since 2013, and a little bit before that, I started helping out other Filipino freelancers. At first, informal yung attempts – someone would hear from a friend of a friend that I was freelancing online and they wanted to learn how to do it. But by March 2013 my mentoring efforts became a paid 6-week course, Pinoy500 PRO. Since then I’ve relaunched the course a couple of times, and also created a new course on negotiation (Negotiation Toolkit), which I’ve also launched twice.

The tricky thing about being a mentor or sharing knowledge with others is that the mentor should be held accountable for the advice he or she gives. Madali lang maghanap ng information online – whether it’s about freelancing, starting your own business, how to diagnose your medical symptoms, or how to train your dog. For each topic you want to learn, there are hundreds of web pages out there giving you answers.

Pero papaano natin malalaman kung reliable ba itong information na ito? Do they come from specialists who have studied that field for years? Do these specialists have practical real-world experience? For example, there are many ebooks or courses out there that teach you how to train your dog – but how many of the people who offer these courses have actually trained dogs? How many dogs have they trained? How many of those trained dogs succeeded with the training?

So that’s what’s been bothering me, especially since I don’t really like talking about myself or my personal life and experiences. As someone who is selling information and training to other people – information that’s supposed to work and help them achieve concrete goals – how much of what I teach do I actually apply? How much of it has worked for other people? How can you know that I’m really walking the walk and not just talking theory? Has freelancing made me as happy or as free as they said it would?

That’s what I want to learn from you. How transparent do you want me to be?

If I were to send you a monthly update of the details of my freelance work, or even my courses, what do you want included in those updates? For example:

  • What facts about my work, clients, or courses should I mention?
  • What doubts do you have about my character or my work as a professional, and how can I help you confirm or clear up those doubts?
  • Which details of my professional and personal life would be useful to you?

Let me know. Because if I can find a good balance between keeping my personal privacy (for safety reasons, of course) and giving you full transparency, I want to do that for you.

There are two ways of letting me know the level of transparency you want from me. 1) Hit “reply” to this update if you’re reading it via email, 2) Leave a comment on this blog post.

I look forward to hearing from you.