Category Archives: Introductory

For those Filipino freelancers who are just getting started or have been freelancing for less than a year.

How I Got My First Online Clients [Transparency Report #1]

Last June, I asked you guys what you want me to reveal about my own freelancing practice – all for the sake of transparency. I got a lot of insight via the comments to the post, a surprising amount of emails, and some Facebook messages in response.

After going over your messages and comments, as well as thinking this thoroughly, I thought that the best way to start kicking off my monthly transparency reports is to start with the past.

Kung mag-simula kasi ako sa pagkekwento ko tungkol sa career ko ngayon, walang context. It wouldn’t be meaningful or helpful to tell you about my clients, my rates, or my daily schedule right now without first exploring my roots. This is because what I do now is so radically different from what I was doing when I was starting out.

So what I’ll be showing you this month is The Transparency Report: Backtrack Edition. I’ll dig deep into the early beginnings of my freelance career, as well as deconstruct them into useful tactics. This is so that those beginning freelancers here can pick up a thing or two from my stories.

Early Attempts at Freelancing [or “Mga Raket”]

Before I started my freelance writing career in late 2003 I had some earlier starts:

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How to Avoid Freelancing Problems Before They Arrive

Four years ago, I had an idea that most freelancers get when they’re a few years into their career:

“Maybe I should have a team.”

It sounds great, di ba? My job will be finding and getting clients (which is one of my strengths), making sure that all the tasks are organized (which I do for my own work anyway), and hiring skilled workers (I’d love to give work to other Filipino freelancers). I’ll pay the skilled workers above average rates ($15 to $50 per article, depending on skill), while I’ll charge the client what I normally charge and call it “profit”. What a great idea, win-win, I thought.

It was a great idea – in theory. In just 3 months, I encountered a lot of problems I didn’t expect:

Problem #1 – It’s hard to find good workers who could fit me into their sked! Sa dinami-dami ng Filipino freelancers, I had to find people who were skilled, understood and agreed with my vision, self-directed, and reliable. But most of the people I wanted to hire were too busy already! In all my searching I found exactly 3 people to work with, and one of them had to return to a full-time job.

I wasn’t even looking for “rockstars”, yet I found it very difficult to look for skilled workers who were self-starters (meaning: they are competent and confident enough to decide things on their own and not ask me permission for everything). I even hired a couple of other people who didn’t exactly meet my criteria pero pwede na – but this became problematic later on.

Problem #2 – I ran into the “hamster wheel problem”, where I had to keep looking for clients to keep the business profitable, but adding new clients often meant hiring additional people (who would be more familiar with their topics/industry), and hiring additional people meant I had to look for more clients to keep the business even profitable and cover all the time and energy I spent looking for clients and managing people.

Problem #3 – It turns out I spent most of my time being a middle-manager – something I did NOT want. What I really wanted to do was create quality content, take care of clients or do marketing. I did not want to spend too much time holding the hands of professionals like me, or training them, or reading 11-paragraph explanations of why they couldn’t submit their work on time. While I did end up with 3 good colleagues I respected, I needed more than them to service all our clients and the hiring process became unbearable after a while.

So eventually, I shut that down and just worked with the clients privately on my own.

Pero ito yung masakit – I could have easily avoided those problems! A year after I shut it down, I talked to an entrepreneur who ran a similar business model, and he said something like:

“The agency model is tough. You have to look for new clients to make money, but when you get new clients, you have to pay for more workers to service them, then look for new clients to make even more money! It’s a vicious cycle. You’ll spend the entire time being a manager!”

If I just talked to people who had been there, I would have known early on that the agency model was not for me. I did not want to be a middle-manager. I wanted to create things. I wanted to collaborate with talented Filipino freelancers, not manage them. All I had to do to avoid that super stressful experience was to ask.

Imagine that, 3 minutes spent posting a question in a forum full of entrepreneurs could have saved me a year and a half of stress.

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

Look Into the Future, See Problems Before They Arrive

Are there any upcoming obstacles to your freelancing career? The best way to know for sure is to look up people who have already made the mistakes you’ll be making and successfully overcame the obstacles you’re about to face.

In other words, here’s what you can do today:

Step #1 – Look for 5 people online who have done the work you want to do. If you already have specific people in mind, that’s great. If not, you can look for online forums or FB groups where people like this hang out.

Step #2 – Ask them about their major challenges. If you’re new to freelancing, you can ask: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

Or if you’re looking to try a new field or new approach, you can tailor that question accordingly. For example:

  • “For those VAs here who now manage their own team, what unexpected major challenges have you faced so far? How did you overcome those challenges?”
  • “For those freelance writers here who have shifted from doing rewritten articles or SEO articles and are now doing higher value work (writing sales copy, writing blog posts, etc.), what difficulties did you experience with the transition? How did you face those difficulties?”
  • “For the freelancers here who have been working with clients outside job bidding sites, what unexpected problems did you encounter?”

Step #3 – Then, wait for the answers. Your internal response to these challenges will tell you kung gusto mo talaga yung path na ipu-pursue mo. Every choice we make has challenges or obstacles attached to them – that’s just the cost of pursuing anything in life. Are you ready and willing to face those costs? If the costs are more painful for you than the potential gains, then maybe it’s not the right path to take.

Step #4 – Don’t forget to thank the people who answer your question. It goes a long way, especially if you offer to help them or provide value in any way.

Help out other Filipino freelancers like you?

Now to the important part: let’s help each other out. Remember, this is a COMMUNITY. I’d appreciate it if you guys help each other out. So here’s what we’re going to do in the comments:

For Experienced Freelancers (freelancing for more than a year): Leave a comment about

  1. the type of work you do and
  2. Your answer to today’s general question: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

For New or Starting Freelancers: Leave a comment about

  1. What type of work you want to do
  2. Any questions you might have for those other Filipino freelancers who are more experienced
  3. Also, don’t forget to keep checking the comments within the next few days – someone might have already answered your question!

Writing Well: What “Serious” Freelancers Do

Good English writing skills is key to having a successful and thriving freelance career. And even if you don’t have any intention of being a freelance writer, you’ll still need to be good at this.

To illustrate my point, take a look at what you often do as a freelancer.

  • You market your services. You put up a website, email prospect clients, and set up Twitter or LinkedIn profiles.
  • You network with clients. You post in online groups and your own social media accounts.
  • You talk with other online professionals. You chat with teammates, voice your concerns on freelance forums, and offer your own insights via blog comments.

And what do you do to express yourself in all these outlets? You write. And yes, in English, because it’s the language used and understood on the web in general.

It’s simply necessary for you to know how to write sensibly and clearly.

But the best reason I got for this was mentioned in a fellow freelancer’s email to me last April. He said, “I want to know more on how to write effectively so that I can level up.”

This freelancer understood exactly what good English writing skills will do for his career. And with that attitude, he has taken the first step to becoming better.

You might want to do the same. And it’s okay if you want to get results fast. So here are some easy actions you can take to write better in English as quickly as possible:

[Celine’s note: To learn more about the importance of good writing when applying for any position, check out this piece from 37Signals, and this piece on the high demand for English majors.You don’t have to be an English major – I’m not one myself – but a good command of the language will give you an edge.]

Read at least 2 pages a day

You’ve probably heard the advice “read a lot” very often and know what the benefits of reading are, especially in writing improvement.

But forming the habit is not easy as it sounds. This is why you can start with something simple, such as reading 2 pages a day. You can read any book you like but try to read fiction sometimes.

Aside from boosting the brain’s connectivity, fiction helps you capture the everyday English words the characters use, which you can adapt in your online conversations.

Immerse yourself in English

If reading is not attractive enough for you, then watching English shows and movies might be more inviting. But again, like in reading, when you watch American, British, or Australian shows, keep your ears alert to seize the common expressions used in the language. You might want to jot those new words down ASAP too.

Another way to build your English writing muscle is to talk to yourself in English. Just use English when you think about anything like when you contemplate on how your day was or what’s happening in your life. When you catch yourself thinking in Filipino or other native dialects, shut that voice down, and think, how will you say what you were saying in English?

Use those words

Now that you have some words to work with and your mind is more inclined to using the language, it’s time to try out your writing muscles. Journaling or keeping a personal blog can help with this. [Celine’s note: You can keep your writing exercise blog private, many writers both new and established, have private blogs just to get them in the habit of writing.]

To make sure you get your grammar right, you can use resources like Grammarly.com or LanguageTool.Org. To give more color to what you’re writing, rely on your thesaurus or handy dictionary.

Personally, I have 2 paperback thesauruses and 2 dictionaries + 1 in my Kindle which I got here, (thanks to Celine), and I still refer to ones online. But that’s just me. 1 of each could be okay for you.

You can also find writing templates and use those as guides or triggers for inspiration. Like this simple template for writing your “About Me” page or LinkedIn summary:

  • Hello, I’m (Who are you?).
  • I’m a (What do you do?)
  • I help (Who do you help and add the benefits of what you do for others.)
  • Because (Why do you do it? You could also add another benefit here.)
  • If you need a (insert your offer/title here), (insert your call to action here e.g. email me, contact me, get in touch.)

When you look at the work of most successful freelancers, you’ll notice they do all the things you do too. But they stand out because they have a good way with their words. It may not be perfect but it’s good enough to show their professionalism and dexterity.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Which ones of these actions will you do today? Or if you’re already working on your English language and writing skills, what has helped you become better? I can’t wait to read your insightful comments.

Author bio:jovell

Jovell Alingod is a freelance writer helping businesses create helpful content since 2010. Grab the free resources she created to help you improve your web writing skills.

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.