As a professional freelance writer, I spend most of my days working alone in my home office. That said, while I may work for myself, that does not mean that I should be working by myself. There is a lot to be gained by networking with the rest of the freelancing and small business community. We may be competing with one another for clients in the strictest sense, but by working together and collaborating, we are able to create a bigger pie for everyone.
And it was with that kind of mindset that I attended Freelance Camp Vancouver 2012 last month. This is an “unconference” where the attendees are also the presenters. They pitch their topic in the morning and the sessions are then scheduled for the rest of the day. There were all sorts of entrepreneurs and freelancers in attendance, from web designers to photographers, advertising specialists to published authors. Listed below are five key lessons that I took home from the presentations that day.
DMCA Can Be Enforced Outside United States
Chang Han is an expert when it comes to trademark and copyright law. He had a talk about intellectual property, where he discussed the differences between having a “TM” after your company or product name and having that powerful “C” with a circle around it. This kind of copyright protection is incredibly important for people in creative businesses, like graphic designers and video producers, but it’s also important for anyone who produces any kind of content online or offline.
Many bloggers and website owners know about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows for protection for any intellectual property posted online. It is a United States copyright law and you are able to send your own DMCA takedown notice to the hosting provider where you find any “scraped” content. But it’s just applicable to American sites, right? Wrong.
In the strictest sense, it should only applie to sites that are hosted on servers inside the United States, but the vast majority of countries around the world have treaties in place with the USA and they recognize copyright laws outside of their own jurisdictions. In this way, you can usually use DMCA to enforce your copyright outside the United States, but be aware that some hosting providers in some countries may not be quite as compliant as you may hope.
It’s About Trust, Not Product
Francis Waller from Steady Contractor specializes in helping small businesses grow, attract new customers, and stay profitable for the long-term. What he has learned is that branding is oftentimes just for the big companies and that’s why you have corporations like Samsung spending so much money on just brand marketing. That does not work as well for freelancers and mom-and-pop type shops.
Instead, Francis says that it’s much more about building trust than it is about the actual product. Yes, there can be a notable difference between the photography services of one provider and the services provided by another, but on the smaller scale, you must first earn the trust of your customer. When they trust you and trust that you have their best interests at heart, they are willing to pay more money. They trust that you will provide them with the best product for their particular needs. In this way, you’ve got to start by building a solid rapport with all your clients.
Understand Your Customer’s Alternatives
Anthony Taylor from SME Strategy also works to help you grow your small and medium sized businesses, helping to identify your greatest strengths and your unique selling proposition. This can be best understood by the acronym VRIO: Valuable, Rare, Imitable and Organization. Are you providing value to your customers? Is your value rare in the marketplace? Is it difficult for other providers to imitate or duplicate your services or products? Are you properly organized to exploit your value proposition?
This really boils down to one key question as it pertains to the success of your business: What are the alternatives for your potential buyer? What is it that would convince them to buy from you instead of something else that could fulfill the same need? For example, you may be a fitness instructor and you offer fitness classes. An alternative for the customer might be a gym membership elsewhere, but it could also be a DVD, free training videos on YouTube, or an exercise e-book of some kind. You have to discover (and assert) what it is about the product or service that you offer that makes it more valuable to your customer than all of these alternatives.
Be Clear About What You’re Worth
Jill Binder is a “web coder who speaks multimedia” and she has learned a strategy for increasing the amount of money she can earn more money from a project. As a web coder, the nature of projects can vary considerably and so can the cost. How can you best determine an accurate estimate without underquoting yourself or your services?
It starts with a sense of confidence. Be realistic, but also be clear about what you are worth on an hourly basis. Remember to consider the difference between billable and non-billable hours, because you will be spending some of your work hours on non-paid tasks, like adminstration and social media marketing. Given all of these considerations, set your hourly rate and do not take work for less than that. Then, give you best estimates for the minimum and maximum number of hours it would take to complete a project, breaking it all down into individual tasks or groups of tasks. You can then provide an accurate estimate and you will ensure that you are being paid what you are worth.
Public Speaking Is Critical For Your Success
Lucas Mattiello from Level Up Living struggled from panic disorder for 15 years, but he as been able to overcome his panic attacks and anxiety since then. In fact, he has learned to be a comfortable public speaker and it has become a critical element to his professional success. Indeed, his talk at Freelance Camp Vancouver was on a moment’s notice. He was completely unprepared; he went from learning that he could present to actually presenting a mere half-hour later.
Yes, public speaking is one of the most common fears that people have, but you can use this to your advantage. Becoming comfortable with public speaking allows you to seize every opportunity and separate yourself fromthe crowd. This is true at “unconference” events like Freelance Camp, but it also applies to other facets of your professional life too. By standing up and taking that leap of faith, Lucas was able to put his name out in front of almost 200 participants. The rest of the attendees were more likely to blend into the background.
Being a comfortable and effective public speaker also helps to establish you as an expert and a leader in your field. As a freelancer, this can be positively invaluable for your current and future success.
Image credits: Jeremy Lim
Michael Kwan is a published author, freelance writer and professional gadget geek. He blogs six times a week at Beyond the Rhetoric, and yes, he can write for you too.