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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Freelancer chat – Matt Welvaert

Welcome to today’s Freelancer Chat, with Matt Welvaert from Lean Marketing.  For new readers: each week I’m publishing an interview with a fellow freelancer or small business owner.  The questions are the same each week, which allows for interesting comparisons between the interviewees, and concentrate on how people have started off and what they’ve learnt.  Looking towards the future, each interviewee is asked if they would like to do a follow-up interview in a year’s time (everyone’s said yes so far!) and so we’ll get to see if the answer to the question “Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time” has come true. 

Back to our current subject: Matt is another contact from the 4N networking organisation’s forums, and is a relatively new freelancer, having set up his business just seven months ago.  Like me, Matt’s been soft-launching (starting his new business while working at a day job to bring in money to support himself) although he’s disengaged himself from his day job more quickly than I’m doing …

1.  What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

Lean Marketing, January 2011.

What made you decide to set up your own business?

I was frustrated with working for employers in the marketing industry and reckoned I could do a better job than many of the agencies I have worked for.

What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

I have a degree in Marketing and 13 years of experience in the industry so it was a bit of a no brainer really. Plus, I enjoy the work and the changes and opportunities that technology is bringing about.

Had you run your own business before?

Yes, I dealt in second hand cars and was a freelance car sprayer in a previous life.

How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

I had a full time job working for a marketing agency and started to promote Lean Marketing on a part time basis. When I had enough clients to cover the mortgage, I took the plunge and went full time with Lean.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

None of your clients will pay on time!

What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

See above!

What do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I had gone out on my own sooner, when I had fewer commitments to cover.

What are you glad you did?

Took the time manually to send around 300 emails to potential customers to establish my initial client base. This tactic got a 5% appointment rate and I have had a great success rate of converting those appointments into confirmed business.

What’s your top business tip?

Ensure that you have enough time to promote yourself, as well as doing great work for your clients.

How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

It’s still very early days but I’ve certainly grown in the last 6 months. I had to, as I started from zero! In terms of diversification, I’m doing more social media marketing for clients than I ever would have expected.

Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

I’d like to think that I would have taken on a part time administrator, to deal with the day-to-day running of the business, whilst I concentrate on bringing in more work.

Read more about Lean Marketing here: www.lean-marketing.co.uk; you can contact Matt by email or by phone:0845 519 5249 – 07990 503 931

Click here for more freelancer chat. Find out what Matt was up to a year later. And do get in touch if you’d like to be a featured interviewee!

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Small Business Chat, Writing

 

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Enquiry, inquiry or query?

We don’t often have a Troublesome triplet, but these three do go together and I’ve been asked about them a few times now.  This is another one where the American English is a bit different  (enquire is more common in British English, inquire in American English, which matches use of ensure and insure), so we’re sticking to British English here.  The Dictionary doesn’t distinguish between them that clearly, but my “special” dictionary for Editors and Writers does, so that’s what I’m sticking with!

Enquiry – a request for information.  To enquire – to ask for information.  “I would like to enquire as to the price of this article”; “Please enquire within for information on our rates and services”; “Directory Enquiries”

Inquiry – a formal investigation (e.g. by the police, the courts, etc.).  To inquire – to make a formal investigation.  “An official inquiry has been launched into the murder of the policeman”; “The Select Committee are inquiring into the expenses scandal.”

Query – a question. To query – means to question, to ask a question about.  “She queried the amount she was asked to pay”; “I have a query about the expenses you’ve claimed.”

“I have an enquiry about the outcome of the police inquiry; can you answer my query about paragraph 4?”

You can find more troublesome pairs here.

 

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On Why I Love What I Do

I wrote this during graduation week at the University where I still worked part time at the time, and that’s a time of year I have always loved.  The expectation, the joy of the families, the relief that the hard work is over.  And during the past couple of years there’s been the added pleasure of knowing that some of the people whose dissertations and theses I’ve proof-read are among those happy bands of people throwing their hats into the air on the library steps at my University and at various campuses around the country.

It’s not just the students, either.  OK, I also had a lovely email from a client whose English I’ve been helping throughout her Master’s year.  She’s nearly finished her dissertation, it isn’t half bad, her written English has improved hugely as she’s worked hard through the year, and I’m proud of what she’s achieved – and she appreciates the care I’ve put into my work with her.

But I’m also proud of the novelists who get their precious words in print, whether in a “tree book” or electronically.  I enjoy working with people who struggle with their writing, whether English isn’t their first language or they face issues like dyslexia, and bringing their words and meaning to life with them.  And I’m always excited to see my name on an acknowledgements page in a book!  I get a real thrill from opening a favourite magazine and seeing a journalist’s article which they’ve created from the bare bones of an interview I’ve transcribed for them – but I’m also pleased when I help someone with a transcription that is never going to see the light of day anywhere but in a research paper.

I get pleasure from seeing my corporate clients grow their businesses with the help of blogs and press releases I have written.  They are so proud of the work they do, and I love the fact that I can fill in some of the areas in which they might not be so confident.  I don’t think I’ll stop being pleased when I see the words I’ve written filling someone else’s website, helping them climb up the search engine rankings and representing their voice as well as I can – even though there won’t be a credit to me on the website and sometimes I don’t even tell anyone I’ve written it!

I also love helping other entrepreneurs and organisations, both formally through helping out at the Social Media Surgeries and more informally at Entrepreneurs’ meetings in coffee shops and the Social Media Cafe every month.  It’s great meeting other people with such enthusiasm and drive, and wonderful to share ideas, tips and hints, in a spirit of collaboration rather than competition.  As part of that, I’m really enjoying putting together the interviews I’ve been posting on Saturdays for the past few weeks.

I became a librarian because I wanted to help people and benefit society in some way.  As I transition away from my library career and more and more into Libro’s world, I am happy to say that I feel I’m helping people and benefiting them and, yes, society, perhaps more than in my library work.  Libro turns two in August, and I will continue to work in a way that I feel is both comfortable (most of the time – a few challenges along the way make it more fun!) and ethical, and, well … I love doing what I do!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proof-reading, transcription and typing services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations.  Click on the links to find out more!

 

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Stationery or stationary?

The stationery / stationary pair mix-up is one I see a lot.  It’s an easy one to get wrong, but hopefully an easy one to get right (or else just bookmark all these troublesome pair posts, I suppose!).   If it comes to it, learn “stationery” as I’m fairly sure I see that more often than “stationary”, on the grounds that if you know one of them, you can work out the other one.  Or something.  Anyway, here we go:

Stationary – not moving, still.  “The traffic was stationary”

Stationery - writing materials.  “My wedding stationery has a pink theme”; “Have you done the office stationery order yet?”

“The stationery truck is caught in stationary traffic and we have no more notepads until it gets here!”

You can find more troublesome pairs here.

 

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Freelancer chat – Aly Mead

Aly is another person I met through BookCrossing – back in 2004.  She used to go to the London BookCrossing meetups but started coming to the Birmingham ones and we kept in touch after I moved up here.  Aly and her husband, Paul, run Silicon Bullet, which offers IT support and accounts, payroll and customer relationship management software and training.  Aly combines her work with raising a family and being active in the life of her village.  She has embraced networking in an enthusiastic and successful way, and always seems to be whizzing around the south Midlands, meeting other businesswomen for coffee and chat and weaving together a great network of recommendations and referrals.  Like my work, much of Aly and Paul’s is done remotely, although they also both get out and about visiting various offices around the country to provide support and training.

1. What’s your business called? When did you set it up?

My business is called Silicon Bullet Ltd and it was set up in 2000. We are an IT support company, providing solutions to small companies not big enough to have their own IT department.  We are also a Sage Accounts, payroll and ACT accredited reseller and trainer.

2. What made you decide to set up your own business?

Initially Silicon Bullet was a partnership of three IT contractors who were concerned about IR35 legislation.

3. What made you decide to go into this particular business area?

Paul  and I met doing IT degrees at Aston University, and had worked for an IT support company previously; Adecs, based in Coventry.  I also had accounts experience and at Adecs undertook the full bookkeeping role including payroll, so we are able to cover the  combined IT and accounts skills required to support small companies.

4.  Had you run your own business before?

Paul and I had previously had our own company, APM Computer Solutions, where Paul was mainly an IT contractor with 1 or 2 smaller clients and I was the bookkeeper, so the accounts side of running a small business did not faze us.

5.  How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?

While two of the IT specialists continued contracting, Paul dropped out of that role to build up an IT support business with small and medium sized businesses, so we were no longer reliant on IT contracts from major blue chip companies.  Two of the contractors left quite quickly, deciding to risk going it alone, which left Paul and I as joint equal partners in the company.  We had enough clients that we no longer needed the support of the other IT contractors and Silicon Bullet was able to move from strength to strength supporting our clients.  This took about a year but meant we didn’t have to apply for finance but could still pay our bills.

6.   What do you wish someone had told you before you started?

We have been very lucky, as we had the model of a successful small business in Adecs to follow, and in the 11 years we have been going have managed to keep business flowing in.  One thing would be don’t waste your money advertising in Yellow Pages and similar companies; networking and going out to meet people is by far the best way to gain new clients, although print directories are rather an old idea now with all the internet sites available.

7.  What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?

Networking is the key, and word of mouth.  So when you do a good job, make sure you get a quote or testimonial that can then be used for marketing and advertising.

8.  What do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I had the confidence to go out networking earlier to build our business.

9.  What are you glad you did?

I am glad I have stuck to what I know and not diversified.  I stick with the Sage suite of products as I use them in my own business and know them backwards.  When I train novice bookkeepers in business I can speak from experience rather than diversifying my portfolio and being a jack of all trades and master of none.

10.  What’s your top business tip?

Go networking if you can.  It is the new buzz word but has worked wonders for my side of the business for Silicon Bullet, and I have found good friends and a support network too.  There are many different types of groups, so try a few and see what works for you.  For me Women in Business and the more informal morning coffee type groups work, but you could have breakfast, lunch and dinner at networking meetings if you so desired.

11.    How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?

We dabbled with taking staff on a few years ago and it just did not go well.  It was hard to find someone with the right skill level so we went back to being a husband and wife run business.  A business of our size is not right for everyone, but we don’t pretend to be a larger company, and our customers speak with their loyalty and tend to stay with us for their IT support for the long haul.

12. Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?

We would perhaps like to try a different tack with growing and take on an apprentice or year out student to grow our business, and that way we will get staff we can train to do things our way.

More information about Silicon Bullet is available here: www.siliconbullet.com  and you can call Aly or Paul on 01604 420057.  Aly adds: We are based in Northampton but as most IT support is done remotely these days we have clients all over the country.  I cover a wide area with my training as we are based close to the M1 in Northamptonshire.  We also use remote control software so are able to diagnose and fix PCs as well as train remotely also.

Click here for more freelancer chat. And find out here what Aly was up to a year later!

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Small Business Chat, Writing

 

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Practice or practise?

This explanation of this particular troublesome pair is very definitely confined to British English.  I will write something about the differences between British and American English on this blog at some stage.  But this one is strictly English.

Again, this can be explained quite simply, although people seem to get in rather a state about it all.  Maybe everyone’s bookmarking these posts so they don’t have to get in a state any more!

Practice is the noun – football practice, Best Practice, these dodgy practices have to stop.

Practise is the verb – Ben is practising his football techniques.  I need to practise making up good examples.  The GP practised handstands in the practice waiting room.

To sum it up in one go: Ben went to football practice to practise his goal-keeping skills.

You can find more troublesome pairs here.

 

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Outsourcing for fun and profit (2)

Welcome to the second in my two-part series about outsourcing.  In Part One we learned about the different tasks you could consider outsourcing to an outside company or individual.  Now we’re going to look at how to work out if it’s worth outsourcing.

There are three reasons why you might choose to outsource a task:

  • You’re so busy, you don’t have time to perform the task effectively, or at all
  • The task is not one of your specialities (OK: you’re not very good at it)
  • It’s more costly in terms of time and income to do the job yourself than to pay someone else to do it

Let’s look at these in turn.

You’re too busy to do the task yourself

Your company’s doing so well that you’re flooded with orders and work, you’re making those widgets till they’re coming out of your ears … but your filing system’s a mess.  Call someone in to sort out what you don’t have time to do.  You’ll profit in terms of having good systems that can be run easily, and not wasting time sorting through a mess to find a vital piece of paperwork.  Or you’re a journalist with too many deadlines and you haven’t got time to transcribe all your tapes – send them off to someone else!

You’re not very good at the task

Maybe you’re great at making widgets but you clam up on the phone when you’re making sales calls to get more clients.  Or you create beautiful websites but panic when a client asks you to write or check content for them.  Or you work with your hands, add up invoices in your head, but need to create some leaflets and are not sure of your spelling.  This is when calling in an expert in their field will help you concentrate on building your expertise – and income – in your own field, and make sure you’re representing yourself as well as you can.

It would actually cost MORE to do it yourself

Remember that method of justifying buying an expensive coat by breaking it down into cost per wear (price of coat divided by number of times you’ll wear it.  Now it costs 50p – hooray!)?  Well this works a bit like that.  Say I have a very simple tax return to do and it only takes half an hour.  Say I charge my clients £20 per hour.  Doing my tax return will cost me £10 in terms of lost potential revenue for that half hour (and I know it’s so simple that an accountant wouldn’t be able to get my tax any lower).  I doubt I’ll be able to get an accountant to do this for £10.  So it’s not worth me outsourcing it.  But if I had a big complicated business, with VAT and all sorts of deductions, and it took me 10 hours to battle through it, then that £200 in lost potential revenue (plus any tax savings I’m missing by not being an expert) could probably pay for an accountant to do it properly.  Similarly, if it’s going to take you 10 hours to type up a 1 hour interview tape that I could do for you for £45, it’s worth outsourcing to me and saving time and money.

In summary: if it’s more expensive to do it yourself, or you don’t have the time or skills to do it, consider outsourcing!

Libro offers copyediting, copy writing, proof-reading, transcription and typing services to other small businesses, individuals and corporations. Click on the links to find out more!

 

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