30 Days to Become a Freelancer

become a freelancerPhoto by Sidi Guariach

If you’ve ever thought about freelancing part-time but never done it, this post may help you. Most people never follow through on those thoughts because they are overwhelmed and confused by the process of starting a freelance business.

The aim of this post is to provide a step-by-step guide to launching a part-time freelance business in 30 days, going from zero to taking on your first client.

The format for this challenge was inspired by the excellent 31 Days to Build a Better Blog program, which concluded recently.

I really like this approach because it offers concrete, practical steps with a measurable result. Sometimes ‘do this, do that’ advice is more useful than theory.

My hope is that you can follow the steps here, putting one foot ahead of the other, and find yourself with a little freelance business at the end of the process!

The program is designed to be completed while you are working full-time, either by dedicating a couple of hours in the evening or mornings, or working on the program over the weekend.

It should be combined with daily hands-on practice in the skill you want to freelance in, particularly if you are a novice in that skill. If you are a novice, don’t delay the program until you feel you are ‘good’ enough.

The emphasis is on selling a very specific skill that you can become good at in a short period of time. 30 days practicing one hour a day is more than enough time to develop a specific service that you are good enough at to sell.

The main aim of this program is to help you learn how to monetize a skill that puts you into flow. This will make you a happier and wealthier person!

If you’re going to create your freelance business in 30 days, you can’t afford to waste any time – so let’s get started.

Day 1

Decide on the one service you will offer. I emphasize picking only one specific service because without freelance experience, you are probably not already highly skilled in the area you want to freelance in.

Even if you have been practicing it as a hobby for a long time, providing that skill as a service is a different challenge.

If you are wanting to freelance in web design, don’t offer everything and the kitchen sink to begin with (complete design + front-end code).

Provide PSD mockups only. If you’re more on the dev side of things, start with some code slicing jobs. If you want to write, start with one specific kind of writing.

This approach will help you become skilled in the service you provide very quickly. Since you want to be taking on your first client in 30 days, it’s crucial that you develop your skills to an adequate level.

Once you become comfortable with providing that one service, you will naturally expand what you offer.

Day 2

Gather learning materials to help you practice your service before taking on a client. As I mentioned in the introduction to this list, you should spend at least 1 hour per day just developing your skill.

While this should be mainly direct practice (doing rather than reading about), you will need to gather materials to guide you here.

This includes articles, interviews and tutorials. Focus mainly on developing techniques you could actually see yourself using in client work.

Day 3

Decide on a business name – are you a studio or individual? Then, buy the domain name and hosting.

You can freelance under your real name, a pseudonym, or a business name.

Here are some example business names I generated with this cool little thing:

  • Flying Dog Design
  • Green Ant Productions
  • Scarlet Zebra Interactive
  • Blue Cat Labs
  • Chestnut Rabbit Solutions
  • Golden Lemur Studios
  • Friendly Kangaroo Ltd
  • Evil Pencil Media

Of course, some of these are really absurd, but they do give you an idea of some common naming conventions.

Once you’ve picked a name, it’s time to buy the domain for that name. If there’s no domain available for that name, pick another one. Your domain branding is really important.

Buy a domain name that comes with web hosting, as the next branding step is to create your portfolio.

Further reading: Naming Your Freelance Business – To Personalize or Not (With a Poll!)

Day 4

Design your products. This is different from the service you are going to offer – here you decide how it is going to be packaged.

Are you going to sell blocks of time? Completed projects? What will your rates be?

Your goals should be modest as you are only starting out, both in terms of how much you will work and how much you will charge.

For your first job, I would suggest an hourly rate between $20 – $30. Keep in mind that you don’t publish these rates online and can therefore change them from client to client.

Just because you do one job at $20 an hour as you’re starting out doesn’t mean you can’t be charging $50 an hour a few months later.

Per-project rates are a great option down the track as they decouple the direct exchange of time for money.

I don’t recommend them to a beginning freelancer, though. It will be extremely difficult to come up with an accurate price estimate before you have the experience you’d need to look at a project and quickly have a reasonable idea of how long it is going to take.

That’s something that will only come with time and experience. (Note that this advice doesn’t necessarily apply to smaller jobs like article writing.)

Day 5

Set up a business email address and PayPal account. While your friends and family might not mind receiving email from ronny69@hotmail.com, prospective clients might! Create an email address linked to your new domain name.

Forward it to a free Gmail account, then under your Gmail settings, put your domain email address as your default ‘Send Email As’ address.

This will allow you to manage your domain email through Gmail, rather than the dubious email UIs provided by most web hosts.

A good format is @yourdomain.com. This will make it easy to give new people email addresses at your domain if your freelance business expands in the future.

Next up you should create a PayPal account if PayPal is available in your country. If not, try Moneybookers.

Most online freelancing is paid via PayPal and I consider it a must-have. If you dislike the fees, you can build them into your rates.

If you already have a PayPal account, it might be a good idea to think about changing your address to something linked to your business, i.e. ‘accounts@yourdomain.com’ or ‘paypal@yourdomain.com’.

Day 6

Set up WordPress under your freelance business domain. Every freelancer should have an online portfolio, even if it’s very simple.

If you’re a designer with time to spare you can probably take control of this step. If you want a quick solution that is quite effective, download WordPress and install it under your domain name.

Day 7

Select and install a portfolio WordPress theme. This platform will give prospective clients the means to learn more about you and your services, view your work, and contact you.

You can browse some great Premium options under $30 at ThemeForest.

Day 8

Write your portfolio ‘About’ page. Include your current location, any relevant qualifications you have, previous work you have done in the industry and previous clients you have worked for (don’t worry if there are none).

This is particularly relevant if you’ve been working in your field before going freelance. Keep in mind that this should be mainly professional rather than personal, but you can include some personal info at the end if you want.

If you’d like to include a picture, a specially taken portrait is a good option.

Day 9

Sign up at Formspring and create your ‘Contact’ form. I use Formspring often in my job and I think it’s an excellent way to create intelligent contact forms.

You can use this form to find out what kind of work the client is looking for and even what their budget is.

All this information will help you when it comes time to write your response and close the sale.

Day 10

Design your invoice template. If you fancy yourself a designer, create an attractive template for your invoices.

As someone who spends time receiving and paying invoices, they do affect my perception of how professional the freelancer is.

If you aren’t confident in your design skills then I would create an account at Freshbooks. They’re my favorite free invoice management service and I’ve used them often.

Day 11

Set up your home office space. You’re a freelancer now, so you need space to work.

A room dedicated just to your work is ideal, but if you don’t have that luxury (I know I don’t!) set up a desk or table in one of the quieter rooms in your house.

A bedroom is a good option, but keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to get away with late nights – or possibly early mornings – if sharing with someone else!

In my experience, the cornerstones of an effective home office are a computer that works quickly, a good chair and a large monitor, or multiple monitors, for better productivity.

Day 12

Create a logo OR commission a logo OR work more on your skills. While not every freelancer has their own logo, it’s a fantastic addition to your branding.

You can use it in emails, watermarks, business cards, invoices, your portfolio and when presenting work to your clients. If you don’t want a logo or don’t have the budget yet, work more on your skills today.

Day 13

Start work on a portfolio item – you will have 5 days to complete this. More important than having items in your portfolio is the practice you will gain from completing this exercise.

By the end of the 30 day challenge you will have three items in your portfolio, and this is the first. These items should involve the exact skills you will be selling to clients.

Here are some ideas for portfolio items in various industries:

  • Copywriting – write an original sales page for an existing product or service.
  • PSD to code slicing – purchase a cheap PSD template and convert it into a functioning demo site.
  • Writing – write an article suited to appear in the kind of publication you want to work for.
  • Web design – create a one-page design.

Day 14

Add a page to your portfolio describing your one service. You should call this page ‘Services’ – for example, ‘SEO Services’.

On this page you will describe the service you provide to the client. Make sure to focus on benefits, not just features. For example, your SEO services “will funnel highly targeted traffic primed and ready to buy”.

Day 15

Read Freelance Switch’s guide to Getting Started as a Freelancer. There are some great articles here that cover all aspects of getting started with freelancing in more detail. If you have questions, you’ll find answers here.

Day 16

Familiarize yourself with tax laws for freelancers in your country. In my job I often receive invoices from Australian freelancers without an Australian Business Number listed.

Unknown to them, it is actually illegal for me to pay them without that 11 digit number. Luckily it only takes a few minutes for them to apply for and receive their ABN once notified about this, but your country may have stumbling blocks of its own – and they might be a bit trickier to deal with!

Make sure you’re aware of the tax and government requirements freelancers must comply with in your country. A good place to start is the website of your national or state tax office.

Day 17

Announce that you are going to be taking on freelance work soon. If you already have an audience online, whether it be blog readers, your social media network or forum buddies, let them know that you’ll be available for freelancing soon.

This will build a little bit of buzz and anticipation. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to line up your first client before you’ve officially opened for business!

Day 18

Start work on portfolio item #2, add item #1 to your portfolio. Now that contains some work, you have a genuine portfolio.

Now we’re going to work on beefing it up by adding a couple more items. Item #2 should again illustrate your one service, though approached from a different angle.

If your first sales letter was for skin cream, the second might be for a membership site, and demonstrate a different selling style. If your first PSD to code conversion was for a WordPress blog, the next one might be for a business site.

Day 19

Perform some simple SEO on your portfolio. Sprinkling a little SEO-dust on your portfolio can eventually help to bring a trickle of prospects to your portfolio on autopilot.

To begin with, use likely keywords in your portfolio title (i.e. ‘Jane Smith: Flash game designer – Melbourne, Australia’). Try to work keyword phrases into your copy and page titles if they seem natural.

Install a WordPress SEO plug-in like the All-in-One SEO Pack. If you want to learn more, read Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.

Day 20

Make your portfolio public (link it up everywhere). It’s time to debut yourself to the world (very quietly).

Google can’t know about your portfolio if it can’t find it, so you need to leave a trail. You give Google that trail by linking to your portfolio wherever you can.

Start by linking to it on every online property you have ownership over – blogs, Facebook pages, forum signatures, email signatures, Twitter profiles, Flickr profiles, etc.

Day 21

Create free portfolios and profiles wherever you can. Yes, you already have a portfolio, but you want to get your work out to as many people as possible.

Some prospective clients may never know the right keywords to find your site, but they might browse Carbonmade or LinkedIn instead.

Day 22

Sign up to job boards relevant to your industry and subscribe to their RSS feeds. The Monster List of Freelancing Job Sites is your roadmap here.

You don’t need to apply for any jobs today – your only task is to gather a ‘watch list’ of job boards and sites. Browse through some of the jobs available to get an idea of what’s out there, but don’t apply for anything yet.

Day 23

Start working on portfolio item #3, add item #2 to your portfolio. Another portfolio item done and dusted – well done!

It’s now time to move on to item #3, your final item in the 30 day challenge. Once again, show your ‘one service’ in a different shade.

This time, create the item as if you were working for the type of client you most want to work for. If you’d love to write sales pages for high-end internet marketing products, make that item #3.

If you’d love to get work as a live show photographer, go out and photograph a gig in your area.

The type of items in your portfolio will affect the kind of work you get. I think this quote from freelance designer Barton Damer illustrates this well:

“A couple years ago, I began only posting projects I love. I pulled down logos, brochures, etc. off my portfolio and only posted digital art. The result, people started contacting me for digital art!” (Source)

Day 24

Announce that you are now available for freelance work. Most people prefer to hire someone they know.

They could spend 30 minutes searching online and probably find somebody more talented than you are (there’s always someone more talented!), but people place a lot of value in feeling they can trust the person they’re working with.

That’s why your existing network and audience is an excellent place to find work. Post about it on your blog, tweet about it, update your Facebook status. Let the world know that you’re ready to work!

Day 25

Apply to 10 jobs on various job boards. Over the last few days you’ve hopefully been keeping tabs on your jobs ‘watch list’.

You may have earmarked a few jobs that looked good to you. Now is the time to really take the plunge and start applying for work.

I have advertised for freelancers before and I speak from experience when I say that by following the instructions in the job ad very carefully you will launch yourself into the top 5% of applicants. Seriously!

A friend of mine recently applied for (and won) a job in web development. The instructions in the job ad stated that the subject line of the application email had to contain the word ‘Elephants’.

Though a little confused by this request, he complied. Later on after winning the job he learned that although the company had received close to 100 applications, only 7 of them contained the word ‘Elephants’ in the subject line.

The company did not even open the other 93 emails. For them, the ‘Elephant’ instruction was a way to test the applicant’s attention to detail.

As a final note, make sure to only apply to jobs that match your ‘one service’. If you can’t find 10, don’t broaden your scope just to make up the number.

If you end up applying for and winning a job that requires skills you don’t have, you may also end up delivering a sub-standard end product to the client.

Remember: you want this job to be something you can add to your portfolio!

Day 26

Email 10 prospective clients. Erm… didn’t you just do that? Yes, but this kind of emailing is different.

Here you are offering your services to people who don’t know they need them yet. If you’re a PSD to code slicer, look for the portfolio of a web developer who states that they are not taking on new work at the moment.

This means they’re really busy. Send them an email presenting yourself as someone trustworthy to outsource to and help them get through more clients. (Note: this works in just about any industry, not just design.)

Next, look for people who might need your skills for other reasons. If you’re a freelancer blogger and you know a good blog that pays for content, email the owner and offer your services.

If you’re a copywriter and find a lackluster sales page, offer to create something better. If you find a website that’s poorly coded, offer to shore it up with impeccably valid and clever code.

Keep in mind, though, that when presenting your services as a ‘better’ option you are often talking to creator of the original.

If something looks DIY, it probably is. Rather than criticizing the original, point out the virtues of a professional service.

Day 27

Exchange your skills for promotion. Money is not the only currency a freelancer earns. They also earn promotion, referrals and reputation.

Today your goal is to trade your skill for promotion and exposure. Pitch a guest-post to one of your favorite blogs.

Offer to create a logo for a popular website that doesn’t have one yet. If there are errors in their web design, offer to fix them.

The key here is not to do something for free and hope that you get something in return. Negotiate this exchange like you would if you were being paid in cash.

Outline specifically what you want in return. Do you want to be mentioned in a site update? Do you want a testimonial? Do you want a post written about you? Do you want a banner on the site for a set period of time?

You’re providing the client with something of value, so you should expect to receive something of equal value in return.

It’s essential that this arrangement is made before you do any work at all. This guarantees you won’t waste your time and that you won’t spring any surprises on a client who thought they were getting free work without any strings attached!

Day 28

Create a Twitter account for your business. If you already have a Twitter account, consider whether it is consistent with your business branding.

If not, you might want to consider creating a separate business Twitter account. The point of this is to get your clients to follow you. This is, in my opinion, the best possible way to stay in the minds of previous clients and encourage repeat work.

Some freelancers are so good at generating repeat work that they don’t even need to look for new clients!

If you begin working towards this goal from the beginning you will give yourself a useful head-start.

If you create a Twitter account for your freelance business, make sure the visual branding is consistent with your portfolio. You need consistency to create a ‘sticky’ brand that clients remember.

Here is a quick introduction to Twitter for freelancers.

Day 29

Ask 5 people for a testimonial. Testimonials are solid gold to a freelancer, yet most of us don’t know it.

Consider that more than talent, more than cheap rates, more than a slick portfolio design, prospects are looking for someone they can trust.

Your portfolio items help them trust that you do good work. Your client list helps them trust that you are professional. Your testimonials help them trust that you are good to work with and deliver what you’re paid for.

Even though you don’t have clients yet, you can still have testimonials. A testimonial is, at heart, a statement vouching for you.

Clients are not the only people who can provide these. If you’re a designer, get a testimonial from someone who thinks your work is great.

If you’re a blogger, get a testimonial from a reader who thinks you’re talented. And finally, something anyone should be able to do: get a testimonial from a friend who thinks you’re a good, kind, trustworthy person.

If you feel uneasy asking for a testimonial, look through comments, tweets and emails about you. When people say nice things, that’s an instant testimonial you can use.

Day 30

Add portfolio item #3 to your portfolio, then buy yourself a home office gift for completing 30 days to become a freelancer!

Your portfolio now contains 3 items – not bad at all! You’ve been working hard these last 30 days. Whether you have found a client yet or not, you’ve set up your own freelance business, and that’s an achievement.

To celebrate, buy yourself an upgrade to your home office – something you will use to improve your business. Whether it’s a 30″ screen or a nice packet of ballpoint pens will depend on your budget, of course…

If you haven’t won a job yet, don’t worry. Your first job is always the hardest to land, and the process will get easier over time.

Keep applying to any job that looks good, building your skills and your portfolio. Eventually your tenacity will be rewarded.

From Moonlighting to Daylighting

While you’ll begin doing 5 – 10 hours of freelance work a week, plugging away at it on evenings and weekends, you may eventually decide that you’d like to make freelancing your primary source of income.

While much has been said on transitioning from part-time to full-time work, I can’t stress enough the importance of a financial safety net.

Ideally you should use the extra income gained from part-time freelancing to build the cushion you’ll need when you go 100% solo.

Having said that, most freelancers won’t make the jump until they are consistently turning down good quality job offers that they don’t have the time to complete while moonlighting.

Chances are you won’t need to rely on your safety net, but it’s still an essential.

Taking it to the Next Level

What I’ve outlined here is really the most basic kind of freelance business. It’s effective and can be very lucrative, but there is still more you can do.

I’ve not had the space to touch on more advanced SEO strategies, creating a launch process for your services, using a blog to funnel clients into your business, building a referral program, becoming an industry leader to charge premium rates, and other advanced business strategies.

I know many readers are just getting started, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to post these high-level strategies on the blog.

Instead, I’ll put them in the newsletter I mentioned in the ‘flow’ post. Don’t worry – it’s getting closer to being ready every day!

#1 Untapped Income Source That Freelancers Forget

Are you a designer, developer, copywriter, freelance blogger, or any other kind of freelancer? If so, there’s one lucrative income source that you’re probably missing out on.

You don’t need to buy any products, join any programs, or learn something new from scratch. This is something you already know how to do, and if you’re like most freelancers, you’re giving this valuable service away for free without even knowing it.

Read on to find out the biggest untapped source of income that most freelancers never realize exists.

You could add consulting to your freelance business right now

You don’t have to ‘be’ a consultant to do it. If you can teach or advise clients about something, you can provide consulting services for them.

If you already do this for clients, you’re already doing consulting work – but may not realize it, and as a result, you’re probably not charging what it’s worth.

Here’s how you identify consulting work:

Are you working with the client to flesh our their ideas, strategies and concepts?

Example: a client approaches a web developer saying they want to create an ‘interactive learning environment’, but they don’t know how to do it.

The web developer then helps the client choose a plan, structure and software solutions that will create their ideal system. Here the developer is not doing any coding at all. They’re consulting.

How often do you do consulting without realizing it – giving the client advice on their overall strategy – and charge your regular coding fee?

Are you teaching clients how to do it themselves?

Example: a copywriter submits a completed sales page to a client. The client is extremely happy with the copy, but also worried about the future.

She wants to use the same copy for updated versions of her product, but is afraid that she’ll wreck the effectiveness of the copy by making uneducated changes.

The copywriter teaches the client the basics of copywriting so that she can update the copy on the fly as she adds more features to her product.

How often do you give clients advice on how to do the work for themselves without realizing that you are actually giving them valuable consulting time?

How this can affect your bottom line

Everyone knows that consultants often charge high hourly rates. This is because the skills and advice they pass on to the client are extremely valuable.

Teaching a client how to ‘do it themselves’ means they could save hundreds or thousands of dollars on hire costs. Lending an expert hand to a client’s strategy can be the difference between success or failure for them.

If these kinds of activities are already part of your business but have been lumped in with all the ‘doing’ work that you do – writing the copy, building the code, designing the logo – and charged at your regular rate, I’d urge you to start thinking of these higher-level activities as separate consulting services, and presenting them as such to clients.

I’ll talk about packaging and pricing a bit later on. For now, I want to dedicate some time to those of you who are not yet doing consulting-type work in their business, and explain how…

Any freelancer can start consulting on the side

When dealing with clients, you’re usually in a position of expertise. If you can see a way to sharpen their system, introduce cooler features or do something better, offer to consult with them and tell them how.

OR, as an upsell when your ‘doing’ service ends, offer to teach them how to ‘do it themselves’. Web designers can show clients how to update and customize the website they’ve just been built, going above and beyond a quick summary and working with clients in-depth.

Search Engine Optimization experts can show clients how to perform ongoing basic SEO on their site. Similar opportunities exist in any field of freelancing.

You also don’t need to wait until your service ends to sell this kind of consulting. It might help you attract new clients who only want to invest a few hours in learning how to do it themselves to save on the much greater costs of hiring an expert to do everything for them.

Rather than paying someone $3,000 to run a Pay Per Click ad campaign on their behalf, the client might invest $500 in learning how to run a similar campaign themselves. Learning DIY methods is a common strategy for people who are time rich but money poor.

OR, you can teach other freelancers how to do what you’re already doing. Freelancing is a booming industry and there are brave people escaping ‘the man’ and going solo every day.

These people are often hungry for guidance. They read blogs like this one, buy eBooks promising freelance riches, but what they’d find most useful is a mentor who has been there, done that and can teach them how to get started from scratch.

If you’re concerned about creating competition for yourself, work with people who are in a field that doesn’t overlap with your own sphere of work.

If you’re a logo designer, train up web designers, for example. (To be honest, though, I think there are enough freelancers plying their trade that one extra person entering your field won’t make a difference to your own chances).

Why doing consulting work can transform your bottom line

I don’t want to promise you that as a consultant you’ll be able to charge $500 an hour, $250 an hour or even $100 an hour – though I know that some freelancers are.

Where you’ll be completely depends on how your clients value your time, value your consultations and to what extent they view you as an expert.

What I can state with confidence is that you will be able to charge significantly higher than your hourly rate, since you’re providing a high-level service with long-term value to the client.

If you’re completely stumped as to what this should be, think about starting at double and slowly working your way up. If you charge $25, charge $50 for consulting.

If you charge $50, charge $100, and so on. If these figures sound unattainable, consider that they are below what most people doing consulting work will charge. These people are not necessarily special or uber-talented, but they do have faith in the value they provide.

As you become more confident in your worth as a consultant, work on raising your consulting rate by increments.

Of course, wait until you’re in a safe financial position first before trying this. My suggested method is as follows: each time a client accepts your rate, raise it $5 for the next prospect.

The point is not to keep raising your rates until you’re an out of work prima donna. You do this to test various price-points and find the one that balances a high conversion rate from prospect into client, while providing maximum profits for your business.

In the long-term (and hopefully the short-term) you will thank yourself for going through this process.

If clients are snapping up your services without even a little bit of haggle, this probably indicates that you could be charging more.

If they are always saying no on grounds of price, you’ll need to raise your perception of value in their eyes before you can raise your rates. Or, find a different type of client.

This is only a tool

I’m certain that a few people will read this and say: “Yes, I do consulting for my regular rate, but it allows me to land bigger jobs,” or other similar objections.

That is totally fine. Doing consulting work is a high-yield service you can add extra profits to your business straight away, but it is completely up to you how you use it.

One interesting parting fact I’ll leave you with is this: almost every single six figure freelancer I’ve known does consulting work alongside ‘doing’ work, and every part-time freelancer earning a full-time income I’ve known spends a significant percentage of their time consulting.

If you’ve read this far, you’re clearly interested in the possibilities. Take out a pen and paper and write down all the ways consulting could fit into your freelance business.


Building Trust In a Virtual Team

This is a guest-post by Chris Bowler.

With all the technology available to us today, no matter what your company’s setup is like, you most likely have a few virtual coworkers.

Most corporations today are at the very least a heterogeneous environment — traditional offices mixed along with off-site coworkers or staff working from home.

Some companies are completely virtual. And research suggests that the biggest challenge to having an effective team is trust amongst these coworkers.

Why is trust so vital to a successful, productive team? In the simplest terms, a team works together to be productive.

And in order to work together, rather than work simultaneously, team members need a level of comfort with the abilities, competencies, and intentions of their teammates.

Trust enables a team to focus on tasks at hand rather than protecting each member’s own interests. The interests of the group become the interest of each individual.

How to Build Trust

So how can a team build trust? Different tactics will work for different types of groups, but there are some general concepts that will work for any team.

Social Interaction

This is probably the most important idea. Getting team members to know each other is crucial, and meeting in person is generally the best way to do that.

Even if a team is geographically dispersed, the benefit of meeting in person should be measured against the cost of getting a group together.

Of course budget and scope of a project may dictate whether or not this is feasible, but it should be the first option considered.

Share Leadership

Another key factor for any employee is ownership. Why do small startups have such passionate team members?

Because they have ownership in the product they are creating. And so it is with sharing leadership: give team members areas of responsibility to manage and they will ‘own’ a portion of the end goal the team is trying to meet.

Communication and Predictability

Communication on its own does not build trust. But it is the beginning of building that trust. Once enough communication occurs, teammates are able to learn the patterns of one another.

This leads to predictability, which is where trust begins to form. Being confident in the type of response you will get from teammates allows you to focus on the content of a message instead of the recipients possible reaction.

Consistent Processes

Teams have particular bits of work that need to be performed repeatedly. Because of this we build processes (how to create a new account, submit a change request, commenting on code etc).

And in order to be effective, processes need to be consistent. And communicated. When people know there is an overall ideal that should be adhered to but have never been given a logical, step-by-step plan for how to achieve that ideal, frustration will reign.

Build processes in a way that everyone on the team can at the very least be confident that all team members are performing these particular bits of work in the same manner.

And a crucial element to laying the foundation for processes is ensuring that each team member is included in any communication about these processes. Which leads to…

Ensuring Inclusion

In a virtual or heterogeneous team, in order for all team members to feel a part of the team, they must feel included.

This can be even harder for a team with a centralized office with outlying team members. All the points discussed so far are needed to ensure this feeling of inclusion exists.

All team members need to be a part of any significant communication and have avenues available to provide feedback.


One last item that needs to be mentioned is miscommunication. This has been discussed plenty before but is important enough to warrant a mention.

With a virtual team there will always be incidences of mixed signals. When 90% of communication is body language, electronic communication will often result in messages being received in a manner not intended by the sender.

Of course you want team members to be sensitive to this issue and proactive in resolving any misunderstanding that occurs. But there are also some good practices to keep in order to reduce the miscommunications:

  1. Write your emails while thinking from the recipients point of view.
  2. Keep messages short. Flowery prose will turn people off.
  3. Hand in hand with point 1 – brevity. Get to the point.
  4. Write a good subject line. Set the background for the message content.
  5. Leave the jokes for other mediums. One person’s joke is another person’s insult and in an email there is just too much of a possible misunderstanding.

Awareness Is the Beginning

Building trust within a virtual team can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. It starts with being aware and making the issue a priority. B

y using a lot of these tips, teams can bond quickly no matter what their setup and learn to trust in one another. Once you have trust, the focus can wholly be placed on the goals of the group.


Recognizing Your Inner-Boss: 10 Breeds and How to Survive With Them

They are: the perfectionist, the ‘done is good enough’, the devil on your shoulder, the workhorse, the innovator, the technophile, the guilt-tripper, the workaholic, the scheduler and the friend.

Which inner-boss are you working for?

This post will identify 10 breeds, as well as explaining how you can make the best of them.

1. The Perfectionist

How to spot one:

You’re happy to work-over time or add a few unpaid hours on to a project if it allows you to get it perfect.

While your clients/employer/you appreciate the quality of the work you do, your inner-boss is often a little too happy to hand in work late as long as it’s perfect.

The highs:

You produce great quality work and give your best to every task put in front of you.

The lows:

Some tasks require 20% of effort to get them ‘good enough’, 80% of effort to get them perfect. You might find yourself spending more time on a project than it really needs, and you rarely coast into deadlines with ample time to spare.

Making the best of it:

Try to do work that requires quality over speed, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be done immediately. By focusing on high-pay, high-effort but un-rushed projects, you can squeeze plenty of positives out of your inner-boss.

2. The ‘Done is Good Enough’

How to spot one:

This inner-boss encourages you to be a machine — to churn through jobs as quickly as possible, even if you sacrifice some quality along the way. ‘Done’ is good enough.

The opposite of the perfectionist, your inner boss encourages you to consider the minimum amount of work required to get paid and move on to the next job in line.

It’s most often seen when you’re not making as much money as you’d like and need to churn through a lot of work to make ends meet, or when you’ve fallen behind and are desperately trying to catch up.

The highs:

Completing work quickly is something your clients will love (if you have them). This approach can also help you get on top of things when you’ve fallen behind.

The lows:

You’ll make mistakes here and there, and you may need to return to a job you considered ‘done’ once you find out that it’s not as unfinished as you thought.

While clients might be impressed with the speed of your work, they might also have hoped for a higher level of quality.

Making the best of it:

There’s a huge market out there for self-employed people who work fast. When somebody needs something done urgently, works well-enough and delivered quickly is much more desirable than works perfectly and delivered slow.

Some clients will pay top dollar to have work turned over rapidly, so you can incorporate your inner-boss into the fabric of your business.

3. The Devil On Your Shoulder

How to spot one:

In an office job, this kind of boss would be a dream: he/she loves to relax, take breaks, have fun and work as little as possible.

For a self-employed person, though, this kind of boss can be a big obstacle. It will tempt you away from work, on to YouTube, or to take breaks, even when you don’t really need them.

The highs:

Overwork is not a problem for you. You aren’t neglecting other areas of your life in favor of work.

The lows:

This inner-boss can stress you out and cause you to fall behind with work. Truth is, you need to earn a certain amount of money to stay solvent, and that’s tricky when you spend the bulk of your days playing guitar/Xbox or hanging out with your kids.

You may struggle to reconcile a love of life and leisure with the need to make ends meet, and it could impact on your income.

Making the best of it:

Start keeping solid track of time. While this kind of inner-boss probably won’t let you work in four-hour stretches, set yourself a quota of work-hours for the day.

This will allow you to work irregular hours as long as you do the needed amount of work eventually.

4. The Workhorse

How to spot one:

This inner-boss treats you like a workhorse. It will load you up with more work than you think you can handle. Sometimes you will surprise yourself and get it done — other times you will fall way behind.

You might also feel like you’re never quite on top of things. Your inner-boss always has something waiting for you.

The highs:

You test assumptions about your capabilities and often surpass them. You often churn through more work (and earn more money) than others around you.

The lows:

Sometimes your inner-boss will go too far, encourage you to commit to things you can’t possibly fit in, promise deadlines you can’t keep, and under-estimate the time and effort required to complete a project.

This can lead to stress, late nights, overwhelm and overwork.

Making the best of it:

Once you’ve reached a level of work you feel comfortable with (not too much, not too little), make it your policy to swap-out new projects, rather than add them on.

You’re likely going to think much harder about taking on more work when you know it means you have to drop something else. This will also encourage you not to take on a new project unless it’s significantly better than a project you’ve already taken on.

5. The Innovator

How to spot one:

The Innovator is passionate about refining your workday system. It looks for things to eliminate, automate, systems to polish and refine, new rules to follow, new tools to use, and new ways to do things.

The innovator is constantly searching for the perfect workday.

The highs:

Innovation done well can help you do more work in less hours and become more effective.

The lows:

Some Innovators never quite get there, spending hours each week reading about productivity and work-systems without making any significant changes.

Blaming flaws in your productivity system can prevent you from looking at the deeper issues affecting your approach to work.

Making the best of it:

Spend an hour each week with a paper and pen, examining your work, your career’s future direction, what works and what doesn’t.

Innovation in your personal work style will only be focused and effective when considered in light of your larger plans and deeper considerations.

6. The Technophile

How to spot one:

Technology is the answer. This inner-boss encourages you to spend your work days logging into different accounts and tapping into web services as you go.

Your office exists mostly (if not entirely) on your computer and you firmly believe that technology-related purchases will pay for themselves in no time.

The highs:

Technophiles encourage you to be highly mobile and to experiment with new technologies. By being willing to experiment with your work-tools, you can make some truly remarkable and useful discoveries.

The lows:

Cutting-edge technology won’t count for much if it’s paired with an outdated workstyle. In some cases, web apps and Firefox extensions can make simple tasks more complicated than they need to be.

Making the best of it:

Actually try remote working — at least for a few days. With a plugged-in workstyle, you’re in the perfect position to do so. Get out of the house sometimes!

7. The Guilt-Tripper

How to spot one:

You should be working right now, right?

If a part of you agreed with that question, but you’re technically not supposed to be working now, you’re probably wrestling with an inner-boss who uses guilt to her/his advantage.

You’ll find yourself thinking about unfinished tasks when you’ve finished work for the day, and feeling like you should be at work, even when you shouldn’t.

This inner-boss likes to make you feel kinda bad about enjoying life.

The highs:

You’ll find it harder to procrastinate and waste time. If your inner-boss can make you feel guilty about taking breaks when you’re fully entitled to them, it will make you feel five-times more guilty when you’re actually supposed to be working.

The lows:

Plenty. Constantly feeling like you are not doing well enough with work and that you’re wasting time whenever you do something enjoyable will make it more difficult to enjoy yourself when you have a right to do so. This can cause stress in the long-term.

Making the best of it:

You need a schedule to create non-negotiable protection lines around work and life. You need time when you are simply not allowed to work, just as you need time when you are simply not allowed to play.

The longer you go without giving in to the urge to work, the less likely you are to think about work in times of rest and leisure. You can train yourself to think differently.

8. The Workaholic

How to spot one:

Your love of work occasionally takes on the dimensions of an obsession. You will sometimes choose to work in your free time over doing something you enjoy.

You find it difficult to define what is ‘work’ and what is ‘not work’. You know you work too much and don’t always mind.

The highs:

You love your job — that’s a great thing. You get a lot done and will probably be earning good money (either now or in the future).

The lows:

One part of your life is flowering, but could you say the same across the board? A workaholic inner-boss is not incompatible with happiness, but make sure you don’t neglect other areas of your life.

Making the best of it:

Set a weekly limit for hours you’ll work each week. For each hour you go over on one day, subtract an hour from another day.

The system will act as a natural barrier against overwork, unless you ignore it. (Most systems don’t work if you ignore them!). Change starts with your inner-boss.

9. The Scheduler

How to spot one:

If you’re reading this during your 4pm to 4:30pm blog-reading slot, your inner-boss may well be a scheduler. A schedule is your safety net, and you find it difficult to be productive without one.

The highs:

You know what you should be doing at any given time, and you’re forced to think about how long a given task should take, and stick within that time-frame.

The lows:

Un-forseen events can throw-out your schedule or make it redundant. In those situations, schedulers are not always sure what to do. Rigid schedules are also easy to throw out of whack.

Making the best of it:

Try making your schedule more dynamic. You could create a new schedule for each week, or even a new schedule each day, for that day.

With such a system in place, you’ll have the safety of a schedule without being thrown by changes to your routine.

10. The Friend

How to spot one:

Most of us have at least a little of this inner-boss in us. He/she knows when to work and when to stop, and when other things are more important.

It wants you to succeed, but not at the expense of other aspects of your life. It constantly strives for balance — and while imperfect, it does a lot of good.

The highs:

As long as your inner-boss is, or is influenced by, this ‘Friend’ model, you’ll come out on top.

The lows:

None come to mind. While you’d expect your inner-boss to be additionally influenced by one or more of the other nine models, this approach will keep you working happy.

Making the best of it:

Make sure to bring what you learn from this aspect of your inner-boss to other aspects that don’t always work so well.

A scheduler + guilt-tripper will always have troubles, while a scheduler + friend could be quite effective.

How to Be Your Own Boss (Without Acting Like One)

You don’t have to answer to a boss.

You can work the hours you want.

You can work from where you want.

You can choose your own clients and ventures.

You can do things your way.

With those things in mind, it’s no wonder that being self-employed is often seen as something worth envying.

When I tell people what I do for a living, it’s surprising how often I get the response: “Wow — how can I do that?”

Most of those who’re envious of my workstyle earn quite a bit more than me — so it’s obviously not about the money!

In truth, I think it all comes down to one thing: the assumption that being self-employed must equal a stress-free lifestyle.

I think the root of this idea is that the toughest aspect of work is answering to others. Once you remove that from the equation, it seems logical that stress would leave with it.

This is not quite true. There are a million ways to earn a living through self-employment, but you will always have to answer to at least one person: you.

How would you grade your inner-boss?

It’s time for some digital water-cooler catharsis.

My inner-boss definitely has some room for improvement. She’ll load me up with an inhuman amount of work and expect me to get it done at any cost.

When I don’t get it done, my inner-boss assures me that it wasn’t the amount of work that was the problem — it was my own inability to be more effective.

In other words, my own inner-boss isn’t so different to the kind of hairy, fleshy boss you find in hi-rise buildings and on factory floors.

Judging by the sense of guilt permeating productivity blogs — particularly among the self-employed — I don’t think I’m the only person who left a real, unreasonable boss to create another one for myself.

How to retrain your inner-boss

Understand that it’s not always your fault.

Remember the last time a real boss expected you to finish ten complicated tasks in half as many hours?

This scenario happens because your boss has no idea what goes into getting the work done — and can’t be bothered to find out. Don’t let your inner-boss start to show the same behavior.

If you don’t have a realistic idea of how long certain tasks take, your workload becomes a matter of luck.

Sometimes you’ll give yourself too little (and your inner boss will say that, really, you were just particularly effective), and sometimes — probably more often — you will give yourself too much (and your inner boss will say that, really, you were lazy).

While it’s not necessary to keep obsessive track of time, thinking about it and keeping rough tabs on it is worth doing.

Once you’ve recorded some rough values, average them out. If you spend 7 hours a week checking email, you can deduce that it takes about an hour on average, so you’ll know to set aside an hour for that, instead of estimating that it takes 15 minutes.

An “it takes however long it takes” attitude — something I personally struggle with — will make it hard to keep your work day under control.

Stop feeling guilty about life outside work.

This is where your inner-boss gets sneaky. It won’t yell at you for doing something other than work, and you might not think about him/her at all while you’re taking an hour or so to watch television, have a nap, do some craft, or play a video game.

When it’s time to go back to work, though, your inner-boss is very good at using guilt to its advantage. It’s hard not to start thinking about what you could have accomplished if you had worked for an extra hour instead of going out for pizza, or doing any other thing that makes you happy.

As self-employed people, our flexibility can be a problem. We can (technically) work as much as we want, and the amount of time we spend working can directly affect our income.

An office-worker paid to work 40 hours a week isn’t going to be paid twice as much if she or he works 80 hours. This is not necessarily true for us.

One truth should be enough to mute your inner-boss when it attempts to make you feel guilty:

Work is something you do so you can enjoy life more.

If work (or your approach to it) is making it harder to enjoy life, then something needs to change.

Learn something from the 9 to 5ers.

Working whenever you want is an incredible perk, but that’s no excuse to avoid making a conscious decision about how much you want to work.

My dad is a complete technophobe and, as a result, is fascinated by what I do because he doesn’t quite understand it.

For a while, his favorite thing to do when calling me up to talk would be to ask: “How many hours did you work this week?” He knew my answer would be: “I don’t know!” — which amused him no end.

As someone who earns an income either passively or per task, counting hours seemed unnecessary to me for a long time.

My dad’s question, although meant as nothing more than a joke, did help me realize that being unable to estimate the amount of hours I’d worked even to the nearest ten made work/life balance impossible.

On a business-sense level, not setting limits around work-hours will increase procrastination tenfold and productivity none.

After all — you can always do it later. Once you set limits, you can’t use that excuse any more. Personal deadlines start to mean something.

While you certainly don’t have to work 9 to 5, it’s important to make a conscious decision about the amount of hours you want in your work-week — whether it’s 4 or 40.

Once you decide on a figure, multiply it by two. That’s your target work-total for two weeks. A longer time-frame gives you more flexibility.

From there, you might work out a steady work routine that you’ll stick to without deviation, customized to allow time for the things that matter most.

Alternately, you might shift around your hours fluidly from week to week, depending on what your schedule is like. Setting limits doesn’t require that you sacrifice your flexibility.

While your inner-boss will tempt you to work overtime, you can blunt this by enforcing a simple policy: for each hour of overtime you work, add an hour of free time.

You can use up your earned hours in bursts, or save up eight hours to take a day off.