Start with what you are providing. Are providing a task (such as programming, DB design, project management, specification writing and so on)? Or are you providing an effect (such as more transactions per hour, lower cost per sale or invoice for your client, faster time to market)?
If you are selling a task, you will tend to charge less than if you are selling the effect of that task. This is probably fair. We all expect to pay more for results. Perhaps more importantly, clients often know what those results are worth before you start.
Selling a task is often easier than an effect, but that does not mean that it is more fair.
Tim Williams on the Ignitions Consulting Group blog writes:
The agency business is severely limited by its inability to scale. […]
The problem with the agency revenue model is that agencies don’t actually have a revenue model; they only have a cost structure. A revenue model is a framework that identifies how an organization generates income, including specific offerings, pricing approaches, value classes, customer segmentation, pricing tiers, and more. An effective revenue model produces multiple revenue streams based on innovative pricing strategies. The billable hour hardly meets that definition.
If the agency model is this constrained, imagine how bad it is for solo professional services providers.
Daniel Reiter for the FreshBooks blog writes:
We wanted to understand if there are any patterns to getting paid faster, so the FreshBooks Data Analytics team did some digging into what FreshBooks customers use as invoice payment terms in 2019, and what the impact of those terms have on client payments.
Turns out if you give your clients more time to pay, they’ll take it: Putting “30 Days” in your payment terms has lower time-to-paid percentages than the “All Invoices” column.
One of the most glaring takeaways is that asking for payment sooner will get you paid sooner.
Your key takeaway to [getting] paid faster is to ask for payment within 7 days and start charging interest on unpaid invoices. Throw in a “Thank You” and you’ve got your bases (and your client relationships) covered!Use Your Payment Terms to Get Paid Faster
Regardless of your billed revenue, as a solo consultant (or small firm) you are only as viable of a business as your liquidity.
Your business will die – even it bills out a billion dollars – if it doesn’t collect it fast enough to pay your own bills and your own salary.
I’ve been pestering anyone who will listen about this sort of thing for years (e.g. here).
Invoicing and collecting on your accounts receivable is generally not an exciting topic for most business owners. But cash flow is the blood flow of your business. When you think of it that way, perhaps it’s worth an afternoon or two of tweaking.
My suggestion for invoices:
“Due upon receipt. 1.5% per month financing charge applicable if not paid within 7 days. Don’t hesitate to let me know if any concerns or issues. Thank you!”
(Check your local laws; I’m told that many states regulate what the maximum annualized late payment interest percentage can be. Mine works out to 18%. If unsure, remember I’m not providing legal advice. A safe bet might be to see what your local utility companies have in their fine print and match it).
Dan Spratling writes on DEV Community about their just two week old freelancing adventure:
I’ve been struggling to thrive in corporate environments for a while. Lots of meetings, very little team-play, or having poor leadership. Some of the workplaces I’d been in had been toxic, others just couldn’t accommodate the growth I was capable of. Whether big or small, I’d been held back working for other businesses and I’d had enough.
It was time to take back control.
I started researching, as we all do when making a life-changing decision (I hope!). I gathered as much information as I could, looking for ways to make a living as a freelancer. Many of my friends had been freelance at some point so I asked them for help, either by asking for advice or through referrals.Becoming a Freelancer – DEV
Great tips for aspiring or existing freelancers in this post from new freelancer Dan Spratling, a UX consultant and website specialist, who I came across recently on Twitter. A lot of folks starting out are afraid to commit to avoiding hourly billing, insisting on upfront payment collection, and ongoing marketing. Dan is farther along than I was when I started out. 🙂
Megan shrewdly writes on the BlackFreelance blog:
One thing I will give employment credit for…it does package up work nice and neat. That’s what keeps people hooked.
That’s what keeps people running back…work just sitting there waiting for you without you having to think about where it comes from. It’s the hardest thing to walk away from.
That little fact right there? Is why freelancers who are serious about their businesses really have to focus on making a mental shift when it comes to getting work, and that’s why today, we’re gonna talk about prospecting.
First off I want to be clear about something…anyone who wants to build a sustainable freelance business that adds actual value in their life? They’re going to have to think about prospecting. BUT…it’s something you develop over time, so if you’re bad at it, scared of it, or have no idea what it is, that’s fine and totally normal. You’ve got time to up your prospecting game.Prospecting: The Freelance Habit You Didn’t Know You Needed – BlackFreelance –
Dan Biewener writes on the Fundbox blog:
If you are self-employed — as a sole proprietor or independent contractor with no employees — you may still be able to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan until August 8, 2020. Don’t let the “paycheck” in the name fool you into thinking you wouldn’t qualify for this forgivable loan. In fact, since you don’t have staff headcount, payroll, and benefits to calculate, your application process (for the loan and later for forgiveness) should be much simpler.
In essence, even as a sole proprietor, the PPP loan can provide you with funds equivalent to 2.5 months of net earnings you would have made — if it weren’t for the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic — based on a comparative period from 2019 (or the first 2.5 months of 2020 if your business began this year).
You can also use a portion of this loan to cover some operational expenses for your business (like business-related rent, utilities, or interest payments on a mortgage or other business loans). However, if you want to qualify for loan forgiveness, these operational expenses can only account for up to 40% of your total loan amount.Self-Employed? Here’s How You Can Apply for a PPP Loan Too. | Fundbox Blog
Going through the detailed list in the post, it actually doesn’t look terribly painful to apply for. And worst case: it’s a cheap (1%) five year or ten year term loan (if you end up not qualifying for 100% forgiveness). Well, actually worst case is that you really need it and don’t get approved, but the point remains …
I haven’t done this, so I can’t give a firsthand perspective. I suspect a few folks, however, may find this information useful. There’s no shame in applying if you need it. And if you need it you need it.
Corinne McKay writes on her blog about freelancers that are concerned they’re “too old”:
Does your brain still work?“I’m too old for this”: valid concern, or not? – Training for Translators
I love how simply Corinne responds to this question.
Merilee Kern interviewed David Fields for Innovation Enterprise. It’s filled with lots of nice tidbits like this:
Fields contends that most consultants—particularly boutique firms—who don’t have enough clients believe they have a visibility problem; i.e., not enough prospects know about them. In fact, most of those consultants have an impact problem. They’re in front of enough prospects, but those prospects don’t care about what the consultant is offering. In contrast, successful consultants know how to ‘fish where the fish are,’ which means they focus their firms on issues clients are aware of and urgently want to solve. Amazingly, many consultants offer solutions the consultants think are important, without ever checking the market need.What Few Consultants Deliver That Every Client Wants | Articles | Strategy | Innovation Enterprise
Tom Hirst writes:
Pricing freelancing projects is tough. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Everything I’ve learned. A thread.Pricing Freelance Projects | Tom Hirst
Tom started a quality Twitter thread about his experience pricing projects as a freelancer a couple weeks back. He has since posted it in article form on his blog.
Blair Enns writes on the Win Without Pitching blog:
Many agencies like to boast on their websites and in their pitch decks that they “partner” with their clients. It’s bullshit of course. What they mean is they aspire to have their clients treat them like partners instead of vendors. I get it. It’s good to have a goal. But putting it on the website doesn’t make it true.
As an industry, we need to let go of this need to claim partnership with our clients and embrace the fact that some of these relationships are purely transactional. At the same time, however, we should keep an eye open for those wonderful but rare opportunities for true partnership.You Don’t Really Partner With Your Clients | Win Without Pitching
Also his observation about client mix is worth mulling over:
A Normal Distribution of Client Types
In a healthy client roster you will have a mix of client types. On the left-hand tail you will have a small number of transactional price-buyers to whom you are effectively selling excess capacity, and once-good clients on their way out.
In the middle you will find the bulk of your clients, made mostly of value buyers who, though they might be price sensitive, understand they need to invest in your services to generate value in the marketplace.
And out on the right-hand tail you might possibly have a coveted partner. Maybe even three.
Once you get the hang of this performance pay thing, you may decide to be more selective about your clients with the goal of one day having all of your clients be partners. But that’s a path few firms will choose and fewer still will be able to master. Most will choose instead to spread the risk across many engagement types with the bulk of their engagements being in the low risk, low reward category.