The Freelancers' Show 128 - When Things Slow Down

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The panelists talk about what to do when work is slow.

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I love it because I can buy a book, download it to my iPhone, and listen while running errands or at the gym. Get your free trial at freelancersshow.com/audible]** [This episode is brought to you by Code School. Code School offers interactive online courses in Ruby, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and iOS. Their courses are fun and interesting and include exercises for the student. To level up your development skills, go to freelancersshow.com/codeschool]**[This episode is brought to you by ProXPN. If you are out and about on public Wi-Fi, you never know who might be listening. With ProXPN, you no longer have to worry. ProXPN is a VPN solution which sends all of your traffic over a secure connection to one of their servers around the world. To sign up, go to ProXPN.com and use the promo code tmtcs (short for teach me to code screencasts) to get 10% off for life] **CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 128 of the Freelancers’ Show. This week on our panel we have Eric Davis. ERIC: Hello. CHUCK: Curtis McHale. CURTIS: Good day. CHUCK: Reuven Lerner. I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv, and this week we’re going to be talking about what to do when things slow down, when you have a low, when you don’t have a client. Now, I know that we've all probably experienced this – I'm just curious, when was the last time you went through this where you were looking for clients but didn’t have clients? CURTIS: Almost every June, actually, for some reason. But this June, for sure, was about six weeks – it’s actually about six weeks of slow time for me. CHUCK: Oh wow. Things slowed down for me actually right now. I have several people that I've talked to, I get a client lined up and then, “Oh, we have to go back and figure this out. We’ll contact you when we’re ready.” REUVEN: Yeah. [Chuckles] I haven't had a low in work, overall, for a while because I've got the training thing. Because I work with a training company, it tends to schedule me, and we just keep scheduling more and more in advance. So now, at least with training, I'm pretty much booked for the next three months, but I don’t like to do just training. I like to have clients as well, and that seems to have its ups and downs. Especially I find that I have lows for my employee; he’s now on his third month of a three-month project, but for the two months before that, we didn’t really have much for him. If you want to include him and me, then probably three months ago, we had something. CHUCK: Yeah, that makes sense. ERIC: Yeah, and I just got out of one. It was like for four or five months that I didn’t have any work. Correction: I had some work, but it was not a lot, and I just got out of it I guess about a month ago. Now I'm freaking out because I'm too busy again, which is how it goes. CHUCK: Yeah, I've actually been doing little bits of work here and there on Canvas. I don’t have one project that takes up an entire – even a week, so I'm talking to several people and seeing what I can line up. So what do you guys do when things slow down? Have a party? Sleep in? CURTIS: A little bit, honestly. I work on personal stuff. I have enough money saved that it’s not really that big of a deal. Usually when I come to June, I can tell myself that I'm paid until November, so I don’t sweat it. I just keep on with my normal process, which we can talk about as well – for marketing, and working on personal stuff, take some relaxing time, head to the beach more often with my kids. CHUCK: Yeah, I wound up going to a conference and then I've been working on DevChat.tv and getting that together. I have one show on there now, and I'm working on moving the other shows to it is what I've been doing, so I've got that going as well. And then I just keep up on the marketing, I reach out to a bunch of people every day and make sure that they remember who I am and – just stuff like that. CURTIS: I think the big thing on people that are starting is they don’t expect it so much, or they don’t have the experience to say, “This is just something that happens; I don’t need to worry about it.” I also found that a lot of freelancers I talked to that they hadn’t planned ahead financially, so they really do need work absolutely every week to keep the ball rolling. Like I said, I'm paid until November, plus we have personal savings on top of that, so I am paid longer than November, technically. And then if I decide to go do expenses only and not coffee shop on any other stuff, then we are paid longer than that as well. REUVEN: Well, that’s great. I'm not there in part because of finishing the PhD and everything, so I'm in a bit of a tighter financial situation. At the same time, as I mentioned, I've got the cushion of all the training that I do, and that basically can fill arbitrary amounts of time. I mean, the training company I work with, they just call me and say, “When are the next days you have free?” and as I said, this sort of keeps extending further and further into the future. But part of what I realized over time in doing consulting is that these things come in waves. If I feel like, “Oh no, I have nothing going on now,” it doesn’t mean I'm just going to sit back and not do any sort of marketing and not reach out to people, but I can also be confident that at some point within the next, say, two weeks, I will get an email from someone, somewhere, asking me to work with them. Just today, there's this project I've been working on with my employee for that last three months, and we might continue with them, we might not; we’ll see if they want to continue with us, and we’ll see if we want to continue with them. And so I was starting to think, “Well, what would we do?” Literally this morning, I got an email from someone saying, “Hey, we were in touch about three years ago; I really liked what we talked about. It never happened; we never actually ended up working together, but I've got a new project going on and I think you could be a good fit for that.” If you get enough feelers out, enough marketing going, you'll get enough email from people that'll take up some of that slack. CHUCK: Yeah, that’s definitely been my experience. The more people I know and the more people that I can talk to, it makes a big difference. Basically, what I tell people to do is this: you meet as many people as you can, you talk to as many people as you can, reach out to as many people as you can remember having worked with before. Obviously, you should be doing a lot of this stuff on a regular basis so that you're continuing with your marketing, but just continually reaching out, staying in touch, seems to make a big difference. REUVEN: Yeah, I mean, when you guys say that you reach out to people, do you contact former clients? Do you contact people with whom you had been in touch about potential things? Because when I say “reach out,” I think, “You know, there are these people, and we never really went anywhere – probably won’t help, but sure, I’ll contact them, I’ll email them.” Most of the time, truth be told, nothing comes out of it, but sometimes it does. CHUCK: Yeah, I’ll email or I’ll phone call or whatever – whatever I feel like is comfortable. CURTIS: I get in touch with my long-term clients. I have a couple of clients who had been around for years, and I’ll reach out and say, “Hey, how’s it going? What's up?” and usually like, “We had been planning to do this little thing over here.” During June, I actually ended up – usually – taking on some fairly small projects just to do some other outside client work and it’s not necessarily full weeks. And then I reach out to even old clients or clients that didn’t go with me, who went with someone else, and just check to see how the project’s going. There's been a few times when I picked those up and they said, “Oh, the other person just has no idea. It’s just in a hole and not happening right now” and then we picked it up together. REUVEN: Do you ever use Twitter? I know you guys are heavier Twitter users than I am, but I've seen people talking about jobs online there. Do you ever use that to reach out to people? CHUCK: Sometimes. ERIC: I don’t like twitter or social media as marketing or that sort of thing. If you have a relationship with people, it’s good to kinda strengthen it and just kind of have a relationship. There's been one project for sure – I think maybe two; I’d have to double check – that came from Twitter directly. I had a relationship with another person, he knew someone who is looking for some help on a project and kind of referred me. We started talking on Twitter a little bit, and then we took it to email, so it’s more of just kind of the extension of having a network of people you talk about stuff with, and through that network, stuff can get past you or you could even search on Twitter or anything else and find projects that way. It’s probably more competitive than if you had someone kind of recommend you, but that’s normal. CHUCK: Yeah. My experience with Twitter has been mostly sometimes something will float across –. I have enough Twitter followers where I can actually post that I'm looking for work, and a lot of times, people will come to me, but they don’t usually come to me with the jobs I want; they come to me with jobs that I could work. But if I'm really hard up for work, then sometimes I wind up taking them just because I don’t have 10-million months in the bank like Eric and Curtis do, so that has worked out. And then on very rare occasions, I've actually seen something float by where somebody is looking for a developer, but I just don’t think it’s a great place to have a conversation and engage with people on that level, so you move off pretty fast from Twitter onto something else – email or whatever. CURTIS: Yeah. I ask, whenever I'm slow in work like in June, I’ll say, “Hey, does anyone – I'm looking for some new work right now. I've got some availability” and I’ll have friends that maybe don’t refer to me regularly, but that just reminds them and I got –. This year actually, June – it was okay, with some little jobs, because friends said, “Hey, do you want to do this?” and it was work that I was interested in and just smaller than my normal projects. It was just fine. ERIC: Yeah. And as what I said, to think back, because I've done that a few times, like, “Hey, I'm looking for work” if [inaudible]. But it’s like, “I'm looking for work; if you have some, contact me” and there's a link to my contact form. I haven't actually seen someone contact me through my contact form, but if I could actually track it, it would be attributed to Twitter. There might be a few projects I picked up that came from those sort of things, but like you said, they're typically smaller or not fully qualified, or just not the same quality standards as other ones that I would chase down normally or get a referral for. CHUCK: Yeah. One other thing that I've pulled a few times when things were slow is I'm on the mailing list for Instructure Canvas – I've brought that up a few times – and so I’ll actually do things like post to the list and say, “Hey, if you need help I can help you out. I have some down time between now and in a few weeks.” Another thing that I've done is I've actually – they’ve been discussing how do you set this up or how do you do this kind of thing, and so I’ll make a video and post it, and it’s pretty timely. Then I’ll just mention in the video, “If you want me to do this, then I can; you can hire me” and that has worked out for work here or there. ERIC: One thing I started doing this – I would say, this year. I think I started end of last year, but I have kind of a prospect mailing list – it’s people who might not be actual clients yet, but they're interested and kind of to learn a bit about me. It’s like a short introduction to me, my services, what I do and all that, but what I've been doing about every month or so if I have availability coming up, I’ll send out an email saying I have one spot open, two spots open – whatever. That way, if there are people that have been kind of on the fence, or they have a project that’s not urgent but they just want to work with me, they're waiting for me, that gives them an opportunity to kind of get in contact with me. I'm going to be doing some more of it now, because I got a little bit of slack time between projects, but I'm hoping that you kinda use that also as a way to keep in touch with potential clients, get them warmed up with this stuff. I've had [inaudible] following up over nine months, so if I can build this into something that’s – people will expect it to come every now and then. I can build a lot of trust with that, too. Also something you can do, if you don’t have a lot of work right now, you can try to build systems like this, kind of reinforce follow-ups, stuff like that, and that will kinda pay off in the long term. REUVEN: Right. I'm planning in the next day or two now that I'm back from vacation and everything to start regular blogging and start on my newsletter again, but I feel like those things are probably – even if you have a bunch of people on them – medium to long-range things. If I’m looking for work in the next week or two, then post it to my blog – it will help me in six months to a year; it won’t help me in a week or two. ERIC: Yeah, and I can’t remember who said it – I said it recently in a private chat or something, but they basically said, “The marketing you're doing now is what's going to help you in 12 months” and I found the same for me. I actually found that I can actually do marketing now and then in six months it would start helping me. There are short term things that, you pick up the phone and cold call companies in your local area, like that’s – you could have a new contract in a day or two versus starting to blog and all that. That’s going to be a year, maybe multiple years down the line before you start seeing it pay off. CHUCK: Yup, absolutely. I think, really, your best bet is referrals. Like Eric was saying, you talk to people who are either hiring or can send you those referrals. I just reached out to everybody and anybody; I mean, the worst thing they could do is tell you no. I guess you could piss them off or something, but –. REUVEN: Well there's also – I think Curtis does this a bit where he worked for agencies or sort of do outsourcing for them on specific topics. I haven't done that in a while, but –. CURTIS: I touch base with those agencies. I just treat them like a normal client, right? I just touch base with them and see what's up, or touch base with the lead developer and ask what projects they're working on or something. CHUCK: One other thing that I'm curious about – and I know that Eric has done some of this, and I think Curtis has done some of this. I remember we were chatting on the Ruby Rogues channel with Avdi Grimm and he told us that when things slowed down for him, was the universe telling him to write a book? Do you do any of that stuff in the meantime while you're out prospecting, or do you just hardcore go after clients as hard as you can? CURTIS: Like I said, I do personal stuff, so I finished off writing and released a plugin for WooCommerce and restricting content for people. That’s what I had focused on a bunch, and now it’s out, and I'm just doing updates and future editions as opposed to the main core plugin now. It coincides well with the WordCamp out here locally, so my talk will get accepted and then I’ll do the presentation typically in that slow season as well. ERIC: Yeah. In my last – it wasn’t a slow time; I took time off specifically from client work, but in that last one I wrote my latest two books and then in the slow time I actually –. I'm in the middle of doing it right now, but I have a four-week training program I'm giving for other freelancers and consultants. I started envisioning and putting this together back when it was slow for me, and kind of the reason is even if you're really hungry and running out of savings and all that, it’s really difficult to do marketing and sales your entire day, full-time. If you don’t do it normally, like if you're not a marketing consultant, it drains so much of your willpower, your ability to do stuff that by the end of the day, you're just completely tired. If you do that too much you burn out and so you end up – the quality of the marketing and the quality of the salesmanship you're doing goes down dramatically. So for me, I found that I can do a couple of hours in the morning, work on something else, maybe do a couple of hours in the afternoon. Typically it would be like marketing in the morning, maybe product work or kind of the personal stuff like Curtis talked about, kind of late morning-early afternoon, and then I'd do sales follow-ups in the actual later afternoon. You're going to have some slack time; if you're not stressed about it, it might be good to kind of take care of health stuff, get out of the house, do something that will make you feel better so when you do get a client booked again, you're going into it 100%. CURTIS: Yeah, when I started out, I'd have a limit for myself. I needed to make ten that I felt were good contacts or good cold calls in a day, and once I hit my ten – whether that was via phone or via email – then I didn’t push myself to do more unless I wanted to. That wouldn’t include client follow-up though, like people I had already contacted, say, a couple of days ago. If they were getting back to me and it still felt good, that would be on top of the ten new contacts I made. ERIC: Right. What I do is I do the Pomodoro Technique for all of my work, and so I actually will set aside two or three Pomodoros a day to do sales stuff. And just like you, if it’s something like someone I just talked to yesterday or like a hot lead that I'm following up with – that’s a priority. Near the bottom are cold calls or contacting people just from my network, just kinda seeing if there are any referrals. When I really need work, I’ll do that; I’ll set aside some stuff every single day and then if I'm busy, I’ll set aside some time every other day or every third day or something like that. CURTIS: Like I said earlier, part of my process is to continue follow-up with people. I have follow-up emails at least two or three times a week for older clients that I haven't talked with in three months, and I just touch base with them and see how things are going. I just keep on that schedule for a while, like I don’t create the schedule just because it’s slow; I don’t necessarily increase things. This year, I took the time to add mailed [inaudible] cards to my clients. I've added that now every time I book a new client and take an invoice on almost anything on a new project, I send them a card basically saying, “Hey, it’s awesome to start working with you” and then at the end I’ll also send them one. My good clients, I have a schedule to send them one at least once a year – just a card, saying, “Hey, how are things going?” basically. REUVEN: I just want to add that I'm working on a book now. A kind of book that’s for people who’ve learned basic Python who want to exercise it and learn it better, deepen their understanding through exercise, which, for my training, people kept telling me, “Oh, this is really something we could use.” I'm not working on it because it’s a low, but I'm just working on it sort of in my spare time between other things, hoping that it will lead to new and better clients, as well as selling the book, obviously. Even this – I'm hoping to release it in about a month or two at most, and even then, it’s not a matter of immediate payoff; it’s a matter of medium payoff, and then long-term payoff as well. ERIC: Yeah. It’s also kind of the authority play with books. If you wrote a book on Python, you're going to be seen as more of an expert than someone else who doesn’t have a book on Python – assuming the client’s looking for Python work. So yeah, there's a longer term play, but you could also get a little spike because of the book launch, the book marketing around the launch – all that can kind of broaden the scope of where you are, the people you can reach, and that might pick up some potential clients that were completely outside your circle before. REUVEN: Right, absolutely. And that’s part of my hope and plan, that I’ll get noticed by people who wouldn’t otherwise have thought about need for doing training, or for consulting work. CHUCK: Yeah, I do have to wonder though – I mean, the payoff on that is –. If you're going to get some payoff for the launch, then it’s going to take however long it takes you to write the book and do the launch in order to get that kind of payoff, right? ERIC: Right. CHUCK: So it’s not immediate. If you need money now, it probably isn’t going to be as helpful. ERIC: Right, and that’s something to balance. It kinda goes into that personal time I talked about where you make sure you do your marketing, the stuff that’s going to payoff shorter term – like the blogging or whatever – and then do the sales, direct contact stuff, which is the very short term, like you're having an active conversation. And once those two ducks are in a row, and then you can actually work on the longer term, that sort of thing. But you have to do it in that order; don’t focus on doing the book when you're not following up with leads. CHUCK: Yup. So besides reaching out to people, talking to people, doing some things – maybe short term – that get attention, are there other things that you guys have found that work to find clients in the short term? ERIC: Curtis has talked about it a bit, but I mean, I want to restate the “go back to your past clients.” I mean, they’ve hired you, someone you left on a good standing relationship, they’ve hired you before, and you’ve worked with them. They're a large client, so you're in the system and all that. Touch base with them; I mean, even if that means taking them out to lunch or something where it’s a large time commitment. I've gotten quite a bit of work from people that I worked with, and then we kind of parted ways, and I want back and, “Oh yeah, we can have you do something else for us” and it’s a very easy sell. Especially if you're kind of willing to negotiate on the rates or your terms or whatever, I've heard of people [inaudible] kind of jump right in with them like 24-48 hours. So if money’s tight and you're kind of at your wit’s end, that’s a good thing to kind of push on and try to do. CURTIS: Yeah, when I worked for the WordPress agency for three months years ago, when I left, I literally left with no work and it was the next day I was leaving because of how my pay period worked. I went from zero work to $6,000 with three emails, because I just emailed old clients and said, “Hey, do you have anything for me? I have some time now.” And they said, “Yes, I do.” There were tons of projects they wanted to start, so it was a great thing to go from “I don’t have any work in two days” to “Oh I'm booked every week, a couple of weeks now.” CHUCK: So do you guys usually reach out over email or phone or what? ERIC: Yeah, both of them; usually email. It’s easier for me; I can kinda convey and massage the message a bit better. I also feel like for a lot of my past clients and people I would contact, phone is very interruptive and I don’t want to interrupt someone’s day and kind of catch them at a bad moment or whatever, and so I usually send emails. And it’s also easier to kinda follow-up with an email than it is with a phone call, I feel. REUVEN: I definitely use email, but I use the email to just sort of say something, and one of those somethings – I should say, I use the emails to say something short, and then one of the things I try to say is, “Okay, let’s set up a phone meeting – through phone or Skype – to talk as soon as possible.” And then I try to suggest specific times. I’ll say, “Well, I'm busy tomorrow Wednesday, but Thursday, I have a slot at 10am. Would that be a good time to talk?” CHUCK: Yeah, that’s an approach that I use, too. And then we get on Skype of Google+ or whatever and talk. REUVEN: But I definitely feel that – I get a fair number of messages through LinkedIn, and so that’s nice for very short messages, but I quickly move to email because as Eric said, you can finesse it more and you have more room for text. First of all, part of the whole marketing and sales is understanding their needs, and there's no way to do that in a serious way over email, at least not in a short period of time. So I feel like the sooner I can get onto the phone with them or Skype with them or talk to them, the sooner I can really start to ask questions to understand their needs, find out if we’re a good match, and if so, then try to move it ahead. ERIC: I want to say something. You can find that out through email; it is harder, it is more nuanced, but you can. I've worked with a couple of clients that I never talk to on the phone; it was all through email – all electronic. CHUCK: Yeah, I've had the same experience. Most of the time though, it’s easier for me to close the sale if I actually talk to them. Though, like you said, Eric, I've had a few that I just emailed back and forth and then had it work out. ERIC: Yeah. Sometimes it’s – I'm thinking of two clients, one was in Germany; they're very weak with English, and the other one was in Switzerland. It was time zone difference, language difference, cultural barriers – all that – and both of them could actually write really good English, and so it’s actually easier to do it through email. But yeah, closing was a bit harder. I had to do kind of more of a soft close instead of a hard close with that. CHUCK: Yeah, the client that I'm thinking of in particular was in Germany, and it was the same reasons. They weren't comfortable with their English; their typed English was fine, but they weren't comfortable actually speaking English to a native English speaker. ERIC: Yeah, but a lot of Americans are weak with English too, so. CHUCK: So true [chuckles]. REUVEN: Especially with writing [chuckles]. CHUCK: “I dun write good. I at the pizza.” REUVEN: That’s probably how I sounded when I'm talking Chinese to people [chuckles]. CHUCK: “Did you monkey on?” CURTIS: Yes, but Chinese isn’t your native language, Reuven. REUVEN: True, true. Fair enough. CHUCK: Well, this might wind up a little bit of a shorter episode, but is there anything else that you guys want to add? CURTIS: I just think that the big thing is to focus on your marketing plans. You should have year-round anyways, and then if it’s looking like it’s going on a little longer, then just step up your cold contacting again. It should be the same thing. Like I said, stepping back farther and making sure that you budgeted and saved appropriately to know that these times happen. It’s kinda like taxes – taxes happen every year; if you do not save for them, you're just fooling yourself. You will have a slow time and saving for it appropriately is what a responsible business owner should be doing. REUVEN: Let me ask you about that a little bit, Curtis, because you’ve talked about cold calling, and the last time I tried cold calling was probably about ten years ago, and I was miserable at it. I was miserable at it probably because I just sort of randomly chose some companies to call. Have you had a good experience with cold calling? Have you actually managed to get clients through it? Because it seems weird to me to call a company out of the blue and try to convince them to hire me. CURTIS: When I say cold calling, I'm going to include cold emailing in that too, right? It’s a contact that has no idea who you are necessarily until you got in touch with them. I had some good success with that. I probably get one client a year at that that’s kind of over the $10,000 mark. I honestly probably send out 10/year at this point, but I'm very specific. I see a site that I really think has an improvement to make in the certain are that I would enjoy working with as well, and then I will email them. I’ll tell them why and actually I’ll send them the screenshots and everything so my cold email is a very detailed response on my end, so I've taken some time upfront to do that. It’s not just like a “Hey, your site’s terrible; I can fix it. Did you know that? And I charge money.” It’s “Here’s why it’s not working quite right, and here’s how it could be fixed.” One I even got – I got put on a cycling site’s pro team for like three years running because I kept finding bugs in their site, and I kept going back to them kind of as a cold thing, thinking it’d be good in my portfolio, and they just said, “Hey, would you like 60% off all our stuff?” “Sure. I’ll take that, too.” CHUCK: [Chuckles] So how do you identify people like that? CURTIS: I always keep an eye out for them, really. CHUCK: You just keep a list? CURTIS: I just keep an eye out for them. I actually found one yesterday on a site that talks about backpacks or bags – messenger bags – that are kind of all over, and I found a bug on their site. I was like, “This is a very clean, very well-engineered site and they do not want this,” and so I said what it was, here’s what I expected, basically gave them a full bug report on how we could probably fix it together, and then “If you don’t have anyone to do this, I actually do this as well.” CHUCK: Oh, that’s cool. CURTIS: The first thing, it’s all about serving them, right? Serve them, “Here’s all the issues, here’s how you can probably fix it, here’s what I thought was wrong as a user – and by the way, I also do this too.” So I'm providing all the value upfront, and then at the end saying, “I could probably help you.” REUVEN: I tried – I guess this was about two or three months ago. I bought some jewelry for my wife and I saw that the site was just terrible and they really could get a lot of – I could give them a ton of value, and basically the owner of the site seemed really excited about this and passed me off to the communications director who said, “I don’t think so. Bye bye.” My one and only experience in cold calling in the last few years, but I'm sure I just approached it totally the wrong way in saying, “I'm sure I can help you; here’s some techniques I have” and they said, “No, we don’t need that.” ERIC: It’s also kind of a numbers game, in a way. CURTIS: Yeah, that’s like getting a kid on a bike and they just say, “I’ll go ride it. Bikes are easy.” And they go ride and they fall over me and they say, “I can’t do this; this didn’t work for me.” You tried it once; of course it didn’t work for you. Why would it work? REUVEN: [Chuckles] Fair enough, fair enough. CURTIS: The other thing I've seen, too – we talked about this in the freelancer’s forum – is someone saying, “Why do you worry about your site so much when you get so many referrals?” Well, most people come to your site and the only reason you're getting contacts is because they're already warm. Anyone that looked at your site otherwise as a freelancer, coming as a potential client, would look at it and go, “Who is this person? They don’t even care about their site; why would they care about mine?” Right? Does your site backup that information you're giving them? That you do care about this? You do take time to input into these things or not? CHUCK: Now I feel guilty. CURTIS: Good. That’s exactly what's my goal today. CHUCK: [Laughs] CURTIS: Checking that off from by box. CHUCK: Now that things have slowed down, I mean, that’s one of the things I'm really focused on because I want it in there; I want it to be together and I want it to look great. CURTIS: And that’s a good thing for your slow time too, right? On my slow time, I relaunched my sfndesign.ca site or launched it for the first time [inaudible] really, and put some real time into it. I'm getting more contacts that have taken more time to read exactly. The emails I'm getting from clients on initial contact have doubled in length because they're detailing all the things and basically saying, “This is why you should work with me.” The last one was a turbo charger company and a lot of their emails were like, “Hey, I understand you like bikes; I understand you should do this. My grandchildren are actually racing in the US nationals in their age groups” and it’s a great contact. I called them this morning and they're great contacts, so I'm getting more of those types of contacts now that I've really put some hardcore care into my site recently. ERIC: That what I was going to say. Your website’s not going to generate leads for you; it’s not going to be the place where someone just stumbles upon it and they contact you. What it’s going to be is a filter or an anti-filter – you're going to have a bunch of people come to your site and if your site’s so bad that it turns everyone off, none of those people will contact you. But if, as Curtis has said, it’s good, if it’s focused, if it has personality, shows that he can do what he does, the website’s not going to be a barrier to the people going to his contact form and getting in touch. I even use my website where I kind of – I'm in the progress of trying to make it where it’s very clear that if you're below a certain amount of budget, or if you want something in this area, I'm not going to be able to help you. There's no point to even contact me; here’s some other places to go. That’s going to give me less leads, but it’s also going to make sure the leads that do come to me are a lot more qualified and it’s not a waste of time. I won’t have people coming to me, wanting a Rails app built from scratch for 200 bucks or something. CHUCK: Yeah. One other thing that I like about that though is that if you're referring off to somebody else who can do the work, then you might get some reciprocation. They may start putting on their site, “If you're looking for a custom-built website that uses Ruby on Rails or does all this stuff, then go check out Eric.” ERIC: Yeah, and even the reciprocation – a couple of years back, I was getting a lot of Redmine leads when I was doing Redmine. I actually was completely booked, like I could not take all the leads. I was telling my wife, I could probably hire another full-time developer and have them fully busy. I had a list of I think half a dozen people I had referred stuff too, and I wasn’t really looking for reciprocation or anything; I was more looking at, “If these clients go there, they get work done for Redmine for their project. Some of that might leak back into the open source community, some of it’s just going to make the clients’ business better, which means they're going to serve their customers better, which means there's a larger group of people who’s going to get more value.” It’s more of just paying it forward or whatever. Stuff’s going to happen and be better, more people will be happy, than if they couldn’t do their project and just had to cancel it and move on. CHUCK: Yeah, I completely agree, and I think that’s the right motivation to have. I'm just saying, a lot of times, when I pay it forward, sometimes it gets paid back. CURTIS: Yeah, agree. The more referrals I've given, the more referrals I get too. There's another WooCommerce developer I know that works really good with external APIs and he does a bunch of other stuff. He sends me work that’s more suited to me and I send him work that’s more suited to him on a regular basis. Occasionally it’s [inaudible], he’s like, “Thanks for that project, Curtis.” It’s a two or three-week project; that's $24,000 and I'm like, “Ugh, it would’ve been nice to have $24,000 when I was slow,” but at the same time, he’s sending other work my way that I'm really excited about, because I wasn’t necessarily as excited about the first one. ERIC: Yeah, and a lot of this, to kind of bring it back, this is kind of having a network, having peers that you can talk to and rely on. I was with a client – a good client, has a good large project – and they just needed more people; they had so much work. I ended up bringing him in and he told me later on that he was actually having a slow time, and so me kind of referring him into the project I was in basically – it didn’t save his business, but it made it a lot easier at that time. I think he was there for like six months or may be nine months or longer, so kinda building up your network, especially during a slow time, and kind of having these connections you can draw on, or even if it’s just a loose connection –. If you do Rails stuff, you can talk to me; I might have a Rails project that doesn’t fit me or I just need more help and I’ll probably come to you first and be like, “Hey, do you need this?” Just having out can kinda give you a good referral source, and over time, that could be where a lot of your new projects come from. CHUCK: Yup. One other thing that I've had work out for me is going to users groups and things like that, and a lot of times just standing up and saying, “Hey, I'm looking for work.” I let them know that I'm freelance, let them know that I'm looking for work and a lot of times, stuff will come out where it’s, “Hey, well we could use some help for a few weeks” or “We could use your expertise on this particular problem,” so it’s not a large engagement, but it is something. On occasion, I've actually gotten emails after the fact saying, “Hey, my brother or whatever is working on an app.” Any of that, too, you go out, you meet people and get to know them and what they're about. And talk to co-workers; talk to – not just old clients. I'm just kind of brainstorming here, but I think there's a lot here, and I think there's a lot of great advice. Any other words of brilliance? ERIC: Yeah. Curtis talked about having savings set up, and I think one good thing for that – not just to have savings, but to kind of know how much you're spending each month in your business and kind of keeping track. I've talked in previous ones that I kinda keep track in my monitor how many days I have in savings, so if I don’t have clients I can see it going down steadily every week, or if I start getting a lot of work, it goes up. I think knowing that and keeping track of that is really important, and the other side of it is if you notice that it’s going down fast, you're not getting work, to really, really take a hard line at expenses. Cut stuff, especially if it’s client-related. I had one where I was using to kind of test in Windows VM, to kind of do compatibility – the project I ordered that service for stopped six months ago and I was still paying for it. I did a quick audit, found I was paying for that and I'm like, “I don’t need to pay for that.” There's stuff like that – there's stuff like when you're really hard for work, kind of stopping paid education, paid training and stuff is probably a good idea. Try to use the free sources if you can, even including a library or whatever else you can. Kind of downgrade that, because the longer you can make your cash in savings last, the easier it’s going to be. I remember in most times – even I forget it sometimes – just because you got a client today doesn’t mean that you have money and you're good now. Depending on the terms, you might work for him today; it might be 30 days before you can send him an invoice, then it might be another 30 or 60 before they pay you. So even if you get work right now from your work, from your marketing, you still have a couple of months before you ship cash in the bank. It’s kind of being aware of your savings and cash flow and all that stuff’s kind of really important to do, even if you said you have a good chunk of change there, that you know if you need to kind of turn stuff up a little bit. CHUCK: Yeah, I really like that. That makes sense. Do you guys have advice? I know we’ve talked about saving in the past, but do you guys have any quick advice for making sure you have enough in the bank to get through a lean time? CURTIS: Spend less than you make. CHUCK: [Chuckles] Good plan! CURTIS: It’s the truth. That, and make sure you have three to six months at least. If you are in a high-risk situation, like if you have a lot of kids, you have medical issues, you're in a very high standard of living and environment like, say, you're in San Francisco or whatever, or you're new to freelancing that you’ve noticed it takes a long time to pick a new client and go for the higher mountains. I mean, six months – even 12 months in savings is probably not even a bad thing. Stock away as much as you can. REUVEN: And do it automatically each month, if you can. If you have to remember to write a check or transfer the money each month, it might well not happen. CURTIS: I put away 30% of every contract I make, and 25% of that is for taxes and the other 5% is for long-term savings all the time. After depleting some of it in June, I actually put 50% of everything for the last while, so I got up to where I was pre-June as well. I was up there by a couple of weeks ago, back up to the top where I needed to be, and then I just got the money sitting there again, waiting for the next time that that happens. ERIC: Yeah, and if you come by [inaudible] cutting expenses –. Say, if you're out of the slow time, if you can keep your expenses low, like at the lean time, but you're making a lot more money, you're going to have a bit more of a buffer. What I've done is during that, I would use that to help fill the savings faster, and so my expenses kind of – they'd go up eventually, but they go up a couple of months after the income goes up, so I have that little bit of a gap which is nice. CHUCK: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I know I've asked this before in the past, but I just want to make sure that we cover all our bases here. Curtis, in December you said you have savings in the business and personal – Eric, are you doing the same thing? ERIC: Yeah. I tried to have three to six months of business, which is taxes, business expenses and my salary, and then I also have three to six months in our personal, which would be three to six months – I'm trying to remember. I think it’s income for my wife and myself, so it’s kind of if I had no clients and she loses her job, we have at least half a year that we can kind of live without any new income, any single dollar coming in. CHUCK: That makes sense. REUVEN: We’re not that quite advanced in terms of thinking about things, but we do both put away money every month from the business and on our personal account. Truth be told, when we’ve needed to borrow money, like over the last year when I was finishing my PhD, going to the bank and asking them for a loan when you’ve been saving a lot and when they see that is way easier – at least in Israel, where it’s based on a lot of personal negotiations rather than –. Certainly, trying to borrow money when you’ve been saving is always easier than borrowing money when you have not been saving. But it’s sort of politically much, much better as well. CURTIS: Yeah. I also, when I say savings, if I had debts still, then I would not have big savings as I do. I saw that in the business, but we would not have that personally as well. We would be paying everything but a thousand dollars into every debt that we had, which is what we did a few years ago, so now I only have a mortgage. CHUCK: Someday. Someday, I’ll be there. ERIC: Wait, I didn’t hear that. Sunday, like a few days from now? CHUCK: Sunday – no. Someday. This is a really good episode, and it really kind of inspired me to do better with my marketing and stuff. CURTIS: So which piece are you going to add, Chuck? Which piece are you adding to your marketing, specifically? CHUCK: I'm going to get my website done [chuckles]. CURTIS: There you go. REUVEN: Well, if you need someone who does websites, I know a few people. CHUCK: You know a few people? That’s good to know, I appreciate that. I think that’s actually one of my problems, like if I just paid somebody else to do it, then it would just get done. But because I try and do it myself, making it my priority [crosstalk]. CURTIS: Yup. My big thing was going from designing a theme, which I'm not really great at and kinda hobbling my way through to just buying one and making some tweaks to brand it for myself. That’s what I did. And that [inaudible] changed it over like months of working on it to I got it up in five days and just worked on the copy, then made some more color tweaks a little later. CHUCK: Yeah, I think that’s what I'm going to do. I've bought a gazillion html layouts off of ThemeForest and I'm probably just going to grab one of those that I like that’s close to what I want, put it up, fix the copy and the images and then I’ll just tweak the colors and stuff later. ERIC: Something decent now is better than something perfect never. CHUCK: Yes. Yup. Alright, let’s do us some picks. Reuven, do you want to start us with picks? REUVEN: Sure. I've got some picks that reflect my recent travel. I just arrived this morning from Germany, and then earlier this month I was in China. If you haven’t seen it, there's this fantastic movie from a number of years ago called Good Bye, Lenin! which is about this woman whose heart is very frail and she can’t go through any more shocks or she might die of another heart attack, so her son tries to pretend that East Germany still exists. It’s all in German – I don’t speak German, but it was incredibly funny and gives you a sense of West Germany versus East Germany, which, truth be told, is sort of hard to believe existed only 25 years ago if you're in Berlin nowadays. It’s a great, funny movie, and we’re planning to show it to our kids now that they have been there and they can learn something about what that time was like. My second two picks are both books by Howard French who worked for the New York Times. He was a bureau chief for them – both in Africa and in China. His latest book is called China’s Second Continent, and it’s all about Chinese who immigrated to Africa and what they found in terms of setting up businesses and the cultural issues. It’s really, really interesting. That led me to read his first book, which was called A Continent for the Taking, which is all about the history – recent history – and future of Africa and different countries there. As much as I love to follow history and politics, I am woefully ignorant about what happens in Africa, and reading his books has made me a) realize how ignorant I am and b) how much we should learn about it. Anyway, those are my picks for this week. CHUCK: Cool. Eric, what are your picks? ERIC: Alright. So I've been busy with client work and whenever that happens, I tend to read a lot more fiction just to kinda give my brain a rest. This book I picked up, I got into the Kindle Unlimited Program where it’s like all-you-can-eat Kindle books for a flat fee or whatever on Amazon. This was highly-rated in there and it seemed interesting, so I'm like, “Oh, I’ll grab it.” It’s called The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller. It’s basically a three-book novel, like a trilogy. I don’t want to spoil it, but if you like Sci-Fi or anything along that – it touches a ton of different genres in Sci-Fi – I think you'll enjoy it. The first book’s great; the second book’s great; the third book, I don’t think was as good, but it wrapped up a lot of the threads. It’s almost 500 pages. It’s the kind of book I finish and then grab the next one the next day and started right into it. I'd recommend it if you're looking for some kind of Sci-Fi fiction to read right now. CHUCK: Cool. Curtis, what are your picks? CURTIS: I'm going to pick an Anker USB 3.0 Hub which I have been using in my new office, and it is plenty fast. I'm not sure if there's any difference between using that through the Thunderbolt dock they have or plugging directly into the machine – it’s just as fast to pull off multi-gigabyte ScreenFlow files that I'm pulling and I render on the machine at home, kind of overnight, usually. CHUCK: Cool. I'm going to pick a book. I was listening to it while I was at Podcast Movement, which is a new conference for podcasters. It’s called Habit Stacking, and basically it just talks about how to get going on a bunch of things that you want to start going. It was really interesting – he mentioned Mini Habits. I haven’t picked that one up yet, but Eric’s mentioned it a few times to me. Anyway, the idea behind it is that you just take the little habits that you want to get started and you just sit down and you work through a whole bunch of them at a time. I’m halfway through the book, I have to admit, but I'm enjoying it, so I'm going to pick that. That’s all the picks I've got, so I guess we’ll wrap up and we’ll catch you all next week![Work and learn from designers at Amazon and Quora, developers at SoundCloud and Heroku, and entrepreneurs like Patrick Ambron from BrandYourself. You can level up your design, dev and promotion skills at Level Up Con, taking place on October 8th and 9th in downtown Saratoga Springs, New York. Only two hours by train from New York City, this is the perfect place to enjoy early fall at Octoberfest, while you mingle with industry pioneers, in a resort town in upstate New York. Get your tickets today at levelupcon.com. The space is extremely limited for this premium conference experience. Don’t delay! Check out levelupcon.com now]**[This episode is sponsored by MadGlory. You've been building software for a long time and sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. Work piles up, hiring sucks and it's hard to get projects out the door. Check out MadGlory. They're a small shop with experience shipping big products. They're smart, dedicated, will augment your team and work as hard as you do. Find them online at MadGlory.com or on Twitter @MadGlory]**[Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net]**[Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN.  Deliver your content fast with CacheFly. Visit cachefly.com to learn more]**[Would you like to join a conversation with the Freelancers’ Show panelists and their guests? Wanna support the show? We have a forum that allows you to join the conversation and support the show at the same time. Sign up at freelancersshow.com/forum]

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