Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert, is an entrepreneur, attorney, keynote speaker, media personality, best-selling author, and former ABC News small biz contributor. She uses her expertise to help others run successful businesses.
Check out this video where Susan talks with Patrick Palmer about how freelancers can optimize their productivity when working from home, how to get new business, and which technology can help keep them organized. Full transcript below.
Insureon – Freelance with Patrick Palmer
Today’s Small Business Tip is being brought to you by insureon.
Susan Solovic: Hi, everyone. I'm Susan Solovic, THE Small Business Expert, and you’re listening to today's Small Business Tip.
We’re going to be talking about getting your freelance business and your home-based business off the ground with one of my good friends, Patrick Palmer. He's known as “The Computer Guy.” You can check him out online at www.thecomputerguy.bz.
And Patrick, thanks for being here.
Patrick Palmer: Oh, you bet. Thanks for having me.
Susan: So Patrick, first let's talk about when you're working on your own, you’re freelancing, you’ve got your business in your home – how do you stay motivated?
Patrick: Well, you know, first of all, you have to treat your home-based business just like a regular business. You have to set the alarm clock and get up because you're going be keeping office hours in your home, so that’s how I pretty much started out was treating it like another job I had. Got dressed in the morning, took the shower, and ready to face the day with my computer. Because here in my home, I never know when somebody's going to drop by and drop off a computer, so you certainly don’t want to go to the door of your hair askew and in a bathrobe. You want to make sure that you look professional and greet the people like you’d greet them if they’re walking into your store downtown.
Susan: That's very true. Plus, I think it just kind of makes you feel more professional like, “I'm at work now. It's time to get going.”
Patrick: Yes. I remember when I had a former job at a radio station and the dress code was dress shirt and dress pants. More like, probably, business casual now, but they wanted you to look the part and feel the part. They thought that being better dressed you’d come off more professional on the radio. And so T-shirts and cutoffs and things like that weren't allowed back then. They are certainly now, of course, but it was just all in the way that you want to be representing yourself as a professional.
Susan: Right, that's an excellent point. So let's say you have been in your career for a while, and now you're a freelancer, working out of your home, so you're not bumping into people all the time. Got your shingle out there, open for business, but how do you let people know that you're available so you can get those jobs?
Patrick: Well, the first couple things I did was since I’m in a town of about 4500 people, I joined the Chamber of Commerce, which really helps out a lot. And now, as matter fact, I’m a member of four different Chambers of Commerce in North Iowa. Also, I wanted to make sure that I joined a few social media events. So I go to two social media breakfasts a month and then another social media event that is usually held at night. Just to socialize and to mingle, and also to talk a little bit of business. Then every Wednesday at noon, we meet at the local wing joint for Wings on Wednesday with a bunch of people that really aren't related with social media or aren’t really related to the Chamber of Commerce stuff. Just some friends we kick back and shoot the breeze and talk a little bit.
Susan: That's great, so you don't feel isolated. Because I think that's what happens a lot of times when people are working on their own, they’re freelancing. You know, you can kind of feel like, “Oh my gosh, I'm out here all by myself.”
Patrick: Yeah, that’s for sure. And, you know, the day goes pretty slow if you don't have anything but just work to do. Get out and take a noon hour, if you can do that, or take a walk around the block, or something like that. Just get out of the house, get out of the four walls for about 15 to 20 minutes. It will really do you a lot of good.
Susan: I need to follow that advice, Patrick. I'm one of those heads down and I’d look up, and the day is almost over. So I'm going to follow Patrick’s advice. Let me ask you about this: so many people… like I remember, when I started a business a number of years ago and was working out of my home, people kind of look down on it. But now, it's really accepted, and probably a lot of that has to do with technology.
Patrick: I remember a gentleman telling me a story at a social media event. He took his wife to the hospital one time, and he had to write down his occupation. And he wrote down, “entrepreneur,” and the nurse walked up to him says, “Oh, okay. So you're unemployed then.”
Susan: Oh, that’s a great one.
Patrick: So anyway, it’s really, entrepreneur is the new buzzword now, and it’s great to work at home for those folks who really enjoy it and can handle it. Now there are people, when I first started out, I figured, well, I was scared I was just going to sit and watch game shows and talk shows and cooking shows all day. Luckily, that didn't happen. But the temptation is there if you have a TV and you can get caught up in that, you can get caught up in Facebook and things like that, and take your mind off of work. Sometimes too much of a good thing isn't a good thing.
Susan: So when somebody is starting their freelancing career and working at home, what kind of technology do you recommend that they get right out of the box?
Patrick: Well, really, a good voicemail system because you don't want to miss calls, if that's your business. Personally, I use Google Voice, where if you do miss a call, it goes to voicemail and then it will email me a copy of the call as a voice to text. If I’m in a meeting, it'll send the same thing to my cell phone. When my phone rings and nobody else’s phone is on, I can look down at my phone and read the voicemail, then call people back on a break. So that's really a big one, I think, is to have a voice to text voicemail, no matter what company use. It's handy for meetings, if you're on a phone call, or are working with a client, it can go right to your voicemail and you can actually read that.
Susan: Right, you don't have to be tethered to your desk anymore, that's for sure.
Patrick: Right. And another thing I used for my business, I want to know who's out there talking about me – good or bad. If there's a good thing being said or somebody says, “Oh, that computer guy blah blah blah,” I use Google Alerts. And what you can do is log into Google Alerts and type in phrases like “the computer guy” or your name, your competitors’ names, your hometown name, or whatever keywords that you want to search. Then every time those words come up on the Internet together, they send you an email. And so it’s some good reputation management tools there if you want to keep paying attention to what possibly people are saying about you on the World Wide Web.
Susan: That's a great idea, too. If you are a freelancer and you want to get work from a particular company, just kind of keep track of what they're doing, and maybe you can get in the door and be a problem solver for them.
Patrick: That's for sure. And of course, on my cellphone I've got a couple of payment tools when I go out to deliver computers. Someone says, “Oh, I forgot my checkbook,” or, “I don't have cash.” Well, I take credit cards through a couple different sources. One would be, of course, PayPal. You could take the Square. Many, many, many choices on that. I also take Dwolla. And Dwolla is an Iowa-based unit of currency, you might say, or a credit card transaction company. And anything that’s under a $10 transaction, there's no service fee on that. Anything over a $10 transaction is just a 25-cent service fee, whether you pay it or they pay it, it's only a quarter.
Susan: Well, that's a really cool system. We’ll have to look around and see where that might help in other states. Finally, one more question for you, Patrick.
A lot of freelancers, they’re in business for themselves, they get started, they don't think about business licenses or permits or things like that they need. Any advice?
Patrick: Really, you need to just check all that out with your local state, city, or county. I know that sometimes for computer repair, some states require it, some states don't. But just know exactly what you need for your state because there's nothing worse than starting to do business, and, of course, your competitors will turn you in. That’s kind of the handy thing about competitors is they’re always your watchdogs. When you start to make a little bit of money or start to be successful, and they feel it, that’s when they’re going to be calling those agencies and say, “Oh gee whiz, did you know that you need a license for A, B, and C?”
Patrick: So, promote yourself as having those licenses. Promote yourself as being insured, bonded, or whatever regulatory thing that you need. And just promote that.
Susan: That’s great. Even if you think you know the answers, check it out first. Make sure you're safe.
Well, Patrick, thank you so much for joining me. That's great advice, and as I said, if you want to check out Patrick…by the way, he does a really cool newsletter, too. So check out The Computer Guy online, which is www.thecomputerguy.bz. We’ll also have that up on our website.
You’ve been listening to THE Small Business Expert, Susan Solovic, with our Small Business Tip today. Join us again next time.