I’ve always been a risk-averse person who preferred the security of working for a stable monthly salary that came on time every month. It gave me the illusion of control and predictability.
When I left my secure ten-year teaching job in London to do in-company work as a Business English and communication skills trainer in Munich in 2012, I found myself having to go freelance, like many Business English trainers in Germany. I’d never been a freelance teacher before that and the thought filled me with fear and insecurity.
But what does it mean to go freelance?
Going freelance for me meant:
1. Managing my own finances
- Invoicing clients and making sure I’m paid for my services
- Putting money aside for pension contributions and taxes
- Budgeting for personal development
- Managing my business expenses
2. Flexibility of schedule
I can manage my own time, and I can work when I want to work and where I want to work. While many people might consider this one of the biggest advantages of going freelance, many experienced freelancers will testify to the fact that there can be a tendency to take on too much, overwork, and not factor in any time for sick leave and holiday days for yourself, especially when business comes pouring in.
When you encounter quieter months, consider it an opportunity to take some time out for yourself and have a holiday. To build a model that you can sustain, it is important to strike a reasonable work-life balance and pay attention to your well-being, and remember that your business depends on you being happy, healthy and motivated.
3. Managing the business
This can be divided into two parts: getting the clients and keeping the clients.
a) Getting the client
When marketing my business, there are different aspects of my business I now needed to take some time to consider. I found it useful to think in detail about the marketing mix of what I’m actually selling. Also known as the 7 Ps of marketing, here are some questions to help us break it right down:
- What is your product? What are you selling?
One-to-one EAP? Business English? Presentation skills training?
- What is your niche?
Don’t just say you teach (or write about) everything. Be specific about your expertise and sell what you’re good at (or passionate about).
- Who are your target clients?
Have you done some research on them? How can you get in touch with them?
- Who are your competitors?
What do you know about them? What are you offering that is different from them? What is your USP? How can you use your competition to benchmark yourself?
- How will you price your services?
- Do you have a range of prices depending on the clients you are negotiating with?
Are you going to offer some of your services as a bundle? For instance, do clients have the option of purchasing a bundle of face-to-face training and asynchronous online training? How do your prices and packages compare to your competitors?
- How will you promote your services?
Consider brainstorming some ideas with a coach, a colleague or a friend in order to formulate a plan.
- If you are going to use social media marketing, how might you go about doing so?
Might it be worth taking a (free) social media marketing course or reading up on the subject?
- When clients search for your name online, what will they find?
- Do you have a website, a blog, an AboutMe page and/or a LinkedIn profile that gives information about what you do? Where can clients find out about you and your services?
- Will you offer clients a free course or one at a reduced price in order to expand your initial client base?
- Where will your product be sold?
- If you’re delivering training, where will this be? Will you need to rent a training room/conference room? Or will it be delivered in company? Will it have all the facilities you need? For instance, a white board, a flipchart, wifi access or a projector.
- If you’re offering face-to-face training, does that mean that you are only targeting clients who operate the area where you live? Or are you willing to travel to your clients? How far are you willing to go?
- If you are offering online training, then your clients can be located anywhere around the globe. Would your online courses be synchronous, asynchronous or both? How much of it can be accessed anytime, anywhere, depending on your clients’ availability?
- What position do you have in the industry?
- What do colleagues and clients think of when they hear your name? What words do they use to describe you and what you do?
- What do you want colleagues and clients to think of when they hear your name?
- Are your offerings and your interactions with clients consistent with what you want them to think of you?
- How is your company/name and your product/service being packaged?
- Do you have a clear branding, e.g. a recognisable logo, company colours/font? Does it tie in with what you represent?
- What are people’s first impressions when they first come across your website/your social media presence/your brand?
Are you dressed to match the impression you want people to have? For instance, if you say that your branding spells exclusivity, first class training and professionalism, then turning up to client meetings in a T-shirt and ripped jeans might not be the best portrayal of those things.
- Who are the people that are involved in helping you get your freelance business where you want it to be?
- Are you connected with the right people who would refer you to potential clients? Would it be worth investing in networking events like conferences to get to know fellow practitioners and heads of departments who might be able to help you get a foot in the door of your target clients? A lot of in-company Business English teaching and communication skills training work, for example, is done through referrals.
- If you are targeting corporations, get to know who controls the training budgets in a company. Is it the HR head? Is there a Head of Training? Or a Head of People?
- When you get the contract and training is in progress, understand that your stakeholders are not necessarily the same as your students. Ensure that you maintain regular communication with your stakeholders, e.g. those who paying the bill like the parent or the HR department, and let them know how things are going.
b) Keeping the client
Getting the client is only the beginning. How can you ensure that your clients stay and translate into more business? Here are some questions to think about:
- Are you delivering what you promised to deliver?
- How are you carrying out quality control? For instance, mid-course feedback, end-of-course feedback?
- How can you get developmental feedback and not just positive feedback?
- How can you respond to feedback?
- Are stakeholders aware of how you are tailoring your course in response to feedback?
- Do the stakeholders see how your service is making a difference to them?
- Can you get approval for positive testimonials to be placed on your website?
- Are you getting referrals? If not, why not?
At the IATEFL Liverpool conference this year, I gave a pop up talk ‘How to be a Successful Freelancer’ where I spoke about overcoming insecurity and the fear of the unknown by making a business plan for ourselves. Before and after the talk, I received quite a few emails and messages on social asking if I could write about this topic so that more people could benefit from the tips and suggestions.
There are many of us out there who are either already freelancer teachers or considering the prospect of going freelance and have yet to seriously consider some of the above questions. In most cases, what we sell is not a tangible, physical product as such, but ourselves and our skills as teachers and trainers (or writers). However, it is just as important for us to invest some time (and even money) into exploring what it is we want and how we intend to achieve this.
What are your experiencing of being freelance? Are there any tips you would like to share? Please write your comments below.