Why You Need to Say No In Order to Grow

Just Say No with a flower box of daisies

As a solopreneur, there’s only so much work I can take on. Even if I work with my favorite trusted freelancers. Even if I work a few extra hours. Sometimes, I have to say no.

But, it’s tempting to take on just one extra project. Or to say “yes” when a favorite client asks you to take on a project that’s not part of your core capabilities but that you could potentially take on.

We tell ourselves that doing these things will help us grow our business when in reality, the opposite is true. As solopreneurs, it’s what we say “no” to that will actually help us grow. Let me explain.

 That Extra Project Can Burst Your Dam

Many of us say “yes” to things we don’t have time for—to clients, friends, and even family—without thinking through the consequences. We become women who do too much and are miserable about not doing any of it up to our standards.

It’s hard to know exactly when you’ve gotten to your maximum capacity for doing. Plus, that capacity can ebb and flow over time and is affected by your health and relationships in addition to your work.

So, unfortunately, we find out we’ve taken on too much only after the fact when we crash—hard.

How to Know if You Are Overcommitted

Here are a few signs you’re nearing your capacity or are already overcommitted and about to burst your dam:

  • You aren’t practicing self-care. Yes, a latte can be self-care. But if it is the only self-care you’ve done in months, you need a reset.
  • You are ignoring health issues.  It can be hard to find time to exercise, go to doctor appointments, and other things maintaining our health requires. But the consequences of not doing so is even more costly.
  • You’re not getting critical tasks done. You have a stack of unopened mail you haven’t gotten to, including bills that need to be paid. The kitchen light has been out for weeks. You can’t seem to get to important day-to-day tasks because they seem exhausting.
  • You are working longer hours without seeing results. Tasks that used to take you an hour are taking two. Projects that could be completed within a two-week timeline are taking three. You’re tired and burnt out.
  • You’re skimping on sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a nice quip, but it’s a bad motto to try to live by. Your body needs at least seven hours of sleep each day for you to feel rested and be productive.
  • Crying at your desk (or in the ladies room) is the new normal. We all need to have a good cry every so often. But if every so often is every day, that’s your body’s way of telling you things are NOT alright.

When you are seeing these signs, it’s imperative you start to say no.

How to Say No And Improve Your Client Relationships

Overcommitment isn’t the only hazard that comes from an inability to say no. As I mentioned in a recent post over on Hey Orca’s blog, saying yes to client requests can actually be a great way to ruin a solopreneur or small agency’s biggest advantage—their specialization.

Before saying yes to a client that asks if you can do an activity that’s outside of your team’s core capabilities, you need to do a frank assessment. Can you deliver what they need at the same level of excellence as the rest of your work for them? If you can’t answer with a confident “yes,” then don’t branch out!

Your clients are drawn to you by what you do best. Any additional work you do for them needs to be at that same level of competence. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining their opinion of your work overall and damaging your brand. No client wants you or your team to be learning on their dime. They want to hire you because you presumably already have experience with what they are paying you to do.

And this is where having a network of trusted associates comes in. I know a number of small agency owners and freelancers who offer services that complement mine. I’ve worked on some of their client projects, and I’ve referred my clients to them for other projects. These are all people I enjoy working with and whom I know will give my clients the same level of service I provide. And while I’m not going to have a direct financial benefit from referring client business to my network (i.e. I’m not paying out or asking for referral fees) it pays off when it comes to that client relationship.

How to Get Comfortable With Saying No

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to know you need to say no and it’s something else entirely to actually do it. Especially when it’s saying no to a big client. Here are a few ideas on how to approach it:

  • Reframe your “no” as a positive. It can help to reframe how you think about—and present—your “no” as being a helpful statement, not as letting your client down. “I’m honored you’ve asked us to [request]. It’s a little out of our wheelhouse, so I’d love to introduce you to [person] who specializes in that. I’m confident they can deliver on it for you.
  • You’d love to, but you’re booked. Realistically, every solopreneur or small agency only has so much capacity. Use this to your advantage as a way to buy an easy out with a client who may not want to take “no” for an answer.
  • Focus on the fit. Be direct and let them know the project isn’t the right fit for your current staff and their core skill sets. And then refer them to someone else who is.
  • Don’t say no, say “yes, but”. Let them know you’d love to help them. However, since it’s outside your area of expertise, it’s going to take X amount of time, plus X amount of external resources or training or tools, so it may be a better fit for [your referral].
  • Delay the no. If you’re just not comfortable saying “no” on the spot, buy yourself some time by thanking them for the ask, and saying you need to talk it over with the team (even if “the team” is your cat) and you’ll get back to them. Then, you can get back to them through a channel you’re more comfortable using for your no.

The good news is, it gets easier to say no every time you say it. And a client you have a solid relationship with will respect your boundaries and accept that no without it having an adverse effect on your relationship. And in the best case scenario, you’ll be the rock star who introduced them to a specialist that knocked their critical project out of the park.

Have a helpful tip for saying no? Let me know in the comments.

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship

How to Turn a Freelance Project Into a Long-term Working Relationship | citygirlcareer.com
Photo by Mariya Pampova on Unsplash.

When you’re freelancing, it’s great to land a juicy project. But it’s even better to build relationships that continue over time. It’s so much easier to do outstanding work for a company and a client you’ve gotten to know over the years.

But all too often, creative projects are one and done, leaving freelancers scrambling to find their next client. So, what does it take to build longer-lasting relationships? Start by understanding the challenges companies face when working with freelancers.

This infographic from Robert Half sums up their recent freelancing survey results:

The Future of Freelancing infographic from Robert Half
Infographic from Robert Half (Source: https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/the-future-of-work/the-future-of-freelancing)

5 Ways to Stand Out as a Freelancer

So, how does this help you, as a freelancer? It gives you some helpful insights into how to stand out from the competition by addressing the top challenges companies reported. Here are five concrete actions you can take to help address your freelance clients’ challenges:

  • Get involved. Give your client ideas for how to make you feel like part of the team. This could include your working on-site on a regular basis, being invited to team Slack channels, or even taking part in annual kickoff meetings. Get yourself added to internal email lists and subscribe to their newsletter. Follow the company on social media. Show you’re taking a proactive interest in getting to know them and their business challenges.
  • Provide project pricing. Everyone hates negotiating rates, including freelancers. And when it comes to hourly fees, many companies have a set maximum rate that can’t be exceeded without special approval. By setting a deliverables-based fee, you can get paid what you’re worth and provide the client with a concrete budget number. That’s what we call a win-win.
  • Toot your own horn. Are you looking for new freelance clients? Let your network know. Have you added some new skills or areas of expertise to your offering? Update your LinkedIn profile and your website to include those new skills. Finished an especially creative project you’re proud of? Share it with your clients so they can see what you can do!
  • Communicate early and often. Each of us has our own communication preferences. While some clients spend their day in Slack, others prefer a quick text or email. Find out the best channel to use for communicating with your client, then use it to ask questions, provide updates, and generally keep your project moving. No one likes a deadline to come and go without the promised deliverables. But when you keep a conversation going, deadlines or scope can be adjusted, keeping everyone happy.
  • Have an onboarding plan. When I take on a new client, I ask for their content strategy, brand style guide, and brand voice documentation. If they don’t have all of these items, I make sure to obtain a solid creative brief that we go over in a meeting, to ensure I’m up-to-speed on their brand. What do YOU need to know to make your project a success? Ask for it up front and give yourself enough time to go through it before starting your project.

While these five actions won’t guarantee repeat freelance work from a client, they should go a long way towards running a smooth project and creating solid deliverables. And that’s a good recipe for earning positive referrals and repeat business.

My Portfolio Career Update

My Portfolio Career Update

In 2013, when I started this blog, I was just fully taking inventory of my portfolio career.

After a decade working in marketing for Fortune 500 companies, I was ready for a new challenge. I found it in working with start-ups on content marketing strategy.

But like many portfolio careerists, despite being able to successfully make the leap to self-employment, I wasn’t quite ready to commit full-time to the  solopreneur life.

When my biggest client gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse to come onboard as a full-time employee, I accepted.

But growing a global content marketing team didn’t leave much time for my portfolio career pursuits.

After a year with a full-time singular focus, I decided to pursue something different.

It’s my long-term goal to operate my own content marketing agency. But I hadn’t ever worked as a full-time agency employee.

I went to work for one of the Bay Area’s top high tech PR firms to head their content studio. The job gave me the variety I craved. I got to work with dozens of different, fascinating start-ups.

But I missed the autonomy of working for myself. And the ability to pick and choose only clients who were a good match for the content marketing activities I’m the best at and most enjoy doing.

Welcome Back to the Solopreneur Life

Even once I went solo again, I still wasn’t committed to the solopreneur life. I instead took on a 30-hour per week client that had the potential to become a full-time job.

But this past Spring I realized I’m not looking for a full-time position working for someone else.

What I really want is to work full-time for me.

And once I made that decision, the right projects started coming to me.

I found some great co-working spaces so I can get out of the house. I started a private Slack channel and invited my favorite content and social solopreneurs and departments of one. I opened a business checking account.

I finally 100% committed to doing this.

It was while working with a career coaching client that I realized I needed to come back here, and revive this blog.

There’s already some great tools here for identifying your core competencies and creating a social media plan to support your personal brand.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more ideas and resources for creating the career path that fits your life. And I’m also working on some online courses to help you through crafting your own career development plan. Stay tuned. And let me know what you’d like to hear from me.

Creating a Weekly Social Media Plan in Support of Your Personal Brand

Create a Weekly Social Media Tactical Plan(updated October 2017)

It can be easy to get sucked into a social media time sink when you’re getting started building out your personal branding social media strategy. That’s why it’s important to identify your top objectives for your social media usage, then draft a social media plan to define the activities you’ll do on a regular basis.

For instance, as a solopreneur or small business owner, your objectives might look like this:

  • Expand word-of-mouth about my services
  • Connect with 12 new industry influencers
  • Identify and become active in 2-3 online groups/communities related to my services
  • Drive 20% of all new business inquiries from social media channels by the end of the year

So how do you translate your positioning and focus areas into your social media plan?

First, set aside a couple of hours to draft your social media plan.

You’ll want to start by taking a close look at your bios on each of your active social networks. Does your bio consistently reflect your messaging?

Before you dive into tactics, you want to ensure you are presenting yourself with the same photo and/or graphics across your channels, and using the same language to reflect your value proposition, regardless of channel.

Moving into the planning process, you’ll need to identify:

  • Your primary keywords. Pick at least 3 and no more than 5 to focus on. Examples: digital marketing, financial services marketing, financial planning, social media.
  •  Key thought leaders and content sources for your keywords, starting with what you’ve already been reading/sharing via social. Aim for 10-20 total.
  •  Your weekly goal for posting content. Content can be something new that you share and microblog about (i.e. add your own perspective to a link), or can be something you RT from the folks you follow.
  • Your weekly goal for 1:1 interactions. This can include replying to an update someone posts, responding to a question with info or a resource, or just sharing something interesting 1:1 with a key person.

Now that you’ve defined your activities, and aligned your profile content to your objectives and value proposition, go ahead and block off 15 or 20 minutes per day, every day, on your calendar to focus on your social media activities. This time should be spent on your 1:1 interactions with influencers and followers, and tee’ing up content in Hootsuite or another scheduling tool, to be shared with your audience over the course of the upcoming week.

Documenting Your Social Media Plan

Social Media Calendar
Given a 15 minutes per day budget, you can aim for 1 Twitter post and 1 Facebook post per day, and a couple of LinkedIn posts of interest to your network per week. This time budget should also allow for 2-3 Twitter interactions and 2 Facebook interactions with influencers each week, and commenting on a couple of LinkedIn status updates or community posts per week.

To make sure you use your time wisely each day, add the related To Do’s to your daily calendar reminder.  This should include both interactions and content sharing activities.

By setting your goals and having them part of your daily To Do list, you’re on your way to improving your brand through regular use of social media.

How to Identify and Assess Your Core Competencies

How to Identify Your Core CompetenciesWhen starting out in your portfolio career, it’s tempting to take every opportunity that comes your way, just to ensure a steady income stream.

But is that really the best use of your time and efforts? Chances are, if you take on every project that comes your way, you’ll inevitably end up taking on  projects that don’t make the most of your skills and interests. Given that your most recent projects are what is most likely to lead to your next opportunity, it’s important to ensure you keep focused on work that makes the most of your key competencies.

By defining your core competencies and actively going after projects and roles that make the most of them, you will:

  • develop expertise in the areas that matter the most to your customers.
  • have a path for developing your skills in support of reaching your business goals

Identifying your core competencies

Core Competencies ExampleWhat are core competencies?

Let’s start by defining what a core competency is in a business setting. A core competency is a specific factor that is central to the way a company and its employees work. It must fulfill three key criteria:

  1. It is difficult for competitors to imitate.
  2. It can be applied widely across many products and markets.
  3. It contributes to the end consumer’s experienced benefits.

Taking this into a real-life example, if you are a social media consultant, your core competencies might look like the above illustration. You’ll note that these competencies fall into three buckets: functional (which includes unique technical expertise), personal (the areas in which you excel), and leadership (how your competencies interact with managing others.)

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