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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 4

ESL freelance invoicingThis is the fourth of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on how to handle the tricky subject of pricing your services and billing clients.

In the three previous articles, we discussed the areas you may wish to target as a freelancer, your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner, and how you can market your services to your clients. Following a logical progression of developing yourself and your business, the next three articles will look at pricing and billing, maintaining clients, and dealing with success and failure.

How much do I charge?

In a previous article we recommended assessing your current (or desired) standard of living on a monthly and yearly basis and then calculating the income necessary to sustain that lifestyle. Following this, you will also need to assess the market value of language training in your area. Many countries have seen increased price sensitivity in recent years, with per-hour training prices steadily decreasing and making it difficult to make a comfortable living. Therefore, we suggest you remain flexible, at least in the beginning. For example, will there be commuting time involved? Will it require a significant amount of preparation time or none at all? Will you need to invest in training for yourself so that you can better adapt to your clients’ needs? What sort of peripheral services will you include (e.g. placement and progress testing, correcting, proofreading or translating documents, follow-up meetings with HR, etc.)? All of these factors will influence the per-hour or per-package price you should set for your training.

Beware of clients that try to set the price far below the local market value. Accepting it may have a detrimental effect on your quality, and your well-being. Some freelancers are afraid of asking for too much, however setting prices too low is to be discouraged. This doesn’t help the value of the ELT industry and moreover, it might draw your own credibility into question. Be prepared to justify your prices and the value your services will bring.

Just like your marketing plan, how much to charge clients may always be in a state of flux. If your business becomes more successful you can consider charging higher prices. Monitor your income regularly and adjust as necessary to react to the changing market value and additional expenses you take on as a business owner.

The first meeting

Congratulations! A prospective client wants to discuss a training programme. Do your homework before you meet them: Google them, learn as much as you can about their industry. The size of the company, the number of employees, and whether it is public or private may have a strong influence on the amount of money they will be able to invest.

During the meeting, money probably won’t be the first question on their minds. Some clients prefer to sit down and tell you what they want, while others expect you to give them an overview of your services. It’s crucial that you tailor what you offer to what you learn about the client: so ask lots of questions.

When the conversation turns to money, don’t be shy, but also don’t feel obliged to quote a price spontaneously. Many clients expect a quote along with a detailed training programme (in the local language if you can), which can take a day or two to write. In the quote, it’s also advisable to include the conditions of payment, however, depending on the company (public or private), they may or may not be able to meet these conditions, so you may have to be flexible. Whatever the payment conditions are, be absolutely sure they appear in the final order/ proposal confirmations.

Billing clients

Surprisingly, many freelancers struggle with this area of their business. Some admit they feel uncomfortable asking for money while many forget to bill their clients. However, with all the balls you have to keep in the air, billing clients is a ball you shouldn’t drop – your livelihood depends on it!

Send invoices that look professional. On them put your company logo (if you have one), your company information (address, phone numbers, email address, government- issued company and tax numbers if applicable), the title of the training, the dates and times, the hourly rate, the total, payment method and conditions.

Some clients are better than others at paying on time. Sometimes, you may have to deal with a client that refuses to pay an invoice. In such cases, you should get assistance from an accountant or lawyer. Otherwise, expect delays, and be prepared to send friendly reminders. You should also budget accordingly so that you’re not under too much financial pressure if a client is a month or two late settling their invoice. Now that you’ve got some clients to be invoicing, you need to think about keeping them. We’ll be looking at this topic in the next article.

 

This article first appeared in the February 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 3

woman using megaphoneThis is the third of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on mapping out a marketing strategy.

Following on from our previous articles, once you’ve thought about your income and expenditure needs, defined your services, carried out a SWOT analysis and researched your potential market and competitors, the next step is thinking about how to market and sell your training to clients and differentiating yourself from similar organizations.

Where to start?

Your business strategy is essential and also provides your starting point. You need to know where you are now, where you’re going and why. Your marketing strategy must then match your business strategy.

The Market Mix 4 Ps is a good starting point. Get ready to define your Product, and in the case of ELT, your service. The place, promotion and price are the other three Ps. When thinking of the place, consider whether you’ll offer your services virtually or face-to-face, and whether you’ll offer them from home, a hired training room, the clients’ premises or elsewhere. Promotion refers to the channels you’ll use to communicate what you have to offer; researching your market and potential competitors can help you define these. With regard to price, you’ll need to think of the value of what you’re offering in its own right, but also relative to current market conditions, your competitors, and other factors.

Getting noticed

There’s no single ‘best’ way to market your ELT services. First, think about your prospective clientele and where they turn for information. If they read industry-specific journals, why not submit an article that draws on your expertise in this field. If they go to conferences, consider presenting some research or running a workshop. Conferences can also be useful in developing contacts with your peers, which in turn can lead to future project collaboration. Professional-looking business cards are essential, as is an online presence. Do you have a website or at least an online profile? Can you or your services be easily found online when doing a search for your area? How are you building a brand around your name? It’s not something which can be done overnight and requires patience and a step-by-step approach and a great deal of patience.

Building relationships and serving needs

Marketing is all about serving needs. Serving your customers’ needs requires skills in building relationships, finding out what they need and considering how you can meet those needs. You might even be able to create a need that a client was previously unaware of, which you, of course, can fill.

When you meet with potential clients, focus on listening to what’s important for them, rather than trying to push your services. When you truly understand their needs, you’ll be better positioned to package what you can offer in a more suitable way.

Get involved in ‘the business’ of language teaching. If you’re a freelancer, you’re the service provider and the school/client is your customer. Treat them like one. Care for them. Remember: they aren’t obliged to fill your schedule.

Sales

Sales and Marketing are inextricably linked. It’s essential that you’re comfortable presenting, negotiating, and talking about prices and money if you’re going to be selling your services. This doesn’t come easy to many, but you can actually find tips in coursebooks in the sales, marketing, presentations and negotiations sections. Remember all those roleplays you’ve done with your learners? Apply the same principles to your meetings with clients. With practice, it gets easier!

If a potential client schedules a meeting with you, they’re probably also talking to your competitors. Don’t wait to reply to that email or draft that offer until tomorrow. Do it today. Complacency and overconfidence can be deadly. And even if your client is a long-standing and satisfied one, always assume that could change at any moment. Fend off competitors by continuing to offer tailored, top-quality services that differentiate you from the rest.

Sometimes you may get a training contract with more training than you can deliver. This is when it becomes necessary to hire / subcontract other freelancers to work on your behalf. Remember they’ll be delivering the training under your name and your brand, and this can be pretty scary at first. So the importance of continued quality control in such instances can’t be stressed enough.

Finally, a marketing plan is always in a state of flux. You need to monitor it regularly and adjust as necessary to react to changing market conditions and stay aligned with your overall strategy.

This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 2

freelance teacher business planThis is the second of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on producing a business plan, goal-setting, and planning actions to achieve them.

As a freelancer you are a business, albeit a one-person business, but you still need a plan. It doesn’t have to be a formalised plan, but a simple overview of your finances, your goals, and how you plan to achieve them. This process can help keep you on track and stay focused.

Finances

The first step in writing a business plan is often carrying out a basic financial analysis of your current situation. It can be very helpful to create a spreadsheet (e.g. Excel) with all of your regular expenses, broken into columns representing weekly, monthly and yearly expenses. For example, on the left-hand side, put:

Fixed expenditure: Rent or mortgage payments, car insurance, public transport card, gym or association membership, phone bills etc.

Variable expenditure: Estimates of items such as food, clothing, entertainment, etc.

Sundry items: Regular savings, donations, a new computer, further training, and an emergency fund you can dip into in case you have a few quiet weeks or months.

Add up the columns and divide by ten to give you an idea of the monthly income needed to sustain your current lifestyle. Why ten rather than twelve?

a) There will always be quiet months
b) You may need a few sick days
c) Everyone deserves a holiday!

In another column on the right, type your expected, realistic, monthly income and review it every 14 days or so to check that you are still on track with relation to the expenses listed on the left. As your income grows you can increase your expenditure, or conversely, if your expenditure grows you’ll either need to earn more, or cut back on spending.

Goals

Once you have an overview of your financial standing, move on to evaluating your short-, medium- and long-term goals. Creating SMART goals can help you stay on track; these are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. As with your finances, goals need to be realistic and defined; avoid statements such as “I’d like more clients.” or “I want to work less for language schools.” Set quantifiable targets: “I want to get three new clients by the end of this year.” or “I’d like to increase my income by 10% / reduce my working hours by 10%.” Once you’ve set realistic targets you can then focus on any investment in marketing, further training, quality control, etc. in order to reach those targets.

A SWOT Analysis

Whether you are teaching, editing, translating or doing other ELT-related work, we suggest you carry out a SWOT analysis on yourself and the services you provide. A SWOT analysis looks at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats associated with a proposed course of action, project or plan.

Your strengths are the areas in which you excel as an ELT professional. Strengths can be skills and services that are exclusive to your business, that no one else can provide. Use this differentiation to your advantage.

Keep a close eye on your weaknesses. Don’t worry, we all have them! But don’t take on tasks you aren’t fully capable of carrying out or services for which you aren’t qualified. Doing so might get you that first contract, but probably not the second; and it certainly won’t help your reputation.

In order to identify the opportunities, you’ll need to do some market research. Find out what your potential clients are looking for and what your competitors are offering. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you don’t miss opportunities. If you focus on your strengths, opportunities will find you, so be ready!

And finally, as Lao Tzu wrote in the Art of War, “If you know yourself and know your enemy you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” Know your threats. When assessing your competitors, don’t concentrate on taking their business or being better than them. It’s healthier and more beneficial to think about how you can differentiate yourself from companies offering similar services to yours. You can do this in a number of ways: price, quality, and simple things such as reliability and professionalism. Be prepared to lose a client every now and then through no fault of your own and have the financial safety net set up to catch you.

Further to your financial plan and SWOT analysis you should also create a checklist to:

  1. Define your customer (even if this is a language school)
  2. Define your services
  3. Define your added value
  4. Conduct market research into potential clients and competitors

In the next article in this series we’ll look at implementation and how to put your plan into practice with a clear sales and marketing strategy.

This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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So you think you can write?

Close up of pen on paperEver thought about writing your own teaching materials? Stephen Greene is an English language teacher, teacher trainer, and materials developer. Here, he takes us through the process he undertook to write his first published materials.

I have always written materials for my students. My first job was in a school in Poland where we had a grand total of two resource books to help us. The fact the course books we had ordered didn’t turn up until almost the end of the first term meant that we had very little choice but to get creative.

There are many reasons why we occasionally need to look outside the course book, but for me one of the main reasons is just the fun and the interest of doing it. I simply love writing for my students.

When OUP offered me the chance to co-write the Teacher’s Pack for Cambridge English Proficiency Masterclass with Jeanette Lindsey-Clark, I jumped at the chance. I thought to myself that all I would have to do was replicate my endeavours over the last 15 years, but on a grander scale. I could write a book, no problem. It turned out that I had a lot to learn.

Doing your research

Normally, I just wrote. I knew my students, my syllabus and my course book. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. If there was something lacking, and I felt inspired, I would sit down at my computer and write something to make up for it.

But when writing on this project I had to study. I needed to study the brief from the publisher in detail. I had to go through the Student’s Book to understand how it had been put together and the methodology that the author had used. I also had to check the changes in the Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) exam and ensure I understood what the new questions demanded from the candidates. And all of this before I could even start doing any writing.

Constrained creativity

A number of times I had a great idea and spent some time developing it only to realise that it didn’t fit the criteria I was supposed to be working to. I found this to be one of the more difficult aspects of writing for somebody else; coming up with ideas wasn’t the hard part. Instead, coming up with ideas that fit the requirements of the project constrained and restricted my creativity. After a while, though, this restriction actually led to a better focus.

Being disciplined

The romantic image I had of sitting down at my computer and letting the creative juices flow through me to the screen just didn’t happen. Or at least, when it did happen it was as a result of being very disciplined and working through the times when I just couldn’t think of what I was supposed to write about. Balancing writing with teaching, family and having some sort of life isn’t easy so I often had to force myself to stay up until the early hours of the morning to keep to schedule.

Deadline is king

One of my favourite (non-ELT) writers, Douglas Adams, had a thing about deadlines: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

This might be fine for a famous author, but for the likes of me, struggling to even get one book published, this was never going to be possible. If there is one thing that is going to make an editor angry with you and so not invite you back to the party it is to miss a deadline. Just don’t do it, under any circumstances.

The results

Despite the hard work and the steep learning curve the whole process was worth every minute. I learned an incredible amount about the publishing process and I believe this has made me a better teacher because I clearer insight as to why certain things have been selected in course books.

The discipline, focus and awareness of objectives have also improved the writing I do for my students and I feel sure that my personal materials are of a much higher standard now. I am a much better writer now, but I know I still have a lot more to learn.

This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 1

Beth Cagnol and Mike Hogan

Beth Cagnol and Mike Hogan

Ever thought about becoming a freelancer? This is the first of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on surviving financially, getting organised, managing your online reputation and getting work.

Many ELT professionals are enticed by the flexible, independent nature of being a freelancer. You get to choose what sort of contracts to pursue, you are your own boss and you have more freedom on how you spend your time. However, going this route means that you and you alone are responsible for finding and maintaining enough hours to generate a sustainable income. You’re also responsible for paying your own taxes, health insurance, pension contributions, etc. In order to keep your head above water it’s essential to be well organised, maintain high-quality training services and stick with it even when the going gets tough.

Organising yourself

Whether you’re a teacher, teacher trainer, writer or other ELT professional, the starting point for freelancing means organising the budgeting and financial aspects of your career. By this, we mean assessing your current (or desired) standard of living on a monthly and yearly basis and then calculating the income necessary to sustain that lifestyle. From there, determine the average number of hours you need to work, per month, so that you can earn a living and still provide the best training for your learners.

Obviously balancing the supply and demand fluctuations of the industry can be challenging. Your income will not be the same every month and there may be periods when you earn very little or nothing at all. Advanced preparation and proper management of your income and expenditure will give you more security and enable you to create a ‘rainy day’ fund for those quiet months.

Solid administration skills are also necessary to stay organised. Paperwork is nobody’s best friend, but it’s essential to keep all of your documents, invoices, receipts, and records in order. Consider hiring an accountant to help you with your financial goals, at least initially. They can save you a great deal of money in the long run, are therefore a wise investment, and can also educate you about the standard aspects of freelancing such as pension contributions, health insurance, and tax deductible expenses.

Getting work

When seeking out teaching opportunities, it is essential you look the part, walk the talk and be a highly professional representative of the ELT industry. The person hiring you, or the client choosing to invest in your training, will be thinking, “Why should I choose you?” It’s crucial to distinguish yourself from everyone else offering the same services. Your CV, brochure and business cards should be clean, professional, easy to read, up-to-date and in the language of the individuals who will receive it.

Take the time to manage your reputation. Don’t be afraid to Google yourself (images included) and be aware of what can be found. Prospective clients will do the same and it’s essential that you align your online appearance with who you are and what you want to be known for. On the other hand, if you can’t be found online, these days, your prospective client may wonder why – especially if you’re a freelancer. At the very least you should have an online profile, if not your own website. Most freelancing work today is obtained through word of mouth.

Keeping work

Reflect on what people think when they hear your name and what you want them to think. As a freelancer, your reputation is your brand; you should deliver the very best you can, every day. Adopt a quality-control process that enables you to collect and act upon any positive or negative feedback. Do this face-to-face, but also offer it anonymously, for example, through an online survey.

As you build your business as a freelancer, satisfied clients will recommend you to others; this way, opportunities will start to find you and eventually you will spend less time looking for extra hours. Use that time to develop yourself professionally, so take courses, read up on the latest techniques, go to conferences, or volunteer for an association. The time you invest in yourself can lead to obtaining work more easily, possibly billing higher rates, and ultimately maintaining the high-quality teaching and training services you provide.

This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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