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Corwin Hiebert’s Creativity at Work: Getting Organized and Getting Paid

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The fact that the creative industry can be fiercely competitive is no secret to those struggling to turn their dream into reality—but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Learn how to streamline your process and simplify your business model from small-business success Corwin Hiebert. You’ll learn how to handle invoices and payment, as well as develop better organizational skills and transparency so that clients feel at ease with your work. More method, less madness!

Living the Dream—Creative at Work: Justin Van Leeuwen is a commercial and portrait photographer. Web: www.jvlphoto.com Twitter: @justinvl

As a creative freelancer or independent business owner, you may consider yourself an artist first, but you’re really more of an entrepreneur than anything else. You are the boss and your creativity serves your need to earn money. When looking to increase your revenue, the usual strategy is to try a new marketing effort (or stunt), but consider adding a little yin to your yang and skip the buzz-building attempt; instead, invest in some business administration.

Being ORGANIZED is a Marketing Tactic

It’s easy to think that more marketing is what you need to attract more clients[em]but what if you managed your way into the hearts of buyers? The administrative tasks associated with running your own venture can be overwhelming at times and creative work can easily trump business administration. The reality is that the better managed your business is, the more money you’ll make because buyers are attracted to those who are organized and productive. It makes them feel good about the process[em]and that has marketing potential (like referrals or deeper client engagement).

Clients want their projects to run smoothly and expect clear communication throughout. Often creatives bring along a little too much chaos, which doesn’t create client confidence or bode well for future work opportunities. For many creative entrepreneurs, the standard practice is to deal with the “creative” first but if the work is mismanaged it can be very frustrating for clients to deal with.

Your primary goal should be to make your clients’ lives better; your value in the market is determined by your ability to serve them. Creativity aside, a well-managed service-based business delivers on what’s promised, and making good on a promise needs to extend beyond producing quality work. How you accomplished that work, from start to finish, matters. Defining a scope of work, organizing elements of your work, and identifying and successfully hitting milestones[em]these are business processes that put a smile on the faces of buyers.

When you simplify creative work by boiling it down to manageable tasks, you can set healthy expectations while at the same time creating some accountability for yourself and the project stakeholders[em]making everyone more effective. Clients need and want that kind of security. You’ll stand out among your competitors as you deliver beyond the creative goods.

By being more organized in your workspace and with your schedule, contacts, workflow, digital/physical files, and project planning, you can remove the chaos from your own work environment. On the surface, this means you’ll be able to spend more time and energy on the creative components, but deeper than that, you’re taking control of the factors within your means. Small businesses are exposed to a lot of variables. Focus on what you have control over and don’t sweat the other stuff. Don’t leave anything on the table. In most cases, good business administration is exactly what gets left behind.

QUICK TIP: A great way to change your workflow and administrative approach is to take your project planning online. Organizing the associated tasks and sharing them online with your clients helps them feel informed and still in charge[em]transparency builds trust. Using web-based services, such as Smartsheet.com or Basecamp.com, will help increase accountability and communication, or at minimum provide 24/7 client access to project information. Buyers are looking to engage with chaos-free service providers. It’s less risky.

BIG IDEA: Consider scheduling a business management weekend. Take two days away from the rigors of your business to scheme and strategize on practical ways you can remove the mayhem from your business.

Making it Easier to GET PAID Makes Good Business Sense

The goal isn’t just to have more clients or to be busier, the goal of a small business is to make money doing something you love to do. Your creative endeavor isn’t a business unless you’re making a profit and this will only happen if you get comfortable talking about money with your prospects and clients.

Determining how much you should charge and how you communicate that price (and the associated value) is an aspect often ignored or ill-treated by creatives. Your website or social networks can be in disrepair but you can still make money if you know what to ask for and how to ask it. When discussing the almighty dollar with a prospect or client, you are faced with the opportunity to exude clarity and confidence in your services[em]keep your processes simple. That is what they want.

Create a pricing matrix or rate sheet so you can refer to something tangible that guides your quoting effort. Determine what factors affect what you charge and write them down so you have a baseline to work from as you tailor a quote. Make notes that justify those prices[em]these should be positive statements that will put a buyer at ease. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

When the time is right, send an estimate for approval. A thorough but simple estimate, or quote, calms the waters and gives both you and your client the chance, up front, to come to a mutual agreement on the financial components. It also saves you an awkward conversation about payment at the end of the project, which can be especially difficult if the work effort went differently than planned.

Once your estimate is accepted, send an invoice to the client as soon as possible, even if it’s post-dated. Putting the ball in their court increases your chances of getting paid sooner than later and it shows the buyer you’re serious and ready to work. An accurate and professional looking invoice says: “Show me the money.” This simple document conveys a lot about your business[em]or what it is not. If you’ve ever had to resend an invoice because of a formatting or calculation error, then an upgrade is in order. If you’ve ever left a project unbilled because you didn’t have the time or fortitude to sort out the particulars, then you need to simplify and organize your processes. Steward your finances well and you’ll be better prepared to make the most of your next business opportunity.

QUICK TIP: If you’re not already using an online invoicing system, I highly recommend Freshbooks.com[em]they have revolutionized the way creatives manage their time, expenses, estimates, and invoices. This web-based service provides the administrative tools needed for building professional and clear invoices, and can be set up as client facing to help remove the mystery associated with billings. It’s an interface that can put everyone at ease and facilitate faster payment[em]nice right?

BIG IDEA: Consider creating a flow chart that shows your sales process. From engaging with a new client to successfully completing a project, clearly identify the steps and the messaging required for quoting, invoicing, and collecting payment.

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