We’re talking with WordPress freelancers in a series about improving your business and client process.
Today we talk with Chris Lema. He’s a WordPress evangelist, blogger, strategist and coach. He’s a full-time consultant these days, but before that he’s worked with Crowd Favorite and a number of other software companies. He has a ton of experience in delivering results, and also knows how to share those lessons and inspire people.
Freelancers focus so much on the work that they forget to manage their network of contacts.
The conversation covers managing contacts, picking the right clients and truly listening to understand a client’s problem.
What are the most important systems and processes for a freelancer to have in place?
Every freelancer needs to manage their contacts. The reality is that I find freelancers focus so much on the work that they forget to manage their network of contacts as much. As someone who’s been doing freelance work for more than 15 years (on the side of my day job), I learned quickly that people rarely appear on my doorstep with immediate demand. So it’s a process of building rapport and consistently connecting to people—keeping my name in their brain—that eventually leads to a great consulting gig. So rule number one for me is making sure I have a way to keep track of people, learn their stories, take notes and connect with them.
Another system that I think is crucial is a billing solution. I use Freshbooks but I don’t think there’s anything magical about it. It could be anything. But it helps me monitor who’s paid, who needs a reminder and who I need to call.
As for processes, I think the one I use the most is called time boxing. I regulate how I use my time by carving out and planning my priorities so that I run my schedule and not the other way around. It’s what helps me get a lot done in each day.
What are some lessons about working with clients that you’ve had to learn the hard way?
I think one of the hardest lessons I learned was that not every client is a great fit for me. They may be a prospect and they may have money, but when they’re a bad fit, my profit margin disappears. Today I am freelancing full time. So I can’t afford to have a low or non-existent margin. That means I need to be pretty picky about clients. For every client I take on, there are more than five that I pass to others—simply because those clients will burn up my time, make the projects unprofitable and limit me from doing my best work. So you have to know your sweet spot and your perfect customer—and then the hard work comes: Saying no to some prospects.
What do WordPress freelancers need to be doing differently today?
Most WordPress freelancers jump into the solution space too quickly. They think they’re listening to a client but they’re imagining the solution in their head—which isn’t listening. When you do that, you might get part of the project right, but you’re surely going to miss the opportunity to get it all 100% perfect, and you’ll miss the opportunity to delight. I call it marinating in the problem space. I talked about it here and here.