How I've tripled my income this year

Until January 2015, plans did not exist in my business. 

In my personal life, I loved planning. I had a cute Cath Kidston pocket diary that mapped out my entire life. I had plans for parties and plans for trips. I had plans of how I was going to save enough money to travel the world.

But could I plan for business?

Nope. 

I believe that thinking of 'business plans' triggers a sense of fear and dread within us. As I mentioned in last month's article on creating a sales funnel, we are not wired to like business planning and strategizing. It has never been viewed as fun, therefore our minds and bodies can't stand even the thought of it. 

When I didn't plan in my business, I found myself...

  • Lacking a daily and weekly work routine. 
  • I didn't know how much to pay myself each month. 
  • I didn't know where my next bulk of money was going to come from.
  • I didn't release products and make extra income.
  • I wasn't really succeeding at the whole business thing. 

Story time: A couple of years ago, I went on holiday to Italy with a few friends. At the time, my finances were a hot mess. I distinctly remember lying beside the pool on my lounge chair and telling myself I could survive on £500 a month. I told myself that was the most I seemed able to earn- I'd be fine with that amount of money. 

Can you believe it?!

Because I had no business plans and no strategy, my business was all over the place. And because of that, so were my finances. 

I'm delighted to say that since I started taking planning and strategizing seriously, my income is a lot higher than that now.

But can you see how dangerous it is to 'wing it' in business?

Plans don't have to be long, boring and ugly. I've said that to you guys before, but I feel it's important to reiterate here. You can't just wing it. When you start planning and strategizing, your efforts become more intentional and focused, and your business flourishes more. 

Business that plan grow 60% faster than businesses that don't.

So do you want to grow and flourish? Or do you want a slow crawl to success?

My business blossomed this year

My business is having its best year yet. In fact, I've almost tripled last year's income. 

This year I've...

  • I released my first subscription product (TSC) which was a huge success.
  • I released a new consultation service for freelancers. 
  • I started writing my first eBook and I've created the sales page. It hasn't gone public yet, but it will in November.
  • I took on more clients because I planned how I could do it without stressing out. 
  • And I'm more organized than ever before. My clients are loving it! 

How did so much change come about in my business?

In January 2015, I analyzed my finances and realized I really needed to step up my game, so I bought a few books to help me create strategic plans for the new year. I joined Facebook groups about planning, I read lots of blog posts on business planning, downloaded lots of templates, and put all of my energy into creating a sustainable plan that could keep my business on track and help me earn more money. 

I had tried creating business plans in the past, trust me. But they always ended up sitting, unfinished, on my Macbook somewhere. I was distinctly aware this time around that I needed to create simple, easy-to-follow plans that wouldn't end up gathering dust. 

The benefits of a business plan

If you struggle to stick to your business plan, it's helpful to remind yourself of the benefits of having one. It helps me!

A few benefits of having a business plan...

  • A business plan forces you to think intentionally, realistically and unemotionally.  
  • It serves as a reference point for any goals you want to set. Before setting them, you can analyze your business plan and see if your goals are in line with it. 
  • It allows you to identify areas you need to improve on, or areas where you need assistance.
  • It allows you to plan for growth.
  • It helps you form a long-term vision for business. With a business plan, you're no longer fumbling in the dark, so to speak. You know what to expect from your business over the next year, and even the year after that.
  • A business plan helps make your priorities clearer.
  • It helps you manage cash flow better. When you look at your business plan, you'll see what income to expect over the year and you'll be able to manage your money accordingly.

Getting into the right mindset

Before you create a plan and actually stick to it, you need to get into the right mindset. 

Give yourself a goal. It could be that you want to make more money, or you finally want to start selling products. A goal like this will give your business plan a purpose and you'll be more likely to complete your plan and stick to it.

My business plan template

My business plan template is a one-page spreadsheet. I've tried lots of formats in the past: Word docs, pretty docs in iBooks Author, paper plans... but a simple one-page spreadsheet has helped me keep my plan simple and straightforward. There's not much room for overwhelm with a plan like this!

How to use this template

1. Before you do anything, hit File > Save As > and save it as an Excel doc or whatever you'd like! Then, open your super simple business plan and get started. 

2. Write down three goals for the year and ONLY three. They should be revenue goals, launch goals or sales goals. Since we're only in September, they could be your goals for the remaining few months of 2015 or you could use this plan for 2016. I recommend the latter. 

Having three main goals for your entire year will keep you focused. I've found that in the past, when I haven't had yearly goals, my focus has drifted all over the place and I haven't achieved much in 12 months.

3. Next up, write your tagline. Just a short and simple tagline that clearly explains what you do.

It's important to have simple things like your goals and your tagline at the top of your business plan because they serve as reminders. As soon as you open your plan, the first things you'll see are your goals and a simple explanation of what you do. These are great reminders to refer to when you're lacking brand clarity or not sure what direction to take your brand in. 

4. What has worked really well so far this year, or last year? And what could you improve on next year? If you've found certain marketing methods have worked for you then write them down! But if you're struggling with something, write that down too. You can make your successes a stronger part of your business strategy next year, and you can turn your struggles into mini goals.

5. Next up, fill in your Income Plan. I wrote an article on this income planner back in April. To sum up what it is, it's a simple plan that contains your income predictions for the next 12 months. Fill in how much money you want to make. Then, fill in your products and services and experiment with pricing and how many units you'd have to sell to meet your income goal. 

6. Track your growth. All the sections on the left of the spreadsheet are about planning for growth. The sections on the right are all about tracking growth. Use the sections on the right to track how much your newsletter grows each month, how much your blog grows, and how much your social media grows. In the 'Actions' column on these growth boxes, make sure you note whether you've taken any specific actions that contributed to more growth or slower growth. For example, if you started adding content upgrades to your blog posts in January and experienced hundreds more subscribers, note down that action! Your future self will thank you for the reminder when she's re-reading your old biz plan. 

If you're confused or have any questions about how to use this simple plan, let me know in our Facebook group!

Because I love strategy SO much and its made such an impact on my design business this year, I'm thinking of creating a strategy course for freelancers. If this is something that you're interested in, sign up for future info!

 

5 ways to make your clients fall in love with you

I'm going to let you in on a little freelance secret: your very best clients are your past clients. Past clients will return to work with you again and again, and send new business your way.

In fact, 80% of my own new business comes from referrals via past clients.

But in order to get those referrals coming in, you have to have happy past clients (because no one is going to refer you if they didn't like working with you!). In the past few years of running my business, I've learned there are a few simple things you can do to make clients fall in love with you.

Let clients know what to expect upfront

When clients know what to expect, they feel confident in their decision to hire you, the process of the project, and where their money is going. This makes them happy and prevents unwelcome surprises for both of you throughout the project.

You can outline a simple welcome packet (PDF) with details like your office hours, when and how they can contact you, estimated timeline for the project, and what you'll need from the client at each stage. When everyone's on the same page, everyone's happy.

Keep clients informed

You'd be amazed at how a weekly Skype call or email outlining what's been done in the past week can make clients jump for joy. You'd also be amazed at how few freelancers do this. The number one complaint I hear from clients who have worked with other freelancers is that there was no communication and they didn't know what was going on. Schedule time in at the end of each week to either have a quick chat or send a summary email--your clients will love it!

Admit mistakes

We all hope there are no mistakes on our projects--but they happen! Owning up to them and doing what you can to make them right goes a LONG way.

After you've had your freak-out moment where you realized you screwed up, sit down, and brainstorm ways to fix the problem. Can't fix it? Offer a discount, additional service, or gift to make it right.

Send a thank you

After completing a project, nothing says you appreciate a client's business like a thank you. This can be as simple as a handwritten thank you card, or as fancy as a gift you know the client would love. This personal touch really makes clients feel special, and can be a really fun part of your business! I love stalking clients' Pinterest boards for gift ideas and surprising them with items off their wishlist.

Follow up afterwards

When the project ends, don't say goodbye! While it can vary by industry, I recommend following up with clients approximately a month after project completion to see how they are getting along. If they have a new website, are they able to update it easily? If they have new sales page copy, is it converting to more sales? Whatever your industry, reaching out and checking in on clients will show them that you really care.

By letting clients know what to expect throughout the project, keeping them informed of the progress, owning up to mistakes, and ending with a thank you and follow-up, clients will recognize how much you care about their success and will fall in love with working with you! Happy clients lead to referrals, which lead to more business. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Erin E Flynn has been making websites since the dark ages of the internet (1999), and running her own web development business since 2012. A huge fan of streamlining and communication, Erin now helps coach new designers in simplifying their businesses and making more money. When she’s not glued to her computer screen, you can find Erin hiking, camping, or binge-watching Netflix. Find her online at erineflynn.com, take her course on how to follow up with past clients, or join the Unstoppable Crew to take control of your design business!

How I created a simple sales funnel for my business (and how you can, too!)

I love marketing. In fact, I love any kind of planning! Since I started working on my business plans and strategies more purposefully, my business has grown by 150%. Seriously!! I've earned last year's income in just 4 months this year. I'm on track to earn a lot more than I planned for in my income planner earlier this year. 

That begs the question- how?

What have I been doing that has increased my income so much?

What plans have I put in place to grow my business so quickly?

I'm going to dive into my sales strategy this month. I'm also going to share the books and courses that have helped me grow my business and income exponentially, so try and read all of this month's articles if you can. I promise you'll love them if you're interested in increasing your income (which, let's face it, who isn't?)

Do you need to plan the 'traditional' way?

By traditional I mean long, boring, ugly plans that make no sense but feel necessary if you're going to call yourself a business owner. 

I don't believe you need those kinds of plans to build a successful biz.

Freelancers these days waste so much time and energy creating 'professional' and 'traditional' plans and strategies like the ones we're taught about in business classes at school. 

But is that what we need?

I don't personally think so. These plans feel professional and sophisticated because they're long and include lots of technical jargon, but if these kinds of plans  don't help you make progress then toss them in the bin! Unless you're applying for a business loan and you're required to show your business plans to a bank, you can plan the easier way.

I believe in a simpler way of planning. I believe in keeping plans SO simple that even a child can follow them. 

Why?

Because simple plans are the easiest to follow. Simple plans don't make our brains exasperated when we look at them- they're actually fun to tweak and use!

What is a sales funnel?

A sales funnel is the ideal process you want your clients/customers to experience as they go from lead > prospect > customer. It looks like an upside-down pyramid. Your leads (aka. prospective customers) start at the top (your free products and advice) and then hopefully funnel down to the bottom (your most expensive services and products.)

When I first started my business I hated the idea of sales funnels; they sounded so boring and difficult. Besides, most of my work came through referrals so I didn't bother with many other marketing methods. But when I did some research, I realized that sales funnels are an organized and intentional way of marketing.

Having a sales funnel in place is important because most leads don't purchase products or services the first time they land on your site; they usually have to go through each stage of your sales funnel.

Who needs one?

If you're a business owner then you need a sales funnel. Even bloggers need one if they want to create profitable blogs! You are only successful if you can continually get clients through your digital door, or continually make sales. When those things stop, your business fails. 

When I asked our Facebook group if anyone actively uses a marketing plan or sales funnel, I got very similar answers from lots of members:

"I dread marketing."

"I've gotten by so far on sheer luck... 100% referrals and word-of-mouth. But now I'm really looking to up my marketing and strategy."

"I have a plan... but it has so many hurdles that I'm scared of it."

One member called herself a 'wing-it' girl because she's gotten by so far by sheer luck. Heck, I used to be a 'wing-it' girl too! I would get by on referrals and client's who found me through social media. But the unsteadiness of that really unnerved me. I was balancing my entire livelihood on chance. Is that a sensible way of running a business? Heck no. Things had to change. I knew somewhere inside that if I didn't start getting purposeful with my plans, my business was going to hit a brick wall at some point and I was going to panic.

My view of marketing changed

I decided to take action one day by sitting down and actually creating plans. I used ugly, long templates that I got from Google but they just sat, unfinished, gathering dust on my Macbook. 

I then tried to make my plans more fun by creating bight, beautifully designed plans in Indesign. They were still really long through and they did the exact same thing as my other plans- they sat gathering dust on my Macbook.

Eventually, I stumbled across Amber McCue's ebook 'Fresh Start 2015' and my life was totally transformed.

Amber creates a digital planner each year filled with prompts and worksheets to help you plan for the next year. Amber's planner was great, but it was one of her worksheets that changed my view of planning.

She gave away a business plan template with her book, and the template was a simple one-page spreadsheet.

I couldn't get over the simplicity of it.

I used it for the next 90 days and realized that I'd finally found the kind of plan I could stick to, the kind of plan I could actually enjoy using!

From then, I've only ever created simple one-page plans whenever I've needed to plan for something, whether it was a marketing plan, a business plan, launch plan or sales funnel.

Keeping your plans short and simple stops your brain from feeling overwhelmed. 

So, how do you create a sales funnel?

Watch the video above to see how I created my own sales funnel and how you can make one, too! Then click the button below to download my sales funnel template.

OR

What marketing methods should you focus on?

As you can see in my video, a lot of the marketing methods I added to my sales funnel were video-based because one of my goals is to build more trust with my target market. 

Every business is different, so you may prefer to leave out video-based marketing and prioritize Twitter and Facebook. Whatever you choose, it isn't wrong. But don't be afraid to experiment with your marketing methods- add things to your sales funnel that push your boundaries a bit.

The find out what forms of marketing work best for you (and place most of your effort and energy there!) you can do three things:

1. Add the question 'How did you find me?' to your website contact form. From now on, when potential clients fill it out you'll know how they found you. You may start to see a recurring pattern. If you do, make it a focus point in your marketing plan.

2. Ask past clients how they found you. If you need to know ASAP where to focus your marketing efforts, start by asking your past clients. Some may not remember, but it's worth asking. 

3. Find out how others in your industry find their clients. Maybe you're new to the freelance world or you haven't had many clients yet. If so, find out where other people get their clients and customers from. It may be a little embarrassing or awkward, but just ask the question in a Facebook group or drop someone an email asking about it. You'd be surprised how many people will open up and share this info with you!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject (and on the video I created)! Post a comment below or post in our Facebook group and tell me: what is your biggest struggle when it comes to planning?

How I use my blog to attract more clients

You've probably read articles from freelancers around the internet telling you that blogging has transformed their lives and businesses. But how? Yes, blogging must be amazing for your business if you have an audience of thousands. But surely blogging isn't as effective if you only have a tiny audience? That's not the case, and in this article I'm going to stop you thinking that way and show you how I used my blog to:

  • Establish my business
  • Get my first paying clients
  • Establish myself as an expert in my industry
  • Start making recurring income

How I established my business through blogging

I started my first blog six years ago for fun, not for business. My first blog was called The Button Owl and was built on Tumblr. It was about lots of stuff- fashion, personal style, craft, lifestyle... I had this blog for about a year and totally loved it. I then switched to Blogger and created a fashion blog called Flower Child. I made friends in the blogging world, I realized I wanted to blog about personal style instead of all the other stuff, and I really found my voice. But the most important factor here was that creating my blog was my first real stepping-stone towards building my own design business and booking paid clients, something I didn't know I wanted to do at the time.

I loved experimenting with my blog design and creating new logos. When my blog started to grow, I started receiving design requests. I couldn't believe that just by doing something fun- blogging- I was able to attract paying clients. It was easier than I thought, and with a little social media marketing I soon discovered that I could earn more than I did at my day job. That's when the cogs in my brain started turning and I decided to quit my job and give freelancing a shot.

Do you need lots of blog readers to start turning some of them into clients?

No. Remember the old saying, quality over quantity? I firmly believe that a quality blog audience is more valuable than having an audience of lots of readers who barely interact with you.

If you don't have time to blog every day or three times a week, then don't. Blogging so much isn't the only way to achieve success with your blog. Try blogging once a week. One in-depth, quality blog post is all you need to kick off your blogging.

Look at it this way: you could receive 1000 visits to one blog post by promoting it thoroughly, or you could post 5 times a week and get 200 visits to each post. That's the same number of visits each week. The first option doesn't require much time writing, just a bit more marketing. The second option requires LOTS of time writing, and then time marketing each blog post. Why add so much work to your load? I know which option I prefer.

How to attract potential clients to your blog

  • Write quality content. Clients will be impressed by articles that are deep and show your expertise.
  • Create pinnable blog post graphics. Graphics that get the most pins on Pinterest are vertical and the text on them is big. These images will catch peoples attention on Pinterest- hopefully your potential clients. One of my recent inquiries came from a woman who found me through Pinterest so never underestimate it!
  • Pin one of your articles every day. Pinterest is my highest source of blog traffic and lots of my clients find me through it, so it's important to pin every day.
  • Share your blog posts on social media every day. There are hundreds of potential clients on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Make sure you're sharing your work and blog posts with them every day. The more you share on social media, the more potential clients will come your way.
  • Share your work on your blog. If you design websites then share your work on your blog. Sometimes, people read your blog but have no idea what you do. If you share your work with them on your blog it could spur them to inquire about your services.

Other ways your blog helps you get clients

Even if your clients haven't found you through your blog, your blog will help them decide whether they want to hire you.

Here's a scenario:

One designer, Sarah, is a hard worker and extremely talented. She doesn't have a blog but she has a portfolio website that showcases her work and her contact details.

Another designer, Amy, is also very talented. She has a portfolio site that showcases her work and her details, but she also has a blog filled with behind-the-scenes info on her processes, articles that show off her expertise, and a tribe of people who comment and show their love for her.

Which designer seems more appealing to a client? And which designer would you pay more? It would usually be the second designer because she gained your trust by showcasing her expertise on her blog.

I've noticed that a lot of my clients subscribe to my email list before getting in touch, and they sometimes comment on blog posts. One of my clients told me last year that my blog helped her decide to hire me because my articles proved that I knew what I was doing.

All of this shows that if you don't have a blog, you should really start one.

One way my blog has earned me money

The bigger you build your blog tribe, the more people you can sell to. You can sell eBooks, courses, digital goods, consult calls.... anything! There's a community of loyal readers just waiting for your help. And if you're smart and you love them enough, you'll provide it.

I created this club and only marketed it to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers. I didn't do any outside marketing- no Facebook ads, no blog ads, no affiliates. Every person who subscribed to this club did it through my blog or newsletter. I currently have 70 subscribers to this club. That's $700 per month just from blog readers who value my content enough that they're willing to pay for a higher level of content. (Gotta have love for you guys, because I am reeeeeally enjoying sharing this exclusive content with you, and I'm LOVING getting to know you all in our private Facebook group!)

In summary

In short, if you want to attract clients and make money through your blog, you need to:

  • Post quality content regularly, even if it's just once a week.
  • Share your content on social media every day.
  • Interact with your readers.
  • Showcase your expertise on your blog.
  • Post about topics your ideal clients are interested in. (You can do this by going through the questions your clients ask you often and making blog posts that answer them!)
  • Take blogging seriously.

If you put your heart into blogging and you provide your readers with content they actually need (instead of just posting about your cat or your vacation) then I promise you'll attract clients and start making money from it.

My step-by-step process for booking clients

So, now that you've learned some new tips and tricks that will help you find clients from social media, referrals and your blog, how will you book those clients? Often, finding clients can be the easy part. Booking them can be tricky, especially if you don't have a system in place.

It's helpful to create a 'booking process' for yourself. Write down each step you and the client need to take after they've decided to work with you- from the moment they say yes to the moment you send them their homework. Then automate and streamline each step in that process, like your life depends on it. You can streamline your booking process by:

  • Creating canned emails so you don't have to keep retyping what you tell every new client.
  • Creating reusable questionnaires for each of your services.
  • Implement apps that save you time in the booking process.

I'm going to go through my own booking process with you so that you can hopefully take some ideas from it. You may have seen in last month's article, How I manage my client flow in Streak, a little snippet of my inquiry process. But I'm going to break it down here and explain exactly how I streamline my bookings and inquiries.

My step-by-step booking process

1. I receive an inquiry. All inquiries come through the simple contact form I have on my website. It asks for a few details (name, email, URL, which service they're interested in) so that I know a bit about them before I even reply. You'll notice that I point inquirers to my FAQ page- it helps stop them from asking me questions that are already answered there.

2. I send them a canned email response. Since most inquiries are the same, I send a canned email response (an email template) in Gmail. It tells them when I'm available, how long their project would approximately take, and asks them to schedule a Skype consultation with me so we can discuss their project more.

3. The client schedules a free 15-30 minute consultation. I use Calendly to schedule consultations and I absolutely love it! It's simple and it syncs with my Google Calendar. When they've booked their consultation, I email them to thank them and tell them to accept my Skype contact request before the session. This email is also a canned response. (See how canned emails make the booking process more streamlined?!)

4. Calendly notifies me and the client when the consultation is due. But I find it nice and helpful to drop them a message the day of the session as a bonus reminder. It's just a short canned email, but they don't know that it's canned. It shows that I care and I'm looking forward to 'meeting' them!

5. We have our Skype consultation. In their Skype discussions we usually talk about their business, goals, needs, and target customers. Then we ask each other questions. You can read up on my tips for Skyping with clients on my blog!

6. I send another canned email. I call this one my 'after skype' email. I give them a short summary of our conversation, I send them my contract, I send them an invoice, tell them how to pay the deposit to book their spot in my schedule, and I attach a recording of our Skype consultation. I then leave it up to them to decide if they're going to work with me! Using Streak, an add-on for Gmail, I set a reminder that will tell me to follow up with the client in 10 days if I haven't heard back from them. If 10 days goes by, I send a canned response that asks if they have any questions or concerns I could help them with.

7. The clients books me. When the client has paid the deposit and signed the contract, I set up a project page in Basecamp for them. You can create project templates in Basecamp so I just duplicate a template. Then I send- you guessed it- yet another canned email. This one invites the client to their project page and explains how we'll use it. It also tells them about the homework they need to complete before their project starts.

8. I send another email. Canned, you say? Why yes. Yes it is. 2 weeks before their project, I email them reminding them to complete their 'homework' and asking them to book a Skype session with me. This year I added 30 minute Skype sessions to my packages so I could discuss the client's homework with them and the client could ask any last-minute questions they have. I find these Skype sessions really good motivators for my clients to get their homework done on time.

9. I schedule an email reminder. I schedule an email to send 1 day before the session, reminding the client of it.

10. We have the consultation! After the consultation, we're both on the same page and excited to crack on with their branding project. You can view examples of my work here and read testimonials from clients who have been through this process over here. 

There are always more ways to automate and streamline your process. For example, I feel that I could try to set up Calendly to remind clients of their Skype sessions instead of doing it myself. And if I had a virtual assistant, she could handle the emails completely. The more and more you think of ways to simplify your process, the more ideas come to you.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on my booking process. Tips and constructive feedback are always welcome! Head to the Facebook group to start a conversation or leave a comment here.