The ultimate business survival guide for freelancers and small businesses

in Tips / Freelancing

Setting up and running a business is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things you could ever do. If you've managed to go out there on your own – particularly during the current economic climate – you should pat yourself on the back.

But recession or not, it's always difficult to keep going once you're up and running. There are all manner of things to deal with, from your own time management to ensuring clients pay on time. Speaking from my own experience of going solo, here is my ultimate survival guide for freelancers and small business owners...

1. Learn how to sell yourself

When you're the owner of your own business, you're the 'face' of your company. You're the first person people meet or speak to when they consider hiring you. That's why it's so important to learn how to sell yourself and your services.

Don't be afraid to show off your skills and expertise. Learn how to create and maintain relationships and become skilled in asking the right questions, as well as knowing when to give the hard sell and when to take a step back.

If you've only been freelancing for a short while and you're not yet experienced in selling yourself, my advice is to be friendly and open with everyone you meet. Make a point to listen and observe, and read people's body language. You'll be surprised how much you learn just by observing people. And if the opportunity presents itself to sell your skills, do it! Tell people who you are and what you do. If you get to grips with sales, you'll definitely make it long term.

Top Tip: Go to lots of networking events, always carry business cards and be prepared to sell yourself at all times. You never know who you might bump in to. Make sure you always follow up on any new leads. And ask your existing clients for referrals. Create a CRM system to keep track of potential and existing customers.

2. Practise good money management

The key to survival in business is good cash flow. Get into the habit of managing your money, so you never run short. This means sending out invoices as soon as a project is complete and chasing payment when the standard 30 days are up.

No one likes to pick up the phone and ask for money, but you shouldn't feel like you're being rude. Simply say "I'm going through my usual monthly admin and am just chasing up on invoice number X. Could you please confirm that it's going to be paid as it's now overdue. Thank you!".

Just keep things friendly and professional and people will respect your wishes. I've never had anyone complain about me chasing payment for my own invoices. It's just something we all have to do.

Top Tip: Never live beyond your means and remember that some months you'll earn less cash than others. Save as much money as possible to build up a safety net. To really tackle your invoices and bills, hire an accountant or consider using something like FreeAgent.

3. Get the right support

Getting the right support is crucial if you want your business to survive and grow. If you're picking other freelancers to collaborate with, you really have to make sure you find those who would be a good fit.

My advice is to put other freelancers through a stringent interview process. It won't do any harm to make sure that you're taking on the right people for the job. Ask to see CVs, portfolios... anything that demonstrates their skills and experience. Go the extra mile and make them do a test during an interview. And when you hire them, make them work with you on-site if it makes you more comfortable. That way, you can keep an eye on them, and ensure you're getting your money's worth.

Of course, the beauty of hiring freelancers is that you can hire them on a project-by-project basis. This means you always have the budget in place and, even better – if it doesn't work out, you can simply go elsewhere. Read this article on how to successfully work with freelancers for some more advice.

If a freelancer just won't cut it and you need more daily support, then it might be time to employ your first member of staff. Taking the leap and hiring someone full-time is exciting but daunting. Because employing someone instead of hiring a freelancer is a whole new ball game. There are many things you need to take into account, most of which are nicely covered by Don't be put off though – taking on staff is a great sign that your business is growing.

Top Tip: Becoming an employer brings new responsibilities. Learn everything you can about hiring staff and ensure you're clued up on employment law. Read this helpful guide from the government.

4. Never stop marketing yourself

When you run your own business, you tend to wear many different hats. Marketing is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful company, so make sure it's at the top of your agenda. Do everything to get your business name out there and in front of people looking for your product or services.

A great first step is to create a business plan and use your research to market yourself in the right way. It won't do you any good without any considered thought process, so make sure you do some thorough prep before you start marketing to the masses.

Top Tip: Whenever you're going through a quiet period, focus on your marketing. Follow up new leads. Go to networking events. Send out an e-newsletter. Update your website and its blog. Carry on with your SEO and digital marketing. Make a few cold calls to potential new clients. And if you're still stuck for marketing ideas read 100 inspiring ways to market your business.

5. Work with the right people

Another key ingredient to survival is finding the right clients to work with. This means finding people who are easy to work with, who pay on time and who appreciate your expertise. Those dream clients do exist, it just might be a while before you discover them.

What you do in the meantime is get rid of those clients that make your working life a misery. You know the ones I'm talking about. The low value clients who never pay on time, who demand more than they should get and who drain you of energy and happiness.

Top Tip: Getting rid of negative, needy clients is never easy because you should never burn bridges or risk damaging your reputation. There are ways to walk away gracefully, like for example – making the client think it was their idea to walk away from you. You could achieve this by putting your prices up next time you quote for something or saying you're unavailable to take on any new work. Another great tip is to recognise the warning signs of difficult clients before it's too late And here's a good article on how to turn business away professionally.

6. Manage your time more effectively

Time is money, as they say. Your time is charged to clients and so in order to survive, you have to make sure your time is spent wisely. That means having an honest look at a typical working day to see if there's anything you could be doing to manage your time more efficiently.

If you're finding yourself easily distracted, then read these top 20 ways to stay productive or this helpful article on managing your time more effectively.

Top Tip: One of the most common time wasters is bad clients. Get rid of anyone who is draining your time and energy for little profit. Make room in the day to win higher value clients who appreciate your work. Seriously, stop slogging your guts out for people who don't pay enough and chase higher paying customers instead. How you do this is by improving your website and portfolio and putting yourself across as a high quality product or service provider.

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