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How to Get the Respect You Deserve as a Freelancer

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This story originally appeared on Skillcrush

The life of a freelancer is one of flexibility and freedom. You can set your own hours, choose your own clients and be your own boss. And with all of the perks of working remotely that come from a freelance tech career — benefits like not having to miss school concerts or be chained to a desk for the same block of time every day — it’s easy to see why so many people are opening their own businesses. A 2014 study by the Freelancers’ Union found that 34 percent of the workforce was comprised of freelancers. That’s 53 million people, a number that I’d wager has only grown in the past three years.

Related: Considering a Freelance Life Abroad? Read This First.

But no job is perfect, and freelancing poses its own unique set of challenges. Freelancers face pervasive stereotypes — those preconceived notions that CEOs and potential clients might hold about contract employees — that can keep you from getting treated fairly. Here are three major myths you might have to tackle in order to convince your client that hiring freelance workers is truly worth it, and how you can nip them in the bud.

Myth #1: Freelancers are less skilled than full-time employees, and therefore deserve less money.

Freelancing is not a “Plan B” — it’s a conscious choice. And deciding to freelance reflects not a bit on the quality of our work. In fact, I’ll venture that successful freelancers are among the best at what they do, precisely because they are always in competition with other people on the market and have to let their work speak for itself.

The idea that freelancers are a “cheaper” option for employers is complicated: Businesses looking to outsource to contract employees do so in part to save money on expenses like employment taxes, health care, pensions and other benefits. But the flip side of that coin is that freelancers themselves often have to make up those costs — paying for health insurance themselves, saving for retirement on their own, hiring an accountant to manage their work income and more.

How to prove you’re a badass who’s worth every penny:

  • Invest time, energy and even a little capital, in an amazing portfolio website. Your portfolio is how you sell yourself and shows that you can deliver beautiful work and measurable results. Write an About Page on your site that establishes your credibility (or hire a copywriter to create the content for you), and actively participate and promote your work on professional sites like LinkedIn and Behance.
  • Charge a reasonable rate that not only pays you a decent salary but covers your costs. A good rule of thumb is to research appropriate freelance rates for your field, start at the lower end, and then raise your prices at regular intervals. When you find your first potential client who balks? You’re probably right where you should be.
  • If you do have someone who tries to negotiate your rate, seriously consider how much you’re willing to bend — and don’t take less than you’re worth. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “You know, as a small business owner, I understand your concerns about costs but I’m going to have to hold firm.”

Myth #2: Freelancers are lazy and unresponsive. They’re lounging in their underwear playing video games instead of returning your emails.

As a former freelancer, all I can say to this line of thinking is I WISH. Even if you’re only freelancing part time while you work at another job or go to school, they don’t call it a “side hustle” for nothing. And if it’s your only hustle, you’re hustling for sure.

Make no mistake: Freelancing is hard work, and while your billable hours might not add up to 40 hours a week, the total time you spend on your business likely goes above and beyond. There’s invoicing and estimating projects and writing contracts and responding to emails. There’s adding new projects to your portfolio and chasing late payments and finding places to post your services. It’s no joke, and these are all prime reasons to make sure your rates are set at a place that allows you to do the important work of running a business, and be compensated fairly.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Working While Traveling

That said, when freelancers work remotely and a client can’t reach them right away, it’s understandable that they’ll get skittish. There are far too many horror stories (and Judge Judy episodes) involving service providers who take a client’s money and run. Luckily, there’s a simple solution.

How to ease a client’s fear that all freelancers are flakes: Practice clear, frequent, and professional communication and get references from happy clients.

I assumed many habits to show my clients that they should have faith in me. I responded to every single email within 24 hours. I was cognizant of client deadlines and guaranteed that I’d meet them in the contract. If I was planning to be “out of the office” (away from my computer), I activated my autoresponder in my email. I gave clients some lead time when I knew I’d be out of town. This sort of communication — and accountability — was essential for clients to believe they could trust me. And the great thing about trust is that it leads to repeat business, glowing testimonials and referrals to client’s networks.

Myth #3: Freelancers have to make the client happy — at all costs.

Some clients relish the old proverb about the customer always being right… and they can use that thinking to try to manipulate — and even abuse — the client-freelancer relationship. This often stems from the fact that these clients view “freelancing” as another word for “unemployed” — and they’re willing to do everything they can to take advantage of another desperate, out-of-work loser.

Yet according to the Freelancers’ Union survey: “Three times as many freelancers expect to work more hours (38 percent) as expect to work fewer (12 percent)” in the upcoming year. And 77 percent of freelancers report that “they make the same or more money than they did before they started freelancing….In fact, more than four in ten (42 perecent) said they already make more than before they started freelancing.” This does not sound like desperation to me, and it definitely doesn’t sound like the majority of freelancers are out of work.

But lack of respect was the narrative I heard most when I asked my coworkers at Skillcrush for less-than-optimal freelancing stories. Sometimes that disrespect comes in the form of clients changing the requirements of the job (“scope creep”) after the work has already begun or even been completed. Skillcrush CEO and founder Adda Birnir shared this story about one of her early clients: “We’d redone their whole website design two or three times — a total overhaul against a fixed budget. These guys were literally changing the fundamental direction in each iteration and we were doing somersaults to try and please them. At one point my business partner looked at me and asked, ‘Do you think we can ever make them happy?’ and I just said, ‘No.’”

And sometimes that disrespect comes in other forms, like late payment or poor communication.

How to avoid being steamrolled by a pushy client: Build very firm boundaries, then shout them from the mountaintops.

In run of the mill situations like late payments, problems with clients can be prevented in the first place by putting all terms in writing, and all legit clients should be comfortable signing a contract before your work begins. A typical contract outlines payment terms, scope of work, deliverables, timing and more, and can help set clear expectations on both sides. (Not sure about writing your own contract? Try an online contract service like Bonsai.) And if problems do arise, being able to respond to silly requests with, “Well, it says in the contract…” is a fabulously non-confrontational way to wrangle clients who are trying to push the limits.

Related: A Day in the Freelance Life: Busy Parent Edition

And if you just can’t agree with a client, sometimes a breakup is the only path forward. After realizing what was happening in her freelance business, Adda ended up firing the client who was taking advantage of her. “I really appreciate my business partner at the time for making us do it,” she recalls. “It was a rite of passage.”

In the end, in all client-freelancer relationships, sometimes it’s important to remember who your boss really is: yourself.

A daily source of inspiration and information, Entrepreneur.com fuels the spectrum of game-changers that define what it means to be an entrepreneur today. That includes business leaders who launched something from nothing, content creators in the social influencer space, athletes pushing the boundaries of performance, and internal thought leaders innovating inside major corporations. Entrepreneur.com offers strategic insights and how-to guidance for the people that make things happen.

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Steve Jobs Shares the Secrets to Successful Team Leadership in This Throwback Video

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Though Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died six years ago, his outsized influence is certainly still felt. A recently surfaced video interview with the late CEO — which based on his haircut seems to place him in the mid-1980s — shows him sharing his views about best practices for hiring and what makes a great manager.

Up front, he says that the greatest employees are the ones who have the ability to manage themselves. But they can only do that if the leadership at the top is clear about what they want. “What leadership [is] having a vision, being able to articulate that so the people around you can understand it and getting a consensus on a common vision,” Jobs says.

Related: Steve Jobs Systematically Cultivated His Creativity. You Can Too.

Jobs goes on to explain that one of the most important jobs of someone in his position is recruiting new employees. He notes that he isn’t necessarily looking for someone who is an industry veteran, but rather someone who understands where technology is and where it could go in the future. He also recalls a moment when as the company was growing, that he and others executives thought they needed “professional managers,” but that ultimately turned out to not be the case.   

“We went out and hired a bunch of professional management [and] it didn’t work at all. Most of them were bozos,” Jobs says with his characteristic brutal candor. “They knew how to manage, but they didn’t know how to do anything. If you’re a great person, why do you want to work for somebody that you can’t learn anything from?”

Related: What the Creation of Apple’s iPhone Teaches Us About Innovation

Ultimately, he notes that the best team leaders are the ones that aren’t angling for power for power’s sake. “They are the great individual contributors who never, ever want to be a manager,” Jobs says. “But decide they have to be a manager because no one else is going to be able to do as good a job as them.”

Do you agree with Jobs’s assessment? Let us know in the comments and check out the full video below.

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How to Keep Introverted Employees From Quietly Leaving Your Company — in Droves

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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has been around for decades. Employers use it to uncover job candidates’ personality strengths and place them in the right role. MBTI results also help identify natural leaders and great communicators.

Related: Introversion Is Not A Weakness, So Why Are You Treating It Like One?

Yet, there’s little talk about how people’s results impact their satisfaction once they’re in a job. When leaders ignore employees’ happiness, it’s hard to keep productive talent around.

Interestingly, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based publisher of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, CCP, Inc., conducted new research that dove into how personality impacts workplace well-being. It looked at five aspects of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments.

After surveying 3,113 participants, the company, in a September report, revealed that introverts have lower well-being in all of these areas. This isn’t all that surprising: An introvert is less likely to speak up about what’s negatively impacting him or her.

It is shocking, however, that employers aren’t being more proactive. If leaders don’t find a way to improve the workplace happiness of introverts, those people will leave and take all their unique skills with them.

Want to avoid that happening to you? Here are some ideas to help connect with the introverts in your office and better understand their wellness-related needs in the workplace:

Be a chameleon.

Many leaders make the mistake of managing everyone the same way and assuming the results will equate across the board. But there’s a huge flaw in that logic: Every person, in fact, perceives and processes guidance differently. Some need more help in certain situations; some need less. So, it’s up to leaders to customize their approach.

Leaders ignoring the needs of their introverts can hurt their overall workplace well-being. The reason: Introverted employees will feel less engaged and have a harder time reaching their goals. This may then lead to feelings of isolation and disappointment, negatively impacting these workers’ mental health.

Related: 6 Truths on Why Introverts Make Great Leaders

When managers recognize introverts’ differences, on the other hand, they can help those employees succeed, and feel more accomplished. For example, as New York-based co-founder of the digital agency Ready Set Rocket, Aaron Harvey, pointed out, introverts have trouble speaking in front of people. “If someone struggles in brainstorming sessions, simply stop by their desk in advance and ask them to be prepared with a few ideas around a specific topic,” Harvey advised in an email. “This can help them feel confident, joining a conversation that organically leads to real-time ideation.”

Consider other situations when introverts might feel that they are out of their element. For instance, consider ways in which shy employees might meet new people.

Talking with new clients, after all, probably makes them nervous. So, reduce their stress by having an extrovert they’re comfortable with tag along. Having a familiar face present will help get them through the situation.

Scrimmage employees’ skill sets.

Extroverts’ strengths are obvious. They’re good communicators, enjoy building relationships and freely share their ideas — all skills that contribute to their well-being. These traits make it easier for them to create a support system at work and to speak up about what skills they have to offer.

Introverts’ skills are more hidden, so leaders don’t always see what they bring to the table. Since introverts are less likely to communicate what responsibilities they’d like to take on, they’re left feeling unfulfilled.

Skills-assessment tools, like the MBTI, are a great solution. They reveal natural strengths and help managers assign introverts more meaningful work.

After realizing your introverts’ skills, give them more opportunities to use them. Assign tasks and projects that allow them to maximize their strengths. Fully and effectively contributing to the team will improve their feelings of meaning and accomplishment.

Arlington, Va.-based Greg Wester, senior vice president of marketing and business development at the mobile content discovery platform Mobile Posse, likes to mix it up with his employees. To help everyone on the team develop his or her skills, Wester told me, the company poses team challenges that mix introverts and extroverts.

“We’ve found that people are super competitive about winning,” he said by email. “The different types of exercises give people a variety of ways to participate, get involved and hopefully boost their well-being.”

Currently, Mobile Posses’ employees are working as teams to create themed videos. Each team has eight cross-functional, cross-personality employees. They’re all challenged to use their individual skills to create a video representing their perspective on a company core value or vision.

This approach to skill-building, Wester said, helps introverts connect with the entire team and gives them more confidence about their value in the organization.

Keep kindred spirits together.

While it’s good to have both types of personalities working together, introverts may become stressed if they’re paired only with extroverts.

For instance, imagine walking into a room where everyone is talking loudly and the words don’t make sense. The situation is overwhelming. This is how introverts feel when they’re surrounded by extroverts. It’s as though no one is speaking their language, and they feel isolated as a result.

What’s more, iIntroverts and extroverts communicate differently. To maintain well-being, introverts need to find like-minded people they can connect with and recharge their energy with.

Rick Gibbs, a performance specialist at the Kingwood, Tex.-based HR services company Insperity, pointed out that following personality assessments, introverts can find people who are like them and make healthy connections. “The process itself can help improve communication, build teams, and expand office friendships,” Gibbs said in an email. “More introverted employees will be able to identify others with similar communications styles.”

Related: How Thinking Like an Introvert Can Help You Get Ahead in Business

So think about conducting personality testing at your workplace. Then, hold a meeting where everyone can discuss his or her results. This will show introverts that they are not alone. They’ll be able to communicate better and deepen their relationships — and with them their personal well-being — at work.

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Hard Work? It's Not All It's Cracked up to Be. It May Even Be Irrelevant. Here's Why.

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From a young age, we’re raised to believe that we can accomplish pretty much anything so long as we work hard enough to achieve it. And, for the most part, that makes sense, at least intuitively. If you study for three hours while your roommate studies for one, you’ll probably do better on the test. If you spend 50 hours at work every week while your peer spends 30, you’ll stand a better chance of getting a raise or a promotion.

This idea follows us at every stage of our lives, and it echoes a cornerstone belief of Western culture: As long as you work hard, you’re going to be successful. But there’s a problem with this philosophy: Hard work isn’t always enough.

The Netflix approach

This idea is hard to accept at first, if you’re a hard worker who invests major time and effort to get what you want in life. Perhaps then, it’s best to introduce the alternative notion, using a corporate example.

Netflix (yes, the company responsible for those late-night television binges) has found success in part because it abolished the idea of hard work being the sole determining factor in an employee’s progression within the company.

Netflix formally introduced this idea in a 2009 slide deck explaining the company’s culture, but the idea dates back to 2001. Since her departure from Netflix, the company’s former chief talent officer, Patty McCord, has been on podcasts and spoken in interviews about the rather different work ethic Neflix evolved.

After experiencing financial trouble in 2001, the company made a bold move to lay off a third of its employees — not based on how long they’d worked there or how hard they’d worked, but solely on what they contribute, and how they impact the company’s bottom line. This infuriated some long-time, hard-working employees, but those who remained ended up getting more done because they didn’t have to correct others’ mistakes, or work around unnecessary teammates.

Even after that initial layoff, Netflix paid almost no attention to employees’ hard work. It allowed unlimited vacation time and flexible hours, focusing on results and innovation instead of the number of hours worked or the effort spent. This system resulted in the letting go of many employees who’d worked hard and performed well. But it also resulted in the better performance of the company (and, in many ways, in less stress for the remaining employees).

The problems with hard work

The Netflix example may seem harsh, especially if you’ve based your career around working hard. What if you too were fired after a decade of putting in long hours and genuinely trying your best?

Still, there are three main problems with hard work that an alternative culture or approach could correct:

“Hard work” doesn’t equal “results.” First off, hard work doesn’t necessarily correlate with results. For example, it doesn’t matter if you put 100 hours in to the design of your landing page; if your site doesn’t convert,you may as well have spent one hour.

Hard work isn’t efficient work. Next, consider that hard work isn’t necessarily efficient work. If it takes the person next to you three hours to complete a task that you could have completed in an hour, that extra hard work may have actually cost the company unnecessary time and money.

Hard work doesn’t encourage innovation. Finally, focusing on hard work doesn’t encourage innovation or novelty. Instead, it encourages repetition and persistence. Those factors can be good, but you also need some drive to try new tactics, incorporate new ideas and learn new things in your life.

What to focus on Instead

None of this is meant to imply that hard work isn’t valuable — only that your hard work should be reserved for when it counts the most. So, as an individual (whether you’re a professional or an entrepreneur), what should you be focusing on instead?

Efficiency. Focus on your efficiency. Instead of spending more hours, emphasize doing more with the hours you already have. For example, you could automate certain processes, delegate work beneath your paygrade or find new strategies to accomplish more within a set time frame. You can also work on eliminating redundancies in your workflow, or on abandoning tasks, meetings, and projects that eat up your time unnecessarily.

Results. Focus on results, prioritizing the work that seems to yield the highest return on your time investment. What’s really going to help you succeed? Reduce or eliminate anything that doesn’t fall in line with that vision, and don’t be afraid to make cuts.

Improvement. Focus on improving yourself and your surroundings. Instead of working hard on level one, spend some effort trying to get to level two. Invest in yourself, learning new skills and gaining new experiences, and invest in your environment by training your employees and making sure you have the best tools available for the job.

Hard work is incredibly valuable, but we shouldn’t keep thinking of it as the most important factor for success. Instead, we should see it as one of many factors that can help us, but won’t, in itself, necessarily save our businesses.

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