Round up: January 2020

Round up: January 2020

It’s been a busy start to the year, working on bids in various construction sectors, reviewing previous submissions with new clients, starting some mindset work (which is long overdue), writing a post a week for my blog and planning new areas of work. I’ve visited Birmingham, been to the theatre twice and done some nice winter walks. All good stuff, and getting to the end of January, it feels like the new year is in full swing, so here’s my round-up of the month. 

Social value in bids

The issue of social value continues to feature in bids and we are either answering it really well or totally fudging it – it’s now generally worth around 20% of public sector submissions, so it will win or lose you the bid. I’m working with another freelance bid writer and independent social value consultants to look at how we can help clients to answer the bid questions while developing long-term plans to drive sustainable social value in the communities my clients work in. 

I can’t stress to prospective bidders enough the importance of social value in bids – not just delivering the stuff that makes a difference, but also evidencing and communicating the quantified benefits.

How much social value does your business deliver? How do you evidence it? How are you finding responding to social value sections in bids? How can I help you to do this better? 

Squaring the circle

I’ve also been thinking harder about how to square the many circles I come across in my bid work. For example, how to help clients develop robust policy statements for quality management, environment or health and safety while not being an expert in these areas. I’ll be able to provide an update on this over the coming months as I work with other experts.

What kind of support do you need freelance bid writers to provide in this area? Do you need signposting to other experts, for the writers to have specific knowledge, or would ready-made templates to purchase be useful? 

Bid library technology

Another challenge I come across regularly is bid libraries – the content businesses capture for bids and how this is catalogued, stored and retrieved. The solution can be as complex or as simple as we want to make it – but a solution is imperative if companies want to see improvements in their bidding outcomes. I’ve seen a few good bid library solutions over the last couple of months – technology is really driving information management and it’s exciting.

Work-winning course for SMEs

I recently put a call out on social media asking what kind of content would be valuable in a work-winning and bidding course for SMEs working in construction. There’s still time to input into this, but the areas I’m going to focus on include evaluating opportunities, bid processes, developing a bid library, tackling questions and how to write collateral, including CVs and case studies. These courses will be delivered in a variety of formats to suit everyone, so if there’s something you’d like to learn about, please let me know. You can contact me via email, Twitter or LinkedIn

#VirtualCoffeeBreak

This concept was shared on Twitter recently – have a coffee with someone online. This concept is perfect for someone often desk-bound, like me. For example, this week I have four deadlines to me and need to be close to my laptop, but having a chat with someone via Skype or Zoom for half an hour is perfect. As well as building relationships and finding out what other people do, it’s a good antidote to solo home working. If you’d like to have a #VirtualCoffeeBreak with me, get in touch! (NB – you don’t have to drink coffee). 

Weekly bid power hour 

I’m giving away a #BidPowerHour each week, for construction SMEs to discuss their work-winning challenges, so they are provided with tips and ideas that can be implemented immediately. Do you need advice on sourcing opportunities? Do you need to develop a bank of standard information? Do you want to develop your understanding of the bid process? Contact me via email and we can schedule some time.  

Blog posts this month

It’s been a fairly prolific month for blog posts – you can catch up here:

Availability

I’m looking to be fully booked for February and March for bid work, but if you need anything, please get in touch and I will signpost you on to my network of really great bid writers. 

And finally…

I’ve got some great work and some exciting projects lined up for the next few months – it’s going to be a fun early spring. What have you been up to over the dark winter, and what plans do you have for the next few months?

 

Guest blog series

Guest blog series

I’ll be publishing a guest blog series over the next 12 months and have some fantastic people lined up to write and share their expertise. Some of these people will be either bid or construction-related, but many won’t be. One guest post will be published per month, beginning in a few weeks, and if you’d like to contribute, please feel free to get in touch! 

 

 

 

Built environment awards January 2020

Built environment awards January 2020

There are a number of built environment awards deadlines during January 2020, so get looking through the list to see if there any that might be applicable to your business. Read my previous blogs on reasons to enter, tips to guarantee shortlisting, and how to maximise getting shorlisted to write the best submissions you possibly can. 

LABC Awards (regional) – various deadlines throughout January 

Ground Engineering Awards – submission date is 24 January 

Construction News Awards – submission 24 January 

UK Property Awards – deadline extended to 30 January 

RICS Social Impact Awards – deadline is 31 January 

 

Don’t forget – if you need any advice or editing input, I’m only a Skype call away! 

 

11 things to consider before you go freelance

11 things to consider before you go freelance

A call went out on Twitter recently, asking experienced freelancers for the pieces of advice they would give to someone considering making the leap. This got me thinking – what do I wish I’d known before going freelance, and what would have been the most useful pieces of advice to me? So, here’s 11 things to consider before you go freelance.

Finances

It’s a long story, but my route into freelancing was unexpected and I had minimum funds. While this forced a sink or swim mentality, I wouldn’t recommend it to other people. Give yourself the best chance of freelance success by putting away at least three months of living expenses and business expenses. There will be many highs, lows and new experiences during those early months, and you don’t want to add lack of money to that heady mix.

Start-up costs

The freelancing dream is that you can set up with minimal capital, and although this was the case for me, have some available funds for business costs for the first few months. Critical things include insurance, a robust contract, purchasing a web domain (if you’re having a website), and equipment like a laptop and mobile phone. Of course, once you start turning money over, you’ll be able to pay for business expenses out of your revenue.

Business structure

Decide on your business structure – do you want to be a sole trader or limited company? There are many articles on this subject. Do some research about the differences, pros and cons, by reading articles, speaking to other freelancers and having a chat with an accountant. Some articles worth reading on this subject include this one by Creative Boom, and this one by Word Service. It’s worth understanding the issues in advance. 

I’m a limited company because my clients won’t contract with a sole trader, but it’s different for everyone. Alice Hollis wrote a blog about her personal journey to setting up her limited company. 

Business processes

My processes have evolved with the business, but I wish I had given them more consideration from the off. Things to think about are: 

The basics

I got started with just a basic laptop, Dropbox account and a mobile phone. You may need more or less than this, depending on what your plans are. Make sure your equipment and your business is insured. This article by IPSE explains the types of insurance you’ll need – see above for my comments on business expenses. 

Business admin

I’ve written about this before, but consider your freelancing business like any other corporate. You will never have done so much admin – finance, invoicing, social media, writing blog posts etc. Organising the administration of the business allows you to focus on delivering what it is you do.

Client experience

Work out how clients will flow through your business, from initial conversations and sales, to work delivery, completion and invoicing. How you manage this will depend on the work you do, but it will probably follow this general trajectory. How can you make this experience fantastic for clients? My own tip is to develop some sort of briefing process that allows you to capture and agree the work to be done with your clients, that you can both sign-off and keep a copy of.

Contracts – don’t start work without one

Get a contract organised and don’t start any piece of work without one. Koffee Klatch provides guidance and draft contracts for freelancers offering a range of services. The site is run by Annabel Kaye, who is an expert in the gig economy and legislation affecting freelancers. 

IT

As a new freelancer, the role I struggled with the most was being the company IT manager. I now outsource all of my IT and for a small monthly fee I obtain Office 365 support, security and a helpline for ad-hoc support from experts (because you never know when things can go wrong) – it’s easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, business-wise. Manchester IT is very local to me but they work across the UK. 

You may also want to invest in other programmes to help you complete your work or run your business. There are so many web-based systems available now and I couldn’t survive without Adobe Pro, Harvest, Xero, Canva and Hootsuite.

Develop a niche

What is your niche? I am a bid writer in the construction industry and in many ways, life doesn’t get more niched than this, but being specialised has allowed me to stand out from generalist bid writers by focusing on one industry. I take my hat off to generalist bid writers by the way – I couldn’t learn a whole new industry for every bid I worked on. 

So – what is it you do, how do you help clients, and why is this different to everyone else? This niche will be the cornerstone of your marketing for your freelancing career – give it some real thought in the early days and it will pay dividends for you because you will be able to articulate who you are and what you do.

What will your marketing plan be?  

Marketing can sound scary but really it’s just your plan for securing paying clients (ie the ones you have already identified when you thought about your niche). Will you bombard social media with push messages (not recommended), or will you take the slow-burn approach by meeting a lot of people at networking events (definitely worth considering). Get a plan together, including a six month outline of what your social media is going to look like. 

Working out who your clients are

Once you have worked out your niche, you will be able to work out who your clients will be and where to find them. What kinds of problems will you help them solve? How will you secure work from them? I recommend starting with your own existing network – all of my freelancing work in the first six months or so was from people that I knew, had worked with previously or had some sort of connection to. Even six years on, these relationships still bring work to me. 

Developing a brand

Brand doesn’t have to be complicated. Just think about a logo, colour palette and a clear message about who you are and what you do will suffice. You can then apply this branding to your business collateral, such as business cards, letter heads, contracts, social media and website. Have a chat with brand supremos like Nik Jones at Hello I’m Nik or Jon Horne at JH Creative

Consider putting a website together

A basic website will give you the platform to tell everyone about your services, with regular blogs demonstrating your expertise. I spent too much time and money figuring out how to do this in the early days, so if you’re unsure, outsource it to another freelancer who can provide you with something simple and cost-appropriate. You can always develop it as your business evolves.

Show up on social media

Social media has really come of age in the time I have been a freelancer, making connecting with potential clients, other freelancers and everyone else very natural and a whole lot easier. Think about where your ideal clients will be and get good at this platform. If you need help with your strategy, consider working with another freelancer who is a specialist in social media. This external knowledge and expertise will be worth its weight in gold – I’ve worked with Kat from Stripe Social for 12 months and I’ve learnt so much that I regret not engaging someone a lot earlier.

There are many freelance groups on Facebook that you should get involved with – although freelancers are a diverse bunch in terms of skills and, we all have the same challenges and it’s good to get advice from other people who have had similar experiences. Groups I recommend are Freelance Heroes and Being Freelance. There’s also a fantastic twitter chat every Wednesday evening between 8pm and 9pm. Follow the conversation on #FreelanceHeroes.

Research freelance resources

There are so many freelance resources out there to read and listen to – check out IPSE and Worknotes. Also make listening to the Being Freelance podcast a weekly thing – so many freelancers all doing different things, but so many common experiences and solutions.

Connect and build relationships with other freelancers

One of the best things about being a freelancer is the freelance attitude of collaborate, but never compete. We genuinely don’t compete with each other – we complement each other’s skills to build agile virtual teams. So connect with other freelancers in this spirit – especially those doing similar things to you, or those offering complementary services. For example, bid writers can connect with other bid writers and people who do other roles in bidding, such as management or graphic design.

While this may sound counter-intuitive, this network will provide camaraderie when the chips are down, as well as work opportunities.

Setting your rates

Everyone has different thoughts on this – for bid writing there is a general market rate, with variances within this based on a range of factors. Research the rates within your own skill area and set yours in accordance with this. Don’t feel you need to undercut the market when you start out – value your skills and ask for the rates you are comfortable with. If clients don’t want to pay that, they won’t. It might be worth reading the Work Notes pricing guide for more background information. 

Have a think about the pricing model you’ll offer, i.e. day rate or project rate, and how you will articulate the benefits of each of these to clients. How will you invoice work? Also get comfortable with the fact you won’t necessarily get paid when you want to – payment is an ongoing issue in the freelance world, so protect yourself by invoicing on time and having a buffer of cash.

Round-up

As I’ve been writing this blog post, I’ve been chuckling to myself because I realise how much I didn’t know and how much I didn’t even consider. I got through some things relatively unscathed, but there’s been times when I’ve really paid the price for ignorance. Freelancing will be one the best adventures of your life, made even more exciting by being prepared. 

 

 

Maximising awards shortlistings

Maximising awards shortlistings

So now you have entered the awards and been shortlisted, how do you maximise the marketing opportunities? An awards shortlisting is great news to share with the industry, your clients and employees. This post gives you some ideas. 

Social media

Share your good news on social media, telling everyone about the project. Link these posts to a case study on your website and online media pieces from the awards organisation, communicating the businesses that have been shortlisted. Follow the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, liking the posts and following everyone else that has been shortlisted. 

Using the logo

Most awards will have a logo you will be able to use as a shortlisted business, so make the most of this by adding it to your website, social media, email footers and other collateral.

Update your project case study

Update the case study with award details and the logo – demonstrate this project was good enough to be shortlisted for an award and explain the reasons why. 

Put the case study on the website

Develop a case study for the project or innovation you have been shortlisted for, and publish it on your website. Regularly share links to this through your social media up to the awards event.

Attend the event

Attending the event will give you a great opportunity to network with other attendees – often senior individuals from organisations or potential clients. Take the opportunity network with other businesses – you never know who you might meet! Live tweeting using the awards hashtag can be really effective and a great way of celebrating with the other winners.

After the event 

After the event, share the official photos and don’t forget to tell everyone how you did! 

Are there any angles I’ve missed – what other ideas do you have for maximising awards submissions? Get in touch and let me know!