As an entrepreneur with a small business to run, everything we can do to streamline our work flow leaves us more time to get the “real” work done. I am going to share with you an example of what I did to manage a big freelancer issue. I had begun to be inundated with requests from people to “pick my brain”. How to handle these requests was a conundrum for me. Some of them would turn into clients or referral sources, yet many others just needed a bit of advise or coaching on their ideas and, either would not be a fit for me, or the cost to do business with me (coaching, web design, or social media management) would be out of their budgets.
I tackled this issue by making it easy for someone to get an hour of my time, but they must fill out a form with some questions in advance and they must pay for the session beforehand. If they choose to work with me on an ongoing basis, I will deduct the cost of that hour from their proposal. This works great because offering this session allows people an affordable point of entry to work with me. And it encourages people to contact me who may need just an hour or two to talk out some issue they are having. When I actually created this offer on a page on my site, it began to work like a charm. This also helps me to put boundaries on my time. It is really easy for me to get carried away talking to someone about the things that I love. Now, I can easily refer a potential client who wants to talk about their project to the “Talk it Out” form on my website and have them schedule and pay for the time they need.
Creating this page was good for my business, but even better was “how” I did it. There are several tools that, when working together, made the whole process streamlined for me. First of all, I have a WordPress website that I (or anyone) can easily update and add pages to. I created a page on my site for the “Talk it Out” Session, explaining the Talk it Out process, including who and what it’s for. Rather than manually going through each step of signing a prospective client up for a consultation or service, creating an invoice for them and adding them to my database, I set up a “Talk it Out” sign up form, using Gravity Forms and then added other apps, which automated all of the steps in the process, thus freeing me up to just do the consultation.
Gravity Forms is a great Premium WordPress Plugin that can be used to create any type of form. Although there is a fee to purchase it, it is far superior to any of the free form plugins, if you are going to be doing more than just your regular contact form, because it is easy and intuitive for non-technical people. It also is well supported and is continually being upgraded. Now it includes add-ons, which allow you to create forms which interface with other products that you may/should be using, such as Freshbooks, MailChimp, and PayPal.
Freshbooks is a great online application that I use to easily create proposals for my clients. It sends an e-mail of the estimate to the client who then can go into Freshbooks to see it and accept it. Once they do so, the estimate is turned into an invoice and it gives the client the option ( if you choose) for the client to pay using Paypal. I continue to use Quickbooks for my bookkeeping, but I have always found Quickbooks tedious to use to manage my invoicing. When I get a check from a client or a Paypal receipt, I mark it as received in Freshbooks and then add it as a deposit to that clients name in Quickbooks.
I use MailChimp to send out my email newsletters and to e-mail prospects and customers. Mailchimp is free up to 1,000 people on a list, and is a great program to start off your freelance business with. I have a newsletter subscribe button on my website, but not everyone who works with me signs up for it. So I have to manually add them to MailChimp. With the gravity forms MailChimp add-on, I can have their name and contact information go directly into a prospect/client list on MailChimp, saving me valuable time.
My sales process runs smoothly and the “tedious factor” is minimized by automating these processes using Gravity Forms with these add-ons. My “Talk it Out'” process goes like this: The prospective client goes to my Talk it Out session page, where I have created a form using Gravity Forms. I have added the free Gravity Forms’ Freshbooks add-on and have designated which fields will map to Freshbooks. This allows the form to populate Freshbooks with the new client’s information and fills in the data to the right fields to start their invoice. Once the prospect fills out the form on my page, they will be added into Freshbooks as a client and an invoice will be created for them. The invoice will not be automatically sent to them, giving me a chance to go in and preview it and tweak it if necessary and then send it out as an e-mail to the client. Similarly, when someone signs up for my session through this form, they will be automatically added to my prospect list in MailChimp. Using Gravity Forms will save you a lot of time and energy and will prevent a prospective client or step of your sales process from falling through the cracks. Not to blow your mind but, you can also automate the back and forth of the appointment scheduling process using Tungle with your Google calendar, but we’ll save this for another day!