Running your own business is amazing in so many ways. You get to work for a fantastic boss, work the hours you want, set your own pace, and choose your own destiny. However, there are pitfalls that everyone will bump into at some point in their career, and they’re the sorts of issues it’s best to prepare for well in advance.
There are a multitude of problems that can be minimized or removed with a little elbow grease and a smattering of ingenuity. A reduction in these problems clears your head space, and enables you to get back to the money making aspects of self-employment.
Below, we’ll take a look at six of the most common (and worst) business problems you’re likely to encounter, and suggest some effective strategies to reduce them. Let’s have a look!
1. Stay One Step Ahead of Problem Clients
We found a lovely, humorous take on bad clients, but the tough reality is that they are one of the most intractable and frequent issues entrepreneurs face (and an inevitable one, since you can’t do without them). Any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you horror stories about clients who refuse to pay, who expect you to be on call at 3am, who keep changing the brief, or think you should be grateful to work for peanuts.
The Harvard Business Review says, quite correctly, that preparation is everything. Since you’re aware that problem clients do these things, create solutions for dealing with them. For non-payers, there are legal options (and trade associations such as the Freelancers Union are often sources of good advice).
To avoid calls at inappropriate times, make the hours during which you can be contacted clear in advance. Keep a separate business line, and don’t answer it after hours. In addition, get the brief fully tied down in writing and agreed in advance, and make clear that if changes are required down the line, additional fees will be attached.
Finally, try not to work for free – if you need to build a portfolio, work pro bono. Charities always welcome consultants and freelancers offering pro bono work, and if you want to enter a particular industry, working for a commercial client pro bono can also make sense. However, the better line is to value your own efforts whenever possible.
2. Identify and Network With New Clients
Not having any clients is even worse than having problem clients. Clients are the life blood of any service based business, and working out how to find them is a major preoccupation.
The first step is to identify who your customers are by asking a few questions, for example:
- What industry do they work in?
- Where do they go to discuss their business issues?
- How can you get yourself into the same orbit?
Networking is also essential – if you join LinkedIn groups that relate to your potential clients’ interests and contribute to discussions, you’ll make valuable contacts that may directly or indirectly lead to work. Also, leverage your existing network if you have one – you really shouldn’t be shy about asking your contacts for recommendations.
Finally, make sure your website clearly spells out your strengths. When you have satisfied clients, ask them for testimonials after a good project finishes – they’ll likely be happy to help. We’ve previously looked at how to find more clients, and don’t forget to use Bidsketch to create persuasive, actionable pitches!
3. Gain the Appropiate Accreditations
For some consulting gigs, you absolutely have to have the right accreditation. If you’re in a technical trade, you should be aware of the need to have the right credentials (for example, if you’re an engineer you will need a Professional Engineer (PE) license for the state you intend to practice in).
Freelance journalists and photographers may also need accreditation if they attend events. This is usually in the form of a press card or pass from a body such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), or your local police department. They’ll likely set out requirements (see the LAPD requirements as an example) to gain entry to key events – for example, police briefings or political meetings.
Finally, check the conditions for your chosen profession by Googling “[your profession] professional accreditation”, or by asking for advice in sector forums. It could be very important – for example, manicurists and beauty therapists need proof of training in the form of diplomas to get insurance. Speaking of which…
4. Protect Yourself With Insurance
If you interact with the public in any way when doing your own or your client’s work, you may well need professional insurance. If you don’t have it and someone sues you, the outcome could be disastrous.
Professional liability (PLI) or indemnity insurance (PII) – often called ‘errors and omissions insurance’ – is provided by a range of commercial companies, such as AIG. There’s also a lengthy and exhaustive report on the US market from Finaccord.
To work out whether you might need PLI, take a look at a comprehensive guide. Also, try to avoid client claims by having a watertight contract, and setting out exactly what you’ll provide for the client from the outset.
5. Get Up to Speed on Data Protection
Quite simply, if you collect and store any information such as email addresses, phone numbers, or personal data such as marital status or age, you’ll need to abide by data protection laws. Unfortunately, in the US there’s no single federal law regulating collection and use of personal data, meaning you face a patchwork of confusing and overlapping laws and regulations.
The EU has recently instated Europe-wide regulation, and the UK has long had its own Data Protection Act. You’ll need to get up to speed quickly if you haven’t already done so. Have a look at the Practical Lawwebsite to get an understanding of the laws in the USA, and this handy guide to the situation in Europe.
6. Don’t Fall Foul of Plagiarism and Copyright
This cuts two ways – you could find yourself in a position where your work is being plagiarized or copied, or you could unintentionally find yourself accused of copying someone else’s work. Neither is a good situation!
PlagiarismToday provides useful overviews of the various issues that may arise, and our previous post takes an in-depth look at what to do when you’re the victim of any kind of theft of your ideas, products or services. Drupal also has interesting advice on how to prevent copying of your online information on its website.
If you want to ensure you don’t unintentionally copy any written work, or you’d like to check whether your written work has been copied, you can use a solution such as Copyscape or Plagiarism Detector to check. There’s also a plethora of expert advice online about how to avoid infringing copyright.
For images you’d like to share, using Creative Commons provides a basic framework that lets you set the level of use you’re happy to see. It’s also easy to watermark images to prevent unauthorized use – tools such as Watermark, LunaPic, and Umark all have free versions.
The sorts of issues that consultants and freelancers face can be pretty serious – those we’ve discussed are all capable of threatening your livelihood, so you need to think and plan carefully for the unlikely event that you’ll face them.
Some issues (such as bad clients) are almost inevitable, but others (such as breaching data protection regulations) can be avoided with a bit of care. Let’s recap the main problems we’ve covered:
- Bad clients: Ensure your contract spells out the obligations for both sides.
- Finding clients: Work out who your target client is, and raise your profile within that group.
- Accreditation: If your specialism requires essential authorization, make sure you research and obtain it.
- Insurance: If you interact with clients, check whether you need specialist insurance.
- Data protection: Take care not to breach the complex rules surrounding personal data.
- Plagiarism and copyright: Check whether your work has been copied, and ensure you don’t fall into that trap yourself.