The core of your business planning is knowing what you will do and how you will do it. These are your processes.
Your business process is how you do what you do. It’s deeper than your mission statement or the clever tagline on your website. It’s everything you do to get buyers, and make them happy; marketing, payments, shipping, and customer service. Logistics focus on the product/service exchange; how you give buyers what they paid for.
Your process is every step-by-step, practical action you take to:
Think of your business as a cake. The process of baking a cake includes the recipe, prep work, and decorating, etc. It’s every single thing you do from the instant you get the craving, until you cut your first slice.
Your exact business process will be unique to your business. For online retailers, logistics is simple. Visitors click “Buy” and check out. The business packs and ships the order. For service based businesses logistics rely on continuous positive communication.
Your process shouldn’t be complicated, but you should plan and know the details.
The key to your success is always in the details.
In Part 3: Processes & Logistics I outline an average ecommerce process and the mandatory elements of a freelance/service business, with tips for making both stronger.
I don’t work with drop-shippers, so the following outline is for businesses that manage (or will manage) their own inventory.
If you’re selling products from an inventory that you physically keep and manage, your process might go like this:
promote products -> collect payment -> package orders -> send confirmation email -> ship -> customer service (as needed).
Every part of your process is a chance to make buyers remember and choose your business time and again.
Let’s look at the simple ecommerce process:
At the start-up level, this straight forward process is easy to manage. How do we improve it? By taking extra care to attach our brand to the customer. Remember, you want buyers to be impressed and feel like they got something special – maybe even worth more than they paid for.
Let’s examine each step in the process, and see where we can add value.
1. You run marketing + promotions. At the beginning your marketing is on social media. Promote on platforms your ideal buyer uses, with messaging they relate to. Part 4 covers Marketing in detail.
Your promo should reflect your buyer back to them. I work primarily with women of color so my marketing content features images of women who either look like me or my clients. This is intentional.
Your copy should speak directly to your buyers, with familiarity. Your messaging should sound like something your buyers might actually say, or that their friends might say to them. It should also address their deeper emotions and ambitions.
Your marketing should make an emotional connection. Do we really care about emotions in e-commerce retail? Yes. All successful brand marketing uses emotion. You can either tap on people’s insecurities and struggles, or you can use empowerment and positive reinforcement.
Detailed product development reveals exactly how your products appeal to buyers’ feelings, and their sense of self.
You’re not just selling sunglasses or candles. You’re selling your buyers feelings back to them. Your marketing either affirms your buyer’s self-confidence, or hints at improving it.
2. Customer visits your website. A fast-loading website that’s easy to read, easy-to-navigate, and showcase your products clearly is better for business.
Get a professional. The smartest move here is to HIRE A WEB DESIGNER. It doesn’t have to be me. It should me, but get whoever you want. But toss the idea that you’re going to build a professional website by yourself – with no graphic design background, no knowledge of web design standards or coding language.
DO NOT START FROM SCRATCH. If you insist on doing things the hard way at least follow leading industry examples. You aren’t a web designer. You’re a business person. And good business is understanding the best use of your resources – time and money. Save both by copying the layouts of professional websites.
The point is, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME TRYING TO LEARN WEB DESIGN WHEN YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON PRODUCTS AND MARKETING.
Keep your site clean and tight. Compress/optimize your photos for web before you upload them. This saves storage space, and reduce site loading times. Faster websites keep visitors longer.
Don’t add bells and whistles just because YOU think they’re cute. Every feature on your site MUST serve a function, ultimately guideing customers toward the “Buy” button.
Your site has ONE JOB: to generate sales.
Don’t get distracted from that.
3. Customer makes payment, receives confirmation email. Payment and confirmation are perfect points in your process to connect the brand to customers more. There are LOTS of different ways to collect payments online. Giving your buyers options increases the likelihood they follow through on the purchase.
Customize & personalize your order confirmation emails. Put more inside your order confirmation e-mail than just a receipt. Include your logo, or the company tag-line. Put the buyer’s first name in the greeting.
Say ‘Thank You’ like you MEAN it. Most of my invoices/order related emails say “Thanks for choosing Nineke Creative.” I like to acknowledge that my clients could have gone anywhere, and they CHOSE me. I’m grateful, and I say so.
Include a photo of yourself. Use a personal branding headshot – the one you use on LinkedIn, or Twitter. Or use a special photo just for order confirmation e-mails. Think business related task: You holding or packaging a product, or interacting with a customer in person, etc. A business owner’s photo is a powerful marketing move that builds trust with buyers.
Include useful information. Add helpful links in the footer of your order confirmation emails. Link to your FAQs page, Returns Policy, product reviews, and social media. Every e-mail is a marketing opportunity. Add as much detail as you can!
4. You receive order notification, print packing slip. If you don’t have a printer, try a library, or a Fed-Ex/Kinkos shop. Packing slips give buyers tangible records of their purchase. Include your logo, e-mail address, and social media handle. This extra step shows buyers that you’re thorough.
5. You package & ship the order – on schedule. The actual logistics of your business process are where you literally deliver the goods. Your shipping schedule is up to you. You can offer next-day shipping, or you can ship orders once a week. Make sure your shipping schedule/policy IS CLEAR AND OBVIOUS on your product pages, check-out & cart pages, and inside your order confirmation emails.
Perk up your packaging. If you have the budget and time, adding extras to your packaging is another way to connect buyers to your brand. Consider thank you cards, brand stickers, free samples, or exclusive coupons for future orders. Add originality to packages using custom shipping labels with your brand font & logo. Custom boxes are another way to impress buyers and create a memorable brand experience.
If you have a service business, like Nineke Creative, your exact process will have more moving parts than simple ecommerce.
The most important part of your freelance process your contract. MAKE A CONTRACT. Use it. Stick to it. Otherwise, you run the risk of being exploited and underpaid. And that’s not what we came for.
New freelancers can be reluctant to use a contract because they think it might scare people from hiring them. First of all, you can’t be afraid of losing work. It happens to everyone. If you’re afraid to use a contract, shut up right now and get out of here. Freelance isn’t for you. Have some backbone.
If someone doesn’t want to hire you because you produced a contract they weren’t planning to pay you on time, or fairly anyway. Don’t be naïve enough to believe everyone you work with will have integrity. A contract is your insurance and protection. Nothing gives people integrity like a contract.
Make your contract before anything else because having it ready will give you a jolt of confidence to take yourself seriously. And in freelance you need all the confidence and jolts you can get to keep going.
Your contract should outline deliverables (exact client request), time frame, expectations and exceptions. Here’s my contract template and tips for making your own.
The second most important part of your process is qualifying leads. You’re not going to land everyone you talk to and that’s fine. People disappear and you have to let them go and move on.
Qualifying leads is an interview process where you control the discussion. Use questions to learn how serious a prospect is about their project. Be interested and encourage them to explain their ideas as much as possible.
Pay attention to their answers, and take notes. Personally, I record all my client calls. (Let people know you’re doing this first, and explain that you don’t want to lose any details.)
You’re looking for 3 qualifying criteria: 1) prospect knows what they want. 2) they want it sooner rather than later. 3) they’ve already planned a budget and are willing to discuss it.
In freelance you have to talk about budgets and money. We’re not dancing around it and hoping someone will decide we’re so nice we deserve thousands of dollars. This is business. If you’re afraid to have business discussions you shouldn’t be here.
Be discerning and selective to find committed clients.
Committed clients communicate better.
You’ll know exactly what they want and, you’ll work better to create something to proudly showcase in your portfolio. A shining portfolio helps you land more clients.
No dancing. Get to the point. The point is you getting paid.
As the freelancer you want your clients to make money. Realize their earnings are a result of your work. Things cost money. Period. Someone who’s ready and serious to pay for a service has no problem talking about money, or their plans. But someone who hasn’t even considered these questions isn’t ready to hire you.
Say “Can you give me a ballpark range of your marketing expenses?”
Or “Have you begun planning your marketing process?” Follow up with, “How’s that going?”
Then, get into how much they think it will cost.
Obviously, a marketing question doesn’t apply to everyone. If your freelance service is wedding photography then you’ll want to ask wedding related budgeting questions.
Tips for qualifying leads:
Anyone who doesn’t follow up to emails or messages within 72 hours isn’t serious. If they follow up later, without even acknowledging that they lapsed in communication, they’re setting the tone for how they work. You’ll be constantly waiting for replies. And that waiting game stalls the project. And stalled projects take longer to conclude and it takes YOU longer to get paid.
Have strict standards of who you want to work with: dedicated, serious people with good manners and communication skills, and budgets, who understand that time IS money. Don’t waste energy with people who don’t qualify. Always focus on what YOU CAN control. Promote your services and refine your skills.
The third vital part of your freelance process is setting deliverables and timelines.
Define your deliverables and timeline together, and make them EXPLICIT.
Establish exactly what you can guarantee a client, and how much time you’ll give it. You and your clients need a clear understanding of what’s being done, and when it will be finished.
There isn’t wiggle-room here. Your business is based on the time you give to others, and most people try to will milk every possible second from you for as little money as they can. Without a clear deliverable there is no stopping point. Many people can argue that you’re obligated to work until they’re satisfied. Satisfaction is subjective. Definitive project timelines keep clients from dragging out the work – and delaying your bag.
What Are Deliverables?
I had a very resistant client who spent nearly 5 MONTHS dancing around her deliverables. She kept giving me catchy tag lines, and long winded bullet points. At the end of the day she couldn’t define what she was giving people because she’d never thought it through. I believe she never actually wanted a business. She wanted the attention and she needed a reason to justify her book and blog. Ultimately, she buckled and froze when it was time to organizing the thing.
Deliverables are the end result of the time and effort you get paid for. Your service is *something* a client DOESN’T HAVE / CANN’T DO, and pays you for. Define it.
Go back to your mission statement. What do you? The “what” is the “something” you give your clients.
Define your deliverables in quantifiable ways. If you’re an event photographer you might offer packages of 100 photos, or 200 photos. You might offer them retouched, or raw. If you’re a business coach you might offer weekly sessions with unique goals for each client, based on what they requested. The deliverable here is time and knowledge.
For creative freelancers, ALWAYS include in your contract when you’ll deliver a first draft, and when you’ll deliver the final draft. If you’re a coach or consultant, ALWAYS set a time frame for when you’ll assist your clients, and how often you’ll be available. Include this schedule in your contract terms.
Your business model isn’t built around pleasing clients. People are fickle and moody. Your business model is based around your skills and talents. Your ability to communicate those skills and use client feedback determines your success.
I know websites, writing, and heavy promotion. I also know you need to stop doubting yourself and book your call with me.
My Business Membership is for broads who really mean it. In-depth video guides, and tools to tighten up that messy-ass business you want to start. Everything I know, in DETAIL, right at your finger tips. Members get 30% off every project/service. Act like you mean it.
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