Tag Archives: Strategic Mindset

How to Avoid Freelancing Problems Before They Arrive

Four years ago, I had an idea that most freelancers get when they’re a few years into their career:

“Maybe I should have a team.”

It sounds great, di ba? My job will be finding and getting clients (which is one of my strengths), making sure that all the tasks are organized (which I do for my own work anyway), and hiring skilled workers (I’d love to give work to other Filipino freelancers). I’ll pay the skilled workers above average rates ($15 to $50 per article, depending on skill), while I’ll charge the client what I normally charge and call it “profit”. What a great idea, win-win, I thought.

It was a great idea - in theory. In just 3 months, I encountered a lot of problems I didn’t expect:

Problem #1 - It’s hard to find good workers who could fit me into their sked! Sa dinami-dami ng Filipino freelancers, I had to find people who were skilled, understood and agreed with my vision, self-directed, and reliable. But most of the people I wanted to hire were too busy already! In all my searching I found exactly 3 people to work with, and one of them had to return to a full-time job.

I wasn’t even looking for “rockstars”, yet I found it very difficult to look for skilled workers who were self-starters (meaning: they are competent and confident enough to decide things on their own and not ask me permission for everything). I even hired a couple of other people who didn’t exactly meet my criteria pero pwede na - but this became problematic later on.

Problem #2 - I ran into the “hamster wheel problem”, where I had to keep looking for clients to keep the business profitable, but adding new clients often meant hiring additional people (who would be more familiar with their topics/industry), and hiring additional people meant I had to look for more clients to keep the business even profitable and cover all the time and energy I spent looking for clients and managing people.

Problem #3 - It turns out I spent most of my time being a middle-manager - something I did NOT want. What I really wanted to do was create quality content, take care of clients or do marketing. I did not want to spend too much time holding the hands of professionals like me, or training them, or reading 11-paragraph explanations of why they couldn’t submit their work on time. While I did end up with 3 good colleagues I respected, I needed more than them to service all our clients and the hiring process became unbearable after a while.

So eventually, I shut that down and just worked with the clients privately on my own.

Pero ito yung masakit - I could have easily avoided those problems! A year after I shut it down, I talked to an entrepreneur who ran a similar business model, and he said something like:

“The agency model is tough. You have to look for new clients to make money, but when you get new clients, you have to pay for more workers to service them, then look for new clients to make even more money! It’s a vicious cycle. You’ll spend the entire time being a manager!”

If I just talked to people who had been there, I would have known early on that the agency model was not for me. I did not want to be a middle-manager. I wanted to create things. I wanted to collaborate with talented Filipino freelancers, not manage them. All I had to do to avoid that super stressful experience was to ask.

Imagine that, 3 minutes spent posting a question in a forum full of entrepreneurs could have saved me a year and a half of stress.

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

The Matrix. Dir. The Wachowski Brothers. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999

Look Into the Future, See Problems Before They Arrive

Are there any upcoming obstacles to your freelancing career? The best way to know for sure is to look up people who have already made the mistakes you’ll be making and successfully overcame the obstacles you’re about to face.

In other words, here’s what you can do today:

Step #1 - Look for 5 people online who have done the work you want to do. If you already have specific people in mind, that’s great. If not, you can look for online forums or FB groups where people like this hang out.

Step #2 - Ask them about their major challenges. If you’re new to freelancing, you can ask: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

Or if you’re looking to try a new field or new approach, you can tailor that question accordingly. For example:

  • “For those VAs here who now manage their own team, what unexpected major challenges have you faced so far? How did you overcome those challenges?”
  • “For those freelance writers here who have shifted from doing rewritten articles or SEO articles and are now doing higher value work (writing sales copy, writing blog posts, etc.), what difficulties did you experience with the transition? How did you face those difficulties?”
  • “For the freelancers here who have been working with clients outside job bidding sites, what unexpected problems did you encounter?”

Step #3 - Then, wait for the answers. Your internal response to these challenges will tell you kung gusto mo talaga yung path na ipu-pursue mo. Every choice we make has challenges or obstacles attached to them - that’s just the cost of pursuing anything in life. Are you ready and willing to face those costs? If the costs are more painful for you than the potential gains, then maybe it’s not the right path to take.

Step #4 - Don’t forget to thank the people who answer your question. It goes a long way, especially if you offer to help them or provide value in any way.

Help out other Filipino freelancers like you?

Now to the important part: let’s help each other out. Remember, this is a COMMUNITY. I’d appreciate it if you guys help each other out. So here’s what we’re going to do in the comments:

For Experienced Freelancers (freelancing for more than a year): Leave a comment about

  1. the type of work you do and
  2. Your answer to today’s general question: “What challenges did you face in your first 2 years of freelancing that you didn’t expect? How did you overcome those challenges?”

For New or Starting Freelancers: Leave a comment about

  1. What type of work you want to do
  2. Any questions you might have for those other Filipino freelancers who are more experienced
  3. Also, don’t forget to keep checking the comments within the next few days - someone might have already answered your question!

The #1 Thing to Ask Your Clients if You Want to Be Indispensable

Since last week’s update was a long guide, I’ll share a quick tip for you this week. It’s something you can start doing TODAY.

[Sidenote: As much as possible I like sharing simple, tactical things that freelancers of any industry and any experience level can apply. Para lahat tayo may ma-achieve na improvements, kahit pa-konti-konti. 🙂 Plus I try to make sure these are things I’ve done or am doing, para may ma-report akong authentic results. I’ll do my best to stay away from generic tips with no next steps.]

Here’s the tip, the next time you’re in a client interview, ask them this question:

 “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”

Why this question will make you indispensable

Image by brainloc from freeimages.com

Among all the questions I ask my potential clients, this is the most powerful (which is why I’m sharing it). I have many other versions of this question, including “What’s the most painful problem in your business right now?” Basically the goal is to know and understand the things that truly hurt your client, the things that worry them, the things that keep them up at night. Here’s why this question is so powerful:

This is one of the “great questions” that clients tend to praise. To those who have been following my material for a long time, you already know that I ask 10 to 20 questions during my first meeting with new clients. This is one of those questions where a handful of my clients say “Wow, that’s a great question!” and hearing this boosts my confidence during the meeting. I’ve been doing this for a while, but every time I hear that during the first few minutes of a meeting, nawawala yung kaba ko. It’s like I magically transform into a serious, assertive business person.

For someone as shy and introverted as I am, that’s reason enough to ask the question because it helps me get into the right mindset for the rest of the meeting.

It shows that you are the type of proactive freelancer who is really interested in helping their business - even if it’s just to hear them out - and that you’re not only interested in getting paid. Another reaction I tend to get is hearing the client give a deep sigh, often followed by a long rant about everything that’s wrong with their business (the one with the longest record among my clients is this U.S. speaker and marketer who spent more than an hour and a half just answering this question!) This is a good thing. Not only are they telling you everything you need to know to help them out, they will also see you as a trusted confidant.

Anybody among your competitors can do an OK job performing the task. But how many among them will be the client’s trusted confidant? I’m guessing not many. Probably only you. From now on, as long as you do end up addressing their most frustrating problems, the client will think of you as “The person who listens to and solves my most painful business problems” and not just “a VA” or “a designer” or “a writer”.

It gives you “openings” for new projects to propose. When your client opens up about the most frustrating thing in their business, make it your #1 job to take a look at your own skills and see how you can minimize or eliminate those frustrations - then turn those into suggestions or project proposals. You’ll have a better chance of getting your projects approved this way, because you’ll be proposing tasks that address their most painful and frustrating problems.

Usually, akala ng mga freelancers na it’s their website or social media accounts that will help them get more business - but in my experience it’s usually this consultative approach that leads to more recurring projects and more referrals. Because of the different apps available today, every freelancer and her mother can quickly come up with a stellar-looking website and an automated social media account. Still, there’s no app that transforms a person into an interested, attentive listener, so you’ll have an edge in the key department that your competitors might be neglecting.

 Just Ask

Applying this is simple: the next time you find yourself in an interview with a potential client, just ask “What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” Here are some ways you can introduce the question (note this down where you can see it the next time you’re on an interview):

  • “I really want to do my best to help you out. With that said, can you tell me what’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?”
  • “Is it alright if I ask you a few questions about your business, just to understand it a bit better?” (Wait for their answer.) “My first question is: What’s the most frustrating thing about your business right now?” (You can follow this up with a bunch of other questions, including the ones that filter out scammy clients.)

That’s it! You’ll be surprised that something as simple as asking the right questions can have such a dramatic impact in the way clients treat you, and even in the way you see yourself as a professional.


3 Simple Ways to Avoid Being Scammed by Bad Clients

Sometime within my second year as a freelance writer, I was scammed by a client.

The client was the owner of a modeling agency based in California. He asked me to write content for the agency’s website, but before that he hired me to write a legal document (I forgot what, but it was some kind of contract).Red flag na dapat yun.

Image from FreeImages.com by user Ayla87

If a client is running a legitimate business, lawyers or notaries or even online legal template sites should be doing this stuff for him - not a freelance writer with no background in law. If I just dug deeper, I would’ve realized that this meant that he did not care how tight or accurate his contracts were - and these contracts could make or break his business.

After I finished writing up the contract, I billed him for $15. And he did not pay.

I chased after him, sending him email after email - but he wouldn’t respond. I was so angry, not even because of the amount, but because of the principle. The cost to me wasn’t just $15 or a few hours of my time, the real cost was that I was actually easy to exploit. If I didn’t find a way to fix it, clients were going to do this to me over and over again. I didn’t want that.

So I looked for his posts on several online forums and posted a response to ALL his discussions. This response included screenshots of our emails and a warning not to do business with him.

Eventually, he found these posts and emailed me. I then demanded payment of the $15. He paid me, but within a day PayPal canceled the transaction because it came from a fraudulent credit card number.

Only You Can Protect Yourself

Image from FreeImages.com by user coffeemug

I quickly learned that there was no organization, system, or department that could look out for me. And even if there was, how would they chase the scammer? I wasn’t even sure if the name I had on file was real. It eventually became clear to me that any information he gave me about his business was fraudulent.

More surprisingly, I found that things like contracts don’t really do much to protect freelancers - especially if their clients are overseas. I had a contract with that client, yet he did not honor it.

Since I don’t like playing the role of “helpless victim” and I didn’t want to gamble, I wondered if there was any other way to protect myself. After some research and trial and error, I decided to establish a system that would help me avoid and prevent being scammed. And I’ve never been scammed since.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

#1 - Know more than one way to reach the client.

Upon first contact with the potential client, I try to answer the following questions:

  • What is their full name (if an individual) or the full name of your contact person (if an organization)?
  • What is the name of their business?
  • Where is their business based?
  • Does your main contact person have social media accounts? How many and how old are his/her accounts?
  • Can you find their full street address? What about their phone number?

All of these questions can typically be answered with a bit of Googling, or by asking new potential clients to fill up an information sheet before your first meeting or before you discuss the details of the project.

If you’re going to use an information sheet, you can use tools like Wufoo or SurveyMonkey to create this information sheet (the free accounts will do). Here are some of the key fields you should include:

  • Contact Person’s Full Name
  • Business Name
  • Complete Business Street Address
  • Business Email Address
  • Business Phone Number
  • Website URL
  • Business Social Media Account URLs
  • Optional preliminary questions like:
    • “Briefly describe what your business does:”
    • “Why do you need my help?”

While most job bidding sites have some security measures in place that prevent freelancers from getting scammed, it’s still helpful to know their identity and business details. What’s even more surprising is that once in a while, I see seasoned freelancers work with clients outside the verification process of job bidding sites without even knowing the client’s full name! In all cases where I’ve seen a situation like this, the freelancer was scammed into doing a lot of work upfront, and the client disappears by the time they have to make the first payment.

Even if I’ve personally never used job bidding sites to get clients, I have all the above information about them and have verified it with simple searches.

Knowing all the possible ways to contact your client isn’t just a way to protect you from scams, it’s a standard business practice for consultants. (Even your doctors or lawyers do it!)

#2 - Start the relationship by asking the “Inside Look” question.

It’s easy to meet a new potential client, just receive instructions, and start doing your work. Yung hindi ka na masyado mag-iisip, naka-depende sa ideas ng client lahat ng gagawin mo. All you have to do is say “yes”.

While that approach is fine for some people and it was fine for me at first, I found it very risky later on because:

  • I didn’t know or understand how my clients made money. If you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know what your role is in the business. If you don’t know your role in the business, it’s hard for you to justify pay increases, or even your existence as their freelancer.
  • I didn’t know how stable the job was. Relevant to the above point, if you don’t know how your clients make money, you don’t know how secure your position is. Kumikita ba sila at all? Passion project lang ba nila ito or business talaga ito? The stability of your job or project depends on the stability of the client’s business. If they are losing money, you wouldn’t know it - magugulat ka na lang na wala na yung project.
  • I didn’t know if my clients were scammers or not. There’s more than one way to be a scammer. Clients could be paying their freelancers, but this doesn’t mean that what they do is 100% legit. If your client’s business model is scammy, it could fall apart or change any day. Remember how my scammy client tried to pay me but PayPal canceled the payment? This was because my clients’ credit card number was reported as fraudulent! Who does that? Scammers.

This is why I developed the “Inside Look” question. During my first meeting with my client, this is the first thing I ask:

“Can you give me an inside look on how your business works? Take me from the moment that your target customer first hears about you, to the moment when you make the sale. What happens in between?”

Though it’s best to ask this via an audio call/chat, which scammers often hate doing, shy freelancers can ask this via email or via their client information form (see above). The advantage of the audio call is that you’d be able to hear any hesitation or overthinking in your client’s part. (Plus, you’d hear how impressed they are with your question! I find that most clients are impressed when you have a deep interest in their business.)

 #3 - Send the “Sandwich Schedule”.

Another way that I’ve avoided scams is by presenting the client with a concrete work schedule that sandwiches the payments in between. See a sample from one of my archives below:

As you can see, work is sandwiched between payments. I ask for an upfront downpayment (this could be anywhere between 10% to 50%), then I submit some deliverables to the client, then they send another payment, then I send more deliverables until the project is finished.

A lot of Filipino freelancers seem hesitant to ask for upfront downpayment. Some of you might feel shy about it, or you might think “Baka isipin ng client na ako naman yung scammer at itatakbo ko lang yung downpayment niya!” Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t worry about it:

  • It’s a standard business practice among consultants and freelancers almost everywhere.
  • There are many ways to build a client’s trust before you even discuss pricing. If you show them your previous work, LinkedIn profile, and testimonials from previous clients, it’s unlikely that they will be worried about you being a scammer.
  • Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen if your client doesn’t want to give you the downpayment? They will say “No” to the downpayment and ask you if it’s possible to waive it! It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t mean that they won’t hire you - especially if they saw that you put the work into preparing such a detailed and itemized work schedule. If they passed the other tests you had for them (the information sheet, the “Inside Look” question, the thorough Google searches about their name and business name), then you often have nothing to worry about.

The goal here is not to get the client to immediately agree to your Sandwich Schedule - it’s to observe and analyze your client’s reaction to it. Did they hesitate? If so, how? Were they calm and clear, or did they panic? What are their reasons for hesitating? Can you address those reasons? Do they seem legit anyway and did they pass your other tests even if they hesitated with the down payment?

Other Things That Worked

While the above 3 things are simple enough for you to start doing TODAY, there are some other more long term and more difficult things that I did that protected me from scams:

  • Charging higher rates. Once I started charging at least $20 per article, I was no longer approached by scammers. I don’t know if it’s the number itself or the fact that when you do charge higher rates, you tend to look for clients in scam-free zones. I suspect it’s also because legitimate businesses know that you get what you pay for and that a $20 article is more likely to give them better returns than a $1, while those who are obsessed with cutting costs and getting as much free stuff as possible would browse more towards the lower price points.
  • Looking “legit”. If you look at my online folio, you’ll notice that it’s very bare, contains the logos of my highest-profile clients, and has a big picture of my face. Having a well-designed portfolio with client logos and containing your best work makes you look like a pro. And nothing terrifies a scammer more than a pro, because pros know what they’re doing.
  • Having an initial “phone call” rather than relying on email to discuss the project. As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to gather your potential client’s information via an audio call at the very least. This helps you build rapport with them, gives you the opportunity to ask as many spontaneous questions as you want, and helps you hear their real-time reactions to your questions and statements. I very rarely get into a working arrangement with a client without having an audio call with them first.

Staying Scam-Free

I’ve mentioned earlier that since that first time I was scammed, I was never scammed by a client again. But scam clients and fake job opportunities are still out there. There will always be scammers who are out to get articles, design work, research, and any other services for free. The question is: what can YOU do to repel them?

If you find yourself being scammed by a client more than twice, it’s time to ask yourself if there’s something that should change in the way you attract, acquire, and communicate with potential clients. Even if you just copy one thing from my process above, you’re already setting up your first layer of armor against them.

Fast-Track Freelancing: How to Go From “Newbie” to “Experienced” in Just 6 Steps

Last week, you read Aimee’s strategic approach for picking skills and services to sell as a new freelancer. This week, she’s taking it up a notch by talking about how she went from a freelancing newbie who suddenly found herself without projects, to quickly becoming someone who:

  • offered services her target clients really wanted to pay for,
  • and started charging premium rates.

It’s an awesome story and I suggest you read every word.

Here’s Aimee:


Networking is scary.

The first time I spoke to an expert was via Skype. I was so nervous. My voice was shaking throughout the interview. My best responses were “Uhh…”, “Y-yes” and – my favorite – “He, he.”

Kabado na nga, kailangan ko pang mag-English! Nosebleed.

Embarrassing as it is, I shared this to tell you it’s possible. You can connect to the people whom you admire – even if:

  • You are completely new to online freelancing
  • Kahit wala kang kakilala in the industry
  • You are a shy person.

But before you learn the steps, I will show you how networking with experts helped me.

The fast track to better rates

When meeting successful freelancers, I love asking their opinion on different topics. One of them is how to increase one’s rates. 😛

I mistakenly thought that my rate would increase if I had better skills - but I was surprised to learn that it’s not necessarily the case.

Highly-paid freelancers said that skill isn’t the only one that determines your rate.

Yes, skill affects your income. But it is only one of the many factors. You should also consider:

  • Your mindset about rates – I had initial doubts about how much I could charge, asking the experts “Can Filipinos really earn that much?” or “$100 per article? Hindi ako ambisyosa. Haha.”
  • Your soft skills – This includes negotiation and networking skills.
  • Your chosen industry or niche – Are you in lucrative industries like finance or business? Or are you serving an NGO with limited funding?
  • Your clients – Are they bootstrapping startups or big companies?

I used to just spend time and effort learning this on my own. I read blog after blog, trying to find ways to get paid higher. I also applied for projects with slightly higher rates - but I must have been doing something wrong because I either got rejected or ignored. It was like that for almost two years.

By just talking to expert freelancers, I was able to increase my rate within a month, as shown in the graph below.

That’s the magic of asking an expert.

So you’ve seen how it helped me. Now, it’s your turn.

You are going to learn the step-by-step process of how I network with experts. Hopefully, you’ll benefit from it as well.

Step One – Start with a relationship-building mindset.

You are going to reach out to an expert. That person has more influence, connections, income, and privileges than you. It wouldn’t hurt to ask for one tiny tiny tiny little favor, right?

Wrong. It’s actually a sure-fire way to be ignored – for good.

Unfortunately for me, I’m saying it from experience. (He, he).

Instead, see this as an opportunity to learn and discover new things. Your focus is to establish an on-going relationship with them.

If you begin with that mindset, you’ll gain not only a mentor but also a new friend. 🙂

Step Two – Ask permission first.

Assume that all people are busy (and can never be proven otherwise!) Still, most online entrepreneurs and freelancers are kind. They will be happy to help you out.

If you are a seasoned freelancer, you might already be in contact with other professionals. That’s good. You can skip this part if you want.

If you don’t know anyone, you can find them via their blogs, forums, Quora, FB groups, LinkedIn, Twitter. You can also google your field.

In reaching out to top dogs of your industry, however, try establishing a relationship first. Do something for them. Help them out. Otherwise, you’ll get this:

(Note: This is an email from a famous blogger.)

Since you will have to talk to people directly, it is best to begin with by asking their permission:

AppSumo founder, Noah Kagan, advised: Read your email aloud. If it goes beyond 60 seconds, shorten it.

Step Three – Prepare good interview questions.

(If you had no replies, don’t worry. It’s very common. Out of the 30+ emails I sent, I only talked to five experts on Skype. But as I said before, it was worth it.)

Once you receive a “yes”, settle the time and date of the meeting immediately.

Then, prepare your questions.

First, research as much as you can about the person. If your chosen expert has a blog, read as many entries as possible. You will begin to notice subtle patterns in beliefs and personality.

This will give you an idea how you can establish rapport during your meeting and what kind of questions to ask.

Second, make a list of everything you want to find out from the expert. Ask yourself: “If he/she can only answer one question, what would I ask?”

This will lead you to your first question. In case there will be a connection failure or any unforeseen interruption, you still get the answer you are dying to know.

Get four more questions. You are prepared for a 45-minute interview.

If you have no idea what to ask, here are some suggestions:

  • starting rates (for newbies)
  • where to find clients
  • industries that are hiring [job title]
  • courses to take to improve your skills
  • how to earn a living as a freelancer
  • better solution to your current problem

[Celine’s Note: I’ve created a thorough primer on how to ask good questions in a previous post here.]

Lastly, say your questions in a conversational tone. From my experience, straight-up questions startle people.

For example, you want to find out about the ‘starting rates’ for a web designer. (Note: I just threw random numbers)

  • Straight-up: What’s the starting rate for a web designer?
  • Better: I was researching about rates for web designers. [Site 1] says $100 per project while [Site 2] says $600. The gap seems too wide. What do you think about this?

This will also tell the expert that you did your homework – meaning you’re not looking to be spoonfed and they are not wasting their time on you.

Step Four – Zip up your lips and pay attention.

Best-selling author, Ramit Sethi, suggests that you allow the experts to “speak 90% of the time”. during your interview, encourage them to hog the conversation and speak about themselves. If they are excited about the topic, they will ramble on. That’s even better. You will learn more.

I say this from experience: a 5-minute chat with an expert beats 10 hours of Googling. No exaggeration.

For example, I asked them: “how do you get your clients?” Their answers surprised me:

  • “I’ve not really done any active marketing for a few years now. I mostly go on referral.” - K. L.
  • “I usually reached out to them by joining entrepreneur groups online. LinkedIn is a great place for this…” - A. M.
  • “I never had a job from bidding sites since I started working online. I have an account but I never used it.” - C.R. (Guess who? =D)

Notice their answers all have to do with referrals and building their network. These are alternatives to popular advice like:

  • “Go to oDesk, Elance, Guru, etc.”
  • Ayusin mo ang profile mo para maka-attract ka ng maraming clients.”
  • “Create your own FB page.”
  • “Start a blog right away.”

Does the popular advice work? Sure, sometimes. Some of it I experienced firsthand. However, not all of them can help you land a high-paying project.

For example, I quickly learned that job bidding sites are usually for clients on a tight budget or those who want to maximize profit. So, it is rare to find someone who is willing to pay $50 or even $100 per article in those places.

Here’s another crucial way that talking to experts has helped me: I was able to change my service offering from something they didn’t need or want to pay for, into something they desperately needed for their business.

See, I didn’t plan to become a writer at first. My aim was to be a social media manager for online coaches. But after talking to them, I learned that they were not hiring SMM. They didn’t want to pay for one right now. In their words, they “don’t need one at the moment”.

(Note: The actual list of target clients I interviewed was much longer.)

Because I wanted to earn money, I had to let the idea go (for now).

Instead of SMM, I discovered they need help in writing blog entries, “copywriting”, “formatting posts” and “managing guest posts”. One even paid writers!

I was a research assistant before so I thought MAYBE I can try writing web articles. So I made the switch from pursuing social media management to writing.

If I never asked, I would’ve continued on with a bad business idea. Asking their advice had saved me a lot of time, frustration, and possible heartaches.

Step Five – Say “Thank you” and follow-up.

In saying your thanks, include your intention to follow-up.

(Note: Maybe not as chummy.)

Read the underlined words again: “Balitaan kita.” and “follow your recommendation”. You have to mean it though. If you think their advice is not applicable to you, then just say: thank you and that you will update them with your progress.

Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, says 5–10 days is a good interval for the first follow-up.

These are some examples of follow-up email:

Remember to always include “No need to respond” if you are only updating them. The busiest VIPs would love you for it.

Step Six – Return the favor.

Over time, I realized that receiving an answer is actually a privilege. It is only right that you try to help them out as well.

You may share their posts on your page. You can ask your friends to subscribe to their list. Feature them in your blog. Send students to their affiliate links.

The key here is to help them with what they need. From experience, if you continue communicating with them, opportunities to help will surface eventually.

If it did, you can use this script:

If you still doubt your ability to help a VIP, think of it this way:

They maybe great in business or your chosen field, but they are not masters in everything else. There is always a gap somewhere.

You could be the one to fill that gap. Or, if they’re all set, you can always pay it forward and tell them about it! 🙂

Leveraging Other People’s Expertise: The Fast Track to Success

It is possible to learn all of these through many years of experience. You can spend many hours reading blogs, listening to podcasts and studying further. That’s valuable too, but it’s not the most efficient use of your time and energy - especially if you’re in a hurry to make freelancing work for you.

You could cut the years into weeks or days by simply asking someone who has been there.


Author Bio: 
Aimee Espiritu writes about freelancing, psychology and technology. You can connect with her on Twitter or Google+.

Do you ask these bad questions?

Did you know that people can read your mind just based on the questions you ask?

Anyone who’s part of the Pinoy500 insider list knows that in the first email they get from me, I ask them to submit questions. Here’s what I say:

“If you could spend 30 minutes over coffee with me, talking about your freelancing career, what are the top 2 questions you would ask me?”

Why do I encourage readers to ask questions? Why not just go straight to giving them tips about freelancing?

First, before I give any tips, I want to know what you need from me. Second, it helps me read your mind better so that I can figure out the mindset and worldview you are coming from.

See, a person’s questions reveal more about their mindset, barriers, and personality more than statements do. This is because it’s easy to lie or change your image using statements. It’s difficult to lie when you’re asking a question.

Let me illustrate by deconstructing a few common questions and uncovering the hidden assumptions lurking beneath.

Image Credit: JD Hancock

“What is your recipe/strategy/tip for success?”

Hidden Assumptions: This tells me that the person asking this very generic question thinks that success looks the same for everyone. It doesn’t. I know some people already feel happy and successful getting paid $5 per article for SEO articles, while for other freelance writers that scenario sounds like a nightmare.

In my experience, people ask this question for either of the following reasons a) they don’t know enough about the field to ask better questions or b) they assume that the person they’re asking can easily outline the steps to success.

Also, most successful people probably don’t understand why they are successful, so this question is very hard for them to answer tactically. Try asking a successful person this question. Most likely they’ll give you generic answers like “disiplina” or “focus” or “passion” or “lakas ng loob”. Does that tell you what you should do next to be successful?

Better Questions to Ask:

  • “What do most beginners/newbies get/do wrong?” - I asked this question in a gardening forum online, when I was learning how to improve my gardening skills. The answers saved my garden, which was already suffering from my stupid “black thumb” - the opposite of green thumb, I suppose. (Most common answers: overwatering plants and planting things too close together.)
  • “What’s the #1 challenge/problem that you didn’t expect when you got started?” This tells you exactly what to avoid or be worried about. Many new freelancers are worried about the wrong things - business cards, where to look for jobs, how to accept payment - and this makes them blind to the more immediate issues they have to address (what skills/services to offer, how to talk to a client professionally).
  • “When did you know you finally ‘made it’? What were the concrete signs?” Follow this up with “How did you achieve that?” for each concrete sign the interviewee mentions. Rather than vaguely asking for “success tips”, you are asking the interviewee to define success into CONCRETE examples. For example, rather than answer “Focus led me to my success”, your interviewee can answer “I knew I was successful when I finally earned enough to quit my full-time job.” Then you can ask them how they got to that point. That stuff is easier to measure and analyze, unlike things like passion and focus.

“How can freelancers ensure a steady income or survive from one month to the next? Should they have a quota of jobs?”

Hidden Assumptions: Someone asked me this during an interview. Notice that the question is very leading, “Should they have a quota of jobs?” This tells me that the person asking this thinks that more jobs = more money. And that’s just not true. A freelancer with one $50/hour job can easily make more than another freelancer with three $2/hour jobs.

Plus, the person asking this also equates steady income with survival. Getting $100/month is steady income, but is it enough to survive on if you’re the sole breadwinner of a 5-person family? What this person is really asking is “How do I make sure that my freelancing income covers my living expenses?” Notice how different the answers will be:

“How can freelancers ensure a steady income or survive from one month to the next? Should they have a quota of jobs?” Yes. You should always have more than one client working with you and paying you regularly.


“How do I make sure that my freelancing income covers my living expenses?” First, you have to know what your living expenses are. Compare that with you are earning per hour or per output (like an article or a website project). This will tell you how many hours you have to work or how many articles you have to write or how many websites you have to design each month to make ends meet.

Which one is better? The answer that’s just either a Yes or No, or concrete steps that are informative?

Better Questions to Ask:

  • “How do I make sure that my freelancing income covers my living expenses?” We’ve already covered why this works.
  • “Which decisions had the highest returns for your freelancing business? Why?” True, this is a completely different question, but since you’re asking about money, it’s best to learn which decisions or actions will lead to maximizing your income. This also doesn’t box in your interviewee into thinking about just one thing.

“Does anyone know of any gigs/jobs out there?”

Hidden Assumptions: I found this question in a Facebook group. The fact that this person is bringing up age requirements tells me that in his or her mind, age is a factor in hiring. Unless you’re in an industry where your appearance is important (acting, modeling, etc.), it’s very very rare that age in itself matters. If it’s a barrier, it’s likely that it’s a barrier in your mind first. Most of the prominent social media and marketing professionals out there are at least 40 years old.

Better Questions to Ask:

  • “I’m a freelance ________ looking for work. I specialize in ___________. Do you know how someone with my expertise can find more work quickly?” Let others know what your forte is. Otherwise you’ll get generic tips and are losing the opportunity to connect with other professionals who are in the same boat. The asker should’ve been more specific about the type of writing he/she does.
  • “I’m a freelance ____________ and I think that age/gender/experience/nationality is a barrier for me to get jobs. Do you know of any examples who are ___ like me and still find work in this industry?” If you think that something is holding you back from getting a job, the best way to destroy that barrier is to find people like you who have “made it”. He/she could’ve said “I’m a freelance writer and I think being 55 years old prevents me from getting jobs. Do you know of any other freelance writers who are 50+? If so, where/how do they get work without age being a barrier?”

“I want to become a _________. How do I start?”

Hidden Assumptions: What this question tells me is that the person hasn’t done any work beforehand to figure out how to start. My impression is that they just thought “Uy, ok ata maging web developer” and just assumed that it was the right path for them, without figuring out what it means to be a web developer.

Also, here’s a bonus assumption: the person is assuming that skilled web developers will actually take the time to PM him. If you’re the one asking for free advice, MAKE IT EASY for the person answering you. Maybe someone did PM him. But he would be getting better and more responses if he just asked for replies in the comments or Googled for web developers and emailed them directly.

Better Questions to Ask:

  • “I’ve tried __________ and __________. Here’s what happened: _________. What am I doing wrong?” In the case of our aspiring web developer, he or she can get better answers by framing it this way: “I want to become a web developer. I’ve tried reading programming books and looking up videos online. Here’s what happened: It was very hard for me to understand the lessons. I just don’t get any of it. What am I doing wrong?”
  • “I’m interested in becoming a ______________. My impression is that this job involves ________________. Is my impression right? How does it compare to your actual work?” A common issue with new freelancers is a mismatch of their expectations with reality. For example, a lot of people claim they want to be freelance writers. But what they really want is to be paid to write about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. So when they find out - the hard way - that freelance writing requires more skills and business savvy, they easily give up.
  • “I’m interested in becoming a ___________. My current skills are __________________. I’ve done ___________________. Given my background and experience, what would be the best next step for me?” You’d be amazed at how many times people ask me “I want to be a freelancer. How do I start?” WITHOUT telling me what their background is. How should I know how you can start? I don’t know what your skills are!

Also, notice how these better questions tend to elaborate what you’ve already done, studied, or tried. This is CRUCIAL when asking for advice, because it tells the person you’re asking that you take action and any time they spend on you will not be wasted.

How to Ask Better Questions

We’re lucky that the internet allows us to connect with other professionals from all over the world. This makes it easier to find opportunities, mentors, and new colleagues.

BUT it would be a waste of our time and effort if we don’t ask them good questions.

So how do you ask good questions?

First, let go of all assumptions. Don’t try to predict what the answer will be about. You’ll get more interesting and more specific answers that way.

Then, be specific about your endgame. Why are you asking your question in the first place? Do you need guidance? Do you need to achieve a very specific goal? Or are you just looking to confirm what you already believe/know? Understanding why you’re asking the question can help you phrase it better so that you can get the answers you want.

The next time you try to ask a question, write the question out and think:

  • What assumptions are hidden in this question?
  • Why am I asking this? What do I want to get out of it?
  • If I try to answer this question. What would my answer be like?

Being more reflective about the questions we ask helps us get better answers, and may even improve the response rate we get. Go ahead and try it. Try copying and pasting any of the “Better Questions” examples above. Post it on a forum, group, or email it to your mentors. See what happens 🙂