How can freelancers and small business owners avoid scams?

It is one of the saddest things about human beings that where there is a crisis, there is someone who has a scam to exploit that crisis. Barely had the coronavirus hit in the UK, when there were people working out ways to take other people’s hard-earned money using the disease as an excuse. From knocking on people’s doors and demanding money for illness testing to people being stopped with shopping bags and asked to pay a fine by people wearing no uniform (true story) there seems to be no depths to which scammers will not stoop.

Man-sitting-at-a-computer-in-the-dark with-word-security overhead

As business owners, we put our details out on the internet so that potential clients can contact us, but what if people do not want to hire us but to scam us instead? We should be prepared to get the police involved if there has been a successful scam on our business and we should share the stories so that others do not fall for the same thing.

Here are some scams and some ways that we can protect ourselves. 

ID Fraud

Many scams involve the stealing of ID in order to defraud banks or other organisations. Particularly be careful of potential phishing emails.

Keep your details and those of your customers safe and also keep safe and password-protected those electronic devices where they are stored.

Email Fraud

Email frauds can come in a number of different ways. Be careful of emails from HMRC that do not actually come from the right email address and ask you to click on links. Or be wary of emails from your bank, asking you to verify details by clicking on an email link. There can be emails pretending to be from Amazon or your broadband provider or mobile phone operator, all asking you to click on a link and enter bank details, either to confirm them or to “avoid fraud”.

You should always be wary of unsolicited emails. Scammers are able to copy logos, imitate the way they think an official body should communicate and make sure that the email initially looks legitimate. However, the email link is not usually an official one and will look quite different to the correct email address. If in doubt, then ring the institution in question and check it out.

Scam Phone calls

Scam phone calls can happen in a number of ways. This can involve people pretending to be from your bank, from HMRC or from a computer company which says it needs to check your computer remotely. They may be looking to get your bank details or access to your computer. They can also make it look like the phone call is a genuine number.

Do not give any details out over the phone and end the call. If you decide to call your provider, then be aware that some fraudsters can delay hanging up the phone and pretend to be the person you are calling. Wait for at least 20 minutes before trying to call a number after receiving a suspicious phone call. You can also reject cold calls and put strange phone numbers through a search engine which could tell you which company they belong to. You can block numbers that try to call regularly. Don’t respond to unrecognised missed calls or texts and you can also check a company’s phone number by calling from a different phone. Don’t take a caller’s word for it that they are who they say they are.

Invoice Fraud

A business needs to check every detail these days, as scammers can send fake invoices that seem legitimate. The invoice may appear to come from a genuine supplier, but the details send the payment straight to the scammers. It’s known as APP or authorised push payments which persuade companies to pay a seemingly normal invoice but which has not been sent by the right person. There have been situations where the bank has queried the transaction, but the person paying has been so sure that it was right, that they insisted on paying. Then they found it was a scam.

The answer to this one is well-trained staff who know to check with the supplier before paying. The fraudsters hope that the invoice will be paid with no questions asked, but if your staff are able to check out the validity of invoices, then only the right invoices are paid.

Royal Mail Scam

This can consist of an email suggesting that a parcel is being held for you and that you need to rearrange delivery. Filling in details means that the scammers may install ransomware where your work computers will shut down and you will need to pay money to get them released. There can also be a card through the door where you ring a number which is charged at an extremely expensive rate. There have been some high-profile instances of ransomware where the company paid to get their computers back. Once a computer is locked out it can be very difficult to get back.

For the first scam, you need to back up your computers regularly to make sure that you can access an up-to-date storage if needed. You may need to bring in the Police to get this checked out.

For the second, if you are not expecting a parcel, then check it is real. You can normally pick up a parcel from your local Post Office sorting centre with ID and the card that was posted through your door.

Do you have any good advice on how to avoid scams? Please share below.

Metropolitan Police advice on business fraud

National Crime Agency on fraud

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Online networking for stay-at-home workers

Missing the watercooler or the canteen already? It’s been over a week since workers of all kinds have been told to work from home if possible in the UK.

laptop-pencil-remote-on-sofa

One of the best things about working in an office is the people that you meet and work alongside. One of the downsides of enforced working from home is that you are unable to get out and about and meet people. We are social animals and we need contact.

Here are some tips for online networking (from home):

WhatsApp chat groups

My book group is on WhatsApp and since the lockdown, it has lit up the airwaves! We have sent quizzes, videos and all kinds of things across it. We are also planning to meet up virtually in our pjs and those who like a tipple will be able to drink and not worry about getting home! If you have WhatsApp group chats, then using them to keep in touch can be quite useful.

Facebook groups

Facebook groups can be good for keeping the larger community together. For example, the local church groups have been busy updating their feeds to keep their congregations informed on how they are going to run their services. They have created events which has enabled them to promote them to their followers. Of course there have been national events happening as well and these have also been promoted.

If you search for Facebook groups related to your line of work, you will probably find one. These are great for meeting new people and getting information and advice. You may have to be approved to join and sometimes you have to answer questions. If you belong to a group which is struggling to keep in touch, why not set a Facebook group up? You can set a group to private or public depending on their type of activity and it’s a great way to keep in touch.

Twitter hashtags

Communities often meet up on Twitter at set hours through hashtags. Try searching the website for hashtags relevant to your work and see what you can find.

If you are a writer or freelancer, there are some amazing Twitter groups who meet up using hashtags. They usually meet up at a particular time each week. Twitter is also a great place to meet authors.

Try:

#freelanceheroes

#freelancechat

#ContentClubUK

The format is usually asking questions and people tag themselves using the hashtag to answer them. It is a great way to learn more about working as a freelancer.

You could also check out:

#amwriting

#WritingCommunity

You can also keep contact through the Linked-In community, either through posting and commenting on posts or through the different groups that run on there. In a lockdown situation, this can only be helpful to your business.

How are you keeping in contact with work colleagues and friends at the moment? Please share in the comments below.

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Is there ever a time when a freelancer should work for free?

I came across a job website tonight and read their information on becoming a freelancer. I was shocked to see that they advocated taking a first job and doing the work for free. I am a firm believer that at no point should a freelancer ever work for free. Nor do I believe that they should sell their skills cheaply.

When you are just starting out, it is tempting to take any offer of work that is going, so that you can add to your portfolio and have something to show other prospective clients, but I still think that you should expect to charge for your work.

There is a process of thought that suggests that early-stage freelancers should take work in order to prove themselves. They should take low-paying or free work until they can work themselves up to a more reasonable level of compensation. There are several reasons why this is unacceptable:

Freelancers have to pay bills like everyone else

Taking low-paying work can make you feel as though it is all you are good for

You have to have a certain level of competency to even consider going freelance. Why should you sell it cheaply?

I’m a start-up, will you work for free?

Then there are the people who advertise jobs who usually suggest that as they are a start-up, they cannot currently afford to pay someone to do the work. They usually dangle the offer of more, paid work down the line. But there are some problems with that:

If they can’t afford to pay someone, then why are they starting up a business? Surely if they have no money for it, it will be doomed to fail.

The promised paid-for work rarely materialises or when it does, the pay is not worth the effort

Consider this:

The time that you spend working on something for free, is time that you can never get back.

Does that make it more valuable?

Or

The time that you have offered for free, could be used to market yourself to find a paying customer

Or

Will the product that you have created for free be used to bring this client money?

Then you deserve some compensation for it.

When you start up as a freelancer, it is advisable to work out how many billable hours you can find for your job. That is, the amount of time that you have available to work for clients. Once you have that number, you can use it to do a number of things.

You will need to set aside some time to market your business. This includes writing for your own website, creating products for your own website and running your own social media (without getting sidetracked on Facebook).

You will need some time to do the administration of your business – invoicing and chasing payments.

You will need time for clients.

If you give up some of your time for free, then you are taking some time away from your business. Even if you are a brand new freelancer, you have chosen this path because you believe that you are good at what you do and that you can bring some skills to the table. Your skills deserve a decent reward.

Don’t sell yourself short.

Have you ever worked for free? If so, then do comment below. Did more work materialise? Do you agree with me that freelancers should not work for free? Please comment below.

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New Business Expectations vs Reality

What can a new business owner expect?

How did you expect things to be when you started your new business? Did you expect it to be effortless, fun, empowering? Was failure part of the plan? What about clients who don’t want to pay? Every person who starts a new business, has an idea in their head about their future work life and how it is going to be. Unfortunately, the expectation does not often meet the reality.

Here are some of the expectations that a new business may have and the reality behind them:

Expectation 1 – Clients will beat a path to your door

Stop the world – my new business has arrived! I offer such an amazing service that clients will be falling over themselves to hire my services! The phone will be ringing, the email will be filling up and my bank account will be growing fat.

Reality: Most new businesses rely on friends and family to begin with. Unless you are excellent with Facebook marketing, you will find likes, shares and follows difficult to come by and there will be long periods of boredom, followed by (hopefully) frantic rushes where everyone arrives at once!

What to do: Market yourself constantly. Build a profile on Linked-In, set up a Facebook page, build Twitter and Instagram accounts. Reach out to past colleagues, contacts, anyone who might have an interest in what you do. Decide on a strategy that you will actually feel confident carrying out and get on it. Paid advertising can work, but it can also be a black hole for your money, so should be approached with care and preferably with sound advice.

Expectation 2 – Clients will always pay on time

You always pay your bills on time – so why doesn’t everyone else!

Reality: Sadly it is not uncommon for large companies to postpone bill-paying for up to 3 months! How can you keep your cashflow going?

What to do: The answer to this is in your initial communications with a client. When it comes to buying a product, most people expect to pay before the product is shipped. Buying services is a little different, and it can seem as though you don’t want to raise the delicate subject of money. However, the client expects to pay you and you expect to get paid. In order to ensure that you are paid in a timely fashion, the best thing to do is to expect clients to sign a contract with you before starting work. This way, you can state how quickly after delivery of the product that you expect to get paid and the client understands it too. I f the client pushes back and says that this is not possible, then you can either negotiate or walk away.

Expectation 3 – Your website will fly to the top of Google in no time

Such a well put-together website will surely be recognised by the search engine for the artistic masterpiece it is!

Reality: Search engines work off a series of algorithms in order to rank non-paying websites in response to a search request. This means that you need to ensure that your website follows all the principles of good SEO.

What to do: Keep adding fresh content and optimise that content for SEO or search engine optimisation This means making sure that your blog posts are written with good SEO principles in mind. If your website is on WordPress, there are some good SEO plugins out there which will help you manage the SEO. Length of time helps too.

Expectation 4 – Clients will always love the work you do

Reality: Unfortunately not all clients are able to explain or even know what it is they really want. Some business owners are left to give it their best guess.

What to do: Find ways to pin down what it is your client wants before starting work. You can use a questionnaire, a telephone conversation, ask for examples of other websites that they admire – all these things can help them to explain to you what they want. This is not a guarantee that you will get it right first time, but it can help. Also always emphasise that the first piece of work you turn ij, can be raft which can be changed.

Expectation 5 You will always have polite customers

Reality: Unfortunately not!

What to do: Keep your cool. Working for someone in your own business does not give them the right to abuse you or get angry with you. Stay calm but don’t take any rubbish from them. If they regularly get rude or abusive then it is best to end the relationship. As a business owner, you do not have to experience that kind of thing.

Business owners, how did you negotiate your expectations over the reality of your experiences? Comment below.

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Should you use Free Business Search Engines for your Small Business

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 4

There are lots of free business search engines around. Many have been going for years. They often offer a basic free listing, which can offer improved visibility if you decide to pay for their service. How do you know if their paid-for service is any good and how can you make your free listing worth taking the time to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Adding yourself to free business search listings seems a no-brainer on the surface. You can usually put in contact details and a few details about what you do, for the the princely sum of time. The websites will usually try and upsell you to a paid listing, but it is up to you to decide whether it is worth it. Check out the paid listings – do they get enough for their money? Fill in as many details as you can and make sure that you include things such as a photo, your website and social media details.

Many of these websites bring new entries to the fore after paid-for accounts. It can therefore pay to go back every couple of weeks and amend the free listing, to see if it brings you back to the top of the list.

Here are a few that I have used: (Disclaimer – there are no affiliates in this post – just my opinions!)

FreeIndex

Pros:

Able to search for keywords in an A-Z list.

You can set up an email alert when the website receives quote requests for something that is similar to your business

The website has a fresh, clean design with colour pictures and is easy to navigate.

You can search, using a number of terms

The website gives you an author image, key services for search terms and the chance to write a description of your business.

Customers can also leave reviews and the latest reviews are shown on the landing page

Premium or paid listing enables you to be listed above non-premium members with a super-highlighted listing, an extended search radius and more keyword tags. You also get alerts before non-premium members and the ability to upload more photos and videos and they also stop advertising nearby businesses which offer the same services on the same page.

Cons:

The free listing does advertise nearby businesses that offer the same service lower down the page

You really need reviews to keep the momentum going, but it does say when the page was last updated, so keep updating it.

My opinion:

I have had 1 client through this page – but he never left me a review, so my reviews are 0. I don’t get many leads from it either. At the moment I maintain the profile, but is it worth it?

Might be worth trying for a new business, or if you’re offering a popular business that people are looking for like leaflet drops.

Google My Business

Pros:

Works well with a Gmail account

Able to post blogs

You get statistics from the posting each month, which say how many visitors you had and the bounce rate

Google is a pretty big search engine

Cons:

Can’t think of any really, except I have not had clients through it yet.

UK Business Forums

More of a forum than a listing, but it is still very active. You are welcome to browse for free and even ask questions, but there are areas that are members-only for a fee.

Pros:

All kinds of businesses are covered here and whatever your question is, you are bound to find it answered.

Newbies can ask questions and have them answered

They have regional forums for different areas of the UK

They include social enterprise in the forums

It’s current and still well-used

Cons:

The Marketplace where jobs are posted is for paid members only

Have you found any free business listing websites that have been good for your business? Please share below.

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3 fears you face as a business owner and how to work through them

We have all experienced fear. That uncomfortable moment when the pit of your stomach falls through the floor and a feeling of dread creeps over you. Fear is a healthy response to stepping out of our comfort zone. Sometimes, however, the emotion can take over and paralyse you, which can prevent you taking action.

 

 

 

 

 

But what if you let fear rule your actions?

Fear of starting a project

It can be possible to be afraid to start something. You take that normal piece of business advice, which is to formulate a plan – and then you plan and plan and plan. Or you research, research, research. You are so busy planning and researching, that you don’t ever start. Ever.

Answer:

While it’s good to plan and research, the time does eventually come when you need to start to do something. How will you ever learn if you simply stay safe? No one can plan for ever and sometimes you just need to get something done.

Find a small step and just take it. Make that first step to that thing you want to do and then follow it with another and another. If it helps, break down the whole process into small steps, just make sure that you then follow through and take action too!

Fear of not being able to carry out the work

There can be a real fear of taking on too much and not being able to fulfil your work demands. This especially applies if you are working in a service industry. You might be afraid that family demands could mean that you are unable to work, or if other demands on your time increase the pressure. How can you give 100% to your work when so many other things threaten to take over?

Answer:

Strangely, the answer to this one is planning! Know the hours you have to work and make sure that what you take on will fit inside them. Always allow a little extra for the unforeseen event and keep the communication with your client flowing. It is true that life has a habit of tossing little problems in your way and no one can guarantee that they will always be able to fulfil the work, but you can mitigate it as much as possible by ensuring that you keep a good grasp of what needs to be done. If this means making an old-fashioned timesheet to ensure you give enough time to different projects, then so be it.

Fear of not being good enough

No one knows all the answers when they’re just starting out, but there can be a real fear of being found out! What if the people you network with, realised just how much you are finding it hard to keep on top of everything? What if your business fails in a spectacular way? How can you say that you are an expert when you have only just started?

Answer:

Everyone can feel this way sometimes. It is one of the ways we put pressure on ourselves. However, we can choose to listen to the disparaging voice in our head, or we can tell it a few home truths. Just because you have this fear, doesn’t make it true. We need to find ways to counteract the voice with logic and calmness.

One way to help this is to have a good friend, who knows what you do, how hard you work and what it has taken to get there. A conversation with them might just be the antidote you need to a doubtful voice inside your head.

What fears have you faced while running your own business? How do you manage to face them down and still get things done? Comment below.

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#Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 2

#Hours on Twitter can be a great way to meet with other business owners in your local area and other business owners who are not necessarily in your line of business but who might be local to you.

 

 

 

 

 

The process works through adding a hashtag to your tweet that enables the #hour to pick it up and retweet it to its followers.

Sounds complicated? Not once you get the hang of it.

Continue reading #Hours on Twitter – a great way to get known for Business Owners?

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How to Invoice as a Beginning Business Owner

30 Day Blogging Challenge

Day 1

As a beginning business owner, one of the most important things to get over is your delicacy around money. If your business is to survive, it is important that you get paid.Some businesses start out with accounting software, and invoicing can be a part of that – set up a template, push a button and the invoice is automatically sent. However, when you do not have fancy software, but just your own laptop and a spreadsheet, what then?

 

 

 

 

 

I need to say at the outset, that I am not an accountant and that I am not able to offer tax advice. All I can do is walk you through what I have done as a sole trader and freelance business owner. Continue reading How to Invoice as a Beginning Business Owner

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What systems does a beginning freelance business owner need?

Setting up as a freelance business owner can be quite exhilarating – that rush of being your own boss and working as much or as little as you like, however there are some things that you will need to get organised. There is no one else to do it, it’s just you. What kind of systems will you need to get your freelance business up and running?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

Billable hours

Work out how many hours a week you wish to work. Fit them in-between the school run, walking the dog, unloading the dishwasher – stop! By all means get jobs done as well, but the most important thing is making sure that you have some hours that you can use to get work done. You can organise yourself as you wish. If you work best waking up very early in the morning and stopping work at midday, then do that. If you prefer to sleep late and work into the evening, that is fine too. Your work schedule is your responsibility and as long as you can get your work done, then nobody is going to worry about the hours you keep.

Marketing hours

You will need to set aside some time for sending out queries, pitch for work, sending out your CV and all the other things that need to be done. You may wish to network at an expo or go to a business festival, but know where you can start to find clients.

Time off

Nobody can work for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Do set aside some time that is untouchable, the equivalent of a weekend. When the time is, depends on the work you are doing. Working with overseas clients may mean unsociable hours for the country where you live. Just make sure that you plan some time so that you can recharge your batteries.

Invoices

Know in advance what you need to charge in order to pay your bills. It is up to you to negotiate a wage that you can live with. I will cover this in more detail in another blog post, but for now, you need to set up an invoicing system so that you can get paid.

Decide how you can accept payment. This may mean by Paypal, direct bank transfer or some other means. Invoices are legally required to have certain information on them and it is worth checking out what is needed for your country. At the very least, you should have your contact information, the client’s contact information, the work done and the price. You should also explain how you are to be paid and how long the client has to pay.

Some word processors offer an invoice template which you can customise for yourself and fill in. I would suggest saving a template for each client, so that you can quickly send the next invoice. I set up a code for each client, for example Joe Bloggs would be JB01 – the first invoice for Joe Bloggs, the second one would be JB02 and so on.

There are some great accounting packages out there and some freelance business owners might just prefer to set up some software to help them. It’s a great option, if you can afford it, but for people starting out, you can begin with a spreadsheet.

Contacts

Freelance business owners need contacts. Keep a spreadsheet of all contacts made and the date made. Part of freelancing is meeting people and keeping contact with them. If you can keep a list of people and when contact was last made, it can help you make sure that no one gets lost. You can keep different lists of contacts for different subjects.

Marketing contacts

You might like to keep a separate list of marketing contacts – people who may be interested in your services or business but have not bought from you yet. Again, keep dates and a note of when you were last in contact.

Email list

Starting an email list is one of the most important things you can do as a small business owner. It enables you to keep in contact with people who have already bought from you and might again. Don’t just use it to sell, but offer interesting news items, networking events and industry news. Keep it simple but interesting and always include an opt-out. Also make sure that you understand and conform to GDPR guidelines.

Tax

Register your business for tax purposes and understand how many times a year you will need to put in your accounts. Finance software may produce your tax return for you, but if you are using a spreadsheet, you will need to put in your own return. When things start to take off, it may be wise to engage the services of an accountant to help make sure that your tax affairs are in order.

Editorial Calendar

An editorial calendar helps you put together a list of subjects for your blog or for other companies. It’s good to keep a list of ideas for blog posts. You can keep website urls for reference and date when the blog post was published. It means that you should always have a steady stream of ideas for what to write next. It is also worth keeping a list of content that you publish and the urls so that you can promote them easily.

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Five Good Reasons to Maintain Your Blog

website ideas
website ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Many businesses consider having a blog an essential part of their website. Blogging offers a chance to connect with your customers and enable them to see a little of what you do. Blogging brings fresh content to your website and that is a good thing when it comes to search engines.

Deciding to have a blog is a regular commitment. How often you update it is up to you, but updating it regularly ensures that visitors to your website can see that you use your website and that you still have a valid business.

1. Adding fresh content to your blog ensures that your website stays fresh and current. Coming across a website which has not been updated since 2007 says ‘I don’t care’ or even ‘I’m no longer in business’.

2. Finding new subjects to write about helps to expand your own learning and enables you to keep up with trends and learn more about your own business. It will also help you keep your brain active and engaged in your business. You might even get some new ideas to help your business.

3. Putting up a new blog post gives you the opportunity to promote your website and your business using social media. Keeping in touch with customers through social media is becoming increasingly important. You want your business website to be well-known through social media, although spam is not a good idea.

4. You can use your blog post to promote special offers or to offer other promotions designed to increase business and encourage return customers. This can be a great way to use a blog post. Design it carefully so that links leading to products or services are visible and easily accessed.

5. Regularly updating your blog will help to reassure your customers that you are a trusted company for them to do business with. Trust is increasingly important on the Internet. A trusted company will bring more repeat customers.

Regular blogging can bring many benefits to you and your business website, so stop reading this post and go and get writing!

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based writer who offers blogging as a speciality. If you would like a carefully crafted blog post on a topic of your choice, use the contact form to get in touch or email sarahthecreativewriter (at) gmail.com.

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