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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Starting from the beginning as a freelance business owner

Starting a freelance business could be a dream

There is something very attractive about being a freelance worker – being your own boss, dictating your own time, tea breaks whenever you want and the joy of working in your pyjamas if you wish, however life is never that simple. When you have a job, you are given targets and work to do, but you know when and where the money is coming in that month. As a freelancer, you are responsible for finding your own work and bringing in your own money. You need to account for your money and arrange to pay any taxes or pensions. If you are in the US, you need to arrange healthcare. It can get very complicated if you just launch in without thinking things through.

Here are some tips for starting from the beginning as a freelance business owner:

  1. Set up systems – know where you are going to keep track of invoices and expenses, contacts and marketing. Keep it simple to start with – a spreadsheet for finances and one for marketing. Notify your local tax authorities that you are starting up a business and be prepared to submit accounts according to your country’s tax schedule.
  2. Decide who your clients are going to be. Know your ideal client – what they are looking for, what they will need doing, what do they look like? When you know who your ideal client will be, then find out where they hang out, as you need to be able to reach them.
  3. The easiest way to begin marketing is starting out with friends and family. Reach out to them, let them know what you are doing and ask them if anyone they know is looking for a freelancer. Any past co-workers that you are in touch with, should also be contacted. People who know you are the easiest to talk to at the beginning.
  4. Get some rough ideas of what to charge – there are lots of websites offering to help you decide what to charge but it is best to look at professional organisations for freelancers – they will often have a guide to help you decide what to charge. You can charge by the hour, per word (if writing) or per project. Per project is often the best way to charge, but you do need an idea of how long something is going to take. Allow for changes and feedback in your calculations.
  5. Have a contract. There are lots of contract examples to be found on the web. Look for something close to what you need and adapt as necessary. Never start work without written confirmation that the client is happy with your quote and an agreed deadline. You should also consider a deposit that is non-refundable should the client back out of the work.
  6. Set up a website. Every business should have a website that helps to showcase what they do. It can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Make sure that your website is clear on what you do, and make sure that people can contact you through your website.
  7. Start a portfolio. A portfolio is simply examples of your work that people who are looking for a contractor like you, can look through to help them decide to hire you. In the beginning, there may not be many samples of work, but do keep it up to date with any work that you may do. Include links and make sure that it can be reached via your website.
  8. Start marketing. Keep your Linked-In profile up-to-date. Post on your website and Linked-In and any other social media that you may use. Advertise on free business websites, reach out to local traders or other companies that you may come across.
  9. When in public, i.e. on social media, act like a professional at all times. You never know who is watching.
  10. Get some business cards printed and go to some networking events. Meet people and talk to them about what you do. Start to look for other ways to market your business, even when you’re busy. In order to keep work coming in, you need to keep marketing.

These are just some of the tips that I would give someone starting out as a freelancer. What tips would you give?

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What to do when your freelance business seems stuck in a rut

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Ever felt like your freelance business is stuck in a rut? There seems to be no new work coming in, you don’t seem able to move forward with your work, or find any new clients. Perhaps you have been working for the same clients for some years and it’s feeling stale. You want to move forward as a freelancer, but you can’t see a way through. It’s time to think outside the box.

People in employment can feel stuck too. Perhaps they’ve been passed over for promotion, or they feel that their manager never gives them enough credit for the work they do. Either way, they feel stuck and unappreciated and wonder how to free themselves and feel better.

It’s important to understand that it is possible that your emotions will pass, and that all it’s going to take is a new freelance contact from a client, a new networking situation or even a project at work that has gone really well, but equally when you are feeling bored and struggling to get the work done though lack of interest then you need to take action.

Take stock of your situation

Give yourself some thinking time and some space. Choose a day when you don’t have a lot of deadlines coming up and write down 5 things that are good about your work, and 5 things that frustrate you. Be as specific or broad as you wish. What attracted you to your work in the first place? What has made it seem as though it is going wrong. Take a few days and add to the lists if you need to. See if you can work out where things are going wrong.

Decide to make a small change.

The worst thing to do is to keep on doing what you have aways done and expect the result to be different. Finding a way out is not easy, but it is worth trying to do. If you feel that you are fairly clear on where things have gone wrong, and you have an idea to try, then try it. You have nothing to lose and it may help. Decide to try it for a reasonable length of time and make a date in your diary to assess it and whether it has made any kind of impact on your  freelance work or how you feel. Be prepared: this small change may lead to another small change and another. Make sure that you can assess what difference they make to your business.

Ask for help

This can be difficult to do, but it may be the only option. If you are struggling to see what is going wrong, or what you could do to change things, then you may need some help. If you have a friend who is able to understand what you do, and whose opinion you trust, then it may be as simple as arranging to go for a coffee with them to talk things through. Some forums have places where you can ask questions – look for one for people who do what you do as they are more likely to understand your problems. You may need advice from someone who is further along in their business or who has done things differently.

Be accountable to someone

Find someone who you can be accountable to when it comes to getting work done. It’s a way of making sure you get things done when you work on your own. You could also help them to be accountable to their own business. You can decide to check in with them weekly, monthly, or whenever suits you both.

Find a mentor or coach

It may come to the point when you feel that you need more specialised help – and that it’s time to look for a mentor or a coach. Don’t just jump straight in: get to know someone first. Hang around their groups, do something small with them first and see whether their style fits yours. The coaching has got to be within your budget, but it also has to have similar aims to yours. You can take recommendations, or you might just come across someone through another group. It will need to be someone you trust, if you are going to pay them for their help, and you have to feel that you are getting your money’s worth. See it as money that you are investing in your business and use it wisely.

Be prepared to walk away

In the end, it all comes down to whether you can make peace with your freelance business and get it going again. You need to be able to work out what has gone wrong and what steps you need to take to fix it. If you are unable to find your love for your freelance work, then you need to be prepared to walk away and find something else.

It’s not an easy decision to make, but sometimes it may be the right one. Before making such a decision, talk to everyone that it will affect, and make sure that you have taken all the steps you needed to in order to try to make the business work. Businesses fail all the time, the important thing to do is make sure that your mental health does not go down with it.

Have you got to the point where you have felt stuck in a rut and not known what to do? What was your solution to the problem?

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30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 2: Q & A

Question 1 by Virtual EyeSee

Five years ago, I created a post which asked, so – what exactly do you do?

It came about through a challenge posted by Naomi Dunford of Itty Biz who had been asked by a reader of her blog, “So, what do you actually do?” It made her stop and think about what she actually did, and more importantly whether her website actually reflected what she actually did.

Did her website truly reflect her business or did she need to spell it out more clearly? These are the questions she asked herself and I am going to ask myself the same questions here:

What is your game? What do you do?

I am first and foremost a writer. I love playing with words, using words and discovering words. During my time as a writer, I have written newsletters, articles on diverse topics such as Northern Lights tours and marble and granite, not to mention 50 articles on car mats! I love researching a new topic and learning about something different. I enjoy a challenge and I love it when I have a new assignment.

I also enjoy writing short stories, I have been known to write (very secret) poetry and I have written a terrible novel which was written during NaNoWriMo one year. There is just one published copy which will never see the light of day again! (Evil cackling)

I have also done some proofreading and edited a book.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

Writing is not easy work. That’s the first thing I would say, however I find it enjoyable. I have known some people who just can’t bear writing. I must confess to having a creepy knack with spelling – I can usually tell if a word is spelt correctly. I also can remember all those names for parts of a sentence which everyone else seems to have forgotten since they left school – nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs etc. Handy for school homework!

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

I have met people who hate writing so I am an obvious match for someone like that. I have worked with small business owners, a London marketing agency and a local charity as well as a growing business. There are a lot of people looking for content these days because they have been told that it is essential for their business. It is, but not the cheap, churned out stuff that you can buy for peanuts. The kind of content that works is tailored to the individual business and offers valuable and interesting information rather than just the same stuff that everyone else is churning out.

What’s your marketing USP (Unique Selling Point)? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

Everyone thinks they can write, but do people want to read it? I look for the story behind the article and use it to create unique articles and blog posts that will encourage people to read on. Why should you buy from me? You don’t have to if you don’t think we are a good fit.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?

I am currently researching a period of history and plotting out a history novel. As for the creative writing – I am always looking forward to the next challenge.

If you are a business blog and these questions appeal to you, why not try answering something similar yourself. Make sure that people understand what you do and why you do it.

Comment below if you decide to follow this through.

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Set up Your Own Business When the Kids Go Back to School!

Picture: Autumn’s Leaves by Carsten Tolkmit. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Flickr_-_Laenulfean_-_autumn's_leaves

Well they looked smart on their first day at least! The house is quiet and their pyjamas have been left where they dropped them when they got dressed. The kids have just gone back to school.

What about you? What have you got planned for the week? Perhaps your little one has gone off to school for the first time, perhaps you already have a job, but you want something more flexible that will work around the children?

Many people decide to start off a new business because they feel it will be easier to fit around the children and childcare. Perhaps you bake brilliant cupcakes, you have wonderful craft and sewing skills or you are able to create websites and you wonder if your skill might transfer into a business that will enable you to be around for the children.

Build Your Own Business

It could be a great idea, but it is important to look into it properly and decide whether it truly is for you. Businesses, even small ones can mean a great deal of work and this will be in addition to all you do for your family. You will need your partner onside as he may have to help out more than usual, and money may be tight for a while as you put money back into the business.

If you are daunted by the thought of starting your own business, then I can understand that. It is scary. Things will go wrong and you will find some things harder than you think. However there are also some great rewards and there is nothing like the thrill of successfully landing a client who enjoys what you do.

Here are five tips to help you on your way to starting your own business:

1. Have a great idea

 Everyone has a dream job: something that they really feel that they could put their heart and soul into and make a success of. Often it can be linked to our hobbies or a skill that we feel we really excel at. Use the internet to find examples of people who are already using the skills that you have to make a business. Check out their websites, how they do things. Keep a notebook or folder on the computer and make a note of really attractive websites that would tempt you to look into hiring this person. Find things you like and things you don’t like, looking at the websites critically.

2. Check out the Competition

 If there are websites out there which already display your idea then there will be a market for it. The trick will be to decide who you need to market to and aim your marketing towards them. If for instance you bake great cupcakes, then start off talking to mums at school and offering to make birthday cakes. Take pictures of your creations and keep a folder of them which will serve as a portfolio later down the line. Marketing to people you know can be hard at first, but then so is running a business. Pluck up your courage and talk to your friends. They may be more encouraging than you thought. Talk to your partner about your ideas – he could also spread the word at work and help you find clients.

3. What Legal Information do You Need?

When you have your idea and you have some support and some evidence that your idea may work as a business, then you need to check out the legal side. What insurance might you need? Most home insurance policies require you to declare working from home, although some do now ask the question. Do you need any training? Making cakes in your own kitchen requires scrupulous cleanliness and the freshest ingredients. There are internet courses that you can pay for and take so that you have a certificate that will show you know how to use ingredients safely.

Find out about the tax laws in your country. Here in the UK, HMRC runs frequent courses for new businesses starting up so that they understand their obligations when it comes to self assessment. Keep good financial records, receipts and bills and if you need an accountant then find one. It is best to take a recommendation and there is always the possibility that you might find one at the school gate.

4. Set up a Website.

 If this is something that you are unsure of doing yourself then ask around – someone somewhere will know a budding web designer. Decide on a name for yourself and buy a domain name. There are companies that offer domain name searches and you can easily check what is available. You will need the name and somewhere to host it. The cost can be as little as £30 a year. Putting your website together may take a little time, but go back to the websites that impressed you at the beginning of your research and take the best bits of them. Choose a colour for your theme and take your web designer’s advice on what works.

5. Have some business cards made and start to give them out. Ask your friends to spread the word. Find new ways to advertise. You can set up a Facebook page for your friends to like and join Twitter. Link up to like-minded people but be yourself. Deciding to take the first step is always difficult and no matter how much work you put in there will be more to come!

How did you decide which business to start up? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter who would love to help you make your dream a reality. For great web content contact sarahthecreativewriter[at]gmail.com.

Connect with Sarah on Twitter @SassieC43

 

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Five Things to Keep in Mind when Composing a Guest Blog Title

With visitors taking even less time than usual to stop by a new website and look around, it is really important to offer a great title when writing a guest blog. You can have written the most informative article in the world but if the title does not instantly grab a reader, then there will not be many people willing to read on. The title has to be worth their while.

Here is The Creative Writer’s guide to writing a great guest blog title:

1. Make sure the title reflects the article content accurately. Try and be too clever and you might leave a reader puzzled as to how the title fitted in with the rest of the article. An article on the ‘Five best Toddler Drink Cups’ is expected to have something on drink cups in there somewhere.

2. Make sure the language is suitable for the audience that you want to attract. A title aimed at a teenage audience is very different from one aimed at the small business owner market. You want your blog post to be authoritative and to offer information that your readers need. You should therefore choose your language carefully.

3. Puns are out! Well, ok probably not out completely, but a bad pun can put people off reading an article. Puns are plays on words that make you groan rather than laugh. People who are groaning may not read on.

4. Don’t be too clever if you play on words. It is easy to get carried away by your own brilliance and leave your audience puzzled. Some plays on words work, others should be cut in the edit.

5. You won’t always get the perfect title straight away. Sometimes you need to work on it a little. Using numbers can help – ‘Five Ways to-‘ or ‘Ten Perfect Blog Titles’ but it’s not always essential. It is more important that your title reflects your article and that it will encourage visitors to your site to read on.

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based freelance writer who offers guest blogs as part of her services. To discuss your blog requirements either use the contact form or email sarahthecreativewriter(at) gmail.com.

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Why Have a Guest Blog?

website ideas
website ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Guest blog posts are becoming more popular as the demand for website content grows. Introducing a blog to your website can help increase your traffic and bring more customers to your business, but maintaining a blog can be hard work. It can be difficult to constantly think of fresh ideas and easy to put off writing your blog until the last minute. One solution to this problem is to have a guest post.

There are two types of guest posting: one where people get in touch with you and offer to post. This is usually the case with a very popular website such as Copyblogger which is big in its own right. My comments on posts on Copyblogger rank higher in the search engines than my own website. If you are getting offers of guest posts, then my guess is that you have a highly ranked website in a popular topic.

More usually you might offer to swap blog posts with a friend in a similar field. You exchange like for like in return for links that might bring more traffic to your website. If you don’t have anyone that you think would offer suitable links, then there is a Blogger Link Up newsletter where you can post your guest blog requirements and see if there are any you could offer.

Then there is paid blogging where you hire someone to blog for you, usually if you really aren’t finding the time to write and keep your blog up to date.

Paying a blogger to write guest posts for your websites will give you a ready supply of blog posts to keep your website updated. A professional writer does this for a living: they are able to write new and engaging content that your readers can identify with. A good guest blogger will be able to write using a style similar to your own so that your readers feel that they are still getting the information from you, and of course, the final say over the content is yours. You need to feel that the post could have been written by you and that you can relate to the writing that you are posting.

A paid blogger is often writing in your name. Yours’ is the byline – they just happen to have written the words. It is happening more and more and if writing isn’t your strength, then it might just be the solution you need.

Guest blogs offer a painless way of bringing fresh content to your website and keeping it updated. Whether you accept guest blogs in return for links or money, they can offer a fresh perspective, a new voice and further opportunities to link up with other small business owners and increase your social network.

Sarah Charmley is a UK-based blogger who offers interesting blog posts for your website. If you would like to discuss your guest posting requirements with her, then please use the contact form or email sarahthecreativewriter(at) gmail.com.

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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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Five Things to Consider before Networking for the First Time

If you want to be a successful freelancer, then finding more like-minded people to join your network is essential. One way to achieve this is to go to one of many networking events set up round the country every month.

Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr CC
Business Meeting by thetaxhaven on Flickr CC

I went to a Big Circle event in Worcester which was fairly local to me. Your local Chamber of Commerce runs events, there is also breakfast networking and other organisations set up to facilitate networking including some that are women only and others that only allow one of each profession into the group. Some people feel that they are the best way to get referrals while others find them difficult to do, especially if you are a quieter type of person.

I am fairly outgoing. I have been known to do some cold calling on the telephone and I enjoy meeting and talking to people. Even so I was a little unsure of myself as this was not something I had done before. However I really wanted to make the effort to get away from my keyboard for a while and give myself the opportunity to meet some new clients.

I found the Big Circle event to be friendly and small. It was billed as having 300+ people booked in to attend, but there were only about 20 exhibitors. There were however lots of people milling about. The event lasted for a morning: between 9.30 and 1.30 which allowed people to get there in time and to get back to the office if they need to. The refreshment stand was quite expensive considering I only wanted a hot water because I drink decaf tea and take my own teabags – they still charged me £1! I decided not to ask about any of the snacks!

I met some great people at the Expo. I would like to say hi to Natalie of Nutcracker Design, Rosie of Revmarketing, Richard and Ian at Charles Design and Adrian of Clarify Copywriting. I also met a friend there who had gone quite independently. I enjoyed my time and gave out some of my (new) cards (thanks, Beanprint!).

So if you are thinking of going to your first networking event, here are five things that you should bear in mind:

1. Know where you are going. Obvious, right? I’ve gone past the stadium a few times, but I’ve never gone in before. I ended up going round the wrong way before I found my way in and I was already late because I didn’t…

2. Allow plenty of time to get there. This is not always easy when you have a family to get out the door as well. Then you get on the M5 and it is crawling at 20 mph due to roadworks! I was not on time yesterday, but I didn’t give up and made sure that I did eventually arrive at the exhibition.

3. It actually doesn’t matter if you’re late. I missed a speaker and it took me a little while to organise myself, but as I arrived, people were leaving and others were arriving. People were working to their own timetables and that’s the nature of business. At least I had arrived and I was giving myself that chance to network.

4. You don’t need to do everything straight away. I decided not to take part in the speed networking and I missed the speakers. I arrived too late to hear one speaker, and I was enjoying talking to one of the exhibitors during the start of another one. It would be interesting and next time I might factor in one of the speakers. I might also decide to speed network, but I met some interesting people and still got to chat.

5. Remember your business cards. I had some new cards made because my last set did not have my website on. I have also changed since I last had some cards done. I enjoyed swapping cards and it’s a great way to pass on your details.

I would recommend taking the plunge and starting to network as a way of increasing your freelance business. Freelancing can be lonely and it is great to get out of the office and talk to like-minded people and make new contacts. I will definitely attend one of these events again. It could get addictive.

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Circle Events Network Big Expo September 2012

One of my goals this year was to try a network event. I have decided to go to the Circle Events Big Expo at Worcester on 12th September. Maybe I’ll see you there.

It’s not too far away, it’s a morning event and I can fit it into my schedule. I’m hoping to meet with lots of business owners, introduce myself and talk to prospective clients. It’s the first time I’ve done something like this, but I’m hoping that it will enable me to increase my client base. It will also be interesting to see what is going on in the business world.

Let me know if you are going, or what kind of business networking events you have attended. What kind of advice would you give to someone going to one of these events for the first time?

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