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Kim Wilson
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Eight Timely Techniques to Decrease Your Non-Billable Time By Using the Internet
by Brian S. Konradt of BSK Communications and Associates

If you've been guilty of not marketing every day, it is probably because you'd rather be working on your client's project. The reason: any time you stop work on your client's project to do your own marketing, you don't get paid. Marketing is non-billable time.

If someone paid freelancers to do their marketing, they'd do it on a daily basis—not just on the weekends, or in quick "spurts" or once a month when their work schedules seem less hectic.

By learning to manage technology, you can learn to manage your time more effectively to reduce non-billable time and increase your billable time. The Internet is one such technology which helps you achieve this outcome. Here's how to do it.

1. Establish your own Web site.
Plenty of freelancers establish their own Web sites, not only as a cost-effective way to gather leads, but also as a way to reduce non-billable time. Your Web site can resemble an online portfolio that contains visuals of your samples, information about your services, as well as any promotional or informational material that can answer most prospective clients' questions.

Next time prospective clients request information about your services or to view visuals of your work, lure them to your Web site. It'll help reduce time and money required to mail your package of materials.

Your Web site can also be an effective "independent marketing machine" that pulls in leads and inquiries by itself, providing you advertise your Web site on your traditional marketing materials and allow your Web site address to "circulate" in the major search engines, databases and business directories.

2. Use the Internet for faster business assessments.
In the past when a freelancer acquired a new client account, he or she would ask the client to mail as much information about the company, which may include its history, services or products, its competition, and so on. Today there is a good chance that your prospective clients have their own Web sites which you can visit to drum up a lot of the information you need to assist you on future projects or to sell yourself more effectively to them.

In addition, much of the information at your clients' Web sites can be printed to your printer or saved to your harddrive, to store away in your file cabinet or to read off-line.

3. Dig up work locally and nationally with online business databases.
Online business databases can be an effective way to uncover potential businesses that are most likely to need your freelance services. Within seconds, online business databases can whirl through 16+ million U.S. businesses and abstract specific types of businesses locally or nationally.  Many online business databases also include additional information, such as company Web site addresses, e-mail addresses, company size, revenue, type of products or services, and so on.

In addition to online business databases, many popular business and industry directories are online, such as the Thomas Register, an enormous resource of U.S. manufacturers in different industries, which you can speedily search through for free. Its Web site address is http://www.thomasregister.com.

4. Use e-mail to speed up response and to increase client communications.
An obvious use of the Internet is e-mail. When you need to ask your client a minor question, there is no need to call his office and have his secretary put you on hold for five minutes or be told that he's in a meeting or out to lunch. You can e-mail your question to the client and have him reply at his convenience. This avoids wasting unnecessary time waiting for the client to pick up the phone and it also can eliminate long distance phone calls.

Clients are also using e-mail to send freelancers detailed instructions about the project being worked on, and freelancers are using e-mail to send clients daily or weekly progress reports to update clients about the project's progress.

Another useful benefit of e-mail is the freelancer can e-mail his finished copy or graphic design to the client, without wasting time and money packaging it and sending it FedEx.

5. Join subscription lists and bring networking to your computer screen.
Thousands upon thousands of "Listserv" groups exist on every imaginable topic for you to join, free of charge. These "Listservs," also know as "subscription lists" or "mailing lists," bring posts to your e-mail account, which you can respond to or post your own message for others to reply. Visit your bookstore and buy an Internet White Pages or Yellow Pages directory or search the search engines to uncover subscription lists that attract your types of clients. By doing so, you can begin "Internet-working," a term I coined to define networking with prospective clients via posts and threaded discussions. Internet-working can steadily build rapport and establish relationships—and potentially get you work from these Internet business people.

Another benefit of joining Listserv lists is that, when you need a question answered, professionals who subscribe to the list will answer it with sound, quality advice. Sometimes it is often faster than drumming up information from a book or searching for it on the Internet; besides, information from a book or from the Internet is generally not specifically customized to satisfy your needs. When I needed to find freelance rates on copy editing for an academic book for the New Jersey area, I posted the question on a writing-related Listserv, and within a day, writers responded with advice slanted to specifically answer my question.

6. Use search engines to search for specific information.
Need to find facts, quotes, statistics or interviews for an article, brochure or sales letter? Us the "major" search engines like Yahoo! or Excite. Over the last year, I have gotten most of my interviews off of the Internet. I search for professionals in specific industries using the "major" search engines, visit their Web sites, and collect additional information about them to determine if they might be appropriate for the topic of my article. I then leave an e-mail introducing who I am, what I need, and if they are willing to provide me with quotes and information. I no longer call colleagues or other people to recommend someone who'd potentially be a great interviewee. I search the Internet instead because the search engines give me dozens and dozens of choices.

7. Create "electronic" response devices to solicit the specifics of prospects before you speak with them.
When you establish your Web site, make sure you create an electronic response device, such as an online reply card, an estimate form, or a questionnaire so you can solicit the needs of prospects. A basic electronic response device asks prospects what their problems are, their present and future needs, if they might be interested in your services, what their budgets are for this project, and if they'd like you to call back to discuss their needs in detail. Electronic response devices are quick to complete and the information is sent instantly to your e-mail account. A wieldy benefit is that you have much of the vital information necessary to develop a viable selling strategy to secure work from prospects before you even speak with them.

8. Model what other successful freelancers are doing by studying their Web sites.
A favorite hobby of mine is to visit Web sites of other freelancers to study how they operate their businesses, what they charge, who their clients are, what services they offer their clients, and to read their promotional and informational materials to determine what works best and what works least with their Web site content. You can do the same. Study Web sites of established freelancers and model what's working successfully for them. By itself this approach can give you some headway to succeeding.

Brian Konradt is the owner and operator of FreelanceWriting.com, a Web site dedicated to help writers master the business and creative sides of freelance writing. Mr. Konradt is also the principal of BSK Communications & Associates, a communications/publishing business in New Jersey, which he established in 1992.









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