2015 was a pretty epic year for us with our online business endeavours.
If you’re a subscriber to our blog, then you’ll have been receiving our monthly income & expenditure reports where we detail how and where we spend our money as we travel the world.
First of all, this post isn’t to brag or blow our trumpets. After all, things could go completely belly-up this year (2016); which is one of the turbulent disadvantages of a freelance online business.
The reason for the post is to show how changing your mindset in business, as well as incorporating a new method of organisation can have a dramatic effect on your bottom line.
Having a 6 figure business in 2015
For those of you who are new to NextStopWhoKnows, we created a small freelance writing business back in January 2013 and we outsource 100% of the work to a team of writers that we’ve assembled over the years.
Back when we started this freelancing business, we had a simple goal; to make €2,000 a month.
That was what we figured we’d need each month to live in somewhere like Thailand.
Growing the business over the following 3 years took a lot of time and effort and it had its ups and downs. Some months were quiet, while others were crazy busy.
The only thing that was consistent was the unpredictability of things!
So we needed to somehow find a way to streamline operations a little better on our end. We had a long brainstorming session when we returned home from our 8 month trip to South America at the end of 2014 to come up with some solutions to doing just that.
The first part of our plan was to have a base where we could devote a few months to nothing but work.
Factor #1: Having a base to focus on work
We choose Chiang Mai, Thailand as the location that we wanted to spend a few months in. We’d lived there for 3 months back at the end of 2013 and we loved it so we knew what was in store for us.
Chiang Mai is probably the digital hotspot of Asia, if not the world right now.
You’re surrounded by co-working office spaces, numerous cafes and other people who all work online. The networking possibilities in Chiang Mai are excellent.
We arrived in Chiang Mai at the start of March last year and signed a 5 month lease on an apartment there.
We had a goal and that goal was to really dig deep into our business and see if we could increase both our monthly revenue, and our profit margin.
It’s easy to get burned out while travelling constantly, and the 8 months in South America left us feeling like a long break was needed to recharge the batteries. That’s why Chiang Mai was so appealing for us.
We met tons of new friends there who were all working on their own businesses and so our time was super productive and laser focused for 5 months.
This lead us to the second factor that opened things up a little more for us…
Factor #2: Giving a little away for free…
Back in April, we decided to try something out that a lot of people in the freelance world would definitely frown upon.
We offered a “free trial” to a few clients who contacted us through referrals from existing clients.
Now, I know some of you must be thinking, “well if they were referred to you in the first place, then why give them a free product”?
We’re all about building relationships with potential clients and this is especially worth our effort if we think something long-term could come out of it.
That attitude has worked out well for us, with a lot of clients speaking with us as if we are friends, instead of business associates.
So, when a potential client (who we thought might be a solid long-term client based on what their requirements were) contacted us looking for a content deal, we sweetened the pot by offering them a free article or couple of articles to make sure we were what they were looking for.
Since our business is 100% outsourced to our excellent team of writers we knew that our time wouldn’t be affected. Our writers would still get paid for their work, so that meant it would be us that would be taking the financial risk.
If the client didn’t come back with an order, or they didn’t like the content they received, then we lost some “advertising money” – that’s all.
Luckily only one company didn’t bite back after they were offered the pot sweetener. The results were all massively positive and they liked that fact that we gave them a sampler of our writing capabilities for free so to speak.
Let me clear up one thing however, if I was writing these articles myself, then no, I would never give a client a freebie. It’s my time after all that I’m trading for money, so I wouldn’t even think about offering that deal.
In our situation though, since we outsource everything, the writer still gets paid obviously, and we’re the ones who are taking the gamble.
Giving a free tester is like spending money on advertising in our situation
I also would never give a potential client who isn’t associated with a company a free tester either. So if they have a @gmail.com or @hotmail.com email address then it’s a pay upfront first deal.
We’ve talked about this at length with a few other people in the same business model as ourselves and they agree that it’s something worth trying out.
We gained a lot of trust from a few new clients using this tactic and they’re aware that we operate with a solid team of writers and they’re happy with what they receive.
This factor opened a few gates for us and allowed us to increase our monthly income significantly from June onwards.
It all boiled down to us building a good friendly relationship with them initially. I’ve always said that when it comes to business, if they price is right then who is a client going to give the business to at the end of the day; a person they like, or a person they don’t like?
It’s sometimes as simple as that!
However great the above helped us, it wasn’t until we implemented the next piece of the plan that we really saw huge results.
Factor #3: Using Trello as a project management tool
Up until July of last year we’d been using just gmail to collaborate with our team of writers. We’d been happy using gmail up until then, but as the number of writers on our team increased from 15 up to 30+ we were finding it extremely difficult to manage things through email.
We had started to dread opening up our email as it was a mess and had no visual indications of what needed to be done or what needed preference etc.
I had tried using “labels” in gmail, but it just didn’t seem intuitive and it eventually got on my nerves….a lot!
Our good friend Lise from Outsourced Freelancing Success told us that we should give Trello a try a few months previously. She was using it for her own business and said it could definitely help us with ours.
Ignorance and a “I’ll try it out one day” attitude on my behalf meant another few months would slip by before we had enough of things with email.
For anyone that doesn’t know what Trello is, it’s basically a “to-do” task manager of sorts. Except its got a lot more functionality built into it.
In simple terms, Trello organises any project into boards. It visually tells you what you need to work on, who’s working on what, and where exactly a project is in the process.
It’s a brilliantly simple, easy to use collaboration tool that has streamlined our business to no end.
Now, we have all our writers set up with their own personal board inside Trello. Within their board, we have a few lists set up which contain a “card” and each of these cards are individual work orders.
The process goes from a writer moving the work card into an “accepted or rejected” list. If they accept it then they work on it and place it in a “to review” list once they’re done with it.
If they “reject” it then we offer it to another writer etc.
In addition to these lists, boards and cards, theres’a also a colour labelling and notification system implemented. So now we never have to remind a writer that a project it due as Trello does this 24 hours beforehand automatically.
Simple things like that make the likes of Trello a huge productivity hack for us.
Of course there’s plenty of programs like Trello on the market. Asana is another app, which has a lot more advanced features.
For now, we don’t need those features for what we do and Trello will remain to be our number one business tool for quite some time I imagine.
Time = Money
Ok, so how exactly does Trello make us money?
It’s the time it saves us and how it has streamlined our business that makes it so valuable.
Instead of spending hours figuring out what emails need action, we just look at Trello and see what needs our attention.
This has freed up a huge chunk of time for us, so that we can concentrate on working on the parts of our business that actually make us money – working with clients and scaling our business.
In August, we had our first €10,000+ month which was a compound effect of all 3 factors above. The year finished off excellently too with our biggest month to date in December!
We’ve received a lot of emails asking us how we scaled our business up over the €100,000 mark in 2015, so this post explains the key factors that we believe were the driving force behind the result.
It’s now the start of March, and we’re working on trying to replicate the success of last year if possible, while travelling around Europe for most of the year! I’m sure I’ll have a few new tools and tips to share with you guys in time so stay tuned as we’re always refining our processes in a bid to increase our productivity and revenue while spending less hours in front of the laptop.
That’s the goal – right? 🙂
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