Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is Your Niche Hurting Your Business?

Lori Widmer had a fascinating post the other day about discrimination--more specifically, discrimination against a certain kind of niche market: working moms. There's a big Work-At-Home-Mom (WAHM) niche out there, and some freelancers market themselves largely or exclusively under this title. Lori's position is that doing this can invite discrimination against a). those who work from home and b). parents, particularly moms (there doesn't seem to be a correspondingly big niche group of WAHD freelancers out there).

I have nothing but respect for working moms. Being a parent is a full-time job in itself, and I can only imagine that trying to be a full-time freelancer and a full-time parent at the same time is brutal. I could imagine that if I managed to be reasonably successful at doing both, I'd want to broadcast it to everyone. Hell, I'd want to put it on my business cards. But I can also see Lori's point--that presenting yourself as a work-at-home-mom invites employers to see you as something other than a businessperson, and that's not a good thing. If I were a client, I could understand hesitation about hiring a freelancer who seems to be so wrapped up in her off-work life that she identifies herself with it in business.

So this got me thinking about other ways we try to niche-market ourselves that may invite discrimination. Here's what I've come up with:

The Gen-Y expert. I write occasionally for Brazen Careerist, a website that caters to what's sometimes called "Gen-Y Thought Leaders." I've had people categorize me under this label several times. It's true, I am a young business owner in my 20's (for a couple more years, at any rate) and it's flattering to be called a "thought leader" of any kind. I have a great deal of respect for my peers in this age range and all they've accomplished. BUT, I'm not always comfortable being labeled a "Gen-Y" businessowner. The phrase "Gen-Y" comes with its own baggage, probably the most prominent of which is "young"--and by association, "inexperienced." You've also got other doozies like "entitled" and "demanding"--none of which are things I want clients thinking about when they think of me.

The Creative. I'm a creative person. I write poetry, short fiction, and novels. I love slam poetry and have a serious crush on Taylor Mali. I also act and sing and do all kinds of artsy things. Do I bring it up to clients? No, unless it's relevant to the job. Creativity often doesn't go hand-in-hand with business savvy in popular conception, although in real life this is definitely not always the case. As a freelance writer, I feel it's crucial to present myself first as a businessperson, second as a writer--because "writer" falls under "creative," and it feels to me like my work could be valued less if my creativity were promoted over my business sense.

The Work-at-Homer. There's an automatic association out there that if you work from home, you don't have a real job. If you're a freelancer, I'm sure you've experienced this. Everyone out there who's had a friend, family member or spouse ask you to watch the kids, pick up so-and-so from the airport, or do a little more housework because "you know, you're home anyway" raise your hand. See? I rest my case. Anyway, I don't make a big deal of my work-from-home status either because I'm aware that it seems more professional to work from a big spiffy office that's, you know, in a place other than your house.

I don't like to promote these sides of myself to clients, and i'm not sure it's smart to. But I have great respect for all of these types of people--they're all me. What do you avoid putting on your marketing materials?

Friday, March 6, 2009

In The Recession, What Do You Put Up With?

I have a client who is semi-regular, and who's never been great at communicating what they want. I usually get a ton of revisions back on even the simplest project. I do the revisions asked for, and get emails back saying I didn't do what was asked. They have a very difficult time communicating what they want, and change their minds frequently. In earlier times, I might have drawn the line at some point--cut ties and decided this client and I were not a good match. But lately I've been going out of my way to keep them happy instead.

Why? Maybe it's all the scary economic stories in the news. Maybe it's the stories from other freelancers I know that clients are hiring less and paying less. But I've been thinking lately--alhthough I haven't been having trouble getting work myself--that it's prudent to hang on to what I have, even when it isn't ideal.

So does the recession make us put up with more than we would when times are good? And how much does the news have an impact on our attitudes--rather than our own experiences? Personally, I've found myself becoming more conservative and unwilling to walk away from less-than-ideal business relationships than I might have been in the past.

This may not be a good thing--in nearly every case, when I've walked away from a less-than-perfect client relationship (and it hasn't been very often at all), it's only freed up time to find a better client and project. It seems to make sense to me that a depressed economy would make us all less risk-averse--and less likely to improve our circumstances as well.

So what do you put up with because of economic fears? And are those fears based on your own experiences, or what you've been hearing?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Collecting Strong Testimonials

Testimonials are a crucial part of selling anything in writing, because the bottom line is that no matter how great you say you are, you're still a biased party--you have a vested interest in selling people on your own service or product. In the process of getting my new website up, I realized that I didn't have testimonials--but I needed them. And sometimes I collect them for clients.

Not all testimonials do a great job of adding credibility, however. Here are a few tips for collecting testimonials that will do an effective job of selling you.

First: ask. Ask every client you work with if they'd be willing to write you a testimonial. Make it a habit. Make it part of the close-out process, like sending out that final invoice. It's just as important; that testimonial you collect could get you the next job. If you're not sure whether the project went fabulously, simply send out a questionnaire and let them know you'd like feedback on your services in the interest of improving them. Don't forget to ask if they'd mind if you use what they say in your marketing material. If they mind, you'll still get valuable feedback.

Get results. If you're going to buy a service, you want proof that it works. Vague testimonials like "Stan did a great job on my website copy" are all well and good, but what you really want are those quantifiable results: "Stan's website copy increased our hits by 12,000 per month and boosted revenue 30% in the first two months!" This is the kind of testimonial that will get you new clients. So in your questionnaire, be sure to ask what results your clients have seen from your work.

Leave room at the end. There are intangible benefits to working with you as well--maybe you're really easy to work with or helped the client find out something new about a key demographic. Always ask an additional question at the end that says something like "any other thoughts on your experience working with this company?" You might get a really useful quote that you wouldn't have gotten otherwise, because you didn't ask the right question.

Testimonials are important in both your client projects and your own marketing. Collect them early, collect them often, and you'll likely see an increase in business.