Monday, December 14, 2009

On Being The Freelancer Your Client Calls in an Emergency

I have a very good friend who works for a company that hires freelancers. We often have conversations about what life is like on the other side. I love hearing her insight on what it's like to work as a creative director or marketing manager with freelancers every day--and what they look for.

One thing that came up recently was the idea that a great freelancer is one who is "no hassles"--they can be called up even in an emergency and can turn work around quickly. For many corporate creative leaders, the freelancer they'll work with is the one who can be called up in an emergency, and can fix a problem--no fuss, no muss.

I am all about making my clients' lives easier. But this particular issue made me think. Here's why I think it's tough--for all but a few, probably impossible--to really be that "emergency" freelancer on a consistent basis.

Because next-day turnaround requires client cooperation. As a corporate manager, if you have an internal issue, you can call on whatever employee is expected to take care of it, and that person will do it. Period. You don't have to sign a contract. You don't have to send out a deposit. You don't have to clear it with your boss before you spend the money.

I can't count how many times a client has gotten in touch with an emergency situation--then when I say yes, I can get it done tomorrow provided I have a signed contract faxed and a deposit in my Paypal account, everything goes silent. I've never figured out why this is--but I think it has to do with the fact that the client is too busy to handle the details of actually hiring me. My response to the idea that a good freelancer is one who can be counted on in an emergency-turnaround situation is that I can sometimes do that--but it requires client cooperation.

Because you probably have other work to do. If you're the boss at a company, you're used to everyone doing their work as it's prioritized by you. Freelancers still see you as the boss--but of their particular project with you, not their entire practice. A freelancer may not be able to handle a next-day project because he or she has other projects scheduled for that week--and so might not be able to accommodate a rush project.

Because I'm not a full-time employee. Here's the crux of the problem, I think. Sometimes people who work for companies are used to having full-time employees around. They get to know where the employees are all the time, make sure the employees are dedicating all of their work time to the company, and get fast turnaround on requests. Freelancers can't be available on demand the way employees are. We have multiple projects and clients to juggle--and we have to maintain a schedule that makes sure every project gets the time and attention it requires.

When I can accommodate a client who needs an emergency rush job, I do. But it's not all the time--and lately it's been less and less likely. What do you do when a client confuses you for a full-timer?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Myths And Facts About Marketing

I received a fascinating response to an old post the other day. Go ahead and read it. Then come back.

So I've been meaning to write a response to this for a while, but each response turned into a lengthy diatribe. So I thought I'd better post it here. This is an attitude on marketing that I confess I used to have before it became critical to my business's survival. Once I hit that point, i lost a lot of my hesitancy about it right quick. But more to the point, once I thought through some of these objections to marketing, I realized they didn't hold water.

Myth 1: Marketing requires an advanced degree. The poster says that "Marketing is not a way of life. It is a highly specialized skill set. Colleges teach classes in it and offer degrees in it. To say that the typical small business person should "market" themself is to demand that they undertake a specialized area of activity for which they have no particular qualification."

OK, in some positions and especially for larger companies, you might need a marketing degree. You might need to conduct market surveys and gather data and orchestrate nationwide, multi-media campaigns to numerous target markets. But for many small businesses, that's not what you're doing. You're writing up a brochure to leave with clients. You're creating and mailing some simple postcards with VistaPrint. You're calling or emailing five or ten people a day and telling them about your services. Or maybe you're joining a business networking group you found through That's it. No special degree required.

As to your chosen marketing methods, you could cold call, send postcards, send emails, set up a regular e-zine, or do all of those--or something else. Just try a bunch of things and see what works, and most importantly, what you'll stick with. You don't have to have an advanced degree to market your skills. Persistence pays off.

Myth 2: Marketing is universally annoying. The poster stated that "I have always found marketing and the marketing mindset offensive. Why, then, should I try to market to others?" The thing is, while most people just put up with ads, sometimes you see ads for something you actually want, and at a good price--and then you're probably glad you saw that ad.

Marketing isn't universally annoying--especially to people who want and need what you offer. A successful "marketing mindset" starts with the idea that someone out there wants what you're selling--and if you don't believe that yourself, maybe you should find a different line of work.

"Tooting your own horn" is somehow bad. The most interesting thing the poster said, in my opinion, is this:

"Marketing basically involves creating the illusion for the potential customer that you are better than the other people in your line of work. Unless you're somebody fairly exceptional, you're probably NOT appreciably better at your profession than the competition. If you really ARE the highly talented cream of the crop, you will stand out and gain a reputaion by that fact alone. There's no need to involve yourself in a 'snow job' that is degrading of your own self-respect and demonstrates contempt for the discernment of your potential customers. "

The idea that marketing involves creating the illusion that you're better than others in your field is NOT necessarily true. Your marketing need not contain any mention at all of others in your field. Instead of making negative statements about how you're better than them, you can make positive statements about why you're the right fit for their company. Maybe you have a background in the industry. it doesn't have to be implicitly insulting to someone else--and it shouldn't be.

Just because you're willing to stand up, wave your arms and shout "Over here!" doesn't mean you're also shouting "Everyone else stinks!" When I market, I'm not doing it with the mindset that I'm better than other copywriters. I'm doing it with the idea that I might be a good choice because I'm a better fit for that company. Or maybe I'm the only one who stuck my neck out to get noticed. You don't have to be "fairly exceptional" to have the right to market your services.

If you're the best, the business will come to you. Boy, do I wish this were true. There's nothing I love more than a meritocracy. But the real world doesn't work like that, as countless famous, highly gifted artists who died in poverty will tell you. Half the financial success of an artist lies in marketing. Nobody will buy your novel if they can't find it in stores, even if it's the best work of your generation. And nobody will hire you as a copywriter if you don't tell them you exist.

Marketing is not an implicitly insulting or shameful practice--or an arcane discipline that only a chosen few can understand. It's persistence, plain and simple. It's showing up. It's putting yourself in front of clients on a consistent basis, doing a great job, and building a relationship over time. It's also how small businesses--and large businesses--survive and thrive.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Slow-Ball Client...And What You Can Do

Recently I've been thinking a lot about clients who take their time on revisions--slowing you down when it comes to invoicing for your remaining payment. I find this very frustrating, and lately it's led to a few cash flow problems--not to mention scheduling issues when clients come back for revisions long after I thought the project would be over and done with.

Here are a few solutions I've been contemplating. Some of them are a little out there--but all are pretty tempting.

Charging twice what I need. I determine my prices based on what I need to make to keep my business afloat and pay bills. When I have to wait a long time to get half that from each project, it can cause cash flow problems. Lately my rebellious side has been considering quoting twice what I need on every project, so that I know I can meet my own needs with just the 50% deposit. This way I can sit back, relax and wait for the rest to come in when the project is finished--no more worrying about bills when the end of the month rolls around and the client hasn't gotten back about revisions. It's a bold move, but wouldn't it be great?

Putting it in the contract. This one's a bit more realistic. I've started adding a clause that states something like "remainder will be invoiced upon completion of project OR two weeks from delivery of first draft--whichever comes first." That way I'm not hanging around waiting for a client to get back to me with feedback before sending the invoice.

Charging 100% up front. Some writers refuse to do this, but I kind of think it's reasonable--especially for smaller projects.

What do you do to keep projects rolling?

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Writerly Limits

Lori Widmer over at Words on the Page had an interesting post a while back on "writerly limits." Her post was about advertising on your blog, and what you will and won't accept--but this post got me thinking about other limits.

I tend to be pretty flexible. It's why I'm my own boss--I love the freedom. But there are a few limits I have--both in business and in the practice of writing. Here they are:

I won't work without a contract--and a deposit. I've had clients before who were in a huge hurry--such a hurry they didn't have time to wait for the contract to be signed, the check to be sent, and so on. That doesn't work for me. Unless the proper framework is set for a business relationship, I don't work. It's too easy to get burned.

I don't work without knowing everything I need to know. It's crucial to have all the info necessary to sell the product. That usually means, for me, a client interview to go over the audience, their needs, and how the product or service meets those needs. I've had clients want to breeze through this part or fill out a questionnaire online instead--which is fine, as long as I can get all the info I need. I tell clients that the more work we do together up front, the less work there will be in revisions later on.

I don't take on too much at a time. It's tough to turn down work. But it's crucial for me to accept my own limitations. I need time to work on personal projects, marketing, and nothing at all.

I don't make myself available all the time. I've found if I'm available by phone all the time, I might as well have a full-time job--because I have to stay home in case the phone rings. I don't like working that way. I like running errands during the day or meeting a friend for a long lunch, then catching up on work at night. I like working in cafe's and even in parks. I don't like being accountable for all my time or staying in one place--it's why I left the corporate world. These days, I schedule my phone calls strictly, keep the necessary phone calls to clients at one if at all possible, and keep other communications to email.

What are your limits?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Nano Could Be Good for Your Business

I've participated in NaNoWriMo every year. For those who don't know, the odd almost-acronym stands for "National Novel Writing Month," and it's an event in November where you're encouraged to try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

I've done Nano for three years now. My first year, I didn't finish. My second year, I made the 50K mark--and went on to finish my first novel, which is now in the editing process. This year, I also made 50K--and it seemed much less painful this time than last. Now I have one first draft in the editing stage, and am halfway through something new--not a bad start to my goal of becoming a novelist.

Many people I talk to who want to write use their perfectionism as a crutch to keep them forever in the first-draft stage. They labor over every sentence, and each paragraph must be a work of art. Predictably, they lose momentum for months--even years--because their novel can never live up to the masterpiece they want it to be. I've been trying to write novels since I was ten--and up until a few years ago, this was how I operated too.

But there was something powerful about sitting down every day, for a period of time, to accomplish a specific goal. I powered through the doubt--and eventually I accomplished significant things. And it made me think--in what areas of my life am I getting in my own way?

Like novels, I often let perfectionism get in my way. With marketing, for example--I never want to send out a mailing until my website is perfect or my logo is updated. Not needed. All I need to do is sit down, put together a list, order some postcards, and wait for the business.

The same with networking events. I say I never have time--but I do. I just need to sit down, choose one--there are always a million going on in New York--and go. Better yet, make it a habit.

I'm starting to think I need to apply the discipline of Nano to other areas of my life. Where could you make use of it?