I’ve recently starting writing for FreelanceWriting.com. These articles will focus on business issues and challenges facing freelance writers. Other communication pros – graphic designers, writers, p.r. folks, yada, yada, yada – will benefit as well.
Within the article, I look into the nature of referrals, their sources, how to get them and make the most of them … all while not alienating or otherwise freaking out the referrer.
Yup. Although it’s not often discussed, providing a referral can put the referrer, your client or colleague, in a somewhat awkward position. That’s generally a bad thing and not a place where you want to position the source, namely your client or colleague. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot, after all, and make an otherwise excellent relationship go down the tubes.
In the article, I offer up some thoughts about generating referrals. Not just any ‘ole referral, though. We want referrals that are packed with punch – timely, prequalified, high quality and the kind where the prospect is chomping at the bit to hire you.
While you’re on FreelanceWriting.com, poke around the site. It’s excellent and loaded with value. Brian Scott is the guy at the helm. Scott steers the site in a direction that’s authentically valuable to freelance writers. No, it really is. That’s where “authentically,” means packed with resources, links, articles and … ta da! … freelance gig opportunities (also known as jobs). How refreshing when there are so many sites that promise the writers world and deliver jack … Well, you get the idea
You know the ropes. Bookmark the site and check back [often] for new and insightful articles that will result in the alignment of the planet, peace on Earth and all sorts of nifty stuff … or not.
I have a new article on GraphicDesign.com. Actually, it’s the first of the three-part series about graphic designers and presentations.
The first deals with handling the job interview, which is a type of presentation. If you don’t nail this one, the other two won’t matter too much.
The second installment addresses the new business presentation. If you work at a firm or agency, you might be thinking, “Hey, that’s not my job. The account exec does that stuff.” AEs might be the liaison between the clients and creatives, but many prospects wants to meet the people on the creative team before they sign on the dotted line.
The third installment is deals with the design presentation. After your stellar performance at the new business presentation, you landed the client. Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to designing. With concepts in hand, you’re off to see the client. How you handle this presentation can mean countless revisions or worse, losing the client. Conversely, handle it right and your client will be doing the happy dance and singing your praises.
New business is the lifeblood of an independent professional’s practice. Sure, we all want to bring in a new client. We want to fill up the job roster with nifty projects that challenge us and allow us to shine in whatever it is we do.
But, new business can also be a double-edged sword. Like Damocles, there’s a sword hanging overhead that can kill a business in a subtle, clandestine way. Here’s how.
Let’s say you’ve been courting a big potential client for a while. You’ve done all you could to demonstrate your value and build the relationship. Yet, you know that the time invested in the courtship is futile until something changes. There needs to be a falling out with their current supplier or perhaps it’s a project with an impossible deadline that their current supplier or in-house staff can’t handle.
So you wait. You keep in touch and wait some more.
Then one day the phone rings. It’s the prospect asking if you can come in and take a look at a project. Hallelujah! Your heart be still. You don your best threads and head off for the meeting.
It turns out to be a rather involved project and yes, there’s a next to impossible deadline. You tell the client, “No problem,” and head off to roll up your sleeves and get this beast handled and completed in record time.
Come presentation day, you stand in front of the client’s key movers and shakers. You dazzle them with your brilliance and they sign off on the finished deliverables.
Whew! You did it.
After the meeting, your contact asks you into their office. It seems your contact person was so impressed with your abilities that they have two more projects for you. Woo hoo! The planets have aligned and you feel like you’ve hit the mother lode.
As you’re working on the new project the client sends over a few more. Yowza! You’ll be rolling in the dough in no time.
This goes on for several months and you believe the gig gods have smiled upon you. Your cash is flowing and all appears well with the world.
And then you get a call. You don’t know the person on the other end and they tell you they’re Mr. Contact’s replacement. Seems Mr. Contact at your bread and butter client has … er … left the company rather quickly. Ms. Replacement informs you that your services will no longer be needed as they’re bring in their “own people.”
Your heart sinks as you fire up your accounting software. As you look over the financial reports, you quickly realize that bread and butter client represented over 70% of your revenue. Now, in addition to a sinking heart is a cold sweat and an aching sensation in your stomach.
Questions begin to fire off in your mind. “How did this happen?” “What will I do now?” “Am I going to need to close down my business and look for a day job?”
While there are several points that can be addressed in hindsight, the bottom line is that either you start prospecting for new clients or make the decision to find a 9 to 5 job and either work evenings on your client stuff or bite the bullet and shut down your business.
This is a scenario that happens all too often. Plus, it doesn’t only happen to freelancers or independents. It can happen to any size business if they don’t keep a finger on the pulse of revenue breakdowns.
I know of a company that, over the years, put all their revenue eggs into one basket. Things worked great for years. And then it happened. Their deep-pocket client went belly-up and the company was left reeling and shell shocked. When I spoke with the owner about it, he said that he never imagined this could happen. As a matter of fact, he looked at other client work as simply gravy. Revenue from their main client company pretty much paid the staff’s salaries and the office overhead. As the song, That’s Life,” says, they were “ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.
The take-away lesson here is Don’t Do It. The temptation is to keep taking on Big Bucks, Inc. projects and let other opportunities slide. The next thing you know is that Big Buck’s is representing 30% of your revenue. Then 50%. Then 75%. While you’re doing the happy dance, thinking everything is wonderful, a disaster is waiting to happen.
Ideally, no single client should represent more than 30% of your revenue. 25% is even better. If you land a client that has the potential to send you a lot of work, it’s time to start looking for a clone of them. That’s how business grow.
It’s a good idea to run your financial reports once each month to see where your revenue is coming from and how much from each client. It’s easy to be fooled by the project roster. You appear to be in great shape with lots of projects, but, you can find yourself digging a hole that can be very tough to climb out of when most of the work is coming from one source.
Here’s a choice for you. Either you can buckle down and plan your career or, like so many, let your career just happen to you. If you opt for the latter, many years down the road you may well find yourself asking, “Hey self, where did the years go and what the heck happened?”
That would be a bad thing. It’s especially bad when you realize you’re 70 years old and putting in your application for the oh so glamorous position as a greeter for Wal-Mart.
It doesn’t have to work out that way. Planning your career is paramount, especially if you’re young, full of ambition along with a dash of spit and vinegar.
Here are 3 tips for boosting your career as a creative.
1. Learn All You Can
Sure, you go to school to learn the ins and outs of your discipline. But it doesn’t stop at graduation. Learning is something you’ll do for the rest of life. Get used to it.
The creative landscape is ever changing. There are always new techniques to learn and master. You might be like me and think that just when you have a handle on things, they change the rules.
I’ve never been too sure about who “they” are, but I do know that I need to keep up with them in order to stay relevant. For me, I learned all about graphic design, the tools of the trade, its history and the like. Well … marker layouts, X-Acto knives, paste-ups and rubylith overlays gave way to PageMaker, QuarkXpress and, ultimately, InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Then came the Web, HTML, CSS, WordPress, yada, yada, yada. It’s enough to make your head explode. But, I had to keep up with the evolution.
It’s not just about design, writing, illustration or photography. To be successful, you need to learn about the business end. You’ll have meetings to attend, proposals to present, sales to close, etc. That’s a requirement whether you work for a company or go off on your own. Before I hung out my shingle and opened my business, I spent several years learning the business side. I worked as a designer and photographer, but also as a sales rep, marketing manager and as a director of production and promotion for a magazine. I worked for ad agencies, design firms, publications and corporations. Paying my dues paid off and when I set out on my own, I was confident that I had learned a solid foundation of business know-how.
I recently did and interview with Kieron Lewis, a young, upcoming graphic designer based in London. He hit the nail on the head with his answer to the question, “Any words of advice for those considering a career in graphic design?”
“The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).
This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”
As my Italian grandmother would have said, “Mamma mia, atsa lotta words.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t talk too much anymore, being of the slightly dead persuasion. C’est la vie, or rather, c’est la mort.
Speaking of dead people, the late and utterly great, George Carlin, noted that there are 400,000 words in the English language, although there are seven of them you can’t say on television.
This was arguably one of the best comedy bits ever. At least it was if you have a somewhat warped sense of humor like moi. (Side note: What’s with the French today?)
Alas, I digress.
I love words and get a kick out of playing with them. Big words. Little words. Although I’m particularly fond of adjectives, nouns and verbs, similes and antonyms can be fun, too.
I especially like to string several words together. Methaphors. Double entendres. Palindromes. I’m easily amused. And that brings me to my thesaurus. A thesaurus is a wonderful thing. Hmmm … if you have two thesauruses, are the technically, “thesauri?” These are the things that keep me up at night. I also worry that there isn’t a rhyme for orange, but that’s a topic for another post.
At the heart of the matter is why do we choose a certain word over another? For me, it’s because, although some words might be synonyms or related words, there is usually a subtler meaning. It’s that subtle meaning that can resonate with a reader, or just me, as the case may be.
Take the word, “jingle” for example (I just used it in an article I was writing). We all know what “jingle” means. Thesaurus.com gave these alternates:
Each those words puts a different sound or picture in my wacked out mind. “Jingle” brings to mind the sound of bells on a reindeer, while “chime” brings the image of a church. “Chime” is a bolder word to me than “jingle”. And, forget about “tinkle.” As for “tintannabulate,” I don’t think I’d ever use that word. Would you? Here’s a scary stat. A study by Pfizer revealed that 43% of Web users are “low literacy” users who cannot understand a page written above a Grade 6 level.
In a similar vein, noted adman, David Olgivy once wrote in an internal agency memo, “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
You’ve got some writing talent and you’re ready to start a freelance writing career. Scary? Sure. But, if you do it right, it can be extremely rewarding both from a personal and financial standpoint. You’ll need a few things, first. A Website is pretty darn important these days, as is a presence on various social media outlets. You’ll also need some clips and/or tearsheets. In other words, your words published somewhere.
And therein lies the rub – the Catch-22.
How do you get your work published when everybody wants to see published work before they’ll hire you? It’s a dilemma every creative faces when they’re starting out. From an editor or other client type’s point-of-view, it’s understandable. They want to know you can pull off the project and they have a certain comfort factor in knowing somebody else tried you out first.
Naturally, you want to make some dough slinging all those nouns, verbs and adjectives together. If you’re really wild, you might even consider tossing in a few conjunctions, prepositions and the occasional interjection.
So, what’s a writer to do?
A good place to start is donning your philanthropic hat and seek out some nonprofits. You may get paid. “Nonprofit” doesn’t necessarily mean destitute. But, in most circumstances, it will be a volunteer effort on your part. That’s okay. You’ve got to start somewhere and nonprofits are often tickled pink to have people like you helping out. There are a couple of upsides, too. You’ll get some published work. It might be a newsletter, fundraising direct mail package or even an annual report. Now you’ve got something for show and tell.
Another good thing is that the Board members of these organizations are usually local business owners, C-level executives from area corporations and movers and shakers around town. You might just impress them enough with your wordsmithing that they hire you for one of their projects – for money. Nifty! (That’s my occasional interjection.)
The Web offers plenty of opportunity for new writers. Poke around and you can easily find sites that are hungry for content. As with nonprofits, some pay, others don’t. Even when writing for those that do pay, you won’t necessarily get rich, but it’s an excellent route to get known and get some cash to buy some more Raman Noodles. Try the search string, “write for us.” “Contribute,” “websites seeking writers,” and similar terms can also bring some decent results.
Check around and you can likely find a few local magazines and newspapers in need of a freelance writer. You could write reviews of local businesses for a start. Restaurants or local theater productions come to mind. If you have knowledge in a particular area, you may be able to land a regular column. Once again, you come away with published work while also getting your name out in the community.
Another option is writing for trade publications. These publications focus on a particular industry, such as Macaroni Monthly (There actually was a magazine with this title. No joke.). Trade pubs don’t usually pay for articles, although some do, but they’re a great way to get some additional published work and establish yourself as an expert. Check the Web for trade pubs that match your niche. Many are published by trade associations. Another site to do some hunting is TradePub.com. The site lists loads of trade magazines.
After you have some published work, the next step is drafting a few pitch letters to magazine editors and ringing up some businesses in your area. A good place to start is Writer’s Market which lists numerous places to sell your wordy wares.
And so, you’re on your way and the adventure begins.
My new book, The Freelance Writer’s Business Book, is just about done. This one is self-published, mostly as an experiment. Nothing against my publisher, Allworth Press. They’re great folks and I owe a debt of gratitude to Tad Crawford and everyone else in the Allworth family.
Things in the publishing world are moving toward self-publishing on the Net. Actually, they were moving. Now they seem to have arrived. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and PubIt.com, powered by Barnes and Noble, are a couple of platforms. Lulu.com and CreateSpace are options for folks who want a physical book printed on-demand. A quick google will yield many more.
The Freelance Writer’s Business Book covers much of what I wrote in the first one, Starting Your Career As A Freelance Web Designer, but with a focus on writers. As mentioned, I’m almost done with the book. The next step is formatting it and making it look pretty for readers. That’s the easy part.
The not-so-easy part is promoting and selling it. I’m looking into all sorts of options for promotion and distribution. It’s actually on Amazon now, but I’m not happy with the formatting in KDP and I’m going to take it down.
The promotion part isn’t too complicated. Guest posts, press release, Facebook, Twitter, yada, yada, yada. I’m working on that plan now.
The distribution is another story. I was just going to use Paypal, like I’ve done with my Rate Calculator for years. I still might go that route, but, in poking around, I’ve found several options that might be better. There’s Quixly; FetchApp; Pulley; E-junkie and Gumroad. There’s likely several others, each with their own pros and cons.
So, now it’s time to don my Sherlock Holmes hat and weight those pros and cons. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll be setting up and e-newsletter to keep folks up-to-date on the book’s progress, along with excerpts and such. If you’d like to subscribe, here’s a link.
My new book, Starting Your Career As A Musician (Allworth Press), is scheduled for release in late February or early March. Amazon says March 1, 2013. We’ll see. What happens is one fine day I open my front door and trip over a package. Voila! My copies have arrived and I know my book is printed.
This one is a departure from my usual writing fare. Most of my audience has come to expect some article about the wonders of marketing, small business how-tos and the like. Actually, this book isn’t that far of a departure. What’s different is the audience – musicians. It actually has very little to do with music and a whole lot to do with the business of being a solo act or band.
The music business has changed radically since the old days. For today’s musical act it’s much like the opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” The rest of the quote pretty much applies, too.
On one side, there’s never been a better time for musicians to steer and control their careers and potentially make more money by cutting out the middleman and going directly to the fans. On the flip side, the competition is stiffer than ever and those going direct find themselves wearing hats they never thought they would. The thing is, there’re no record label p.r. and marketing people to do the promoting of new material, booking agents to handle bookings (unless, of course, the act decides to hire one … and pay out the commission) and all the other non-music related tasks that must be done. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of work that takes up a lot of time. Several of the artists I interviewed said they spend more time promoting themselves than actually writing and playing music. Nonetheless, the rewards can be … well … rewarding, if they have some tenacity.
Within the pages of the book, I address the current state of the music industry; defining success and creating it as a musician; musical education; branding and marketing; social media; websites and selling tunes online; selling merchandise and much more. I also delve into the more mundane issues such as accounting, legalities and copyrights.
Starting Your Career As A Musician is available now for pre-order on Amazon. It seems I’m on sale for the paltry price on only $13.57.
Okay … this is something of a rant. Bear with me or indulge me. I might be spot on, totally off, or just in a lousy mood. A friend called this morning to tell me that his grandson was considering a career in graphic design. He asked for my thoughts and opinion. I couldn’t come up with a single encouraging idea. I told him to have his grandson look into another career option. I’ve been at this design stuff for a while now. All in all, roughly 35 years, give or take. In that time I’ve watched the graphic design profession slowly erode into a shadow of what it once was.
Back in the heyday of graphic design, around the 60s and into the early 70s, designers had a seat at the Board table, so to speak. Our talents, skills and opinions mattered and were seen as valuable to our clients.
In the action plans section of your marketing plan, you’ll develop a detailed marketing “to do” list. It’s a task list that describes what will be done, when each task will begin and be completed, along with who’s responsible for accomplishing it.
The action plan picks up where the objectives leave off. For example, let’s use the objective, “Increase market awareness by 15% by December, 31 2010,” from my previous post. How can you attain that? Here are a few action plans to get things rolling:
• Article Marketing
Ongoing – Develop topics list: Ralph & Jane
July 1 – 5, 2010 – Identify publications and sites and pitch articles: Ralph & Jane
July 7 – 8 Draft first article: Ralph
July 9 – Proofreading: Jane
July 10 – Revisions & corrections: Ralph
July 11 – Submit article: Ralph
August 1 – 3 Develop topics: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
Ongoing – Identify possible venues, make contact & pitch: Mary & Chris
August 4 – 25 Write content & develop Powerpoints: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
August 25 – 31 Proofread: Jane & Mary
September 1 – 3 Corrections, revisions: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
September 4 – 10 Rehearse presentations: George, Ralph, Karen & Kim
Pulling It Together With A Marketing Calendar
You’ve looked at where you’re at and how you managed to get yourself there, got a take on your competition, defined your audience, defined your product and/or service offerings and pricing, set your objectives and created your action plans. Good job! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Now you’ve got to create a way to implement your plan and keep moving forward. Trust me, it’s really easy to put all this stuff on the back burner when things get busy. But, the time to do your most aggressive marketing is when you’re at your busiest. It ensures that you stay that way and that you can start to pick and choose those clients and projects that interest you. In other words, doing what you enjoy, rather than taking on whatever comes in the door because you need to pay the rent.
Enter the Marketing Calendar. Although you can use a printed calendar for this, I highly recommend using a software calendar. Windows’ Outlook has a nifty one. Macs come equipped with iCal. Other options are ACT!, a very robust full contact manager and of course there’s Google Calendars. There are also numerous free and shareware options, too. Do a search for “contact managers calendars” in your search engine du jour and you’ll find a boat load.
Transfer your action plan tasks into a calendar and, this is key, set an alert to remind you. Setting alerts makes it easier to get things done and you’ll be less likely to have things fall through the cracks.
Set a time to work up your to-do list in advance. Some folks like to do this on Friday afternoons for the next week, or Sundays for the upcoming week. Another option is to create your to-do list for the next day at the end of the previous day. A little experimentation will enable you to find the method that’s just right for you.
Your daily or weekly to-do list will be reinforced by your calendar alerts. The idea here is to have a redundant reminder (read: highly annoying) method in place. It’s easy to get sidetracked. As you complete each task, check it off. What doesn’t get done is carried over to the next day.
I get up around 4:00 AM. Yeah … I know, I’m nuts. But it’s the schedule I’ve fallen into. I spend from around 4:30 AM – 7:30-8:00 AM working on my marketing stuff. This can be social media, writing letters, articles, posting on various online forums and discussion groups, writing for my blog, etc. Over time, I’ve gotten into a habit of doing these things. You will too. It will be tough at first (hence the reminders), but in a short time you’ll find yourself getting into the habit of consistent marketing.
You might schedule identifying new prospects early in the morning before business hours, along with writing letters and emails. Maybe you’ll put aside 30 minutes in the mid-morning to make phone calls. The point is that you should be doing some sort of marketing activity every day.
The Budget: How Much Will All This Cost?
You’re not going to get very far without digging a bit into those pockets of yours. It takes money to make money. Your marketing budget is simply a spreadsheet where you pop in each task, usually by month, and its associated costs.
I use a method called, “zero-based” budgeting. It simply means that each year you wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a new marketing budget. Some places simply use the previous year’s numbers and make a percentage adjustment across the board. Others use a percentage of last year’s gross sales – typically 2%. For a new service or product launch, they may adjust the numbers up closer to 10%. Still another method is to estimate your key competitor’s budget and then either match or exceed it.
I don’t care much for those methods because they don’t take into account the changing face of your marketing environment and the simple fact that your business is likely different than your competitor’s. Starting fresh each year ensures that you are only budgeting for what’s truly needed to meet your objectives.
Like most things in planning the trick to budgeting is selecting a task and then breaking it down into its component parts. For example, developing a simple four page, full color brochure requires several players. Here’s how one might breakout (using numbers I simply pulled out of the air):
Photographer: $ 850
I’ve found it helpful to create a spreadsheet for each task and then incorporate the task totals into the overall annual spreadsheet. It just keeps things concise and easier to read.
Once you’ve set up your budget, you’ll know how much money you’ll need to set aside to implement your marketing program. Also, while you’re budgeting, you may find you were a bit over ambitious with your plans and may need to cut some things out and find other, lower cost solutions.
To help you get started with budgeting, swing over to Microsoft Office Online and download a copy of their marketing budget template (Excel).
When all’s said and done, going through this exercise will not only help you run a tighter ship, it will take your marketing efforts out the mysterious and overwhelming arena and put it in the doable one. With a well-thought-out plan, you know what needs to be done, when and how much it’s going to cost. It will put you into a much better competitive position, especially against the guy or gal who didn’t take the time to plan.
Beyond this, marketing becomes loads easier and over time, you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t. When that happens, you can easily duplicate your efforts and kiss the feast or famine monster away forever. And that, dear reader, is a wonderful feeling.