You’re the Boss – Now Don’t Screw it Up

event_198250242What’s the biggest threat to a freelance or entrepreneurial business? Hint: It’s not unreasonable clients, slow pay rates or competition. It’s the big kahuna – you.

Here are three ways – learned from experience – that small business owners screw things up.

Lack of a business concept. I’m not talking about five-year plans, projections, or other doorstop-sized documents (although you may eventually need these). I mean a concept that can be written on a napkin.

Here’s mine: Provide exceptional content to clients who won’t compromise on quality.  These ten words direct everything I do. Provide:  I provide copy — I don’t necessarily write it. This makes my business scalable and gives me the capability to handle large projects. Exceptional content:  Not every project requires highly intelligent, beautifully crafted language. I offer a premium product that commands a premium price. Clients who won’t compromise on quality: Rather than marketing to a specific sector, I target the top-tier players in industries where I have experience and contacts.

Poor pricing. I know a talented medical copywriter who freelances for academic publications. She charges $30 an hour “because that’s what the market will bear.” Another writer friend, with a similar background, charges $125 an hour working for pharmaceutical companies. When he heard about the academic writer, he called and offered to outsource his overflow to her for twice her current rate. She refused because “It felt like a sell-out” and “I want to control my own client relationships.”

The moral is, maybe it’s your pricing structure – maybe it’s your market – or maybe it’s your attitude. If you are charging less than you should, chances are you’re self-sabotaging.

Failure to build the appropriate pipeline. Most of us market our services to some extent. But are you “fishing where the fish are biting” – reaching out to prospective clients who a) need your services and b) are willing to pay for them?  In my case, joining the local chamber of commerce might be fun, but most small businesses won’t be able to afford my services. I’m better off attending major conferences and building connections at well-funded, status-conscious organizations.

Are you getting in your own way as you try to build your business?

Copyright 2015 by Deborah Gaines

 

 

 

 

 

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On Choosing Your Battles

Are you charging in the wrong direction?

Are you charging in the wrong direction?

Marketers, here’s a hard fact: You will never have enough resources to promote every new product, program or hire with the vigor its advocates think it deserves.  Instead, learn to choose your battles. Here are three I would avoid:

The Battle of New Orleans.  Remember the last skirmish in the War of 1812 — the one that was fought after the war was won? Don’t engage in the marketing equivalent. I once worked for a university that started life as a teacher training program. We were tasked with “debunking the teachers college stereotype” to a generation that had never heard the words normal school.

Pickett’s Charge.  Robert E. Lee’s classic case of hubris during the Battle of Gettysburg sent the Confederate Army — fresh off victories in Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg — stampeding into disaster.  Since then, overconfidence has sunk many a marketing initiative, from Zune to Crystal Pepsi.

The Battle of Zama.  The Romans turned Hannibal’s secret weapon — his elephants — against him in this humiliating defeat. Kind of like the Internet turned the #AskJPMorgan Twitter campaign into a bloodstained rout.

Like most disasters, these could have been avoided through a combination of research, planning, and a good long look in the mirror. Make sure your clients do all three.

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Twitter for the Fearful

Let it go.

Let it go.

Twitter is the East Village of social media platforms, a once-cool locale that has been deserted by its hipster denizens and left to the well-heeled wannabes. Which means, of course, that it’s prime ground for business development.

With nearly 300 million active users (Statista 2/2015) who can be segmented by interest, location, and a dozen other criteria, there will never be lower fruit for marketers to pick. Yet, while everyone has some presence on Twitter, practically no one in the corporate world is doing it right.

There are a few good reasons for this. First and foremost, social media is the province of the young, and young people are rarely intentionally strategic. They are the world’s greatest connectors, building enormous and vibrant networks, but these pulsating masses of virtual humanity are often ends in themselves.

Second, older people are afraid of social media. “It can’t be controlled.” “It gets out of hand.” “We don’t have the resources to deal with it.” Sounds like any establishment figure talking about any youth movement, doesn’t it?

Well, get over it. We’re going to have to find a way to exist in this brave new world (which is 20-plus years old already). And that means partnering with younger people, charting a strategic course, and letting the connectors do their stuff.

Next up: Developing a Twitter Strategy, or “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for This”

Follow me @DebGainesAssoc

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A public service: free stock photos

iStock-Unfinished-Business-10

Courtesy of Tom Wilkinson, Vince Vaughn and the cast of the film Unfinished Business. I don’t know about you, but a few of these speak to my soul. http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/vince-vaughn-and-costars-pose-idiotic-stock-photos-you-can-have-free-163239

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You Only Need One Word to Succeed in Business

It’s “Yes.”

Virgin Airways founder Richard Branson famously said, “If somebody offers you an opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later.”  Great advice, as far as it goes. But not knowing how to do something is only one reason we turn away work. Here are three others:

I don’t have time. How many times have you shot yourself in the foot with this one? If you’re too busy to do a job yourself, subcontract it out. Recommend someone and take a finder’s fee. Or recommend someone and build a network of people who will promote you later.

It won’t pay enough.” You have nothing to lose by naming a price that works for you.  Instead of asking “What’s your budget?” try leading with, “I’d love to do it. My rate is [amount that would feel really prosperous].”

“It’s not my wheelhouse.”  Ten years ago, someone offered me the opportunity to write a legal brochure. The material intimidated me, but freelance travel writing wasn’t making me rich as quickly as I had hoped so I took the job. And actually enjoyed it. Law firm work now accounts for a substantial part of my income. Travel writing, not so much.

So next time someone makes you an offer that’s outside your comfort zone, try saying yes. (And let me know how it goes.)

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5 Reasons You Can’t Find Freelance Work

My company hires home-based freelancers for corporate writing projects, so I spend a lot of time sorting through resumes and talking to people on the phone. It turns out that the freelance market is not as competitive as you might think. In fact, at least 80 percent of the candidates disqualify themselves, often in a single email or conversation. Here are some pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Don’t lead with your personal life. Just because many writers (including me) choose the freelance or entrepreneurial lifestyle in order to prioritize things other than work – such as time with our kids, writing a novel or spending winters in Mexico – doesn’t mean prospective employers need to know the gory details. One writer sent me, as her writing sample, a link to a Mommy blog entitled “So Long Suckers! Why I’ll never be on Deadline Again.” (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But only slight.) Another noted that he wasn’t available in February because “The powder’s waist-deep in Park City.”
  2.  Get the chip off your shoulder. Freelancers often spend years fighting their internal or external naysayers before striking out on their own. This can give you a certain edge, as though you need to shout, “Take that, corporate slime! I’m doing it my way!” to everyone you meet. This is what friends are for. Clients are fine with, “The next couple of months are blocked out, but I’ll be available March 1.”
  3.  Let go of the past. The past five years have been one long wake for the publishing industry. You don’t need to explain that you were the last man standing at the Times-Picayune or spend two paragraphs of your cover letter describing your depression when the Star-Ledger let you go. Nor are other sectors immune. I’ll back my former employer, LeBoeuf, Lamb Greene & MacRae, against anyone out there for Titanic stories, but the only relevant takeaway is that I’m good at crisis communications.
  4.  Don’t act like you’re slumming. I receive frequent variations on the following theme: “After 35 years in my dream job as Gardening Editor for Country Living, I find myself looking for corporate work.” Is anything about that pitch appealing?
  5. Showcase the benefits, not the background. One of my most skilled and successful legal marketing writers spent 20 years doing obituaries for a major newspaper. He started his cover letter, “After profiling hundreds of complex personalities from virtually every field, I believe I am well-suited to writing for law firms.”

Finally, one piece of advice: Don’t devalue yourself. Set a fee that reflects your worth and experience, even if it costs you assignments. Then give every client who pays it your absolute best work. Exceed expectations for professionalism, responsiveness and work quality.

You’ll do just fine.

Want to reprint this post? It’s all yours. But please include this credit: Deborah Gaines spent 25 years as a freelance copywriter, journalist and chief marketing officer. Her company, Deborah Gaines Associates, manages editorial projects for law firms and other corporate clients. Follow her @DebGainesAssoc

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Happy 2015!

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

-T.S. Eliot

After a long hiatus, I am pleased to return to my self-appointed position as coach, consultant and snark-in-chief for the business language world. So much has gone wrong in the past year —  Bridgegate, emojis and selfie sticks come to mind — that I think we’ll have a lot to talk about. Please send me your pet language peeves and follow The Corporate Writer to hear about mine. Wishing you a joyful and prosperous new year!

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