Archive for August, 2009

h1

I <3 freelancing for rad clients

August 27, 2009

My son is now an “entrepreneur.” That’s what you’re called when you don’t have a job.  ~ Ted Turner

have-you-tried-freelancing-525x367

I got my first official copywriting client. Boo-yah, baby! I’m totally stoked. Were it not for the obvious lame-factor, I’d be jumping around like a squirrel that just consumed an unhealthy amount of Red Bull. Not that any amount would be healthy for a squirrel…

I feel very, very lucky. As a newbie freelancer, having my first experience with a client be a positive one is just as encouraging as it is reassuring. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with a fellow female entrepreneur that faced hard beginnings and now successfully runs her own educational institution. Hello, inspiration! Since she’s local, I also got to come out of my den and partake in a face-to-face consultation with her.  Things couldn’t have gone better. We communicated effectively, she gave me very clear instructions on what she was looking for and I feel absolutely confident with the ideas I’ve been drafting up to this point. Oh yah, and she fed me coffee and homemade banana bread! Seriously, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that (thank you, client of my dreams).

So in celebration, I’ve come up with some ideas for how to appreciate and hold onto those heavenly clients on your list. Even better? I’ve included detailed examples of how I’ve incorporated them into my own practices. Ready, set…go!

  1. Offer a discount, free service or product…sometimes: I know, I uttered “free”. How dare I. But before you turn around and leave, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you write pro bono all the time or undersell yourself. What I am saying is keep your client’s interests at heart and understand that the payoff is oftentimes worth it. It can help you secure a potential client or keep an old client coming back for more. For example, I offer a 15% discount to new clients on their first project. This helps me build credibility and trust. It also means a potential client who might be unsure about investing in my services will be more likely to take the risk. Why? Because they don’t have to shell out as much cash before having proof of my abilities and accountability. I even offer a 5% discount on a future project to clients who land me a successful new referral. This is a win-win situation – your client has incentive and you get new business.
  2. Talent is good. Unbeatable customer service is better: Be honest about your abilities, turn-around time and expectations. No pussy-footing. Clients appreciate a straight-forward attitude. But what’s equally important is that you genuinely care about your client’s needs. Don’t be solely focused on the moolah. If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you must first help your client succeed. It’s called customer service and clients remember their personal experience with a provider – and whether it was a positive or negative one – even more than the quality of the finished product. Listen carefully, suggest positive solutions, share your knowledge and give them the attention they deserve. Once you’ve handed them a totally kickass completed project and they’ve paid you your dues, send them a thank-you. A personalized note to show your gratitude will go a long way and really set you apart from others, but even an email will do. By taking a real interest in my client’s needs and vision, I’ve been able to secure more work. How did I do this? I listened more than I talked, I incorporated her ideas into my own brainstorming and communicated them to her, I made myself available to her at times that were convenient for her since I knew she had a busy school to run, and I was never anything less than professional, friendly and enthusiastic.
  3. Give them what they expect…then give them something they weren’t expecting: This type of business isn’t about exercising your artistic freedom, even if we are creative professionals. Clients have a set of expectations they require you to meet. So deliver on your promises and don’t be the guy who took the horse and ran with it or they’ll just regret hiring you for the job. They may even spread the bad word to others via fire-breathing rage…and you really don’t want your reputation burned (word-of-mouth is a powerful networking tool, after all). Giving them what they want is good, but if you really want to emblazon your Chiclet-smile and impeccable grammar on their memories, give them something they weren’t expecting. Go that extra mile. Throw in a sidebar for free. Finish the project ahead of deadline. Agree to meet them in-person for lunch or coffee to discuss their project rather than communicating solely over phone or email. Make yourself memorable and you’ll become the go-to for future projects.

This industry has some fierce competition. I know because it gives me the heebie-jeebies everyday. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned early on, it’s that how you deal with clients can make or break your freelancing career. And the last thing you want is to lose the golden ones.

h1

Invoking ‘Buffy-Power’ in the freelance start-up struggle

August 18, 2009

I thought it was gonna be more like in the movies. You know, inspirational music and a montage: me sharpening pencils, reading, writing, falling asleep on a big pile of books with my glasses all crooked because in the montage I have glasses. Real life is so slow and it hurts my occipital lobe. ~ Buffy

buffy

Here’s a little secret. I’m a shameless, obsesso-fan of the T.V. success that was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When teenage life was sucking, the campy horror series was what I turned to–blood-sucking fiends included. It provided comfort when gooey, chocolate-chip cookies were threatening my waistline. Buffy was my hero (sorry Oprah). Not only was she athletic and resourceful, but she could be witty and pretty while kicking demon butt. Talk about girl-power!

Lately, I’ve been attempting to invoke that slayer power to deal with the struggle of starting up a full-time freelance career. I’m going to be honest and tell you that starting up this writing business has been hard work. I didn’t realize the perseverance, patience and motivation that would be required to rise up on two feet. I had visions of sipping on my morning cappucchino, bunny-slippers propped up on my desk, projects rolling into my lap. Well, maybe not rolling…more like dripping from a leaky faucet.

Instead, I’m sporting some lovely black circles under my eyes, using caffeine to combat a constant stream of anxieties–am I good enough, when will the next paycheck come, did my email to that editor fall into a black hole?–wearing 5-day old pajamas. That’s the ugly truth.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t regret turning to freelancing full-time after losing my steady office job due to the economy. Especially after reading Ed Gandia’s supportive words today:

So, for Gen Y’ers everywhere, here’s my (blunt) advice: Forget about trying to find a “job.” Forget about politicians’ promises to fix things. Forget about waiting this one out. (Even if you wait it out, you risk having even greater competition when younger rivals start entering the workforce en masse in two or three years.)

Instead, put your faith where it belongs: on your talents, abilities, creative capacity and ability to solve problems. Then, sell those abilities as a freelance professional. You’ll get back to work much faster. And you’ll have the freedom and flexibility you and your generation craves (we all want that freedom, but you guys have taken life-work balance to a new level).

Pretty promising words, don’t you think? And I agree with him. But I’ve also realized that being a freelancer is no easy choice. And even when I’ve been forewarned of the hardships, I always had some niggling doubt. Things will be different for me, I thought. Try again. I got quite the reality check in the past few weeks. Squashing The Sound of Music version of a writer’s life was necessary. But guess what? I’m still just as enthusiastic about pursuing my goals. And you can be too if you’re new to the game, like myself.

Here are some fundamental tasks I’ve completed within the past couple weeks to help launch my personal brand, which I’d recommend all newbie freelancers consider attacking:

  1. Website and business cards designed – Vital marketing tools. I’ve been using the website to start building my own online portfolio and handing out my business cards to family, friends and potential clients.
  2. Revving up the education– I know I’m competing with more seasoned freelancers, so I’ve been doing a bogus amount of reading to further develop and hone my skills. My reading includes blogs and books (check out Paul Lima, Michelle Goodman and the Renegade ladies for some killer resources to add to your shelves). I’ve also been taking a copywriting course so I can get more experience in the field, which is known to be the ‘bread and butter’ of many writers who also contribute to magazine publications.
  3. Setting up a home office– I realized that sitting in front of the T.V. in my living room doesn’t really inspire productivity or concentration. So I found a stylin’ used desk to set up in one corner of my room and purchased some basic office supplies to make it all schnazzy. I’ve got a great work space now that forces me to focus on my work without the typical distractions of home.
  4. Local marketing campaign – I designed a simplistic but professional brochure advertising my services, included a business card and pen (potential clients generally respond well to a small, inexpensive gift related to the services you’re offering), and dropped these marketing packages off at local houses. I’ve only done 50 so far and didn’t expect any response. I got one of my first official clients this way. You never know.
  5. Signed up for Elance – I was avoiding doing this for fear of falling into the rut of low-paying, dead-end gigs. I’ve decided to try it out. If nothing else, it’ll help me flesh out my portfolio and get some diverse samples to show future clients.
  6. Writing and researching queries – I’ve just started to take the query route. I have experience writing for newspapers, but would love to break into magazines. This in itself has been quite the learning curve. I’ve only sent one out and I’m currently in the process of researching and writing two more, so I’ll have to give updates on these as they become available.

This is some of the most challenging work I’ve had to do, I won’t lie. Yet I have faith in my skills and the passion to back it. Giving up isn’t an option. And just like Buffy, I plan on kicking some serious butt…only I’ll be doing it in the real world.