The Luck of the Freelancer

St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated on March 17 and in Suffolk County,   St. Paddy’s  Day is a very big deal.  There is a huge parade,  bakeries sell Irish soda bread throughout the month  (it’s great toasted and slathered with lots of butter),  bars sell green beer and some grocery stores even sell green bagels.  The city declares a holiday  (officially called Evacuation Day)  and the parking meters are off.

So it got me thinking about four-leaf clovers and good luck and all of that.  Like most people,   I am convinced that success in life and business is impacted by luck.   Being born to a wealthy and influential family,  having loving and supportive parents,  being exceptionally talented in science or with languages,  getting seated next to a potential client at a dinner party—that’s all random good luck that no one can control.

A  recent LinkedIn survey of 7,000 of their members found that 84%  believe in career luck.   Both Napoleon Bonaparte and former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower were quoted as saying they preferred a lucky general to a smart one.   I mean,  why is it that some people always manage to be in the right place at the right time?

Some experts claim that we have a hand in creating our luck,  good or bad.   A recent study by Richard Wiseman,  Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK,  demonstrated that simply believing that one is lucky can create positive outcomes.   Wiseman studied two groups of people: one group whose members considered themselves to be  “lucky”  and another group whose members considered themselves to be  “unlucky”.

He gave participants in each group a newspaper and instructed all to as quickly as possible,  go through the paper and report how many photographs were to be found within.   The results were interesting.   The  “lucky”  study subjects reported back their  (correct)  answers within seconds,  much faster than the  “unlucky”  subjects reported back their  (often incorrect)  answers.   What accounted for the difference?  On page two of the paper there appeared an advertisement with this message:  “Stop counting.  There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

Wiseman concluded that the   “unlucky”  study subjects were blind to their opportunity to succeed because they became too focused on looking for exactly what they were looking for,  to the exclusion of what would help them achieve their goal.   For example,  perhaps  “unlucky”  Freelancers attend networking events in search of their idealized version of the perfect client and as a result ignore others in the room who might also be potential clients.

“Lucky”  people,  on the other hand,  are much more relaxed and open,  willing and able to see what resources lie in their path—like the ad on page two of the newspaper that gave them the winning advantage.  Furthermore,   a strong work ethic is said to increase our chances to create and/or take advantage of good fortune.   Bill Gates got lucky for sure,  but he and Paul Allen also shut themselves up in a room,  rolled up their sleeves and worked very long hours to put themselves in a position to grab the brass ring when it came around.   They also had great faith in the marketability of their ideas,   which is said to be another magnet for good luck.

“Nevertheless,  since our free will must not be denied,  I estimate that even if fortune is the arbiter of half our actions,  she still allows us to control the other half,  or thereabouts.”   Niccolo Machiavelli,  in a 1513 letter to Lorenzo de’Medici

So how can we attract a healthy chunk of  the good fortune that floats through the atmosphere?  Listen to Machiavelli and Professor Wiseman,   Paul Allen and Bill Gates.   Once you know in your gut that your product,  service or idea has good potential to find a client base,  trust your instincts and vigorously pursue and promote what you’ve got.   Work hard and be ready when the good fortune rolls around,  as Machiavelli advised his patron Lorenzo de’Medici.   Most of all,  take off the blinders and see the gold nuggets that may lie within your reach,  as Wiseman’s study demonstrated.   Maybe look for a four-leaf clover and have some soda bread too,   just for good measure.

Good luck to you and thanks for reading,

Kim

No More Self-Sabotage

You’ve got the expertise and the enthusiasm.  You may have a few key relationships.  But for some annoying and worrisome reason,  your Freelance consulting practice is not realizing its financial potential.  No doubt a sluggish economy is a factor,  but might there be another factor as well? Could a fear of failure —or success— be keeping you from laying claim to your just rewards and causing you to subtly and persistently sabotage your business?  Take a look at these items and see if you recognize your behavior:

I.     Fear of selling

Many people fear and loathe selling.  Selling oneself can be overwhelming and may even seem impolite,  like bragging.  I spent many years in sales and yet confess I get sick of it myself.  But the fact is that if one is in business,  then one is in sales,  so you’d better get used to it.  Sales takes self-confidence and the right message.

Realize that friends and family want to know what you do so they can refer you to prospects.  Prospective clients want to know if you have the expertise to help them to achieve their organization’s objectives.  You must create a clear and simple message to facilitate that process.

Make a list of 2-3 competencies for which you are typically hired,  or would like to be known for.  Attach a compelling benefit to each one,  to emphasize the reason that you should be hired to perform that service.  Next,  describe 2-3 clients who typically hire you,  or for whom you feel your services are especially well-suited.  Your task is to create a 1 minute maximum elevator pitch that communicates what you do,  for whom you do it and the benefits derived.

Write it up and express your sales message in language that is comfortable for you and will be understood by those who can hire you.  Learn also to ask for the business:  “Do you have use for this type of service”?  “Do you have a project in mind? Would you like to set up a time to talk specifics”?  “Is there a budget for this project? Are you ready to move forward”?  “I would like to work with you.  Do you feel ready to  talk about how we can get started?”

II.    Fear of charging fees that reflect your value

Particularly in this economy,  many Freelancers feel too intimidated by the fear of rejection to ask for the money they deserve.  Many clients are,  unfortunately,  prone to minimize the price they will pay for your services,  even if they have the budget.  It is a buyer’s market.  Admittedly,  compromises may need to be made when it comes to setting your fee.  Nevertheless,  you must not undermine your sense of the value that your expertise brings and do what is necessary to obtain your just financial reward.  See my October 11 post for more tips on pricing.

III.   Performing too much pro bono work

Especially when starting out as a Freelance consultant,  the temptation is to throw oneself into either deeply discounted or pro bono projects as a way to gain experience,  create referrals and build a client list.  Judicious use of those methods may apply at any time in a Freelance career,  but be sure that you’re getting something of value in return.  Promises of future paid work are mostly empty,  I’m sorry to say.  Once such  “clients”  have learned that they can get your talents for free,  they will be reluctant to pay you for work.  They’ll just look for another hungry Freelancer to sucker.

IV.    Failure to get press

Are you speaking on a panel,  teaching a course or presenting a workshop? Are you taking a leadership role in a local business association,  chamber of commerce or charity event?  If so,  you must write up a press release and send it to the business editors of local newspapers and blogs.  Follow up by telephone to make sure that the notice was received and answer any questions.

Offer to take the reporter to lunch or coffee,  to start building relationships with the press.  If an article is written,  first thank the reporter and then post the link on your website,  Facebook page,  LinkedIn page and/or Twitter feed.  Good publicity enhances your bona fides and often translates into increased business and additional requests to speak or teach.  Publicity enhances your reputation and helps you to obtain the fees that you know you deserve.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Pick the Right Clients

As a coda to last week’s post about understanding,  communicating and being rewarded with money and respect for your value, I add thoughts about how to recognize good and bad prospective clients so that you will be positioned to sell on value and avoid being treated as a mere commodity.

As mentioned last week,  it’s important to develop the confidence to understand and accept that your services are not meant for every possible prospect.  Those who intend to exploit and devalue Freelancers will get us nothing but a knot in the stomach and lousy pay.

I know all too well,  however,  that sometimes it’s about paying the rent and keeping the phone on.  Who among us has not worked with a client who was a complete jerk early in the game,  but we kept telling ourselves that we’re pros,  we’ll make it work,  just get the frigging money and pay the g-d bills?

Other times,  it’s about getting the right name on the client list and catapulting yourself to the next level.  So you roll with the punches and vow never to work with the SOB ever again.  Even billionaires wind up doing business with those they’d rather not, so they can stay billionaires.  Business is like that.

Yet we do have some measure of control over the clients we work with,  no matter how dismal the economy.  It starts with our very own business model and whom we envision as our target clients: Fortune 1000s and large not-for-profits,  arts or social service organizations,  medical device and biotech.  Perhaps you decline to pursue chemical companies that create seeds for genetically engineered crops,  or tobacco companies,  or start-ups of any kind.

Whoever your target clients,  you must avoid like the plague those who display disrespectful or unethical behavior.  The sorting process takes place in the initial meetings.  First,  pay attention to how the particulars of the project and its scope are presented.  There should be attainable goals,  specific deliverables,  a clear idea of what your role will be and a reasonable project time-table.

The client should probably do 70% of the talking in your first meeting,  but there should be space for you to add your insights to the discussion as well.  Your second clue is,  have you been invited to add your thoughts about possible solutions and strategies,  or is your prospective client the supreme expert who casts you in the role of supplicant?

Several months ago,  I spoke with a prospect who had one set of goals during a phone meeting and our first face to face and a rather different set of goals in our second meeting.  Our first meeting was great,  our second meeting was revealing.  The prospect did all the talking and blocked a true dialogue.  Goals had changed and they seemed unattainable to me.  My perspective was not sought and my value seemed unappreciated.  Further talks were postponed as the prospect decided to take a vacation.  Eventually,  she opted to shelve the project. I was furious at the time but  now realize that she did me a favor.

As you get to know your prospective client do not ignore how he/she speaks in reference to other Freelancers with whom he/she may have worked.  Very early in Freelancing,  I met a prospect who was oh,  so charming in meeting #1.  But in the second meeting,  he showed his true colors by making frequent references to how he was reliably able to hire Freelancers to work  “cheap”.  Also,  as he described the project,  my role and the deliverable,  he stipulated ridiculously scant hours and short time frame for project completion.

Definitely,  I should have walked right out of that clown’s office after politely suggesting that it might be best if he contacted one of his  “cheap”  Freelancers for that assignment  (I wanted to, believe me).  But I was needy and desperate for both money and a better client list,  so I meekly sat there and sucked up the attack on my professional value,  signed the contract and began work.

The whole impossible task was going nowhere and I was not even close to producing the deliverable as scheduled when lucky for me,  a ranking staff member realized the whole thing was untenable and stepped in to work with me.  That staff member understood my value and appreciated the contributions that I made to setting the stage for the project’s eventual successful completion (and also ensured that I was paid on time).

So what is the moral of this story?  As always,  learn to appreciate and communicate your value as a competent professional and insist that all who aspire to work with you do so as well.  It’s the only way to be a successful Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Make the Right Decisions and Do the Right Thing

I’m back with more on decision-making because in this perilous economic climate,  which shows no signs of abating,  the ability to make good decisions is so crucial.  Our survival depends upon being able to size up a situation or puzzle through a dilemma and make wise choices that will put us on the right path,  whether we are Freelancers,  business owners or employed/unemployed professionals.

But then again,  when in history has good decision-making not  been an important skill? The results of wise decisions made by the pharaohs in Egypt gave the world a magnificent civilization that thrived for 3000 years and the architectural wonders that are the Sphinx and the pyramids.  Doing business has always been about making decisions,  in ancient times and the present.

Often,  we must make decisions fast and on the fly.  Data available may be incomplete and possibly unreliable.  The ground shifts underfoot and the clock is ticking.  We’re anxious and stressed,  maybe borderline panicky.  Critical thinking is probably clouded by our biases,  born of preferences,  fears and past experiences that we pass off as intuition or gut feelings.  It’s disturbingly easy to be blind to the smart decision that is staring us in the face.

But if we intend to survive and maybe even thrive,  we have to learn to play the had that’s dealt and that means making the right decisions in a timely fashion because time is money.  We can get some much-needed assistance from author Guy Hale,  who provides useful guidance on how we can learn to make credible decisions in an imperfect world in his book  “Think Fast: Accurate Decision-Making, Problem-Solving and Planning” (2011).  Hale recommends the following:

I.  Figure things out
Analyze your situation and see the big picture.  Gain an understanding of how and why you are faced with this decision.  Did your actions,  or inaction,  bring you to this point,  or was it circumstance? Discover the root cause.

Maybe your decision is a positive one,  like you’ve been invited to work with a new client or form a strategic partnership with a colleague.  You’ll need to determine whether the arrangement is likely to be a good fit and that means weighing your options and making a decision. 

II.  Plan and act
Identify the time frame in which you must respond.  Identify potential obstacles and risks and the unknowns that may impact the outcome of the decision,  to the best of your ability.  Identify factors in your favor and how you can best employ and magnify them to your advantage.  Draw up a list of people who will become your allies,  willing to help you if needed and do the same to identify those likely to oppose you.

Use scenario planning to project possible outcomes for the decision: best-case scenario,  worse-case scenario and a couple more that split the difference.  Consider the short and long-term consequences of your choices and think also about who and what will be impacted by what you decide and how they are likely to react.

III.  Factor in Murphy’s Law
Do whatever you can to prevent events from turning sour by controlling everything that you can control,  while recognizing that some things may not go according to plan.  Have Plan B  (and maybe also Plan C)  ready to roll,  just in case.  Know that you’ve been thorough and diligent in your decision-making process and have faith.  Try to relax and roll with the punches and learn from any errors in judgment.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Decisions, Decisions

We’re in business and all day long there are decisions to make.  Which business strategies look the most promising?  How should I price my services for this project?  Is the money they want to attend this conference really worth it?  If I pay this guy to make my website more interactive am I really going to get more billable hours out of it,  or will Mr. Web Developer be the only one getting paid in this deal?  Everyone in business had better have sharp decision-making skills,  because everything we do hinges on our judgment,   including how to interpret the data used in data-driven decision-making.

Eventually,  decision-making makes our brains tired.  Our thinking gets fuzzy and we might even become irrational.  We’re unable to stay focused and we make careless errors.  We sometimes do and say stupid things.  The name of this condition is called decision fatigue.  We bring it on by making too many decisions.

By the end of the day,  we’ve waded through so many choices and options that we get punch-drunk.  We don’t realize it,  but the more choices—i.e. decisions—we make throughout the day,  the more difficult it becomes for the brain’s cognitive processes to efficiently make another,  and still another,  choice.  Return emails now or at the end of the day?  Finish the report that’s due tomorrow or listen to a webinar? Green salad or fruit salad for lunch?

Energy and willpower eventually become depleted,  we lose self-control and we screw up.  We blow off the diet and the gym and dive into a bag of cookies instead.  We forget our budget and buy shoes we don’t need.  We ignore the report that’s due and read the Onion.

To get some rest,  our tired brains prod us to look for shortcuts and we become sloppy or reckless.  We may act impulsively because we don’t have the mental energy to consider the big picture and weigh the consequences of our actions.  We are prone to taking the easy way and that can mean doing nothing—which is a decision in itself,  but it doesn’t feel that way to the brain.  Of course,  avoiding a decision can cause problems in the long run but in the here and now,  we may just decide to  “table”  the decision.

But we have work to do and decisions to make,  so what should we do when we need to do the right thing?  Social psychologist Roy Bauminster studied mental discipline at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL.  His work indicates that it’s best to make important decisions in the morning after eating a light,  nutritious breakfast.  Our brains derive energy from healthy food and that helps us to comprehend and value long-term prospects and bolsters decision-making ability.  In the morning we have enough willpower to exercise the self-control needed for making important strategic or financial decisions.

Bauminster advises that we tackle the big decisions first,  before we have to make numerous smaller decisions that will sap energy and lead to decision fatigue.  In practice,  schedule your client meetings for early in the day,  before late afternoon whenever possible.  Write and pitch proposals early in the day.

But then again…Bauminster’s findings indicate to me that it’s possible to get a proposal slipped into the budget late in the day, when your client is a bit tired and defenses are down.  You may alternatively have a good proposal rejected because the client is too tired to decide and it’s easy to turn you down.  It’s a roll of the dice,  I suppose.

Also,  where does this leave the night people?  The energy derived from nutritious food holds the key.  Bauminster found that decisions and choices made immediately before lunch were often less than optimal,  so if you’re more of a night person,  making decisions and seeing clients in the two hours after lunch may work.  Discussing business deals over lunch or dinner can also be beneficial  (for any of us, actually,  even morning people like me).  You must decide.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Love Thy Competitor

If you are the type of Freelancer/business owner who believes that a primary business goal is to annihilate and destroy your competition,  then you’re likely destined to become a less successful entrepreneur.  Research can now demonstrate the wisdom of the adage,  “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

A 2004 study conducted by James Westphal,  professor of management at University of Texas/Austin,  examined CEO friendships in 293 U.S. companies and found that regardless of the intensity of competition within a given industry,  rival CEOs who formed friendships enjoyed distinct business-related advantages over those who shunned competitors.

According to Westphal,  not only is it possible to make friends with competitors,  it’s advisable.  He explained the advantages of friendships among rivals this way:  when business owners get together,  what do we do?  Talk shop.  We compare notes,  discuss what’s new in the industry,  talk about the economy and how it’s impacting customer behavior.

In other words,  by going to trade industry conferences and meeting,  greeting and getting to know rival Freelancers,  you’ll obtain information and get exposure to perspectives that can help make you more successful.  So think about following a bit of counter-intuitive advice and realize that business is not always a zero-sum game.  A competitor’s win does not automatically mean your loss.

If getting chummy with the competition makes you feel a little queasy,  then get friendly with a competitor based in another locale.  The distance will create a boundary that could make it comfortable for the two of you to trade ideas about cheap and savvy advertising options,  how to make your clients happy,  or how to take advantage of,  or protect yourself from,  market trends.

In some instances,  you may decide to collaborate with a competitor.  It’s potentially risky,  but forging a strategic  collaboration with one of your competitors can benefit the bottom line and help both entities to thrive.  It can be a smart expansion or survival strategy for Freelancers and other small business owners who are trying to remain viable.  Maybe there is a partnership you can set up with the right semi-rival?   It’s called coopetition.

Get to know a fellow Freelancer who works in your own,  or a related,  field.  It’s preferable if each of you has discrete strengths,  with limited potential for overlap.  Meet for coffee and broach the subject of joining forces to make money.  How can you combine your strengths and approach clients with an innovative and more desirable package?  There’s nothing better than giving clients more reasons to do business with you.

Collaborations can work in a number of ways.  Just a couple of months ago,  a lady named Julie presented me with an idea where we can add-on or up-sell certain of each others’ services.  There is potentially a complementary need in a market segment that we share and Julie wondered if some selective cross-promotion would be beneficial.  Together,  we’re hoping to gain entry to clients where separately neither could get in the door.

Another form of coopetition is establishing a referral relationship with a near-rival.  Accountants and bookkeepers have done this forever,  with much success.  Their functions have similarities,  but each party knows and respects the boundaries and knows how to work together.

Nevertheless,  do not be naive.  Take precautions and clearly define boundaries and expectations.  Watch your back and work only with someone you know to be trustworthy.  Also,  do not underestimate the potential for difficulties in establishing and sustaining a coopetition arrangement.  Assumptions about appropriate customer service or corporate culture can derail your best intentions.  Careful planning and execution are crucial if coopetition is to work smoothly.  In close collaborations,  a written non-disclosure, non-compete agreement will be essential.

Finally,  remember where friendship ends and business begins.  There will be sensitive issues that are best kept to yourself,  like new business initiatives or the  “secret sauce”  of how you deliver your unique services.  Keep your antennae raised as you and a worthy competitor mull over ways to share resources or expertise and boost profits in the process.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Launch Your Part-time Business

Here’s a sampling of part-time business suggestions that will jump start your brainstorming and get ideas flowing for a business you can run while also keeping your nine to five.  Oh,  and do be sure to keep your business activities separate from your job,  meaning,  don’t tell your boss and co-workers what you’re up to.

Baker

First,  decide if you’re a bread baker or a pastry chef: will it be baguettes and croissants,  or cupcakes and pies?  You can sell your wares at neighborhood street fairs and farmer’s markets.  Do some market research and take a tour of local venues,  to see what sells in which marketplace,  at what prices and to which customers.  Check the licensing requirements of your state and city health departments and also find a commercial kitchen to give yourself the capacity for high-volume baking.

Bookkeeper

Those with experience in corporate finance departments,  payroll departments or accounts payable/receivable are the best candidates to set themselves up in a tidy little part-time bookkeeping business.  Brush up on your QuickBooks skills and promote yourself to Freelancers,  churches and small businesses.  Join your neighborhood business association to meet potential clients.

Caterer

Are you a fabulous cook who knows how to serve and present food elegantly and efficiently?  Does the prospect of preparing Christmas dinner for 12 or a buffet Easter brunch for 50 fill you with excitement and make your organizational skills shine?  If that is the case,  then catering on the side may be an ideal money-making and creative outlet for you.  Hone your chops by taking over the preparations for a few large family events.  Graduate to getting hired for dinner or cocktail parties held by friends of friends.  Consider renting commercial kitchen space to make cooking for large events easier.

Floral designer

If you’ve always known how to compose a pretty bouquet,  upgrade and refine your natural abilities by taking a flower arranging course at an adult learning center or community college.  Next,  identify good flower market and floral supply wholesalers,  so you can provide a wide selection of fresh and exotic blooms arranged in the loveliest vases and still earn a good profit margin.  Promote your services to those celebrating anniversaries,  births,  christenings,  graduations or other special occasions.  Form a strategic partnership with a (part-time) caterer who needs to decorate a party.

Gardener

Do you have a green thumb?  Do you know people who have no time for yard work?  There is money in mowing lawns,  trimming hedges,  tending window boxes, weeding and coaxing roses to bloom.   My mother’s uncle started a part-time gardening business which he ran for at least 20 years.  My father worked with him on many spring and summer evenings throughout my childhood.  The more artistically inclined can create a niche in landscape design for residential clients and neighborhood merchants.  Remember to include Christmas decorating in your list of services.

Hair stylist

So maybe you were a hairdressing school dropout? Pick up those scissors again and revive your skills,  so you can offer wash,  cut,  blow-out and maybe even color and straightening services at your kitchen sink or the client’s.  Friends and friends of friends who need makeovers,  or maybe just maintenance,  will appreciate both your talent and at-home discount prices.

Photographer

If you’re a clever shutterbug,  invest in a good digital camera,  become a Photoshop expert and  pull together a portfolio of your work to show to prospective clients.  You may even want to specialize in a niche,  like weddings  or family reunions.  Form a strategic partnership with a web designer who creates sites for Freelancers  and make money taking the all-important website photo.

Tutor/coach

Are you a good teacher?  What is your area of expertise—golf, tennis, algebra or languages? Open an account at Craig’s List,  to advertise your services.  Those who teach an academic subject should also contact local parent’s groups, neighborhood blogs and local schools.  My brother’s wife has taught piano for several years and she’s quite busy.  She is a full-time wife and mother of four.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Having it Both Ways with a Job and a Business

To my readers in the weekly paycheck world: do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to chuck your day job,  become the captain of your destiny and start a business of your own?  Maybe you have a special creative talent,  something you do that makes you feel proud and fulfilled,  something that friends and colleagues always compliment you on?

Maybe you already daydream about starting a business,  but fear that you don’t have the resources or temperament to grow it into your primary source of income?  Perhaps you need a few extra dollars each month,  because your paycheck is no longer big enough as prices at the gas pump and grocery store continue to rise?

You can have it both ways and start a part-time,  on the side business while you continue to work full-time and enjoy the security of a regular paycheck and health benefits.  People have done it for years and for all sorts of reasons,  mostly as a cash flow safety net,  but also to provide an outlet for a creative talent.

Former full-time employee and part-time business owner Felicia Joy has coined the term  “hybrid entrepreneurship”  and she defines the process as  “the act of working a full-time job while building a business part-time.”  Joy explains it all for you in her new book  “Hybrid Entrepreneurship: How the Middle Class Can Beat the Slow Economy” (2011).

Joy advises that although your part-time business venture will not be your main source of income to still treat its launch seriously.  She recommends that you write a business plan to ensure that you cover all bases,  such as devising a good marketing strategy,  identifying your target customers,  perfecting the business model and assessing start-up costs.

Furthermore,  Joy says it’s important to create a professional image for your business: print business cards,  build a website,  have appropriate print collaterals,  open a separate business email account and maybe also have a separate business telephone line.

Network for your business venture,  so you will meet peers with whom you can form strategic partnerships and referral relationships that will help you to grow your business more quickly.  Join a professional association related to your business,  to receive access to information and other resources that will help you grow as an entrepreneur.

At work,  volunteer to take on assignments and lead projects that will help you acquire skills that you’ll need in your business,  such as sales,  operations,  bookkeeping or marketing.  As Joy says  “Learn to leverage your day job in a way that helps you in your business and also helps you at your job.”

Next week,  I’ll give a few examples of part-time businesses that you may want to start.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Ask and You Might Receive

Nearly all Freelancers are feeling the pain of the long slog through the sluggish economy.  Merely treading water is now considered a victory.  Even those fortunate  enough to have maintained robust billings are sensitive to the cash flow problems of their customers and fellow business owners.  Consequently,  the time is ripe to ask for a better deal,  for everything.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what people will do to keep your business.  To get the ball rolling,  all you’ll need are some creativity and moxie.

You’ll also need to remember that your goal is to both save money and build mutually beneficial business relationships,  especially when approaching fellow Freelancers or other small business owners.  Be assertive,  but considerate and respectful.  Don’t try to squeeze someone whose business may be hurting.  Think of benefits that will accrue to the other party and communicate that as you present your proposition.

The other party will appreciate that you’ve thought of their interests as well as you own,  so no matter what,  you’re likely to be seen in a positive light.  Even if you are unable to get what you want,  you’ll never lose by asking.  As they say,  it’s just business.

  • Think about bartering products or services.  What do you sell or do that suppliers and service providers might value for their businesses?  HR or IT services?  Graphics or PR or landscaping?  You’ll never know until you ask the question and get the dialogue started.  Make sure the exchange is of equivalent perceived value,  so that no one feels short-changed.
  • If you rent an office,  begin preparations now to campaign for a rent roll-back.  Commercial space is plentiful and most landlords want to keep a good tenant.  Be sure to pay your rent on time and otherwise cast yourself in a favorable light.  Get information on rents for comparable spaces in your area and determine what would be reasonable to pay for yours in the current economic climate.  Are their problems in the building?  If so,  make a list so that you can more effectively negotiate with your landlord at lease renewal time. 
  • When it’s time to advertise,  ask for a discount (try 10 %).  You’ll be more successful if the ad is larger and/or if you place multiple ads with that publication.  Ask also if you can be notified when remnant space is available,  which will save even more money.  You must be flexible and prepared to act quickly when taking remnant advertising space.  You might even spend more than you anticipated.  In exchange,  you just might get an eye-popping half page ad for the price of a quarter page.
  • Think about the products and services that you use all the time when doing business.  Do you ship items on a regular basis?  Do you travel frequently and stay at the same hotel?  If so,  then it’s time to ask for a loyalty or volume discount.  Have information about how often you use the service/product and how much you spend at the ready,  to support your case.
  • To preserve your cash flow,  request more flexible payment terms from suppliers and service providers.  Ask for 45-60 day terms,  or ask to pay half of the balance in 30 days and the remainder at 60 days.  The other party may not love it,  but the terms may nevertheless be extended in an effort to keep you as a customer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Your Ad Here

While we’re on the subject of making the most of what you’ve got and monetizing resources wherever practical,  let’s talk about renting out advertising space in your virtual world.  We’ve all seen the sponsorship promos, banner ads,  hyperlinks and ad words on the websites,  Facebook pages,  blogs and newsletters of nationally known Freelancers.   Some of you may also have seen advertisements or hyperlinks on a colleague’s  site.  As everyone digs deeper for revenue,  we might see a lot more of same.

I’ve spotted banner ads on the sites of three Freelancer colleagues who specialize in PR,  marketing and executive coaching.  The good news is that all chose advertisers whose product line is complementary to their business.  The not-so-good news is that two of the three websites no longer look classy.  In this case,  it’s seller beware.

That said,  if you select your advertisers well and refrain from overloading your site with ads,  you can always try this on for 6 months.  The money you make will no doubt be useful.  Placing ads on your website will create a small and steady cash flow that can make a real difference in your ability to sleep nights. 

The first thing to consider is what you have to offer your new prospect,  the advertiser. The number one criterion of ad placement is the presence of the desired demographic.  Sign up with Google Analytics and  demonstrate to advertisers that your e-world attracts a large and loyal following of people who can potentially become their customers.  The amount of traffic on your site will also help you to determine advertising rates.

Next,  confirm that your site hosting platform will support advertising.  For example,  if WordPress hosts your website,  be aware that like this blog,  it’s probably operating on the  .com side,  which is free,  upgraded and backed up regularly and very user friendly.  It will be necessary to migrate to the  .org side,  which is an open source,  customizable hosting platform that offers more advanced options,  such as the ability to support what is entailed in advertising.

If the concept still looks feasible,  then decide where the ads can be placed.  Look at your home page and measure the available space.  Is there room for a banner ad or two,  or will the less intrusive text option be more to your liking?

If you have a content management system and you’re good with graphics,  experiment with your home page layout and eliminate or relocate certain text and photos to create more potential ad space.  Think right side or bottom of page for banner ads.

Research shows that ad words are best used on sites that generate huge traffic.  They are a pay-per-click option with a low response rate,  so big numbers are needed to make ad words profitable for both parties.

Now it’s time to give serious and careful thought to the types of businesses that you would be comfortable having as advertisers.  Give still more thought to your sales pitch.  As always,  it will be imperative to define what’s in it for them:  the right demographics and a popular site. 

Establishing a flat monthly rate based on the size of the ad,  with discounts given for multi-month commitments, is the easiest payment structure.  See the rate card and ad contract of a local newspaper for guidance.  You can set up a PayPal subscription for billing and payments.  You are further advised to set up a separate account for each advertiser,  so that site stats can be checked and ad start and end dates can be reviewed.

However,   it may be wiser to sign up with an online advertising management company.  Certain basic features of ad management are free,  but it may be worth paying for additional  features like billing.  That way,  if an advertiser cancels and you forget to take the ad down,  you won’t find yourself giving away free space.  Agencies to investigate include Etology,  Commission Junction,  Adbrite and Linkshare.

Because businesses are always in search of an effective way to reach customers and enhance brand awareness,  ads and sponsorships within the virtual world continue to proliferate.  Some businesses even provide a special link,  sometimes to a particular website page,  so that they can track advertising performance on your site.

It is imperative to consider the possible impact that virtual ads could have on your business.  For those who provide a certain type of product or service for a certain clientele,  including ads on a website will be a delicate balance.  The painstakingly cultivated perception of value and quality could be undermined by the presence of ads on either a website or newsletter.  Take care not to cheapen your brand in exchange for a few extra dollars a month.

Thanks for reading,

Kim