“Why should I hire you?”

When you’re telephoning business prospects to offer your freelance or consulting services, sooner or later (probably sooner) someone will ask: “Why should I hire you?”

The obvious answer is, “Because you get me.”

It’s kind of impertinent at first glance, but actually, it’s not a bad answer depending, of course, on how you say it.

The worst answer is to compare yourself to the competition. You don’t know who else they’ve talked to or even if they have talked to anyone else, so you don’t want to suggest names to them that they may not be aware of.

Anyway, you don’t want to look nasty, catty or angry.

Compared to putting down others, “Because you get me” is much better.

Of course, you want to say more than that.

One path is to state your Unique Selling Proposition.

If you have one.

But I recommend going ahead and phoning prospects even before you have the perfect USP or even any USP at all.

Once you go down this rabbit hole, you may find yourself blocked from moving ahead in any kind of results-oriented way. Minimally, you may be sitting at your kitchen table, pencil and pad in hand, for what seems like an eternity.

But there’s another danger too. You can sound stilted and formal as you rattle off your script from memory.

You already have a conversation going, so why not continue in a relaxed, conversational style rather than lapsing into market-speak?

Keep it simple and direct.

Here’s an idea:

“You get me. I love my clients and I love my work. You get my work and I maintain close contact with you. Just as I’m calling you myself right now.”

The point isn’t to craft the exact words perfectly. You may wish to play with your answer in your mind in advance, but it’s more important to relax and communicate what you’re all about spontaneously.

We are what we read. So maybe I should read better stuff?

I’m a big fan of learning. In fact, I’m so enthusiastic that I’m prone to postpone business-building activity in favor of learning more about how to build my business.

I’ve got stacks of library books piled up on my worktable, electronic stacks of ebooks in my computer and lengthy CDs of marketing teleseminars that I listen to in the car.

I’m addicted to anything on the topics of marketing, internet marketing, public relations and business building. Give me “Six Secrets to Building Your List” and I can drive the width of Nebraska all night steady without yawning.

But lately I’ve been thinking I should upgrade what I’m feeding my brain. That while I continue to gain new facts, my current info diet is more akin to mushrooms that have been breaded and deep fried than to raw broccoli.

Specifically, I think my reading menu should be broader and more substantive, especially in the areas of history, the arts and even literary fiction. The world around me keeps nudging me to change my habits.

Most recently, obituaries for Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died at the age of 92, point out that he was an expert on the Senate of ancient Rome and was well versed in histories of the Roman republic and English political history. While involved in the Ku Klux Kan when young, he grew to support civil rights legislation a few decades later. Maybe his reading fostered the personal growth that contributed to his political leadership?

Around the same time I was reading The Noticer by Andy Andrews. This is a brief, inspirational novel in which a single individual teaches inspired life lessons to the people around him in such an intuitive manner that you’re wondering if he is a regular person or an angel.

On the book cover, golfer Nancy Lopez calls it “the best book I have ever read in my life.” She’s overstating its importance a tad, but it is a quick, uplifting read (and Lopez doesn’t claim to be the best-read intellectual around).

Anyway, The Noticer recommends reading biographies of historical leaders to deduce important lessons. He starts with books about Winston Churchill, Will Rogers and George Washington Carver, followed by titles on Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln and Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning).

Here in the Chicago area, speaker and writer Conor Cunneen, is also a role model for more nutritional reading. As a trainer when I attended Speaker U of the National Speakers Association-Illinois in 2008-2009, he spoke about the importance of reading to gather substantive ideas concepts and fresh anecdotes to enhance his professional speaking engagements.

Today, a glance at his Amazon reading list on his LinkedIn profile reveals some heavy reading in the disciplines of history and business, including Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that Led America into the Vietnam War and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster.

This change in reading habits challenges me. In practice, it’s doubling the heights of my hard-copy and electronic media piles. But it’s an exciting challenge.

How about you? What are you reading lately? Are your tastes changing?

What’s a friend? And what’s a Facebook friend?

My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life. – Lee Iacocca

In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends. – John Churton Collins

Yep, sounds just like most of the “friends” I’m connecting with on Facebook. Or maybe friendship ain’t what it used to be.

A story

My brother, Mike Cohen, is a leading Chicago realtor. He recently complained that a local mortgage broker he had never met had the nerve to try to befriend him on Facebook.

Mike, a top-notch professional with a lot of drive, is a Type A who gets especially frustrated in rush-hour traffic and multitasks at high speed. He was livid.

“How dare he want to be my friend!” he roared. “He doesn’t want to be my friend, he just wants my mortgage business.”

I was taken aback.

As a devoted student of social marketing, I am finding that offers of friendship from people who have a specific business goal in mind are the norm. I used to cringe at the falsity, but now I’m right in there too, considering how to use FB more effectively to build my list and monetize my relationships.

I haven’t been using Facebook to develop work relationships aggressively. Instead I use LinkedIn, where the assumption is that getting acquainted may lead to professional liaisons of various types.

But it confirms my feeling that the way to approach a relationship in either channel is to suggest professional relevance without downright propositioning for business at the first exchange.

A simple “let’s be friends” seems dishonest and manipulative when both sides know that true friendship is unlikely.

And a business proposition is premature and pushy for people who have no relationship whatsoever.

I prefer an in-between path. Something like “I’d like to connect with you since you are a leading realtor in my market.”

For now, I’m trying to increase my comfort with the nature of Facebook relationships. To date I have preferred LinkedIn over Facebook for this purpose since I’m still defining how I’ll use a website that has so many uses, mixing too many flavors in the stew to come out with a tasty product.

Want to read more?

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Average American watches almost 3 hours of TV per day. Do you?

On June 23 the Wall Street Journal reported on Labor Department research showing that the average American age 15 or older spent an average of 2 hours and 49 minutes per day watching television in 2009, up from 2 hours and 37 minutes in 2007.

We are indeed a nation of couch potatoes, spending huge amounts of time in front of the TV. Interesting. I thought that TV was dying and everyone was on the computer instead, perhaps watching YouTube.

Every age group in the study averages 2 hours or more of TV on weekdays. Even the employed watch 1.92 hours, while the unemployed log 3.73 hours of viewing.

More facts

However, “playing games and computer use for leisure” averages less than an hour a day for every age group, with those ages 15 to 19 spending .84 hours in this activity, at least twice the time for any other age group.

We sleep an average of 8 hours and 40 minutes. That seems extreme to me . . . except that they are including the very old and the very ill.

We devote only 12 minutes a day to telephone calls, mail and email. Sounds low to me, though I assume that Facebook, etc. is lumped into “leisure and sports” (2 hours and 26 minutes daily).

And work and work-related activities claim 3 hours and 32 minutes a day, down from 3 hours and 49 minutes two years earlier.

What do these figures mean?

To the Journal the significance is that with higher unemployment figures, more people have more spare time. And they are wasting more time on TV and excessive sleep rather than volunteering, religious activities, exercise or education.

These figures also mean that the overall data, as issued by the Labor Department, are so inclusive that they fail to mean much. Ages 15 to 100 or even older encompasses such diverse populations that the results leave something to be desired.

Data technicalities (keep reading if you’re into this sort of thing)

The original story in the Journal also reveals that one of the most sophisticated publications in broad circulation limits its analysis to overall figures. A little scrolling through the Labor Department’s actual press release provides a breakdown of data by age, employment status, children in the household and other variables, but it doesn’t look like WSJ read the whole thing. And cross tabs, combining variables such as data for the unemployed under age 65, would provide even greater insight.

Now back to this TV thing

Drilling down a bit through the Labor press release reveals that with increasing age comes more television. On weekdays, the average person age 75 or older watches TV for over 4 and one-half hours. In addition, those who are not employed spend lots more time in front of the set. (Note that the problem of unemployed people watching more television may be overstated because some of the unemployed are actually older people who consider themselves to be retired.)

Want to read more?

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Why all is right with the world

Insights on the BP disaster

Companies exist to maximize shareholder value.

I know this because Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said so. (And Wikipedia said that Welch said so.) Though apparently Welch reversed himself in 2009 when he called the concept “the dumbest idea in the world.”

Anyway, it must be true. The sun rises in the east. Applies fall downward from trees onto our heads. And companies exist to maximize shareholder value.

BP’s shortcuts saved time and money for the company, maximizing shareholder value.

Except there was a screw-up.

Ooops! We simply have to look at the big picture.

This one time the company lost a boatload of bucks and maybe put themselves out of business, but only after making lots of moolah for shareholders.

Even better, the company’s competition for shareholder investments motivated other companies to function the same way so shareholders of many companies participated in the success.

Except this one time.

Well, you win some, you lose some.

It only makes sense to please shareholders before all others because among all stakeholders, their ties to a company are most tenuous. If they don’t make money fast, they’ll reinvest their money somewhere else without a second thought. Heck, some shareholders have even automated the process.

They need short-term gains or they’re out of here.

Now the good news: intelligent investors are heavily diversified. If one business expires, the impact on their overall portfolios is minimal.

So put the pedal to the metal. Maximize profits for all companies as aggressively as possible, and if a few companies fail along the way—and negatively impact the environment, society or whatever—it doesn’t matter because the extra profits of business overall outweigh a random disaster or two.

And if this doesn’t seem fair to you, just be glad you’re not a pelican.

P.S. If you’re researching this, the philosophy described here argues for shareholder value. The opposite concept is called stakeholder value, where a company’s worth is measured by a combination of factors, including usefulness to society, employee well-being, and of course, shareholder value.

Want to read more?

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What I learned from a psychic

Think it’s kind of weird, this thing of going to a psychic?

And paying $100 at a crack?

I’m a rather cynical, skeptical person, and I answer “yes” to both questions.

Still, I have visited psychics twice, both times in the early ‘90s when my life was in the crapper.

Both came with substantial credentials, though admittedly, the kind of credentials only applicable to psychics. The first was at the recommendation of a friend who was a lay-level psychic and involved in the local psychic community. The second often guested on the dominant FM-drive-time radio in our market.

Seeing as how I’m cynical and skeptical, I’d guess you’d think that I seldom go to psychics because I think the whole thing is stupid. Most of their advice is simply what people want to hear and if they’re right, it’s pure luck.

Au contraire.

My bigger problem with psychics is that they may be right. And since they may be right, should I manage my life to maximize the efficiency of their predictions? How can I help not adjusting my life to fulfill their prognostications? So I find myself second-guessing life decisions based on input from people I’m not sure I believe.

These questions trouble me so much that I’ve only resorted to psychics in times of utter despair. Fortunately, it’s been quite awhile now.

I don’t remember most of what the two told me. However, when I asked if I would get a job—I was a floundering freelancer at the time—one said I would. So I asked how I would find it. She said the Wall Street Journal.

Ah, this was the kind of info I was in search of. Something definite that would point me down a clear-cut path.

The funny thing is that the psychic was both wrong and right.

I got two good jobs (and some temporary jobs and not-so-good jobs) since that time and none were through the WSJ. While I made an extra effort to read WSJ classifieds, both in print and in online listings associated with its website, none of the ads led to a job.

Or did the psychic mean that I would read an article in the paper that would cause me to contact a company and perhaps create my own job there? If only I had asked.

Years later I met husband Wayne, who for decades had been working at the Naperville, IL, Dow Jones plant where they printed the Wall Street Journal.

So the reading was technically wrong, but since it was partly right, I rounded up to give credit.

Now for the most important lesson, which I learned while waiting in the hotel hallway for my appointment with the second psychic.

Here’s the story.

Right ahead of me in line were three women: a girl hoping to marry her boyfriend, accompanied by her mother and her potential mother-in-law. The three women were so close (and apparently so similar in ethnicity) that you couldn’t determine who was the mother and who was the future MIL on your own. One big happy family.

However, the girl wanted psychic advice because her boyfriend was not interested in raising her young son (perhaps 4 years old) and couldn’t see himself loving the boy as if he were his own. What should she do? she planned to ask. Is this marriage in her future?

I bit my tongue but the answer was obvious. “Break up with the guy right now!

“While his honesty is admirable, here’s a relationship with no future. After all, the kid is still in preschool. That’s a lot of years ahead until he leaves home.

“It sounds like the guy doesn’t want to marry you so come on, girl, move on,” I wanted to say.

And even if she could win him over, the decision would be bad for her son.

I commiserated with her but gave no opinion. Not that she asked for one anyway.

The girl didn’t need $100 of “professional” advice because her preferred course of action, while difficult in the short term, was obvious. Walk!

Was the answer to my problem just as obvious?

As the trio entered the psychic’s room, I wondered if my appointment was unnecessary, too. However, I had already paid so I kept it.

In retrospect, I already knew my answer.

Keep living, keep applying for jobs. Keep on keeping on. The world keeps turning and issues resolve if you put forth the effort.

Want to read more?

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What is your marketing worth?

I see an important element in pricing freelance and consulting services that gets no discussion, but it shapes pricing on most every project.

The price you will get paid is in large part a function of how you obtain assignments. In other words, it’s about how you market.

Some marketing techniques support higher fees. Referrals from trusted and / or influential people; polished marketing materials, whether print or online; relationship-based social networking and one-on-one contacts are among the marketing methods associated with more money.

Online assignment bidding sites and Craigslist are associated with lower fees.

Some argue these services are wrong to broker such low-paying work because writing, graphics, etc. is “worth more than that.” Yes, we wish they paid better.

Yes, it would be a happy world for solopros if we could simply post our ads in a nonthreatening way or respond to bid requests without getting our hands dirty. We could allow ourselves the timidity that comes easy to many of us.

I once had a husband (not my current husband) who videotaped weddings and other occasions. He wanted to relegate marketing to me. He assured me he was very hard working because he would fulfill any assignments that I brought to him. After all, he was a videographer and he was extremely conscientious about videography.

Sounds logical.

But it’s also unrealistic.

For the solopro, marketing (or overseeing marketing by others) is intrinsic to the work.

Some types of marketing bring in higher paying assignments than less personal, less professional or less expensive alternatives.

This is one reason (among many) why sample pricing guides found on the internet are ineffective. They don’t have a clue about the marketing that obtained these prices.

As you market your services, don’t assume that because you know that low-price sellers are readily available if you know where to look, that’s all you can charge.

And one reason is that certain marketing channels command higher fees.


I think so.

Or more importantly, what I “think” doesn’t matter.

This is simply how it works.