Category Archives: Feature Article

“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.

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.

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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 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.

Fair?

I think so.

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

This is simply how it works.

What is your social technographics niche?

In determining your market niche, have you considered their level of participation in social-networking technology?

This type of measurement is called “social technographics,” and it is explored in diverse research products from Forrester Research. Forrester recommends to “start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for.”

Forrester has classified U.S. consumers into six segments based on how they use social technologies, as follows:

  • Creators: create and publish social content (24% of consumers)
  • Critics: respond to social content of others online (37%)
  • Collectors: organize content for themselves and others, such as RSS feeds, tags and voting for websites (21%)
  • Joiners: social networkers (51%)
  • Spectators: consume social content, such as reading blogs and watching videos (73%)
  • Inactives: none of the above (18%)

(Note that the percentages total more than 100% due to overlapping levels of participation. And by the way, the data are from 2009.)

If your marketing has any online component, the data can aid in business planning. For instance, note that only half of consumers belong to social networks. And while less than one-fifth of consumers are inactive, when this percentage is applied to the total population, the number of inactive individuals is substantial. And it may be huge in your niche.

If you offer products or services to businesses, there’s another interesting dimension to the issue: What percentage of your market uses social networking for work and what percentage uses it only in their personal lives?

I see that substantial numbers of people in sophisticated corporate jobs have meager (or no) profiles on LinkedIn, for instance. When someone who has worked in a large company for decades has only a handful of connections, I assume that they have spent very little time developing their profile, not that they don’t know anyone. Still, they may be engrossed in Facebook-ing with friends or blogging about their hobbies. Or they may avoid like sin personal computing of any type, checking and deleting email once every two weeks.

Forrester’s Consumer Profile Tool is fun to play with. Clicking on the links and segmentation choices may give you some clues about your market’s social technographics. However, casually interviewing your clients about their social technology habits may provide even more specific (though statistically doubtful) insights.

More links:

How to narrow the Baby Boomer niche

My new ebook  Start Freelancing And Consulting: How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro

How to narrow the Baby Boomer niche

I love demographic data.

This is a somewhat surprising pleasure for someone who is admittedly not a numbers person.

In part, I enjoy working with these statistics because I was employed in marketing research for years and became comfortable in finessing such data.

But more importantly, demographic information can spark creativity and innovation in all fields of endeavor, far beyond the interests of the demographers who lay out the basics for us.

So I was fascinated to see how MetLife, in the publications of its MetLife Mature Market Institute, segments the U.S. generations born since the early 1900s. Generation Y (born 1977-1994), Generation X (born 1965-1976) and those 65+ (born 1944 and earlier) are rather predictable.

However, Met Life has done something interesting in breaking down Baby Boomers into three segments:

  • Younger, born 1959-1964
  • Middle, born 1952-1958
  • Older, born 1946-1951

This is the first time I’ve seen such segmentation (but then I no longer track what is going on in demography in any serious way). However, I have worked with systems that split the Boomers into two groups.

Either way, the whole gang born between 1946 and 1964 totals 26% of the U.S. population. Too broad a time span for reasonable generalizations about business and lifestyle trends. And despite the smaller groupings, each one still represents a huge number of people, even when limiting to the U.S. alone.

  • Younger Boomers number approximately 27.4 million. Their major generational event is Watergate.
  • Middle Boomers number 29.1 million. Their major generational event is the Vietnam War.
  • Older Boomers number 20.5 million. Their major generational event is the JFK assassination.

So what’s the relevance?

In an era when businesses of all sizes, but especially self-employed entrepreneurs, are finely niching, dividing Boomers into three groups can be a useful tool in refining our niche.

Both demographic characteristics (Boomer men who are divorcing) and value characteristics (people who want to develop spiritually) are aspects of niching, and these ready made classifications by age can help narrow a business niche in a useful way. It helps us get our hands around a concept that can be helpful in defining what our work and our business are all about.

Of course, these distinctions are somewhat arbitrary. Someone who helps Older Boomers refine their golf swing can also work very effectively with an individual born in 1952.

And the distinctions are less useful when only a few people or entities observe them. There’s a huge amount of info out there about Boomers as a whole, but further narrowing of niches demographically will become easier when (or if?) this narrowing down becomes more widespread among business strategists, researchers and writers.

By the way, I hate the phrase “Baby Boomer.” It’s a ridiculous descriptor for people in their fifties and even older. I propose “Generation W” instead.

A major—and unrecognized—danger in corporate employment

Many risks and problems in cubicle labor come to mind instantly. Foremost among them is that you can be terminated at any time.

But here’s another that has taken years for me to put my finger on: Reporting to a full-time boss (and corporate hierarchy) dulls our professional judgment.

Oh, the process is slow and difficult to detect.

But over time we slide from perfecting our output to producing what “they” want quickly and right out of the box.

By and large, this serves the organization better. They get what they will approve faster and we don’t waste paid time fine-tuning work that will get rejected.

And the longer we work full-time for the same people and the same company, the better we know exactly what they want. In fact, they often tell us exactly what they want.

In fact, when I worked full-time as a financial marketing writer, I would jot down exactly how my boss described the project and use her very words, almost as if I were taking shorthand.

Life is too short to take on every cause that comes along. So what if they don’t like a headline? They are going to win because they have the power. Or worse, after I’d make my case convincingly, they’ll dismiss me as a nitpicker.

We care a lot, especially at the beginning. Then we realize how much we suffer over details we can’t control so we learn to let it go early.

Gradually we redefine excellence as meeting expectations on the first go-round. We look at the bosses’ revisions in terms of red ink (or electronic equivalent) and try to diminish the blood spilled (by us and by them) on each successive project.

It feels like being back in elementary school again, carrying out each assignment exactly as prescribed.

By the time we try to write a resume, we have lost touch with any achievements worth boasting about. Our best performance on the job is when we do it the “right” way the first time, but that’s hardly an achievement worthy of a bullet on a “problem solving” resume.

This can be a problem when we start to freelance and consult. With less exposure to client expectations before we start an assignment, we have to get back in touch with our own criteria. And surprisingly, clients are often more open to our analysis and recommendations than our employers were.

But the biggest problem is that as we rely on the boss to determine what is good and what is bad, we lose touch with our own judgment. To be most effective as a freelancer or consultant, we must apply our own knowledge and taste and be willing to go to bat for our work in a manner that is assertive but not combative.

My own examples come from the copywriting realm, but I’d guess you can come up with similar stories whatever your specialty.