This is about the law and sausages so don’t look

“Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

I propose updating this quotation, attributed to Otto von Bismarck (and in a slightly different form to John Godfrey Saxe), to keep pace with internet marketing: “Lists of the best lawyers are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

Yesterday I received an email from a lawyer asking me to vote for him as the best attorney in a neighboring town. It was a brief email and it would have been even briefer if he had not used perhaps a 22-point font.

Who’s the best attorney in town and how would I know?

It gave no reason whatsoever as to why he was nominated and why he deserved to win. (Maybe he nominated himself?)

So I looked at his website, which had nothing about this campaign. Nor did it describe any awards (or cases) he had won or any benefits of using his services (except that he had practiced for over 30 years, which is a feature, not a benefit, if we are going to get technical here). I have never availed myself of his legal services nor have I ever been to his office nor has anyone praised him to me.

I’ve attended meetings where he was also present and have traded business cards with him, so this is clearly where he got my email address. Probably brought out a big stack of cards he has collected and had a temp scan or type them in.

The email itself was highly informative. It warned me that I could vote only 10 times per email address and provided a handy link to the voting site. And it asked me to “please share with your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn friends” by clicking the social media links at the top of the email. (By the way, nothing about these votes driving any charitable donations.)

Not only do I not live in his suburb, but I don’t subscribe to the magazine running the contest. I am mildly curious to see if he wins but more as an observer of internet marketing than a connoisseur of legal services.

What bothers me is that now that I’ve seen the campaign, I have no respect for the eventual list.

And this makes me more wary about all sorts of lists and awards. In the internet age, more than ever, it’s caveat emptor when we search out professional “stars.”


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

Want to freelance and consult? Announcing my first ebook on exactly how to get started

Ready to start freelancing or consulting but not sure what to do first? Or you’ve been struggling at it for awhile but have few or even no clients to date?

I’m excited to announce the release of my first ebook: Start Freelancing and Consulting: How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro.

Some of the information in this book develops concepts introduced in my newsletter and blog but much of it is brand new. This includes four great special reports (for a total package of nearly 200 e-pages):

  1. Special Report #1: 15 steps to get your business up and running in 8 hours or less
  2. Special Report #2: 17 projects to postpone . . . perhaps forever
  3. Special Report #3: What is a virtual assistant? What does a virtual assistant do? By Kathy Goughenour
  4. Special Report #4: How to slash telephone costs By Wayne Schneidman

Not only is the book pretty good (if I say so myself), but I’m really proud of the sales page itself. It’s truly educational and is worth reading even if you decide not to buy:  Start Freelancing and Consulting.

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.

Diana Schneidman’s full employment proposal:

How to position yourself as an internet  and / or social media expert

I know how anybody can get a job immediately.

Simply proclaim yourself a social networking or internet expert.

Anyone can do it. And believe me, anyone is doing it.

Lately I’ve been meeting people who have done it everywhere I go. And I’ve identified additional pros through LinkedIn groups, Twitter, etc. So I look at their work online.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert, merely a practitioner who is still in the learning phase. I launched my first website in 1998 and my first blog more than a year ago, I’ve been on Twitter and LinkedIn for awhile and my Facebook profile is modest at best.

Oh, and nothing on YouTube so far.

Someday I may be in the market for advisors on how to take these to more sophisticated levels from a marketing perspective. (I already have tech help with my websites and certain other services.) However, I’ll be darned fussy about who I’d rely on for advice.

Because when I look at the work of self-proclaimed experts, it’s simply astounding the level of chutzpah (nerve) out there.

I’ve reframed my findings as minimal recommendations. Trust me, I’ve seen all of these recommendations violated by so-called pros.

Recommendations for internet and SEO (search engine optimization) experts:

To represent yourself as an internet / SEO expert, I expect you to have minimally:

  • An actual website, complete with a headline and copy.
  • Signs of optimization, especially Page Code. (Click on View, then Page Source.)
  • No “under construction” copy.
  • More enticing headline than “Welcome to …”
  • Excellent copy with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. (I wouldn’t let anyone who is careless with this touch my internet presence.)
  • A little substance as measured by multiple website pages or one page of at least moderate length. (Of course, the purpose of the website determines specifics here. But it’s like modern art; I know it when I see it.)
  • Your photo and / or something resembling a logo

Recommendations for social media experts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)

To represent yourself as a social media expert, I expect you to have minimally:

  • A presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Participation on additional networking sites is optional.
  • On Twitter, at least 100 messages (tweets). At least 100 people being followed and 100 people you follow—big entities like NPR or the Today Show don’t count. Twitter is especially important because it is the most transparent of the tools and the easiest to assess.
  • Tweets of several types: your own marketing, connecting with other people, links to content on websites other than your own, motivational or practical advice, retweets. If you teach how to make connections, I’ve got to see evidence of some connections on your part.
  • Actual entries on all of your blogs and websites. “Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start,” does not count. (Honest, I’ve seen this on “expert” sites.)
  • Complete, coherent listings showing how to find you on the Internet and in all social media in which you claim expertise. In other words, the lists match up on all “contact” pages and business cards.
  • Grammatical writing. Correct spelling and punctuation. Yeah, I’m old school.
  • Some content that proves you’re a thought leader. Or at least that you have a thought or two.

Some experts would argue that it’s about quality, not quantity, especially in regards to Twitter content. A valid point but there must be sufficient quantity to evaluate quality fairly.

Think I expect too much?

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.

How to succeed without a website

Last week I participated on a panel discussion on how to be (or become) a freelance writer sponsored by the Independent Writers of Chicago (IWOC).

Afterwards many of us went out for dinner and I learned something very revealing about one of the other panelists: He has no website. Still!

The guy in question is a highly successful writer. He said that his plate is never empty; he is always working on one or more paid assignments.

His LinkedIn profile claims he has written over 2,000 assignments since 1990 and the total may well be higher by now. His clients include many of the leading daily newspapers in the U.S., as well as a range of trade journals in diverse industries.

Why has he never mounted a website?

Because he is busy with paying work and doesn’t see a pressing need for a website.

Not only does he not have a website, but his 2.0 presence is rather minimal. Yes, he does have the aforementioned LinkedIn entry, but he only has 55 connections. As someone who lives an interesting life involving diverse clients, travel, sports and more, I’m certain he knows more than 55 individuals in the LI database, unless his criteria for connections are so restrictive as to only include biological siblings.

He’s not on Twitter, nor could I find him on Facebook.

He’s been cold calling for years as a steady source of clients, but of course, the largest share of his work at this time is repeat business.

Now let’s put this in the context of today’s economy. Every day we read about newspapers cutting back or even going out of business. “Information wants to be free” or at least electronic, and the newspaper industry is dying. Plus all the layoffs increase competition among writers for a shrinking number of assignments.

Yet here is someone defying the odds to maintain a strong freelance writing business. And without a website!

Proves it can be done!