don’t be funny about asking for money: I’m answering your questions

freelance money questions resolved

Years ago, ages it seems, I had a job where I had a great deal of control over how much people were paid. I conducted performance reviews, sat in on budget meetings, and fought for comp increases for valuable employees. Even though money in and of itself isn’t the only way to retain employees, it doesn’t hurt to recognize and reward hard work. However, what I started to notice was that the talented women on my team weren’t raising their hand and asking for what I thought they deserved. Their anxiety in broaching the question of title changes and quarterly increases was palpable and I remember at the end of one review me saying, that’s it? That’s all you’re going to ask for? From then on, I made a point of mentoring women to fight for what they deserved. It seems counterintuitive, right? Companies want to keep costs down (especially salary + benefits), and here I was teaching my team how to ask for more. However, it was important to me because only one person in my career taught me how to fight for myself. He taught me to ASK for what was my due. My mentor coached me on salary and benefit negotiations (and contract negotiations, in general). From him I learned about BATNA, and more importantly, I learned how to be assertive and bet on myself. Because, quite honestly, in enrages me that men–when acumen and experience are leveled–make more money than I do.

After my recent Great Depression, I made it my mission to give the people I care about more of the kindness I’d received during those dark months. I passed around resumes, reviewed Statements of Work, and even though I’m not a lawyer I explained the importance of IP and indemnification. I told several of my friends they were underpricing themselves, that they should ask for 50% of the project fee, up front, that they should bill project with an hourly cap because hourly doesn’t always cut it especially for those who have tenure and years of experience.

I scanned Facebook group posts where women were trepidatious when it came to asking for more. After sharing one of my contracts with a few of my friends for reference, it put me to thinking that it behooves all of us to share information and be helpful where we can. It behooves us to price right for the work we do so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

So…I’m here to help. Here’s what I know:

  • How to create air-tight Statements of Work/MSAs (Master Service Agreements)
  • How to price for marketing and writing projects
  • When to use hourly vs. project fee
  • How to negotiate (I’m pretty ruthless)
  • How/when to renegotiate and ask for more

If you have any questions related to the above, drop them in the comments (you can leave a comment anonymously), and I’ll do my best to answer all of them in an upcoming post (or point you to the right resources), and if you see questions and you think you can help, chime in!

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

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freelancer tip: sometimes you shouldn’t fake it (until you make it)

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

In my line of work I deal with a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They have an iPhone, a blog, and Warby Parker eyewear, and suddenly they’re a “strategist.” Suddenly they’re parroting a thought-leader’s latest blog post–a geyser of words that, when assembled, means nothing. However, the words sound smart enough to alienate those who are not in the know, so for a time people get by riding the wave of jargon–a language that requires a compass, two dictionaries, and a mime to translate. They ration that they’re a consumer, they have a Facebook account, and they’ve seen brand campaigns online, and magically, poof!, they’re brand architects and social media marketers. Because, as you know, marketing is easy.

You can’t possibly begin to understand how much this frustrates me, and how incompetence not only hurts me but the industry as a whole. I’ve run into a lot of clients who’ve been burned and now they’re skeptical. I’ve come across freelancers who are quick to quote the latest social media stat or blurb from Gary Vaynerchuk, but when when their logic or pedagogical approach are challenged (what’s your methodology? rationale?), they go mute. I’ve seen consultants steal decks and someone else’s work only to manipulate it to a point where the ideas are garbled, the methodology flawed and confusing. I’ve spoken to a host of experienced peers who feel they have to compete on price because the cool kid down the block (shiny object syndrome) can undercut them. Easy.

There are times when it’s appropriate to “fake it”–when you have an existing foundation of real (and by real I don’t mean reading Mashable) experience, and you’re challenging yourself by taking it to the next level through self-education, mentorship (direct/indirect), and learning through experience based on the guardrails and guidance provided by your mentors + team. Sometimes you have to dive into the deep end to see if you can make it out to the other side.

When it’s not appropriate to fake it: you have zero experience in the industry, or you inflate/invent your experience. Let me break this down real slow: there’s a difference between confidence and competence.

Last week, my peers delivered sound advice on breaking into freelance. There are so many ways in which you can make your dream happen without deceiving your clients or using them as a means to pay for your sentimental education. Side hustle during your main hustle. Volunteer. Apprentice with someone who knows what they’re doing–or barter your services so you can learn the fundamentals of your industry while providing a service for someone who needs it. Take classes, online and off. Offer to help out on a project in another department in your place of employment. Take a job in a company and listen and learn and leave when you’re ready to move on. Be humble about what you don’t know, listen and learn.

Because having an active Facebook page does not a strategist make.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career–it’s this: have the confidence to admit that which you don’t know. It’s not about you not knowing, rather it’s about how you go about getting the answers. It’s about how you learn the fundamentals and discipline to make what you’ve learned your own.

want to get into the freelancing game? our roundtable has all the answers!

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you I’m privileged to have such good people in my life? If you would’ve known me 10, 15 years ago, you would’ve met a paled-down version of me–a woman who was anxious, defiant, focused on quantity over quality. But I guess that’s what happens with age, you come into your own so beautifully and acutely, that people have a tendency to cleave to that which is calm and good.

To that end, imagine my joy to discover that so many of my friends and peers were so generous with their knowledge and time in helping readers of this space get the answers they need should they want to pursue a freelance life. I’m humbled by their generosity, the fact that the time it took to read and respond to your great questions took them away from billable work. So I’m grateful for that, and I think part of being a successful freelancer is to know when you should give your time and to whom.

So thank you, dear readers, for your questions. As I was preparing to chime in with responses, I realized that my peers were so eloquent and so helpful, that I would only be parroting versions of their words. I hope you find value here, or at least inspiration to give of your time and pursue that which you hold dear and love. –FS

Question #1: This is going to be the newbie-est of newbie questions and rather embarrassing to ask, but…how does one start freelancing? In particular, how does one break into freelance copy editing, especially if one does not have many, many years of solid experience in the field? Honestly, I have no idea how to start! My background is mostly in academia, but I am in a situation in which I need to look for employment elsewhere, and I am thinking about freelancing as I navigate my way through the rough seas of job hunting and relocating. Well, thank you, Felicia and everyone else, for offering this great service! –RINE

Lindsey Tramuta: Great question! I would first start small and see if anyone in your immediate network could use copy editing services. If you can seek little projects on the side initially, you’ll build up your portfolio and get more comfortable applying for freelance gigs or connecting with potential employers once you have the experience under your belt. For me, I had an idea that I thought would fit in nicely with a magazine so I asked a friend who had previously written for the magazine if she would be kind enough to share her editor’s email (she was no longer writing for the outlet and didn’t cover the same beat) and she did. That doesn’t work every time but in this case, she opened the door for me, I reached out to the editor and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Also, if you’re looking to actively veer your career in a new direction, make sure you update your close friends and contacts with personalized emails (or phone calls!) so that they know to keep an eye and ear out for opportunities that would fit with your interests.

Amber Katz: My advice is to network beyond belief. Find some people doing what you’d like to do, in this case, freelance copy editing, and email them and ask them if you can take them to coffee for a 20-minute meeting. In the email, ask if a phone call would work if they’re not able to meet up and come to the meeting/call with three questions you’d like answered. Another thing I’d recommend is simply emailing your network and let them know you’re taking on freelance copy editing work if anyone has any leads. You may have to offer your services for a small fee (never for FREE, unless you really don’t have any related experience, in which case you may need to do a project or two gratis) so you can put together a portfolio. Good luck!

Leah Singer: I would suggest doing a few things. First, if you have experience doing copy editing (or any of the freelance skills you want to do) in your current job, make sure you highlight that on your resume and on your LinkedIn profile. Even if your job in academe is not a copyeditor, if you’re performing that work as part of your job, it’s relevant and should be promoted.

Second, start finding organizations that will use your talent in a volunteer capacity. For example, see if your church, synagogue or kid’s school or club needs a copyeditor for their newsletter, and volunteer to do the work. When you’re well established, I don’t always advocate giving away your time and service for free. However when you’re starting out, you need to get the clients and experiences to build your business. And remember, nobody knows the work you’re doing is volunteer or paid!

Third, harness the power of social media! Find a few friends or post something on Facebook that you’re starting this service and want to do some copyediting for people’s blogs, articles, etc. Then make sure to get testimonials for your LinkedIn profile and future website!

Matthew Sharpe: I’m a freelance editor and writing coach and I started freelancing somewhat by accident. I taught creative writing in the evening at a local university. Some of my students were grown-ups working on novels, and they got in touch after the course was over to see if I’d continue helping them with their novels. Same thing happened after I attended a few writers’ conference over the years. I confess I’m not great at advertising and marketing my own services, so most of my work has come to me via word of mouth.

As for copy editing: okay, so you don’t have many, many years of experience. Do you have any? That will certainly help. I’d get in touch with the copy departments of all the major book publishers and magazines and let them know you’re available, and what your experience is. If they have an opening, they’ll give you a test. If you do well on the test, they’ll start giving you some work. If you do well on the work, they’ll give you more. Etcetera.

Cariwyl Herbert: No need to feel embarrassed at all! We all must start somewhere, and most endeavors begin with asking questions. If you are ready to take clients, put the word out to your network. Email your friends and family to let them know what you are offering. They’ll gladly hire you when they need copywriting, and they will tell their friends as well. You can also post your services on sites like elance.com and odesk.com; both are portals catering to freelancers.

Alexandra Ostrow: Good for you, Rine! Depending on your role in academia, you likely have more related experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. Take a look at the projects you’ve worked on, and make a list of the times when copyediting played a role. This list is the beginning of your portfolio. Also, let your network (colleagues, friends, family) know that you’re beginning to work as a freelance copyeditor and are looking to take on new clients. If you’re open to it, offer discounted services to new clients for a limited time period. This will help grow your portfolio. Bottom line, if you’re gravitating towards freelance copyediting, this is either a passion or an innate skill of yours. Believe in yourself and go for it. The hardest part is often just putting yourself out there.

Kim Brittingham: Years ago I worked as a legal assistant and I used to wonder the same thing. How do these freelancers get work to begin with, so they can eventually work only for themselves? And I’m still not sure I have the answer! I have friends who write full-time, and they get non-stop work just pitching ideas directly to publications. But I think that requires a lot of persistence, and you have to be good at coming up with a lot of different ideas all the time (enough that you can afford to have the majority of them shot down). I also suspect it takes time to establish relationships with editors who will look forward to your pitches and respond to you quickly, or even reach out to you and offer an assignment.

I also know of some writers who get work through eLance.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com, but I personally haven’t used those sites because I think most people who go there seeking writers and also looking for a bargain, so you wind up making really insulting money.

My path to becoming a full-time freelance writer was a little unconventional. It started in the ‘90s when I published a ‘zine called Café Eighties. I did a lot of interviews with entertainers, and after a while, people came to know me as a writer. Eventually, someone from a local publication reached out to me and said, hey, would you be interested in writing something for us? Then when the Internet came about, I was completely fascinated. I wanted to tinker and figure out what I could do with this thing. I had a really early website, I was on message boards, et cetera. I remember posting an ad on Craig’s List, offering to write what we call “web content” today, although I don’t think that term was being widely used back then. I got some responses. I wrote articles about personal safety in the context of dating for a telephone forwarding service; I wrote about novel ways to propose marriage for a diamond company. One thing led to another. Eventually I sold a book to Random House, in part because I had built a following with my personal blog and stuff I posted on social media. I was extremely lucky in that I didn’t have to work hard to get a literary agent to notice me; my agent approached me first.

Then I had some more skills in my pocket, like the social media, blogging, et cetera. I had even more to offer as a freelancer. Then one day I got a call from a guy I’d taken a class with at Media Bistro. He asked if I’d be willing to ghostwrite a book for him. I signed a contract that made it possible for me to quit my job as a legal assistant. Since then, I’ve taken some part-time jobs here or there to get by while doing the freelance writing thing, but I’m happy to say I haven’t had to do that in the last three years. Most of the work I get today is repeat business and referrals. People also find me on LinkedIn. For example, I occasionally publish a blog post to their content platform “Pulse”, and people have reached out to me with work after liking what they read. I think it also helps that I’ve carved out a niche for myself, working with executive coaches, management consultants and thought leaders. When you specialize in something, you have a better shot at winning business than if you try to be everything to everyone, in which case you disappear into a vast sea of other Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades. I do still take outsourced work from marketing agencies, though, because I enjoy the variety. One day you’re writing blog posts for an insurance company that caters to teachers, the next you’re creating mildly crass Facebook memes aimed at 20-something heterosexual men who gamble. It’s fun!

Question #2: Thank you for offering us the chance to ask questions! I’ve been working as a freelance editor part-time along with my normal day job in academia. I’m currently looking to grow my business. I’ve been wondering about keeping regular clients happy, yet still being able to take a week or two off throughout the year. –EGEORGIAN

Amber Katz: There’s no reason you can’t enjoy a week or two off throughout the year. It’s all about sending your freelance clients an email 2 weeks before your vacation and letting them know you’ll be off the grid for a couple weeks and could they please submit any requests for work by X date so you have time to finish up before you leave. Then, use an Out Of Office notification to let people know you’re away and not checking email until X date and to contact you in case of an emergency using a special email subject line.

Cariwyl Herbert: Everyone is entitled to time off—even freelancers! It isn’t difficult to take a day off here and there; put an out-of-office alert on your email if you’re worried. For a longer vacation, simply give clients a couple weeks notice so they know what to expect.

Leah Singer: For me personally, it’s been hard to take chunks of time off and not do any work (although I know people who do it well). I usually always check email or have client work that needs to be done in some way. However, it can be done and it just requires a lot of planning and working in advance. If I know I need to take a few days off, I schedule time on my calendar to do work ahead of time. I also let my clients know I won’t be working on those days. Also, some seasons are slower than others. December always seems to be less chaotic, which is great since my daughter has the last two week of the month off of school. I also take advantage of holiday weekends since the rest of the world tends to slow down during these times.

Matthew Sharpe: I think just give them a lot of advance notice about your time off. If feasible, offer to do extra work in advance of your vacation so they won’t be stranded. Everyone needs time off. People generally accept this, in my experience.

Kim Brittingham: One thing that helps me is flat-out refusing to work with unreasonable and/or demanding people (FS note: Hallelujah!). I have a pretty good instinct about people, and usually after just one conversation, I can sense whether or not they’re going to be a giant pain in the rear. Life’s too short for that. Just say no. BACK AWAY FROM THE NUTJOB. That’s why I never have issues with clients calling me at odd hours or expecting me to be available 24/7 to discuss things that are in no way urgent. Also, I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Tell your client how many hours you have available to them, when you take calls and when you don’t, when and how often you will meet via Skype or conference call, et cetera. Put it in writing.

The work I take allows for a lot of flexibility. For example, I have clients to whom I provide the same amount of content every month. I know when my deadlines are, so if I want to go away for a week, I just work extra-hard to get everything done early. But I do make sure I’m available by e-mail while I’m gone. If that’s not possible, I let all of my clients know in advance when I will be out-of-reach. I also accept longer-term projects, like ghostwriting books, but when I accept those projects, I also accept that I won’t be doing any extensive traveling until the gig is over.

Alexandra Ostrow: It’s all about setting expectations. Just like you, your clients are likely looking to take a vacation (or three), and should understand you need some time away. It’s unlikely to be an issue as long as you let them know ahead of time about your plans, and then work out an arrangement where either a) you complete all deliverables prior to takeoff or b) you have a trusted colleague cover your role while you’re away. If it is still an issue, I would personally question whether that particular client is worth sacrificing work-life balance.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo


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feeling the freelance life but you have all the questions? we’ve got the answers: a roundtable

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Can I tell you that I wish I had a SWAT team of consultants with whom I could confide when I left 18 years of office life behind? People who understood the abject terror that was email radio silence and project drought. Peers who expertly navigated clients who thought they’d come cheap because they were no longer backed by a company. People who were the architects of their own days since they’d abandoned all semblance of office structure.

Two years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to price projects and I didn’t even know what sort of projects I wanted to pursue. And while I’m a creature of habit and had no issues with cultivating routine and structure, I still cringe at the notion that I could go months without a project or that I have to deal with college graduates with cell phones trying to compete with me on price. I learned a lot about myself, my worth and my work over the two years, and I don’t hesitate when I send my rates because I calmly remind prospects that they’re buying experience, agility, speed and creativity instead of a hungry kid who can navigate the latest newfangled technology. Comparing the two is akin to comparing apples to oranges and I’ve often had to turn down projects because they weren’t in line with my worth or my vision.

This week a friend and fellow freelancer called me with contract questions. Another friend inquired about how she should price herself–what should be my rate? And as the questions accumulated, I thought it fitting to round up some of the smartest people I know–across industry, experience and perspective–to tackle the questions we’re sometimes frightened to ask publicly.

So here we are. A roundtable of pros who are so generous with their time because I suspect someone was once generous with them. You’ve got an incredible FREE resource at your fingertips so ask the questions. About money, family, balance, clients, competition, work–ask it all. Be shameless, be inquisitive, be bold. We’ll post our answers in a follow-up post next week And I realize that some people may be contemplating career changes and are frightened to comment publicly–no sweat, look to the right of your screen and you’ll see my email. Shoot me a note, preface that you want your question published confidentially and we’ll answer accordingly. Or, tweet me your questions using the hashtag, #feelingfreelance

All of us made a choice to go out on our own. I’m sure we’ve made the BIG mistakes and the BIG leaps, so we’re here to impart some of our wisdom (and failures) so you have the tools you need to make smart decisions.

And now…meet your team of EIGHT!!!:

Kim Brittingham Kim Brittingham is the principal of Kim Brittingham & Co. Content Developers. She’s been working as a full-time freelancer since 2014, and started part-time in the late ‘90s. She’s the author of the memoir Read My Hips (Random House, 2011) and Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGO, 2013). She also teaches How to Blog for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

FS note: Kim is a bucket of awesome. Not only is she such a witty writer, she’s adept in: ghostwriting books, ghostblogging/business blogging; writing web copy, white papers/special reports, newsletter articles, video scripts, podcast scripts; social media management.

Cariwyl HebertCariwyl Hebert is a freelance web marketing consultant specializing in SEM and SEO. She is also the founder of Salon97, a non-profit that makes classical music accessible to all via live events, a podcast, online articles, and more. Cariwyl resides in San Francisco with her author husband and an orange cat.

FS note: I had the pleasure of meeting Cariwyl through her husband and my dear friend, Kevin. I remember a day in particular when I attended a salon she hosted, and how I was so nervous amongst so many new people but fell to quiet when she played selections of classical music. I’ve so much respect for Cariwyl, for her passion for the arts as well as her adeptness in marketing.

Amber Katz Amber Katz is a freelance writer, consultant, copy writer/editor and founder of rouge18.com, a pop culture-infused beauty blog featuring everything from skin smoothers to hair spray to body scrubs. A former financial copy writer, Amber started her blog in 2006 as an outlet from which to rave about her favorite lotions and potions to fellow beautyphiles–instead of her non-target audience of middle-aged (straight) male auditors at the office. Amber writes frequently for Allure.com, LuckyShops.com, Refinery29.com, TeenVogue.com and Yahoo Beauty. Find her on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram

FS note: Amber is not only one of my dearest friends but she’s an incredible writer–an artisan with a pen. She’s a pro copywriter, copyeditor and I’ve never met anyone who knows the innards of the beauty industry quite like Amber.

Alexandra OstrowAlexandra Ostrow is a strategist and marketer for social impact and innovation. She is the founder of WhyWhisper Collective, a network of independent consultants serving nonprofits, social enterprises, and impact-focused brands.

Prior to venturing out on her own, Alexandra worked for two social media marketing agencies, where she managed the global and local accounts for a wide variety of brands, including Mattel, JP Morgan Chase, Medtronic Diabetes, The Michelin Guide, and Pepperidge Farm. She also spent two years working in the Communications Department at Cardozo Law School.

Alexandra’s passion for the impact sector first began while volunteering for a local animal rescue. After visiting an AIDS orphanage in India and establishing a nonprofit consultancy in Jamaica while still employed full-time, her path became clearer. Today, her clients address issues within the areas of health, human rights, education, and conscious consumption.

FS note: Alex is one of the good ones. I’ve worked with her, and she’s one of the most passionate and smartest women I know. Alex is a force of nature, and everytime I see her I’m reminded of the fact that she’s changing the world.

Matthew Sharpe Matthew Sharpe is a novelist, professor, and freelance editor. In his capacity as editor, he works one-on-one with authors of fiction and nonfiction who are writing books or shorter pieces. His own novels include You Were Wrong, Jamestown, and The Sleeping Father. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Fiction and The Sleeping Father was featured on The Today Show Book Club. He teaches part time in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

FS note: Matthew is one of the most extraordinary writers I know. In another life I had the pleasure of reviewing one of his books and I remember comparing him to Don Delillo. Not only is Matt an exceptional writer, I’ve heard rave reviews from some of his clients whose books have been transformed as a result of Matt’s editing.

Leah SingerLeah Singer helps businesses and entrepreneurs tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients. She specialize in writing and marketing strategy, and works extensively in higher education, and with attorneys and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments.

She writes regularly for The Huffington Post; Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor); Edible San Diego; Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and many other national blogs and websites.

Leah left a lucrative career in higher education to become a full-time freelancer three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She was a speechwriter and communications manager for two college presidents at San Diego’s largest public university, and oversaw communications for San Diego State University’s Enrollment Services Department. Before that, Leah worked in marketing and public relations at KPBS public broadcasting station.

When she’s not working, she can be found reading books and blogs; cooking and baking; taking photos; drinking coffee; browsing bookstores; and walking her dogs. She also blogs at Leah’s Thoughts where she writes about motherhood, books and writing, and the everyday nuances of life. She lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, very extroverted daughter, two dogs, and a cat.

FS note: Can I tell you how excited I am to finally meet Leah when I move out west later this year? Not only does she love food and animals as much as I do, we both have an affection for books and marketing.

Lindsey TramutaLindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based food and travel writer (New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar) and social media consultant. After over three and a half years working in-house for Proximity BBDO in Paris, she works with brands big and small to master their tone of voice, to develop their social media strategy and presence and create content to enrich their identities. Find her on TwitterInstagram.

FS note: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Lindsey, albeit virtually, for the past two years. Oddly enough, I discovered her site whilst looking for places to eat in Paris. I’m delighted to not only know her as a writer, but also as a pal in the industry. She specializes in content creation, social media strategy and copy, digital copywriting, food & travel writing.

And me, naturally! You know my story, but here’s my LinkedIn profile if you want to learn a little more about my professional background.

five tips for freelancers: because some of you are doing it wrong

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Over the past two years of being a consultant*, I’ve seen it all. I’ve cringed during uncomfortable conference calls when counterparts waged a financial war over 30 minutes of billable work, and I shook my head when another freelancer told my client, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t big enough to be a priority. I’ve had to bear witness to freelancers loading a gun and shooting off every limb until there’s nothing left. Freelancing isn’t for everyone–some prefer the structure and rhythms of a traditional office environment, and that’s totally fine–but for those who have made the leap it’s important to know that there are nuances in handling client relationships and managing yourself. I’ve read through Copyblogger’s exhaustive list of all the mistakes one could possibly make as a freelancer (all 53 of them), but I keep seeing the same excruciating five over and over again.

TIP ONE: GET RIGHT WITH YOUR LOVE. Nothing says you’re not my priority than telling a client you can’t manage their request because you have other deliverables…for other clients. I’ve seen scenarios where a freelancer would tell a client they couldn’t answer their question (which was actually a simple one) until the following week. I’ve seen countless instances where people would be too transparent with their workload (I’m so slammed with other client work, can I get back to you on this? is a constant refrain). Let me let you in on a little secret: your client doesn’t care about your other clients, obligations, or workload–they only care about what’s in front of them. Clients care about their own problems, and they hired you for solutions.

And I get it. You need to juggle multiple clients because of the uncertainty of deal flow. You need to save for the drought. Sometimes your clients ask stupid questions (and they do, often) and you just don’t have time to answer them. Sometimes you read through your emails think, are you kidding me with this? However, let me be clear about something:

The fact that you can’t manage your workflow is your fault, your problem. Right now, I’ve three very active clients and they barely know that one another exists. And that’s how it should be. Want to know how I got to this place? Simple:

a. Be clear about your work arrangement, hours allocation and response time for “fires” in your contract. I go through the pain and bloodletting during the contract process. Contracts are critical because you’re not only negotiating the deliverable, IP, warrants, and all that other nonsense, but you’re also stipulating how you will work with the client and their expectations on your time. You’ll go through so many rounds on the contract that your client will have your availability committed to memory. In all my agreements, I define the hours or days allocated to a project, how we’ll mutually manage overages, and I even have clauses about how I’ll manage fires and normal response times on off-hours, and how I can be reached in an emergency. I hired a lawyer to manage my vendor agreement, and usually use a lawyer for 1-2 hours if I’m working off a client’s standard MSA/vendor template so I can ensure my language is covered, however, there are amazing affordable resources like Upcounsel, where lawyers can help you in one-off agreement negotiations.

b. Maintain your agreement (because there is the reality of the slippery slope) but be open to flexibility: Be thoughtful and strategic about managing client requests during off-hours. Is this an urgent request and can it be completed quickly? Is this just a one-off question that won’t take more than five minutes of your time? Then manage it. Your client will be grateful. If the request is substantial, be open with your client and remind them of your terms but suggest a midway point if the request is urgent, i.e. I’m sensitive to the request, and although I’m not available at the moment (I never say why because they know and don’t want to be reminded!!!), how about I come back to a solution at [insert later point in time]? Or, offer an alternative resource internally, or someone you trust who can supplement the work. Notice how I’ve address urgent inquiries. Use your best judgment in determining what’s truly urgent. If the situation is not urgent, kindly remind your client of your terms.

c. Manage your time: The hardest part of being a freelancer is establishing your own structure amidst a day without guardrails and routine. Establish a routine. Use productivity tools that are best for you–click here and here and here and yes, here, for some excellent resources. And, more importantly, be honest about what you can manage, because while I understand the need to squirrel away cash, at one point you will face diminishing returns and your performance will suffer, which will affect your performance and future referrals. Personally, I can only take on one “big client” in a 3-6 month time frame, and then I can take on other clients where the workload is no more than 10-15 hours a week. I usually have 1 big client and 2 smaller projects cooking at once and that tends to work for me. Yesterday, I read this interesting post where a freelance web designer takes on projects sequentially. Not right for me, but figure out what works for you and the services you’re offering.

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

TIP TWO: RIGHT-SIZE YOUR APPROACH. Because consulting is not a one-size-fits-all approach. A few years ago I bemoaned a client to a dear friend and peer. I prattled on about how my start-up client wasn’t doing things the right way, they skimped on the essentials of branding and marketing, to which my friend responded that I was doing the equivalent of fitting a square peg in a round hole. She continued and said that startups don’t have the time, luxury or money to do everything according to plan, that I had to rethink my approach and focus on the essentials for the client. I had to deliver what my client truly needed at that point in time, as opposed to what they should have.

That advice has lingered with me since, and now I’m able to shape my services to all sorts of client sizes and budgets. What I would deliver to a billion dollar electronics giant would be markedly different than my deliverable to a start-up clothing brand. Usually, the latter is leaner, tighter and execution-heavy. Yes, there’s strategy in both but the strategy for an established brand or business is demonstrably different than the needs of a burgeoning brand, whose positioning and value proposition may change over the course of refining their product or service.

What you think your client should do might not really sync with what they need, and you have to be prepared to be a consulting chameleon. Assess your client’s objectives, evaluate their resources and budget, and deliver what works best for them now, even if it’s a phased approach. I LOVE a phased approach because it gives me the flexibility to add and refine over time while offering the client a more risk-averse approach (and they can see your BIG THINKING!). All too often I see startup founders shake their head when reviewing a proposal, with a that’s nice, but that’s not really feasible when I’m still trying to get my product in shape.

In short, be flexible, be malleable. Realize when you’re fitting square pegs into round holes.

TIP THREE: DON’T GET SURGICAL ABOUT EVERY BILLABLE HOUR. No one believes in getting paid on time more than I do. If you expect me to deliver at a specified time, I expect to be compensated for my work at a specified time. However, we live in the real world not an imaginary one, and sometimes in this world people in accounts payable go on vacation, people forget to submit your invoice for processing or the direct deposit might take forever and a day to set up properly. Give your client the benefit of the doubt and don’t roll in acting like a collection agency if your check is under 5 days late. Client service was invented for a reason, people.

While I establish late fees in my contract (usually when payment is over 30 days), I also specify and negotiate payment terms in my agreements. Few companies pay N30 and even fewer pay on receipt. Most companies pay N45 and I’ve even seen N60. Luckily, most of my clients pay N30, and I have a few different gigs happening at once so the cash flow feels continuous (although I admittedly have to get better at budgeting–WIP!!!).

I usually wait five days after the payment due date before I send notes of inquiry because I try to exercise the belief that most people have good intentions and want to pay for the work you’ve delivered. And while I’ll send out the troops for clients who are clearly being egregious with late payments, don’t issue the brigade if the payment is a few days late and exercise compassion for when clients have good reasons for delays.

Also, while it’s important to track your project hours, don’t get crazy over every billable hour. I’ve actually seen emails where freelancers nickel and dime over a 1/2 hour. I’ve read emails where a consultant underdelivered on a project because they didn’t have enough time in the hour allocation. Umm…that’s your fault. As a consultant, it’s critical that you price right, profile right, and allow for flexibility in the contract when the deliverable changes or you encounter scope creep. Delivering subpar work and telling your client you’re doing so will ensure that you will never work for them, or anyone they know, again.

In general, you’ve noticed the constant, quiet refrain of flexibility. While I have iron-clad agreements and I’m pretty direct when it comes to how, when, where I work, I allow for a degree of flexibility for the times when I know being flexibility is an investment in the relationship and future business. Be smart. Don’t think in the billable moment.

TIP FOUR: DON’T ALWAYS BE PITCHING. There’s a time and a place for a sale and it’s not every waking moment. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross–know when and how to sell. Education is always an implicit, soft sell. Balance that with upsells once you’ve identified a real need, have established a relationship, and have problem yourself a valuable, trusted resource. Overt sells can be grating and show just how focused you are on money. Yes, we all want to make money and secure successive deals and cash flow, but exercise grace. Be subtle about how you sell.

I’ve created education guides (e.g. social media best practices, worksheets for branding exercises, etc) that I use as investment products and soft-sells. Once I’ve established my value with a client, I’ll often send guides that are relevant for their needs/business, with no explicit sell. I’ve done mini education sessions (or the clients have used these guides for internal education), and I’ve almost always secured MORE business because of it.

Be strategic about the sale and offer additional services when you’ve established trust and value, and have some back-pocket tools that you can offer than can bring you closer to a sale.

TIP FIVE: HAVE A PLAN FOR RECIPROCATING/COMPENSATING FOR LEADS. Can I tell you how many people have received project leads or jobs because of my network? Can I tell you how many people have thanked me or issued a % compensation for their completed project as a result of my introduction or lead. Believe me when I say the former is greater than the latter. I continue to be shocked by the fact that people feel entitled to connections or leads. Every single time I get a lead, I thank the person who made the introduction, because although the project might not come to fruition I have someone new and valuable in my network. If the project comes to fruition, I offer a % referral fee on final payment. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do even if people refuse it.

At the very least be humble and thankful for any lead, even if it’s beneath you, not appropriate, not in budget, etc. I’ve experienced ingratitude that’s prevented me from sharing leads or referrals, moving forward. Every referral speaks to my brand and my integrity and I won’t risk either over an ungrateful/entitled referral.

*Bit of Advice: I accept LinkedIn invitations from people with whom I’ve worked previously and prospective clients. If we don’t know one another, please make an effort to pen an introduction to your connection request. Otherwise, it feels like the equivalent of you walking into my home, uninvited.

on being assertive: tips + advice from two top agency executives

Working Desk

For most of my career my mentors and sponsors have been men. In 1997, I entered the workplace in an age where women were just starting to experience the taste of leadership, when they were told by various books and handsomely-paid speakers that they could “have it all” if they were ambitious enough. We had finally recovered from the cruel sartorial joke that were shoulder pads, yet most women still wore tights and sneakers on the subway. Having studied business with both men and women, have interned at some of the most prestigious investment banks alongside men, I didn’t yet understand that there was an invisible line between men and women. In the age of Bill Clinton and this burgeoning phenomenon called the Internet (we had one Internet terminal at Chase when I started and nearly all of us used Lotus Notes for email), I walked into the workplace blind. It was only when I noticed that I was one of few women in banking, it was only when I noticed the ascension of men to higher ranks with ease while women had to constantly prove their worth did I recognize that the divide, although in start contrast to years past, still existed.

It existed when I was #3 in an agency and I noticed that my aggressive, ambitious behavior was admonished while the same behavior from my male counterparts was praised and fostered. I felt that it was not only important that I be admired, but as a woman I must be liked; I must play nice. I must be the caretaker and nurturer while my male counterparts weren’t expected to assume the role of mother in the workplace. I must be assertive, but not too assertive, and after a while I started to get really frustrated.

Really frustrated.

That’s when I encountered my first extraordinary mentor, Anne Bologna. Anne is a bucket of awesome. She’s smart, passionate, assertive–all the things I want to be as a leader, but she doesn’t compromise. She refuses to play into a gendered role, and has given me confidence in my voice, my role, and more importantly, how to speak up for what I want and deserve. She was responsible for getting me involved with StraightUp, an informal organization that focuses on fostering women execs in the agency world. While I’m no longer interested in being part of the agency structure, the network and the advice are invaluable.

I’m really thrilled to share some tips and advice from a recent StraightUp discussion with Sarah Thompson (Global CEO of Droga5) + Emma Cookson (until recently Chairman of BBH New York). I was unable to make the event because I was stuck in a Miami airport, cursing out American Airlines (never again, people. NEVER AGAIN WITH THIS AIRLINE), but they were kind enough to share the notes from the meeting and they gave me permission to reprint them for you guys. Enjoy!

1. Being Assertive One-on-One (e.g. Negotiating a Raise/Promotion)

  • THINK OUTCOMES. Always decide beforehand what you want the outcome(s) to be. You’ll seem less in control if you go into a negotiation without that clarity, or if you go in thinking “I’ll see what (s)he suggests/offers after we’ve discussed everything”
  • SPELL IT OUT. Don’t assume they remember your track record or your merits. No one has time to care as much about you as you do. Remind them. Doing so is just confident and efficient. And it doesn’t have to come across as arrogant (make sure it doesn’t–you don’t need to be a d*!k) e.g. “When I look back over the last 6 months, what I feel most proud of is X, Y, Z”. “When we last talked you encouraged me to do X, Y, Z – which was really useful perspective and helped me achieve X, Y, Z”
  • GET THEM TO TALK FIRST. Typically, by asking questions upfront–even if just something like, “Before we start, can I be clear about what would you like to get out of this meeting?”/”How do you prefer to handle this sort of meeting”? etc. It is much easier to navigate a negotiation if you know the other person’s ingoing views and assumptions, and the tone they are going to adopt. So try to resist responding to questions that ask you to commit to your views before hearing a bit from the person you’re negotiating with PREP SOUNDBITES BUT NOT A SCRIPT. Have the (few – 5 or 6 ish) key points you want to make planned out in advance. In soundbites–so they are memorable and super-clear. Ready to use. It helps you feel relaxed and ready, and prevents you forgetting to cover a key point. But *don’t* plan a ‘speech’: if what you say is scripted, it will sound scripted–and sounding scripted sounds vulnerable.
  • PLANT SEEDS. Talk way ahead (months, years!) about your future ambitions–“one day I want to be head of dept”–so a path is carved out. A request is much easier to say yes to if it doesn’t come out of the blue. And a promotion/raise is much easier to give if you’ve known for months and years that the person seeking it is clearly ambitious.
  • 2. Being Assertive In Meetings

  • START SENTENCES RIGHT. Don’t start sentences with “I think”, just make the point. Same thing with ‘Do you think that….?”. And definitely avoid, “This might be stupid but…”: we all do it, but it means you’re immediately selling short what you’re about to say and making people question your self-confidence and competence. Really: it feels comfortable but it isn’t effective.
  • SPEAK EARLY. Try to find something to say early in a meeting–even if casual/trivial. Just hearing your voice aloud will make you feel more comfortable and will transmit that you are at ease/assured. And the longer you wait to say something, the more pressure that’s put on what you actually say eventually to feel impressive. REMEMBER YOUR CONTRIBUTION DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO BE BRILLIANT OR NEW IN ORDER TO IMPRESS. You can also confirm and/or question. e.g. Say out loud that you think what X just said was exactly right, for X reason. Or ask for something to be clarified. (Come to the meeting with questions prepared.)
  • PREPARE TO BE DIRECT IF OTHERS ARE AGGRESSIVE/DOMINEERING. Prepare specific phrases to deal with times when others are talking over you or taking over. And practise saying them out loud in advance so you know they’ll feel comfortable coming out of your mouth, e.g. “I don’t think this is a productive conversation.” Or “I haven’t finished ….”. Or, “Yes, I already said that.” IF NECESSARY, LET IT GO TO SHIT. If a meeting (or indeed a bigger situation) is just totally messy, rambling and/or out of control, don’t automatically jump in to try to help. Sometimes it’s better to let it go to shit. Don’t get involved if doing so risks you getting positioned as part of the mess/confusion. Stay quiet and aloof. Then intervene right at the end–or afterwards–with a concise observation and clear proposal to get to the right outcome. IF YOU ARE PRESENTING, TRY HAVING YOUR FIRST 2-3 SENTENCES MEMORIZED VERBATIM. That way, even if you are so nervous you lose all confidence and clarity when it gets to your section, you will still start off ok. And as soon as you hear yourself sounding OK–even just for a sentence or two–it will calm you and help you get into your stride
  • 3. Being Assertive Generally, Day-to-day:

  • BE YOURSELF. Although easy to say, hard to do–this one is vital. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. It just doesn’t work: you can always tell if someone is ‘adopting’ a style consciously–‘trying to be assertive’–and it just comes across as uncomfortable and unconfident, so it undermines your credibility. You can assert yourself in so many different successful ways, find your own: feisty and pushy? cool and unrufflable (often done successfully via strategic use of staying silent)? nonchalant and genial? You have to find your own personal style for being assertive/assured and it may not be at all aggressive.
  • DON’T CRY WOLF. In general, try to stay on even keel in your daily work so that when you really need to make a point/make something to happen, you can get loud and/or stroppy and it will be meaningful.
  • PRAISE YOUR TEAM. Publicly celebrating your team’s achievements (e.g. via an email to senior management) reflects well on you as well as them. It demonstrates personal confidence/leadership. And it is just the right thing to do….(In similar vein, a great way to be assertive in a meeting is to spot some other person who’s clearly trying to make a point but not getting heard – and make space for them: “I think Karen has something she’s been trying to say – Karen, what was it you wanted to add?”)
  • BE DISARMINGLY HONEST. This doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes if you’re nervous or stressed it can help to just own it and be honest. There is a confidence in being able to admit your vulnerabilities without fear, no-one’s perfect, e.g. “I must admit I’ve been very apprehensive about this meeting…”, “As you can probably tell, I’m finding this situation very stressful…”
  • Photo Credits: First image via; Second image: Death to the Stock Photo.

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    pick my brain {weekly advice + useful links that inspire the extraordinary}

    Thanks to all of you for sending such extraordinary questions! As you can see, I’m getting used to video blog posts, so I know it’ll take a few weeks before I find my stride, get comfortable, focused and efficient. However, I hope this weekly bit of advice is helpful for you and the links inspire you to ferret out your own greatness. Also, lots of folks emailed me with anonymous questions about career changes and issues in the office. Please know that I can keep my responses completely anonymous, just let me know when you’re writing the note. If you’ve got queries, thoughts, feedback, etc, please leave them in the comments section, and I can’t wait to answer more of your questions next week!

    Question 1 {.42 mark}: A reader who works in publishing wants to transition out of the book business. Knowing that time is such a precious commodity, how does she find mentorship and career counsel, and how does she manage communicating to her career in-house mentors, without appearing as if she’s disrespected their years invested in the publishing business.

    Reader, I would also posit that you probably don’t have the explicit experience for a lateral career move, and WAIT, that’s not a bad thing. What I neglected to mention in the video is that I’ve built a career that has always been a response to people who have told me I didn’t have enough experience, I wasn’t the right fit, etc. When I worked in finance, recruiters told me to forget about any moves beyond the industry. In response, I created, managed and operated a successful .dot business. I created the experience when there was none. I would offer that your career moves are about consistently being a chameleon, repositioning your skills for the next job, and focusing on your side + passion projects that can fill in the gaps. You work in book publishing? That means you understand content and its distribution, which can be useful in many industries!

    Inspiring Links: Experience Slows You Down | Why you should quit your job and travel now | Changing Jobs Every Year? No Problem. Leaving Coworkers Behind? No Way | 3 ways to say no to people who want to pick your brain (sage advice here)

    Question 2 {4:04 mark}: Kel asks: How much does one need in savings as an “eff it” fund, to be able to walk away from a steady income and face potential starvation? Also, my dream is to open a bakery. Everyone tells me my baked goods are delightful, but how do I KNOW that people would actually pay money for them? Of course they scoff them down when offered free at a meeting, but how do I know who is telling me the truth?

    Inspiring Links: On the Tenth Anniversary of Quitting | What would you do if you weren’t afraid? | The beauty of the deliberate mistake | Work, Breadwinning + Balance (great blog post by a woman who’s embarked on her second act)

    Question 3 {5:39 mark}: Cheryl wonders: So, I’ve been trying to work on my novel. My question is about having a long-term plan/strategy. I’ve really avoided thinking about the next steps (finding an agent and publisher, respectively). Do you think that’s okay? I feel like it’s pointless to even consider those tasks until I have a finished book, something that’s complete and polished.

    Inspiring Links: Create something every day | Agents and Editors: Q+A With Four Literary Agents | Poets + Writers Agent Dbase (for when you’re ready) | Great list of articles from agents giving smart advice | Current writing culture + there’s a sizable shift

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