you want to pay me $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy? that’s cute.

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

There’s something many of my peers have been discussing in private groups and behind closed doors but no dares to speak out loud for fear of losing work. We trade emails where editors think $25 for 500-word articles, replete with secondary sources and rounds of revision, to be a living wage. We lament over the fact that seasoned marketers are being outbid by people with little to no actual work experience beyond preening themselves in front of a camera. I’m told, why would I pay X if Competitor A offers a third of your rate, to which I respond: I don’t compete on price; I compete on value, efficacy, and experience. Last week someone told me that she made more money doing the same thing ten years ago than she does now. Her professional life is one of diminishing returns: she has to work twice as hard now to make the same money she made a decade ago. In a private Facebook group, scores of influential bloggers talk about how brands and publicists trot out the word “exposure” in exchange for free work. Recently, writer Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this charade in her incisive essay about the trap of blogging for exposure:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

Another friend seethes when she’s told by her editor that college kids would be willing to work for free (or for a fraction of the standard rate) because everyone wants exposure and experience. In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects, and the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked through college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and a social life. Most of my internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that my compensation directly correlated with my experience, it was unthinkable to compete with full-time employees’ comp, people who had years of experience.

Let me be clear and say that this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle that rivals Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and I believe in the power of symbiotic mentorship. After I left a digital marketing agency where I was an equity partner, I kept in close contact with many people who reported to me, brilliant women who went on to break ranks and with whom I forged close relationships. Although we were 10–15 years apart in age, we knew our respective value, and it was equal and powerful. I mentored women on being a manager and leader, how to negotiate comp and deal with toxic employees, and they kept me fresh on burgeoning trends and social media, and what I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that will satiate you — this is not one of them.

For the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend in some agencies where they’ve skimmed the top (less P&L impact) and hired junior talent in hopes of growing them rapidly into senior roles. A whole middle layer of management was nearly non-existent, so you had very senior people too deep in the weeds and junior talent feeling overwhelmed and non-equipped to manage work and situations in which they had little experience. In The Devil’s Advocate (bear with me), Al Pacino’s character tells a young and arrogant Keanu Reeves:

I know you got talent, I knew that before you got here. It’s just the other thing I wonder about: pressure, it changes everything. Some people you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders and they exude confidence and acumen beyond their years, a talent that’s rare and priceless. A soon-to-be college grad outlines, in detail, how hard she worked to get published in bold-face publications before graduation, and I respect her tenacity, talent, and hustle. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations. I will always believe in the adage “you get what you pay for”.Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to save bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real and tangible value in having a college or intern perspective. There’s value in having someone who knows the nuances of a particular social media channel give input on content and strategy. However, the value is complementary, not interchangeable. Just because someone will do something for free doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of it for the short-term savings, completely sacrificing the value of experience and perspective. Complement, don’t replace all.

Let’s revisit that offer of $250 and what comprises an integrated marketing strategy. Building a strategy requires (I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery/Research: A complete brand and business immersion and discussions with staff across business units — all of this in the context of industry factors and consumer trends/behavior
  2. Key Learnings: From all of the research and discussions, I tend to identify challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues (internal and external) and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives/Goals Discussion: This is lengthy, and often we review past day and performance as well as a deeper conversation about their existing customer base. We discuss quantifiable and qualitative goals and objectives, knowing that our strategy has to satisfy or meet those goals/objectives. We discuss what success is and how to measure/optimize it, by channel, by tactic
  4. Strategy Outline: This is the “What” — What we’ll do to service the goals/objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to bolster our brand” — this is the big idea and plan that will impact the entire business, and will be implemented across paid, owned, earned and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: From the strategy falls the tactics, which brings the ideas to life in a practical way, i.e. the “How”. This will invariably require the collaboration between partners (internal and external) for development of distinct and detailed plans with budgets, timelines, and allocated resources

So you think all that work — weeks of labor — is worth $250? I’ve worked hard for 17+ years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest.

You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely writes: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell people I’m not operating a non-profit. Would I ask my doctor to reduce her rate because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

When will brands and businesses focus on complementary talent rather than bottom-line savings that hurt over time?


I originally published this post on Medium
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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.

on consulting + going out on my own

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You’re never leaving, right? my client jokes last week after I give him a recap of my activity. Even though I’ve been on this assignment for only a short period of time, I feel connected to the people with whom I’ve been working–the ease in which I’ve assimilated into the group shocks me still–and my client, in jest, talked about having me aboard, full-time. I laughed, shook my head quietly, and said no, committing to someone for five days a week just isn’t my bag.

Last week, a fellow freelancer talked about consulting in terms of relationships: I’m dating a ton of people right now, and I have no interest in a commitment. I nodded my head because after seventeen years bound to multiple offices, computers, logins, politics and process, I want something other. And while I’ve been privileged to have been offered a slew of executive roles in agencies and at companies over the past year, I’ve ceremoniously turned them all down because the idea of having ownership of my time was infinitely more attractive than the illusion of financial stability. I’m insanely focused during the hours I’m on an assignment, and then I have the FREEDOM to work on my novel, take Brooklyn Body Burn classes during the day, and meet friends for a meal without having to frantically check my phone. I used to be the person who always checked the time, now I’m someone who allows it to pass.

Although I dare say I miss having consistent health insurance and a 401K.

Another freelancer, my dear friend Alex, and I spoke of the freedom of creating a life of your own design, of experimenting with models, modes of work, and failing forward while devouring the menu at Trattoria il Mulino. Although the risk of failing when you’re constantly hustling for income is a real one, it also allows you the space and time to really analyze your failures and make transformative change in how you act and work. You’re rarely afforded the ability to fail forward in a traditional workplace since failure, by definition, bears a negative connotation–it’s the thing to which we’ve been trained to avoid by all means possible. So we’ve been groomed to believe that running through ribbons is success, while I believe success is falling on your face, tasting your own blood, and getting up to run again. Perhaps considering a new course or direction.

Here’s the thing: I’m often nervous about maintaining deal flow, I loathe networking for the sake of networking, and I generally make less money than I have in the past, BUT, BUT, I’m happier. My days are my own to design; I only take on projects that challenge me; I work with people who inspire me; I collaborate with other freelancers, regardless of peer level and age, as a means to test out ideas and new ways of thinking + working; I’ve always operated from a place of integrity, which has afforded me a strong, reliable network. So when people ask me if I’ll ever go back to full-time {and this question is a constant, as folks somehow operate under the impression that full-time employment is risk-averse}, I talk about marriage. I talk about the seriousness of commitment. I now come from a place where I view a full-time role as a mutually-beneficial partnership rather than a honor bestowed by the employer.

I only wish I’d embarked on this path sooner…

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making connections, building your kula over two plates + blocking the barnacles

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When it comes to people I have a very simple rule: if I can’t share a meal with you I don’t want to know you. Regardless of age, industry or income, food has the magical capacity to bind us, allowing for real, meaningful connections even if we don’t realize it. What we reveal about ourselves when faced with a table, napkins, flatware and plates goes beyond words — it’s something kinetic, visceral. We are our truest selves when exercising the most primal of acts: nourishment. We eat to sustain; we eat to comfort an ache and complete something within us that’s missing.

Whenever I meet someone I rarely go for coffee because it’s cheap and quick, and I’ll never truly know the kind of person you are until you’ve held a fork in your hands, until I see the shape of your face shift after you’ve taken your first bite. Do you fall deliriously in love with what’s on your plate? Are you present to appreciate the color and texture and taste of what you choose to put into their house? We have this one body, our home, and are you the kind who cares about how you’ve outfitted it {have you given care to the selection of fabric and wattage of the bulbs}, or do you just purchase exquisite finery to only discard it to the floor? Do you eat without tasting? Do you swallow without savoring? Do you spend your meals only for the sole purpose of getting a contact or lead, or do you genuinely ache for that spark, that hiss and spit of flame that happens when you’ve talked about the things that matter. The things you carry.

Over the course of a meal, I learn many things about a person. How attentive they are to the wait staff, if they reach to refill your glass before theirs, and if there is a pregnant pause after that first bite, because regardless of what’s being said, can I just tell you how good this is?

So many bloggers and experts and networkers will talk to you about acquiring fancy business cards and working a room. They’ll talk to you about follow-ups and how to work the rolodex, and while I appreciate the methodical nature of this hustle, it’s not my bag. While a large part of being a freelancer boils down to hustle, I focus more on cultivating what in yoga folks call a “kula” or community. I build the village around my house brick by brick. I mix the cement, I lay the foundation and I choose which bricks go where. I focus on how much I need and how I will build a village that will sustain me, that will lift me up, inspire me, and catch me when I fall.

I don’t own cards. Large groups of people give me vertigo. I tend to forget people’s names, and the idea of asking for favors outright feels unseemly. Instead, I meet people individually, and get to know them as people, and in that process projects, connections, favors are organic and thoughtful. I seek out my kindred spirits and collect them, and as I selflessly help them with no expectation of a return favor, I find that in the end my relationships keep me going, even when the darkness obscures everything in view. And these relationships are built on trust, mutual respect, reciprocity, creativity — not on a shared Google doc. Do we marry on the first date? Then how do we expect to unload ourselves, our platonic hearts, after one meeting? In a culture consumed with personal velocity, we don’t want hear that things take time, that we have to put in the work. We want the now, the immediate, the can you connect me with…

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Have you ever asked yourself: do I know the people I know? Do I know what wakes them up in the morning and how they take their coffee? Did I make the effort to know this person for who they are rather than what they can give? Have we thought about what we can give?

I spent the day with two markedly different, yet equally brilliant, women. We talked about mentorships, our respective affections, and spent our time simply to suss one another out. Perhaps auditioning ourselves for the role of village member. We spoke about the mistakes people make: not making their intentions clear at the first meeting {someone once rolled up to a lunch with their resume in the guise of loving my blog, while another ambushed me with mentorship questions even before the menus hit the table}, or assigning us homework after. Our lives are so hectic that the idea of leaving a first encounter with an epic task list and a request to comb through your contact list is exhausting, and I tend to cut the barnacles before they’ve formed their spindly attachment. I remember a meeting with a woman who I really admired. She’s creative, smart, ebullient and had an enviable online presence. When I met her I was bummed that she had already defined our relationship as mentor/mentee, simply because of the fact of our decade age difference, and all the while I just wanted to be her friend. Mentorship is organic, not forced, and while I know we need to be strategic about our careers, our lives, I can’t help but want to pull back, to pause, and continue to build my house, my village, keeping out the folks who take rather than nourish and give. Folks who ignore the food on their plate. Folks who want to meet for a quick coffee. Folks who just don’t have time.

But isn’t time the one thing we should preserve? Shouldn’t we swathe our clocks in blankets and hold them close to our quick-beating hearts? If we value this time and we have so little of it, why not spend it meeting people who inspire you to go back and build that house rather than heading home and collapsing on the pavement?

Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying I had a great day with great women and I expect nothing other than the excitement of getting to know them more.

Breakfast @ Egg | Late lunch at The Fat Radish

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on feeling lost + writing your way back

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We are taught that when we’re young there is so much possibility. You spent your whole life wanting to be older, desperate to be legal, to be an adult, to get out, and when you finally get to the age you desire, you pause, turn every which way, and wonder if this is actually it. {The bills, cramped apartments, roommates and their nocturnal habits, visions of stapling things to employer’s heads, money and how there’s never enough of it, the bone-crushing commute — we wanted this?} If all the rushing to get out of your childhood, out of the house was worth this, shouldn’t we have enjoyed all the days that came before, more? Shouldn’t we have wanted to linger in bed a little longer, cling to the days a little harder?

Why is it always that the young race to press time forward to only find that we spend our whole adult life trying to rewind the clock back? I wonder about the age when we’re actually present, 25, 26? Does this age actually exist, or are we forever oscillating from one extreme to the other — the provenance that comes with being being older or the magic in climbing our way back to childhood?

If we set aside the talk of generation, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of work, of a singular vocation that promised prosperity. Born in the halcyon 70s, raised in the greed-stricken 80s, our plan was written right out of the womb: college, job, marriage, kids, house, retirement — in that order. While girls were giggling about condoms in grade school, I clung to my books {yes, I lugged around a backpack of at least six library books} and even asked the janitor at my elementary school to let me in early so I could study. My “sex” talk consisted of my mother telling me that sex got you pregnant or “VD,” and pregnant women don’t go to college. In retrospect, I find it at turns amusing and sad that my first idea of sex, an act of pleasure and love, was inextricably tied to punishment. So I kept to myself, kept away from the boys, and worked.

When my childhood consisted of summers subsisting on a bag of potatoes and a stick of butter, it’s no wonder that I saw money as the salve to every ache and need. In college, I remember watching Wall Street, pointing to the screen and saying, I want that. I want Wall Street. For the whole of my life, I operated under two masks: a woman whose sole purpose was to procure a job that would pay vast sums of money, and a woman who wrote.

So I got my fancy job at a merchant bank {right when Glass-Steagall was being repealed}, got recruited by an even fancier investment bank, and I finally made this money, finally had the DSPP, ESPP, and every money-related acronym you could imagine, but I was miserable. I worked through school, endured countless accounting and finance classes in college when I could have been reading books, for THIS. FOR THIS. To wear suits that fell just below the knee and crunch numbers in a spreadsheet all day. To this day, I hate Microsoft Excel.

While employed, I applied to MFA programs because I was curious if this other half of me, this writer, was someone worth meeting. When I resigned, my managing directors were baffled. First, they thought MFA was a finance degree of some sort {these are the same people who penned my letters of recommendation} and more horrifying was this: writers don’t make money.

Felicia, writers don’t make money, they said. Read More

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