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:

 

Advertisements

my captain obvious moment as a freelancer: play nice with all aspects of yourself in the sandbox

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_2

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

When I started my career in finance, I learned about the power and peril of diversification. Creating a diversified portfolio carries with it an element of calculated risk–too much and you lose focus and expertise, too little rendered you a specialist tattooed with an expiration date. Your work lies in cultivating balance in the extreme so that in the event the ground opens up and gives way, your fall won’t be precipitous, bottomless. A strategic, well-rounded portfolio is the hedge you need to weather industry downturns and personal catastrophe. When I started my career in digital marketing in 2001, many of my peers were recalcitrant–they considered online commerce a blip, a fad that would inevitably fade and their marketing prowess, experience, and education would prevail. They resisted social networks and failed to learn the language of a seismic behavioral and cultural shift that would become omnipresent, ubiquitous. A Darwinian marketplace rallied against them, rendering smart, albeit stubborn marketers, obsolete because they didn’t diversify–they failed to keep up. On the flipside, you’ve seen what happens when one company or person tries to be all things to all people: they end up being nothing to no one. They end up broken, a whole that would never equate to the sum of its parts. They’re reduced to a spin-off, a division excised from the whole, auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For much of my career, I drew a fine line between work and art. Never have the two played peacefully in the sandbox because one was always kicking sand in the other’s face. Work colleagues were hardly aware that I wrote lyrical, dark books and writer friends were always shocked when I used words like “brand positioning” and “customer segmentation”. One part of me made money and the other derived purpose from writing the small stories that rarely registered on the cultural radar. One part of me paid for the other; for much of my own career, I served as my own patron. I had become my own benefactor. For a while, this strange symphony worked. I wrote my first book and published a successful literary magazine while working in marketing at Time Warner Cable and HarperCollins. I started (and subsequently sold) my second book while juggling brand strategy and digital marketing projects as a consultant. But money sometimes gets tricky and soon I regarded my “work” with mounting annoyance. I was beholden to marketing in order to create the kind of stories that bolted me out of bed in the morning instead of looking at it for what it was: another vehicle that allowed for storytelling.

To use an anti-feminist, subjugating turn-of-phrase: I had become my own bitch. And I didn’t like it.

This week my therapist and I talked about how I fell so hard, so fast when I moved to Los Angeles. Part of it was prolonged grief from not adequating mourning the death of my mother (sound familiar?), for sure, but, more importantly, I had spent the year prior to my move in a state of persistent acceleration. There was a cross-country move to plan, projects to land and conquer, a book to revise with my agent and sell, and the subways, the frenetic rush of people, the axiom of living in New York: do it faster! and it was only after I unpacked all the boxes did I realize I had been running on empty. I’d been forced to settle in quiet and I didn’t exactly like what I saw. I told my therapist that I wanted physical and geographic space, to which he responded: from what, your friends? I laughed, shook my head no, then shook my head yes and then said I don’t know. Maybe all of it? Maybe I’d built my life defined as one thing, stuck in that thing, and moving offered the promise of not being the thing people knew, or expected you, to be. I arrived and wrote a good book in two months and then fell apart.

During the journey back, I created a portfolio–you know, your resume in narrative form with pretty pictures and colorful slide dividers because everyone craves the elevated, derivative state. We want our stories beautifully told. We want our personal brands to be luminous, yet accessible, yet aspirational, but still inspiring and achievable. Yet in creating the outline which would morph into the final presentation, I found it difficult to tell the story of me without including the whole side of my life devoted to storytelling. Suddenly, it felt strange to not talk about the dual nature of my life and the value that it brings to bear. I took on a small project for a successful blogger (and dear friend) where I helped her tell her story in professional form. Gone are the media kits and capes decks–I wanted to create something that started the conversation but wasn’t the whole of it, and I found tremendous joy in using my two loves: marketing and lyrical storytelling and profiting from those lives lived without needing to take a long shower.

Today I had a wonderful chat with an acquaintance who served as my editor on a short essay I’d written about going to Ireland with my pop. I’d be referred to her by a friend and she was curious about my background. Could I edit books? Could I develop projects with authors? Could I help authors structure their books and tell their stories in a compelling way?

Of course, I can.

I started talking about all the work that wasn’t on my resume. Editing at Scholastic, working closely with editors in book publishing, editing and publishing a literary journal, butchering my friend’s novels and helping them create structure and refine their voice in their work. I even trotted out the Columbia MFA, although I’m fairly ambivalent about the degree now, and regret the debt that accrued as a result of it. I’ll be paying for my writing to the grave and so on.

As a freelancer coming out of a long hiatus and finally back in the proverbial saddle, I realized that I’d been myopic about consulting. I failed to create a portfolio that spanned my strengths: marketing, digital, social, editing, brand architecture, organizational design/process, writing, editing, brand development, project management and development. I hadn’t mined a network that would account for my diverse skill set. I hadn’t positioned myself as someone who could create, distribute, analyze and refine. It was only this morning did I see the need to have all the kids playing nice in the sandbox because right now I need all the kids to rally.

Now I position myself as a creator, someone who builds things and tells stories, and what distinguishes me is my range, breadth, and depth. What sets me apart is the fact that I color outside the lines and I also create new books in which to color.

This is why I want to remain here. I want to feel the new, uninhabited and unconquered. I want the space to be able to see.

play it as it lays

pexels-photo-59920

I’m tired. I’m tired of writing cheerful emails and chasing after projects with follow-up emails that are met with radio silence. I’m tired of Facebook status updates. I’m tired of looking around my home and imagining having to pack it up and put everything in storage as I board a plane to go to a place I don’t want to go. I’m tired of people thinking that everything will be fine, just fine, even after I tell them that I plan to file for bankruptcy, that I’m on the road to financial ruin. I’m tired of the burden I feel as if I always have to bear. I’m tired of getting it up for my friends who think that this period is not as dark as it is–possibly because I’m still editing, still positioning, still angling for that hopeful, magical ending. I’m tired of staring at my inbox willing that one email to come in. I’m tired of wondering why people won’t write back. I’m tired of waiting for Godot.

I’m exhausted. I love Los Angeles and I’m terrified of leaving.

I’m giving notice for my apartment come April 1, and I’ve no idea how I plan to pay the thousands of dollars required for breaking my lease. I’ve no idea how I’ll pay for storage or where I’ll live in New York or how I’ll afford a bankruptcy attorney. I don’t know about anything and the not knowing, the uncertainty, is eating away at me. Sometimes I sit at home and run through all the things I should’ve done (although I know that exercise is futile)–I could’ve moved into a cheaper apartment. I could’ve taken that project in the midst of my depression last November–money that would’ve sustained me for a few more months. I could’ve not taken that trip to Bali and Singapore this past summer and opted to save that money for the darkest days ahead. There are a million things I could’ve done, but what’s the point in playing the record on repeat if the song has already played itself out?

I’m calmer about this than I expected, which surprises me, but this calm is one of the few things that brings me comfort. And today I finally accepted that I’m doing and have done everything that I can possibly do. I humiliated myself by asking my friends for money on Facebook. I’ve applied to every job I possibly could, and took every meeting, sent and responded to emails. I signed up with temp agencies. I made a point of returning to therapy to take care of myself. I’ve done everything I can do and the fact that I can’t control my inbox or people’s decisions or the inevitability that I will lose my home and my credit and my pride, gives me a disquiet I’ve never felt before. I’ve always managed to survive, but this is the one time I haven’t boomeranged back and coping with this is harder than I could’ve ever imagined.

I’m tired, and I’ve decided to take a break and just roll with what happens. Play it as it lays. I’m not going to send the hundred follow-up emails or pen pleas on Facebook. I’m just going to go through my days and if I have to move back to New York with Felix and live on people’s couches, I guess this is something I will have to do.

I’m just sad, you know? I came here in August with so much excitement and possibility, and I could’ve never predicted this. Because how could you? Why would you?

So here’s me, seeing how this story will play out. Keep Felix and me in your thoughts 🙂

competing with toddlers turned strategists

person-cute-vintage-playing

It must be good to be a thirty-year-old guy, a friend tells me one day over diner pancakes and eggs. I’ve known my friend for nearly a decade and we meet for breakfast to trade war stories of the freelance life. He listens to me prattle on about being outbid my men and toddlers turned strategists, and after a long silence passes my friend, the epitome of cool, calm and collected, confesses that he’s afraid of approaching his “best-buy” date. Do I know what it’s like to be a forty-something, fifty-something man being interviewed by a kid who just learned how to shave? I nod in tacit agreement (about the age, not the gender) and I think about my friend, who’s razor sharp and one of the smartest people I know, a man who looks good for his age and then it occurs to me that in thinking that phrase, looks good for his age, I’ve too been programmed to believe that on a long enough timeline, we’ll all approach our best-buy date. We’ll all face professional extinction.

Unless you’ve been burrowing under a fortress of Winona Ryder movies, Soul Asylum DVDs, re-runs of All in The Family and Different Strokes, or choruses of Conjunction Junction, the world as we know it has changed. My generation (the ubiquitous X) grew up without the Internet or tethered to devices that provided a means for connection/disconnection, and we were taught to believe that you had to pay your dues; you had to work long and hard for professional success. We filed papers in file cabinets, we took unpaid internships (I couldn’t afford to), we faxed, and we didn’t speak unless spoken to because we were groomed to know our place in the pecking order. We were programmed to respect hierarchy as if the corporate world were some aboriginal tribe with the CEO serving as its all-knowing elder.

No wonder we were called Generation Apathy. No wonder the next generation took a look at the ones that preceded it and said, you’ve got to be kidding me. You could hear the collective group-text murmur of hell no. This is a generation who would go on to break ranks and tear apart everything we had come to know about one’s career trajectory. Theirs was a generation that wouldn’t settle.

Most of my peers have perfected their get-off-my-lawn rhetoric. Gen-X’ers love to throw around words like “entitled”, “greedy”, “lazy” and “impatient”. However, a day doesn’t go by when we don’t hear the constant refrain of Generation Fucked — millennials are poor and burning out. But this story isn’t about the plight of Gen Y; it’s about age and struggle.

Many of my close friends are in the 20s and 30s and there’s much to be said for reverse mentorship. Our generations have tremendous, equal value and we’d be insane not to collaborate to undo the ruin that Boomers imposed on us. Millennials have ruffled the proverbial feathers of the status quo and we’ve seen an avalanche of companies focused on impact and social good, an uptick in entrepreneurship, careers based solely on using the internet (or building applications and software for it), and more importantly, they changed the perception of the freelancer as no longer a code for failure. Consulting isn’t a dirty word or what you did when you were in-between jobs. Finally, people stopped asking when was I going to get a “real job” because freelancing has been legitimized. Organizations and a plethora of websites are devoted to the care and feeding of this new breed of worker.

After I left a job that was slowly killing me, I envisioned taking some time off and then returning to the world of sixteen-hour days, supply requisition forms, and 401Ks. However, one client turned into another and suddenly my days were of my own design. Instead of taking on clients I didn’t believe in for the sake of paying employees and managing overhead, I connected with business and brands I believed in. I took on projects that challenged me, and I found that creativity couldn’t be found chained to a desk. I’ve done some of my best work in the past few years, and being a consultant has fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Every freelancer will tell you the hardest part of their job is deal flow. Some are lucky to have retainer clients — a consistent stream of income that provides a financial salve in the months where their inbox is filled with tumbleweed and crickets. I’ve been privileged to have consistent work over the past three years, but a buzz that was once annoying has morphed into a shout I can’t ignore. The buzz being: wow, you’re really expensive.

Last week I wrote about the value of experience, but I didn’t touch on age and how it could potentially be a liability. Last fall I bid on a big global project and I priced it fairly because I knew the work would look stellar in my portfolio and the client would be a coup. However, the client came back to me and told me that my fair rate was “extremely high” (huh?) and that others came in at half or a third of my rate. Considering the work and scope involved, I found it impossible to price south. I wrote the client and outlined what would be needed for the role:

  1. Someone who’s successfully launched products in global and local markets.
  2. Someone who understood the nuances + cultural indicators between markets.
  3. Someone who could create an actionable global strategy with measurable results but also break down the tactical roadmap, budgets, and resources needed.
  4. Someone who had an in-market resource on-hand.

Ultimately, I won the project and the client confided that no one came close to the experience needed for the role but they were willing to cut costs where possible. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. People who have little to no experience mispricing their work or misrepresenting their level of experience. Anyone who owns a Snapchat or Instagram account is automatically a strategist. Anyone who can create a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, is automatically a seasoned copywriter or journalist. Part of me wonders if I could be a surgeon if I binge-watched enough of Discovery Health.

We live in an age of P&L surgeons who are all too happy to take scalpels to their marketing budgets, to settle for “just good enough” instead of successful and extraordinary. Businesses who are willing to sacrifice short-term bottom line benefits for long-term brand health and business growth.

It’s no secret that society reveres the young. Helen Mirren looks “great for her age”, women are encouraged to age gracefully, and people who have dedicated their careers and lives to companies are quietly being replaced by their younger, phone-toting doppelgangers. No one wants to be reminded — in life and in business — of the inevitability of extinction. People feed off the energy and verve of the young, resulting in bottom-heavy staff plans and ignoring the precarious balance needed in weighing verve with experience and perspective. We live in an age where one is endlessly traded in for another rather than playing the long and viewing the composition of a team and company with a level of diversity (gender, sexual orientation, and age) that will drive real and meaningful growth.

Instead, many tenured freelancers feel their age as an indelible mark, a liability and a perception that experience automatically means expensive — as if placing the correct value on our breadth and depth of experience is viewed in the pejorative. Or perhaps they feel age breed a lack of verve and passion. Most of us feel the cost cutting, projects awarded to those with less experience or who are willing to take on more for less. Photo editor and writer, Heather Clark McKinnon, laments, “Content creators and editors are paid less now for the same work. As a photo editor for a huge American company, my contract has gone down 35 percent over the last 8 years. They are now outsourcing most of the work to India.”

While freelancing is finally a viable, respected career option, it’s become Darwinian, and to remain relevant and working we need to maintain diverse revenue streams or capture and own a niche. Otherwise, we find ourselves boxed in forever competing on price as the years tick on and the days age us. Today, several of my peers have shared encouraging words, that there are clients — even if it seems few and far in between — who believe in the power of experience, who understand the need to diversify their teams, who believe in what and whom they invest. We’re grateful for people like Stephanie Faris Berry, who shares that, “as someone who regularly hires designers for the author side of my business, I have personally seen the experience vs. price argument play out. When I hire someone, I know what I hire will represent my “brand” and when someone quotes $25 and someone else is quoting $150, the $150 designer immediately gets my attention. I might settle for something in between those two extremes, but it will be someone who has talent and experience vs. someone who is new and cheap. I think anyone who is serious about building and growing a brand will see that experience as worth it.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the hustle of the young, hungry and inexperienced — but I believe that an environment where clients still pull the strings (regardless of the guise of “freedom” promised to freelancers) creates tension between those who have experience vs. the young and ambitious, creating a severe divide. And what we’re left with is an old refrain dusted off, a record played on repeat: how can I get this cheaper?

We should complement, not compete.

Photo Credit: Pexels

it’s amazing what changes in a single week

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_8

Wouldn’t it be adorable if this photo accurately reflected my life? All the LOLs.

Last week I traded emails with a stranger, a man, whose life mirrors mine. We’ve arrived in the middle of our lives, and although we know, logically, what we’ve achieved, we still feel like failures. This feeling of helplessness is further amplified by our mutual chemical imbalances. I’ll be honest–I’ve become good at building and maintaining a fortress around me. Rarely, if ever, do I share the details of my personal life (and trust me, I only share the broad strokes here) with strangers not for any reason other than my own inability to be vulnerable around people. Also, I’ve spent half my life parenting others that I’m always fearful of being put in that role again. Perhaps this is why I never yearned to have children of my own. But this man’s story put me on pause and he confessed his fear of taking meds, that they would transform him into some kind of somnambulant, and this was my worry too (would I lose my ability to write–crazy shit like that). I told him what my psychiatrist told me–the journey back is about the right meds (and dosage), talk therapy, a decent diet/exercise routine and social stimuli. Meaning, I had to see him consistently, take my meds, and leave my house. At first, the idea of all of this seemed unimaginable since four-block walks to the grocery store literally left me exhausted and pained, but honestly, the alternative wasn’t better.

I also wrote that what works for one person (in terms of medication) might not work for others. My body doesn’t respond well to SSRIs after a rather frightening reaction I had to a Celexa/Trazadone cocktail in my early 20s, so my doc put me on Wellbutrin, and although I had some minor side effects (tremors, dizziness, dry mouth), they went away after a few days. Within a week, I experienced an 180 in terms of mood and energy level, which is kind of unheard of (most drugs take at least 4 weeks to experience full impact). When I asked my doc about this, he mentioned that my body chemistry reacted favorably to the drug + dosage, and it might be the addition of a placebo effect (my desire to get better coupled with drugs that help me get there) that caused the precipitous change.

He reminded me not to get high off the honeymoon, that there’s still work to be done.

I work best with a routine, so I schedule and map out each day so to ensure that I leave the house (because drugs aren’t a cure-all). I’ve been spending time with people who are “on my bus” and avoiding scenarios that pile additional anxiety on top of that which already exists. Food’s tricky because the healthy stuff is expensive so I balance what I can and make all my meals at home. I take long walks every day, and some of my friends have been kind enough to send me gift cards for spin classes and yoga.

Let me be clear–my situation hasn’t changed. I’m drowning in a mountain of debt and maxed out cards and only have enough money for one additional month of rent and things get…precarious, however, what’s changed is how I’m managing the situation. I still have anxiety, but it’s manageable, and I don’t feel as helpless and hopeless as I did only a few weeks ago. My world feels less cloudy, and I wake with clarity and calm. Friends whom I least suspected have swathed me with their kindness and virtual fist-pumps. And if I lose my home and have to deal with the financial burden of what follows–I’ll deal with it.

Yesterday I joked with my therapist in the middle of a particularly tough session, asking if it was okay to get a little high off the honeymoon, because, my god, this is the best I’ve felt in the past six months.

We laugh and nods. A little.

Onward.


Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

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

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_5

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

freelancer roundtable: we tackled your money questions

photo-1441109296207-fd911f7cd5e5

When people ask me how long I’ll stick with this freelancing thing, I tell them I’ll play this hand until I’m forced to fold. Until I have $0 in my bank account and all my credit cards are maxed and I’m facing eviction. I’ll keep at this because setting my own hours, having control over which clients I’ll take on, and the freedom to write short stories, is the greatest gift I’ve given myself. It’s been over two years and I’m still at it, and even though I’m going through a dry spell right now, I’m turning my attention to writing as much as I can and sharing all the knowledge I’ve gained so far.

Money is such a sensitive topic for some, and I think that’s bananas. We, especially women, NEED to talk about money so we can level the playing field. Talking about money helps us create and fight for our worth. I hope you enjoy our responses, and if you find these panels helpful, let me know in the comments (along with suggestions for future roundtables). Now on to the questions!

Harper Spero writes: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a connector. I’ve connected people with friends, jobs, apartments, business opportunities, sponsorship/partnership opportunities and the list goes on. I get completely jazzed from making these connections. As a new entrepreneur, I’ve realized how much time I’ve put into doing this pro bono and have FINALLY realized how valuable my resources and connections are. I’m in the process of building out an affiliate program in order to be compensated for making connections but am stuck on the challenge of….how much do I charge? What are my contacts worth? So much of what makes a publicist successful are the relationships they’ve established. I welcome your thoughts regarding pricing and structure. Thanks ladies!!!

Meghan Cleary: Dear Harper, you sound amazing first of all. Without knowing exactly what types of connections you are interested in monetizing it’s hard to say as I have found there are so many different structures and so many different ways it can go. For example someone doing business development at a startup might get a fee of 3-5% for introducing to the startup to a VC that then comes through with funding. For securing a strategic partnership or sponsorship, it could be as high as 15% depending. And then in some industries, connecting people is considered part of the job and doesn’t bring in the revenue in and of itself, but instead drives a business pipeline of potential deals. Saying all of that, my main advice if you want to monetize your connections, is to create some type of ballpark deal structure for yourself based on how much value the connection will yield on both sides.

Leah Singer: Good for you for realizing your time and expertise has value! I’d do some research to find out what the standard rates are for publicists and communications experts in your city/state. Then determine how much money you need to live on, and then come up with a formula based on that. Your time IS valuable. So don’t undercut yourself.

Aly Walansky: While I know nothing of doing something like this via an affiliate program model (though it’s a very interesting concept), my going response when asked for coffee to “pick my brain” is along the lines of “Thanks so much for thinking of me, my rate for an hour of consulting is…” – and that rate can change based on what we are discussing (and how in-depth you expect me to get), but I guarantee you it’s more than the cost of a latte.

Felicia Sullivan: Harper, congratulations! This sounds like a fascinating venture, and I’m hoping you might educate us down the road on what you’ve learned from it? In terms of monetizing your contacts, I’m going to agree with Meghan on this one. I don’t see this endeavor functioning purely in binary terms. Depending on the situation, you can benefit through remuneration, experience, goodwill or through additional connections/relationships. If your referral brings a tangible financial benefit between the two introducing parties, then I’d take, at minimum, a 10% commission. For example, I’ve referred a client to a friend who has an agency, and my friend paid me 15% of the first year’s retainer income. Sometimes, I make connections where there isn’t an explicit, expressed objective, but I think the karma I’ll get in bringing together two smart people is invaluable. I also think it puts me in someone’s mindset. In that way, I’ve gotten business because of this good karma. It’s not an A+B=C relationship, but the goodwill comes back to me at some point.

In short, it really depends on the situation, your motivations, and the desired outcome. Do you think the person can you offer you up something in terms of contact barter? Are you doing it because you’re being altruistic? Or is this a pure financial benefit? One thing I would stress–don’t make your contacts purely about financial gain. That fosters greed and it never bodes well for anyone.

Joy Bennett writes: This will be such a good series! I’m totally with you on being more transparent about money.

I find myself struggling to make the jump from charging per hour to charging by value. I hear over and over that this is a better way to do it, but I don’t know how. Time is at least measurable, so it’s easier to wrap my head around.

But some projects have a start and end, while others (especially social media management) are ongoing and can become time sucks if you let them.

I currently have different hourly rates for different kinds of work, which is my first go at value-based pricing. I do want to build in time for some things – especially limits on how much time I will devote to monitoring social or limits to numbers of revisions. I usually start with a rough estimate of hours X an hourly rate to get to an amount per project. But I also factor in how much I want to do a given project and the client’s budget, which means sometimes I lowball myself and take work on for love, not money. Other times charging what I believe I’m worth will cost me work and makes me think I’ve overpriced myself. It ends up feeling so subjective. Is this lack of a set estimating process normal? Or is there a better more objective way to do it?

How do you approach this?

MC: Dear Joy, Here is my number best resource and tool to go to value-based pricing. It is free and a true gem: http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/breakingthetimebarrier/

LS: I prefer to charge by project than hour too. The worst thing you can do is get into a situation where a client wants to nickel and dime the minutes you spend on a project. So for larger projects that are more one-time based, then I do a project rate. I detail to the client what that amount includes (e.g. meeting, phone calls, research, drafting document, two revisions/edits, and delivery date).

That being said, I do have some clients that want monthly, ongoing work. There are two ways to approach this. One is an hourly rate, which I tend to do if I know it’s monthly work. You can also do a retainer amount. Similar to the project scope, you charge $XX per month that includes all the work you do. I think if the work you do is writing, this is the best way to do that because it’s sometimes impossible to know if an article will take you two hours or 20 minutes. And you don’t want to get short-changed because something may take you less time.

AW: It’s totally normal. I absolutely have some projects that I take at “love” rates and others I ask for more money. There’s a quality of life issue. Will I be miserable this whole project? Or is it something super fun and interesting that I will enjoy and feel fulfilled at the end of?

FS: Joy, I have several models based on the project, timeline, and sanity level of the client–all meant to protect my time and hours. If the deliverable is a packaged product (i.e. a brand guideline, a strategy, copywriting for a website), I charge a flat project fee and that fee is based on a calculation of a number of hours I think the project will take, giving a little cushion for veering off the road, emails, and the like. That project fee has an hourly cap attached to it, and I’ll often say, this costs $5000 for X amount of hours, and anything over that hourly costs Y in terms of hourly rate. Some clients fear hourly because costs can get out of control, while a flat fee + hourly gives both of an assurance that the price is contained but the value of the work gets rightful compensation. Make sense?

photo-1420310414923-bf3651a89816

Lena writes: Should you price your services differently when you’re first starting out doing freelance work? I always feel uncomfortable quoting people a price that is “standard” among graphic design or editorial professionals when I just graduated from college so recently. But it could go both ways – either discredit the work that I do and make people think my services are actually worth less, or help me build a portfolio by attracting clients who would otherwise not be able to afford my work even if that means shortchanging my income.

MC: Dear Lena, This is a question everyone grapples with at every stage of their career. The most important thing is to determine the value in it for you – and your desire or passion for the project. Even if a publication cannot pay you what you want will that piece work for you in other ways? Will it introduce you to new sources of editors to pitch or get in front of? Will it allow you to monetize your writing or graphic work in other ways? If they can’t give the rate, can they give promo – marketing your article or work in their emails or social media? In the end, you need to decide how much you desire the project – does it light you up? Would it be fun to work on? Do you love it? And then determine if it would for you to take a hit monetarily because you love it so much or because it will work for you and elevate you in other ways. This is different than just doing whatever work comes your way for whatever rate when you are building your name in your field. Determine and evaluate what will work on a case-by-case basis for you.

LS: There are several things that you should consider with this. You need to charge the amount you need to earn a livable wage. Don’t undersell yourself just because you’re new to freelancing. If you were in the same line of work prior to freelancing – or were in college and received the training – then you’re not new to the business. For many people, money equals value. If you don’t charge the standard, a client may not think you do the same quality work that others do. Also, your clients aren’t going to know how many other clients and work projects you have. Just because you may only have one or two clients to start, you’re a business and that’s what you’re selling to others that need your services. This is not to say that it’s bad to take on one or two pro bono clients when you’re first starting out. But don’t make that a continued practice. Charge what you’re worth!

AW: Yes. There’s absolutely instances when I accepted a lower rate when I was “new” –and in some cases, I simply didn’t know how to fight for myself or respect my work yet, but I also was building a portfolio and they were giving me that opportunity.

FS: This is a GREAT question. While I have a set hourly, day and project rate, I’ll often adjust those based on the client, considerations of my portfolio mix (i.e. I really want to do X kind of work to bring some more diversity), or pro bono work because it makes me feel like a decent human. If you came from a set salary and years of experience, why take a pay cut? Your talent and experience didn’t change, your job did.

Think about it in terms of how you’d negotiate your salary for your next job. Are you taking a role that’s a stretch, where you’ll have something to add to your professional toolbox (this is bullshit jargon, but I like it) so maybe the pay cut pays dividends in the end. And once you prove value and indispensability, you can negotiate up pretty quickly. If you’re moving laterally or a promotion up, I’d keep my rate or raise it.

Sometimes you’ll charge less because you believe in the project, you love the people, you’ll get something true and meaningful out of it (the non-tangibles), but for the most part don’t discount yourself.

Amanda writes: I’m in the food writing, recipe development, and food photography field as a freelancer. Status quo in the industry is to have a rate sheet that depicts different services available, as that is what the brands or PR agencies ask to see. What I hate about this is it feels like I am pigeon hole-ing myself. It can totally depend on the project, the timing, the urgency, the rights to the images/copy, and most of all, then the rates are set for some time. It doesn’t feel like I have much wiggle room. Do you have any advice on how to handle that?

I’m also wondering how to negotiate, rather than back down after 1 exchange of “my rate is this” “we only have this for budget”. It seems that I always want to make something work and end up undercharging.

Thanks so much for your help!
Amanda ~ heartbeetkitchen.com

MC: Dear Amanda, This is bummer but certain industries have a cost of entry and sounds like that’s what this is for yours. You want to be considered so you need the rate sheet but the reality we all know is it always depends on the project what the rate comes down to. My advice would be to create a very specific rate sheet with clear parameters around additional fees – like you mention for rights, etc. Don’t asterisk them in small type, be up front and clear. Use the rate card as a discussion starter to get your foot in the door for the gig, and then ask a lot of questions about the project to get a better sense of what it would cost. Give an estimate based on what they tell you. Then put together a very detailed scope document when you get ready to sign with the client. Include the scope of work you will perform, rates and clear parameters about additional fees for over time, rights, etc. That way you will give yourself some padding. In terms of they have x to work with and it will cost y, see my answer to Lena. You have to decide if you want it and it will work for you. But saying that, I’d always say to their first number, can you do z? Z being 30 percent more than what they are offering. If not, you asked and you can determine from there if you want to do it.

General thoughts about $:

To everyone, be aware that there is always price perception in the market – a very huge tool in the marketing world. Many times people will not perceive the value of something if it is priced too cheaply, so marking up your fees can actually help in some cases. Obviously you don’t want to mark yourself up and out of the market or charge exorbitantly high rates – but be aware that often if you are priced too low the person hiring you might think well this person doesn’t value their work, why should i?

General advice to every woman working, in business for themselves or in the world in general – always, always ask for 30% more than you think you can get. You will get it. And you will also be correcting our wage gap one deal at a time.

Also no one work for free, please and thank you.

LS: Developing a draft of a rate sheet is important because it will help you get an idea of what you want to charge for certain services. But just because you have a rate sheet doesn’t mean it’s published and set in stone. You are right that the project scope will be different for each client. I say develop the rate sheet, and then tailor it toward to the client and project.

With respect to negotiation, you should only do what you’re comfortable. So if the company wants a different rate – and you really want the project – maybe it’s worth negotiating your rate down a bit. But if you get the sense the project won’t be worth it or you’re not excited about it, hold firm with your rate and leave it at that. If they don’t accept your rate, it’s not the right fit.

AW: I have been guilty of under selling myself, too. But I always find negotiation is fine. Not all projects can be fit into neat little rate sheet categories. It’s OK to have a discussion and see what they need and what you can do for that.

FS: I second Meghan’s answer, and I would also check out my response to Lena’s question, which allows for some flexibility in holding to a base rate, with wiggle room for negotiation. I’ve also tackled projects with phases (you deliver a portion of the work) so the client has budget flexibility and you get paid for your work. And honestly, most brands have the budget they’re just allocating it to different people. I shouldn’t have to reduce my rate or take less money because the client doesn’t have the budget? It makes me think of this Oatmeal comic and this write-up of the recent HuffPo/Wil Wheaton kerfluffle. They’re valued at $50MM but they can’t pay their writers? PLEASE.

get over being funny about money: a freelancer’s roundtable (we’re taking your questions!)

Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant-10-of-10

People are funny about money. You can get fired for asking about someone else’s compensation (although companies like Buffer thrive on transparency when others talk about mutinies and chaos should we speak openly about salaries), and often it’s considered rude or gauche to talk about money. Money is what you make but be secretive about it. Certainly don’t talk about. Especially if you’re a woman. Especially if you’re anything but white.

Employers use the guise of secrecy because they want to “protect” their employees, however, it’s more like they don’t want people bearing witness to grave inequality and they definitely don’t want an avalanche of comp increases as a result. Because what employers are really protecting is their P&L.

When I went freelance, I was surprised to find that this secrecy around salary, or how one makes a living, is as prevalent and pernicious as ever. I’ve known at least a dozen women who severely underpriced their services because they thought less is what they deserved. Or, they simply didn’t know how to price themselves because context didn’t exist. Sure, there are scores of articles about rate calculations, etc, but most of us really rely on people we know, people who occupy our space. And many people are still not talking, still.

I took on a project with a woman who was, at the time, one of my closest friends. I was interested in what she did, brand marketing and the creation of brand narratives and architecture, and I asked her how much she was being paid for her portion of the project. Not because I wanted to be rude, but I wanted to understand how my peer priced her deliverables and deliverables, and how I, should I want to go that route, can calculate accurate project and day rates.

My “friend” acted as if she were a CIA operative. I was confused. What did she think I was going to? Did she really believe I was coming from a nefarious place rather than one of curiosity? I needed help and it was only when I made my request plain, you wouldn’t help your friend, a woman, a peer trying to make a living, with information?

I’ve met with women (boutique agency execs) recently who didn’t know how to price their services. I’ve known bloggers who had no idea how to quote for sponsored posts. I know women who don’t have their day/project/hourly rates, and the ranges in which they operate based on client, scope, level of client craziness, etc. They didn’t know how to build in payment clauses (or non-payment) into their contracts.

I’m learning that when I get frustrated it’s more productive to share and connect than just bitch about something (and I do that too, don’t worry). So I’ve gathered up a few friends who are successful freelancers to answer YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT MONEY. From writers to consultants to small business owners, all of them have a range of experience and acumen, and I hope they can give you advice you need to feel empowered to promote yourself and your work in a fair way.

Leave your questions in the comments section of this post and we’ll rock out the answers within the next two weeks.

####

Death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work-9-of-10-720x480

OUR ROUNDTABLE (and we’ve got more coming!):

Aly Walansky created A Little Aly-tude on SheKnows.com in 2006, as one of the first well-known beauty and style blogs on the Internet. Over time, it became a foremost source for advice, tips, reviews, and commentary across the lifestyle genre.

Her writing can be seen across the Internet as well as in several print publications. She contributes regularly to Beauty High, AskMen.com, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The Daily Meal, xoJane, HowAboutWe, Life &Beauty, Latest Hairstyles, Celebuzz, DailyMakeover.com, The Fashion Spot, New Beauty Magazine, Bella NYC Magazine, and many more.

Aly’s roots exist — pun intended! — in the realm of beauty and style, and she is quoted in countless publications on a weekly basis, and has appeared as a beauty expert on the FOX network and various radio programming, but her focus is far wider. She’s a popular travel and food writer and has traveled across the globe in the name of culinary, historical, and spa journalism.

Aly currently resides in New York City. Contact Aly at alywalansky@gmail.com

####

With a background in textile design (Anthropologie, Nordstrom, & Blissliving Home) and an obsession for sharing (favorite products, favorite recipes, favorite dates-gone-wrong), in 2012 Joanna Hawley created Jojotastic as a lifestyle blog focused on runway-fresh fashion, inspiring modern-but-modest home interiors, and her addiction to donuts. (Her cat obsession mingles in there, too.)

A well-established style influencer on the interwebs, Joanna was one of the first Pinterest users (with 4 million followers to prove it). Known for her raw honesty — this isn’t just another blog with pretty photos and flawless stories — Joanna seeks to inspire readers to live their truest lives.

Joanna’s work has been featured in national outlets including Oh Joy!Design for Mankind,  Clementine Daily,Rugs Direct, and Anthology Magazine, where she was an online editor for three years. Recent Jojotastic brand collaborations include Gap, Ziploc, Pottery Barn, Urban Outfitters, and Airbnb.

Joanna’s passions include filling her passport, rock climbing, freestyle flower arranging, her cat Georgette, her dog Noodle, and questing for the perfect apple pie. Or cupcake. Or donut.

Joanna currently resides in Seattle. Other recent homes include San Francisco and Philadelphia, but her badass spirit is universal. And her spirit animal is chocolate.

Her desk plaque reads “You are doing a great f—ing job.” And that’s pretty much her motto.

####

Laurel Anderson is a freelance writer and social media and communications strategist. She provides digital marketing and communications consulting services to individuals, companies, brands and other organizations that need help telling their story. When not telling the stories of others, Laurel is usually hanging out on her front porch or the local coffee shop crafting her own. Her website is http://www.laureleanderson.com and includes her work, social links and Lola Speaks (her intermittent blog).

As a writer of more than twenty years, Laurel has covered everything from daily news stories, people profiles, entertainment, lifestyle, gossip, fashion, trends, movie reviews and more for both print and online publications. She has been known to tackle both serious issues and lighthearted topics during her column run with a local newspaper. Years of entertainment work allowed her to experience both sides of the industry while working on and writing about shows like Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

####

Leah Singer helps businesses tell their story and connect with their ideal audience and clients through writing and marketing strategy. She teaches marketing and branding to college students, and works extensively with institutions of higher education and businesses within the law field. Leah is a perfect fit for businesses without marketing departments. She is also a freelance writer and has written for The Huffington Post, Club Mid at Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle (where she serves as San Diego editor), Edible San Diego, Millionaire Girls’ Movement; and other national blogs and websites. She also blogs personally at Leah’s Thoughts.

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.

You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

####

Meghan Cleary is Contributing Editor, The Hollywood Reporter, Pret-a-Reporter, and author of two books on what your shoes say about you. She writes primarily about footwear, trends and cultural implications of shoes. She is also co-founder of MeghanSAYS shoes, debuting December 1 on Nordstrom.com. Her website and blog are located at shoeareyou.com

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

plum millet muffins

Plum millet muffins

After two months of working seven days a week non-stop, of churning out brand voice guides and strategies, of working with graphic and web designers, and Skyping with a new client in Tuscany–I was wiped out. Every Sunday I re-enacted study hall with one of my closest friends, and we’d sit on her couch, side by side, taping away in silence. We’d work for hours and sometimes I’d read something aloud to her, something that wasn’t quite working, and it felt comforting to be able to bounce ideas off someone, to feel foolish in front of a friend–better that than your client, right? And we’d lament over the constant stream of emails, conference calls and deliverables, and then we’d feel grateful to have these problems. Because better a storm than a drought. Better to pay your rent than put your rent on your credit card.

To say that I’m far from financially solvent would be an understatement. I’m still paying off six-figure graduate loan debt; I’ve the burden on monthly IRS payments and credit card debt from a time when I cared about such things as designer footwear. And although I buy everything in cash and try to be smart about spending, I’m nervous that I haven’t put anything away from retirement. No safety net exists to catch my inevitable fall.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about getting my shit together as my accountant has begged me to do, but up until yesterday I’ve been plagued with an irrational fear of no work, no money, and all these bills to pay. So instead of paying down my debt, I sit on savings. Believe me when I say that I know this isn’t smart or rational. I’ve read all the books, watched the shows and once worked with an advisor. My relationship to money has always been fraught, deeply emotional, and I’ve only just become to untangle myself from many unhealthy habits.

For two months of significant labor, I’m collecting a check and I’ve decided to pay off two of my credit cards, bringing down my debt to the level it was TEN YEARS AGO.

Because I’m nearly 40 and I’m really fucking tired of carrying credit card debt.

An old friend reminded me that I have to consistently invest in myself, know that I am the greatest hand I can play and I will get work. I will be able to travel and live simply.

There will come a day when I will no longer shoulder the burden of mistakes made in previous lives.

Until then, cheers to small steps in paying down debt and celebrating with muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications
1/4 cup millet
1/2 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 cup gluten-free flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 medium red plums, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/4 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Soak the millet in a bowl with 1 cup of water for at least 12 hours. Rinse the millet in a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a small pot. Add 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the cooked millet with a fork. You should have about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooked millet.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

Mix the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine the orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, maple syrup, olive oil (or coconut), almond milk, and vanilla extract. Whisk until the ingredients emulsify.

In another bowl, toss the plums in one tablespoon of flour. This will help keep the fruit from sinking in the muffin pan. Gently stir the flour mixture into the liquid mixture. Fold in the plums and 1 cup of cooked millet.

Divide the batter between 10-11 muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of millet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

plum millet muffins
plum millet muffins

(guest post) the freelance life: surviving the drought

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Earlier this week I tweeted that I was seeking advice from freelancers on enduring deal drought. Those who freelance know precisely what I mean, and pipeline is what keeps us up most nights–how and from where we’ll secure our next project, how we’ll endure the period from this to what’s next. My friend Daniel Doebrich, being the thoughtful and methodical person he is, sent such an exceptional and thorough list that I invited him to pen a guest post for this space.

I had the opportunity to briefly work with Daniel when I was a managing partner at my previous company, and found him smart, passionate, detail-oriented and creative. We’ve kept in touch in the two years since and it’s been incredible to see his trajectory, and more importantly, to share valuable information and leads with one another. I think you’ll find his advice pragmatic + helpful, and let me know if you dig this sort of thing–guest posts, that is.

About Daniel, in his own words: Daniel has worked in social media and digital marketing from its nascent days. He has positioned a number of startups and emerging companies, and helped large corporations to develop a digital mindset. At the core, he connects strong analytical skills with a storytelling approach to define result-driven strategies. Past clients include: Target, BMW, Audi, Unilever, Credit Suisse, Vodafone.

After years in the agency world, Daniel decided to work as a freelance digital strategist, advising a diverse set of clients, from emerging startups to large-scale companies across different industries. He is also partner at MISTER, a digital creative agency, where he develops striking websites and e-commerce for new generation brands such as Hood by Air, EN|NOIR and Alyx.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Doebrich

Freelance life can be fun, thrilling and filled with inspiring projects. You have more creative freedom, and clients will appreciate your unconventional ideas if you make them relatable to their corporate structure and mindset.

In between those dedicated times, where you are driven to deliver a strong creative proposal to the client, sometimes ecstatic about the opportunities, there come the periods when nothing happens. Your phone is still. Days without any new email in your inbox, other than those newsletters which you loathe. You marvel for a second about your recent success, but then you realize that you need to work hard, leave that comfort zone once again, and hustle to land your next gig. Those breaks can stretch, drive you crazy and get you to a point where you wish that you didn’t have two left hands when it comes to being a waiter.

In these moments you should remind yourself of a few things.

On surviving the drought, because it’s a struggle:

Always be humble and friendly with people, whether it’s your landlord, your personal assistant at the bank, or your friends. Do things without expecting anything in return. It will pay off when you are late with your rent, or need support to raise the credit line for a while.
Don’t overspend while you have a strong income. Keep being reasonable with your spendings instead. Do you really need to go out that night or get another drink, or go for dinner? Put that money aside, you will need it in bad times.
Don’t feel self conscious if a friend offers to treat you in bad times, but don’t get comfortable with it either. Sometimes it’s just great to be invited for dinner in a time where you couldn’t spare a dime.
Take time off even when it seems counterintuitive. While in the drought, you sometimes want to just keep working and contact everyone you possibly know, but your brain screams stop. Take some time off. Even if it seems to go against reason. You need that break and there is nothing more important than having a fresh mind and good energy.
Work out. The only way to prevent you from going crazy by the sheer thought of your open bills is a good, hard workout. Do it regularly, and push just a little more. In those moments, you will find the ideas that take you to the next stage.

On generating leads (always be closing):

Write it down. It’s the most important rule to success. Make plans and get them on paper or a Google doc. Only by outlining the immediate steps, and by defining specific actions you can make them reality.
Keep your network alive. Understand with whom you like to work and who is helpful in getting you leads. These people know your capabilities or might have a good network themselves. Keep them posted about your projects.
Create lists and keep them up to date. Sure, LinkedIn is great, but it’s so unstructured. Create a spreadsheet and divide it in a way that makes it easy for you to filter contacts according to how helpful they are in generating leads, how quick they respond, or which industries they serve.
Be precise. Create an initial email that sums up exactly what you are searching for. Describe the set of tasks you want to work on. Provide examples. The more precise you are the more likely the recruiter or contact at any company can match you to a job opportunity/project.
Be personal. Send an email blast to start with, but make every email personal. It will get you more responses than just writing an anonymous email. More importantly, it will keep you in people’s mind and lead to unsolicited leads later on.
Pitch your crazy ideas. If you have a good idea, let’s say to do a startup innovation workshop within a big company, prepare a short pitch deck, research the people who are responsible for innovation on LinkedIn, and make that cold call (i.e. write them an email). It works wonders. You will have few responses, but the people who answer might open a whole new opportunity for you.

I am pretty sure that you know most of the above and it might seem trivial, but remember them the next time you are in a period of slow business.

Connect with Daniel on Twitter // Instagram // LinkedIn // website (MISTER)

on feeling lost + writing your way back

67bac703b443014ab03fda80020bb2e4
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

the state of blogging: authenticity as an aesthetic, sponsored storytelling, rampant shills, and the business of cash money

Pintxos&Blogs VI - ¡Queremos saber!
A stylish mom who lives in a well-draped home snaps photographs of her children using products that sponsor her posts. A well-known photographer calls her writing “reportage” and “travel diaries” when her jet-set lifestyle is bought and paid for by luxury brands, and as a result, she’s devolved into a shell of the talented woman she used to be, preened and pretty, and always posing in front of the camera. A whimsical creative films a five-year-old’s birthday party, whose products and experiences are then used for a car commercial. A succession of posts on a blogger’s site always conclude with the following: This post brought to you by Brand X. Thank you for supporting the brands that make this {blog} possible!

It’s become such that blogs are no longer the place to forge meaningful connections, they’re the portal in which we transact, where the ultimate objective is conversion. When the bottom line is a sale. I’ve witnessed prolific, passionate storytellers and artists swathe themselves in banner ads, sponsored posts, SEO monetization tactics, and pricey finery to the point where they’re unrecognizable, and their writing is robotic, rote, and devoid of the passion which once drew the masses.

A few weeks ago Jane wrote a post on aesthetics, which lingered with me for days after I read it. She goes on to say:

I’ve been wondering a lot lately why authenticity has been confused with an aesthetic. And if the perpetrators even think about the language they’re using, the dissonance they’re creating, or if they’re just capitalizing on this economic moment, packaging a product with a deep and visceral need (a spiritual one, even).

While it’s true that our online manifestations are edited, they present a specific view of our lives, I wonder if our blogs are too myopic, too architected, where we’re summoned to create elaborate fictions because we know the business of I’m just like you, but only slightly better is a lucrative one. The true jetset are too unattainable, too aspirational, but these bloggers, women with children and jobs, feel familiar. We cleave to that which is familiar, yet seek a level of escapism and aspiration that exists a level above the ground beneath our feet. The bloggers who told us stories, took us into their homes when we would’ve never had trespass otherwise — we feel we know these strangers in some way. But we don’t. We never truly know them, because while the blog is something like an x-ray and we’re given access beneath the surface as it were, we’re never a surgeon’s hands going in. We never hear the sounds after the laptop closes and cools. We only know the life we’ve been presented.

In marketing, you learn about the sales funnel. It’s a simplistic linear diagram that takes a brand through the varying stages of a consumer’s interaction with it. First, “prospects” need to become aware that a brand exists, they have to “consider it” {i.e. weigh this newly introduced brand against a competing similar product}, and the brand’s USP or unique selling proposition balanced with some kind of carrot dangled, drives the next stage: acquisition. After the consumer has bought a product, a brand wants them to engage and form a deeper relationship beyond the singular transaction: engagement. Finally, they’ve come to depend on this brand, they adore the brand and have transformed into a human megaphone, an advocate. While we can pontificate if the funnel is now a loop or a square or some sort of exotic geometric shape, the core journey remains mostly unchanged. As I think blogging it occurs to me that the stories people once told, the publications and outlets that had shuttered them, how their online voices were a deviation from tradition — suddenly, these voices have morphed into the shape they once rallied against. Their online space has devolved into a simple graphic taught in basic level marketing classes.

They are what they sell.

Remember authenticity? Remember I’m just like you, but slightly better, thinner, more organized and own white furniture? Now it’s an aesthetic. It’s a positioning statement, a marketing vehicle, a way in which one garners trust in order to drive transaction. Remember when your favorite bloggers told stories? Long ones? Remember when their sites were free of the planted, awkward sponsored content that tried to architect something familiar against a backdrop of BIG BRAND? Remember when the blogs you loved didn’t publish post after post of affiliate links and sales drivers? Remember when bloggers weren’t hosting online classes on blog monetization? These round-ups with affiliate links do not make you a unique snowflake. Ten bloggers writing about their couple dating experiences, brought to you by a well-known dating site, within a span of a week are mind-numbing. In the end, these bloggers feel like photocopies of one another, down to the photoshopped collages and link-baiting, in hopes of currying the favor of the “top bloggers” and “premiere brands.”

Remember when people simply wrote? I do.

Admittedly, as someone who both works with brands and agencies in a certain capacity and blogs, I’m faced with a conundrum. While this seismic shift in the blogging space benefits brands {native advertising, anyone?}, how does this benefit readers? How does this benefit children who are constantly prodded to promote products in front of a DSLR camera, whose developmental moments are used as advertising? I don’t fault bloggers for wanting to make money, I don’t, but I wonder about the means to the end and the tactics employed for that end. I’m all for books, business and product lines and transparent advertising, but the story shills are grating and ubiquitous {this tender familial moment, this very personal break-up story has been brought to you courtesy of Brand Y!} This fawning adoration of experiences feels very much like I’m watching a commercial on a loop.

Granted, I don’t have a solution. How does one post stop a train hurtling a hundred miles an hour? But this is what I know: the blogs I used to secretly read and aspire to be are largely crafted fictions. Yesterday, my friend Summer posed an interesting question, Ask yourself: what are you consuming on these blogs? Why do you visit them? What void are they filling? These bloggers are people, just like the rest of us, and their success and aesthetic don’t account for our life, our real, waking life, and how we live it. Success for them may not be attainable for us, or even equate to what we think success is. I know to become suspicious of a blog that has shifted from stories to products and placements. I’ve learned to take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve trained myself to read less. I deploy steadfast rules for this space and hold myself accountable to them.

I quietly mourn the evolution of the blog from an online diary to a branded, curated, edited, aspirational, inspiration, fictitious, business.

Photo credit.

%d bloggers like this: