Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Great Experiment: Letting a Client Go


I had this client for 12 years.

The magazine was one of the first to welcome me into the world of freelancing after I'd fled a career in newspapers and with the AP wire service. On a personal level, the editor and I have had a wonderful relationship. She is a good person and supported me through a lot of events in my life ... my then-husband's three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a difficult pregnancy, caring for a newborn infant while my spouse was in the thick of war zones, an eventual divorce, balancing life as a new single mother and discovering that my child had a unique condition, Asperger's Syndrome.

This editor provided me with work through all of that and was the backbone of my business. I tell you all of this, because three months ago, I made a very tough call and decided to stop working for that magazine.

I wasn't leaving the editor. I was leaving the magazine. The reason was pure logic. This was an instance where I had to shelve emotions and personal feelings and see the situation from a business perspective.

You've probably heard the expression, "working hard versus working smart." And that was the case with me. I was working hard, so hard, in fact, that I rarely had any time to do anything but think about the stories I was writing for this magazine. I had to keep up a chart for sales people, whereby I was required to call or email, on average, 20 companies per week, asking them to participate in my stories. I logged the date of each contact and what each person said or whether I was unable to make contact. I did this without fail for 12 years, every single week.

I averaged eight to 10 stories every six weeks, just for this client. For each story, I would do an interview that would last about an hour on jobs in engineering and Information Technology fields. Sometimes this required in-depth background research on things like ... rocket science at NASA or genome analyses at pharmaceutical engineering firms. Suffice it to say, these weren't simple stories. They required a breadth of understanding before the first question could even be asked.

The result was that each story on average took about 3 hours to write. They were about 1,200 words each, which doesn't sound like much. But given the topics and high demand for accuracy, great care was required. I honestly don't remember a weekend during those 12 years when I wasn't doing some form of work for this client, whether it was the list of calls or the writing itself.

Now this past year, I also picked up a new client that is a business college for a major university. The client asked me to write for their magazine and Web site for alumni. And the pay ... was about the same as what I was receiving for my 12-year client. What I discovered was that while I was jumping through hoops for Client A, the work for Client B took about one-fifth of the time to complete.

The problem was that Client A's work required so much time that I had little time to market for more people like Client B.

About three months ago, I decided to launch my own "Great Experiment." What if I cut Client A loose? Client A was providing a regular stream of income, and the editor was a wonderful person. But was I missing out on bigger opportunities because the work was so onerous?

I decided to go for it. I stopped working for Client A. The first two weeks involved revamping my business Web site. I really worried that this non-revenue-generating work would result in me spinning my wheels. But I was wrong. I picked up two new clients because of the Web site revamp, within the first week of it going live online.

Last week, I was simultaneously working on 3 projects for 3 different publications. Then my university client came calling and asked me to pick up 5 short profiles. And all of these were due between last Friday and this Friday.

I was dubious about whether I'd pull it off.

But here's the kicker:

Not only am I finishing each and every assignment on time, but I'm NOT working non-stop like I did for Client A. The time spent on these 3 features and 5 short profiles is about one-half of the time I was spending on the technology stories for Client A.

Not only that ... on average, Client A took up to six weeks and sometimes two months to turn around my invoices.

My replacement clients are paying me within 7 days to 2 weeks by comparison. And in all cases, the rate of pay for the amount of work is more than what I was receiving from Client A.

I should also mention that I immediately saw my health, energy and emotional well-being improve. I used to have tingling in my left arm and pain in my neck. After 3 months of physical therapy this past fall, I wondered whether it was connected to so many hours spent at my computer. When I cut Client A, not only did all of the pain vanish, but I've had a lot more flexibility to hit the gym regularly and do things that I enjoy. I never used to take a day off for myself. This is the first time in more than a decade that I have allowed myself that "luxury." (It still feels luxurious, to be honest!)

I don't know how this will continue to play out. It's still early in 2013, and I'm afraid to assume that this trend will continue. But so far, the "Great Experiment" has had phenomenal results.

I suppose I wanted to blog this because if you have my type of personality, you might be working for someone just because you have a good personal relationship. I had a great deal of difficulty separating my emotions from doing what was necessary.

Unfortunately, business is business. Analyze whether that person is just better to keep in your life as a good friend ... and form new relationships with those who will pay you well and pay you on time.

The rule of thumb, "Work smart," really is true.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Etiquette and Editors

Yesterday on Twitter, I encountered a person with a unique business in this day and age: An etiquette service. (Etiquette Outreach)

It got me thinking: How important is etiquette to you in your dealings with editors or potential clients?

Webster's Dictionary defines etiquette as, "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life."

You may think that pertains strictly to your table manners and may not apply to your business. But in this economy, with so many reporters being laid off from newspapers and flooding the freelance market, understand that good etiquette goes far in differentiating you from your competition.

I spent 12 years of my life in and among news reporters. So believe me when I say that if you exhibit courtesy and polite manners in your freelance business dealings, you definitely will be placed far above the rest of the pack. News reporters are the worst offenders in the etiquette game. (I've been elbowed in the ear more than once by aggressive reporters jockeying for an interview position in a press pack).

People want to do business with people who make them feel secure and who respect them. So how do you do that? Well, let me give you a first-hand example from my dealings this week:

I'm currently working on three major projects. One is due in two days. One is due on Monday (four days from now). One is due next Friday (10 days from now). I'm also working on five, quick-hit, very short, personal profile pieces for a client's Web site.  They are also due next Friday.

First, I always let my editors know how many projects I'm doing in addition to theirs. I let them know when these other projects are due. That way, if they email me and I'm in the middle of a phone interview and don't answer them immediately, they understand that I'm working on multiple projects simultaneously.

Next, I send them periodic updates. Yesterday, I alerted the editor with the Monday deadline that I had another story to write up first, and then I would work on his, even if I had to write through the weekend. This morning, I alerted the editor whose story is due in two days that I had completed all interviews and that I was currently writing. Then I emailed the editor whose project is due next Friday, to tell her that 3/4 of my interviews are done and that everything is on schedule. Lastly, I emailed the client with the Web site to tell her that three of the five interviews are scheduled, and I'll keep her posted on when the other two finally occur.
When I finish the stories, I don't attach an invoice unless the editor indicates they expect it along with the story. Instead, I advise them that I'll give them two to three days to review the copy and make sure it meets their expectations before I send the invoice. Usually, I get a response within the hour that says, "This looks great. Bill me now." This isn't about being a doormat and not expecting payment. It's showing the editor good faith that you are concerned about turning in a quality product.

About a week after I submit the story, I'll circle around with the editor to make sure there isn't anything else they need.

This then clears the way for me to contact them the next week and ask if they have anything coming up or if I may submit a new list of story ideas. The answer is always, "yes."

Oh .... one more thing .... When you submit a story, always (always!) sign off with the phrase, "Thank you for the opportunity to work on this project for you. I am grateful for the relationship."

These are very  small actions and may sound like common sense. But I promise you that not every one is doing these things, and if you practice simple courtesy, you'll also find yourself working for people who are equally as kind and considerate. When you get right down to it, that makes our business dealings the most enjoyable.