Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Should You Do Business with Family and Friends?

This morning I woke up to an email from a family member (my cousin) asking me to review her daughter’s resume. Her daughter will be graduating college in May, so they are dutifully helping her prepare to hit this struggling job market running.

Over the past couple years I’ve acquired quite a bit of resume writing experience working as a contract writer for a couple of firms (BTW - resume writing can be a nice, income-generating staple gig as Lori Widmer explained in a recent post). I don’t mind helping my cousin out with some helpful feedback and tips to consider. I realize that this job market is not treating recent graduates very well, so I’m more than happy to help.

The comments section in a recent blog post about working in exchange for product/service in lieu of monetary payment got me thinking more about the topic of doing business with friends and family. My general stance is that I don’t. One commenter said it best: “It’s too stressful.” That’s my experience as well. I have a very no-nonsense approach to the way I run my business and I wouldn’t want to strain a treasured relationship with sticky issues like whether or not I should do writing projects for free and whatnot.

What’s your stance on doing business with family and friends? Yay or nay?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Really Enjoy What You Do?

We’re finally wrapping up my mother’s HVAC project today. I think. I hope…

This has to be the most easy, breezy home improvement project I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. The contractor I hired has operated his HVAC business for over 30 years, and has a very pleasant, personable demeanor. He’s been extremely patient about explaining anything that I didn’t understand, and he really loves what he does. Before we started the project, he practically gushed, “I’m 58 years old now. I love doing this kind of work – for me, this is like an enjoyable hobby!”

Recently I made the difficult decision to walk away from a steady, staple client because the demands were beginning to take over my time to a point where I felt like an overworked employee dreading the start of each week. The payment was good, but that feeling… it’s the same feeling I had when I worked for the newspaper. I lived for Fridays, and Sundays were usually overcast with melancholia and anxiety about returning to work each Monday. That’s no way to live.

The decision to walk away was not an easy one. I’d really gotten use to the income this gig generated each month. Unfortunately the growing workload started making it harder for me to find time for other client projects, administrative and marketing tasks and working on personal projects. What looks good in the short-term isn’t always the best long-term business decision.

Even though this client contributed a substantially to my monthly bottom line, I could never get completely comfortable with that kind of set up. I learned the hard way about relying too much on one client back when I first started freelancing. Diversification is the name of the freelancing game.

The HVAC contractor also reminded me that it’s important to enjoy what you do for a living. Freelancing is not the ideal lifestyle for everyone, but it fits me like a glove. I’ve learned over the years to hang in there and ride out the income ups and downs. I’ve learned through trial and error which projects I excel at and enjoy doing most. And I’ve learned to prioritize and actively pursue my personal projects. Freelancing is not a job, it’s a lifestyle of sorts, so for me it’s very essential that I enjoy what I do.

So now I’ll ramp up my marketing efforts and move forward with the confidence that I’ve made the best decision for me. Have you ever walked away from a steady gig? If so, did it turn out to be for the best?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring Home Improvement Challenge

Since it’s about 20+ degrees hotter this March than normal, I’ve been busy working out details with my mother and the contractor I’ve hired to replace her 40 year old air conditioning unit. For the past four years, my father paid the guy to fill it with freon every summer so he and my mother could enjoy a cool environment during the hot, sticky, muggy southeastern season.

I called the same contractor last summer to come over ato work his air conditioning magic once again. He had trouble getting the unit to blow any cool air on the first day. After two days of fumbling with the ancient unit, he declared she was on her last leg and would absolutely have to be replaced in Spring 2012.

So here I am, on the first day of Spring, working on my laptop at my mother’s house and managing this home improvement project (translation: trying to keep my mother from interrupting the contractor’s work and telling him how to do his job).

I love my mother with all my heart, but I wouldn’t like having her as a client. At all. I’ve had clients like my mother. They need help. They don’t know how to do X so they hire you. While you work on X, they interject with lots of unnecessary advice. I always want to ask, “If you could do this, why did you hire me?”

When a client makes constant suggestions that would override the result they are hoping to achieve, you can wind up spending extra time explaining your strategy, demographics/psychographics, how marketing messages are received, etc.

So I’ll be spending the rest of this week working remotely from mom's kitchen table while also protecting the contractor from her non-expert interference. How’s your week shaping up so far?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Working on the Next Step

A few months ago I mentioned my intention of moving this blog to a self-hosted Wordpress platform. Well, things are finally in the works. I don't have a firm ETA, but I expect to have everything completed in a few weeks. I've been busy, busy, busy working on the details. In the meanwhile, I plan to keep writing, marketing, growing my business and sharing my experiences here as usual.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Will Work for Trade?

When I was a kid, my neighborhood friends and I used to trade stuff all the time. I had something my neighbor wanted and she had something I wanted which made trading pretty much a win-win situation. Fast forward to adulthood – a magazine publisher I once worked with used to participate in trade a lot as she was first getting her publication off the ground. I was hired on to help her with her advertising, and the first thing I noticed is that most of her advertisers were not paying her for ad spots – they were paying in the form of product. This was seriously hurting her bottom line, and eventually she shifted away from it completely.

I’ve always been a bit wary of offering my services in exchange for anything other than monetary payment. I once had a long-term client offer to teach me some of the more technical aspects of Wordpress in exchange for work he normally paid me for, but I declined. Although the Wordpress knowledge was valuable, It’s not something I would spend lots of time doing anyway, and I already had someone I could outsource those tasks to so that I devote more time to writing projects for pay.

About a month ago, an acquaintance contacted me seeking advice about writing a proposal for an online retailer. She had developed a very niche specific product and wanted to contact online retailers to see about having them carry the product. Initially I assumed she just wanted pointers on developing a proposal, but it soon became clear that she wanted me to write it for her. She asked if I would be willing to accept one of her many products in exchange for my writing services. I hesitated and told her I’d get back with her. I needed to speak with my accountability partner first.

My accountability partner provided lots of helpful advice in helping me decide whether or not to trade my writing services. She said she’d only traded services a handful of times, and offered these tips to keep things professional:

Make sure that the product or service you receive is equal to the service you’re providing.

This really is important, otherwise a trade exchange makes no sense. The product or service that you will receive should match the time and effort that you will put into the writing project you’ve been asked to produce. You should also only participate in a trade agreement if the product/service you’ll be receiving is actually something you can use. Don’t participate in a trade just for the sake of doing so if you get no real value from the deal.

Detail the terms of the trade in a contract.

Yep, that’s right, even though you won’t be writing in exchange for money, you still need to have a contract in place. Treat this transaction the same as your other writing projects: outline the terms of service, the product or service that you will receive as payment, and when the “payment” is to be delivered. Don’t make the mistake of treating a trade agreement too informally or you could end up writing for nothing.

Follow up immediately if you do not receive “payment.”

Again, this is a professional business transaction. If you consented to provide writing services in exchange for a client’s product/service, you deserve to receive prompt payment just as if they were paying you via Pay Pal, check or direct deposit. Follow your own business protocol when it comes to contacting clients about past due payment.

Bottom line, I won’t make trading my services a regular occurrence, because financially I just can’t afford to; but it helps to know that a trade between businesses should be conducted in the same professional manner as any other business transaction.

Have you ever traded your writing services in exchange for a client’s product or services? What was your experience?

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