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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Seven Ways to Gain Clients

In real estate training, we called it the Rule of Seven. It's a concept that transitions very well into your marketing efforts for any writing business, or for any business for that matter. It's an easy one--contact seven buyers and seven sellers every day. For our purposes, we're going to consider our buyers are potential clients and our sellers are past clients.

If you're just starting out, you must be thinking, "I don't have seven sellers!" Here's where you need to use your imagination a bit. Consider a "seller" anyone who has asked you to do a writing favor, anyone at all. That includes relatives and friends. If you've written anything for anyone, those are your past clients. Payment isn't figuring into this equation, so it doesn't matter if you put a blurb in the church bulletin or you helped the neighbor with his resume. For this exercise, those people and those instances are past jobs for past clients.

Contacting them can be as simple as calling and asking how each person is doing. Better might be a brief email to each touching base and making sure they remember you're a writer. Be subtle here--oversell to the neighbors or your pastor could label you a nuisance. Be friendly, and remember to hand them that new business card and ask them their honest opinion about how it looks. That does one of two things--it gets your professional contact information into their hands and it gets them intimately involved in your career. They suddenly feel a bit of a vested interest in your success if they make suggestions or comments and you take them seriously and thank them for the input.

Obviously, you won't be contacting the same people every day. Make sure to contact the seven you have identified at least once every few weeks. Until your contact list grows, you'll be putting more effort into finding current clients than contacting previous ones. (Note--if one of your "clients" helps you find another one, send a thank-you note or call and thank them.)

Contacting buyers is another matter. It's easier than you think to find seven people each day to contact. The tougher part is making a terrific first impression so these people will remember you down the road.

Here's one of several ways to go about it--start with a mailer to each of your seven people. Wait a week, then follow up with a call. Use a slow, friendly tone and introduce yourself. Mention that you'd sent a flyer and you were wondering if the person had questions. Give a very brief rundown of how you might be able to help--if it's a marketing company, you're available for the proofreading and other jobs that the staff doesn't have time for. If you're talking to a local business, you can write the press releases or copy for advertising pieces. If it's a larger company, you could put together any internal communications pieces or help the staff with overflow work. Just make sure to keep your conversation brief and thank the person on the phone for taking your call.

Whom do you call? That depends on the size of the organization. If it's small, call the owner. If it's a large corporation, find the head of the Marketing or Communications department. Target both your mailers and your calls to this person.

Gauge the tone of the person receiving the call. If you feel the opening is there, offer to meet with him or her to show your portfolio or to discuss ways you can help. NEVER push like mad. In fact, it should flow naturally into the conversation, as if it were a joint decision. If it doesn't go there, be patient. If you're doing things correctly, you'll be talking with this person in six weeks (or you could call back in seven, just to keep with the theme!). On follow-up communications, always keep the slow, friendly tone and simply ask if there's anything pressing you can help with. More often than not, the answer will be no. You can then thank them for speaking with you and follow that conversation up with a thank-you note attached to your latest press release or brochure announcing your services or the kudos your other clients have given you.

It seems like a lot of work to make seven calls a day or to send out seven marketing pieces a day. However, it's tried-and-true in my old real estate company. The company started as a very small, one-shop family enterprise. It's now the largest realtor in the region. It's because they practiced these techniques, which helped them to build a successful real estate organization. If it works for real estate, why can't it work for you?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Starting a new project today--what excitement! There's nothing like beginning something new, with the new hopes, the new ideas and the new anxieties that are attached to it. What a great way to start Spring!

At the beginning of every project, I go through the same emotions that probably plague other writers, as well. First there's the excitement of having the job. Then there's the creative burst that shows up on paper (I usually start each project with a brief outline so I know I'm where the client needs me to be). Then there's the small surge of fear--what if I screw it up for them? That last issue is the one I want to address today.

It's natural to worry or to be concerned that the project you're about to undertake won't turn out the way it should. This is especially true if you're taking on something in a new area for you. That worry can be a good tool, actually. I use my worries to create a more comprehensive communication plan with my client. For instance, when I was ghostwriting my first book, I was worried (read that terrified) that I would not be able to deliver what the client wanted. That fear was magnified because we were located in different states and quite far apart geographically. There was no quick opportunity for a face-to-face, so we would be relying on phone and email to get the job completed.

That worry prompted me to ask more questions than usual. I drilled the client--did he want this tone? Who did he see as the audience? Where did he plan to market the story? Were there particular topics within that story that he wanted to focus on? The questions went on for a number of emails. And those emails were printed out and saved in the client file so I could refer to them during the writing process.

Next I developed a brief outline--just bullet points, really. I passed those by the client. He liked them. I then put together a detailed outline, chapter by chapter, covering areas he'd mentioned and areas he may not have considered. I crossed my fingers and sent it. His reaction--he loved it. He then said he was thrilled because someone finally "got" what he was after. From there, it was simply finishing each chapter and sending them off for approval.

It's my system, which works for me. For you, something else may work better. Whatever you do, make sure you communicate often with your client. Ask the questions that pop up unexpectedly, or the ones that will define your direction. Make sure the client is clear on your vision of the project, and vice versa. Repeat it often until you both understand where it's going. Then give the client what he's asked for. It's also a good roadmap that you've built with the help of your client. That map will help you finish that project with fewer rewrites and a lot less anxiety.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The announcement today by Katie Couric that she's leaving NBC was shocking, but apparently more shocking was the announcement that she would be anchoring the CBS Evening News. Already, critics are saying Katie hasn't the experience to handle the job. Frankly, I think they're crazy.

The woman has moxie. She took a job with the highest-rated morning show and blossomed before our eyes. Some of us grew up with her, only she did her growing up on camera. Her open, unassuming and always beautiful look is often mistaken for someone with no training nor ability to go for the jugular. She can easily disspell those erroneous thoughts with one hard-core interview. She may have started out slowly, but this woman has gained major ground as a serious journalist.

Katie is no slouch. She can interview with the best of them, oftentimes cornering an interview subject like a bulldog cornering a cat. She has a girl-next-door personality, but that belies her journalistic skill, which is how she can catch an interview subject off-guard so easily. And just as easily, she can sympathize with her interview subject, or the story itself. She cares and it's genuine. She makes us want to care just as much. That's talent. That's the sign of a true professional.

Yet not all agree. While some argue her lack of correspondent experience, others point to inane and insidious excuses why Katie's not the girl for the job. I was appalled to hear one of my favorite talking heads, Bill Maher, complain that Katie's too old. Excuse me? Did anyone accuse crusty old Dan Rather he was too old? What about Walter Cronkite, who is much beloved, but not exactly in his thirties? To use that sexist, demeaning excuse is to show real prejudice, and to point out yet again that sex discrimination and chauvanism are alive and thriving. If Katie were a man, her age would be her badge of honor. Alas, she was born into the wrong gender and must forever suffer the fading-beauty syndrome that haunts women everywhere.

I've been a Katie Couric fan since her debut on the Today show. I've watched her with both professional curiosity and personal admiration. She went where many of us women have tried so hard to go--right through the glass ceiling. Yet darned if there wasn't another one just above that one. It seems that Katie, despite her impeccable resume and her stature as the longest running host of a morning show, is doomed to be judged like every other woman--through her looks and her gender. It's a shame. The woman has talent dripping from her pores, yet all the men notice is her pores are accompanied by a few wrinkles. What a pity for them.

I say to Katie: Keep breaking new ground. And keep cashing those checks. Living well is the best revenge.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sometimes as writers, we bend over backward to make our clients happy. Often we will cut our fees, sometimes too low, in order to keep a good client happy. While it's okay to give a cost break when you can, you have to know when, and how, to say no.

There are times when the client says something to the effect of "Sorry, that's just too steep for me." And that's fine. You as a business professional must determine if it's cost-effective for you to continue to do the job or if you need to talk to your client further. Here's what I suggest:

Before you turn down the job entirely, offer your client some alternative payment options. It takes very little time to register with PayPal. It does cost to transfer money using it, so keep that in mind as you're negotiationg. You could offer to break the payments down into two or three installments. Unless your client's bill comes to over $20K, I wouldn't suggest stretching the payments out any farther than three installments as then it becomes more accounting work for you. Offer, through PayPal, to take credit card payments. Do not immediately reduce your rate. Feeling sorry for the client does not pay your bills. While it's good to offer a discount if you can afford to, don't make it automatic or you will soon be taken advantage of. You have to respect your skills enough to charge what you're worth and stick to it.

With all that said, you should understand that there are certain clients (luckily, few and far between) who will try to get your fee down and who won't be nice about it. You may have come across them already--the ones who will hear your fee and immediately say "I have three other writers who will do it for half that!" Let me point out the obvious: If they did in fact have another writer who charged less, why are they still talking to you? It's because: a) you exist, or b) you have skills they need that others don't. Don't back down and don't take offense. Just respond in your most professional voice (or email) that you appreciate the information, that you offer X and Y, and mention your payment options. If they balk beyond that, trust your judgment. You can tell a lot about a client by how they respond to the payment negotiations. Decide for yourself if this is one worth negotiating with. If the answer is no, wish him well and move on.

Writers, respect yourself as professionals. Draw your boundaries now. Assume that your skills are just as necessary as accounting, engineering, or any other specialized profession. The moment you start taking yourself seriously, you'll be able to negotiate a fair fee for yourself.
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