Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer (A Freelance Parable) – Chapter 1 – The Ad

We’re going to spend a few weeks on a parable of sorts about different approaches to hiring writers.

Let’s chart some possibilities. We’ll use the fictional Fred as an example. Fred runs a small business that installs flooring. He lives in a medium-sized community that has a brisk summer tourist trade, and “summer people” are the bulk of his business, along with a smaller clientele of year-round residents. We will spend time with Fred, learning different ways he can grow his business, from several sides of the marketing table — Fred’s side, his writer’s side, and his target audience’s side.

It’s a family-owned business. Fred took over from his father. Sometimes, his sons and daughter work for him in the summer. His wife, Margaret, takes care of the bookkeeping and some of the administrative work. Penny, a retired teacher, comes in part-time as an office assistant, 15 hours a week, to help with invoicing and correspondence and other stuff so that his wife can focus on the bookkeeping, payroll, and her many interests outside of the business, such as the local garden club, a book club, a knitting circle, and volunteering for the hospital auxiliary thrift shop.

The business has been in a holding pattern for the past eighteen months. They’re still in the black, but they haven’t expanded much. Fred would like to add clients, but he’s not sure how to get information out there. He’s got a Facebook page for the business, and his daughter talks about Instagram, but how interesting is it for customers to see his guys fitting floorboards on Instagram? Fred used to word-of-mouth to grown his client base, or meeting people directly. Fred likes people; if he can meet them, they usually get along, and when they need his services, they remember him.

But he can’t meet everyone in his region personally. He can’t afford to hire sales reps to go door-to-door. He’s tried those coupon-book direct mail packages, and taken ads in the local paper, but that didn’t bring in enough new business to cover the cost of the ads. His wife’s best friend Carla works in the library and suggested he give a program on the eco-friendly flooring he started using. Only three people turned up, and none of them became customers.

He talks to his golfing buddy, Kurt. Kurt runs a small real estate agency, mostly dealing in summer rentals. His wife, Sandy, runs an event company that specializes in weddings, showers, and large summer parties.

“Anyone can slap a few words together and send out a press release,” says Kurt. “I just have the girl answering the phone do it in between phone calls and scheduling appointments.”

“How much do you pay them?”

“I never pay more than minimum wage.” Kurt is proud of that. It makes him feel smart. He keeps everyone part time, with no benefits, paid holidays, or sick days, although he “generously” will let people work additional hours if they’ve been sick.

“I hire girls on college break,” says Sandy. “They work the events, and they post to social media and take photographs. Good photos are so important in our business. They have to know Photoshop. They are required to use their own iPhones, laptops, everything. If they don’t own the technology, I’m not going to hire them. Saves us on equipment, you know.”

Fred thinks these young women sound skilled. “How much do you pay them?” he asks.

“I never pay more than minimum wage.” Like her husband, she is proud of this. Even in busy times, she makes sure to only hire part-time help, so she doesn’t have to worry about pesky extras like benefits or sick days or paid holidays. Both of them find their employees through Craigslist.

Okay, minimum wage. Fred asks Margaret to run some numbers. They could afford to hire someone for minimum wage for ten to fifteen hours a week. But he’s uncomfortable asking them to use their own equipment. Fred asks his brother, who lives in a city and travels for work, about the equipment.

“I have my personal cell phone and a desktop computer at home,” his brother tells him. “My employer pays for my company phone and company laptop, which I use when I travel, and when I need to take work home. I wouldn’t work for someone who didn’t.”

Well, okay, then. If Fred schedules the new person during times when Penny isn’t there, they can share a computer in the office.

Fred posts an ad on Craigslist, advised by Kurt. He and Margaret are astonished by the replies. They receive replies from all over the country. Fred wants someone in the office; he wants someone local. He’s not sure how people from three thousand miles away found his little ad. One of them mentions that she saw the ad on a job board that picked up the listing and posted it.

The other astonishing factor is that most of the responses are poorly spelled, with inconsistent grammar, and the majority of them think he’s hiring additional manual labor. Few of them have even included a resume. Some of the attachments he can’t open, because they are in a format not compatible with his computer.

When he asks his daughter why he can’t open a file, she says, “Did you tell them in the ad what format you needed?”

Fred admits it never occurred to him. His daughter rolls her eyes.

What advice would you give Fred?

Next week: Fred asks for writing samples.

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