Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 4: The Hire

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit.

Fred decides to offer Walter the job.

“I’m interested in the job,” says Walter. “But now let’s talk money.”

Fred is puzzled. “I stated in the interview that the job was 10-15 hours a week, at minimum wage.”

“Sure you did,” says Walter. “That’s the starting point for the negotiation.”

“Negotiation?”

“You can’t expect a marketing professional to work for minimum wage,” says Walter. “That’s for manual labor or fast food or an internship. Professionals get professional rates.”

Fred thinks about the people Kurt and Sandra hire. They’re young, starting out.

“Also,” says Walter, “rather than charge by the hour, I prefer to work per project. What kind of projects are we talking?”

“Whatever comes up,” says Fred. “It changes.”

“I’ll leave you a rate sheet and you can call me when you want to get started.” Walter pulls a piece of paper out of his briefcase, hands it to Fred, and gets up, holding out his hand. “I look forward to working with you.”

Fred is confused. This isn’t at all the way they discussed working in the interview.

“He’s not the right choice,” says Margaret.

Fred decides to offer Mallory the job. She will bring some much-needed quiet to the office.

“Oh,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you. You know how it is; you go on a dozen interviews and never hear from anyone again.”

Fred didn’t know how it was.

“Anyway,” says Mallory, “I’ve accepted another job. It’s full-time, with benefits, and room for growth.”

“Congratulations,” says Fred.

“Don’t hire Cole,” warns Margaret. “You can’t rely on him.”

Fred leaves Cole a message that he didn’t get the job. After all, it’s only fair, especially after what Mallory told him.

That leaves him with Brianna. He’s not sure she’s right for the job, but maybe her fresh ideas will work. It’s either that, or start looking for more candidates and holding more interviews. The thought of it exhausts Fred.

“You can always just use the samples they wrote for you,” says Kurt. “That will buy you some time.”

Fred thinks that’s wrong (thanks to Jenny’s education), and decides to offer the job to Brianna.

Brianna accepts the job, although she manages to negotiate up to $20/hour. “It’s still lower than my regular rate,” she says. “But I can live with that, for now. This is only part-time, and I’ll have to make it up on my other gigs.”

Penny only gets $15 an hour, even though she’s worked for Fred for several years. He feels like he can’t give Brianna $20/hour without giving Penny the same.

“Don’t be stupid,” says Kurt. “It’s not their business, what each other are paid. Don’t say anything.”

Fred doesn’t feel right about it. Penny is thrilled to get a $5/hour raise.

“You did the right thing,” says Margaret. “But let’s hope Brianna’s good enough to get us enough new business to cover the increased expense.”

Brianna gives him a contract. He glances at it, mostly to make sure the hours and the rate are correct, and signs it.

The first month goes well. Brianna shows up on time, has a positive attitude. She talks to everybody, shadows the other employees, takes lots of photos. She goes to several sites, gets the proper permissions from the homeowners, and takes and posts photos of the work on the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumbler. She freshens up some of the content on the website, and changes the wording so it’s more fun.

She designs a Facebook ad for a limited-time sale rate, and they do something called “boosting” it. It doesn’t cost very much, only about 100 dollars. According to the data Brianna shows him, it reached 3,197 people. They got 21 calls from it, and 7 walk-ins. It looks like a little more than half of them will actually become customers.

“You need to attend more chamber events and more business events,” she suggests. “Unless you want to pay me to attend.”

“You should do a podcast,” she suggests. “Or a blog.”

That sounds interesting to Fred, until she gives him the cost sheet. “You hired me for social media,” she says. “Look at the contract. Anything that’s not a social media post is an additional charge.”

That includes press releases, which worries Fred. He expected press releases included in the hourly rate. He’s annoyed that he didn’t read the contract more closely in the first place. When he re-reads it, he sees Brianna is correct. It’s all clearly spelled out. Very different terms than they discussed, but this is what he signed.

But Brianna knows a local reporter and convinces him to come and do a story for the paper. Brianna takes the pictures. It looks nice. Fred frames a copy and hangs it up in the store. Brianna buys several copies of the paper (on Fred’s dime). She scans one copy of the article, and makes physical photocopies. She puts them in something she calls a “clip file” and keeps one copy for her own portfolio.

They get more phone calls, and even more walk-ins, although fewer of these walk-ins seem like they’ll actually buy anything. The article just made them curious. But that’s okay. Maybe a year or so down the road, they’ll need a new floor, and they’ll call him.

But then, Brianna starts changing her hours. Fred never knows when she will come in. At first, she calls, and asks for more flexibility, due to her other jobs. But then, she stops calling, and comes in and out at random times, but just for an hour or two. Social media posts still go up regularly. Brianna still bills him for the same amount of hours, saying she’s working remotely.

Sometimes, she shows up when Penny is there. Since they are supposed to share a desk and computer, it means Brianna perches on a stool in the showroom, working from her iPad.

The number of new customers has fallen off. Fred wants to sit down with Brianna to plan out a long-term campaign. He’s proud of himself for even setting up a budget, albeit a small one.

But Brianna never seems to have the time.

When Fred tries to bring this up, Brianna says, “Look, you’re my lowest paying client. I can’t afford to work for you if I have to give you priority over my higher-paying clients.”

“All I’m asking for is the time for which you contracted.” He points to the contract.

“It says 10-15 hours,” Brianna replies. “It doesn’t say when they have to happen.”

Fred isn’t sure what to do. What advice would you give Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 3: Interviews

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred need a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free.

Chapter 3: Interviewing Candidates

Fred sets up a series of interviews over several days, in his office. He wants to see the candidates in person, and he wants them to see the workspace, which contains flooring samples and a small warehouse.

Jenny withdrew from consideration when she found out that he didn’t pay for writing samples. Fred is disappointed, but he understands. If he paid her, he’d have to pay all of them, and that runs into more money than he wants to spend. Kurt tells him to just pay Jenny, if he likes her so much; the others will never know. But Fred doesn’t feel right about it and won’t do that.

Walter shows up with a portfolio that is partially in a file, and partially online. He’s a nice enough guy (although he was five minutes late for the interview). The graphics are good, but even Fred notices the mis-spellings and mis-use of words. When he points them out, Walter shrugs. “Nobody notices that,” he says.

Fred noticed. He wonders if that makes him “nobody.”

Walter walks around the showroom. He’s personable and starts chatting with the sales guy, and with the guys loading the truck for today’s jobs. He jokes with Margaret and with Penny. He’s a perfectly nice guy with a good eye for design. Who can’t spell.

They talk marketing budget, and Walter says he can work within the range Fred gives him.

Brianna shows up right on time and talks a lot, very fast. She talks about how she wants to see the showroom rearranged to get better pictures. All her work is online, and it’s mostly in the gif and jokey format. “It’s not like anyone is going to pay attention for more than fifteen seconds to a floor,” she says.

When it comes to budget, Brianna tells Fred he needs to triple it in order to have any hope of a return. She also urges him to stop all print marketing and only do digital. She suggests he hire someone to design an app.

Cole¬†doesn’t show up.

Mallory is a nice young woman, a little shy, but it takes her a long time to get to the point of any sentence. She’s polite, but quiet with the other people in the office. Fred thinks it might be restful.

“How could she possible figure out how to create a three-word banner?” Margaret wonders. “She’s more of a novelist than someone who writes ad copy.”

Three days after the interview, a scruffy guy with a large portfolio shows up, just as Fred is locking up for the night. It’s Cole.

His artwork is good, but to Fred it looks like it should be a mural on the side of a building, or a painting in a gallery. There aren’t any words on his pieces.

“The graphics speak for themselves,” says Cole.

Fred isn’t sure how Cole can get the graphic to say, “Buy your new floor here and have me install it.”

But the images are striking.

Walter is the most easy-going and fits what Fred thinks of when he thinks, “marketing guy.” Brianna has good ideas about modern technology. Cole is unreliable but talented. Mallory is shy and pleasant, but not succinct.

He’s the most comfortable with Walter (his daughter says, “You’re such an old white man, Dad.”) He feels like he wants to give Cole or Mallory the chance, but he’s not sure either one can provide what he needs. Nor does he want to miss out on the way marketing evolves, and Brianna seems to have the best handle on that.

Which candidate would you choose? Why or why not? What advice would you give to Fred?

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.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Disorganization Is Not My Emergency

 

The downside of the technological age is that people expect an instant response. One of my small business clients has this problem all the time. The staff is small and part-time. The office is closed on weekends. If someone places an order at 11 PM on Friday, it gets filled and shipped as soon as someone arrives on Monday. Yet, nine times out of ten, there are a dozen or more nasty messages on the answering machine and/or emails having a hissy fit because it hasn’t arrived by Monday. It’s very clear on the site that it is a small business and there is no 24-hour fulfillment staff. The shipping date ranges are also clear. The auto-acknowledge is also clear. But people throw tantrums anyway. Supposedly, they’re buying from my client because it’s unique, one-of-a-kind merchandise. But they act like spoiled toddlers.

I’m audience engagement, not customer service, so I don’t have to deal with them, thank goodness.

When I have a big event or plan to be out of the office for a day or more, I let clients know ahead of time. I often put up on “out-of-office” message on my email. I complete anything they need AHEAD of time, and remind them, when I send it, that I am not available on days X, Y, and Z. I will get back to them as soon as possible after Day Z.

It never fails that, any scheduled day out of the office or doing an event for another client, the clients WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MATERIALS AHEAD OF TIME start making demands on something they need RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Which, of course, they don’t. Because they received everything they needed ahead of time, and there is plenty of time in the schedule to take the next steps on time WHEN I AM DONE WITH MY DAYS AWAY.

This is when firm boundaries are vital.

If I’m only out a single day for an event, I simply wait until the following day, when I’d be officially back in the office to respond. If I’m out multiple days, I send a reminder that I told them I was not available during this time, they have the materials they needed AHEAD of time, and we will continue when I get back.

If there is a GENUINE emergency (which are few and far between), I respond as best I can.

Most of it is panic or a want to prove that I will drop everything to respond.

I don’t work that way.

In the situations where there is continued escalating demands for instant attention (especially without reason), I wait until I am back on the clock. I wind up the project, on time, and on schedule, as per our contract.

Then I don’t work with them again. If they want to set up another project and the panic demands have only happened once, I have a discussion about the panic demands and solutions so it doesn’t happen again. If it DOES happen again, I don’t take on any more projects with the client. I let them know our working styles aren’t compatible and wish them well.

One of the discussions we freelancers often have is how we set up the terms and schedules in the contract, we turn in our part of a project on time, but don’t get back what we need from the client on time, and then they expect us to scramble to make up the difference.

I handle this with clear communication, reminders, and reminders about the contract terms (because this issue is contained in the contract). If (and when) it continues, I start charging the additional fees as stipulated in the contract.

I am not staying up until 4 AM to meet a deadline when I’ve met all my fulfillment dates and the other party hasn’t. Not without additional money.

It’s vital that we make these terms clear and hold them. Far too many clients don’t think what we do is work already. If we continue to let them create unnecessary emergencies and we continue to clean up their messes without charging for it, and showing that there are consequences, then we encourage and enable their behavior.

Which makes it harder for everybody.

How do you deal with clients who fabricate emergencies and expect you to drop everything to tend to them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Adversity

Those of you who have followed along on Ink in My Coffee and on social media know that last week, I was hit with a crisis. I had an unexpected major car repair, far more than I had put aside. Yes, I am one of the 78% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck who cannot afford an emergency.

I’d thought the month of May was the start of my road out of that, and that I might even have enough of a cushion to take a few much-needed days off, but then I was hit with the car repair.

The repair is being done in stages. Phase One, the most expensive one, was to get the car back on the road. I live in an area where public transportation is a joke, unless you’re going from Hyannis or Barnstable into Boston.

The hard part is, I had to ask for help to do it. That nearly killed me. Which is not logical, because I do my best to help anyone else who asks whenever I can. Yet not having enough of a cushion to fund this major, unexpected repair myself makes me feel like a failure.

But I asked for help. I received far more than I expected. I also sent out another spate of pitches, some at a much higher rate than I expected. I received payment for a big job just completed (which had been marked for other bills and a couple of days of rest for me, but oh well). I landed an assignment from a quick-pay publication, and have another spec assignment on a bigger-than-I-usually-work-for pub that would pay well (although a few months down the line). I sent some LOIs to companies I might not have initially approached, but circumstances made me do so now.

It’s more immediate pressure on me right now, but if I can keep myself mentally in the game, and not break down physically, I should be able to do it.

But it sharpens into focus some of the things I’ve been trying to change, and forces me to change them sooner rather than later.

This is a catalyst for change.

It will be good in the long run. If I can only survive in the short run.

How do you deal with unexpected adversity? What are your most helpful tools?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Opportunity

 

We’re still working on the personal strategic plan. This week, we discuss the category called “Opportunities.”

What does that mean in a strategic plan?

I define it as taking a closer look at where you (either an individual or a business) are not utilizing your strengths and recognizing the chance to grow.

Part of that is not approaching potential new customers with a negative.

The Positive Approach
Let’s say there’s a small business in your town. You’d like to work with them. You know you’d be a good hire. You could handle their marketing, social media, get them connected to other businesses and events in the community that will grow their profile and, by extension, their business.

You do your research. The social media profile has very few followers and they aren’t following a whole heck of a lot, either. There are some marketing posts, but no engagement. There are typos in their signage and on the website. The website is a static page on a free site that doesn’t draw in the viewer.

Lots to fix, right?

An opportunity, right?

But HOW do you approach them? By telling them what’s wrong with their site and their approach?

Not unless they ask you, in the interview, what you would do differently.

If you pitch them with what’s wrong with their site, they won’t bother to listen.

If you pitch them with how your skills will grow their audience, their engagement, and their business, there’s a better chance they’ll pay attention.

How to lose them: “I looked at your site. You have typos galore, it’s obvious you’re not paying for a web host, and your social media profile is practically non-existent. If you hire me, I’ll fix it.”

How to get them interested: “I was drawn to your site by your mission and your passion. It’s difficult to keep on top of all the communication and audience engagement needs when you’re so busy. If you’re ever interested in bringing in someone to ease that pressure, I’m interested. I have some ideas to engage and expand your audience. I’d love to meet with you and talk through ideas.” And then add in your particular skills that are appropriate.

See the difference?

Every interaction can be an opportunity, and it doesn’t need to be a hard sell in the moment. Meet people. Exchange cards. Follow up. If it’s not something that’s your area of interest or expertise, keep an eye open to see where you can recommend someone else. If you come across a helpful article or piece of information, send it on.

Instead of drive-by marketing, build relationships.

Stay in contact with people. That’s vital. I find reminder postcards more useful than emails, but not more than quarterly. I send out a batch of cards with a simple, “how are you? I was thinking of you. I thought I’d check in to see if you need anything.”

I’m big on holiday cards at the end of the year. It’s a way to let people know you’re thinking of them.

Expanding Your Repertoire
Is there something that interests you, but you haven’t worked much in that area?

Research companies/businesses that work in that area.

Frame your pitch so you convince them that the skills you have are what they need, and that you can learn the details of their particular business quickly.

My marketing and social media skills apply to a variety of fields. I’ve written for sports, individual artists and musicians, a marine life non-profit, museums, an independent clothing designer, an organic landscaper, a record producer, a chef, and much, much more.

I found things that interested me, and applied my skills.

As a bonus, I now understand more about how those businesses work. That’s useful in both business writing AND in my fiction and scripts. Because everything is material.

Best Advice
The biggest advice I have in the opportunity category is: Don’t wait for opportunity. Create opportunity.

How do you create opportunities?

Where would you like to expand?