Free, organic marketing — that takes time. But it has at least one advantage: if you build and nurture a good LinkedIn network, the leads that come from it are very well qualified.
Last week I completely forgot the 10th anniversary of my business.
But LinkedIn remembered. They noted it in my colleagues’ newsfeed.
So throughout the week I was pinged with a few a dozen “Congratulations!” messages from friends from around the world. Many of these folks I’ve talked with in recent months, but some — well, one was a madly creative, rather intimidating woman I knew 10 years ago at Apple. We both left at the same time and went off to make our ways in the world. She remembered me? Wow.
I answered each of the messages, using the opportunity to catch up, and came away from the experience pretty impressed with LinkedIn.
I was even more impressed a few days later when the CEO of a small software company contacted me to do a project, mentioning that a friend (one of the folks who’d congratulated me on LinkedIn) had recommended my work. Today I’m starting on a fascinating new web-writing project. I’m pretty sure that the LinkedIn anniversary message reminded that colleague about my work, and led him to recommend me.
Clients often ask me what social media activities will get them business immediately. The answer? Buy Google ads. Free, organic marketing — that takes time. But it has at least one advantage: if you build and nurture a good LinkedIn network, the leads that come from it are very well qualified.
Be aware: What you save in cash on a yard sale bargain may cost you in karma. This is the story of my new 1-terabyte hard drive.
I don’t feel at all guilty about the new iMac I bought for my office. I am, however, experiencing some real stress about the brand-new 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive I’m using to handle Time Machine backups for the iMac.
That’s because I only paid $5 for it.
At a yard sale.
Here’s the story:
On a bright sunny Saturday last summer, we were headed off on errands when we detoured to follow a yard sale sign. We found ourselves on a neat little block where the corner house had tables and clothing racks set out. It was a real “chick” yard sale — like a chick flick, but all the squealing is over inexpensive Nordstrom clothing rather than cute guys. Two perky blonde moms with their adorable blond children had set out a sale of gently used clothing, toys, and decor items. Tom, probably with a mind to accruing points so that he could thoroughly investigate a subsequent yard sale full of DVDs, wandered around while I perused the racks of elegant clothing, looking for something that was not too floral or pastel. As I recall, I found a nice navy blue scarf. I didn’t pay much attention when Tom waved a bright green shrink-wrapped box at me and said “Only five dollars.”
“Sure,” I said, vaguely registering something called “My Book.” I figured it was a kid’s toy of some kind, or perhaps a little gadget for digital photos.
It was only the following day that I saw the “My Book” on our mail table, took a close look, and realized it was a brand-new 1-terabyte hard drive. I looked online and discovered that it sells at places like OfficeMonster for between $125 and $175.
“That much?” Tom marveled. He’d assumed it was something old and out of date.
Obviously, there’d been a terrible mistake at the yard sale. But we couldn’t remember where the yard sale had been. On the way to the store the next day, we drove through the neighborhood where the sale had been, but the sale signs were down and all the neat little blocks looked the same.
So, there we were. With somebody’s expensive hard drive, and a bit of guilt.
But, wait — the story gets worse. Or better, depending on your sense of humor.
A week or two after the yard sale, I was at the local OfficeMonster buying what I always seem to be buying there — HP ink cartridges. I got into the checkout line and sighed. Our local OfficeMonster has a cashier ( let’s call her Brunhilde) who is slow as an ancient laser printer. She asks you if you need any of their weekly specials and goes through each item while you vehemently say “No” to each one. She asks if you have your special coupons — and clucks at you if you don’t. She asks if you have your OfficeMonster Preferred Dinosaur card. And she enunciates every syllable of it all.
The handsome man in front of me in the line looked about ready to strangle Brunhilde. He was clearly in a hurry. He had only one item on the counter, was waving cash, and his two adorable little blond children were tugging at his leg.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
“Daddy’s hurrying,” he told them through clenched teeth, as Brunhilde droned her way through a list of weekly specials.
She finally rang up the purchase, and that’s when I noticed the item the fellow was buying. It was a bright green shrink-wrapped box. It looked familiar. So, come to think of it, did the two adorable little blond children. I’d seen them, and a 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, before. At that yard sale.
I opened my mouth. And closed it. And opened my mouth again. And closed it.
This was tricky. I realized that if I told this man I’d purchased his hard drive at a yard sale a few weeks earlier, I stood a chance of creating a larger problem than I was solving. If he’d been assured by his wife that his hard drive was “probably lost,” and I stepped forward with information that confirmed his darkest suspicions that it had been “lost” in her yard sale — well, things could get ugly. And then there was Brunhilde. Triggering something that would result in her having to void a purchase would hardly make us popular with the long line of OfficeMonster customers already fidgeting behind me.
While I stood there weighing my options, the two adorable blond children were dragging their grouchy dad and his new hard drive out of the store and into the parking lot. Brunhilde had grabbed my ink cartridges and launched into her recitation of the weekly specials. I nodded along, in a daze. To her delight and amazement, I accidentally bought 10 reams of OfficeMonster paper.
At least someone was having a good day.
That night, I told Tom what had happened — and not happened — at the office supplies store.
“Oh my,” was all he said.
I’m now enjoying the 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, but remain aware that what I saved in cash I probably spent in karma. So we’ve resolved that the next time we have a yard sale we’ll include one or two really spectacular bargains.
Are you a victim of age discrimination — or are you a perpetrator? Some of the ugliest and most inaccurate stereotypes about over-50 professionals come from over-50 professionals themselves.
I’ve been reading discussions (on LinkedIn:Seattle and other forums) about age discrimination experienced by older professionals — discussions filled with anecdotes about incidents in which a company discouraged, ignored, or rejected a qualified over-50 job applicant for reasons related to their age.
I’m sure that many of the stories are true. And I suspect that, as a contractor, I sometimes lose opportunities based on my age and companies’ stereotypes about people over 50.
However, I’ve been reluctant to get into these discussions. That’s because I don’t have any objective data to bring to the table and posting yet another indignant individual tale of woe just fuels the general climate of self-righteous victimhood.
But now I have something to say. It’s based on reading a recent essay by a man who is well over 50. I’m not going to name the essayist, or even describe the essay in detail. What caught my attention was that at several points in the article the writer referred to himself as “out of date,” “ancient,” no longer active in the field, etc., etc. I realized that if an editor had removed that self-denigration and those apologies, I would have had no idea of the writer’s age. The essay topic itself would have been a logical one for an expert of any age in the field, and the writer’s age had nothing to do with his conclusions, or his ability to reach them.
So, what’s going on here?
Why do I keep encountering older professionals who seem compelled to make age an issue, to describe themselves and their peers over 50 as less technically competent and less intellectually nimble, and to do so at great length. I’m mystified by this stereotyping, and, as someone over 50, I’m annoyed. Because when I go in to talk with a prospective client who is 20 years younger than me, the chances are that they’ve recently encountered someone like the self-deprecatory essayist and are afraid that I’ll go off on a similar tangent.
Or they may have recently attended a professional meeting, like the one I was at last month, at which an older participant made sweeping, derogatory comments about the technical abilities of her over-50 peers.
The meeting was a small seminar about new features for some website software we were all using for our businesses. The attendees were asked to introduce themselves. The younger men and women in the room all introduced themselves in a professional manner, describing their businesses and why they were interested in the new software features. But five of the over-50 participants proceeded to describe themselves as being afraid of technology, probably doing the wrong thing, and having no idea of what to do with website software. One woman went on at length about how, “of course, everyone my age is terrified of computers.”
I was embarrassed, and angry.
When the time came for me to introduce myself, I was surprised that I was able to unclench my jaw long enough to say I that I’m a social media communications consultant specializing in online content for technology startups and medical device companies. I left that seminar wondering if it was time to invest in hair dye and Botox.
Before I resort to those, I’m going to make an appeal to my age cohort.
Folks, I’ll be blunt. It’s hard enough dealing with media-fueled societal prejudice against people over 50 without having those of us who should know better mouthing the Madison Avenue script and perpetuating that stereotype. What is the point of running ourselves, and our contemporaries, into the ground?
If you’re having tough time with job interviews, client meetings, or networking events, it’s easy to blame that on age discrimination. But before you do, ask yourself if you are giving people a chance to judge you (and me) on the basis of professional abilities — or are you frightening them off with your attitude first?
I’m not going to speculate on what’s causing this wave of self-inflicted ageism — there are no doubt many complex factors in play. But I am going to suggest that it stop.
Please get it together. Stop, thinking, acting, and talking as though anyone over 50 in the world of business is a victim. Not only are you sabotaging your own chances of securing good work, you’re taking the rest of us down with you.
It’s better than nagging: A technique for following up with qualified prospects.
In the midst of it all, I’m trying out a new technique for wooing customers. I’d been introduced to the MarCom manager at a large company that needs a blog designed, managed, and possibly ghost written — a very promising opportunity for me. I’d sent her a proposal and some samples. She’d responded with interest. But we were having difficulty setting up and doing an actual phone call. She’d cancelled because of some emergencies and didn’t reschedule.
Meanwhile, I was researching the topic of successful B2B blogs for another client and realized that one of the reference articles I’d discovered talked about exactly the marketing problem the prospective client is hoping to solve. (It examined the way that Manpower US had engaged B2B customers by tightly focusing a blog on the topic those customers were most eager to hear about.)
So, instead of whingeing to my prospect that we needed to schedule, I wrote her a note saying I’d been thinking about her project and thought she might like to see what Manpower US had done, providing links to the article.
We’ll see how it works. But I have a good feeling about the technique. At my end, it certainly feels better than nagging.
Update: Two months later I signed a contract with the prospective client.
How to avoid taking on clients who are likely to be deadbeats. In my experience, in every instance where a client has received my bill but tried to avoid paying, the signs were there from the very beginning.
Recently I’ve been in a discussion with colleagues about how to deal with clients who don’t pay your invoices on time (or at all). It’s an upsetting topic. You’ve worked with someone on a project, you’ve established what you thought was a decent relationship, you’ve given them good work, on time — and then they ignore your bills.
Of course, in some cases it’s just a matter of reminding them, or asking the right person, and you get your check in the mail. But other times, weeks roll by, emails go unanswered, and you reach the inescapable conclusion that you’ve been “stood up.”
I’ve discovered that people react in all sort of ways to a client’s deliberate failure to pay up. In my case, I feel insulted. I feel angry. And I feel even angrier when I realize that I now have to invest time trying to collect my money.
I’ve faced up to the fact that it’s much easier simply to avoid taking on clients who are likely to be deadbeats. In my experience, in every instance where a client has received my bill but tried to avoid paying, the warning signs were there from the very beginning. At least one, and usually two, of the following factors were in play:
Inexperience. The client is a sole proprietor with no previous business experience (they had always worked in a corporate environment where they never had to think about expenses). They have no office manager, no bookkeeper, no budget, and no established system for paying clients.
Cluelessness. The client offers a touchy-feely service like “positive visualization.” For whatever reason, I’ve had two personal growth coaches attempt to ignore my bills for web content writing — even though they were using my content on their sites.
Delusions. The client is a technology startup. When I quoted my rates, they tried to talk me into a fancy title and ownership of some unspecified “share” of their “sure-fire” company.
Shady business. There is very little evidence of the people, or their company, online (by Googling names and email addresses). It’s as if they’d landed from Mars. When I check the state government’s online public records of business licenses and registered corporations, there is no record of the company, or the records connect back to an off-shore corporation.
Lack of authority. The person who is contracting with me to do work for a large, legitimate company is himself (or herself) a contractor rather than a company employee. When my bill is ignored, they’re sympathetic but have no authority to enforce my contract with the company or get me paid.
In the more than 20 years that I’ve been a contractor and freelance writer, I’ve encountered all of these situations. Yes, you should always have a contract or a memorandum of understanding with a client, but only if you are prepared to go to small claims court (for a small invoice) or hire a lawyer (for a large invoice) to get your money. (I am, and I have. But that’s another story.)
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better just to pick the right clients in the first place.
Thank you so much for following Writer Way in 2012. Thanks for your comments and feedback, and for telling friends who are interested in writing and online communications about the blog.
Like everyone else, I’m crazy busy (or at least I think I am). I’d like to work more efficiently in 2013, so I’m collecting a few tools I believe will help me do that. Here’s what I’ve come up with, thus far:
Free project management software. I like the old-fashioned GANTT chart for trying to visualize and analyze who’s doing what, when, and which projects and tasks are interdependent. GanttProject lets you do that — so you can stop trying to run projects with Excel.
Inexpensive time-tracking, expense-tracking, and invoicing software (cloud-based). While I wouldn’t call Harvest elegant, I’d say it’s surprisingly full-featured and easy to use. For $12 a month, I get a system that lets me handle an unlimited number of clients, projects, and invoices — plus I can access the Harvest site from a browser or an iPhone/iPad app. (There’s even a free version that lets you track time and do invoicing for two projects — a great way to find out if Harvest is for you.)
Try ’em out. Let me know what you think — and what else you find that helps you get work done.
Tonight I join the worldwide chorus to say, again, “Thank you, Steve.”
I joined Apple as a writer early 2000, just after the launch of iTools (later .Mac, now MobileMe, and soon to become iCloud). I left in 2006, after working on .Mac and the iTunes Music Store.
I loved every day of that job, and left for reasons that had nothing to do with Apple but a lot to do with my family and my life in Seattle. (I’d been commuting from Seattle to Cupertino for one or two days every week, which wasn’t ideal.)
This story is about my last day working at Apple — or rather, the night before, which I spent at a hotel near the Apple campus. I went to bed that night feeling sad about leaving, and wondering if it were a mistake. In the early morning hours, I had this dream:
I dreamed I was at a games party, playing cards at a large table with friends from all parts of my life. The party must have been at Apple, because Steve was there, walking from group to group. He came by my table, stood behind me, and looked at my hand — leaning over me and turning the cards so he could see them.
This made me a little nervous. It wasn’t until Steve walked away that I realized that he’d somehow slipped an additional card into my hand.
I woke up from the dream and realized immediately what it meant: Apple wasn’t meant to be my whole career, but what I’d experienced there was going to help me with the rest of my work — and the rest of my life.
And so it has. Profoundly.
Tonight I join the worldwide chorus to say, again, “Thank you, Steve.”
Rejoined the Northwest Folklife board, filling the unexpired term of the late Warren Argo, and took United Way’s training for board members.
Wrote a website for a state government agency using “Plain Talk” standards.
Wrote six humor columns for a membership publication.
Wrote more than 100 blog posts, op-ed pieces, brochures, profiles and case studies for clients.
Took fiction writing workshops taught by Ellen Klages and Mary Robinette Kowal, and submitted two stories to magazines.
Worked as a volunteer at the Fremont Solstice Parade and conducted training for Northwest Folklife greeter/fundraisers.
Nearly every “done” on the list had a significant obstacle — from mastering new technology to dealing with difficult people — I had to overcome. In every case, the earlier and more thoughtfully I tackled the obstacle, the better the result.
A big thank you to the people who offered me the challenges, the people who mentored me through them, and the people who were there to celebrate with me when I finally crossed the finish lines.
Hale’s Ales, the Grand Illusion, Full Tilt Ice Cream, Cafe Paloma, the Tractor Travern, and T.S. McHugh’s are hosting events to benefit Northwest Folklife.
Sometimes it takes a sad event to bring you home to your family.
Last month, Northwest folk arts organizer and guru Warren Argo died unexpectedly. The contributions to the community Warren had spearheaded and supported during his life have filled articles, blog posts and memorials in the past few weeks. He was a community organizer in the truest sense of the phrase — and a real mensch.
Fifteen years ago, I had the honor of serving on the board of Northwest Folklife with Warren, who was among the festival founders and perennial organizers. Tuesday night, I was elected to fill the remainder of Warren’s term on the board. I’m honored to have been asked. And I’m jazzed to be back.
It’s a great board, a great staff, and applications for performers for the Memorial Day festival are already pouring in — hundreds of musicians volunteering to play for free. This spring they’ll be joined by thousands of volunteers who’ll emcee, stage manage, greet, guide, and otherwise supplement Northwest Folklife’s small core staff to make the four-day free festival happen — for a quarter of a million visitors.
It’s going to be a tremendous year. Please join us at some of the Night for Folklife events being held in the next month at Hale’s Ales, Lucid Jazz Club, the Grand Illusion, Full Tilt Ice Cream, Cafe Paloma, Laughing Lady Cafe, the Tractor Travern, Eddie’s Trackside Bar and Grill in Monroe, and T.S. McHugh’s. There’ll also be dances throughout the region. Details here.