Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What I learned from American Pickers

My go-to TV show while clearing the dinner dishes is American Pickers on History.

I used to consider this light entertainment. Then I realized I was absorbing key fundamentals of negotiating.
  • The art of the bundle Frank Fritz has perfected a technique for elevating price negotiations when at an impasse with  owners. He groups together several items, making the price for each less important. This same approach works wonders when I’m asked to write several small projects. Rather than try to price each one separately, an overall project cost can seal the deal.
  • What do you value this piece at? Both Frank and Mike Wolfe use this line frequently to gauge a starting point for negotiation. Swap out “piece” for “project,” and it’s a perfect inquiry for gauging the parameters of the client’s budget.
  • There’s a bunch of rust, and some pieces are missing Any item in mint condition is going to be worth a lot more than something you dug up in the backyard. The inverse is true in copywriting. Any project with all the pieces in place – clear objectives, accessible background materials, available subject matter experts, reasonable review and approval process – will cost less than one where much more work is required to get it into shape.
With every negotiation, both sides do a little dance to get what they want. When the guys at American Pickers seal their first deal, they shake on it. They call it “breaking the ice.”

There are few handshakes in my business, where client contacts are mostly by phone and email. All I can offer is solid writing, with attention to detail and fresh thinking about the client’s problems.

That must hold sway because many of them come back year after year for new projects. My deliverable becomes the Amy Ink ice-breaker, paving the way for future collaborations...and more negotiations.

I guess I'll having to start paying closer attention to History shows, considering their educational value for managing my small business. In fact, I just might take a break right now to watch a few episodes of Pawn Stars. Let's see what tricks those negotiation pros have up their sleeves.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tag, you're IT

Whenever some bit of software goes wonky, I’m suddenly IT. That’s what happens when you’re a one-woman sole proprietor.

Something breaks. Software needs updating. New and better technology become available. Tag, I’m IT.

I play the role of Information Technology support much like I play office manager, administrative assistant, invoice preparer, bookkeeper, and whatever else is needed to keep my business running. Oh yes – and writing – I knew I was forgetting something.

Most of my writing projects fall into a hurry-up-and-wait rhythm. Schedule phone interviews; wait until the agreed time. Conduct interviews; wait for additional materials to arrive. Write copy; wait through client reviews.

In between, I can easily fit all the other stuff of running the business. Except when software unexpectedly decides to take a header.

In the good old days, I would call corporate IT support or the company Help Desk. These days, I am the company Help Desk. To be fair, I do have some support – my head of networks, or HON – but my husband has a day job, and troubleshooting via email has its drawbacks.

Yesterday’s crisis involved software that used to synch my smartphone with Outlook contacts and calendars perfectly. Until it didn’t.

An update was available. But nothing could get the old program to uninstall, or the new version to install, because some phantom data was tricking the computer into thinking another installation was in progress. It wasn’t.

I wasted an evening – for me and my HON – searching phrases like “Error 1500” and “problem installing program” and “system error codes.” We applied fixes that worked for someone at some point on some system, but not now. We disregarded warnings and modified the computer registry, even upon pain of possible “substantial damage to the Windows operating system.”

Luckily no damage was done.

Then I stumbled on and ran a little utility called “Fix it” to uninstall the uninstallable program. It worked.

Relief. Joy. And a fresh start.

Today’s technology makes it possible for me to make my living from a home office. And even when technology makes it impossible to work, other technology resolves the problem and gets me back on track.

I can’t say I understand IT systems and solutions in any detail. What I can do is think through the problem and do targeted searches to find fixes.

Maybe being IT isn’t such a bad thing, especially when it saves me that dreaded last step of spending a frustrating few hours calling technical support.