Friday, June 19, 2015

Survey me not

I fear that, as a culture, we’re losing our confidence. Why else would we be continually asking others: How am I doing?

That used to be the question the late Ed Koch would ask everyone and anyone when he was mayor of New York City, from 1978 to 1989. I still think of old Ed whenever I’m asked for feedback on a survey, which is every other day or so.

When one person asks for feedback, you respond. The second request? OK, maybe. But the daily barrage tells me it’s time to find a new feedback mechanism.

Some recent examples:
  • The bank that holds my personal accounts and one business checking account invites me to “Voice Your Opinion” by participating in a brief online survey about business banking needs. Me? I just need a checking account, which I already have.
  • The vet would “greatly appreciate it” if I would complete a survey on my cat’s dental cleaning. They should really be asking my cat, although based on his yowling there and back, he wasn’t a happy camper. 
  • An industry executive community selected me to participate in an exclusive survey of its magazine readers. I’m not an exec in that industry, and I don’t read the magazine. 
  • A confirmation email for a product purchase alerts me I will be receiving an email survey within two weeks asking my opinion of service. Forewarned is forearmed; it was deleted immediately. 
  • The latest request came from an airline, with one email asking about my flight out and a second asking about my flight home. I don’t think any amount of feedback will give me more leg room, greater transparency on pricing, or guaranteed space in the overhead bin for carry-on luggage.
The automatic nature of feedback requests remind me of dining out. At some point, shortly after serving the main course, the wait staff will breeze by the table to ask something along the lines of this: “You guys OK?” And because I’m not dining in four-star restaurants, unless the food is truly horrid or includes something unidentifiable or inedible, I’ll usually give a nod so they’ll go away.

There is another reason behind my reluctance to publicly review all matters great and small. One of my clients was a small PR firm, and the principal died suddenly. As I was searching for information about funeral services, I came across his online review of a wastebasket he had purchased. He gave it a positive rating, and that rating kept popping up on subsequent searches as the days went by. I never discovered any funeral or memorial service for him, but I sure know how pleased he was with his wastebasket.

I’d hate for anyone’s last memory of me to be a review of some mundane piece of office furniture. So to all my vendors and service providers, unless you hear differently from me, you’re all doing just fine.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Six secrets to freelance success

The reasons for becoming a freelancer run the gamut, from entrepreneurial bent to downsized job, from desire for more freedom and flexibility to no better options at the moment.

No matter how you come to freelancing, or for how long, there are a few secrets to make the most of your experience. Following are the top six that come to mind based on my 15 years of experience as a freelance writer:
  1. Get dressed. There is no freelancer uniform, but you really need to get out of your pajamas. I know it’s tempting to roll out of bed and start tapping away on your computer. But even if video calls are unlikely, it’s hard to feel professional wearing bunny slippers.

  2. Brush your teeth. Getting dressed is only the first step. If you don’t brush your teeth first thing in the morning, you’ll delay until after breakfast. Then you’ll have a big cup of coffee to sip, so you’ll put it off even longer. By that time lunch looms, and who brushes their teeth before eating? You can see where this is going. A day without brushing that leaves you open to cavities and dental disease (and what freelancer carries great dental insurance?).

  3. Create a brand. When I first began my freelance writing business, I didn’t have a lot of billable hours. What kept me busy was creating the tools and materials to present a professional image to prospects. I branded my business AMY INK, with the name and logo carried across letterhead, business cards, website, and social media sites. Sometimes new clients would find me via Internet search, but more often I pointed prospects to, where they could read writing samples, get more detail on my background, and get a general sense that I was a “real” business and not just killing time during a job search.

  4. Use professional tools. Most of my clients come from the business world, and so I created my in-home office with as many professional tools as possible. I bought the same software my clients used. I installed equipment with the same capabilities. I used the same courier delivery services they did. Basically, I wanted them to see me as an extension of their office, not some homespun writing service that would deliver copy and cookies.

  5. Buy go-to-meeting clothes. The wardrobe from my corporate days became terribly outdated in what seemed like months. These two words should tell the whole story: shoulder pads. So each year I try to stock a few outfits that will work in the boardroom. The need to be prepared became apparent when a meeting with executives was scheduled on short notice. Because there was nothing appropriate in my closet, I had to make an emergency run to a classic-clothing retailer. I’m sure the client didn’t really care what I wore, but I wanted to show that I cared and could fit in with the culture I would be writing about.

  6. Schedule workouts first. My Outlook calendar is filled with colorful blocks of time scheduled for gym workouts, yoga classes, and running. This visual reminder keeps me, and my fitness schedule, on track. There are times I will schedule business calls for my normal gym morning, but it’s not my first preference – and I make time for the workout later. The point here is that taking time for fitness is important. When you’re healthy and feeling strong, you can perform better in life and on the job.
These secrets are not so much hidden knowledge as what I consider good common sense applied to business. I’ve been freelancing now for 15 years, which is a dog’s age in this business. Those joining the freelance ranks today can probably rely on digital tools instead of the fax machine, second landline, and branded mailing supplies I needed back in 2000. And they could probably add many more secrets about the best uses of social media. 

Still, what matters most remains the same: providing clients with quality work, even going beyond their expectations, while being reliable, creative, and an easy partner to work with. If you’re going the freelance route, for whatever reason, treat it as the great opportunity it is – both for you and your clients.