business development, fundraising industry

0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards

Am I that naive?

How can networking result in 0 jobs and still be a success?

A little bit of background: Last year (2018), I visited the DMFA Awards meeting. I had some, I thought, relevant insights. I also attended the Bridge Conference, the Chicago Nonprofit Conference, the AFP St. Louis Gateway Conference, and the AWAI Bootcamp. And this year I attended the DC Nonprofit Conference and the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

In 12 months I’ve done a lot of travel, to meet specific industry members who do the work I do, who hire people like me.

I networked my ass off.

I met a lot of people. I handed out a lot of business cards. I collected a lot of swag.

I got a book (Unconscious Branding) in one of the bags. I read it. I reviewed it. I’m going to post a review of that soon. When I do, I’ll come back to this post and link it.

I missed my kids. And I missed baseball games, orchestra concerts, and volleyball practices. They missed me.

I collected my fair share of airline miles.

And so, one might ask, how successful was all of that “networking”? Was it worth it?

A year later, I look at the 7 conferences I’ve attended, the hundreds of business cards in my Rolodex, and the thousands of e-mails I’ve sent. What happened after all that activity?

I got 0 jobs.

Zero.

None.

No assignments. No opportunities. No paychecks.

Oh, I’ve been paid. I’ve had checks from local clients, and those in other states. I’m not starving. But out of those in-person industry meetings where I pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room an listen to everyone else tell me how to do my job better?

Zilch.

And yet, I still call all of that successful. Not because of the jobs I did or did not get, but because of the networking I did during those meetings. It paid off this year. Maybe not in a great big way, with a large retainer contract, but in starting the connections I need to build in order to make that happen in the future.

And here’s why I call getting 0 jobs a success.

This year, I attended the DMFA Awards again.

I flew to New York. Paid my registration fee, had lunch, and met two incredible people. Not for the first time … and hopefully not for the last, either.

Stephen is a copywriter, who used to be a freelancer like me. We met at the DC Nonprofit Conference earlier this year. We exchanged cards, and later, LinkedIn connections.

When I met him this year at the DMFA Awards, he had gotten out of freelance and taken a full-time agency job. Yet he knows people who will still want freelancers, and actually asked for my card to pass along my information to others when they ask. I now have an advocate out there making connections on my behalf. Success #1.

I also sat next to Tiffany. I met her the first time last year at the Bridge Conference. She works for Doctors Without Borders. This year she attended, and as we conversed, she said that she remembered me. I was a little surprised, as I didn’t think I’d made any impressions, so I asked why.

Last year, I gave her a whole packet about me, with samples of my direct mail writing. She said it was incredibly easy to hand that to someone and say, “I met a copywriter. Here’s his stuff.”

Advocate #2 (though she was advocating for me long before I actually knew it!). Success #2.

There’s a Point to All This

So, based on that experience, I have 3 networking take-aways for all those out there just getting started, or changing it up, or looking to go deeper.

1. SHOW UP. OFTEN.

You won’t get to actually meet people if you just sit at home and e-mail. Would Stephen have been asking for my card again if he had never seen me the first time? Probably not. I’d be another face in the crowd, or “just another copywriter”, unless I actually showed up to 2 different meetings he was attending. When I showed up, when you show up, you demonstrate your commitment to your craft, to the industry, and to your peers. You might not know everything, but at least you’re ahead of those who don’t even bother to put in that much effort.

Nobody’s going to hire you on the first time they meet you. Marketers know it takes 6 to 8 touches to get someone even interested in a brand. The same is true for you as a professional. Don’t just assume it’s going to happen after the first coffee conversation. Go where they are.

Show up.

2. BE PREPARED.

Know your audience. In all of those conferences last year, I knew I would be meeting professionals who work with direct mail. So, I prepared a direct mail packet, to demonstrate that I do, in fact, know how to write for direct mail.

Plus, having that packet made it ridiculously easy for someone to evaluate my credentials. I wasn’t asking them to try to remember, days and days and days later, to take extra steps to visit my website to see samples. I had done the hard work for them, and I know that people appreciate when you make it easy on them.

Heck, that’s the only reason I read Unconscious Branding. It was ridiculously easy to find; all I had to do was look in my bag at the DC conference, and there it was. In the same way, all Tiffany had to do was to grab hold of whatever I’d already given her, and then give that to her colleague who works with copywriters. That professional, too, is going to be automatically able to see my credentials, without the hurdle of visiting my website, because I was prepared for my audience.

3. BE MEMORABLE.

Tiffany remembered me. Because I showed up and I was prepared. Stephen remembered me. Because I showed up, and I was prepared. I was also professional, not amateurish, and I had my “story” ready to go. I am memorable to them, because I have something unique about me. I have a good story to tell, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I know what sets me apart. All of these mean that I’m not “just another copywriter,” but I’m actually quite unique.

Knowing why I want to do what I’m doing is a great help when figuring out how to present myself at these networking meetings. If you’re not memorable, you’re not … memorable.

This doesn’t mean you should show up in a pink clown suit, or stand up on top of the dinner table and announce your availability over the next 3 months and your prices, in a loud (okay, probably also drunk) voice. Those are the bad kind of memorable.

It does mean that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why that’s important. That’s the good kind of memorable.

Look, I’m Not Saying It’s Easy.

In fact, it’s downright depressing sometimes when I think of the number of times I’ve been groped by TSA for virtually no return.

But, then, I think about those two conversations in New York, and I know it’s worth it.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not tomorrow.

But … someday, those networking connections are going to pay off.

Big time.

Because networking is not about getting a job right then and there. Networking is about building a network.

If you build it, well –

You know the rest.

business development, craft

6 Pros (And 5 Cons) of Working With Freelancers

Let’s see, we’re smart, funny, sophisticated, and we won’t drink all the good bourbon at your happy hour. That’s enough, right? Oh, wait, you want some value for your time here? Ah, makes sense. Without further ado, here are my observations on some positives and negatives to working with freelancers, whether they be for graphic design, creative content, project management, or something else.

Pro #1: You Don’t Need To Fill Their Schedule

Freelancers work project-by-project, or sometimes on retainer (which would be a set fee for a set amount of work each time period). This means you can get work done at the level you need, without worrying that you’ll have to continually find things for your freelancer to do to make her worth what you pay her. She can step in during crunch times and lend a hand to get you past a deadline, and afterwards you both can say, “See you next time!” without any hard feelings or obligations.

Con #1: They May Not Be Available Just When You Need Them

Because that freelancer has to keep her own pipeline full, she may not be as readily available to take on a large or urgent project right when you need the help. Her next two days to two months might be booked with work already, without any kind of flexibility to adjust for your project. This could leave you scrambling or working that overtime anyway, just when you thought you were in the clear.

Pro #2: They’ll Have Experience In The Tasks Your Asking For

People generally transition into freelancing from a previous career. Yet they don’t forget all the things they’ve done before, and that means when they’re promoting themselves as a freelancer in a certain area, they know what they’re talking about. Suppose you’ve got a new project or new expansion that you’re considering. If you have the choice of an internal employee with no experience in such projects or an external freelancer with extensive knowledge of best practices, you would probably do well to leverage that freelancer’s expertise for a project or two. If you give the whole thing to the new internal hire, it will probably get finished, but the after-action review will likely say “This could have been done so much better.” Adding that external freelance help can build your capacity while minimizing some risks.

Con #2: They Will Need Some Time To Learn About You

If you’ve got a niche product or industry, it might take a little time to help your freelancer understand just what your ideal customer is, what your unique market position is, or why you’re doing what you’re doing now. If you work with new freelancers often, this re-education process can get tedious. You might find that telling your own story becomes a hindrance to getting more of your work done, and so you’ll turn to internal people who already know what, why, and how.

Pro #3: They Can Focus On The Project At Hand

When you hire a freelancer to design a flyer, that’s all they’re going to do. They won’t get distracted by the March Madness pool, or reorganizing the mail process to make it more efficient. They will focus on what they’re doing for you, and not stick their noses into business they don’t belong in. You can get the work done without office politics, without losing focus, and with a sense of single-minded purpose that can often fade in a less-structure environment. Trust me on that one, I spent 16 years in offices. It’s easy to see why Dilbert hits so many nerves.

Con #3: Freelancers Aren’t Full-Time

That is, they won’t be devoting all of their time to your organization. They’ll be working on multiple projects at once, which means you might have to break down your project into various steps, when the alternative might be to just assign one big block of work and let it go. The freelancer will likely check in multiple times over the project lifetime, which may feel like dragging out the process and adding unnecessary feedback loops, but that’s because the freelancer doesn’t want to waste any time in the end redoing a project just because the final delivery “didn’t quite feel right.” As a result, you might feel like you have to “manage” the project more than with an internal employee.

Pro #4: Low Overhead

Freelancers are generally solo-preneurs, so interacting with them is talking directly with the professional. You probably won’t have a sales executive and an account manager in between you and your designer, a situation which, frankly, is easy to evolve into at larger firms. It’s a necessity of growth and specialization, but it does add some barriers into the communicative process. Plus, having such low overhead means you’re usually not paying for a fancy office space, multiple layers of middle management, and ancillary services that don’t add any value to your project.

Con #4: Their Hourly (Or Project) Rate May Look High Compared To Your Salaried Employees

This is a function of two elements. One, you are paying the professional directly, so they’ll likely need to allocate some of their revenue to support processes like bookkeeping services, supplies, etc. It’s not all profit for them.

And, two, your salaried employee is getting paid more than just the dollars on the paycheck. You’re also paying taxes, benefits, vacation, and coffee and Junior Mints in the break room. So a freelancer who’s charging $70 an hour is going to look real expensive, at first glance, compared to a salaried employee who earns $60,000 a year (really close to $30 / hour). But if you do the math on that salaried employee, they’re probably not being effective all 40 hours a week, 2,000 hour a year. Maybe 2/3 of their time is actually focused on work. The rest is bathroom breaks, quarterly meetings, and extra-long lunches. Add in taxes, benefits, and all the ancillaries, and I bet your hourly rate for your freelancer is really, really close. Don’t dismiss a quote out-of-hand just because it seems high relative to your current employees.

Pro #5: Wide Backgrounds Often Bring New Insights

While no good freelancer should be distributing confidential or proprietary information, when you work with someone who’s had a broad background of project experience, he is likely to have seen something that worked in another area that you had no idea about. You can leverage his broad base of knowledge to apply to a new situation. This wide reach approach means that you’re not just limited to things that all of your competitors are currently doing. You might be in hospitality and your freelancer can give you a feel for what works in steel production, or how an education group approached a similar problem. This expands your opportunities for success by expanding the marketplace of potential solutions.

This goes hand-in-hand with the next positive to working with freelancers, that they’re quick to learn.

Pro #6: They’re Generally Quick Learners

Freelancers have to be. They’re meeting new people, new industries, and potentially taking on new projects all the time. This means they need to know how to get up to speed quickly, to make connections on limited data, and to ask crucial questions that get to the heart of the matter. You might feel like this is “probing” or “intrusive”. Frankly, though, these quality questions will enable you and your freelancers to work better to create a more effective final product, and the discovery process can ensure that you’re able to clearly define what you want and why.

Con #5: Their Style May Not Be For You

Despite all the positives, working with a freelancer just might not fit your style. You might need to be able to check in more often than that freelancer is able to work with you. You may want to retain a lot of the creative control, rather than give your freelancer freedom to explore. You might not have payroll or vendor systems set up to adequately pay your freelancers. You may just like the regularity and security of having someone always on-staff that could do whatever you asked of them, without a project scope document and an agreement negotiation each time. And it could be that the freelancers you come across just aren’t that good at what they do, and so you’re willing to invest the time and money in a search for a permanent hire. If that’s best for you, then it would be a waste of time to try to convince you otherwise.

Conclusion

Hiring a quality freelance professional can bring new knowledge and insights to your team. She may also bring some headaches and challenges, too. Knowing beforehand what you want and why will smooth the process, and who knows? Your freelancer could even work herself out of a job by adding to the knowledge base and revenue of your team that you have the capacity and skill to hire someone else full-time. I’d call that a win any day.

craft, Writing improvement

Prove Yourself Without Saying A Word

The following quote is a fantastic guide for anyone in sales, persuasion, or attempting to change another’s mind. It comes from one of the most successful books of all time, about one of the most important topics we all encounter daily.

“If you are going to prove anything, don’t let anybody know it. Do it so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel that you are doing it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

And I have nothing more to say. I’m just going to let that one sit. Far be it from me to expand on an idea that’s much older than I am, one that has helped a countless number of people to be more successful on their journey through life. Just do what Mr. Carnegie says, and you’ll be well rewarded.

So, then, why do I choose to write about it? As soon as I read it I wanted examples of this principle in action. When I browsed through the library of my mind, I found two that illustrate this quite well. And they’re entertaining too. Allow me to share so that you might learn and be inspired to apply this idea in your own life.

 

Example 1

First, let’s consider a segment of text. This is from L. Ron Hubbard’s story The Devil’s Rescue:

The main cabin was ornate with carved blackwood furniture, glowing silks and oriental carpets. Along the bulkheads to either side were rows of chests, camphor and ivory and teak, from which drooled the luster of pearls or gaped a little over a load of dull gold coins. The ports were twenty feet athwartship and full seven feet tall, all of cunningly set glass to make compasses and tritons and sea horses; through this, trailing far behind them, glowed their frothing wake, leading off into the gray dark and the shrieking wind.

The Devil’s Rescue, reprinted in Writers of the Future, vol 33

In this example, you can feel the knowledge that Hubbard has about life aboard a ship. He’s been there, he’s studied, he has the intimacy necessary to make you believe that you are aboard the The Flying Dutchman. But why is this important?

Because the author must establish the credibility of the narrator, in order for him to be believable enough that the reader enjoys reading and participates fully in the experience. If, for example, an amateur [such as yours truly] who had done the barest amount of research [or, more likely, none at all, attempting to fudge it with whatever is already in his head] about the internal decorations and workings of a pirate ship, were to write that same paragraph, it might come across like this:

The main cabin held elegant furniture, darkly-colored and well-formed. Rugs covered the floor, dulling the sound as the men walked. He dragged his hand across the sculpted walls, feeling under his fingers the rough differences between the carved wood of storage boxes, sculpted brass of drawer handles, or formed glass of the lamps lighting their way. Behind them, he could glance out the portholes, just at the height of his eyes, to the trailing wake, glowing in the dim moonlight.

Now, which of those sounds more believable? Which author has convinced you of his authority? Which one has proven that he knows enough about a sailor’s life to make it worth your while to read further? Hands down, it’s Hubbard. He has taken the Carnegie principle to the extreme: he has shown his competence, rather than blatantly beating you over the head with facts about how many books he’s read or how many interviews he’s conducted. And therefore you, as a reader, are more likely to believe him, accept him, and actually finish the story.

Nowhere in the story does Hubbard tell of his expertise. Nowhere does he come out and say, “this man knows such and such because of years aboard a ship”. He doesn’t have to. He’s shown that, subtly and adroitly, by his extremely competent narrative.

 

Example 2

The following is a humorous scene from Tommy Boy, in which main character Tommy Callahan finally succeeds in making his first sale. How? By demonstrating that his company is an authority, not because of the physical qualities of the parts they make, but by proving, quietly, that Callahan Auto actually meets his client’s unspoken needs:

And what are his needs? Not more brake pads. Not more inventory on a shelf. Not more stock to track and invoices to pay and deliveries to coordinate. The client already has plenty of those. That warehouse is full of stuff. No, what his customer needs is peace of mind. And Tommy tried that. In a sense, he said, “Well, sure, you’ll have peace of mind if you buy from us. I guarantee it!” Does that make the sale? Doubtful. It’s too direct and turns your customer off. The client completely rejected this approach in the first minute of the scene.

Notice what happens when Tommy switches tactics from the hard sell. Instead of pressing the point, he pivots to a more subtle method, and his client softens. His fear of “being sold” dissipates, and he opens up to the possibility of buying from Callahan Auto. When he does, he can see that his needs can actually be met, and he is no longer afraid of losing. Instead, he’s winning! He’s getting the emotional connection, the security and peace of mind he’s searching for. Tommy was able to make this point by, ironically, not making explicit statements to that effect. On the contrary, he spoke in a friendly manner, and allowed his expertise to come through in less obvious ways.

 

Conclusion

The next time you’re struggling to prove yourself as an expert, take a step back. Instead of becoming more belligerent and overbearing with facts of your qualification, consider a softer approach. Demonstrate your competence by producing quality work, rather than just talking about how you will produce quality work.