Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lessons Learned: Get It in Writing

It's 7 o'clock and I'm rewarding myself with wine and McDonalds (hey, stop looking at me like that). For what you might ask? For having an awesome writing day and making lots of money? Oh, don't I wish! Nope, it's for forcing myself to address a thorny payment issue that's cropped up.

Now I can't exactly give case studies on here (I maintain a strict no-client-talk policy), but what I can do is share what I've learned over the past few months about the importance of contracts.

Reflection #2: Don't write/edit until you've agreed to terms and signed a contract.

Yup, I'm going to be a stickler about this one going forward. Sure, it might rub some new clients the wrong way (what, you don't trust me?) but in the end, I'm really doing us both a favor. Because a good contract protects the interests of both parties.

My (shiny, new) rules:

1. CYA.

When you get a bonanza of new clients through cold calling, it's all very exciting. You may even think some of them are really great people that you'd love to drink a beer with.

But this isn't a love fest -- this is business. And in business, a little paranoia is healthy. Especially when you're relying on new, untested clients for your livelihood (and they're likewise relying on you).

Ask questions, clarify, negotiate, and above all, work with the client to create a strong contract that protects you both.

2. Know your deal-breakers.

Here's a little gem I learned in counseling school -- every healthy relationship has deal breakers. In other words, if there's nothing your child/partner/client could do that would make you turn your back on him/her/it, you're both in trouble.

So if you receive a contract that has confusing or unfavorable terms, it's healthy and necessary to say so and ask for what you need.

During the negotiation phase, it's helpful to break down your desires into "must haves" and "would likes." No, negotiation doesn't mean you get everything you want. But don't back down when it comes to your deal-breakers (which will vary from person to person).

Here's a breakdown of my own personal must-haves when working with brand new commercial clients (these vary a bit based on the situation). Keep in mind, I am not a lawyer, and this is by no means legalese:

* Copyright clause -- copyright transfers only upon full payment.

* Acceptance clause -- if client makes no reply within 30 days of submission, the work is deemed accepted and the client can be billed, with additional work performed on an hourly basis.

* Detailed description of the work -- Scope and length of the piece, number of meetings, number of interviews, photos, captions, research to be conducted, reimbursement of expenses, number of rounds of revisions included. For editing, specify the number of passes included, the style manual to be followed, internal style sheets to be consulted, and fact-checking requirements.

* Detailed description of client's responsibilities -- what support the client will provide and when (setting up interviews, researching keywords, submitting work for editing, etc).

* Scope clause -- all work outside the scope of this agreement will be billed at your hourly rate.

* Termination clause -- if either party terminates the agreement, the writer will still be paid for all work completed.

* No implied warranty clause -- client is responsible for proofreading and fact checking the finished product.

* Indemnity clause -- client holds writer harmless for any legal action resulting from use of the work.

* Down-payment clause -- 30 to 50 percent is the industry standard.

* Project time line -- with relevant deadlines specified.

Standing up for yourself in contract negotiations doesn't make you pushy or difficult. While some clients may not love the process, especially if writers past have signed quickly and quietly, they'll ultimately respect you for it, especially if you show them that contracting is in their best interests as well. If they resist after you've made your case, acknowledge the red flag.

Do I demand all of the above from every one of my corporate clients? To be honest, no. I've got several regulars that I've never even signed a contract with. (Mostly because in the beginning of my freelance career, I was much more timid about contracts, and it now seems strange to demand it of them after a year of doing business together.) Might I ever come to regret this? Possibly. But for now, I'm going to call it an acceptable risk.

But for new clients, and especially those I find through cold calling, contracts are now my rule.

3. When the scope begins to creep, it's time for a new contract.

Ever had a project that appeared to be simple, but turned out to be way bigger than either party anticipated? It happens all the time.

The moment you realize that the project you're working on is beyond the contracted scope, stop immediately, alert your client and either amend your current contract or draw up a new one.

Got that? Now hold up your iPhones and repeat after me:

I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.
I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.
I will be as courageous in contractual matters as I am in marketing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons Learned: Go For The $$$

Hey there, cold call aficionados. Sorry I haven't been posting much lately -- I'd like to say it's because I've been so busy with all the work my cold calls rustled up, but that's only part of it.

The good news: since about June 2011, I have only had a handful of days where I haven't hit my daily billing quota, which is a pretty good feeling. And when I start to run out of projects, I only need to email a couple of my "warm" prospects to refill the pipeline.

However, being busy with lots of new clients at once has definitely steepened my learning curve expo-freaking-nentially. I've found there's more to running a business than courageous marketing. And I've pinpointed a few of the flaws in my original approach that I'll be reflecting on in my next couple of posts.

So let's start with reflection #1: Quality, not quantity.

My little cold calling strategy, as outlined in this blog, is definitely designed to get you in front of a large number of prospects in a short time. In this respect, I think it works pretty well.

However ...

If I were to do it all over again, I'd be way more careful about the kinds of prospects I target -- and those I choose to work with.

When I started connecting with all of these new clients, it felt so good! Finally, I thought, I've crawled across the freelance desert. And so I said yes to just about any and every project -- even when the terms, fees and contracts offered weren't all that great.

Well, adieu to all that.

I soon found myself working for way less than my going rate. And resenting it like hell.

Generally, I was doing it for lovely, honest people who just didn't have much experience working with a writer. They were "newbies" as much as I was, and they really did not have a firm grasp of the time and money involved in producing a great piece of writing.

Then the payment issues started. Or rather the non-payment issues. One was worked out amicably. The other -- well, it's so touchy at this point I don't even dare discuss it in cyberspace.

Here's what I'd do differently -- and what I'll definitely do when I get around to making those other 550 cold calls:

* Invest in the Book of Lists. Contact only large companies that have a history of working with freelancers.

* Discuss fees early. When in doubt, quote high. Share examples of past projects you've worked on and the fees involved.

* If prospects balk at your fees, you can try some education. Remind them of the going rates for this type of work and that they're saving on payroll taxes, health insurance, benefits, etc.

* If the prospect is clearly never going to pay your fee, move on. Consider it a blessing that you've reached this sort of agreement.

Cold call pals, I know when you're a starving newbie, it can be really tempting to drop your rates. But I for one will be fighting that temptation tooth and nail from now on.

Charge what you're worth, period. That's a whole new aspect of courageous marketing for you.