Thursday, 27 December 2018

What Do I Do if the Client Always Pays Me Late? (Adapt!)

I'll give you a straight answer: adapt.

It's not worth fighting over.

Or stressing over.

Just adapt.

Shrug it off and adapt your business model.

Your business model is far more adaptable than your clients' habits.

You get more and better rewards from adapting your conduct than from trying to adapt your clients' conduct.

Payment leniency is like any other need you can identify in the market — once you identify it, respond to it and profit.

There's really no point insisting on feeling offended/cheated/breached against etc. etc. when you can simply adapt and profit. And with a smile.

Challenges bring opportunities. Outplay life by taking the disadvantages it throws at you and converting them into advantages, coming out on top and profiting.

***

That said, here's some analysis:

What do you stand to gain if you press the matter?

Off the top of my head, I would expect a blend of conflict, guilt, apology and risk avoidance. In effect, probably:

  • slightly faster payments but not always on time, and at a great energy/stress cost for the client that could be better spent
  • a more strained relationship, with less goodwill capital than you could amass by being 'reasonable' and lenient
  • a client less inclined to be forgiving when it's your turn to get late or otherwise slip (anything from stern to vindictive… or actually lenient and forgiving, putting you to shame)
So what if I don't? 

Off the top of my head, things don't change, which can be either good or bad but is more or less the whole point. Old facts, new approach.

Make the choice — given their payment delays, would you drop them or keep them, supposing you can't change the way they act (and possibly they can't either)?

If you choose to part ways, there's no reason to make the split any more hostile or awkward than it has to be.

If you'd rather keep them, it's counterproductive to keep complaining and putting a strain on the relationship. In fact, they could even just start to avoid hiring you and think they're doing you a favour.

So take a new approach. Stop feeling offended, cheated, ignored or whatever is the case. Shrug it off, let it go, stop allowing negative emotions to hold you hostage.

Instead, make it your own policy to extend an unspoken grace period that isn't the client's right but makes your client's life easier, and yours too.

Integrate those delays in your business model. Client payment punctuality is unreliable? Stop relying on clients to pay punctually — as long as they pay at all and don't take too long.

Just keep some floating cash. Don't spend or invest everything. Invest in liquidity and thus security. Your comfort and quality of life will increase dramatically as a result. Ridding yourself of liquidity anxiety will make it so much easier for you to project the calm confidence that wins your clients over as a professional. It will also make you friendlier, and a little relaxed and forgiving attitude (or at least reasonable, at a minimum) will not go unnoticed.

… It enhances your reputation, your goodwill. And that is a great asset and a great benefit to you. It may be intangible, but it has a great effect on your life and can make or unmake your success. Or at least have a very tangible effect on your income.

***

It's easier to get yourself a 'pillow' — a month's, then quarter's, then semester's, and then perhaps a year's worth of income retained as a reserve — than to challenge your client's habits. Besides, as a service provider it's generally a good idea to challenge your own habits and expectations before your client's. And that's not just a chore — like I said, it can make or unmake a successful practice.

And be positive. Don't be too hard on yourself. Perhaps you're already making more than some people you know who are less flexible than you are. Make that flexibility your strength and your policy.

… Doesn't mean it has to be your stated policy. In fact, as you've probably guessed by now, the whole point is that it shouldn't be! If you extend the deadlines, a lot of your clients will still be one or two weeks (or months, or days) late whether the deadline is two or four weeks (or months, or days). Give them a deadline, but don't expect them to keep it — and don't tell them you aren't expecting them to keep it. Just base your own internal calculations on official deadline + grace period.

If you choose to provide an official grace period, which may well be a good move in some situations, still provide an unofficial one after that and base your calculations on it rather than on the official one.

There, you solved your liquidity problem! You removed the anxiety and lack of security resulting from late payments from your clients, without even talking to them, much less straining your relationships.

***

Bonus tip: Consider (and I only say consider) a 3% discount for expedited payment, for example 3 days where the deadline is 30. Perhaps also consider a 1% deadline for not exceeding the 30.

The goal of the 3% discount is not to reward your clients for not being late (for not failing to do what they are already obligated to do). And, as you can see, neither is it the effect. The goal is simply to see the money in your account as soon as possible. Once in, it can't be taken out — unlike when it's still in your client's account/reserve/provision for outgoing payments, let alone the client's general account. You have the money, you no longer have to worry, and that's it.

More elaborate theory is that early, as opposed to timely, payment is a legitimate novel benefit for you. Reciprocally, you provide a legitimate benefit, a small financial concession. However named or classified, it's simply a small financial benefit, and getting emotional about the reason or classification makes very little practical sense.

The 1% discount for not exceeding the deadline obviously does reward your client for not breaching, but the reward is smaller, and the benefit is real. And you don't care about all that, remember? What you care about is that the money is already safely in your account, so the risk of non-payment is no longer there.

The 1% discount is reverse-interest. People feel bad about being penalized, or even confronted about doing something wrong, let alone when they see themselves as not being at fault — and agencies will typically not see themselves as being at fault when they haven't been paid by their own clients yet (get used to that, as you can't change it, at least not you alone and not overnight). Applying late interest or some other form of late fees or penalties will be an antagonizing move and will damage the relationship. By contrast, nobody can complain about not receiving a benefit one, through fault or no fault, just simply didn't qualify for. There are no accusations, no implications of wrongdoing, there's just simply a missed benefit.

Don't want to give up 1% or 3% of your current earnings? Up your pre-discount rates, problem solved. Suppose you charge 100. So now it would be 97, and you don't like that, which is fair. So you need to charge 103.09.

Naturally, changing your rates and payment conditions in tandem would be a bit too obvious and defeat the point of applying incentives instead of penalties, so perhaps wait till your next increase and rather than 105 make it 108. Or make it 105 but earlier. Or only with new clients, or new projects for occasional clients. How to give yourself a smooth raise is a whole different topic.




Recap: As a freelancer, one of your biggest competitive advantages is the adaptability of your small, lean, flexible structure (or even sometimes almost total lack thereof). You can adapt more easily than your clients. And you can also adapt more easily than some of your competitors (including freelancers who don't want to adapt). Use that adaptability and profit. If your clients fail to meet their obligations, try to see beyond the breach and see the need that you can respond to — and profit. This can include the need to adapt your business model to a longer payment cycle. Instead of trying to to turn the tide, you can invest your energy and creativity in using it to your advantage — and there are various ways of doing that. At the end of the day your need is liquidity and security, and that can be achieved in more than one way, and some ways are smarter than others. Be guided by pragmatism, creativity and… empathy. Think outside the box. You're allowed to! You don't have a boss to say you can't. Sometimes you can have your way in the big picture by agreeing to not have your way in small things that are ultimately inconsequential.

Monday, 24 December 2018

As a Freelancer, I Want to Step It up a Bit and Improve My Agency Base. What do I do? (Pt 2 — 11 Pointers & 3-Step Action Plan)

Without much further ado — we did a lot of that in Pt 1 — these are two quotes I'd like you to keep in mind before we cut to the meat. Both are allegedly from Bill Gates and both lack a reliable source for that attribution. ;)


If you're born poor, it's not your mistake. But if you die poor, it is your mistake.

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job, Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

In short, we want to look at our problem from the practical perspective of finding a no-nonsense way of making your life a little easier, with (almost) no mumbo-jumbo. Jokingly we could say laziness should be your guide. Not in the sense of actually being lazy but in the sense of going for simple solutions that actually work and make a difference instead of trying to prove theoretical concepts.

Laziness in this sense means you want to avoid having to do the same thing twice (kind of like I wanted this blog to help me avoid wording the same advice for different people time after time again), you want to create some capital that will keep working for you when you're doing something else. You want to invest and profit — the investment is the money and time you spend on getting some professional basics right, at least the bare minimum, and the profit is more jobs and better rates as a result.

And you want to keep it simple. For a freelancer this largely means focusing on your passive marketing and maxing it out — not instead of doing anything else, but before you do anything else, as a matter of having your priorities in good order.


So:

  1. You're in a better negotiating position when the agency approaches you than when you approach them. Again, this is where your passive marketing shines, as it both attracts them, which will get you their initial tentative interest, and, if you play it right, does much of the job of actually persuading them, so there's little left to be done when they get in touch with you. And if you play it right, you can invert the roles, so it's them wanting to work specifically with you rather than you having to explain and prove to them how you're a good fit for whatever client job they have and you don't. To get in this sweet spot you need: visibility, presence, projecting competence, confidence, moderate approachability/availability/attainability (not too eager, but not elusive to the point of not promising a good return on their invested time, effort and hope — psychology matters here).
  2. You have to be professional — be, act and look the part. This means acting and looking more professional than the average translator and in fact 90% of our casual and self-conscious lot. Not too laid back, too personal. Calm, collected, competent, confident. Not speaking out of turn, not afraid of silence or pause in conversation. Not jovial or airheaded. You don't have to and in fact shouldn't be dull, stern, pedantic or anything of the sort. Learn to see the difference if you don't already. There's gotta be a bit of healthy distance that inspires healthy respect, and getting too personable, as is the current trade in the freelance world, will that distance and will kill that respect. You need a bit of that ivory tower while still remaining moderately approachable — i.e. within achievable but not too easy reach (your road plan en bref) — and keeping them looking forward to the opportunity. Confident and slightly aloof professional professionals inspire this. Personal and personable hey look at me, hire me! choose me! choose me! I want to serve you! I live to please you! it would be the height of my day to take an order from you freelancers don't inspire it at all. In fact, they are like one of 20 desperate folks approaching a moderately attractive stranger and tripping over their feet bending over backwards and getting swatted like flies.
  3. Again, just like in dating, no desperation, no clinginess, etc., and for the same reasons. Plaintive behaviours and overeagerness are a low-value signal (LVS), meaning that you are in effect telling them your value is comparatively lower than theirs, and their market value (MV) is higher. Instead, you want to project high value, but without overdoing it.
  4. And the reason why you don't want to overdue HVS is because you don't want to have an attainability problem — like we said before, you must be within reach, not too distant to realistically work with. You must be reasonably responsive, just not tripping on your own feet running to the phone. But neither can you inspire so much respect and so much distance that people will… keep their respectful distance from you — and be afraid to disturb you at all, negotiate with you, ask about a potential rather than confirmed job, or project your rates as probably not being within their range (when you in fact don't charge as much as they imagine). 
  5. Part of passive lure is samples. Overload your website with various samples of your best and most interesting work; almost. Make it just a little less than too much. Note that this doesn't mean your most complicated or most difficult work; this content has to be able to engage and resound with the reader, including those PMs who are relatively lay or green folks in translation. Those PMs (and their bosses, secretaries, HR people and sometimes clients) still have to be able to understand the text and see what you did there and why and what that is good — good for them. So make sure the samples are simple enough, simple but brilliant, and interesting; exciting even. This is part of your broader story; you're essentially doing storytelling marketing here, just like you do with your bio…
  6. … which, of course, (i.e. the bio) must be interesting, engaging, sending the right message, and getting the right exposure. It will probably attract like 60% of all of your website traffic, so give it some love. Have it professionally written or get some professional assistance, to the extent it wouldn't be dishonest advertising by misrepresentation of your own writing skill.
  7. Professional image relies much on… images! Get a professional executive shot done; the kind that costs quite a bit and is on par with the photos used by top management in your clients' organizations, as well as top authors and experts in the relevant field. Or even better than most of them have, but without clearly being overdone, as you don't want to cast the impression of trying just a bit too hard. The mood had better be more serious than sported by most translators, but without getting too uptight (unless you're in legal, medical or financial translation). For concept and background pictures, you want to spend some money on professional, high-resolution photos that don't look like clipart and aren't used on thousands of other websites. Even if you have to pay like five dollars, most people won't, so you're going to be unique. And that's your goal.
  8. Follow through with non-plaintive, confident presentation of your credentials as highlights — with no begging for validation! Translators constantly beg their prospects to validate them. You don't want to do that. Instead, you have to validate your prospects. You have to validate them in having chosen you or being about to choose you or having shortlisted you or simply having decided to give you five minutes of their reading time. Don't overpromise — it's better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way round — but be confident.
  9. So credentials, samples, good story. To give you more detail, this means a good landing page that conveys the most important essence of your message — the best of your value proposal — in less than 10 seconds. But also expand on the story for those who do actually want to read, in way that is friendly to the reader, which generally means that the text should be broken up into smaller portions unfolding gradually in order to avoid the 'wall of text' effect but instead suck visitors in gradually as they click to unfold more information.
  10. Don't be told — by defeatists with self-esteem issues, a lot of whom give marketing advice to others — that prospective clients aren't interested in reading about you because you're allegedly so far beneath their attention! That's clearly low-self-esteem thinking (which screams personal issues), and it's markedly different from what the clients actually think. Except perhaps for a certain margin of entitled, toxic clients that you want to avoid if you can help it. Normal people want to read up a bit on people they work with an trust their projects to
  11.  We've already mentioned professional photos, but of course you want a professional website and professional CVs and brochures.  Professional Wordpress themes cost far under $100 apiece and are often easily configurable by a layperson with plenty of help from attached instruction materials, or you can pay a webdesigner several hundred to about a thousand to configure and customize the template for you (or several thousand for the best designers or more complicated jobs). 
Recap:

The goal is to:

(1) reduce, as far as possible, the work you still have to do when approaching them or being approached by them, because there's always going to be some such work to do; and

(2) make them approach you rather than you them, which reduces the amount of work you have to do in order to:
(1º) close the transaction at all; and
(2º) on as good terms for you as possible. 

Either way, this means raising your passive attractiveness to a point where it compels them to action, and this is the opposite of you being compelled to action, which typically results in worse pay and worse other terms than the maxium you could get with your qualifications and your other circumstances.

Implementing these steps will make your life easier and better — this much I can definitely promise you. But you need to make the effort and actually get around to doing all this.

For example here's a simple implementation plan:


  1. Get a professional executive photo & bio. And by professional I mean someone who specializes in high-profile portrait pics, not just any photo service.
  2. Iron out your CV, portfolio and (less importantly) other materials such as brochures.
  3. Get your website professionally done. Don't waste your time trying to DIY it instead of doing paid work for your clients and then paying a real designer to do it better than you could. Same as with photos really.

Don't be discouraged by the hundreds you need to spend so you can profit in thousands or tens of thousands. From my experience some people just won't make the initial up-front expense it takes to cover crucial parts of your professional image professsionally, and that is exactly what holds them back, by preventing them from being able to charge professional rates — which their semi-professional image can't support. Ironically, that's also similar to how clients end up having their sales materials machine-translated or translated by semi-professionals on the cheap side, with the obvious results that we often talk about in translator groups. By insisting on using selfies, beach photos and clumsy websites, and copy that sounds like a child asking a parent for a new toy, we make just the same mistakes. So let's not.

If you take this advice to heart — and, more importantly, act on it and do some work — I once again promise you're going to see some serious results. Also you can't get the results without the work. But if you don't do the work, you'll be in the same old place without being able to move forward. Once again, we aren't talking about any ground-breaking changes here, with overly ambitious goals. We're talking about professional essentials to not even help you get closer to fully realizing your potential but actually to help you stop bottlenecking yourself with inaction, passivity and defeatism.

… So for starters just go and have a nice picture taken of yourself. The results might give you the impulse and the energy to start working on your CV, brochures and other materials. Do at least this. If you see some improvement, spend some of the new income on a new website to amplify the effect and take a bigger step forward. Your bank account will thank you.

But if what you want to tell me is something along the lines of: 'Meh. Too much work. Too uncertain. Don't want to waste my money or time. Are you sure this will work?,' then I honestly don't quite care. Those are the thinking patterns of people who are in a rut and don't want out of it because being in a rut carries some sort of psychological reward for them, e.g. wallowing in self-pity and acting like a victim of fate. Shake that off. I'm not telling you to found a new Microsoft in a garage; I'm only telling you to get a professional photo, a professional CV and a professional website preferably. I'm not asking too much.

The final question — how this applies to your work with agencies?

The post honestly came out far less agency-specific than I expected, perhaps largely because my Facebook advice (from which this post eventually emerged) was more general than the question asked. But while this doesn't seem agency specific on the outside, inside it is. How?

For starters, agencies need translators. They are in a position to assess your qualifications on the basis of your credentials, the rest of your CV, and your samples, at least much more so than the typical end client. They are also repeat purchasers, and more concerned with whatever they're getting from you — which mostly means punctual deliveries and no quality issues to disrupt the flow, better still if you can impress their clients, hence keep those clients and win more by word of mouth and glowing testimonials — than with what sort of client service they're getting from you. Plus, you don't take such a big risk of losing them as a client if you aren't always available. In short, the marketing is so much easier than with direct end clients.

Getting your professional basics covered and continually improving, setting the bar higher and upping your game, gives you access to better-paying agencies and gives whatever agencies want to work with you more incentive to pay more for your work than if you had a barebones semi-professional image. The difference could be, let's say, 20% or 30% of your income, perhaps more. So what's that compared to some time or a couple hundred dollars/pounds/euros?

What you may not see so easily is that you need to keep upping your game to make any falls softer when you trip further down the road. Essentially, it's easier to win more ground than defend what you already have from shrinking. The same goes for your client base and income level. So keep growing, expanding, developing, improving etc., and that will make sure you still have plenty enough even in your worse weeks or months or years, even if you lose an important client or a couple of clients in one go, or if you stop being able to work full time, or some other misfortune happens.

… And the more agencies you have on the top end of 'nice to work with', the more leeway you have to avoid working with agencies on the bottom of the scale. For each new nice agency you land, there's a bad agency you can drop. And if you suddenly end up with a surplus of well-paying work… boy, we all wish we had such problems to worry about. (You'll just raise your rates, especially for the lowest payers, to reduce demand to a more manageable level. So nothing to be scared about.)

Pretty much the same will in fact apply to direct end clients, except getting them will be more complicated, as you'll need to go after them more proactively or at least be where they are and sometimes convince them that they need your services, which is far more work and which is less the case with agencies. Agencies, once again, are always there, usually on the lookout for translators and well aware that they need dependable, punctual, conscientious translators that are hopefully also on the higher end of the skill spectrum (and helping you show that was the goal of this post all along).

As a Freelancer, I Want to Step It up a Bit and Improve My Agency Base. What do I do? (Pt 1)

Hi, guys. If you used to follow this blog, doubtless you must have noticed I've been writing less lately, lately meaning the last couple of months if not years. Today I thought about the original reason why I set up a blog — to prevent the long, meaningful posts that I sometimes make in translators' groups and forums from disappearing into the abyss of oblivion that is anything older than two weeks on Facebook and in forums. Later on, most of the posts here, almost all in fact, were written specifically for this blog and only a few actually served the original purpose — meaning a lot of potentially useful bits of advice or voices in discussion continued to be lost, partly because I don't even always remember I have a blog (apparently, adjusting to the thought and learning some new habits takes some time).

So today I want to do what this blog was supposed to do, and preserve a potentially useful post from a Facebook group about what to do if, as a freelance translator (as was the case), you want to expand or improve a bit without making the drastic step of dropping agencies altogether and plunging into the world of exclusively direct clients.

And why would you choose that?

  • A 100% direct end client mix is not always viable to achieve.
  • Nor is it necessarily optimal.
  • Between costs and gains, keeping at least some agencies in the mix may be the best choice.
For example staying in touch with an agency that always has some work to do is a good insurance strategy for when you need a stop-gap measure to help liquidity in the short term, avoid losing the momentum when you hit the flow but there aren't enough client jobs to eat through all of your capacity, keep gaining experience in a particular field (e.g. medical, legal) in which you don't have too many direct clients, and so on and so forth; this certainly isn't an exhaustive list.

Am I suggesting you should make a point of retaining some agencies in your mix when you might as well skip them entirely and still fill your calendar? Nope. Not unless some of the above applies to you. This is all conditional, situational, wholly governed by your circumstances and your unique personal preference. Not in all, but in a lot of cases at least some of the above considerations will apply, meaning you'll either have to or want to keep some agencies in the mix.

One thought about keeping some agencies in the mix is that you may still want to 'upgrade'.

And by upgrading, I don't mean dropping old, tried and true sources of reliable, somewhat comfortable and somewhat gainful work to embark on a goose chase or stake all you currently have on a slim hope that perhaps a new agency with a new approach will be a little more profitable to work with because it seems to pay marginally better rates. Nope.

But, a lot of freelancers work with agencies they don't quite like, where there are no warm feelings of friendship and loyalty, no long history of good old times to create a lasting bond, but just business the way it is with agencies, where the translator is getting the work because he or she is currently the best option in comparison to the alternatives and switching costs (i.e. it's better working with you than spending the time and effort, and incurring the risks, that replacing you would require).

… And some of those agencies can in fact be quite toxic, taxing your reserves more than is worth it. When talking about 'toxicity', I am focusing primarily on the result rather than the cause. This means I'm concentrating on the effect the behaviour has on you, rather than allocating the blame. Toxic behaviours include, for example:

  • always nibbling away at your rates
  • always nibbling at service scope or added value, trying to squeeze something extra out of you
  • dumping secretarial/technical/client-service tasks on you because they promise full service but don't have the staff to actually pull it off, or just want to save staff time
  • trying to go back on confirmed arrangements
  • requesting bookings for potential jobs that have a statistical 30% probability of materializing
  • only coming to you with stuff nobody else can or will do
  • being rude to you when talking or mailing
  • hardball, manipulation and all sorts of dodgy tactics

Those are probably agencies you'd like to no longer have to work with, agencies you only work with because you have to. And why do you have to work with them? Because you don't have alternatives. So that's what we'll be talking about in Pt 2.

Or perhaps there isn't that much toxicity going on but neither is there anything to keep you other than that you need work from somewhere, anywhere. Those are agencies you don't have to dump but have no special reason to regret to move on from. And that will be the focus of Pt 2.

And, for the record, a lot of Part 2 will be applicable to direct end clients as well, just not framed with them in mind.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Don't Get Too Tied Up in Your Current Project. At Least Respond to Quotation Requests.

Some of us are great multitaskers, some aren't.

Have you ever been so tied up in your current project you forgot about everything else, including your next project? Or your last project, for that matter. And how many times did a lucrative project miss you because of that? Potentially way more lucrative than whatever you were doing that prevented you from picking up the phone?

So let's not get sucked completely in like that. Or hire an assistant — and virtual assistants can be hired for short durations on a B2B service basis — if the practice can afford it.

Either way, those calls must be picked up, mail must be checked, invoices won't write themselves, and clients have no way of reaching us when we're isolated inside our own little worlds.

So let's not make our focus on the current task more exclusive than is necessary.

A lot of this is in the head. There's no law that says we can't. Nor a law of physics that makes us unable to. The blocks are real, but soft. Just like any other soft block that exists in one's head.

So without delving into 'mindset' nonsense, a freelance professional needs to learn to take breaks and check mail and at least return calls. Better still, make sure the phone is charged, not muted, and lying nearby and your clients know to call you the old-fashioned way when something is really urgent or a quick decision is needed — and mail you and wait an our or two or three if it's not.

Some things to consider:

  • separate number and address for returning clients (versus general inquiries)
  • separate address for specific quotation requests such as those sent through the quotation form & file upload on your website (versus general inquiries, broad RFPs etc.)
  • separate number and address for urgent cases, i.e. a hotline established for those clients who may need some ASAP post-delivery service
  • separate address for subscriptions, memberships, etc. (versus signing up with your main business address)
  • separate monitor to keep your mailbox open at all times
  • forcing yourself to learn to fish out the most important stuff and let go of the rest until its time finally comes

It's worth noting that the last item on the list — the one about having a filter in your head — is a classic management exercise in prioritizing. It's a skill everybody needs to pick up at some point on the path of professional if not personal growth. The sooner, the more practical.

While perfecting the art by trial and error may take some time, you're probably better off developing some routines before you actually have to use them. Simply put, it's easier to stick with existing just-in-case procedures, however imperfect they are due to their untested status, than invent them as you need them.

Hence, just spend some time thinking about what filters to use when you have the luxury of sitting back with a cup of tea instead of having to think on the spot. Just don't overplan it and don't become too rigid.

Think about questions to ask and ways of getting to those questions fast. Think what sort of mail needs what sort of reaction time from you, assign the priority, compare it to the priority of whatever you happen to be doing right now, and so on.


Example 1:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You can afford 10 minutes, but not 30.

A prospective client sends you a request for quotation for a specific service on short notice, and a broader inquiry about possible collaboration.

What can you do?

Surely you can't or at least shouldn't jeopardize your current project. As a professional, your word is your bond, reputation is everything and so on. Hence you won't be replying to all those questions about hypothetical collaboration right away. And you don't want to, anyway. But this doesn't mean you can't try to get that specific project your client also mentioned. So send a quotation for the specific project and promise to get back to the client within a specified time-frame about the rest. Make sure you'll really be able to write before, and not after, that self-imposed deadline. Underpromise and overdeliver, not the other way round.


Example 2:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

Your other client calls, starts asking, it's all vague. You don't want to be rude, but you can't sense much potential either, and the clock is ticking, while your client keeps talking, and talking.

What can you do?

Wait for a pause (few people can entirely avoid one for longer than a minute), then go in for the kill. Make it a swift kill, you may not get one more chance. Say you're happy to hear from them. Of course you're available. Of course you can do it (if you really can). Your fee would be such and such. Please call when you have more specific information, now I need to get back to some really pressing stuff, or it's gonna cost me my head, thank you for understanding. Bye.

… And go back to work, focus on it, finish it, send it back and make sure you did (e.g. attachments really attached, you really hit the send button, etc.), then call back that other client. Start from thanking them for their patience and understanding. You may even have some time to chat at leisure, ask about their kids, whatever, show you care, show they're imporant to you.

Example 3:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You get a call or message, there's some large and somewhat complicated request. And they want a specific time-line and fee estimate on it.
And it's the same client.

What can you do?

Obviously, you can't just be late on your first project and probably don't want to ignore the other inquiry, either. So? Defer to your client. 'Do you prefer me to finish X first or should I put X on hold and get you a quote on Y first? What's more important to you?'



Example 4:

You have an urgent project due in 3 hours.

You get a call or message, there's some large and somewhat complicated request. And they want a specific time-line and fee estimate on it.
And it's not the same client.

What can you do?

Obviously, you can't just be late on your first client's project, and you probably don't want to ignore your second client, either. But it is equally evident you just have no space to prepare a comprehensive quotation right now.

So what can you do?

Excuse yourself, saying there's a project you must be finishing very soon, in fact there are only 3 hours left on it. Your client will feel appreciated you still took the call or checked the mail and actually replied. Inform the client about the general rules you'd be applying to the quotation, without calculating the application to the specific case — that's something the client more or less can do. If not, the client can get a general feel of whether your rates are fair and reasonable and within the client's budget, or just what they are, give or take some, so there's something to tell the boss (or the client's client).

Or give a ballpark figure. Or an upper limit. Discount it a little if you think that's what it takes to avoid overcharging.

***

As you can clearly see all these examples typically result in some degree of panic if you aren't prepared. On the other hand, they are far from hard to think about in advance based on your own experience to date and your imagination.

So sit down, think for a while and come up with some such approximate procedures on a less busy day, like this Saturday was for me.

Bonus: Clients tend to appreciate preparation, confidence and calm. All of these project experience, professionalism, security and control. And these, in turn, put your client's minds at ease by demonstrating they've come to the right place.

The above remains true even if they also appreciate someone whose main asset or advance is flexibility and improvisation, as tends to be the case with freelancers, solos and small business operators.

You can in fact combine the best of the two worlds, and the way to do so is by pencilling in some basic scenarios in advance and developing on them as you go, on a case-by-case basis.

Those practical ad-hoc case-by-case decision-making skills which you need will still improve from considering theoretical scenarios. The more situations you consider in advance, the less time it will take to assess new situations as they pop up.

Of course, you can always analyse what you could have done better in this or that case, from an ex-post perspective — but obviously for the sake of learning only and not beating yourself up over it.

***

And one thing I almost forgot: Don't come up with ridiculously short deadlines. Don't make them shorter and shorter. Probe your client. Find out how urgent the job really is — which is also important in terms of, say, unnecessary rush fees that you may have a professional duty to help your client avoid (as tends to be the case in regulated professions). Make sure you have the time to do the job properly and without dropping dead at the end, and without becoming absolutely unable to pick up the phone before you finish.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Power of the Next Time

In what could be one of my last posts on this blog, I'd like to talk about something that's very simple and very underappreciated — the positive aspect of the

next time

We tend to associate the 'next time' with empty promises that are cheap currency to exchange for tangible financial concessions on our part. But, the 'next time' can be used as a positive tool just as well.

Few of us freelancers, solos and small entrepreneurs aren't wary about flat out denying our clients. We know the implications. Denying does not necessarily result in client loss, but it's hardly good for the relationship. And at some point we do flat out deny anyway.

So here's suggestion: When you receive an offer you feel you have to accept but you're also conflicted because you should reject it on principle, instead of flat out rejecting or flat out accepting or allowing the situation to degenerate into a haggling or whining session — use the 'next time' way out.

Specifying some conditions for the 'next time' allows you to avoid refusing your client but also allows you to avoid sacrificing your own position or principles. It also shows your client you're someone who is reasonable but at the same time to be taken seriously.

Incidentally, just throw some old-fashioned hard work with good results in the mix, and it probably won't be exaggerating to say the image of the quintessential professional pretty much paints itself. On a basic level, one doesn't need much more.

When the next time comes, however, do be consistent. There is no more next time, because the next time is now. You can still show yourself as a reasonable person capable of compromise, but some things need to change, and that change needs to take things closer to where they should be.

So don't worry, meeting your client halfway is not a defeat. It just shows you're civilized, considerate and patient and have a hard time completely prioritizing your own interests over someone else's. That's the stuff of which good relationships are made. But, continue to expect and demand things to continue to move forward in the right direction.

Don't worry if you meet with resistance. Some people will test you to avoid being the sucker who pays the first quoted price that nobody else's is paying. They'll need some assurance that's not what is happening. And that may take some arguing about your initial quotes, first proposals, etc.


If the client says there's no room to move — 'as much as we'd like to, we just can't' — try to look for a compromise solution, a give-and-take. Better conditions for the client, better conditions for you. Reciprocity. Equivalence. Balance. You may want to read my post about non-financial terms.

If the client gives you a flat no, take it or leave it, you may want to be more proactive in considering that perhaps you should in fact leave it. Which may in fact be another test.


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

We May All Need Fancy Marketing Soon, a.k.a. Distinguish or Perish (in the Battle of Quotes)

They say 'diversify or die'. Today I want to say 'distinguish or perish'.


Clients, even consumers, already mail 20 providers in BCC, asking for a quote, then pick the cheapest or the best blend, according to them. Which is usually very different from what a choice based on professionally relevant criteria would be.

The cheapest is something you can't help, unless you want that to be you. And you don't, because someone's always going to work for exposure or experience if it comes to it. Or for fun. You can't possibly be the cheapest unless you pay them.

But you can help the best blend. The blend is a sweet spot. The sweet spot where supply best meets demand, or so the client thinks. The best fit.

By saying more about yourself, accurately and in an encouraging way if you can help it, you can't convince mass askers. Not often at least. But you can persuade people away from masking. Or you can convince them before they mass ask.

You can make them think that you're the only option, or the best, or just good enough so there's no need to look further.

My personal take is that the less ambitious, more modest target of 'just good enough so there's no need to look further' is a good, solid base to cover before you fiddle with the fancy stuff. First the basics, then the extras — if at all.

We may all need this if the trend for getting multiple quotes, even on small jobs and even by consumers, continues to rise.

That, and, of course, we need to stop gambling our precious time with the 20 other people in the BCC field. Doesn't mean we should give them exactly zero time, though. Nope. There is a war to wage, so there are battles to fight.

It is good to have a canned response in which you state just what your rates would be for the same job in normal circumstances, while refusing to enter the battle of quotes. This is the least you can do to help unteach them the bad thinking habits, such as that they can get a special (i.e. reduced) offer for just asking and for just being them. Y'know, everybody is special, but so is everybody else. And his dog.

Still, show them you considered their inquiry/requirement/need individually, but the size of your fee is based on standard applicable rates.

Else, if they keep only getting responses from people who are prepared to play their game, they'll end up with a distorted view of the market, thinking everybody else is unavailable or uninterested and those who do respond represent the industry opinion as a whole. Which is not the case (or so I hope).

Dear Client,

Thank you for your interest. It is my policy not to participate in competitive quotes. This e-mail is emphatically not a bid.

For reference, my standard applicable fee for your particular request (as specified in your mail) would be XXX.

Always feel free to contact me for a specific quotation or booking. Please, however, keep in mind my policy not to participate in competitive bidding.

Sincerely,

Provider

Just an example.

If you feel like it, you can consider adding something to the tune of:

Please be aware that due to the low statistical probability of having the project assigned to me out of all of the providers asked for this quotation I am prevented from being able to spend as much time preparing a more tailored quote as is normally the standard of care I give to my clients.

And yes, not a single comma. Be confident. Transmission, not dialogue. And certainly no arguing or pleading. Just remember to turn it into generally acceptable passive-aggressive corpobabble without showing a genuine human side.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Reading Copious Briefs and Reference Materials Shouldn't Be Free of Charge!

Everybody outsources things these days. Even quite internal things. Outsourcing is good because it frees you of all the hassle of the special treatment employees get. And allows you to pay people when you actually need them, not for the entire time of just being there.

On the other hand, more and more clients yearn for the special treatment an employer traditionally gets. They want someone to get to know them, in fact quite intimately (in business terms), to become dedicated to them, to give them one's all, and so and so forth. And sometimes they want all those benefits right off the box, where they take months or years to achieve with employees or some other variety of in-house staff. And they certainly want customized, tailored services.

… But they also want to keep paying only for what's billable or tangible, or just the standard price of a standard service.

Clients sometimes need to be reminded — gently if possible — that outsourcing is for not paying people when you are not in fact using them. It's not some magic of the invisible hand of the market for getting a month's worth of attention for a week's worth of pay and save a ton on costs while reaping all the benefits.

Here's an analogy that also works for services that have rarely been done in-house and thus needed to be outsources but have traditionally been purchased from the market:


If you're buying a single loaf of bread at the standard two or three bucks per, you don't get to mail the bakery a 20-page PDF detailing your absolutely essential, holy inviolable specs. You could get more luck with a custom order, especially  But even a custom order than normally takes them a day will get them to spend a week studying your PDFs. No chance. Nobody's going to eat that cost for you.

High time our clients appreciated this basic fact of life. High time we did.



100% Quote Acceptance Is Bad

Having your quote accepted or chosen all the time can be a source of pride, but that's misguided.

It does not necessarily mean literally everybody and his dog agrees you're the best.

If you think they believe're the best bang for the buck, that's closer to it, but not yet there.

Unless your quote is outside their spending limit, the decision comes down to two things:
  • how much value they get for what they pay
  • the alternatives (BATNA) and the cost (or bother) of pursuing them
All of these factors are subjective. They depend on personal tastes, needs and circumstances.

If everybody always agrees you're the best choice regardless of the entire range of subjective differences, this means your pricing is 'objectively'[1] a bargain by a large margin. So large it always outweighs all other factors in the judgement, no matter who's judging.

Next, if nobody ever complains about not being able to afford you, it not only means everybody can afford you easily (which is not bad per se, if that's your mission), it also means nobody will even try pretending otherwise.

… Which means, most likely, you're charging way below your league.

If nobody can ever undercut you, most likely you're the one doing the undercutting. Ooops!

Perhaps you just forgot to give yourself a raise. For ten years or so.


[1] Intersubjectively, but let's not go there.











Saturday, 3 March 2018

It's Good to Cut Down on 'No' and 'If', up to a Point

First off, if you know me at all, you'll know I'm not one of the folks drinking the kool aid of client this client that. Where I stand is yes, we provide a service, but we don't need to make a circus of it, and there's no need for getting hysterical about it. We provide a specific service, according to our specific talents and skills and professional training, to the best of our ability and with the client's best interest in mind, but that's it. For example just because lawyers are service providers doesn't mean they should be ready to provide the service of cooking lasagna al forno or grooming a cat just because the client demands it. That's plain silly, and we should quit wasting our time listening to that nonsense. We should also consider the source where that nonsense comes from, especially whether it isn't a large buyer or intermediary.

That said, as practitioners we're there to solve or mitigate problems — specific problems within the scope of our profession, not general problems, but solve problems still — and not to create or exacerbate them. And most of our clients genuinely need some help and are genuinely somewhat clueless about getting it, rather than having totally unreasonable ideas (which I'd link more with interest-driven industry/market influencers trying to effect a wide change — such as bringing an entire formerly proud profession to heel — than the average individual client in a specific, concrete situation).

For certain professions this gets trickier because they are less at liberty to deny their clients, but most of us are entitled to at least a certain comfort zone. Still, this doesn't mean we should totally never expand it or go out of it for a client — especially when what the client asks is something reasonable for a client to ask and the pay is reasonable.


I bet the client's life isn't easy either, more likely than not being the provider of some other goods or services, or employee thereof, who also has to put up with people. And with problems. And with complicated requests. So let's make everybody's life just a little easier by not making it any harder than it has to be, and especially if we adhere to a system of beliefs or values that places importance on being there for people and helping them (most religions and philosophies do, it's just that their practitioners don't always remember).

Another thing is clients react — and we can't expect them to rewire their brains to stop reacting to the disappointments that happen to them in our business relationship, not any more than it would be possible to do so in, say, a romantic relationship. It's only up to a certain point that excuses can substitute for actually being there for someone.

The clients' or prospects' 'systems' register the displeasure or inconvenience or stress associated with being denied or left without help, or helped only grudgingly. They may understand, of course, but the damage may still be done. All the more so, even a perfectly valid excuse doesn't count the same as actually being there for them, not any more than we'd be entitled to a fee we didn't earn.

Besides, sometimes you just lose a lot of time pointlessly arguing about something that isn't going to change or fighting battles you can't win. Sometimes, of course, you have to go on the record expressing your firm and repeated opposition to a bad strategy or self-destructive move, but most situations don't really belong in this category. So it's probably better to avoid doing or taking unnecessary damage and instead save the relationship or help it grow. Relationships are important. Even to lawyers. ;) And time is money. That goes for stress too, if you're going to need time to destress later.

Next, it's probably not worth it pointing out all the small things and demanding recognition or payment for them. Chances are they're already being noticed and appreciated and working toward a greater, immaterial deposit of goodwill that it would be a waste to cash in for relatively small monetary rewards, or — less consciously — enjoyed as a smooth, hassle-free client/user experience that it would be a shame to waste.

Thus, a lot of the time it's just better to grin and bear it — if there's no harm, just bother, and if ethics are not at stake, which is the titular 'point'.

And for the sake of clarity, being expected to turn into a generalist all-purpose personal assistant where in fact you have a specific job such as lawyer, translator, designer etc. reaches that point. Likewise, if your freelance job description actually is personal assistant, then being expected to fill in for specialists such as doctors, lawyers, translators, designers, copywriters etc. and deliver the same results without the benefit of full training.

Don't Flat Out Refuse to Negotiate

Flat-our refusals are usually bad for business. The fastest and most assured way to gain nothing at the negotiation table is to leave it, or leave early. Then, the deal is lost and with it quite possibly the entire relationship of the parties, because the goodwill is depleted, and from a dry spring no water will flow. And both your crops need the water to grow.

This is why people often grant concessions just so the other side could save face and both could save the relationship. Naturally, this is often abused (by those who game the 'system'), but the point still stands: flat-our refusing is generally bad for you.

As much as we may all be tempted, there are better ways of responding (however less epic) than:

Dear Client,

No.

Sincerely,

Provider

… without actually having to give them what they ask.

The short version is don't give it to them but still suffer through the process. The long version will take a bunch of paragraphs, so how about you go grab a coffee? This post isn't going anywhere and will still be here when you come back.

***

For starters, don't be extra stingy with your time. If they need five minutes or one or two additional e-mails to decompress, give them that. There's no need for you to put on a hard face and give them a hard time, either — not getting their way is already hard enough.

More importantly, it's always possible that the fine folks you negotiate with have enough authority or sway (you know the saying about the head and the neck) to see the deal followed through but still have to comply with certain policies and procedures without bending them more than they perhaps already are. Show them some understanding, and you'll have a friend — and chances are a mutually beneficial agreement every now and then.

Let's say they are required — thanks to the inifinite and indisputable wisdom of some policy-maker up there who has five doctorates but can't tie his shoes —  to never accept the first offer but always negotiate, notably because many people will in fact give in at least an inch, so in the grand picture this will work for them, at least from the balance-sheet perspective (though perhaps failing to see the potential negative impact of aggressive panhandling on the company's goodwill in the long run).

So, if failure to negotiate a lower fee is the one thing they need in order to pay your fees and be done with the circus, then why not give them just that? And sit through the ordeal. It won't kill you, it'll make you stronger.

Just keep declining politely, expressing some compassion with their position and citing the existence, if not the details, of some objective factors influencing your decision or forcing your hand. Even if that's something like:

My fees are already on the lowest level I could realistically accept after lengthy negotiations. So, in essence, you're getting the whole benefit up front to save you and me some time. Unfortunately, this misses all the adrenaline.
(Here, you rationalize how you can't go any lower, and you let them know that they are already getting the best possible outcome, hinting they shouldn't feel less satisfaction with it just because they didn't have to fight you for it. Mentioning that you respect their time is a gentle nod to tip the scales and make the refusal effectively not a refusal but an explanation hinting that perhaps they're getting more than they were asking for. In the end, the tension is resolved with comic relief.)

Depending on the situation you could add something to the effect of: 'and to treat all my clients equally and fairly whether or not they decide to negotiate,' but I'd be careful with that because a lot of companies want preferential treatment and favoured status (even MFN) regardless of not having done and not intending to do anything to deserve it. We do live in uniquely narcissistic times. For others, however, notions of equality and fairness will be of top importance.

And try to dissociate the poor souls from the policies and superiors that make them do things they wouldn't normally think about. In some cases it's a good idea to let the little people know you aren't blaming them for the big people's screw-ups. And even if the little people do screw up, show them some patience; we're all human after all. Especially in the little-people league that the bulk of us play in anyway.

***

Exception: Time wasters abound. It's good to learn to spot them, and most people eventually will, though it may take years. Even so, you generally don't lost that much time by simply reiterating your proposal and using more than two or three abrupt words to say that you won't be going any lower. Just don't get involved in a lengthy discussion rehashing and rebuffing the same old arguments, don't leave too many openings, and so on. Don't be chatty, but don't leave the table just yet. Just keep your time investment and especially your hopes down to the absolute minimum you won't regret spending even if nothing comes out of it — which is the almost certain outcome when your initial positions are too far apart.

Still, avoid unnecessarily alienating your contact. Even when the boss's budget ideas are patently unrealistic, the secretary or assistant will sooner or later end up working for someone who is more reasonable or fill the same position when the old incumbent goes up or out. Practical experience teaches that does indeed happen, and people remember their past contacts.

Mercy to the Wolf Is Cruelty to the Lamb

Woah, what an attention-grabbing title. So what do I mean by 'mercy', and who is the wolf and who is the lamb?

I'll give you a straight answer, right away: mercy is cheaper (a.k.a. 'better') rates or other special concessions, the lambs are people who really need help, and the wolves are people who don't.

Now on to the titular claim. Your resources are limited. If you spend them, you won't have them. So it would be wise to keep tabs on who you spend them on.

Thus we've just covered the basic thought of this post, but if your time resources are not too limited today, how about you stay with me a while longer and we'll give it more thought? A lengthy post is coming, let me warn you.

So:

No matter what you do, you can't work more than a dozen-odd hours a day, every day, or you'll die. This is a fact of life. Your time is limited, unless you can clone yourself. You can't afford to stop working for money and go wholly pro bono, unless you've got heaps of savings or a hefty passive income. Or a generous rich spouse. Chances are 99 to one that you have none of it.

… Hence, just like almost everybody else, you have to work for a living, and work hard indeed, restricting your ability to help others free of charge. Simply put, your pro-bono resources are limited. Make sure they go to whose who really need them, not just those who want them.

And here's the obvious truth: the needy people need them; the cool people, or the loud people, or the pushy people, in most cases don't. So it's them or them that you can help; the needy or the stingy (or pushy). You choose.

Yes, there are situations in which it's appropriate to waive your fees for someone who makes more than you do. I've done that too. But those are typically noble causes — such as assisting the victim of a vicious attack or insidious smear campaign — not the causes of rich cheapskates who just can't or won't man up and pay normal rates just like everybody else, so they start inventing excuses and buttering you up or threatening you, whatever works, stick-and-carrot style, just to avoid parting with money they don't absolutely have to part with but by all rights should part with, just like everybody else who gets a service or product.

I'll give you a real-life illustration. Some people — and perhaps it has happened even to you, so don't get offended, just ponder — will haggle with the poor people selling eggs or flowers or whatever on the pavements of big cities but then proceed to leave a lavish tip in the luxurious restaurant or at least trendy bar they go to. Or they'll decide they have no money to spare on that kid who needs a transplant or the old lady who can't pay for her medicines, but they still, somehow, have enough to buy everybody a round at the local pub, full of able-bodied people with jobs and incomes.

It's the same in translation, law practice, design work or whatever else it is you do. If you feel the need to work pro bono — and of course you should — or, shall we say, semi pro bono, as in 50% off on compassionate grounds, then pick your recipients wisely

I suppose it's probably better to be generous with at least someone than no one, so showing some compassion to your B2B clients is not a bad thing. In fact it's a good thing. But are they really the best target? And among them, not the ones with noble causes and friendly policies and strong sense of social responsibility but simply the ones who'll harangue or cajole you about rebates they don't need?

If you keep pleasing them or caving in to them, you won't have the resources to help those who really need it.

Here, allow me to reiterate and emphasize that I don't mean denying your help when they need it. By which I mean objectively need it and need it more than your other paying clients or prospective pro-bono clients. And allow me to reiterate and emphasize that the decision is yours to make.

… What I want to say is that it should be a decision, not an excuse for just giving in when they ask.

And for the record, granting them the discount on condition that they will donate the difference to a charity is always an option. It's better than just giving them the discount anyway.

Oh, and don't think they'll appreciate you for the caring and giving and helpful soul that you are when you cave in to their sweet words, nope. It doesn't work like that in real life. They're trained to do that, and the objective is to save money for their company by reducing the spend, not to establish good interpersonal relations based on reciprocity (although you'll inevitably meet some exceptions). And for the umpteenth time, if they're much richer than you, then they don't need you to charge in on a white horse and save them from their financial predicaments, nope.

… But enough's been written today, so — lest I start writing in circles — let's just stop here. Hope I've managed to give you some useful perspective, and naturally better still if we were in agreement right from the start.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Non-Financial Terms

When it comes to fees, a lot of clients are price-conscious, cost-averse, addicted to bargain hunting or just have their hands tied.  Or they are just simply maximizing their profit by minimizing their spend because hey, they can. And if we keep budging, then they will surely know they can. A lot of us budge too much; sometimes, however, there really is little you can do. However, just because you can't get better rates from your prospects doesn't mean there's literally nothing you could do to make your life at least a little less miserable.*

(* Sorry, spring depression.)

  • By extending the deadline you can reduce overtime. You will have more time for other projects, CPD, sleep, or hey, free time. When did you last have some?
  • By smartly downsizing the project you can make more money per hour while staying within the same total.
  • By eliminating parts that don't require your personal involvement or getting your client to assign support staff, you can achieve a very similar outcome and also position yourself as an expert whose time is valuable and not a resource to dump chores on.
  • By putting pressure on payment deadlines you get paid faster. Notably before they change their mind about paying you or run out of funds.
  • By demanding advance payments or dividing the project into milestones or several smaller separately billed projects you can mitigate non-payment risk and out-of-pocket expenses.
  • You can also reduce non-payment risk by explicitly restricting their rejection rights (especially important under the (not so, from the service provider's perspective) fine old contractual law of England and Wales).
  • By asserting your moral rights and possibly demanding some form of promotion you make sure you at least get some exposure and perhaps catch bigger fish in the future.

All of these things matter.

And now some negotiation points:

  • Securing concessions you don't really need — or withholding concessions you don't mind granting — can help you pace the negotiation for a better final outcome, or at least save face and avoid appearing too soft when you don't have too many options.
  • Apart from overquoting your fees, you can also start from less advantageous non-financial terms and use that as the ground you eventually concede.
  • Notably defeat the urge to pack your standard offering to the brim with goodies and extra stuff. Some people will always want something better than your first proposal; leave some room for that. Make sure clients know and appreciate what they get, to mitigate the desire to ask for more.
  •  Negotiate when you don't have to just to train for when you do have to, notably when you're already almost decided to quit. Test their limits or try something new, just to learn more about negotiating.
And always remember that decision-makers with limited budget authority can still make your life easier in a lot of other ways that they get more leeway with. A lot of managers are mostly left alone to run their departments, sections and teams as they see fit, as long as they exceed their spending limits; use this to your advantage.

Your Someday Terms

My eyes played a trick on me several days ago (EDIT: I wrote this post in January). I received an e-mail titled 'Your "someday" items', coming from Ed Gandia's website, which I'd subscribed some time back in the ice age, but for some reason what I saw was 'Your "someday" terms'.

Ironically, this little hallucination perhaps relates to something to something I read in a book Gandia co-penned ages ago with Steve Slaunwhite and Pete Savage (The Wealthy Freelancer, which you should read if you haven't yet), though I'm not sure my subconscious process was as complex as that. I probably thought simply of contract terms.

In any case, the old something was a very sensible piece of advice, reflecting the law of growth: even if you can't be too fussy about what projects you take right now, you should still have a target list of standards you want to be your bottom line one day.

When I saw 'your someday terms', I thought not so much about essential terms, such as rates and deadlines, but about more terms-y terms, such as copyrights, moral rights (including credit), payment deadlines, acceptance and rejection, corrections, liability and so on.

You may be in the fortunate position of already having exactly the terms you want. Most people are not.

I invite you to see that, in terms of progress, rates aren't the only thing that should or could go up. So are your reputation, your professional standing and your work comfort and satisfaction, not to mention liquidity and stability. All of these are affected by the terms of the contracts you sign and POs, specs, instructions and other rules you accept as binding. Hence it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on rates.

The easiest example I could give you is difficulty. Chances are difficulty raises the bar so high that few people can compete, so there is less price pressure. Normally, however, it's much more likely that a text that pays 20% better will also consume 80% more time, because it's so much more difficult. Thus, it's certainly possible to give yourself a nominal raise and seemingly defend it but start making less money in the end result. The same is true about other things than the difficulty of things you do or the time it takes you to do them. We'll visit some of them in a separate post soon.

Knowing what terms you want is the first step to getting there — sooner or later, eventually, and if not exactly there, then at least a little closer. Remember not to deny yourself the small steps just because you can't make the big leap right now.

There is a reason I didn't say 'ideally' — this is a long-term project that might well never see its target fully achieved, but don't fret. The easiest way not to move anywhere is to stop walking. Any step you do make makes your life at least a little easier.

Please see my next post about non-financial terms and meanwhile let me just introduce the suggestion that clients who are not in a position to make your life easier budget-wise could still make your life easier in other ways, so just because you can't get better rates doesn't mean you can't help some other things.

Annoyed They're Asking for a Free Sample? You Should Be Happy Instead! And let Me Tell You Why.

Before we move on, let's keep in mind a sample is not the same as a test . There is a difference between being sampled and being more o...