Monthly Archives: April 2011

The 100 Client Project

I recently discussed my own financial missteps, due mostly to not having a very diversified client list.  In fact, one of my clients was responsible for more than 50% of my invoices last year.  That’s not a freelance billing cycle; that’s a part-time job.

When my latest fiscal conundrum happened, I reached out to my network to see if anyone knew of any opportunities I might be a good fit for.  I was expecting a few responses.  Instead, I got a legitimate lead from almost everyone I asked.  And most of those opportunities stemmed from work or connections that I didn’t even know people were involved with, which reinforces my own suspicions about professional networks in general: they’re only as useful as you ask them to be.

So, here’s an idea:

By the end of 2011, I’d like to work with 100 clients.

And I’d like one of them to be you.

I’ve recently updated my services and speaking pages, to give the world (and myself) a better idea of what I actually do.  And something tells me I can probably help you with a problem you’re having, an opportunity you’re preparing to undertake, or a process you can’t quite get working properly.

So let’s see just how useful we can be together.

Why Am I Doing This?

Three reasons, really.

1. Diversifying my income. As I mentioned, tying up too much of your freelance income with one client is a recipe for disaster.  All it takes is one hiccup for your entire revenue stream to run dry, and if you haven’t been sandbagging emergency cash, you’re stranded.

2. Better understanding my own network. If I had no idea what half of my network was up to until I needed them, that means I’m talking about myself too much and talking to them too little. By working with them (that’s you) more often, I can not only be useful to you directly, but I can help facilitate connections between people in my network who may not otherwise know each other, or what they do. (But I can only do that if I know what you do.)

3. Expanding my portfolio. Since the vast majority of my work over the past 4 years has been done for agencies, I’m not explicitly able to list all of what I do on my services page (due to contracts, NDAs, etc.). The more work I do for a wider variety of clients, the more easily explainable my own services will actually be.

So, let’s see just how interesting things can be when our networks combine.

What can I do for you?

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Work Smarter: How Your Professional Network Can Help You Get Paid

Yesterday, I touched on the importance of knowing where your money is coming from, since freelancing is all about making money the smart way: maximizing your income from the kinds of work you actually enjoy doing.

But who’s paying you is just as important as what you’re being paid to do.  And when I stepped back to look at the sources of my income, I noticed something surprising:

All of my income is derived directly from my professional network.

In 2010, I received a 1099 from exactly four clients (which is a lack of diversification problem unto itself, but we’ll deal with that in a future post).  Who were they?

Client A is Creative Concepts, LLC, a marketing agency I’ve worked with since 2007. How did they find me?  They needed to shoot a YouTube video for one of their clients, so they contacted then-social media freelancer John C. Havens (currently at Porter Novelli) to ask if he could provide that service.  He couldn’t, but he knew someone who could — me.  And he knew me because he’d interviewed me for his About.com podcast series on new media back in 2006, after I co-founded PodCamp Pittsburgh, which was the first non-Boston PodCamp to go live.  (It’s still going strong, too; we’ll be celebrating PodCamp Pittsburgh 6 later this year!)

Client B is Abstract Edge, a design & marketing agency I began working with in 2010. How did they find me?  Scott Paley, one of the company’s principals, followed me on Twitter.  When I moved to Baltimore in 2009, he suggested we meet up because he thought I might be able to help his agency in a few strategic areas.

Client C is Carton Donofrio Partners, a Baltimore advertising agency. In summer of 2010, they were looking to expand their social media capabilities, so they queried their own network to see whom others might recommend.  Stuart Foster, whom I’ve never actually met in person, follows me on Twitter, and he suggested (based on my tweets and blog) that Carton Donofrio give me a whirl.  They did, and I wound up assisting on a discovery project for one of their clients.

Client D is Render Room, a motion graphics company. Last autumn, Render Room was working with the Laureate International Universities to create multimedia presentations for their online education packages, and they needed writers to script the intros to those packages.  My friend Dawn Papuga works at Laureate, and she suggested me to the project’s manager, who contracted me.  (And I met Dawn back when she was a podcaster who attended PodCamp Pittsburgh.)

So, to recap, here’s how I met each client:

  • Client A: recommended by an acquaintance who’d interviewed me about my work.
  • Client B: he followed me on Twitter.
  • Client C: recommended by an acquaintance who followed me on Twitter.
  • Client D: introduced by a friend whom I’d initially met at an event I organized.

How did I not meet clients in 2010?

  • Cold contacts
  • Job boards
  • Advertising my services

Need some takeaways from all this?

3 Tips to Get Work with the Help of Your Professional Network

Starting social fires is a great way to spark relationships.

1. Go places.

Had I not attended the original PodCamp Boston back in September 2006, I never would have been inspired to start PodCamp Pittsburgh.  Those two events introduced me to hundreds of people who’ve directly impacted my life since — including the friends who introduced me to two of last year’s clients.

It helps that I actually co-founded Podcamp Pittsburgh, which gave others a reason to talk to me in the first place.  So, if you’re the take-charge type, create an event (or a group, or something else that generates public input and attention), or join the organizers of a group you’re already involved with.

2. Do and say things that other people think are worth talking about.

I launched an event.  I created an award-nominated web sitcom, and then spun it off into a new show.  I tweet a lot, and I write blog posts that people react to.  All of this made me interesting enough that other people wanted to interview me, meet me, and recommend me to others.

If your network isn’t talking about you, you’re missing the chance to make new connections with the people who find your network’s stories about you to be interesting.

3. Make sure your network knows what you actually do.

I do a lot of things, and everyone seems to know me for a different reason.  The people who know I do video production might not know that I also write, and the people who know I write might not know that I consult.  In fact, I doubt anyone other than Dawn would have known to recommend me for a scriptwriting job because the majority of my network would probably think to pitch me video gigs instead.

Try asking your network what they think you do.  If they fail to mention the work you’d rather be recognized (and recommended) for, you should do a better job of consolidating your jack-of-all-trades nature into a more easily-digested personal summary — especially if, as I mentioned yesterday, you’d prefer to change the source of your income.

(Oh, and if all else fails, update your LinkedIn profile.  When was the last time you did that, right?)

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Is Your Money Coming from Where You Want It to Come From?

While going over my taxes this year, I noticed something surprising: 2010 was the first year in my entire career that I did not earn the majority of my income from video production.  While video was still the highest-grossing single service that I provide, it was surpassed by the combination of consulting and writing.

Why is this significant?  Because it means I’m on the right track.

Time Is Money, in Reverse

Two years ago, I decided I didn’t want to rely on video production as my primary source of income.  While the money is good, and while I do enjoy the production process, video has two drawbacks:

  • It’s expensive.
  • It’s time-consuming.

Even though I specialize in minimalist, DIY-esque production (usually a single, handheld camera), there are always complications.

  • A concept could take weeks or months to nail down.
  • A shoot can take hours or days.
  • The equipment costs create overhead.
  • The equipment and software need to be regularly replaced and updated.
  • Physically transporting the equipment is logistically and physically frustrating.

And, once a video enters the client review stage, it could be approved right away… or it could linger in the review queue for months.  That makes it difficult to tie up significant amounts of time, energy and resources in a project whose ultimate approval (and eventual payment) has too many variables.

Example: Last year, I filmed one project for a client in February that wasn’t approved until October or paid until December.

Meanwhile, writing requires no overhead, can be done at any time of day, in any location, and (thus far) rarely requires more than a few rounds of editing, if that.

Example: I earned as much from one large writing assignment which I completed over a single 36-hour period as I would have from four client video projects that would have taken 36 hours just to film, and countless additional months to edit and review.

In other words: video may be lucrative, but it’s inefficient.  So, what makes more sense:

  • Spend a lot of time making $X according to someone else’s schedule?

OR

  • Spend a lot less time making $X from anywhere, at any time?

On paper, that would seem to be an obvious choice: I should be seeking out more writing gigs, so I can reduce my overhead while working smarter and earning faster.

But there’s a second side to this story, which we’ll explore tomorrow in Part 2: while I may know where my money comes from, who is my money coming from?  (Or, if you’re a stickler for grammar, “From whom is my money coming?” But yes, that sounds far less appropriate.)

Meanwhile… do you know where your money is coming from?

Is it the same field you’d like people to think of when they’re thinking of hiring you?

Are you sure?

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How Blogging Can Make You a Better Person

In the mad rush to blog on a regular basis, I think a lot of us mistakenly believe that posting something is better than posting nothing.  But if we all subscribed to that theory, what would we end up with?  Blog after blog of half-baked ideas, recycled anecdotes and borrowed wisdom.

Sound familiar?

If you’re frustrated by the low quality — or, worse, the almost-useful quality — of the blogs your read (or your own), here’s an idea:

Try blogging with purpose.

Use Your Blog to Improve Your Life

I have a long list of topics I’d like to blog about.  Most of them fall into the category of “ways I think something could be improved.”  Unfortunately, most of those topics will never advance beyond the theory stage because I just don’t have the time to test them all out, record the results, and compare them against my original presumptions.

Why don’t I have that kind of time?

Because I’m too busy doing a bunch of other stuff — including blogging my own half-baked ideas and untested theories.

But wait!

What if I selected one of those theories every week, or every month, and tested it fully?

What if, instead of finding an excuse to blog every day, I found a reason to blog every week / month / whenever the reason presented itself?

And what if that reason was to actually provide meaningful data and useful information, rather than untested theories and random inspirations?

What if my blog became a reason to get better at my own life?

Well, a few things would happen:

  • I’d blog less often
  • I’d have more time to actually test my theories
  • I’d be able to write more useful posts
  • My overall traffic would presumably increase due to better content quality

Most importantly, I might actually solve some of my problems and prove (or disprove) some of my own theories along the way, which means I’d be learning and improving while simultaneously strengthening the quality of my blog.

Nifty, huh?

Which is not to say that there isn’t still a place for humor, theories, observations, essays, anecdotes or other blog topics.  Nor that I should stop blogging unless I have a results-oriented post to share.  Sometimes writing for the sake of writing is its own reward.

But, in my opinion, the web is already flooded with blogs about nothing.

If we all wrote a little less filler and a little more feast, wouldn’t we all win?

Well, let’s find out.

My Blogging Blueprint

Over the next 6 months, I’d like to explore 4 different topics, including:

  • Testing a new theory I have about time management for freelancers.
  • Building the brand of my web series, The Baristas, from the ground up.
  • Finding the best way to manage my freelance finances.
  • Experimenting with self-published ebooks.

Instead of vomiting up an endless list of 1000 Tips I Think Would Work Although I Haven’t Bothered Implementing Them Yet Myself Because I’m Too Busy Attracting Linkbait Traffic, I’m going to do something extreme:

I’m going to wait until I have something to say before I say it.

So, next, I’ll draw up my notes on each topic, including elements I’d like to research and test, my own predictions about what will (and won’t) work, and my goals for pursuing each topic.  As I gather related information and test various aspects of my theories, I’ll post updates here on the blog.  And, in the end, I’ll summarize all my findings in one central post, with links back to the previous posts that led me from here to there.

And here’s the crazy part: if you’ve noticed, by the time I’m done, I should have…

  • A time management process that boosts my productivity,
  • The blueprint for building a media brand (including pitfalls to avoid),
  • A money management system that will keep me sane, and
  • A passive revenue stream, plus a how-to that can help others do the same.

Not a bad excuse for blogging, right?

And hey, if it all fails miserably, at least I can summarize my many missteps into their own how-not-to.  So, even if I fail, you still win!  (You’re welcome.)

So… what are you going to be blogging about this summer?

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How to Tell if Your Next Idea Will Fail

One of the first jobs I turned down after graduating from art school was becoming a sales rep for a digital photography company — an anecdote that popped into my head again yesterday as I was considering my own financial future.

It was 1999, and my degree was in Computer Animation & Multimedia, which (somehow) put me on the radar of a Pittsburgh-area startup that planned to own the emerging digital photo market.  How?  Simple:

* They would operate kiosks that rented digital cameras to the public.

* When the cameras were returned, their sales reps (or “cashiers,” if you prefer) would upload the images from the camera to the Internet.

* Once the images were on the web, the company would make them available in an online album, and offer high-quality prints of any images people actually wanted to buy.

Where did revenue enter this equation?  My memory is a bit hazy on that part (which is probably why I turned them down), but I do recall that the camera rental itself was free.  (Actually, the company would place a hold for x amount on the renter’s credit card, which would then be unfrozen when the camera was safely returned. Sexy, right?)  So that leaves hosting, sharing and printing as the only 3 ways the company was positioned to make money.

Seeing too many holes in their business plan, I passed on their offer.

They asked me if I knew anyone else who might be interested.

I said my roommate had also just graduated from the same program and needed a job.

They asked if I could put them in touch with him.

I said he was outside in the car, since he was my ride.

So we all walked outside, and I woke my roommate up from his driver’s seat nap, and they hired him on the spot.

A year later, the company was out of business.

Looking back, you can probably see at least half a dozen reasons why that might have happened, but they really all boil down to one unavoidable fact: this company thought they were launching a rocket, but they were really hatching a dinosaur.

Is Your Next Great Idea Already DOA?

A good idea is disruptive, in demand, and has a clear path to profitability (or whatever your measure of success may be).

Bad ideas are too big, too complex, too heavy, too slow and too easily disrupted by someone better, faster or cheaper.

The company I just mentioned? They were all of those things.

Their overhead was insane because they had to design and build kiosks, purchase camera / computer / printing equipment, train personnel, sell or lease the kiosks, advertise, and stay competitively ahead of the curve… all to make a few cents per image, in a field for which they’d simultaneously have to invent demand and explain why their solution was the best one.

In the end, they simply ran out of investment capital before they figured out how to be profitable.  But even if they had, all it would have taken to derail their gameplan would have been a company that could out-innovate or underspend them in any category and they would have collapsed.

In other words, they were a dinosaur, stumbling toward a tar pit.  (And that tar pit was named Flickr.)

An Eight-Question Sonogram for Your Unhatched Idea

Whenever you want to found a company, create an invention, launch a social media campaign, start a trend or otherwise invest time, money and / or effort in something “big,” your newly-conceived idea should be subjected to the following series of questions:

1. Is someone else already doing this?

2. Is someone else already doing something like this?

3. Is that someone else already successful?

4. Is this idea hard to organize?

5. Does this idea require multiple people to be consistently excellent at what they do?

6. Is this idea going to be expensive or time-consuming to launch?

7. Is this idea easily disrupted by something that’s only better, cheaper or faster?

8. Will it be hard for people to understand why this idea makes their lives better?

Every time you say “yes” to one of those questions, what you’re really saying is, “no, I probably shouldn’t do this after all.”

Dinosaurs take forever to hatch, they’re expensive to feed and they’re obsolete from the moment they stand up.

Life is short.  Launch rockets instead.

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