PR pro Debbie Smith looks at the evidence as she considers whether the four day working week is a realistic goal. Could it give regional agencies an edge when it comes to recruitment?
We’re currently seeing conflicting reports about optimum working hours hit the headlines. On one side of the divide are companies who’ve successfully introduced a four day working week, and those who are trying (and in some cases failing) to implement unlimited holiday. On the other is the head of Chinese internet giant Alibaba advocating 12 hour days, six days a week for those who want to be successful. It’s apparently a well-known trend in China, where it’s known as 996 (i.e. working 9am-9pm, six days a week) and is common in the country’s rapidly growing tech industry.
Why is this relevant to PRs? Because our sector is at the forefront of the struggle to find the right balance between work and personal time – and that’s not the just the always-on culture where we check our work messages all the time, but actual working hours at our desk/laptop.
In November 2018 PR Week reported research showing that 27% of PRs are working overtime on a daily basis, more than double the proportion (12%) of the average British worker. Apparently the average UK PR practitioner will work two full days (15 hours) every month on top of their scheduled hours – 24 days’ unpaid work a year. And that includes freelancers – we’re joint second in the overtime stakes, alongside agency group account directors but not quite as bad as agency CEOs and owners. This is having a serious impact on staff well-being.
Fortunately, alternatives are now emerging in the agency world. I recently went to a talk by the head of a Gloucester PR agency who has introduced a four day working week without reducing pay. He says that as a result margins haven’t changed, while sick days have reduced (down 75% in the first six months) and staff are happier. He pointed out that Fridays were largely spent collating results and reports, and technology means this takes less time, so the day wasn’t very productive. As I remember the days when preparing a coverage book really did mean ‘cut and paste’ with scissors and glue instead of using apps like Coverage Book, and we had to look journalists up on paper lists such as PR Planner, I agree he makes a good point!
Dig a little deeper though and it’s not as clear cut. PR means deadlines, last minute journalist requests and the occasional client crisis. What if these happen on a Friday? The Gloucester agency uses WhatsApp groups for each client, which have enabled them to handle anything urgent, and the MD admits that he ‘feels the benefits less’ than his team. This of course means that, although you are free to do other things on a Friday, you can’t be far from your phone. And the MD is putting in extra hours – which no doubt the head of Alibaba would say was perfectly natural! The agency has also reduced actual holiday time by 20%, lunch hours to 45 minutes, and staff will work on the Friday in a week where there’s a bank holiday Monday. To use a cliché, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
However, while this initiative has its pros and cons, I think it’s a welcome change and shows an agency prepared to move away from the culture of presenteeism which has been a big part of PR for many years. I’ve seen it in both London and regional agencies. There were the husband and wife owners who phoned the office from their holiday late on a Friday afternoon to make sure we were all still there – and we were, but the lack of trust didn’t exactly create strong loyalty. So when they got the time difference wrong and phoned at 4.15 rather than 5.15, we took the call and then promptly all went home! And the big London agency where you were expected to be at your desk well into the evening, when the head of department would then open a bottle of wine as a kind of reward, and where an application from an Orthodox Jewish candidate was rejected in part because they would need to be at home for Shabbat dinner by sundown on Friday, which in winter would be mid-afternoon (this would now be illegal).
As a freelancer, I’ve chose to step away from traditional working hours and inflexible holidays to achieve a work-life balance that suits me. This doesn’t mean I automatically work shorter hours, but I can aim for a balance that meets my financial, professional and personal needs. As Lianne pointed out in a previous post, good relationships with like-minded clients helps. For them, the benefits of working with an experienced freelancer outweigh the occasional absences and the emails sent late at night (although my tip is to draft them and save them, then press ‘go’ first thing in the morning!) And working as part of the Comms Crowd freelance collective means I can take holidays to remote places knowing that our clients will be well looked after. For example, a recent fracture meant I couldn’t make an overseas trip for a client, but a colleague stepped in and delivered great results.
We can’t all be freelancers, but I hope that discussions of four days weeks and the importance of a good work-life balance to mental health will make traditional agencies think hard about their inflexible approach. Perhaps it’s most applicable to regional agencies – as the Gloucester agency head points out, his margins are higher than those of a London agency, which no doubt was a factor in making his initiative work. This could be a smart move for other regional agencies, who often struggle to recruit staff, and the catalyst that finally moves PR from its stubbornly London-centric base. After all, the days when you needed to be in London to meet journalists face to face are long gone.
Most of all, I hope this empowers PRs to challenge traditional working practices. We’re a creative industry, so we need time to step back and recharge our batteries if we’re to deliver the best results.
It’s widely acknowledged that going freelance enables you to spend more time with your family, but what about maternity leave how does that work? No safety net of paid maternity leave for us, so how do you manage? Fellow PR and proud mum of two, Lianne Robinson explains how she does it.
Before you swipe left, please be assured that this is not another blog about your right to claim statutory maternity pay when you have a baby like all the other ‘how to take maternity leave when you’re self-employed’ blogs! This, I hope, is helping to address the real fears of taking some time out when you’re a freelancer – will my clients find someone else? Will I have to start again?
When you start to tell people your baby news, their immediate reaction is to talk about how lucky you are to be getting maternity leave – people ask will you take a year off, or just nine months? But when you work for yourself the reality is that neither of those options are probably going to be possible.
When you decide to become a freelancer it takes a lot of hard work and determination to build up a client portfolio and secure a regular stream of work. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So when you find out your family is growing it’s impossible to comprehend the thought that you might just walk away from all of that.
Beyond that there are the financial difficulties. Going a year or even just a few months with no income is a very scary concept, especially when you are self-employed. For me, the thought of not having any money coming in would actually cause me more anxiety than working.
I’m realistic enough to know that when the baby comes along I will want to have some quality family time without the distraction of work. So I do plan to take it much easier, but not for long. One of my more time-consuming projects comes to an end just before my due date and I made the decision early on not to look for more work to fill that void until a few months down the line once I have established more of a routine.
As for my more regular retained gigs, I’m very lucky to work with some lovely clients who totally understand the situation and could not be more accommodating. One of the many reasons why I wanted to go freelance in the first place was to work for nice people and times like this are testament to that. If all goes well I will be back on line after two weeks – and no, I probably won’t be back up to full speed immediately and it’s likely I may be sending emails in the middle of the night but my clients respect that. They encourage me to take as much time as I need and they’ll be there waiting when I get back.
My worries about them finding someone else to look after their PR were soon dissolved when I realise that the relationship and rapport we have built up over the years means that they respect me as a person, as well as a professional and that’s why we work well together.
I’m also very lucky to be part of the Comms Crowd, a collective of like-minded freelance individuals. We work on clients as part of a team so when I disappear on my ‘mat-leave’, I know that our clients will still continue to get great results and opportunities as I leave them in the very safe and capable hands of my colleagues. That support is invaluable and it’s incredibly reassuring to know that I can take time off and focus on my family safe in the knowledge that the team are there to pick things up. As such we’ve also been able to do a gradual handover over the last few months which has also really taken the pressure off.
When I tell other friends and other expectant mothers that I plan to be back online after just a couple weeks they look at me with that discerning look and I know they are judging me. But that’s okay. You see one of the main reasons that I wanted to work for myself was to make sure that I can take my kids to school, be there for nativity plays and sports days and be able to look after them when they’re sick. So the very small sacrifices I might have to make now, will pay dividends in the long run.
When those disapproving friends are heading back into the City with an hour long commute each way after just 12 months, hands tied by a corporate environment that frowns on people leaving on time or taking time off for dependents, I will be at home still managing to build up my business and spend time with the family. I’m in the driving seat and there is nothing better!
So the PR industry is hiring again, hurrah, but who exactly is going to manage this new wave of talent and teach them our ways, and do we even want to?
Just looking at the last few copywriting jobs we’ve had come in: a complete re-write of a careers’ website and a brochure to attract the best young talent – it’s clear things are on the up for our clients and finally for interns, with graduate recruitment in the UK at its highest since 2007.
For the past four years, I’ve run a London PR internship programme for a US university. In the past, it has often taken around six months to secure suitable internships for 15 or so MA students. But 2014 saw a marked increase in demand and they were snapped up in around three months, in fact I unearthed more great opportunities than I had interns. Hurrah!
But it occurred to me, who exactly is going to manage these bright young things and what will happen if we don’t?
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The present generation of account directors (ADs) grew up in the equivalent of war-time rationing, working with reduced client budgets, non-existent internal budgets and being forced to adopt a recession-based management style: cautious, risk averse and desperate to keep the account at all costs. Sounds like fun don’t it? Is it any wonder that agency ADs are moving in-house, looking for a saner, more stable environment, one that’s more conducive to seeing let alone raising a family? And with today’s trend for bulking up the corporate comms team set to continue in-house is only too glad to hire them.So not the ADs then.
We all know ‘a good account manager is hard to find,’ as Fergal Sharkey once meant to say, but these days they are rare beasties indeed. In fact anyone with two to five years’ experience is hard to find in any industry. Thanks to the recession we have skipped a hiring generation. Not only that, but for many years, training, development and general people investment have all been corners that were first to be cut. So those few who were recruited and managed to survive and thrive, were tough self-starters. Not necessarily the types to want to micro-manage or molly-coddle junior talent, they are much more likely to have their eyes on the prize of filling in an AD role.
So not the AMs then.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope
MEANWHILE: The PR business contributes £9.62bn to the UK economy, with agency revenues doubling in the last ten years – but what about the profits? It’s generally recognised that a healthy agency wants to be looking at a 15 – 20% margin, but the last figure I saw said in 2013, agencies was averaging around 10.6%. The cause was due to our fear of putting up our rates, and over-servicing reaching an industry average of 20%. In an effort to hang on to the account at all costs, over-worked and over-wrought ADs and thinly spread AMs have been giving away one hour in every five, just to keep everyone (apart from the CFO) ‘happy’.So do we want to pass this working model to the newbies, now the dark days are receding?
So could this be a recipe for Change?
· A thin upper and middle management layer with little time for micro management, structure and process.
· A business model that’s been coerced into giving it away.
· An influx of Generation Y emerging like butterflies into a boom time eco-climate, where risk is rewarded and disruption applauded. Recognised as the natural collaborators, masters of abstract and conceptual thinking. theis new genre of talent are highly ambitious, socially confident, relational, and the girls at least, highly organised – could this tech-savvy, upbeat, civic-minded, confident generation be the ones to reinvent us, rejuvenate us?
All The Young Punks
With a coincidental lack of hands on management, and so ample opportunity to enjoy the natural freedom they need to experiment and take a few risks, will this new wave of PR Punks be the ones to make us proud, a bt loud and profitable once more?
A modified version of this article and without all The Clash references, first appeared in PR Moment on 9th September 2014.
The third post courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the team and our resident analyst relations guru:
In part one of this series, we looked at the reasons AR programs fail and what you need to do before speaking to analysts. In the part two we provided some metrics you should consider measuring and a few questions you need to think about to maximise the impact AR has on your marketing. And in this final part, we look at how to integrate your good work with analysts and your wider marketing activities, ensuring everything feeds into your overall business objectives…
Do people REALLY know what they will get from the description of your products or services?
Your problem: If you only offer services, this can be one of the hardest things to do correctly. How do you convince prospects to buy from you if it takes time to realise any major benefits? Are you confident that the way you have named or packaged what you sell clearly articulates the benefits that clients would get if they bought from you? If prospects don’t know what benefits they get from what is on offer, then price is all they’ll use to make purchase decisions. The impact on your bottom line is huge if your competitors package themselves much better than you do. Quite often, poor product packaging happens when marketing and sales teams don’t interact effectively.
How analysts can help: Analysts can provide guidance regarding product or service packaging as part of wider marketing efforts. Their unique insight into the various strategies used by competitors, means they can help build services around your unique perceived benefits (UPBs). They can also show you how to break services down into logical processes that are easy to follow and which, more importantly, clearly show what prospects will get.
Do you know your customers’ lifecycles and do you change the way you provide value to them over time?
Your problem: A customer lifecycle is the journey someone makes from the initial discovery of your products / services to being a client. It is important to understand lifecycles so that you manage client relationships effectively and tailor your messages or services accordingly.Marketers, therefore, always need to answer the following questions so that they add value to each stage of a customer lifecycle: What factors influence initial purchase decisions within specific niches? What do competitors offer? What end results do clients actually desire? What are the market / technology changes that impact the continued use, or upgrade, of specific technologies or services? Without this information, marketers will struggle to effectively manage each step of a typical customer lifecycle. For example, think of companies that have simply tried to renew contracts or upsell additional services without tracking client needs properly. Tales of woe after deals have been signed are common, and a lot of this is down to the inability to manage the various stages of customer or partner lifecycles effectively.
How analysts can help: When you are fighting day-to-day battles and trying to get quick wins to justify marketing budgets, it can be hard to step back and have a big picture view of whole lifecycles and the different engagement methods necessary to nurture early prospects or long-term clients. Getting independent feedback on how best to do so might not be something you have considered.How analysts can help: Analysts, especially those that have a good knowledge of licensing and contracts, can provide independent advice to companies to help them manage customer lifecycles better. Of course, the products and/or services you provide have to be spot on in the first place. However, given the fact that there is almost always an alternative choice that could be made, marketers should use industry analysts to stop customers getting fed up and looking elsewhere because their continually changing needs are not being met.
Are you using the right traditional and social media channels to communicate?
Your Problem:Every marketer knows they have to communicate through the media channels that their prospects and clients use to look for information.Your problem: Whatever media channel you use to generate leads, solidify thought leadership or remain top of clients’ minds, you need to know which ones the analysts use to share information. For example, you need to know whether you potentially lost a deal because of comments made by an analyst via a blog or online forum. The problem here for marketers is the perceived loss of control and the lack of resources to do this effectively. It can be tough to justify the time and effort given the tight budgets many marketing departments have. It all comes back to the feedback you collected from clients and prospects
How analysts can help: If prospects / clients are influenced by specific channels that analysts also use, then you need to make sure you engage with the analysts via the same channels (on top of regular briefings) so that you can positively influence their output. Commenting on their blogs and participating in discussions helps you understand the frustrations analysts have with technology vendors. It also means you engage with them more effectively and, hopefully, can convert them into advocates.In conclusion
AR is often seen as an add-on to marketing and PR activities that is hard to measure and whose budget is hard to defend. It can be tough to stick your neck out and plan long-term engagements when we are all judged on quick wins.
But, trust is a hard thing to come by now, and we are pretty cynical about most of the content and claims from many technology companies. Engaging wth analysts, earning ther respect and winning their support can deliver the esssential credibility factor into the marketing mix.
The second post courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the team and our resident analyst relations guru, we look at how best to measure the impact of an analyst relations engagement programme.
In part one I looked at the reasons AR programs fail and what you need to do before speaking to analysts. In this post we look at some metrics you should consider measuring and a few questions you need to ask yourself to maximise the impact AR has on your marketing. This should help create the right foundation on which to build an effective AR programme.
Metrics to measure
If you don’t know your key marketing and sales metrics, how do you know what needs to improve? And if you don’t know what needs improving, then what is the point of doing AR? Typical metrics you need to know include:
1. Number of enquiries for a product or service;
2. Number of referrals made by existing customers or partners;
3. Percentage of enquiries and referrals converted into RFPs;
4. Typical lead response times;
5. Number of RFPs that convert into actual sales;
6. Number of active customers;
7. Total spend per active customer;
8. Customer churn rates;
9. Gross revenue;
10. Gross profit;
11. Marketing costs;
12. Marketing costs per enquiry;
13. Marketing costs as a % of gross profit;
14. Cost of sales (i.e. cost of converting RFPs into actual clients);
Once you have this information and can pass it along to your analysts, it is easier for them to compare you with competitors and work with you to identify specific activities or messages that need to be improved. Tap into their knowledge of industry go-to-market, partnership and channel strategies. Use their unique insight into competitor or industry-wide metrics to test how well you are doing. Most of the time, all you have to do is position your company more clearly in your target markets. If the analysts don’t believe your messages resonate with the needs of your prospects, you will need to keep tweaking;
The key marketing metric take-away is this: analysts can only help you improve your marketing and sales metrics if you measure them properly in the first place.
Is what you say you do what people think you do?
The key consideration here is that in order to develop an accurate representation of your company’s technology or services, you must first get the right feedback from customers, independent influencers and your employees.
To do this properly, you need to have a well-defined process in place to ask the right people the right questions, store the answers and provide easy access to anyone developing marketing strategies.
When approaching customers for feedback, you need to try and get them to do so based on a full understanding of the key competitive options available. You need to understand why they bought from you but might not do so again, or what their biggest frustrations are with vendors in your sector(s). Finally, you must understand where they look for information and how they make purchase decisions as this can help you direct resources to the most appropriate channels.
The feedback from your employees should be consistent across the various teams. There is nothing worse than having the sales and marketing teams disagree on the best action to take to generate leads or because of internal feuds.
Finally, all this feedback needs to be independently analysed or verified. This is where analysts are important. They should be used to sanity check feedback and company-led competitor research. They will compare it with opinions they get from end-users or your competitors. Based on this, they can advise you on how to use the feedback to change your product or service strategies.
Are you talking to the right people?
This is all about marketing to specific niches / target markets so that you maximise your marketing resources.
The people you target should want what you offer and be actively looking for a solution to specific problems that you can provide. More importantly, they should have the money to buy from you and be easily reached by your marketing efforts.
TAnalysts have a good knowledge of potential target markets and will give you advice on how best to reach out to them. They know the drivers and trends that impact purchase decisions. Though bound by client confidentiality, their inside knowledge should be tapped to re-focus your marketing messages and tactics. Analysts also monitor regulatory and industry trends and will suggest markets to consider that you might have ignored.
Post script: These three AR posts have proved pretty popular. So we’ve put them together, ripped out the fluff, given it a bit of structure and turned them into a whitepaper, which you are welcome to download here:
The first post courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the collective and our resident analyst relations guru:
There are many reports about how to conduct an analyst relations (AR) programme and you can also follow discussions on various LinkedIn groups too. Many of these cover some common areas, such as how to provide a good briefing or how to track and tier analysts. Yet some people find it difficult to measure the impact AR has on the bottom line and as a result, AR can be seen by the board simply as a cost centre with marketing teams struggling to extract and prove its value.
In this three-part series, we will look at how to integrate your good work with analysts and your analyst work with wider marketing activities, ensuring everything feeds into your overall objectives.
What defines a successful AR programme?
Successful AR programs use analysts to improve lead generation, shorten sales cycles and retain customers. That’s basically it!
When managing AR, companies should avoid briefing analysts simply with the short term aim of receiving positive feedback or a quote for a press release. Success has to have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line.
Look at the bigger picture: Analysts influence purchase decisions, through their reports, through a recommendation or as a result of help given by analysts to position a company more effectively within its target market.
In a successful AR programme, marketing and sales teams work closely together. They involve analysts in the different steps of their mutually supportive strategies and ensure analyst feedback is shared internally with specific action resulting in more competitive positioning and compelling messaging, with customer focused products and services.
Give your AR programme a health check
- Are you only looking only for the endorsement or quote;
- Are you focused on one-off engagements rather than building a relationship;
- You are deprived of the time, expertise or resources required to run a measurable programme;
- Are the briefings timed around your news or the analyst research or events?
- Are you lumping anaylsts in withthe press – assuming one approach fits all?
- Are you taking time to fully prep for a briefing?
- Are you sharing the analyst feedback internally?
- Is your AR programme synched up with lead gen and sales activities.
Symptoms of an ailing AR programme
- · Difficulty forming an approach for new target markets as lack of independent insight;
- Outdated knowledge of key business or legislative drivers;
- Assumptions have to be made of what drives competitive success without independent testing;
- Limited ideas for possible partnership strategies;
- Limited channel knowledge and insights into where prospects look for information resulting in no new routes to market
- Poor understanding if company messaging are resonating due to an absence of message testing strategies.
Check list to get your AR programme back in shape
- Be clear what you want to get out of an AR programme. Raising awareness is all well and good but if it does not result in more leads or better client retention, then you need to change it;
- Get stakeholder buy in. Train spokespeople and teams about the value analysts provide;
- Develop proper metrics. Measuring briefing numbers and report mentions, running perception audits or getting placed in various analyst rating scales is all good. However, if there is no positive impact on the bottom line then you need to change your rethink the metrics you use;
- Define and target the right experts. Think about individual analysts and not just the firms they work for. Find out how they get information and influence decision-making processes. Don’t forget analysts from small or niche firms as they may have a unique market impact that you could leverage;
- Plan regular engagements to gain trust instead of one-off jobs every year, such as at events. Be prepared to follow up with information that actually helps an analyst with their research.
Post script: These three AR posts have proved pretty popular. So we’ve put them together, ripped out the fluff, given it a bit of structure and turned them into a whitepaper, which you are welcome to download here:
This post is brief as it is in fact just a shameless plug to say, now it’s official, we exist!
In going live we now have a home for our recently formed small collective of senior comms freelancers, to demonstate their love of B2B technology and our honed range of skill sets, PR, AR, social, content and design.
It’s been nearly two and a half years now since I turned freelance so the collective feels like a natural evolution for me. It’s going to be great for our clients who might be looking for a more robust comms solution than a lone freelancer but who don’t have the appetite nor the budget for the full blown agency commitment, and great for us as we get to collaborate, support and inspire each other while delivering to our strengths. We’re going to be sharing the work the responsibility the money and the love!
It’s taken us forever to get the site together least that’s how it feels to a girl who goes long on ‘genius’ ideas and falls short on patience. But we are live now and despite the fact I’ve been immortalized in Ugg boots, I could not be more proud…
Third of three posts from Sam Howard on the commercials of freelancing: How not to give away your work as a PR freelancer:
The last two posts, looked at how to calculate your base rate ( how much do you need to charge to survive) and your ceiling rate, (what the market will bear).
Hopefully the first calculation is lower than the second one, if not please stop reading this now and use this time to send out your resume. You’re are not going to be able to make it work as a freelancer.This post briefly covers what factors to consider when contemplating discounting your work.
Reasonable reasons to discount
- Do you know the client? Sounds obvious but if you know them already, then proving you’re the right person for the job, aka pitching and then over-servicing, shouldn’t take too long as your immaculate reputation will proceed you. So the time you save in not going OTT in the early months can be passed on in a discounted rate for the same period. (not indefinitely)
- Do you know and like the client? By that I mean do you know that they are really easy to work with? That your judgement is valued, that the client will take risks, that emails can be six words long (and four of those spelled incorrectly), that decisions are made in real-time and it’s OK to vent rather than labouring over such a delicately worded email you might as well have crocheted it. (This is my idea of a perfect client, I concede you may have a different set of selection criteria.) If you have a perfect client, then treasure them, working with them is a pleasure and you’re rate should reflect that.
- Is it something that will help you grow? OK so moving into an adjacent sector, expanding your skill set, working with a client that you can learn much from, these are all reasons to invest in your portfolio and discount.( again just for a while say six months while you ‘come up to speed’).
Just double check the sum total of all these discounts isn’t lower than your basement rate and for every client you take on that skims or even dips below that rate you need to take one with a higher yield, remember this always has to be win/win.
Rubbish reasons to discount:
- You’re really broke: So you’re staring at your laptop, willing for that one email to arrive, that will put a smile on your face and some cash into your account. But when it comes, (and it will) think carefully about pricing. It’s so tempting to come in really low, ‘cos you’re desperate. But what does it say about the value of your work? As scary as it is, put in the right price, that reflects the skill and effort involved to do a great job. Yes, you may end up negotiating down, but no one ever gets to negotiate up.
- They’re really broke: Whether they’re those sparkly eyed start-ups or family friends, those customers that really, really want to work with you, but have no money… FYI they’re not customers, they’re window shoppers. So move them along and find someone to work with that can treat you with the respect you’ve earned. And with the money generated from real work for real customers you can afford to buy the sparkly eyed start-up or the family friend a pint – or three if they really do need your support.
- Discounted trial projects: Not convinced myself. You need to be hanging out with people that know how to be professional in business, after all you have to represent them. If they come across as timid amateurs to you then that’s how thy are going to come across to press.
Doing it for free
I hate working on the cheap, feeling like someone has got something over on me, de-valued my contribution – but I love working for free. One of the best bits about working for yourself, is being able to contribute your skills and expertise to a cause you believe in and make a small difference in the world. Maybe it’s providing your professional services to a cause, or painting fences or washing out kennels. But if you’ve managed your finances and time sensibly, then you can afford to give it away and come home with your pockets full of physic income and your conscience having had a spa day.Image courtesy of wallpaper.com
Second of three posts from Sam Howard on the commercials of freelancing: Following on from my last post, which looked at how to calculate your bottom line day rate as a freelancer, this one looks at the ceiling day rate.
My child’s first bake sale, he was about seven and asked to make scones.
“How much are you selling them for?” I asked dispensing with the niceties.He hadn’t given it much thought, but guessed 10p each.
“Why?” I asked. He didn’t know.I told him to think harder. “OK cost of ingredients,” he said.
So how does that help the charity you are making them for? “OK cost plus 10p,” he said and so we discovered the concept of profit.
“So what about packaging and wastage?” So we got up to 30p. And he hoped that might be the end of it.
“But then,” I said triumphantly, “have you thought of what the market will bear?” He looked pretty annoyed at this point. “No”, he said, he had not.
Part 2 What the market will bear
So I explained what people paid for a scone in a nice tea shop at one end of the scale and how much you paid for a pack of scones in a low-end supermarket. We decided that if ours were fresh baked and prettily presented with a winning toothy smile, we might be able push that up to 50p a scone. It was a pretty successful bake sale by all accounts…
So what will the market bear for your services, given that you are not baking muffins, all proceeds are not going to charity, and that you’re probably not as cute as the average seven year old salesperson?
First stop, so what are local freelancers charging? Here’s a jan 2010 survery that I found that might be helpful, and this on a freelance website, but I’m not sure how fresh it is. Do they compare to you and your skills? Make sure these are valid, long term freelancers/independents. It’s a competitive market out there, but if people are offering to work for ‘silly money’ like you see on the bid sites, are you really going to compete with them, what are you competing for? To see who can go bust first?
You need to understand what local agencies are charging. if you’re former agency this is a no brainer. If you’re not, then you need to do some research to try and understand where you map on to the agency hierarchy, don’t go on your old salary (probably higher) but more on your experience and responsibilities, here’s a very very rough guide:
- 1 -3 years PR experience – account exec: Support role – admin, research, supervised outreach, supervised content creation, no direct reports ( not sure this is a good time to go freelance myself unless you have very low out goings), reports to account manager.
- 3 – 6 years PR experience – account manager: Implementation role, heads up tactics, main outreach person, day to day client go to person, directly manages juniors, reports to account director. Possibly knows the account better than anyone else.
- 6 – 8 years PR experience – account director, lead role, heads up strategy, leads client relationships, oversees budgeting, heavily involved in pitching, manages account managers, reports to group account director/director. Tasked with making money.
- 8+ years PR experience – group account director, senior account director etc – same as above but entrusted with more clients, more accounts, bigger budgets, bigger teams, and some development initiatives, reports to director.
- 10+ years of experience – director, running division, sits on key strategic accounts, leads new business drives, develops new services/territories, leads team, responsible for financial health of division, runs P&L, reports to CEO. Tasked with making profit.
Once you can map your role to an agency hierarchy, find out the local day rates for this role. Then to my mind you don’t just round your rate down, but you slash it. You don’t have the group expertise or the combined reach of an agency, also you don’t have the overheads. I tend to charge under half as this makes me viable for agency work too.
The bitter pill
Now you compare your market research to your notional day rate If your notional day rate tops the market rates, you have a problem. Really why is any one going to hire you in this climate if they can tap into the same services and expertise elsewhere for less? And if you take on a loss leader project, there is only one of you, while you’re not making enough money, there is no one else to make any money at all. Every day you work at the ‘wrong rate’ only puts even more pressure on the other days to over price. You need to think long and hard about how you are going to make this work. Possibly this is not the right time in your career to go freelance, mayber you need more skills/experience, so you can charge a stronger day rate or you need to wait until there is a time in your life when you don’t need to earn quite so much (eg the mortgage isn’t making your eyes water, the kids day care bills aren’t making you wish you’d got a dog instead.).
The sweet spot
The sweet spot for a freelancer is having a low cost base and a high/in demand skills base. If your notional day rate is at the low end of the market rate scale, you’re looking at win/win, you can round up your notional rate, still be extremely competitive and know you are going to be earning enough to be able to sustain the freelance life over the longer term. Who knows perhaps you can develop a side line in home-baked goods too…
First of three posts from Sam Howard on the commercials of freelancing:
If you are good with words, I’ve noticed, sooner or later you need to get good with maths.The first of three posts looking at how to price up your freelance comms work.
A recent survey in PRmoment, showed that most freelancers charge between £200 and £500 a day. So where might you fit in? The next few blogs share my ideas on how you decide what to charge. Hopefully useful if you are considering becoming a freelance PR, starting out, or just sense your business model might be a bit broke.
Part one – calculating a notional day rate, AKA what do you need to charge to survive?
Step 1) What do you need to earn?
Did you really go freelance to become rich? Really? Most people I know have gone freelance to take back control of their lives, to be able to make their own decisions, to be there for their families and generally to feel like they are living a more balanced and healthier life. And in that sense we are all very successful, though none of us ‘rich’. So when you are working out what you need to earn, if you really want to be a freelancer, I doubt if it’s anything like what you used to earn. Do a monthly budget of what you can cope with, (you’ll be surprised freelance currency goes along way).
This gives you your base line figure of what you need to clear after tax. For easy maths’ sake lets say that’s a £1,500 a month so £18,000 a year. So how does that convert to a day rate?
Step 2) How many days in the year do you have to earn it?Answer: it’s not 365,
Though this is where you start.
Days in the year 365
Less main public holidays 5
Less weekends 104 (don’t actually schedule to work weekends)
Less holidays/family/emergency days 25
Less sick/jet lag/ hangover days 12 ( just being realistic)
Days available to work 220 ( standard industry figure)
Now assume that 50% of that time you are not doing client work, either because there just isn’t any, or because you are working but not being ‘paid’ for it, eg admin, networking, training, research, marketing, pitching, preparing materials etc. That leaves 110 days to cover your budget, plus tax plus expenses.
Step 3) Not all that money is yours you know.Tax and expenses.
So sticking with our notional sum of £18,000 a year,
Plus expenses say 15% £2,700 ( if you are working from home, can easily be more if you are not),
Plus tax, say 25% £4,500.
So in theory you need to earn around £25,200, to give you £18,000 and meet that £1,500 budget.Step 4) Calculating the notional day rateSo now just look at how much you need in total, and divide it by client days. In our model that’s
£25,200 /110 days = £229/day notional day rate.
Next blog: how does that compare to what the market will bear? Favourably we hope. After that, take a look at when to discount your work so that you find that sweet spot that keeps your clients happy and your finances healthy.