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Welcoming the new wave of PR Punks

08/10/2014

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?

vintage sam

London Calling

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.

Career Opportunities
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?

Revolution Rock
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.


How the storyteller got her PR stripes

13/08/2014

Are you stiing comfortably? Then I’ll tell you how I fell into PR

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a very bored admin manager who worked for a software development company. She found her job excessively dull, and so would spend much of the day quietly sitting at her computer, writing short stories. For some six months, she (barely) managed to perform her admin duties while working tirelessly on her craft, and soon enough her stories started to get the literary recognition she so desperately craved.

But then one day, the CEO – an entirely overly motivated individual, in her opinion, whom she’d successfully managed to avoid in the main – summoned her to his office. Her heart sunk when she saw upon his desk a sheaf of printouts, not of the latest tedious project timelines, but varying drafts of her stories and poems.

She braced herself to be fired: what cared she? She would live in an attic, make a career move out of being miserable and thin, wear fingerless gloves and die a fine and beautiful death of consumption.

“These are rather good,” he said evenly.

Momentarily thrown off balance but determined to remain on the offensive, she replied, “Well if you can’t give me enough to do, I have to get through the terminable day somehow.”

“My fault entirely,” he concurred with a half-smile.

She glared at him balefully. Was he just passing time waiting for the HR lackey to come in and do his dirty work for him?

Apparently not. “So I was wondering if I might prevail upon you to apply your talents to writing a few stories about the company, our solutions and how we help our customers grow and so forth…”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she interrupted, immediately seeing a flaw in his plan. “They’d be so boring: who would want to read those?”

“Ah, yes,” he replied with a mere smidge of a vindictive twinkle in his eye. “But it would be your job to make them interesting, tell a good story, engage the reader and what not. Then, maybe, you might talk to a journalist or two, see if you could interest them in writing their own stories about us…”

She looked at him aghast. Why, just the thought of it made her feel queasy. “PR! You want me to do PR??” How very dare he? ”I shan’t do it, I shan’t! You can’t make me!” she wailed.

“Well, no need to agree the brief right now. Why don’t you have the rest of the afternoon off to think about it?”

She grabbed her papers from his desk and stalked with great dignity from his office, not trusting herself to speak.

And so it was that after a sodden gin review of her overdraft facility, our heroine reluctantly conceded that just possibly there were worse things one could do for a living than telling corporate stories.

She’d just do it for a few months before she went and found herself a proper job ­or, at least had saved enough for a deposit on an attic and a pair of fingerless gloves…

And so, best beloveds, thanks to the thankless intervention of a remarkable CEO, I began my twenty year, hugely enjoyable and vastly rewarding career in PR.

Funny that now, ‘PR is all about telling stories.’ I thought it always was…

 


PR freelancing for juniors

24/05/2014

What’s it like being a freelance PR when you’ve only got a few years’ experience under your belt? Our first freeelance account exec, Hiwot Wolde-Senbet, weighs in on the perils and perks.

Freelancing was the last thing I thought I would be doing at this early stage in my career. But, as a natural risk taker, this opportunity came with perks that I could have only dreamed of, so I grabbed it without hesitation.I figured, I had participated in enough weekly meetings; done a few new business brainstorming and planning sessions; pitched in plenty of stories; not to forget the never ending reporting; to give me a rounded view of the PR life. But let’s face it, I may have spent a few years as a junior in a few agencies, but there aren’t enough clippings in all the world to prepare me to fly on my own.

This is why being a part of The Comms Crowd works for me, as it’s made up of senior freelance PR and marcomms people, with loads of experience. So I get to work on what I really enjoy while they shoulder the responsibility, they even look after my training and devlopment too. And just because I’m the ‘junior’ doesn’t mean I get to miss the hunt, in fact, in less than three months of being a part of The Crowd, I found myself sitting in front of a possible client sharing my ‘out of the box’ thinking – way out of the typical junior’s comfort zone. As Sam says, “Well… you’re a freelancer now, no one to hide behind, so get on with it.” So you do just that and learn from your experience.

As a freelancer, I get to work from home so, I make my own hours. It sounds fantastic right? You would assume so when you are on the ‘nine to five‘ schedule and wish you could skip the rush hour. But freelancing comes with its own set of issues, not least isolation, turns out you really miss the mini chit chats and light hearted banter that gets your day going in an office.

And there are times when life as a junior freelancer can make you feel like pulling your hair out (the occasional side effect to Excel drama). And you really miss the days that you used to ask your colleagues to help you with those unsolvable IT problems (which you probably took an hour to deal with) and then they come and sort you out in a click, leaving you feeling inept but ready to roll. When you are a freelancer, your time is money and just that fact alone makes you become very aware and conscious of your time. So you can’t afford to spend an hour on some stupid Excel issue, yet you have no choice. Not having a colleague that sits next to you means are a bit at the mercy of email response and there are the inevitable, albeit occasional, misunderstandings that you get from working remotely. So everyone really has to work at overcoming the ‘cloud barriers’, but we’re getting there.

But then the niggles just melt away, when you look through your window and see that it is sunny and bright outside. It feels like it’s calling you to come and enjoy it, feel the sun touch your skin. Living in London, I already know sunny days don’t come by often, so I pick up my sunglasses and iPad and move to the café nearby with an outdoor space. I get my to-go cappuccino and lay on the grass to draft an artcicle. That’s when I realise that I am living the dream I never had, as a real life Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City. Except I don’t do my research in nightclubs.

When you live and work in the same place, life can truly get tangled up. Becoming a freelancer will really test and challenge your organisational skills. However, with clear objectives, support and training; the cloud-based agency model can help you release your inner Carrie and achieve a fair work life balance. Until then, be prepared to, learn fast and be out of your comfort zone.


Why is US B2B PR so difficult?

12/04/2014

Just so happy to be doing transatlantic PR again, here’s a post from our US PR partner, Lorraine Russell on why it’s not easy securing the US column inches. Lorraine Russell

It doesn’t matter where in the world you want PR coverage, you will find the journalists you need are a busy lot. Their publications are under competitive attack, staff have been cut, acquisitions and closures are commonplace, everyone is doing more with less and covering more areas and, well, it all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it?

Journalists and their organizations face many of the same issues you do in your business. And just like any busy company expert, journalists want only the most insightful and relevant information and sources to ensure they do the best job possible. That makes getting their attention, building a relationship and winning their trust all the more challenging and important.

The U.S. journalistic landscape is similar to the UK although larger. According to Pew Research’s “State of the News Media 2014” report there are 38,000 full time journalists employed within the traditional U.S. newspaper industry alone (not to mention TV, magazines, etc.). Comparatively, the European Journalism Centre reports similar full time newspaper journalists in the UK. Digital native sites are growing on both sides of the pond, yet still employ only a small numbers with about 5,000 full-time U.S.-based editorial jobs at nearly 500 digital news outlets.

Whether traditional or digital, one big difference is ownership. Certainly there are U.S. conglomerate owners, however the UK newspaper market is generally far more nationalistic with fewer owners.

What does all this mean to you? Obviously you aren’t after every US journalist. You want only a logical niche of decision makers to notice your new product/service or entry into the market. As you should. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

Here’s why. Think about your competition. How many companies will you compete with in the U.S.? 10? 20? 50? More? How many of your European competitors are also entering or active in the U.S.? How many non-industry companies are nipping at your heels trying to steal the same potential customers?

Each of those and all the ones not yet identified are engaging PR to contact the same journalist you want. Whilst there are about 50,000 PR professionals in the UK, there are nearly 230,000 PR professionals in the U.S. Talk about competition!

Now think back to that busy journalist looking for someone to validate or negate the premise of an article (yes that has a lot to do with it). The journalist must be accurate. And the editor and the publisher need them to have a differentiated story than the other media outlets in their niche. After all, eyes on their story and their publication translate into revenue for survival.

So, who does the journo turn to? Someone they know will deliver. And yes, despite journalistic outcry, the line is blurring between editorial coverage and those who do or could buy advertising or sponsorships. Remember how different the ownership of US media outlets is compared to the UK? That can increase in importance when those paid and earned media lines blur.

So the number 1 reason it is trickier to get your story told by a U.S. journalist is pure and simple -competition.

And #2? Your story absolutely must be relevant to the U.S. reader/viewer. It is not enough to believe your product/service is right for them. It means understanding U.S. centric issues and trends – not just of your potential customers, but of the journalist as well.

Your chances will significantly improve if you can produce a U.S. customer. Some journos won’t talk to “vendors” without one. If you don’t have a U.S.-specific example, the challenge for coverage is even greater. Not impossible, but challenging. It is very likely you will share the story with one of those U.S. competitors you identified.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Truly, it’s not. You just need the experienced insight of localized PR. That’s the same in any country. A world view is quite important strategically but localized insight is invaluable.

As for the U.S., remember those growing digital outlets? Turns out, whilst mainstream U.S. media are sharply decreasing their global coverage, digital is on a quest to include more global coverage. And that spells opportunity! Plan your strategy wisely. This is the perfect time to think global and act local.


The third year – finally finding our feet

01/03/2014

sam didn’t get a promotion or even a shoutaout but she did get accredited

Sam Howard celebrates three years of being an independant PR person and sharrs the sometimes painfiul lessons learned.

The fabulous Victoria Wood once told this joke about how you lavish so much attention on your first child, that you go so far as to score the wall recording for all eternity your firstborn’s height with wonder and awe (since my 13 year old son is already clocking 6ft 3′ we are adding a soupçon of morbid fascination in to the mix now too). Anyhow she went on to remark that by the time you have your third child, you merely note their vertical progress by the rising  tide mark of nose smearings on your coat sleeve…

And so it is for freelancing. First year I had a cocktail party and people came from miles around, Second year I at least opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with those that happened to be passing. Third year, Feb 10th completely passed me by. Writing this, with a vodka and tonic in hand is as much as I can muster to commemorate the occasion. Just like a third child – it’s not that I love the freelance life any less, far from it, but just that I’m really busy – new clients, new projects, new sectors, new territories and I got accredited. Even the dog behaves pretty good now.So as is now customary, sharing a few random lessons learned this year:

Cautionary tale – Be careful how much time you allocate to individual pitches.
I have a strong agency background so I like pitching, the smell of the chase, and all that. But it is easy to get carried away, do some sums on the back of an envelope look at the potential gain and then assign a realtive cost to winning it. I completely lost it over the summer chasing a big account but where my personal gain was quite insignificant. I blame the heat.

Motivational moment – spread the skills spread the love

As you get busier you may feel inclined to focus on just the high value projects or to really specialize. For example, in line with the industry’s increased appetite for credible content, I have seen a surge in demand for copywriting  skills this year, but if I just did that all the time I’d burn out. Much better to have several diverse projects on the go, it keeps the mind agile. And even when you are busy, don’t’ forget to fill your boots with psychic income – my work with the Taylor Bennet Foundation continues to be the most fulfilling aspect of my freelance career.

Cautionary tale – mates rates have outstayed their welcome

So I’m still working at 2011 mates’ rates for my early retained clients and now I know them so well, asking for an increase on the day rate feels kind of #awkward. But the nicest client in the world is unlikely to suggest you take a pay rise. I’m just going to have to man up – distasteful as it is. Suggest to avoid getting into this situation in the first place any day rate deal you agree comes with the proviso ‘to be reviewed in six months’, ample time to prove your salt and get you on more equitable terms.

Motivational moment – When pickings get plentiful, share the spoils,

Share the stress, share the funds, share the love, keep delivering above and beyond. Officially forming the collective was the smartest thing I did this year.

Cautionary tale – Now it’s seven days a week 11-7, and that’s normal.

The weekends have become the time to do the behind the scenes stuff, the banking, admin, marketing etc. So to make sure you don’t lose sight of why you turned freelance in the first place, in my case – to spend time with that gargantuan boy of mine – take enforced breaks, ( I’m averaging about eight weeks leave a year). Anywhere that is a Wi-Fi black spot will do nicely.

Motivational moment – I’m really proud of myself

Three years ago I turned my back on the security of an established and respected career, with the attitude of how hard can it be? That was the wrong question. I should have asked, ‘how intense can this be?’ Flipping intense actually. But it turns out, when you learn not to measure your worth by your job title, not to value security above freedom and control, you become infinitely richer, eventually!

 


Less Superman, more Supermulti-tasker

01/01/2014

sometimes it can all just get a bit too much

Possibly I have been spending too much time with children this festive season, but I got to thinking if I could have one super power what it be? I ponderd several fabulous skills but came down to, The power to be in several places at once. As a single parent and freelance PR, multi-tasking is more of an adrenalin sport than an art form.

And it’s not just about prioritizing. Recently a client has a PR crisis, the day the dog got bitten by a snake, the day of my son’s school play, the day I had a hot date and just for once wanted more than seven minutes to get ready. It was all important. In the event, sorted out client on the fly, ignored the dog in a fingers-crossed kind of way, missed only a bit of the play, looked crap for hot date but picked somewhere dark and dog survived to tell the tale.

But even the none-emergencies fight for space along the time continuum:
· Get in a regular swim to stay healthy v update blog lest it looks like I’ve died altogether.
· Pick up all the apples off the lawn v source all the coverage for my client – if only less was more.
· Do my Sunday book-keeping v take child to the movies, he’s even offering to buy the popcorn.

Bereft as I am of super powers here’s my top three multi-tasking tips for us fraught and overwrought mere mortals.

  • You need a list but you need a multi-tasking list as life does not proceed in a linear fashion. Think of it as a grid not a list. And you need to be selective about what even makes it onto that week’s grid and give equal weighting to all the varying pull factors that particular week. So that by the time you cross everything off you have moved forward several of the most pressing projects in your life and so have some sense (however deluded) that you are in control of your life. To sustain the plate spinning analogy indefinitely, make sure the grid strikes a balance between the good, the bad and the accountant, make time for exercise, for a big walk with the dog, for meeting up with mates. I aim to complete 30 things off my grid each week.
  • Unlike a world leader, you can’t get by on four hours sleep as, unlike a world leader, you can’t get away with shouting at people who really don’t deserve it. If you need to work at optimum performance, all day every day and be civil – you need to sleep the sleep of a hibernating hedgehog on Tamazipam. Go to bed with your children, train them to sleep in late.
  • Guess what? You can’t have it all and the only price to pay is a slightly tousled hairdo. Know your limits. My social calendar as well as my fridge operate on a need to know basis. The first time my son and I watched The Great British Bake Off, he thought it was a Sci-Fi series. I catered an entire party over Christmas with all the food coming from the local petrol station (admittedly it had an M&S nestled in the forecourt). Friends obligingly text me what, where and when I’m set to enjoy their company, calls only get returned when I’m walking the dog, texts on the train, while holidays are agreed without even clicking on the links. My advice – avoid organising anything for anybody – you’ll only cock it up or shout at people in the process.

This post is based on an artcile for Parenting Solo Magazine profiling lone parents in business.

 


Enough already with the PR career planning!

21/11/2012

When it comes to getiing into PR Sam Howard proposes you stop dwelling and start selling…

“when i grow up I’m gonna be the lone ranger.”

One of the best parts of my working life is mentoring young graduates keen to break into media and PR. But so many of those I meet, have put themselves under enormous pressure by attempting to define exactly what it is they are going to do for the rest of their lives.

Not just, ‘Oh I think I’d like to be in PR cos I quite like writing and engaging people’; but, ‘I want to be in PR, I want to work in an international agency for two years, on blue chip brands, and then go in house, for a FTSE 100. I want to work in corporate and probably focus on CSR although I think crisis comms may offer good opportunities for rapid progression…’

I’ve said this before, but how can you possibly know? I don’t even know what I want for Christmas, though if someone gave me such a career plan I might try and swap of for something more useful – like a biro.

It’s not just the rigidity of the approach which is alarming, I mean look at all those X Factor contestants, ‘It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, sing.’ I mean it doesn’t pan out so well for many of them does it?

It means that talented, young people, who are naturally full of get up and go, find themselves stuck at home, living with their parents (which, along with the student debt, probably contributes to the pressure to get it ‘right’) plotting and scheming how to break into their particular niche rather than just taking a job, rocking up with a big smile, rolling up their sleeves and becoming indispensable by the end of week one.

When I look at my own comms career and all the very successful people I get to work with, I don’t see that many of us ever had a career strategy other than ‘this is fun,can I do more?’ or ‘that was crap I’m not doing that again’. Interestingly I was talking to an industry bod the other day, who definitely has always had a game plan and as she proudly talked me through all her clever moves, I asked of each role, ‘So did that make you happy?’ She seemed to think my question an irrelevance and skipped over it. Admittedly she had a Mulberry bag whereas mine came from a street market, so maybe that made her happy. I do hope so.

Possibly the way you find yourself a great comms career is as much down to trial and error as it is to having a plan. Maybe you can just stumble upon the things you love doing and you do them well because they make you happy, you learn from the people you admire, and apply yourself to the mad opportunities that come your way. And instead of focusing on your career success, you focus on the success of your clients and the company that hired you. It’s my belief that loyalty can be spotted above sycophancy, that steadfastness is appreciated more than shrewd cunning, and that just being a great person to be around often gets you further than being the cleverest person in the room. I know this, cos sometimes I was the cleverest person in the room and it didn’t necessarily do me any favours.

The young people with whom I have the privilege to work, are smart, conscientious and ready to give it their best shot. And that’s all our industry needs, let’s just give ‘em permission to take a job, any job, and then step back as we watch them fly – all over the place.


On PR work experience and where to get it

02/09/2012

When it comms to forging a career in comms, Sam Howard suggests mixing it up a little can be as valid as going all out for a pure malt career.

the bloody mary was mine…

With employees now trusted more than CEOs, the end user increasingly seen as the key influencer and media channels publishing every type of content to every type of platform, being good, even very good at just PR isn’t necessarily going to get you very far.When you look at the people behind the current brand success stories, there is increasingly more evidence to substantiate my long held belief that being a Jack of many trades, is the surest way to become Master of your own career.

Talk to industry recruiters and the dream hires are those that that have deep dive domain expertise (hopefully that will never go out of fashion) but combined with wide ranging skills across a full range of comms channels. This means for those starting out, any work experience that gives exposure to any one of the multitude of disciplines you need to affect behavioral change – is one worth having. It matters not whether marketing or PR, social or traditional, event or content – you will gain invaluable experience and become more valuable as a result.

Not convinced? Think the straight arrow approach is still the best way to go? Following the logic that if you intern at Webber you could become its CEO by the time you’re 27 and ¾? Well I guess you could, but think of it this way – if your dream job is to be head of PR for at Giorgio Armani do you actually want to intern there? Really?

Surely you’d not prefer to wobble off on your tender Bambi career legs to a few other pastures first and having journalists throw the phone down on you for being base incompetent when Giorgio isn’t watching? ie somewhere, anywhere else?

My advice is to learn your skills and make your mistakes elsewhere. For example say you want to be in fashion PR: Work on a shop floor, work in customer service, set up a fashion savvy blog , throw a charity catwalk show, do PR for a local store, then go agency side work on some high street and online brands, go in house see what couture looks like from the inside and then knock on his villa door when you know the industry inside and out and back to front, know the people in it, how to create the advocates, silence the competitors and convert the detractors, how to get them talking, and most importantly – shopping.

Then knock on Mr Armani’s door then, and say, “Well I doubt if you can afford me, but if you wan to take your PR to the next level, here I am.”

No learning experience is wasted, get out there, get learning.

 

 


Freelance! Glorious Freelance!

06/08/2012

Sam Howard looks at how to survive and thrive on the freelance diet…

Most freelancers say they took this path to have a better quality of life. Most ex-freelancers say they gave it up because the feast and famine aspect was completely counter intuitive to achieving the work life balance they craved.

Ergo to sustain independence you need a strategy for coping with the Cabbage Soup Diet one week and the All You Can Eat Buffet the next. Here’s mine:

Feast: I love the pace, the focus, and the fear of The Feast! But this year, instead of doing my impression of an overworked Scrat and chasing down every last acorn, as the work ramped up I pulled in fellow freelancer experts to do the bits that they do best, leaving me to what I do best. Net result – very happy clients (several experts for the price of one) and several happy experts instead of one, which karmicly is a good thing right? In the short term slightly less acorns for me, but by delivering really good work (i.e. better than I could manage on my own) hopefully we planted a few metaphorical oak trees for the long term.

Famine: So I could stay in bed, stare at the ceiling and wonder if I haven’t completely ruined my career… or, instead I could actually look forward to the downtime and line up a load of projects designed to get out of the office, rest the brain and exercise the brawn. You might of heard the whoop of joy as I slammed down the lid of my laptop on 15th May, 10.45am. Over the coming weeks I finally redecorated the bedroom after nine years of dreaming in bloody magnolia. Net result – I swapped eight hours a day for a twelve but achieved an almost zen like mental status and when the ‘real’ work kicked back in, both client side and the house-keeping I returned to it quite refreshed and with rather shapely upper arms.

Regular meals: I struggle when, to my mind, there is not enough ‘real’ work to lace the day with the Fear – so I don’t do it at all. Instead I sand down the kitchen worktops. After several days of this, yes the worktops are very shiny but the real work has insidiously mounted up. The Fear has a genuine reason to be there and I’m in a self-induced state of work bulimia.

Grazing seems beyond me.

But at least if ever I do feel tempted to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and ponder the vagaries of freelance – I can also admire the paintwork.


What price freedom? Part III: When to offer a discount

08/07/2012

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