The Good, the Bad and Bodacious of the Fast Company Innovation Festival (and Why You Should Go Next Year)

fastcoIf you’re tired of cookie-cutter work conferences, go to the Fast Company Innovation Festival next year – a unique intersection of technology, pop culture, and a dash of cool – all with a business backbone.

Your boss will still likely need convincing to shell out the extra dough for this glittery event, but I’ve done the work for you.

As a big fan of FastCo magazine, I decided to forego my normal writing or marketing conference to scratch that itch I’ve had for this event since it began three years ago. I bopped over to the Big Apple for a week of intriguing ideas, glam celebrities clicking Louboutin heels on stage, and wishing I had a personal driver (but we’ll get to that later).

FastCo Festival puts on an impressive cornucopia of 150+ presentation-style and interactive sessions scattered throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn – from groovy ad agencies to sleek corporate headquarters to the Met Opera House. You’ll never get too comfortable sitting in any one place. Besides the sessions, there are networking events and cocktail parties, infused with trademark New York urban chic.

Unlike many industry events, topics are a complete mash-up, but all hanging from the same business tree, intertwining technology, design thinking, social activism, and pop culture. Here’s a sampling of sessions I attended:

 

• Learning how to adopt more political and social art into corporate life
• Why “irregular thinking” helps to co-create advertising ideas with new clients                   • Peeking into the future of artificial intelligence and how it is both helping and creeping out marketing efforts
• Sitting pretty like a star in Creative Artists Agency’s plush screening room to learn about their social good programs
• Hearing how 3M and a start-up partnered to created a powerless cooler device for developing countries
• Listening to powerful women in tech discuss their efforts to shrink gender bias in VC funding and create a better future for female-run start-ups
• Thinking about new ways to develop better and more meaningful dialogue in the age of addicted smartphone technology
• Attending the “Innovation Design Awards” and checking out submissions ranging from a running hijab to a robot companion for elderly folks

Get the idea? Trust me, you won’t be bored. And you will learn something.

Another distinctive feature of this event is the attendee diversity across race, gender, industries, and ages (though the website pegs 36 as average age). I met a young HR manager from Singapore, a silver-haired German photographer, a few freelancers like me, and yes, some corporate types. Then there was the oversupply of young women in dark jeans and black chunky-heeled boots. Not sure what this demographic is called but guessing they work at ad agencies or social media outfits.

It’s the law that every corporate event has an annual theme and FastCo Fest is no exception. This year’s was “Leading With Optimism.” Hard to stomach in this political climate, but was intended to focus on breaking through the societal and psychic clutter to achieve business and cultural transformation.

But let’s get down to brass tacks: Here’s what you need to know before you chat with your boss (or decide to treat yourself).

#1 You’ll Learn Something New and Unexpected                                                                             
Even though some of the sessions were not directly related to my field, like how to create customized Nike sneakers, or a drill-down of the Cartoon Network, I found myself taking away at least one little nugget, even if it didn’t apply directly to my work. Your mind will be opened even if it doesn’t seem intuitive or tangible at the time – you might surprise yourself to connect the dots to your own work and life later on.

#2 You’ll Be On Your Toes – Literally 

subwayLogistics is something I loved and hated about this event. Sessions are sprinkled throughout different locations –from the 92 Street YMCA to hear Andy Cohen and Cecile Richards discuss their brands of social activism, to sprinting across town to the Viacom Network skyscraper to hear comedian Robin Thede of “The Rundown” interviewed. Become a quick study on the subway system (and be ready to run in some cases), and you’ll be fine. Don’t bother with taxis and Uber, they can’t compete, nor can the ill-timed FastCo shuttles. I missed some sessions the first day of the event and was stressed about navigating, but got comfortable as the week wore on. FastCo could do a better job during registration providing travel times based on reality and planning tips.

#3 Be Aware of “Interactive” Sessions                                                                                                 
For me, it was more of “buyer beware.” I found these sessions to be the least valuable and caused unpleasant flashbacks of corporate team-building events. This might be because I’m a consultant and don’t work for corporate America, but more likely I wasn’t interested in solving an issue with colleagues or hearing about their business problems. I came for the knowledge from the “experts” and their ideas – that’s why I was paying all this money.  In general, I found the first half of these sessions to be valuable and the interactive part to be a waste of time. (I even walked out on one where we were expected to do a presentation). This is my experience of course, and other attendees could find value in these sessions.

#4 Networking Takes Work                                                                                                                 
Let me qualify this: Like most events, if you go with colleagues, you’ll have your instant-posse, but if you attend solo, be prepared to put yourself out there more than normal to meet people. Since the festival is held in various parts of the city, rarely did I see the same person twice, and attendees often traveled in packs. Yes, there are opportunities to gather at the show hub (a spiffy co-working space called Convene on Park Avenue with fantastic snacks), or extend yourself at cocktail parties, but you’ll have to put out some serious effort. (Another side note on food: know that some of the sessions had amazing Epicurean delights, and others had peanuts, literally. Eat regular meals and don’t count on venues feeding you to be safe).

#5 Register Early and Often

fuck itSpeaking of sessions, the most popular ones get filled up ridiculously fast (think “Hamilton” tickets pace). When you register online, don’t sign up for all your sessions and then hit “enter,” confirm your sessions as you go through registration, otherwise they may fill up (I know, it happened to me). There are new sessions added before the festival starts, but you may end up with leftovers you’re vehemently unenthusiastic about, like a kombucha tasting. Some of the session titles were spectacular (kudos to Wieden+ Kennedy)                                                                                                                                                                           

#6 If You Love Celebs, You’ll be in Heaven                   

Part of the reason this event is pricey is because there are TONS of celebrity speakers compared to other business events. Besides the name-dropping I’ve done already, high profile glitterati included Derek Jeter, Jessica Alba, Michael Strahan, Mario Batelli, and Kate Hudson, just to name a few. You’ll be taking lots of snappies at this event, but don’t expect to get selfies with stars, they were off stage before you could even blink.

The net-net? Attend the Fast Company Innovation Festival at least once  — you won’t forget it — but also don’t forget to bring your running shoes.

Get more info on the site. (note: there is also a summer fest in Los Angeles)

 

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Five Smarter Ways to Start Your Next Gig

A lot of times in Hollywood you’re as good as your last job”

-Liev Schrieber

OK, we’re not in Tinseltown. But as consultants, we can all learn a valuable lesson here: the way your last gig goes can dictate your future, so kick things off on the right foot. Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years to save you time.

Get a 360° View

multitask_253458706-thumb-380xauto-3991We know all the usual suspects before you start a new contract: look at the website, study up on materials your new client gave you, tap anyone you know that works there and get the skinny. But with so much information on the internet (not to mention other consultants chomping at the bit), you’ve got to do more. Read articles about their business, review their social media, how the competition talks, dig into their corporate culture on employee rating sites, check out their ads – in short, act like you’re starting a job as an employee.

Get the Work in Writingsamuelgoldwyn1

This would seem a no-brainer, but many consultants start contracts without a written agreement and will “do the paperwork later.” Nope. If it involves money and time, get a record of it – whether your contract or the client’s, a signed estimate, or other legally- binding document. Don’t miss the nuances of your profession either. As a writer, one of the most difficult areas to gauge is how many rounds of edits. Sometimes it’s two, others it takes a village, so I bake that into each job. Think of your own industry and the “gotchas.”

Set Communication Ground Rules
Meeting-in-person-21-famous-and-funny-communication-quotes

Email. Phone. Text. Skype. Ad nauseam. Your client has preferences to keep in touch. Make sure you know what they are before you start work. They’ll appreciate that you asked. Forgo misunderstandings after you bombard him or her with emails and should have picked up the phone. For your part, if you have a commitment every Thursday afternoon from 4-6pm, let the client know before you start the gig. Also, be firm about your own preferences: years ago I had a client that called me for everything, urgent or not. Having a conversation at the beginning works wonders.

Get Dialed into Corporate Life

jpmorgan-just-relaxed-its-office-dress-code-in-a-huge-wayOne of the many reasons folks leave corporate life for freelancing is the bureaucracy – you can run but you can’t hide. Be prepared to have déjà vu when you contract for a large corporation, especially if you will be on their email system or are assigned a company computer. Then there’s the security badge and other administrative tasks. Find out what those tasks are before you start your job so you can be productive Day One.

Strut Your Stuff For Free

veryLet’s be clear: don’t spend 25 hours on complementary work. But once you have the gig, show your value-add early. Offer gratis recommendations on a project related to your assignment. Doing this can pay off now and later: it’s a perfect opportunity to be generous with your skills, and secondly, can possibly score you another assignment. Be careful not to sound critical and frame language as “opportunities.” Example: a recent website client showed me their newsletter as part of background info and I served up a list of improvements they could make. If and when they take this project on, I can potentially lead the work.

Once you check off these boxes,  it’s all about the Liev Schrieber method: do your best work and you’ll probably get that callback on the next gig.

 

8 Ways to Deliver a Punch to B2B Writing 👊

Fact: writers rarely get trained for B2B technology writing, it just kind of happens. You deliberately or accidentally fall into a tech company, breath in all their communications, the bytes and bites, brand style guide (if they even have one), and somehow it all comes together. Rinse and repeat for next company.

But no matter how much writing experience under your belt, it doesn’t mean you’re cranking out good, compelling writing – that task requires a more Herculean effort.

For starters, writing about features and benefits of non-human technology has innate issues: How do you make those products interesting? How can you move the reader along to the next step? How can can ensure they won’t yawn, or worse yet take a power nap?

Writing B2B copy over two decades, I’ve seen my share of snoozefests and poppin’ copy. We all know that in the digital age of distractions, smart, engaging copy isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s the mandate. Competing with thousands of other websites and incoming messages, texts, plus other online choices, your content needs to stand out – or your reader is out.

Here are some techniques I use to turn up the volume and make my writing count.

Focus on helping your customer—always❤️                                                                         I know, obvious right? But you’d be surprised how many times I run across copy that is me, me me: let me tell you how great my product is, look at all my shiny bells and whistles. But that is not solving the customer’s problems. I still have to check myself, especially when I’m working with a product manager or marketing mucky-muck who thinks his or her widget is the best thing since sliced…circuits. It’s an essential ingredient to any good B2B writing, better yet all marketing writing.

Ixnay the jargon and buzzwords🙄                                                                                      Let’s play a drinking game: how many times do you see the words “leverage” or “enable” in technology marketing writing? Yeah, we’d all be drunk by now. Cut those altogether. No one talks that way nor should they unless they’re an AI-fueled robot. Though it’s tempting to use easy-access words, especially when you’re under deadline, take the time to find that perfect synonym. If branding will allow, use “craft” instead of “expertise,” or “technology muscle” instead of “innovate.” Swap “very easy” with “effortless.” Or even small tweaks like “exceed expectations” to “defy expectations” can make a difference. Be creative, not lazy.

Surprise Your Reader😮                                                                                                        There’s nothing like a one-sentence paragraph to stop your reader in his or her tracks.

A sentence that stands by itself in a sea of others beckons the reader and gives you a potential hook to read the entire blog post, case study or whatever you want eyeballs on. Make sure that sentence has impact. If your reader is scanning (trust me, they will be), it could be the only words they read. Choose carefully.

Or try a skillful use of the em dash — which can create drama and emphasize an important point — but don’t be overly dramatic with every sentence, make it count.

Flip Clichés Upside down🙃                                                                                                  Many a corporate communication organization, especially global companies, wisely implement a no-colloquialism policy. Americanisms like “follow the leader” or “the stakes are high” can cause confusion to non-native English speakers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use well-worn phrases that most cultures do know. For instance, “Time is on your side” can be turned into a statement to create urgency and also give a confident spin, such as “Time is not on your side when…”

Be a Person, not a Monolith🙋🏻                                                                                              Some larger companies like to mention their name over and over in communications as if the person didn’t realize where they were, while others use the “we” and the “you.” Smaller companies tend to be more comfortable with this language but frankly, the big multinational ones need it the most – they are impersonal corporate entities. In the real world, people like to be spoken to and with directly. Personal pronouns are warmer and help build a connection. Don’t get carried away with it, but weave in various places to keep that thread going.

Use Provocative Questions and Bold Statements🔥                                                       When writing my first direct mail campaign early in my career, my boss said to me, “Never start an email with a question because if the answer is no, they’ll stop reading.” Point taken, but there are still plenty of ways to sidestep the inevitable yes or no and get your reader to think and engage with the copy. It could be a rhetorical question like “Why are you paying for extra services you’re not using?” Or a statement like “XYZ thinks everyone should pay for full service, but we disagree.” Don’t be shy about challenging your reader’s thinking and throwing in some fun with language. Speaking of which…

Inject humor –But With a Slow IV Drip🎭                                                                              I’ll be the first to laugh at a good pun, funny joke, or amusing alliteration. And there is definitely a place for it in B2B copy – it just needs to be the write one. (sorry couldn’t help myself). But before you trot out your comical stylings, make sure the brand voice has the flexibility, the wit is in context, and humor that is accessible to all. If your reader doesn’t get it, the joke’s on you. Making someone smile or laugh is one thing; turning them off is quite another. Irreverent, self-deprecating humor like on this CB Insights page, strikes the right tone: “In God We Trust, Everyone else Bring Data.” 

Embrace the writing rhythm🎼                                                                                            Short sentences are great for understanding. Long ones can be woven in to make a point when they need to (but 25 words max). Much like the way we speak, writing has its own pattern. Otherwise, we’d be completely monotone. Make sure you mix it up so you’re not fatiguing the reader. Get it?

That also means mixing bite-sized paragraphs mixed with chunkier ones to keep the tempo going. And don’t forget to add guideposts like bullets and headlines so you keep the reader moving through.

What are some of your tips? What’s your pet peeve or joy in writing and reading B2B copy? ☺️😜🤓😩😖

The Ten Commandments of Consulting

10 commandments17 years. 50+ clients. And 10 lessons I’ve learned running my freelance communications business (sometimes I’m schooled a few times, lucky me).

Obey your contracting creed. We all have our happy work place — pay attention to it. If you’re the type that gets distracted easily and seeks quiet to concentrate, park yourself at home (like me). If you crave socialization, head to the co-working space. Though these sound like obvious choices, the almighty dollar can sway you otherwise. When I moved to San Francisco from Sunnyvale seven years ago, my frequent and long drives to clients back and forth to the south bay were making me miserable. After my inaugural year of barely-contained road rage, I committed to only taking Silicon Valley gigs that were remote or called for only a few office visits. I am clear I don’t want to spend half my time in the car. Have I lost work because of it? Absolutely, but I’m also open for contracts that fit within my lifestyle (and there is much less yelling in the car).

Fake it till you make it.  Let me explain: when I am asked if I do graphic design, the answer is always no —  that is a gift that I do not have nor claim, BUT I can recommend designers and oversee project management (always offer clients a silver lining). On the other hand, several years ago when clients asked me for social media help, I self-taught online, grilled social media experts I knew, and implemented in my own business. Point being, if clients want a new skill and you realistically can and want to add to your wheelhouse, do it. But don’t ever lie about a skill. That will come back to bite you in a painful way, not to mention you’ll make enemies fast.

Trust your gut. Like most things in life, if something doesn’t feel or smell right, it isn’t. If a client seems vague, the work has PITA written all over it, or any other reason your brain and gut are duking it out, follow the gut, it will always set you straight. Example? An ex-client (emphasis on ex-) blurted out during our interview “You’ll really dislike me and want to leave this job.” We both laughed, but she was right, I was gone a few months later. And so was the other freelance writer she hired. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. In the battle between head and gut, embrace the latter instead of shoulda woulda coulda thinking.

Always carry your business card.  These days, business cards are considered passé or unnecessary. But sometimes analog wins. There is nothing like a visual reminder for potential clients than your business card. One of the largest contracts I’ve had in my consulting career appeared during a mani pedi session at the local salon. The woman in the chair next to me turned out to be the director of communications for a leading Silicon Valley company – and was looking to fill a contract marcom role. Voila! A new client was born (and yes, my biz card was handy). You never know when your services will be needed for a gig. This doesn’t mean you’re always in “sales” mode, it means be ready when it happens.

Different rates for different tasks is a no-win. If a client wants an a la carte rate menu, you’ll usually end up with the short end of the financial stick. Why? This payment model is based on the premise that certain tasks are more important (and should pay more) than others. Think of it this way: no matter where you’re spending time, it’s related to the project. For me that would be research, writing, editing, or meetings — they are all interrelated in producing a great end result. The one thing you cannot get back is time, so don’t give it away – it’s your most valuable asset as a consultant.

It’s client or company bon voyage. If your client quits to go to another company, be prepared to stay with to the company or leave with that person in their next role. Also know that sometimes you’ll be out of a gig when the new client comes in with “their own people.” Prepare for all of these options at any time. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Cultivate good, healthy relationships around your client— a stakeholder or decision-maker surrounding them could be your next boss. One company I worked with went through three marcom directors before it was purchased, but I stuck with the firm.

Hold your work cards close. Whether you’re busy at the moment, courting other clients, or desperate for a new gig, there is no need to tell potential clients. When asked about your bandwidth, find out what the work scope is first. This is not a game or sneaky tactic, it’s just good business. And when it comes to the almighty dollar, think of yourself as a negotiation ninja — the first person who opens their mouth usually loses. That doesn’t mean you’re out to gouge clients,  but get the most financial power for your skill-set. Be reasonable in your expectations, but also be smart and never, never undersell yourself.

Say goodbye to team spirit. Truth: You are not part of the team no matter how many happy hours you attend, kudos you get on that project, or office friendships you’ve cultivated. You are not getting a regular paycheck, you are an outsider contributing to projects at a company.  You must be OK with this fact. Some freelancers get their feelings hurt along the way. I appreciate and respect the people and teams I have worked with, but the nature of consulting is impermanence. If that premise makes you uncomfortable, hit up the full-time job ads.

Set ground rules early with friends. Some consultants have a policy that they never work with friends. But if you decide to engage, it comes down to communication. I have worked with one close friend for years because we keep business and friendship separate and professional. If there was ever an issue, we put friendship first. We also benefit from a shorthand that improves project collaboration and outcomes. Conversely, I’ve worked with one friend who took advantage of the situation and didn’t put in her best effort as a sub-contractor. Unsurprisingly,  we didn’t work together again but we’re still friends. Wherever you stand on this, know the risks and rewards before you commit.

There is one word I haven’t mentioned anywhere, and one most associated with consulting: risk. This is a top reasons people don’t go into freelancing, or leave it. So here’s your last commandment (that is also one of my favorite quotes): Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Believe it. Consulting never ceases to amaze me — the variety, the fun, the challenges. One thing is for sure, when you join the ranks of the independents, you’ll never be bored.

 

5 Tips For Working With Freelance Writers

ODNS+meme+FTWA

Ever wonder why some of freelance writing projects go smoothly and others sink like the Titanic? Peek inside our brain with some first-hand insights that will help your content hit the nail on the head – instead of the last one in the coffin.

Be a Great Partner

Collaboration is key in content development. We don’t automatically flow words together without effort. We rely on the best information to create that fabulous writing for you. We do our part by getting all the materials to the job done, including asking smart questions and confirming details. Your part? Help us close the understanding gap, like legacy knowledge or a relevant back-story, so we don’t risk missing the mark. Say, for instance, I’m the second writer you hired for this job. Why didn’t that first engagement work out? How can we improve this one?

Chart the Course

Set expectations about the project – that means the schedule, reviews, logistics, milestones and any “gotchas” along the way (um…we may add in a new product at the end). Most of these questions can be answered with a project plan – even a loose one. Schedules change but at least we’ll have a roadmap. For example, a recent website client didn’t include all the players for early reviews, so near final copy, major changes were required. That added up to wasted time, resources, and money for everyone.

No “Sh*tty First Draft”

Writer Anne Lamott aptly stated the truth about first drafts years ago and it won’t change – mark my words (sorry couldn’t resist). By the time you see our work, we’ve put a Herculean effort to make it the best it can be – but we do expect changes. It’s rare that the first time you see a document it will be “perfect” and require nary an edit. We can pine for this utopian scene but don’t expect it (that’s why it’s called Utopia, people). We are prepared to revise and get constructive criticism. Those writers who can’t deal should pick another career. Which leads us to the next tip…

Show Me, Don’t (Just) Tell Me

The way you review matters: Slap-dash or vague verbal comments will produce a sub-par result. “This paragraph doesn’t work” isn’t specific. Why? What’s the issue? If the tone of the document is off, that’s one thing, but if there are parts you want to change, be clear and note it on the document, email, or whiteboard – anything. But know that verbal feedback can sometimes be tricky to interpret. A former client would not review documents in writing as she was “too busy.” The result? A protracted review loop with misunderstandings and ad hoc changes all along the way. Bottom-line: Clarity early saves time later.

Shift Happens

Sometimes mid-way or at the very end (see “gotchas” above) someone, somewhere decides that this document needs to serve another purpose, the messaging has changed, or a response to a competitor should be weaved in (and of course deadline hasn’t changed). Hopefully, the entire document doesn’t have to be scrapped, but sometimes that’s the reality. Know that we will likely need to add to the budget and schedule if it’s not baked in. Small changes? Fine. A rewrite is a whole different animal. We’ll be fair and work with you on this, but know there is a difference between revisions and starting from scratch.

Circle-Slash Whiney Writers

Occasionally, there is a piece of content that just doesn’t work – period. Maybe the CMO jumped in and forced a paragraph that changed everything; or a success story wasn’t all that impressive; or the blog post is watered down because too many people got their hands on it. None of these situations is anyone’s “fault,” but they do need to be resolved. Moments like this can also be a breeding ground for misunderstandings and delays. Writers take a lot of pride in what they do and will help solve the issue if we can. But ultimately it will be your decision, knowing we’ve done our best work and it’s out of our hands. Though difficult, this is the life of a freelancer. The end result may not be our perfect ending, but it’s yours – and we have to accept that and walk away.

The Wrap

Freelance writing projects are an intimate exchange of partnership, jumbled words, and moving parts that can churn out a great result – or turn into a failure to launch. The best outcome? That the content serves the purpose, it will be read by your audience (and shared too!), oh, and you get well-deserved kudos. The beauty is that we can learn something from each engagement – about you, ourselves, and how to improve our writing for future projects.

Oh, and one more thing of beauty – that you’ll call me back for your next project.

Four Ways to Maximize “Minimalist” Marketing

clutter

Familiar with the tiny house, declutter, and downsizing trends? Then you may have heard of the “Minimalist” movement too. The concept has taken off, with more than four million followers of its books, podcasts, a documentary, and tons of media attention.

But what the heck is this minimalist thing and why does it matter to marketing?

First some backstory: the Minimalists idea emerged from two 30’s, corporate worker bees who walked away six-figures jobs in the throes of typical American “success.” They were miserable on the endless hamster wheel and wanted to find more meaning in their lives. The Minimalist Guys (yep that’s what they call themselves) decided to strip away the life clutter. Disengage from rampant capitalistic culture. Find happiness and make time for what matters―stronger connections, personal growth, and happiness.

Intrigued by this idea, I watched the “The Minimalists” documentary. It begins with quick-cuts of the ‘90s consumerism excesses as the narrator quietly judges our complicity. It was a stark reminder that not much has changed in the digital age. “More” is still the mantra. The time is ripe for marketing to adopt own brand of minimalist philosophy.

Here are some ways you can apply the Minimalist principle to your marketing and be more effective with less.

Keep your content clean (NOT the NSFW kind)

When you’re living the Minimalist life, your home won’t be packed with “stuff”. No knick- knacks. Electronic devices gathering dust. Pictures that don’t bring you joy. Yet every day (every waking moment, let’s get real) consumers are overstimulated by busy websites trying to get us to click, crowded social media news feeds, red notification lights blinking and buzzing incessantly. We, as marketers, should help our readers focus on the most important messages. There’s a reason why Apple, Volkswagen, and other iconic brands share the legacy of of the best advertising around: there is a strong visual element, few words, and a supporting message hammered home. Adopt this principle of simplicity wherever you communicate. Keep everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Channel Your Inner Editor

The life of a minimalist means that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take what you need. Give what you can, but do no more than that. As marketers, the writing practice should be just as disciplined. Don’t let the important messages you have to say get lost in a word jumble. As a writer, I strive for brevity but it often tempered (and tempted) by wordiness. Instead, deliberately choose your language wisely and say no more (there’s this thing called editing. And more editing.). And don’t overwhelm your reader with messages. Make more impact with less. Something else to ponder: if you can’t say what you need to in a sentence, go back to the drawing board. The last benefit? Readers will notice what you say instead of staring into a sea of words.

Social Media Master of None

Minimalists don’t do five things at a time and multi-task the hell out of them, they one or two very well. Visit a friend, make a connection, focus on the beauty of the moment. When it comes to social media marketing, we tend to view all channels as one unit―incorrectly. Social media now an established part of the marketing mix, but you don’t need to be everywhere―just where your customers are. Some companies hop on the latest platforms because they’re “cool” or for novelty’s sake. Sure, test the waters, but don’t invest tons of time and energy with a square peg in a round hole. Spend social capital with what works best for your business. If your target audience is young, Snapchat. If you have a visual product or can creatively express your business on Instagram, post away. If you’re B2B, LinkedIn and Twitter make sense. If you have a start up, there are other considerations. Reign in your social media in and you’ll reach the people that matter.

Choose Quality Over Quantity 

Though the Minimalist Guys hug as many people as possible at their events, their philosophy is about making the space to spend time with those that really matter. In the same way, as a marketer, don’t try to attract every audience. Do a spring cleaning of your database and get rid of the dead-weight; take a hard look at your personas and see if you’ve overdone it and can condense or toss a few; drop excess mailing lists you’ve been on that aren’t paying off; and finally, scrub “we’ve always done it this way”from your marketing vocabulary. Excising marketing programs can be a painful pill to swallow for marketing organizations, but a worthwhile change.

These are a few ideas but certainly is not an exhaustive list. What would you do to pare down your marketing? What will be the first thing you cut?

 

Answer These Questions Before Starting Your Freelance Business

Every year, millions of corporate employees fantasize about breaking out of their cube shackles to start a consulting business. In fact, freelancers make up 35% of our national economy—that’s 53 million people! Are you going to be one of them in 2017?

Before you make that jump, answer these nine questions.

#1 Are you obsessed with it?
enOk that sounds a bit extreme and stalker-ish but like most things, if you don’t really (really) want it and aren’t fully committed, it won’t happen. You’ll find excuses, you’ll delay, you’ll talk about it but never take action. It has to be at the top of your priority list. Something you can’t stop thinking about. An itch you have to scratch. If you don’t feel this way, you’re not in 100% and that’s a recipe for failure. I’ve witnessed this as colleagues “trial” freelancing it but don’t go all-in, and unsurprisingly end with a thud (and feeling bad about themselves). Freelancing isn’t like going vegetarian for a month – it’s going to be a big part of your life. Take it VERY seriously or don’t take it at all.

#2 Does it scare the sh*t out of you? (in a good way)

f6There is a saying “Fear is the great extinguisher of  dreams…Conversely, it can be your best mentor and source of motivation.” Though my uncorporate lifestyle seems natural to me now with the built-in highs and lows, life wasn’t always this way. Freelancing to me is “controlled risk”: you look fear in the face most of the time but also get the rewards of your efforts. When you close the door on corporate, you  hit salary, benefits, and other cozy securities on the way out (not to mention those awesome free snacks). As a freelancer, you may have periods of “stability,” but get used to those air quotes – that word won’t be in your vocab often.


#3 Do you get bored with routines?            

f1Sure there are built-in habits we all have, whether it’s the rabid commitment to three cups of coffee before you talk to anyone, or lunch with your bestie every Friday, or being crazy busy during tax season if you’re an accountant. But the guts of your business – the pace, the timeline of work, the daily schedule, the ups and downs, will have a choreography of their own. One evening you can burn the midnight oil for a deadline and the next morning scout for a new client, or go for a walk in the middle of the day  – but you need to thrive on the variety, not fear it.  Which leads me to my next question…

#4 Are you exceptionally self-disciplined?
f3Yes, you’ll have an ever-changing life, but you also have to hunker down when you need to – big time. This is a core characteristic of freelancing. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I’m tempted to watch TV all day (no, just while eating lunch); or if I get up at 10am (nope again, but I don’t get up at 5am either). Like a regular job, you have to prioritize work and get it done in a timely fashion. The difference?  You won’t have a boss in your face pressing you on a deadline or cube mates noticing when you leave the office. And sometimes you’re working with two or three clients at a time so you practice your juggling skills. Sure there are times you can relax with wiggle room, but the majority is spent working or hustling for new work (or both).

#5 Do you have back up in the bank?
small busThis is another biggie if you’re going out on your own. How much is up to you. I recommend six months to cover personal expenses (not to mention start-up costs for your business). I realize not everyone can do this. However, a baseline of financial security provides a good balance of work-your-butt-off to-get-clients but also know that you have resources to live and take the stress level down a notch. Yes, you could challenge yourself to go out on your own without funds, but you may make decisions you regret – like take a client you’re not crazy about, sign up for work beneath your level, or even slog some lattes at Starbucks if you’re that desperate. The healthiest balance is to have a financial security blanket as you build your business.

#6 Are you able to turn off the perfectionist gene?        
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Here’s a secret: it’s pretty darn easy to start a freelance business. A lot of people think it’s tons of work and get overwhelmed and scrap the idea altogether. You don’t need an elaborate marketing plan, payroll system, or office space – especially these days with a computer, connection, and tons of online freelancer services for everything from productivity to accounting. Don’t spend tons of money on your business when you’re just starting out. A few years ago, a colleague delayed her coaching business until she built this complicated client interface that cost thousands of dollars. Start professional but lean. Pivots are common and your work focus can change, especially at the beginning. Pick and choose the must-haves. It’s easy to feel pressure to have the crème de la crème when you start out, but it’s better to iterate your business as you go.

#7 Do you enjoy your own company?
f2This is not a question we often ask ourselves. When I went out on my own in 1999 the world of the internet was a lot smaller. Yes, there was email and the “net”, but there was no social media, Skype, apps, smartphones, and the rest of technology we rely on to keep us connected (and often distracted by). Back then, you had to be very purposeful in daytime socializing. Even though now we have a plethora of red notification lights continuously assaulting our senses, you’ll likely still spend a lot of time by yourself. There are ways to reduce alone time if it bothers you: join a co-working space, go to your client’s office, or schedule social time every day, but it won’t make solo time disappear.  If you find this inherently bothersome, freelancing may not be for you.

#8 Are you a natural or unlikely sales person?
smmmmGet that used car salesperson image out of your head. We’re all in sales one way or the other. Think of when you sell an idea to your boss with a PowerPoint presentation, or try to convince an employer to hire you, or sweet-talk a friend into trying a new cuisine she’s unfamiliar with. Freelancing forces you to be a natural connector. That means everything from going to networking events to having your elevator pitch down for random people you meet, to branding on social media. One trap I’ve seen (usually accompanied by the disdain for selling) is to rely on one client. That work could go away at a moment’s notice for a variety of reasons, but more importantly, it flies again why started a business in the first place. I know one colleague that only works for her former employer as a contractor, so she’s just working the same job for the same company without benefits.

#9 Are you prepared for blowback?
f4You’ll be starting a business, running a business, and thinking of your business – a lot. All of this “business” bleeds often over to your family, friends, vacation plans, and other important parts of your life. Some people may not understand why you work for yourself or worry about you. You’ll likely hear comments from certain corners like: “You work too much” or questioning your judgement with “Don’t you want an easier life?” and negative comments that (mostly) come from care. For this reason, make sure you cultivate plenty of social opportunities with supportive people who either have their own business or appreciate it. Join consulting groups, have coffee (or drinks for venting get-together) with other freelancers, and always remember why you stepped out on your own in the first place.

Well there you have it…did you answer a Big Fat Yes to all of these? Yes, there are many other factors that go into deciding to go freelance, but you’re off to a great start!