Five Questions for the Freelancer

Becoming-a-Freelance-Article-Writer-1170x731It’s National Small Business Week! That got me thinking about the friends, colleagues, and random folks who ask me questions about running a freelance biz. So here they are, in no particular order.

Is it hard to start a business?

Yes and no. You can make it as easy or complicated as you want. If it’s just you and you’re working out of your home office, it’s pretty straightforward.  If you’re going to be setting up a remote office, doing tons of promotion, etc. you’re taking on more at the get-go. But you will need to do the essentials, like a DBA (if you’re naming your business), a business license, biz cards (yes, I still have one and I use it), any necessary office equipment, a simple website, and an accounting and expenses program. I also recommend that you put aside a healthy chunk of money in the bank before go out on your own. When I started out in 1999, I cashed out stock at my prior company, which helped with startup costs and slower times. Which leads me to the second question I get.

Don’t you worry about getting business?

Fact: If you’re not concerned where you’re next job is coming from, you shouldn’t be in business for yourself. Even when I have the steadiest of gigs, jobs can end ANYTIME and sometimes do. Or last for years. Change of personnel, budget cuts, and other factors can turn on a dime. There’s always an element of risk. Some months I’ll have tons of work and leads, and others can be dry as a bone. There is also the investment of time to get a contract and it doesn’t always pan out. That’s why it’s critical to stay sharp, focused, and consistently be on the hunt for your next gig. I attend networking events, actively search on Linkedin and job lists, and put out the word to my network. It’s a constant cycle and requires a certain tolerance for risk. This is the beauty and the beast of having your own business. Embrace it or stick with 9 to 5.

How do you decide how much to charge?

That is the $64,000 question and an enigma wrapped in a quagmire. There are standard industry rates for many freelancer roles, but other factors go into deciding how much to charge. Here are some criteria I take into consideration that can push a rate up or down: Is it long-term or short-term opportunity? Is it with a cool company I want to get on my resume? Is it a startup that doesn’t have a lot of cash, through an agency, or a big corporation? Is it on a really interesting project that I’ve never done before and can use as a new type of work sample? Ultimately, I have to feel that what I’m being paid is fair, otherwise it will cause resentment on the job. Know your market worth and it will make saying yes and no a lot easier (remember to stash some cash too!).

What time do you get up? 

This is the most annoying question I get. There is this persistent image of the freelancer waking up at 10am grabbing some coffee, watching daytime talk shows or binging Netflix, and then eventually working for an hour in the afternoon. This is only on Fridays. Kidding. Truth is we don’t get paid unless we work, so there is high motivation to sit at the desk, co-working space, or couch and get sh*t done. We can make our own schedule since we know the deadlines, but many of us work strange hours, or weekends. Conversely, we’ll also have those slower times regular employees don’t. That’s when we can grocery store or run errands or schedule lunches during the day — but sorry to burst your bubble — a life of luxurious relaxation this is not.

Would you ever go back to a full-time job?

I tried that once in 19 years and not long after, I was back in the freelancer’s chair. Once I had a taste of that freedom, I didn’t want to go back. Sure it’s nice to get a regular paycheck, benefits, etc. but there’s another price to pay, and for me, it’s a lifestyle choice. I love picking and choosing the jobs that I want, meeting new and interesting clients, and learning new products. And if the the gig turns out to be a disaster, I can walk away, relatively unscathed. Of course I still do my fair share of griping about the contracting lifestyle, but in the end, I’m in the fly solo zone  — and that’s exactly where I want to stay.

What other questions do you wonder about? Freelancers: what are some of the common questions you get? What did I miss?

 

 

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7 Changes I Made to My Freelance Business in 2017 (That I Won’t Regret in 2018)

2018   

As a freelance marketer for almost 20 years – many aspects remain constant – but 2017 wasn’t that year. Shifts happened in the way I do business – some of them painful and others enlightening. Maybe it was changing priorities, collective consulting experience, the political climate, or all three – but it happened and I’m grateful for it going into 2018.

#1 Don’t Hide Behind Your Brand

With Trump in office, many big brands decided took a stand – even us little “guys” (and women) got in on the action. Whether it was his immigration policy or slashing national monuments, I was inspired to express opinions on Twitter interspersed with my normal dose of industry content. I questioned: Should I be tweeting negative things about the administration? Should I open a pseudonym account? After all, personal branding 101 would advise that you put your “best self” forward, not necessarily your “true self.” But in these dangerous times, it was more important for me to be human than to worry if potential clients would be turned off by my views.

#2 Good Riddance to Client Drama

This year, after a short stint, I walked away from one of my all-star worst clients at a well-known Silicon Valley company. It wasn’t easy.  Yes, I was very unhappy there, but in the past, I would have gone through rigorous mental gymnastics to make a difficult situation work. But this past year I decided life is too short to spend time with difficult people. Of course, I’ve had occasional lively discussions with clients over the years, but when a person is downright unpleasant on a regular basis, it time to move on – no amount of money is worth it. Severing ties is a hard pill to swallow financially and emotionally, but it’s also liberating knowing there are always new clients I haven’t met yet. 

#3 Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Objects

AI. Chatbots. Self-driving cars. Bitcoin. Fintech. Sound familiar? Of course, these are important and trendy tech topics that dominate the daily headlines. Last year, I spent too much time reading sexy articles that have little to do with my work. While interesting for conversations and increasing my general knowledge, I now focus more effort on content that benefits my clients and business. That time investment has much higher ROI than learning about the latest fashion-forward wearable.

#4 Take More Work Chances

Speaking of shiny objects, in the past I would have said “no” to contracts out of my wheelhouse. This year, began saying “yes” and in the process, also became more open to change. Learning about new industries like cannabis testing, management consulting, and solar energy got my brain neurons firing overtime and fueled new work interests and ideas. I now have new expertise and fresh confidence that I can take with me when another client comes along in one of these fields, or for something completely new. 

#5 There is No “Free” in Freelancing

Let me explain. This past year, I interviewed for a communications gig at an older, well-known tech company looking to reinvent itself. As I moved through the interview process, I was told no candidate had yet met their criteria as the “purple unicorn,” (that should have been my sign that something was amiss). Soon thereafter, the potential client wanted me to write an article on their product as another step to get the contract. I declined and ended the opportunity. Why? I had delivered a range of writing samples to demonstrate my credibility as a freelancer. At this point in my career, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn’t, I’m not a good fit for the role. This is not meant in a “cocky’ way, it’s that I have the confidence in my skills, and so should my clients.

#6 Give Yourself a Work Check-Up

Freelancers rarely (to never) have the luxury to sit down and develop a business plan or ask hard the questions like: What could I be doing better to service my clients? Am I networking enough? Is my online content full of digital cobwebs? We often to get so focused on clients, we neglect our own business needs. Working on improvements requires extraordinary self-discipline, especially when you’re busy, but it’s also a necessity. For 2018, I’ve identified several business areas to tackle and incremental action plans to get there. Baby steps are better than no steps.

#7 Say Yes to Vacations or Staycations

It’s widely known that freelancers often plan their time around clients and don’t proactively plan vacations. When we do have time off, it’s typically a slow work cycle (in which case we’re not working so shun spending money). Instead, I took advantage of unplanned time off a few months ago with a last-minute vacation to South America (thank you 85K travel miles). It’s easier said than done when you have bills to pay, but breaks help recharge your creativity and readiness to conquer the business world.

Whether it’s a mid-life crisis, personal growth goals, or other transformations, listen to the voice and follow your gut. Though sometimes difficult, embrace these shifts and you’ll be a better and happier consultant (and person) because of it.  After all, the only thing that is constant is change.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?        
78
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!

 

 

6 Networking Rules to Break. Now.

social_network_networkingTrue confessions: I have not always been a good networker. When I started my marketing communications business 15 years ago, I lived in the middle of Silicon Valley and was lucky enough to have a client base right out of the gate. In fact, I rarely went to networking events unless there was an interesting speaker, it was free, or there was the promise of a raffle prize that had the Apple logo on it. I was fortunate to get most of my work through word of mouth, random outreach, and a little bit of kismet.

It was a much different story five years ago when I moved to San Francisco. Though only 50 miles separated these two bustling tech centers, the business landscapes were a tale of two cities. While Silicon Valley gravitated toward older tech like semiconductors, hardware, and software, SF was all about social media, apps, and the sharing economy, inhabited by scrappy startups. Picture the days of rents just beginning to climb to ridiculous rates, the sight of cranes a bit more commonplace, and brogrammers starting to taste the wonders of hand-crafted, artisanal beer out of mason jars. In other words, pre-Google bus days.

It was an exciting time but also a scary time for me. While I possessed the general tech cred, I knew I needed to expand my reach and grow my business locally to make it in The Big City.

So…picture if you will, mild-mannered Diane Prince turning into Wonder Woman, or in my case, Janice Cuban transforming into San Francisco Networking Woman (sans the tight superpowers outfit and arch enemy fighting). I flew through city, industry, Meetup, and other myriad of events—shaking innumerable hands, swapping a gazillion business cards, and eating hundreds of sub-par hors d’oeuvres washed down with mediocre wine.

Through it all, here’s what I have learned as a networking pro who’s been through the San Francisco trenches.

Conventional wisdom: Arrive when the event starts

New rule: When was the last time you showed up at a networking event at the beginning and it was crowded? Exactly. Fellow networkers typically are racing from work, fighting traffic, etc. Depending on the length of event, I recommend showing up 30 minutes in for that perfect “networking tipping point”—the best buzz in the room, conversations are flowing, and the highest odds to shake the most hands.

Conventional wisdom: Approach a group of people and introduce yourself

New rule: Um, no and no. What’s more intimidating at a networking event than walking up to two or more people and cutting in? This doesn’t even include the possibility that you could be interrupting a good networking moment and might even get that “stalker look” from said group. Instead of this intrusion, help out a fellow solo attendee: if someone is standing by him or herself, they’ll appreciate that you saved them from an awkward moment munching on a carrot or checking their phone by their lonesome. And who knows, it might even be a good contact for you. Which takes us to…

Conventional wisdom: If someone is prattling on, make up a fib to excuse yourself

New rule: Politely end the conversation by saying you don’t want to keep them from meeting others at the event. Who can argue with that? And it’s actually true. Don’t give the person some B.S. about talking to someone you know in the room (unless you really do), or getting another drink when your glass is half full. People are not dumb and will sniff out that you’re bored or done talking with them. They’ll also remember that move if you contact them in the future wanting an introduction to a lead. Manage your networking time carefully but be nice.

Conventional wisdom: Prepare and memorize your elevator pitch

New rule: Well, this is a half-truth. Of course you should have a spiel ready to go, but before you spout off your own mouth, find out more about the person with whom you’ve just shaken hands. If you’re in a business like me where you write for different types of industries, knowing that someone’s profession is real estate versus tech marketing is going to make a difference in how I talk about my services. Since most people naturally love to talk about themselves anyway, ask questions first and find out what makes them tick, their interests, and who knows, it might even lead to a discussion about their potential work needs.

Conventional wisdom: I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to get new business

New rule: Of course we all want new business. Duh. But one of the nice surprises I’ve found over the years is that these events can also be a resource for new friends, colleagues, and mentors. Bonus: these folks are more inclined to help you in the future just because they like you. In fact, I’ve made an entirely new circle of friends in San Francisco from networking alone. In other words, “friendwork” it too.

Conventional wisdom: Always dress “professional”

New rule: No word has become more confusing than this the past few years. Long ago in a tech galaxy far, far away, it was expected that you wear a work outfit to a networking event consisting of suit or dress slacks. This uniform has been changed considerably. Even “business casual” can now translate to jeans, leggings, and more creative outfits, especially in San Francisco. If you’re going to a lawyer or banking networking event,  be buttoned up of course, but this is the exception, not the rule anymore. Common sense dictates that no matter what city you live in, keep it professional: a messy look, dirty jeans, or too-tight tops are still no-nos and make the wrong first impression.

So…are you ready to use your superpowers? Now that you’re armed with new networking mojo, get on that cool outfit, dust off your business cards, and fly yourself off to that next event!

Small Business Saturday is Every Day

openOn November 29, as American Express does every year, it will again promote Small Business Saturday—and so will retail, consulting, and other entrepreneurs in large and small towns across America. Truth be told, I’ve always had mixed feelings about this annual event. While it puts those of us who work our butts off every day in the limelight for day (coinciding with Black Friday—surprise), there is still the smell of corporate money that permeates the air, and it reeks just a tad. That said, with small business and entrepreneurship stronger than ever, I offer my ode to “us”, the small business owner. I should know, I’ve been a consultant for 15 years and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Labor of love

Everyone who has ever started a business has a story, myself included. Maybe corporate life was becoming too much of a grind, there was an unexpected lay off, or that Next Big Idea just wouldn’t go away from our brains. Whatever the motivation, the end result is to be a small business owner. It is a core part of our identities, and we want more than anything is for it to be successful. The alternative? Not much. This is our lifeblood and doing something different usually just doesn’t feel “right.”

We have blended lives

If any small business owner tells you they leave work at their retail store, desk in the upstairs office or on their tablet, they are lying (or gently fibbing to themselves). Running a business is a constant process—whether it’s bookkeeping, ensuring that orders get out before a holiday, or planning the next marketing campaign, our brain neurons are always firing (or misfiring) ideas, to-do lists, and ruminating what we did wrong or perfectly right and want to repeat again.

We never go on autopilot

One of the best things you’ll get from a small business is creativity: it might be uncovering that one way to make a deal work, whipping up a new promotion just for you, or coming up with fresh ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Experimenting with something new is a regular occurrence, if not, business gets stale. We are always thinking and wanting to make ourselves invaluable to you (but not in a desperate way), not to mention us entrepreneur types get bored easily.

Special orders don’t upset us 

As with corporations, there’s always that “one”. Liken it to your customer that always calls the complaint line, revisits the contract 50 times, or any other time-sucking and irksome behavior. The difference? We deal with it on an intimate level instead of as a company. We can’t sluff it off to a manager or customer service—we are customer service (and CEO and CMO and everything else). We are composed of nerve and grit and rely on this often when dealing with our, um…our “special” folks. In the end, these types of customers make us stronger, teach us lessons, and can bring positive changes for how we manage our business in the future.

You are our “regular paycheck”

When you have a full-time job you know you’re going to get paid on a schedule.  For those of us who have a small business it is not an assumed. We put our trust in you to be our source of income. We give you our all and expect that we’ll be compensated fairly and on time. Customers and clients that stretch out payments, lose invoices, or use delay tactics make a difference in our financial lives (and not in a good way). Small businesses don’t have the cash flow that corporations  do—those dollars really matter to us. We may not tell you that directly but it’s true.

We go the extra mile

I can’t speak for all small businesses, but as a rule, if you want an article turned around ASAP, a substitute in that gift basket, or an extra rounds on that consult for free—we will do it. Why? Because we have a relationship with you, appreciate your business, and can “make up our own rules” (otherwise known as flexibility). This can’t always be said for a corporation. Our relationship gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride when we can give you what you want. “You saved the day” and “You’re awesome” means a lot to us. That one-to-one exchange can’t always be replicated with larger companies.

Word-of-mouth is our bread and butter

There’s a reason reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and LinkedIn carry such weight in the online world: they make up the referral world that we all live in, and we rely on it heavily. Then there’s offline—the real world—which has been around since business has: an introduction through a colleague or a neighbor that steps into your store after hearing a glowing recommendation. These help add up to business sustenance. They also drive us to do better and strive to be the best for you.

At its core, Small Business Saturday may be just a smart promotion for one of the largest companies in the free world. But kudos to Amex for recognizing the trials, tribulations, and hard work of millions of small businesses—at least once a year anyway. More importantly, a toast to us—the ones who do the work all the time.

The State Of Content With Martin Jones

martin jonesAs we hit the halfway mark on 2014, it’s time to see how brands are living up to the hype and promise of content, clearly the biggest marketing trend of the past few years, with no indications of slowing down. For an expert view, I talked with Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications, and a leading authority on all things content. Martin first caught my attention with a presentation at New Media Expo earlier this year and one of the most Twitter-worthy soundbites of the conference: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they’ll remember you.”

Let’s start with the content marketing trend for companies. We know thousands of companies are doing it, but who actually gets it right, and why?

I’m happy to say a lot of brands are doing it right. General Electric, Whole Foods, Home Depot, to name a few. They are going beyond Facebook and social across multiple channels. People are turned off by seeing the same content on all platforms. Take Home Depot, for instance: With 160K followers, they are continually updating and making it relevant to their different audiences—by seasons, interests, etc.

We’ve been hearing the term “content shock” lately. With so much content out there, eventually the barriers to entry will increase and only the strongest (best) content will win. Agree or disagree?

One of the arguments against content shock is that whatever you give to your consumers must have purpose. Don’t just throw content up on your site to meet some sort of quota. Unfortunately we still see a lot of decisions made in marketing, PR, IT, and other silos, which can lead to this. There is not always a strong discovery process for content programs or campaigns. Always start with a question about the consumer and ask it. Figure out what problems you can solve for them. Otherwise, people have this natural filtering process and get burnt out on content. What’s important to consumers cannot go by the wayside.

So what can small businesses do to leverage content marketing with teeny budgets and resources?

There are a lot of small business tools out there: Ones like SocialEars let you plug in different terms and see who the influencers are, letting bloggers and marketers quickly see what things are being talked about and what’s the most engaging content right now. It’s critical to know what to talk about by monitoring, rather than falling back on what you know best. It should be about what the consumer is interested in and gearing your content towards that.

I was surprised you mentioned GE: Something I often hear is that B2B brands have difficulty making their content resonate with customers. What do you think the trick is there?

With B2B, it’s about personalizing content in the right voice—your voice. Again it comes down to relevant content. You have to be careful not to alienate your audience if all of a sudden you try to change to the snarky, cheeky Taco Bell-style. It’s not going to work. What’s important is that the content is going to be helpful to the consumer, that it’s personalized, and it answers questions. That’s what your audience cares about most.

What are content marketers still struggling with?

There’s talk of the sales funnel being dead, but it’s really that marketers are creating a lot of content on top of the funnel and then they get to the middle and don’t know what to do with these people. This is where evergreen content really pays off, along with paid media. Your content can still be providing leads to the organization and can move them through the sales process.

What are some of the trends we’ll be seeing as we get closer to 2015?

Deeper content and, again, more consumer-focused. One shift we’re seeing more of is horizontally rather than vertically-focused content on products and services. For example, what are your readers’ passion points? What are they interested in? Talking to companies about growing your business, how to scale, engaging in common interests. Recently I was at a conference where one of the speakers said “Social media is the new golf course”: now that conversation is happening online. Consumers don’t want to talk about products and services, they want to carry on a normal conversation.

 

Turning a Daily Deal From One Night Stand to Long-term Relationship

groupon

Research shows that getting a deal has no financial or social status boundaries—it’s a human thing. We love the thrill of scoring savings, especially for something with higher perceived value or item we crave—cue the dopamine. According to Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever,” consumers should never pay full price for anything anyway. Nowhere is that living proof more so than on daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, and the myriad of me-toos, now a staple of our online culture. The “half off” lifestyle is here to stay, and we’re ready to pay. But how can vendors get these deal-seekers to come back for more?

Every new customer is gold

Don’t judge a consumer by their cover (in this case, an online deal). The person could be dressed down but actually have money to burn, or poor communications skills but is brand loyal to a fault.  The point is, be nice, gracious, and give the same service you would a full paying customer: making assumptions about a consumer based on a short-lived experience can cost you future business. If you don’t treat them well, they’ll feel it, resent it, and won’t be back (unless you offer another deal perhaps).

Don’t put off deal customers

A few years ago, I tried out a new salon at full price (ironically), and  my stylist spent time on the phone arguing with a deal customer who was trying to set up an appointment before her voucher expired. Instead of trying to fit her into the schedule, the stylist would not budge. In the end, it affected my perception of the salon (not to mention I wasn’t crazy about the cut). Or the restaurant I attempted to use my deal at but the (very) fine print on the voucher prohibited me from cashing in except weekends (which was also accompanied by serious attitude I got from the proprietor). Don’t break your bond with a potential customer before you even have it. I’ve also heard vendors complain about customers that come in “just for the deal and never come back.” Yes, they came in for the great price, but what did you do to keep them interested in doing business with you again? Which leads me to my next suggestion…

Offer incentives to visit again

Besides giving great service, offering something of value is always welcome as a goodwill gesture, either during the deal time or for when the consumer returns. Though not every consumer will not be motivated by the promise of future savings, throw in that dessert at your restaurant, offer a loyalty card at your store, or 20% off for a future service—something that says “I want to continue our relationship and I care about getting your business.” Even if the person doesn’t plan to visit again anytime soon, it will leave them with warm fuzzies, perhaps compel them to leave a good Yelp review, or will want to give a personal recommendation to a friend.

Know your motives for the deal (but don’t overshare)

Each business is driven by different reasons to offer a deal: it’s a slow season, or a new business fishing for customers, to name just a few. But contrast how two vendors handled the goal to reach customers at their new locations: An aesthetician who recently moved her business to San Francisco could not schedule me until after regular-paying clients got in. When I got my appointment, she spent the majority of time telling me how popular she was and this was “just to get new business in the neighborhood.” Contrast that with another service professional who humbly and gently described how people couldn’t find her new location because it was a busy street and was difficult to be noticed. She was grateful for every new customer she attracted, and even sent me a thank-you email for visiting. Which business do you think I will go back to in the future?

These are but a few ways vendors can maximize consumers’ daily deal experience so they will want to come back again (and again and again). Automatically pigeonholing deal customers as cheap one-timers without long-term potential shorts everyone in the transaction and is a missed opportunity for future business.

But daily deal vendors aren’t the only ones that need training on  etiquette, customers need their own lessons too. In a future post, consumers get pointers on best practices for cashing in on their half-off vouchers.