There is No Reason You Can’t Start Now

Perhaps, it’s because Yom Kippur (the Jewish holiday of atonement) starts tonight, but I’m feeling introspective and reflective right now.

I humbly urge you to start creating and sharing content if you haven’t already. If you already put stuff out there, then I encourage you to do it more frequently and consistently. Not everyone can afford a staff or a production team, but the good news is that you do not need one. All you need is a mobile device and a wifi connection. Oh, and talent, hustle, and ambition.

I’m not directing my plea only to businesses or professionals. I’m talking to the creators. The artists. The bored housewife in Iowa who always knew she had a talent for making others laugh or the retired accountant who really wanted to write short stories, but was told that it wasn’t practical. It is now practical. The Internet has made starting your own business practical. The market now rewards art and creativity more than before and we are all media companies now. Thanks to social media, blogging, email, and the mobile device, we can all create and publish content.

Creating content from your laptop or mobile device in written (blog posts, articles on Medium and LinkedIn), audio (podcast), or visual (videos, vlogs, graphics) form about the thing you enjoy can help you build a following, which you can monetize into a small business or side-hustle or leverage to raise money or awareness for worthy causes or other things you support and believe in. The cost and the barriers to entry are so low and the gatekeepers are far less relevant than they used to be.

It doesn’t take much money or time to create content and share it with others. Chances are if you’re honest with yourself, you likely spend a lot of time doing things that prevent you from spending time on things that can get you to the next level in your life or achieve goals, and I don’t mean only financial ones. There’s plenty of things I don’t get around to, but I know it’s because I haven’t yet made them enough of a priority.

And the truth is, this entire rant or manifesto or plea to create content is as much intended for me as it is for all of you. The fact is that I know I could be creating so much more while still getting all the other things I need to do if I decide to look in the mirror, drop my own excuses, and push myself to do and accomplish more.

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Make Sure You and Your Client Are in Alignment

After years of freelancing and subsequently building a digital marketing agency over the past year and a half, I think the most important piece of advice I can share is to make sure client and agency interests are in alignment.

If you’re just starting out, this may be hard to do. You’re likely still figuring out your focus and area of specialization. In the early stages, you may not even be in a position to properly vet each organization you work with and you’ll likely have to work with many people who may not be your ideal clients or target market. It may also be difficult at first to determine whether you and your clients are in alignment about things such strategy, expectations, timelines, and more.

Making sure you and your client are in alignment about key issues takes first understanding what those key issues should be. Next, you must become good at effectively communicating throughout the process. The greater the alignment between you and the client, the greater amount of harmony, which will ensure a smooth and productive working relationship that can hopefully turn into long-term loyalty and referrals.

Do your due diligence, learn as much as you can about the client, and ask the right questions before getting started or signing a contract. However, the discussion shouldn’t end once the deal is done. Regardless of whether or not you have an account executive on the payroll, it’s important to regularly communicate with the client and periodically check in to make sure their expectations are being met and that you’re both still on the same page.

While the following is particularly relevant to marketing agencies, here are some important areas where you and your clients should be in alignment no matter your industry:

Payment, fees, and costs

Delineate from the outset what you will get paid, how you will get paid, and when you will get paid. This will save both you and your clients a lot of headache and aggravation down the line. Do you need to be paid upfront? In stages? By the hour? Cash or credit? Check? Paypal? First of the month? What happens if they fail to pay on time or decide to part ways before you’ve concluded the project or the retainer? Iron this all out and put it in writing.

Financial surprises can lead to unwanted and unnecessary friction between client and service provider that can prove fatal to the business relationship. If something is going to be an issue, try to nip it in the bud and plan accordingly. Sometimes, this will mean having to pass on the account. However, the short-term pain of losing a deal is worth saving yourself from problems later on. Be sure to budget in as many of your costs as possible into your price and inform the client of any additional spending that may be required. Take your client’s budget into account and make sure you’ll have enough to get the job done well. Remember to be as clear as possible, even if it may potentially cost you the client. The last thing you want is a reputation of failing to disclose important information. Be honest, ethical, and transparent. No hidden fees!

One rule of thumb: If they can’t afford your retainer, they probably can’t afford additional marketing costs, such as ad spend or partnerships with influencers. Therefore, make sure you charge enough to screen out clients who are not likely to be seriously invested or stick around for the long haul.

Reasonable expectations of results

While it may seem silly to have to say this, make sure your client truly understands what you do. For example, if you only make tables and chairs, make that clear so they’re not disappointed upon later discovering you don’t also make cabinets. If you specialize in designing logos, make it clear that you don’t do signage as well. If you are strictly digital, your client shouldn’t be under the impression you’ll do direct mail. Clear communication and spelling out exactly what they will be getting for the money in a transparent manner will minimize your number of unhappy clients, lost accounts, and bad reviews.

Listen carefully in order to understand your clients’ needs, preferences, and goals. Don’t promise that you can meet their demands if you are not sure that you can do so. Furthermore, make it clear what kind of results they can reasonably expect from your work and what metrics you will be using to determine success. Of course, clients can sometimes be fickle or subjective in their evaluation of your work, but if you are able to qualitatively and quantitatively define what a good result looks like, then you will be in a better position to explain why they should retain your services.

Note: You’re not a miracle worker. Nor should anyone expect you to be. Make sure your client understands that and promise them only what you can deliver.

Timelines and communication

Timelines can refer to details, such as how long it will take to complete the work, when you will get paid, or how long you will be working together. Assign deadlines for payments and projects. Decide when campaigns will start and how long they will run. Establish deadlines for when the client must give you certain resources or information that you will need in order to execute optimally e.g. a signature, approval from the board or decision maker, ad spend, information or in-house data etc. Communicate regularly to make sure that you and the client are progressing at the same pace and will be able to meet respective deadlines. Try to determine from the outset if the client will have enough time available to work with you and that you will have enough time available to meet their needs.

While you cannot account for every unique situation, doing your best to ensure that there is as much alignment as possible between you and your clients (goals, payment, expectations, timeline, and frequency of communication) will help you to minimize friction and reduce client turnover. Moreover, it will help ensure customer satisfaction and make for an experience that is both productive and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Ideas for Content Are All Around Us

Ideas are all around us if we pay attention.

So often, people who want to build an online presence or develop a personal brand get stymied about what kind of content to create. The same goes for companies. They become trapped in what I’d call “Creator’s Block.”

The truth is content creation is not reinventing the wheel. Not every piece of content has to be totally original to stand out or add to the conversation. One might even argue that true originality doesn’t even exist. For example, you can do roundups of opinions from industry leaders. You can also curate content from around the web and provide your own spin or unique point of view alongside it.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Schaeffer, a sought-after marketing consultant, blogger, and keynote speaker. In his latest book, Known The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age, Schaeffer says the best way to keep your content fresh is to “view your daily life through the lens of possible new content…My catalog of new ideas isn’t coming from a flash of personal insight or alien intelligence beaming into my head. It’s maintained through an awareness of my environment and developing a nose for news.”

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Don’t break your head thinking about what sort of content to create. Accustom yourself to pay greater attention to the world around you.  Everything from current events to daily occurrences in your personal and professional life contains ideas for your next blog post, article, video, or voice note.

Observe your surroundings with an eye and ear toward content opportunities. Keep a notepad handy or use the Notes app on your phone. If you don’t like write, make an audio recording. Jot down questions your clients or customers ask you. Play around with Google’s search bar and answer questions people frequently search. Take note of interesting things you read or hear. Catalog interesting or funny things that happen to you throughout your day. And, remember, things you might think are obvious might be new and interesting to others.

Pretty soon, you’ll probably store enough content ideas to fill up an entire month or two on your content calendar. Learn to find the story angles in your everyday life and tell those stories in a way that only you can tell them.

Why I Don’t Need to Go Anywhere or Do Anything

In an earlier post, I wrote about the benefits of travel for a freelancer. Now, I’m going to completely contradict myself.

While I do think it’s healthy to get out of one’s environment now and then, I spend the vast majority of time at home sitting in front of my laptop banging out blog posts and other pieces of written content like this one. Sure, it’s great to get up, go out for some fresh air, and recharge the batteries. But, if you’re happy where you are and doing what you’re doing, who says you need to travel to some far off destination?

The following Facebook status from legendary copywriter and author of The Copywriter’s Handbook, Bob Bly, made me laugh because I related to it so much:

“”The writer’s volume of accomplishment depends precisely on the ability to sit alone in a room,” said Susan Sontag. It’s yet another reason why I view travel as an unwholesome chore to be avoided at all costs, do not go to meetings, and infrequently leave my house. And I’m as happy as a clam.”

People tell me all the time that they cannot understand how I possibly stay in my apartment all day in front of my computer and maintain my sanity (arguable whether or not it’s been maintained). They have no comprehension how I can be happy doing that. And, yet I’m totally content.

This is probably why I never really understood the “digital nomad” lifestyle that so many writers and other freelance creatives romanticize. Sure, it’s cool to be able to work from anywhere and I relish that privilege, but I’ve traveled while working. It kind of sucks!

You have to constantly worry about where to get wifi, time zone differences can make deadlines and client communication problematic, and you have to pray you don’t suffer a technical issue in a country where they don’t speak your .native tongue. Plus, if you’re really working, you don’t have much time for sight-seeing and then you feel bad that you’re not taking advantage of what your destination has to offer. I’m fine just writing and working from home. There’s nothing “out there” I need to do right now.

I keep in-person meetings to a minimum, stay inside my apartment most of the day, and rarely travel despite its potential benefits.

Other people tell me they’d go crazy. I guess we writers are a weird breed of human and I’m alright with that.

Test, Learn, & Trust Your Gut

Take all conventional wisdom, friendly suggestions, and best practices with a huge, hearty grain of kosher salt.

Most people will tell you that long-form content is dead. It’s not.

They’ll tell you to keep everything short, sweet, and to the point.

 

“No one reads.”

“The average person’s attention span is shorter than the attention span of a Goldfish.”

 

Although the above two statements are commonly touted platitudes, both are scientifically incorrect. 

When it comes to crafting good content, context is key. Hacking social media takes a lot of testing and learning. While best practices and data is an excellent starting point, you will still need to actually test and learn yourself, tweaking and adjusting to get things right. And, with algorithms and consumer behavior ever-changing, you will always be adjusting. However, the only way you will know anything for sure is by practicing and doing. Don’t simply read headlines and listen to the pundits and the gurus. And certainly, don’t defer to that good-looking kid who gets a lot of likes on Instagram for their workout photos.

I’m not saying ignore the helpful advice and suggestions that are out there. You’re reading this right now, aren’t you? What I am saying is don’t stop there. Test, learn, and above all, trust your gut. Your intuition may just turn out to be right. 

Finally, know your platforms and your audience. Certain things may work better for your particular audience. Also, each social platform has nuances which ensure different types of content do better one than another. You must possess a thorough understanding of each platform and know the mindset people are in when they are on each platform.

On LinkedIn, long-form updates work best. And LinkedIn actually rewards you for NOT including a link. The social platform wants to keep you on their site as much as possible and would rather you consume all content natively. Respect this and adjust, even if that means moving your primary blog to LinkedIn instead of your website. You will also experience positive results blogging in long-form on Facebook and Instagram.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Experiment for yourself. I bet you’ll be amazed by the results.