Dealing with the Pressure

So busy lately.

I feel like my startup is in crunch mode.

New accounts, keeping the ones that are still a fit, people joining the team, and steadily building momentum.

But the pressure to deliver builds.

The growth is good, but anything can happen. No time to rest. One piece could be moved and threaten to topple what has been built.

So, I keep my head down. Focused on what’s in front of me. Even if that means you don’t hear from me as much for a while or I share with you at odd times.

We’ve reached a critical phase in our first year and we’re determined to prove ourselves and win respect in the market.

Where are you in your career or business? What steps are you taking to continue your personal or professional growth?

Please let me know in the comments!

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Respecting Your Time is Respecting Your Clients’ Time

It’s important to set healthy boundaries in life and in business.

I believe in two rules for success with clients:

1) You’re not at beck and call.

2) When you’re speaking with a client, you give the client your undivided attention.

If you don’t follow rule #1, you will be incapable of following rule #2.

Unless you’re a doctor or it’s part of the nature of your business to respond to medical emergencies, you’re not “on-call” 24/7.

When your phone rings and it’s a client, many freelancers and others who work in client service feel obligated to answer or guilty if they don’t.

In my opinion, you should never feel obligated to take a call that isn’t scheduled. Making appointments isn’t snobby. It’s a way of making sure each client gets your full and undivided attention.

You are not expected to drop everything at a moment’s notice. We’re all busy. Our clients are busy. We all have families and careers.

If you don’t respect your own time, then you will not be able to respect the time of others. And, time is money so you must respect time.

In the beginning, it’s easy to get seduced by the notion that catering to your clients means you’re always available anytime they want to speak to you.

But you owe it to yourself and your clients to have some boundaries.

Are you a freelancer or an entrepreneur? There’s a Difference.

Writer or entrepreneur?

Artist or businessman?

There is a big difference. These questions are ones that I often think about.

Some people are amazing content creators. It doesn’t mean they should start content marketing agencies.

Some people are great at their craft, but they aren’t great at selling or managing people or invoicing or dealing with clients.

Some make fantastic freelancers, or solopreneurs, but they can’t necessarily create an organization bigger than themselves with employees.

They’re better off as one-person shows.

One has to have the self-awareness and the honesty to figure out what is right path for oneself.

So, what makes me think I can go from content writer/strategist to founder/CEO of a new marketing agency?

Over the past two years, I’ve proven to myself and others that I can fly solo very nicely.

Will I be able to grow it into something bigger?

We’re about to find out.

Call it chutzpah, call it foolishness, call it arrogance, but I’m trying. I’m starting. I’m DOING and not just talking.

I’m going for it.

And if I fail, then I fail forward and can always rely on my craft — writing ✍️ to support me. I can always go back to being a solo artist.

However, I’m behaving as if there is no other option.

I’m going full speed ahead as an entrepreneur. I refuse to be another statistic in the game.

Sure, there are a lot of players. Most of them don’t make it. But, as my mother always said:

“Cream rises to the top.”

I invite you to come along and follow me on my journey.

— Zev

The Gate is Closing on the Gatekeepers

For the past hundred years or so, the gatekeepers held the power.

The magazine, newspaper, TV network, or radio station decided who was hot and who was not. What would be published and what would be left on the cutting room floor.

Advertisers decided the trends and which brands we would be exposed to.

And, we content creators were at their mercy. We had to please the gatekeepers and accept insufficient payment or no payment at all for the privilege of the exposure. Our fates were usually in the hands of an old white male executive in a suit puffing on a cigar.

No longer.

Today, the Internet is the middleman.

Media content has never been cheaper to produce and distribute at scale than it is now. Today, we all have the power. Anyone with a phone in their hands can create a buzz, break the news, get heard, or build an audience.

Content creation and distribution have been democratized. These are exciting times we are living in and most people fail to grasp how incredible it is right now. In the future, people will look back on this time and regret that they did not act sooner by staking out a claim of digital real estate to make their mark in the early days of the Internet.

Having an online presence is a powerful thing indeed and those who have one, have the leverage.

This means traditional publishers, though not irrelevant, have far less leverage than they used to. Perhaps, this is why those gatekeepers who abused their power *cough*Harvey Weinstein*cough, cough* are finally being outed for their diabolical deeds.

This would also explain why many journalists and others are now freelancing on the side or full-time.

Getting a piece published with your name on it in a publication is still a good thing to do. If the publication has a brand name that the public views as prestigious, it’s certainly a nice notch on the old belt, which makes for an impressive mention in a bio. That third-party affirmation can lend you some credibility in the eyes of others. However, it’s a vanity metric more than anything else.

More valuable than being published in a mainstream big-name publication is being published on a blog or on any platform with a high amount of engagement. If the readership actually cares about the content, it will get far more positive attention, even if the audience is very niche. For example, your article about camping in the mountains will most likely receive more interest and engagement on a popular blog about camping and hiking than it will in the New York Times.

Now that anyone can potentially become an influencer by getting attention on social media platforms and guest posting/appearing on popular blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, content creators can control their own destinies.

And, when you control your own destiny, you can also determine how much you get paid.

Recently, a relatively new business magazine with a very small following in whose pages I’ve been published approached me about a new project.

While my normal standard is to be paid my fee and paid upfront, they insisted that this time I behave in accordance with conventional magazine standards by getting paid by the word and only after the final draft.

The difference between me and most writers/creatives is that I’m not simply an artist. I’m an entrepreneur.

“If you pay me by the word,” I countered, “then that doesn’t take into account a) the research for the piece, b) the interview/s with the subject/s, or c) the edits and revisions.”

As a freelancer, I set my own standard procedures and protocol as well as my own fees. And, after getting burned in the past, I decided to only accept payment in full up front. To my knowledge, no one goes to a store, takes some items home with, and only pays after they get home or whenever they feel like it. That would be called shoplifting. And, I don’t see why my services rendered should be treated any differently.

The magazine editor protested that the exposure justifies the raw deal.

What most of these publications fail to understand is that we no longer need them for exposure. If the publication doesn’t have an audience of people likely to hire me or pay me for anything, it’s not that valuable.

On the flip-side, I would write something for FREE if it was likely that the exposure would likely net me greater brand equity or new business. But, getting published does not in itself make that a likely possibility, especially when the article is in print. Being published online can more easily lead to a comment, a DM, or some other form of direct engagement that can lead to something greater.

So, if publications want to remain relevant they have to:

A) Acknowledge that they are more dependent on freelancers than on staff and will have to pay their rates.

And,

B) Double-down on growing a brand on social media and other platforms that have their reader’s attention.

Finally, it’s up to creatives to put themselves in a position to win. Spend more time building an audience on social media, creating and publishing your content on your own, and directly engaging and interacting with your audience. Instead of trying to get published in traditional media outlets, create your own buzz and your own leverage. Once you do that, you can name your price. When you’re an influential content creator, publications, brands, and others will dance to your tune instead of the other way around.

The days of the gatekeepers deciding what content we consumer are over. Consumers and content creators are now in the driver’s seat. It’s time for publishers to take note and embrace the new reality.

Being Cheap Will Cost You

When I was younger, I used to pride myself on spending the least amount of money as possible on things that I wanted. One area where I was particularly cheap was sneakers. Initially proud of my purchase, it took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t getting a good deal at all. When the laces are frayed and the sneakers are worn and falling apart beyond repair after only a few months you’re only screwing yourself into having to buy yet another pair much sooner than you would have if you had spent a little more and invested in better quality.

One thing you learn as you get older and more experienced is that being cheap rarely pays off. If anything it costs you more money, time, and headaches later down the line.

We all have areas of our lives where we don’t care enough to spend and that’s fine if we’re OK with the consequences. But, when it comes to the things that matter, like our health or our business, we really should think twice before we go with the cheaper option. The damage that could be done by hiring an amateur could end up being far more costly than paying an expert. Skimping on added features, options, or services in the short-run may end up costing you far more in the long-run.

Let’s say you’re choosing a marketing firm to do your social media marketing. They present you with several options. Thinking only about price, you go with the cheapest one. Later you realize that you can’t get the results you hoped for without the additional services offered in the higher priced option. Now, you’ll either spend more money on hiring freelancers to fulfill the need or you’ll end up upgrading your package with the marketing firm. Either way, you just spent the past month or more spending money and receiving little in return. If you had only done it right the first time, you would have accomplished more and sooner. And, if you depleted your budget, then it might already be too late.

So, don’t be a cheapskate. Think about the long-term or the lifetime value. Your business is something you’d like to comfortably own for a long time. Don’t treat your business like a cheap pair of sneakers. Spring for the better option and you’ll wear it well for years to come.

 

F*ck Being a Starving Artist: How Creatives Can Help Themselves

Recently, I was invited to speak on a panel about ways patrons of the arts could better support creatives (artists, musicians, writers etc.) in their communities. It was my first time public speaking and I was the youngest person on the panel, so I was understandably a bit nervous.

The questions from the moderator focused on what creatives would find helpful in terms of support as well as how their fans could best promote them and distribute their work.

Many wonderful ideas and suggestions were shared by my fellow panelists as well as by the very vocal crowd that evening. But, my answer was ridiculously simple, and — luckily — well-received by everyone present.

My message was this:

“Creatives need to learn how to help themselves.”

May not sound like such a novel idea, but unfortunately, many are not doing much to put themselves get out there. I think there are a couple reasons why this is the case.

 

Not sure how

For one thing, a super talented creative is not always entrepreneurial or business-minded just as an entrepreneur is not always so gifted in the arts. A person may have a great deal of skills and creative talent, but not may not be so educated or interested in the business side of things.

However, if a creative wants to have any hope of monetizing their art, they need to approach it like a business. No doubt, a great creative spends a lot of time making great art and honing their craft. But, a financially successful creative who makes a good living from their work also has to learn how to be their own best advocate.

 

Not comfortable with promoting themselves

The problem is many artists don’t feel comfortable selling themselves. They prefer to be “discovered.” They hope their work will speak for itself. I totally understand this, because I once thought the same way. Promoting myself seemed fake and kind of sleazy to me.

If you’re a creative struggling to get noticed, please listen to me. Advocating for yourself will not cheapen your art. It will not compromise your creativity. The patrons, talent scouts, and recording labels are not going to come knocking on your door. They aren’t coming to you. They don’t even know who you are and they don’t care. You need to give them reason to care or, better yet, just bypass them!

The traditional gatekeepers — radio stations, art galleries, television stations, magazines, book publishers etc. — no longer have a monopoly over deciding what creative gets out to the masses. Today, digital platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Medium, and Instagram allow you to easily connect to those who would appreciate your art and build a following.

The best part is you don’t even have to do much “self-promoting.” In fact, that’s not always a good idea, especially on social media where content that doesn’t provide value gets lost in the feed. Instead, share your genuine passion for what you do and authentically engage with your audience, no matter how big or small. And share regularly!

 

Fear of rejection

Perhaps, you create art for its own sake and you don’t care what other people think so long as you’re proud of it. If so, mazel tov! Good for you. You don’t have to show your art to the world or try to get it out there.

However, if you do want to earn some recognition and/or profit from your art, then you will have to just get over this one. There’s not much I can say other than don’t be afraid to face the market. If you’re paralyzed by fear, there’s no hope of getting off the ground.

 

Save your creativity for your art

First of all, you need to be on social media and you need to post content regularly. If you have any hang-ups or bugaboos about it, please try your best to get over them. Because, if you don’t have a presence on the major online platforms and channels where most consumer attention is directed (YouTube, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram etc.) and you don’t put out content that is mobile friendly, you essentially don’t exist. Time consuming? Yes. Worth it? Hell yes. So, make the time.

But, here’s the good news. You don’t have to be super creative in your branding and marketing. Save that for your art. And you don’t have to spend so much time trying to figure out what to create, share, or talk about. Simply document your creative process or your journey of trying to get your art out there and make your dreams come true. Don’t overthink it. Share your story. Share your work, show people how you do it, and engage, engage, engage!

Talk to your fans and interact with them even if you only have a handful. Directly message or tweet at those who might be interested in your stuff or who might be able to help you and offer them something of value in exchange. Don’t wait for people to come to you. Be proactive, go on the offense, and boldly seek others out. I’ve been doing this for about a year now and I promise you that it really works! In fact, I know that I’d be further along if I only did it more often.

 

F*ck being a starving artist

The stereotype of the “starving artist” is a harmful one and it needs to be done away with for good. Be your own best advocate. Go get what you want, actively pursue meaningful relationships, don’t be afraid to talk to people who can help you, engage with your followers, and share your stuff with the world! Enough sitting around waiting for the phone to ring or waiting to hear back from the publisher. Take matters into your own hands. This is the only way you’re going to get your stuff out there and find a market for your art, which will support you and enable you to spend more of your time creating and less time waiting.

The Best Way a Freelancer Can Attract New Clients

freelance-hustling

“How do you get clients?”

This is probably the question I’m most frequently asked.

Many new freelancers get stuck when it comes to finding new clients. Acquiring clients can certainly be challenging, especially when you’re starting out. If no one knows who you are, how are you supposed to get new business?

Since I started in May 2016, I’ve experimented with several methods of getting clients. A new freelancer should certainly try every possible tactic at his or her disposal. However, I have found that the best way to get new business is to create and share content online.

Create content to get noticed.

Rather than trying to find the clients, let them find you!

Create content that attracts and pulls them in rather than spend so much time and money on pushing your wares on people who may not be interested.

In an age where people often tune out ads and ignore interruptive, outbound forms of marketing, creating content that informs or inspires is a great way to catch the attention of prospects in the marketplace. Not to mention, creating great organic content online is often much cheaper than spending money on advertising.

This is great news for those of us who are a bit more introverted and have a harder time being outgoing. Creating content such as blog posts, whitepapers, videos, podcasts, photos, or infographics that educate, inspire, or in some way provides value can set you apart from the crowd and go toward growing your brand equity. Building a personal brand will keep you from becoming a commodity and allow you to get paid what you’re worth.

Be on social.

Social media is the primary medium of sharing content and communicating with others. Essentially, social media is the Internet. Learn how to navigate popular platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and Twitter as well as emerging ones such as music.ly and Houseparty. Get good at creating content related to your work that is native to each platform and earns shares, retweets, repins, or likes.

Be consistent in order to build an audience.

When you frequently and consistently churn out content that provides value, your efforts will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. People like doing business with people they know (or feel like they know). By giving people things that add value to their lives on a daily basis (a laugh, a dose of motivation, knowledge about an industry or niche market), you will slowly build a relationship with your audience.

Investing the time and effort necessary to create a relationship with the prospect before going in for the ask is well worth it. If people feel like you produce content for their benefit and in their best interests and not only for your benefit and in your best interest, they will be much more open to accepting your offer when you go in for the sale.

Besides helping to establish yourself as a “thought leader” (a cliche term that makes me nauseous just thinking about it), great content can truly help your audience filter the vast amount of information out there into something useful to them.

Find Make the time. 

The challenge for some freelancers is making the time to create content on top of the work they must do for current clients. It’s sometimes too easy for freelancers to be satisfied with their current workload, but a viable business requires a steady flow of leads and sales. You cannot rest on your laurels! That’s why it’s important to create a content schedule and set aside time each day or week to come up with content that will attract qualified leads.

Not necessary to reinvent the wheel.

Creating content doesn’t have to be extremely challenging or difficult. Not all content has to be original. About fifty percent of it can be curated i.e. content you share from elsewhere, but always make sure to provide your own two cents or thoughts on what you share.

Most of your content can consist of simply documenting your journey. Take people through your work process, show them how things are made, and share things you are learning along the way that can be of help to others. And if you can do all of this creatively or with a sense of humor, the results will be fantastic. Imagine you have your own reality show “day in the life of a freelancer,” and make it interesting to watch or read about.

If you become prolific at sharing helpful and interesting things online, you will build a brand and stand out in a sea of competition. While it takes a ton of patience and hard work, the results of content marketing is cumulative and, if you are good, it will eventually pay  off.

Now, it’s true that I am a content marketer and may be slightly betterat creating content and building a brand than your average freelancer. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it too. If you’re passionate about whatever it is you do (e.g. sewing handbags, fixing appliances, graphic design etc.), it will shine through and resonate with your audience in a powerful way.

And if you need any help with figuring out your content strategy, you know that you can always send me a message.😉

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Have any questions or suggestions regarding building a personal brand, creating content, or closing new clients?? Feel free to comment below!