How I would negotiate with Donald Trump

When Donald Trump talks about his negotiations with suppliers of business services and products, I, as a freelance writer, identify with the party on the opposite side of the table from The Donald.

If he negotiates as fiercely as he claims to, I would never consider working with him.

To be honest, I’ve never had the opportunity to turn down a Trump company. I’m far too small-potatoes for them. Which is fine with me.

A fundamental goal in negotiations is win-win. Except with Trump.

Trump claims to be committed to his winning, everyone else losing.

Apparently businesspeople are so turned on by the idea of getting into something h-u-g-e that they will accede to dreadful terms to get in on a really big deal.

In the real world, I’d guess that the bigger the risk, the more cautious and astute the other party is. If the deal involves hiring labor and / or purchasing product, the potential for financial loss is especially frightening.

Sure, no one would sign a contract with Trump without running it by an attorney and perhaps an accountant as well.

Still, he has such access to legal support that it would be darned hard to enforce the contract and even harder to collect. His personal assets are so isolated from his business entities that all I can say is “Good luck.”

And if he isn’t pleased with what he has received to his own internal criteria, he simply doesn’t have to pay, Trump apparently thinks.

Actually, I think much of what Trump is saying is poppycock. As a businessperson, he couldn’t function successfully in the long run with his I-win-you-lose approach.

Win-lose is not a sustainable business model; win-win is because both parties profit and are open to doing business together again.

Business organizations benefit from ongoing relationships. Any party having a miserable experience won’t be back again. Actually, if this experience forces them into bankruptcy, for sure they won’t be back.

In the real world, a mighty second generation / third generation enterprise benefits from long-term ties to suppliers.

The only reasonable way to have a business agreement with Trump as he presents himself to the public is to require full payment up front. If he’s not happy, let him try to get the money back. Put the burden on him.

I’d love to know how Kellyanne Conway is getting paid. She’s a smart cookie. Bet she got a huge advance. Right now Trump is saying everyone outside his campaign is crooked. If he loses, he may try to add her to the list of people who have harmed him.

How about you? How would you negotiate with Trump?

Something else I’ve written on The Donald:

Hey, Mr. Trump, sorry I haven’t had the honor of working for you

Posted in Getting paid Tagged with: , , ,

Freelancing: How to find out what your competition charges

Here’s how to find out what your competition charges: Ask!!

There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask. (Actually, there are many wrong ways to ask. And although the way I’m prescribing feels right to me, there may also be many right ways to ask.)

Here’s how I recommend doing it.

Approach someone you know personally who offers a service similar to yours. Then say something along the lines of:

I am reconsidering the hourly rates I charge to write a white paper on marketing challenges facing our industry in the next decade. My current rate is $85 per hour and the typical project takes about 30 hours. The per project fee would be around $3,000. Does that sound about right to you?

There’s nothing sacred about the specifics here. You may discuss hourly, per project, or any other calculation factor. You may describe the assignment of your choice. What’s important is to reveal your rate before asking someone else his rate.

When you do it this way, you tend to get solid data. When you ask in a vague way, you get vague data.

In American society, it is bad form to ask someone else her salary. Heck, oftentimes one spouse doesn’t know his partner’s salary. So why would someone volunteer this information if you haven’t revealed your number first?

Notice that this is best done in person, ideally in a one-on-one conversation. Post the question to a LinkedIn group, for instance, and you have no way of knowing who you are sharing your own personal data with. Nor do you have any gut feeling for the professionalism or expertise of your informant. Believe it or not, there are people on the internet who lie!

Sometimes the advice we receive from others is totally worthless. I was once preparing a proposal to write marketing copy for a local public university. I had no idea what an appropriate rate would be in the higher-education field, so I posed the question to a LinkedIn group representing a live, local freelance writers’ group of which I am a member.

I got no response except for one individual who only said “be sure not to undercharge.” I have no idea what that means. Such a statement introduces more self-doubt into the process rather than any degree of assistance.

Another great question: Who is my biggest competitor?

Great question! Most of us don’t know. I certainly don’t.

As a freelance writer, my competitors number in the tens of thousands, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands. They can be found through searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They may reside in online freelance job boards.

They may be local individuals I know well or they may be total strangers on the other side of the globe.

Some are soloists; some large agencies also compete in my space.

They may even have no internet presence but land assignments through relationships at church or at PTA meetings.

It cracks me up when I see self-proclaimed marketing gurus on the internet who offer to work with freelancers in developing positioning statements, web content and such. They start by asking the client for a list of his biggest competitors. If I knew exactly who my competitors are, branding and competing would be a breeze.

The best I could do if I were starting work with a consultant would be to identify websites, newsletters, logos, and / or slogans I like. This would give some direction but not the ideal level of input.

How about you? How have you been successful at collecting pricing data in your field? How well do you believe you know who your competitors are? I’d love to hear from you.



Posted in How much to charge Tagged with: , ,

Freelancing Millennials network differently from Boomers: Here’s how

I like to attend professional networking events with freelancers a generation younger than me. It’s fascinating how millennials network much differently from boomers. Here is what I’ve observed:

Posted in networking, Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,

Freelancing: Getting paid what you are worth

Demanding to get paid “what you are worth” can be UNhelpful advice. Too vague yet too emotionally fraught.

Here is a guest post on this topic that I wrote for Carol Roth’s blog.

Posted in How much to charge, Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,

Freelancing: A different look at niches

Claiming our niche can feel like jail . . . please release me, let me go. It brings to mind Engelbert Humperdinck or Elvis Presley yearning to set themselves free.

Or it feels like marriage at its worst . . . forsaking all others till death do we part, however many decades that may take.

But is it really?

First, let’s define “niche”? defines it as follows:

A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for focused attention by a marketer. Market niches do not exist by themselves, but are created by identifying needs or wants that are not being addressed by competitors, and by offering products that satisfy them.

Specifically, a “niche” addresses needs and / or wants, delivered via service or product. “Target market” addresses a demographic or psychographic group that is served.

Every marketing expert out there recommends freelancers select a niche, but sometimes that advice seems needlessly restrictive. It sounds as though a freelancer should turn away from any assignments not in their carefully selected niche, no matter how appealing or lucrative the work. It sounds like we should say “no” when we want to say “yes” to an opportunity that falls in our lap.

Recently I heard Florence Hardy, Director of the Small Business Development Center of The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, present what I think is much more useful guidance on what to do with a niche. She says that a niche is where you direct your resources.

You can do other projects outside your niche, but you invest your time and financial resources back into your niche.

This means that although your most recent income has been gleaned from a certain niche, any investment undertaken from that income goes back into the predetermined niche, not into the field from which this income came.

I think this is a really helpful way of looking at niching. Instead of limiting our services, it directs our marketing along a certain path. The more we focus, the more successful our efforts. The more we allow ourselves to explore what is new and interesting, the less likely we are to burn out and the more likely we are to find new ideas to apply to our original niche.

Of course, we may discover that our new paths are more attractive niches than what we have done in the past. Then we can change our niche or expand into an additional niche.

That’s the joy of self-employment. We can forge our own path.

Sometimes I see freelancers and coaches, especially personal coaches, rebrand themselves entirely, but to the individual who has not been privy to the rebranding conversation, the new business is not clearly distinguished from the original choice.

Clearly the freelancer or coach perceives some tremendous change in their life calling but neglects to articulate it in a way that illuminates the new direction to a casual internet audience.

So sad. Such a waste of energy, time and financial resources.

In my own work as a marketing writer and researcher, I define my industries as insurance, asset management / financial, and business. Business is, obviously, pretty broad but it enables me to send a website link for projects that interest me and makes it easy to go after something I want even if not clearly in my narrow target market.

My niche is copywriting and certain types of marketing research reports. I’ve also written for school textbooks and general newspaper feature articles.

The Hardy advice really fits me: Take on the projects I want while adopting a niche and target market that shapes my marketing work.

This blog and the related book have a broad target market—freelancers and consultants—and a narrow niche—marketing. It has been suggested that I expand into all aspects related to freelancing, such as legal organization, how to set up an office, and such. Not interested unless I decide to become an expert in all these topics.

It’s working for me. Still, I confess that I’ve put lots of thought into this over the course of years for something that in the end, seems so straightforward and common sense.

How about you?

Have you changed your niche and / or target market? Why? How did you make the decision? Please comment.


Posted in niches for freelance and consulting Tagged with: , ,

Four smart ways we freelancers can handle requests for free help

What do you say when someone asks you for free professional advice?

It’s a touchy question and your answer may vary depending on the circumstances. But one fundamental principle always wins the day: We handle this question most effectively when we determine our policy before we are asked.

Speaker / coach Catherine Johns points out that requesters may offer payment solely in the form of exposure. “That’s when you die outside in the cold with no coat and no shoes, right?”asks Catherine.

Instead, she recommends a snappy offer of a scheduled consultation to consider possible solutions more fully. The person who asks then recognizes that a fee is assumed without us having to spell it all out.

Here are four ideas for how to handle these questions:

  1. Suggest that you collect more information and fully consider alternative courses of action to develop a responsible solution. Questions asked of professionals require professional problem solving. Simply suggest an office appointment as noted above. It’s tempting to get snarky and nasty. You may get a kick out of venting your hostilities, but you’ll be remembered at your worst. You will please yourself with your wit and forthrightness while insulting, even terrorizing, the other person. If you go down the low road, don’t expect referrals to their friends who could be actual prospects.
  2. Give as much help as you feel comfortable giving for free, without obligation. For instance, if the question is, “What platform do you recommend for a blog?” and your answer is “Wordpress,” simply say it. Your money is in the implementation, not the single word. If they can carry it out on their own, fine. If not, suggest your (paid) services.
  3. Don’t give half-baked assistance. As a writer, I may give free advice off the top of my head but nothing that involves pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). When I actually write, I write my best work . . . or I write nothing at all. When acquaintances get poor quality work, they don’t consider that maybe it would be better if they paid for you to put in more time. Instead, they pat themselves on the back for not paying for such crap and mark down their opinion of you forever more.
  4. Help out for free if it feels right to you. For close friends and family, this may be totally appropriate. If they do favors for you, you can do favors for them. Nothing at all wrong with this if it feels right to you.

Sometimes we have the totally opposite situation: A stranger phones or emails us with a single question: What do you charge?

They probably aren’t a likely prospect.

This is especially true if they are calling from a major company and likely employ freelancers such as us regularly. If their first—and sole—concern is money, that’s pretty sad. They know better. No use being intentionally rude but don’t waste time with them. In particular, decline to toil over a detailed proposal because it won’t go anywhere.

More likely they are a consumer or a brand-new self-employed person who has no idea what they are doing. They don’t know enough to formulate an intelligent opening question so they lead with the first thought that comes to mind: price.

You may wish to proceed with a helpful question: What kind of help do you need? What are you trying to achieve?

See if they follow your lead. If so, a useful conversation may ensue. If not, cut it short, politely.

How do you handle “opportunities” to give free advice? Your opinion?

Click here for an interesting read on the subject from Catherine Johns.


Posted in Freelance, Getting paid, How much to charge Tagged with: , ,

Update on my freelance marketing campaign: how to create momentum (part II)


I recently posted about how I am seriously going after good freelance writing assignments, especially in insurance, asset management / mutual funds, and business.

In my book, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less, I recommend aiming for 1,000 reach outs (also known as phone calls) in a one-month period.

I know that this is quite a large number and many freelancers won’t set their goal that high. This is perfectly understandable. Anyway, even a small, consistent effort is better than no proactive activity at all.

Not that I’ve never done a 1,000 call campaign. I’ve always hit capacity before that point and slowed my outreach to a more reasonable number that allows me to carry out the assignments I have landed.

So now I’m doing exactly what I recommend that others do. I’m phoning for assignments. (It’s erroneously called “cold calling.”)

I am consistent in my effort but not going all out in daily quantity due to other responsibilities and lifestyle choices.

I make at least one phone call every workday that I am not already scheduled out of the office for every moment of the day. And if I miss a day on which I was somewhat available, I simply start again the next day with at least one call.

I never add in days missed in the past to the upcoming day’s list. It’s too discouraging and demotivates me towards the point of giving up.

Now here’s the problem: Slow and steady wins the race if, like the tortoise, you can hang in there long enough.

But slow and steady postpones success, making it much harder to stay engaged.

The good thing but jumping all in and doing lots of daily marketing activity, such as phone calls or emails, is that positive responses and even actual assignments come in faster. You start having results before you get discouraged.

This time around I have a problem

I find it more difficult to identify people to phone (or otherwise contact) for business assignments than it was years ago.

It used to be that established professional associations had substantial membership lists. Pay your dues and there you were with an instant list including names, titles, and phone numbers.

Now most markets are fragmented. LinkedIn encourages everyone to start his own Group. Many are small, some are poorly managed, and many have more of our competitor service providers than corporate leads. Plus LinkedIn doesn’t uniformly provide phone numbers, email, and such.

MeetUp, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have similar problems. We can’t simply pull up a list that is right for us and dig right in.

It takes work to identify and put our initial lead generation ideas into play. No matter how strong our preparation, this element of our marketing will evolve as we test it and improve it.

I am confident that the leads I have generated to date have put me on the right path.

If I had a more aggressive marketing plan in place, it would be more demanding time wise, but it would be easier to maintain a positive attitude.

What about you? How do you maintain momentum in your marketing?

Here’s what I have written about this in the past:

My current campaign for freelance writing work: how it’s going




Posted in cold calling for freelance and consulting, phoning for freelance and consulting work Tagged with: , , , ,

Pulling back the curtain on a freelancer’s shame

If you spend time online, you know that we freelancer writers are madder than hell and we are not going to take it any longer.

Specifically, Arianna Huffington made $21 million by selling her Huffington Post to AOL off the backs of freelancers who wrote for free. (The transaction totaled $315 million.)

Our work is worth money and we should not be giving it away, especially to someone who is rich, freelancers said. Never again. (And let’s sue her while we are at it.)

Despite the warning, I went ahead and submitted articles to HuffPo. More than once, I am ashamed to say.

I knew I would not get paid but I confess, I wanted the visibility. I fancy myself a thought leader, but the metrics show I am short on followers.

Should be easy to get published for free, I figured.

I figured wrong.

Here’s how it works.

You follow the directions at and send in your article. You wait.

If you hear nothing, assume they don’t want you.

So I submitted. And heard nothing.

Alas, I couldn’t even give it away.

After all, they, just like companies soliciting resumes for hiring, are important. They are busy. And silence is golden. Why throw the silver of rejection expenses after gold?

Last week I discussed my shame with Sabrina Wottreng, Millennial PR wonder. (I’m not being sarcastic. As we aging boomers say, she’s one smart cookie.)

She confided that many submitters are rejected by Arianna and her crew. Believe it or not, I am not alone in my disgrace.

Happens all the time.

Nor does submitting to a specific name or email make a difference.

Nor are interesting content and proper punctuation the only criteria.

Another possible criterion is the author’s visibility on the internet. Before running an article, they examine the submitter’s social media participation and SEO visibility. They prefer to post articles of people who can publicize the piece through their own vast networks on Twitter and other social media to generate more inbound links.

Then there’s the question of how attractive the article titles are and how well they drive traffic.

Consider, “How green vegetables make us healthy.” Yes, the topic benefits readers, but no one cares.

Why not something dynamic like, “Lose 20 pounds this week with these five top-secret superfoods. (The CIA warned us not to reveal this.)”

Or “Melania Trump’s private diet tips that make her irresistible to The Donald.”

If you are reading this (and obviously, you are), you may have read my repurposing of some of those rejected posts, whether on LinkedIn or on my blog or in my newsletter. Thank you for your comments and for not holding out for the good stuff.

Your thoughts? Your sympathy?



Posted in creating content, Social networking, writing Tagged with: , ,

Can we freelancers raise our rates?

Sure, why not?

I’ve heard free teleseminars lately saying you can’t raise rates, but they don’t give reasons why.

I disagree. Yes, we can. We can do anything we want to do. We are our bosses.

Of course we can’t raise rates on a current assignment once a contract or other agreement is in place, but I don’t think that is the issue at hand.

Any time new business is under discussion, the rate can be discussed, whether the client represents repeat business or is new to us.

And yes, it can be raised, whether the fee is calculated by the hour or by the project.

But first, should we post our rates on our websites?

Generally not. And especially not if our rates are on the low side.

A good reason to list prices is if they are high. This will prevent having to respond to people who are intently comparing prices and looking for the best deal. If you are receiving too many nuisance calls, price listing may be the way to go.

If your rates are in the middle range or even low, only consider listing them if you are committed to these prices for all prospects.

It is reasonable, even fair, to vary rates by the nature of the prospect. For instance, larger, international companies typically pay more for a service. Often the service is more demanding because of its scope, justifying higher rates. Tighter deadlines = higher rates. More complex work also equates with higher rates.

Raise everyone’s rates at once?

It’s perfectly fair not to. You may decide to start by raising rates for new clients but freezing what you charge old ones.

You may decide on a moderate increase for returning customers. You may decide on the increase months in advance and alert clients it is coming while offering the current rate for work they commit to before the price increase.

Charging by the hour presents its own challenges

Some deride this practice of charging by the hour as commoditizing the work but I don’t see it this way. My work reflects my own style and my own strengths, and I am confident that comparing my rate to someone else’s is irrelevant to professional clients. I am not interested in working with individuals and companies that can’t evaluate freelancers more astutely.

The faster and better the work, the more you can charge per hour.

Some argue that when you charge by the hour, clients will question how long it took you to accomplish something. I have been freelancing since 1991 and no one has ever challenged my time records when I’ve charged by the hour.


I am sure that anyone who did challenge me on this factor would be a horrible client for other reasons as well.

My solution would be to possibly adjust the invoice but to never work with them again.

Some otherwise reputable freelancers suggest simply charging for more hours to in effect raise the hourly rate without the client’s knowledge. In other words, padding.

Ugh. I can’t expect fair treatment from clients if I don’t hold myself to equally high standards.

I assure that my time records are exact because I track time in quarter-hour increments and maintain a running total day by day in my appointment book.

The big picture

As the boss, we can raise our rates any time we wish. However, we may decide to postpone this move—especially for existing clients—until we have a respectable amount of work in the pipeline or embark on an ambitious sales program.


Posted in How much to charge Tagged with: , ,

My current campaign for freelance writing work: how it’s going

Awhile back I decided I to launch a campaign for freelance writing assignments on my “significant” birthday—May 23.

I would test the recommendations I outlined in my book, Real Skills, Real Income, A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less. Does a book that suggests you “just pick up the phone” still work when we are newly bombarded with nuisance sales-call spam?

Since May 23, I have phoned and / or emailed over 70 contacts. Some are new names, others were pulled from past marketing campaigns.

Only one person was suggested to me as someone who may be in the market for a freelance writer. The rest of my calls were out of the blue.

On most calls, I phone, leave a voicemail message if the person doesn’t answer, and send a prewritten email that I customize for the individual. If I don’t have both the email address and the phone number, I adjust accordingly.

So far I have pinned down no actual assignments, but I am confident it will happen.

You may interpret this as failure, but I don’t. You may interpret this as a lot of rejection, but I don’t. Some people don’t need my service at this time, others don’t answer the phone. So it goes. No drama here.

My conclusion so far is exceedingly positive: It’s amazing how open people are to a phone call from a freelancer they have never met.

I had thought that people are so used to hanging up and blocking calls that they would hang up rudely and maybe even scream the F word in my ear. Hasn’t happened at all.

Some people respond to my call or my email by telling me they have no need at this time but will keep my name on file. Some take no action whatsoever. Only one person hung up on me during my call preliminaries—but without anger or swearing.

How I make phone calls

I make at least one phone call every weekday that I am not on vacation or otherwise away from my desk for the entire day. In my book I recommend doing a lot more calls than that, but my level of effort feels right for me at this time. I am going for consistent action because I have found that once I quit something, even for only a few days, it is hard to get back into it.

Here is what you should know about my calls. I do them all myself, no recordings. I do them only between 9 am and 5 pm central time, adjusting for the time zone of the phone number I am calling. I always leave a voicemail when no one answers.

I am low key. I don’t sell. I introduce myself and ask if they use freelancers or have thought about it. Then I simply participate in any conversation that ensues.

I am highly selective about who I call. I cull contacts from LinkedIn, commercial list providers, the internet and Google, and directories of professional organizations to which I belong. I research people to determine if they work in marketing communications, marketing research or training, my target functions, before phoning.

I only call American companies since I understand our business culture the best. I prefer the Chicago area since that’s where I live.

I look at industries in which I have a background, especially property / casualty insurance and asset management, but also HR, banking and other areas in which I am comfortable.

The challenge is not “rejection.” It’s compiling a good call list. It’s so time consuming to assemble a phone list, complete with phone numbers and email addresses. I haven’t found any sources that approach my quality standards. (I’m working on this and will post more later.)

My business model

I prefer long-term relationships similar to being a payroll employee (though clearly not fitting the IRS definition of an employee).

My Selling Proposition (but in no ways a “Unique” Selling Proposition) is “Writing in service to your business.” That sums up my approach.

What follows shows how my email template carries out that theme. The phrases below in italics appear in the email; the nonitalic is my commentary to you.

Shine at writing and editing dense content, including research and corporate performance data as well as training concepts.  These projects require diligence and patience, two of my strengths.

My rates are mid-range to support typical day-to-day work as well as special assignments.  This means high double digits when calculated on an hourly basis. I’d prefer a steadier stream of commonplace projects, including simple news releases and blog posts, over occasional special projects.

Provide ongoing (free) current awareness research in your specialty as our relationship develops. As a freelancer, I spend very little time on reading about my preferred industries—even with narrow niching, there is too much to read. An ongoing relationship would financially support staying up-to-date on a narrow topic.

Some of my best clients are tremendous writers and appreciate having someone else organize copy for their review. Answers the question, Why should I hire you when I myself have been writing for years?

Adept at adopting your writing style for consistency with your positioning. . . . Creative but not an ad-agency sort of person.  That’s me!

So that’s where my freelancing relaunch stands. I’ll keep you posted.


Posted in cold calling for freelance and consulting, phoning for freelance and consulting work Tagged with: , , , ,