A handy formula to calculate your freelance pay rate

The consensus seems to be that we freelancers should charge what we are worth. However, how do we determine what we are worth?

Some suggest looking at the competition. In practice, that’s not easy. My competitor writers may number in the millions globally, and yes, I do have international competition.

Some suggest looking at rating guides. This can be useful, but so many specifics are involved that guide rates may be difficult to apply.

Some suggest evaluating our qualifications. Nah, not really. Qualifications are features, not benefits, and everyone knows that it’s juicy benefits that count. Anyway, some organizations that coach budding freelancers claim that anyone can quickly master their new calling. Qualifications are so old school.

Some suggest looking at our living expenses and adding in desired profits. Does this mean we owe it to our clients to slash our rates if we move out to the sticks and downsize our home?

Note: I’ve really pissed off some of my readers in the past who claim that I don’t care if freelancers can afford to live. Not true. What’s really in play here is that I am simply not interested in the rates people accept at the lowest end of the scale. People who write 20 articles for $100 are not on my radar. They can do as they wish, I don’t care. Clients looking for such low rates would never consider hiring me. I focus on the other end of the pay spectrum—I am fascinated by how freelancers commit to specific higher rates.

And then there’s looking into one’s own heart and naming our price. By that process, I’ve determined my fair rate is $997 per hour. That’s what I am worth, aren’t you?

Seriously. I can waver for days between $80 and $85 per hour. But $997 really resonates with me; my body relaxes into the figure and it feels just right. Sit back and give it a try.

Note: I haven’t yet quoted this rate to a prospect. No plans to do so.

Here’s my formula to calculate freelance rates

Let’s go:

  1. Take the current salary your service would pay as a full-time job. My book, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less, recommends choosing a freelance specialty that corresponds to your last good job. If you have done this, start with your pay at that job. Or increase it if you believe you were underpaid. Example: Let’s start with $50,000 per year.
  2. Take the annual salary and divide by 1,000. Note that there are approximately 2,000 hours in a work year but we are calculating based on 1,000 hours. That is because a full-time freelance practice consists of 20 to 25 billable hours per week. The remaining time is for marketing, administrative tasks, continuing education, and other nonpaying activities. Example: $50,000 divided by 1,000 equals $50 per hour.
  3. Benefits represent a third of salary. So multiply by 1.34. Example: $50 per hour times 1.34 equals $67.
  4. Multiply by 1.5 or even 2 (or even more) if you work quickly, specialize in your highest paying skill or otherwise want to raise the figure. As a self-employed person you don’t have to waste billable time on “other duties as assigned.” Remember that a billable hour may be more intense than a regular-job hour, justifying a higher hourly rate. Example: $67 times 1.5 equals $100.50; $67 times 2 equals $134.

How to adjust your initial figures

Increase for taxes. Some people recommend this. On the other hand, your full-time salary is not adjusted for taxes so this adjustment would be apples to oranges. One exception may be the self-employment tax for Social Security and Medicare in the U.S.

Increase for unusual expenses. For instance, if you own and maintain video equipment, your rate should incorporate a rental component. If you subscribe to a pricey resource such as a specialized data base, you’ll want to apportion that expense among the hours billed.

Adjust your hourly figure so it is divisible by 5. A stated hourly rate of $53.62 looks weird.

You may wish to start with more accurate numbers. Dividing by 50 weeks is handy, but obviously there are 52 weeks in a year.

One final point: Don’t divide by 2,000, which for an annual salary of $50,000 would mean $25 per hour. It’s unrealistically low although it approximates your hourly corporate rate.

How to use these numbers

You are your boss. You can claim any numbers you wish. If you think these figures are unfair, change them. Back when you had a J-O-B, you probably got angry if your pay was too low. There’s no one to get angry at now—you are in charge.

These numbers are mere data points to assist in rate setting. You don’t have to bill by the hour. You can work with a flat per-project fee, develop some type of value calculation, bill by a time measurement other than hourly, such as by the day, work on commission or royalty basis, bill by the word (if you are a writer), or whatever system you choose.

How does this formula work for you? Any suggestions to improve it?



Posted in How much to charge Tagged with: , ,

Freelance success: decide how you will market first

Conventional wisdom recommends that the first order of business for freelancers is to determine the service we will offer and whom we will offer it to. We should narrow our specialty niche and our target market very narrowly so we know where to find these prospects, say the universal “they.” We look into our souls and dig deep to embrace our paths.

However, as I observe how people are marketing today, I suspect that it is more realistic and efficient to determine how we will market and then narrow in on services and specialties that work with our marketing channel.

Case in point. Lately I’ve been researching how younger freelancers, especially those offering marketing and creative services, market their own freelance services. I conduct this research by going to live marketing groups and asking them individually in the course of conversation.

Yes, I’d love to work with them on projects but I don’t much expect that to happen. I’m open to offers—and they are nice to me—but the age difference is apparent. Also, they are quicker to video and photo while I have more of a writing orientation. Not sure if this last thing is an age issue but that’s how it is.

It appears that many build their clientele through in-person, live networking. For starters, there’s the local Freelancers Union group and other professional networking events. Some use coworking spaces, which are shared work environments that help freelancers escape the distractions and isolation of working at home. Metro coffee shops appear to have lots of programming and social opportunities that promote interaction and networking. Plus many of these individuals keep in touch with college acquaintances in their majors and have roommates and other friends they work with regularly.

If you intend for acquaintances to be a primary source of work, this should shape your niche and target market decisions. In fact, if you are still in planning mode and preparing to start out, see what your network is up to and then select your market accordingly.

Strong identifications with a certain industry may not be the way to go if your circle doesn’t share them. Instead, specializing in a certain technology or marketing practice may be more relevant in teaming with other networkers.

If you are planning to freelance or you are rethinking your Unique Selling Proposition, positioning and such and you participate in such circles, gather input from your connections. See where their marketplace is headed. See what services are in demand and where more service providers are needed. See which industries present the most opportunities in your geographic area.

See where the money is. Integrate this information into your soul searching and your self-inventory of strengths and interests.

If you intend to build your career mostly through live networking and the online networking that builds upon the live aspect, make choices that enable your current community network and likely expanded network (the networks of your acquaintances) to best support you.

Is in-person networking important to building your practice? How are you synching your networking with your business positioning?


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

Freelancing: Marketing to the introverted client

I often read on the internet how we introverted freelancers can be more effective in our marketing.

But I have never seen any suggestion that our prospects may be introverts as well.

Heaven forbid! American society has a strong bias in favor of extroversion and we simply assume that employees who have the title and budgetary access to employ us freelancers must be extroverts.

In sales, we are advised to mirror the prospect without going overboard to the point of being weird. We should attempt to mimic their energy level, loudness, posture, vocabulary, and more so they identify us as their kinds of people.

In practice, this advice is honored primarily at in-person meetings, sometimes to the point of crossing our legs when they cross theirs and leaning forward when they do the same.

However, this mirroring in the context of the phoned sales call is more challenging.

We have to start the conversation with minimal knowledge about the person we are calling, and there are almost no clues other than speech to start assessing the person’s personality.

What is an extrovert? An introvert?

These terms only minimally describe how talkative we are and whether or not we are shy.

Instead, “extrovert” and “introvert” describe primarily how we recharge our energy. Extroverts tend to recharge their energy by interacting with other people. Introverts tend to be self-charging and reinvigorate independently, either by themselves or in the company of one or two people they know well.

Extroverts are likely to develop ideas through talking out their thoughts with others; introverts are likely to think through their ideas on their own. Note that introversion and extroversion are on a continuum; no one is totally introverted or extroverted.

Actually, in creative fields such as writing and graphic design, it is quite possible that the people we are calling are introverts, just as we freelancers are quite likely to be introverted. Many of us who enter these specialties enjoy working on our own to resolve creative problems.

In other words, corporate people and the freelancers they hire are often similar in temperament.

What this means in phoning for freelance assignments

It means that a simple approach can work fine for both parties.

You don’t have to start with lots of stupid chitchat. “How are you today?” is unnecessary unless you really care. Discussions of the weather waste time.

I particularly hate answering the phone to someone who says, “What about those Bears?” Just because I am in the Chicago area doesn’t mean I care. (When I read about sports, I am much more interested in aspects of team management and coaching, but I don’t care about game statistics and team standings.)

So why not consider dialing down the dominance and instead match the possibly lower-key style of the prospects we phone? Put your toe in the conversational waters before revving up to a pushy, gabby sales style.

Here are more tips that will help in making prospecting calls to introverts:

Phoning for freelance work? Eight ways to avoid hostile responses

Where are you on the introversion versus extroversion spectrum? How does this impact your marketing?


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

Phoning for freelance work? Eight ways to avoid hostile responses

I receive unsolicited phone calls daily, seeing that my primary phone number is both a residential and work phone.

I am interested in these calls since I proudly use the phone to contact prospects for my freelance business-writing services. I have also made live phone calls in my community for political candidates.

You may be surprised that I sometimes hang up on people who call me since I use the phone myself to solicit business. However, what I do is so different from my callers’ practices that I feel no guilt whatsoever.

I seldom buy or donate to a phone solicitation although I frequently call business people to offer my services. This is perfectly right because my services are more relevant and valuable to the other party than what is offered to me.

Here are some ways to do better phoning:

  1. Don’t use a recording. A friend posted to Facebook that you should never start a call to him with “Congratulations!” He’ll hang up before you say another word. Actually, any recordings are offensive. If you don’t value my time enough to call live, I don’t value you enough to listen.
  1. Get to the point. I dislike when callers try to make small talk. You are interrupting me so let’s get right to business. I especially dislike callers in January who call me in the Illinois area and want to chat about the weather. And I dislike even more callers who want to brag about being in warm climates. If I really cared about the winter weather, I’d move. Shut up and get to the point.
  1. Let me talk. Sometimes I try to be polite and wait for the caller to pause so I can turn him down politely. But they won’t stop! So I simply talk right over them. I say I am not interested and hang up. You can’t steamroll me into buying.
  1. Keep your speaking genuine and conversational, not overly polished. I don’t think there is such a thing as magnetic scripts since I am comfortable saying no to anything and anyone. I’m immune to magical sales phrases, whether they appeal to greed or fear. So talk like a regular person.
  1. Don’t call twice in the same day. Worse yet, don’t call twice in the same hour. Microsoft and the IRS have done both to me. Yeah, sure….
  1. Don’t use the word “free.” Nothing offered on the phone is free. If it does appear to be free, you pay for it with time.
  1. Don’t call me with a survey. I understand that some surveys, especially political or marketing research surveys, may be legit, but the bad practitioners have killed it for the good ones. I especially hate ridiculous survey questions where the caller rattles off a long, long opinion and asks if I strongly agree, agree, have no opinion, disagree or strongly disagree. They typically speak at breakneck speed. I can’t follow the question and hang up.
  1. Here’s the most important suggestion: Select the names you call carefully. I research each person I call via LinkedIn, Google or relevant professional directories. I only call people in my industry who have jobs in which they may hire freelance writers. I do not research the company before I make my initial call—that they are in the right industry is sufficient—but I am picky about who I call.

And now for some suggestions on what to say when you phone for freelance assignments:

The perfect cold calling script for freelancers and consultants

The best telephone script is the one you feel most comfortable with

Our greatest interest is ourselves, right? (The marketing conversation)

How’s phoning working for you? What is most successful?



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

Ah, how I long for rejection . . . a freelancer’s lament

Be careful what you wish for.

I, too, used to wish for no more rejection . . . and now I fear I have achieved it.

For years I have marketed my freelance business-writing practice primarily by picking up the phone and calling the most likely prospects, just as I recommend in my book, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less.

Very few people said “no,” and I can only recall being hung up on once over the years.

Now I am launching a new marketing campaign for my freelance writing to coincide with a “special” birthday and I doubt that I will experience any active rejection. (My specialty is writing for property-casualty insurance companies and other businesses.)

I suspect that hardly anyone will answer my call, few will listen to the voicemail I always leave, and many will automatically delete the email that immediately follows my call. My own phone receives useless sales calls and recorded messages daily but only a few valid calls per week, and I expect many prospects to deal with me as I deal with my callers by using automatic delete responses.

The quality of phone calls I have received in recent months has clearly deteriorated. I get far too many sales calls for products and services of no interest to me, far too many recordings, and far too many investigations by Microsoft and the IRS. (I know they are fake because neither organization cares enough about me to call multiple times a day.)

My current campaign to fill my freelance schedule doubles as an experiment to see what works now and what doesn’t.

The romance of literary rejection

We writers have stories in our heads about what rejection is supposed to look like. The great authors experienced years of rejections and had the letters to show for it. They’d paper the walls of their garage or their study. They’d stack them up by the hundreds.

Today it’s rare to get a rejection. An actual rejection, whether by email or the rarer postal letter, is so unusual as to be taken for encouragement. Wow, someone cared enough to reject me actively!

Back to my plan

My plan is to phone, leave a voicemail if no one answers, and immediately send an email. I’m wondering if I should text as well. I dislike receiving texts from people with whom I do not have a personal relationship and I text infrequently.

However, I hear texting is much more popular with Millennials. So I’ve thought of giving it a try but I probably won’t. To me, the main attraction of texting is that I receive so few and almost always, the ones I get are from people I know well. I don’t want people sending me useless texts so I will practice texting karma and play nice with others.

How about you? What’s your experience with texting? Are you open to receiving business-related texts? What about phone calls and emails? I’d appreciate it if you would provide your age group as context.

Thanks so much. I’ll keep you posted on my marketing experiment.



Diana Schneidman is the author of Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less, available on Amazon. She coaches freelancers and consultants who want to land work quickly at www.StandUp8Times.com and has been a freelance writer for over two decades.


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

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

As a freelance business copywriter, I’m small potatoes. My largest single assignment ever paid $15,000 (paid in full in advance), and I estimate I am still unpaid for about $500 of invoices in over two decades.

So here’s Donald Trump who has taken four companies into bankruptcy.

Don’t worry, The Donald is doing just fine. His companies went bankrupt but Donald-the-individual’s financial resources are H-U-G-E. Still has the plane, Mar-a-Lago, opulent New York City digs.

He says he loves debt. He loves to play with it. Regardless of what we’ve heard about his hands, he’s the biggest, baddest deal maker there is.

Some business pros say that negotiations should be win-win. Pathetic pansies! Trump is using his campaign to expand his message beyond TV shows and Trump University and teach us that effective negotiations are I-win-you-lose.

I understand that bankruptcy plays a valuable role in the economy. It enables business to take risk. It serves us better than debtor’s prison ever did. And I understand that Trump’s bankruptcies are perfectly legal.

What bugs me is the absence of humility. To deprive product and service providers of agreed-upon payment is nothing to brag about. And it is downright scary to see that many Americans aspire to do business like Trump.

But what do I know? I work from a modest home office in a modest suburban house where I make my own coffee and empty my own trash.

Not like business magnates who cockily negotiate with Trump.

Ah, the prestige of not getting paid for projects costing in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Of jetting out to NYC to gather with other bigwig creditors around a solid oak conference table outfitted with genuine leather chairs.

Not that Trump has ever offered to negotiate with me. Forgive my sour grapes.

Voters tell pollsters that Hillary is untrustworthy. But as best I can tell, she and Bill have paid their attorney fees and past campaign expenses in full. She’s my kind of crook.


Posted in Getting paid Tagged with: , , ,

There’s more to freelance rates than getting “what we are worth”

Among freelancers, our most cherished business objective as expressed on the internet is to “get paid what I am worth.” (Note that more than a third of the U.S. labor force is freelancering per Freelancers Union and Upwork, 2015, and freelancers will be in the majority in a few decades.)

So let’s ask the question: What are we worth?

Obviously, quantifying human value is touchy. Even God settled for an inspired generalization: Man is but “a little lower than the angels” and crowned “with glory and honour.”

It is far more reasonable to attach a dollar figure to what our work is worth.

OK, what is our work worth?

Professional associations take stabs at determining the worth of work. As an example, check out the rates listed by the Editorial Freelancers Association, which (in my opinion) are surprisingly low, considering that its goal is to “raise the professional status of its members and to make freelancing more dynamic and rewarding.”

Through years of freelancing—and of slacking off by scanning websites, marketing emails, and social media discussions—I see a consensus among freelancers: Yes, we do want to get paid what we are worth. Market value is darned near off the radar of most freelancers.

Our worth is determined by our self-esteem, objective qualifications be damned. In marketing lingo, these are derisively called “features,” as opposed to mouth watering “benefits,” which are results that may objectively or subjectively benefit the client.

Today’s freelancers never determine that our rates are too high. Getting “what you are worth” always, always, always means getting paid more.

Experts and fellow freelancers recommend that we hire the very cheapest labor from online job boards for the tasks we need done but that we also demand top rates for our own services. Apparently they see no inconsistency there.

I confess: My own issues around pricing

I have dealt with pricing fears and foibles for over 20 years as a freelance writer. I have underpriced and overpriced.

I am also a client for diverse tech, design and administrative freelance services. I have paid from $40 to over $100 per hour (and much more for specialized coaching).

In other words, I don’t pay pathetically low. At the high end, I am constrained by the limitations of a one-person business that cannot earn back a huge “investment” in a reasonable timeframe. (Sometimes I pay some way other than by the hour, such as by the project.)

I am proud to pay invoices from freelance service providers within 24 hours. None of this sit-on-the-money-for-30-days crap for me.

For those of us with self-esteem issues (count me in and many other somewhat well-balanced people as well), this get-paid-what-you-are-worth talk feeds our insecurities and causes us to second guess our rates, no matter how high we raise them. By golly, I’m as valuable as anyone else, I assure myself with rates I pull out of my derriere.

The “experts” say . . .

You aren’t getting enough assignments? It couldn’t possibly mean that you are overcharging, advise experts and peers. In fact, quite possibly you are undercharging. If your rate isn’t high enough, prospects suspect there is something wrong with you and opt for someone who charges more, we are told. That the price can be too high and above the market is totally off radar.

If a prospective client does not immediately submit to our number and dares to attempt negotiations, we should be deeply offended. “Stick to your guns,” urge our fellow practitioners in online forums.

It’s an “investment,” not “expenditure,” we are told. That claim may appear to justify the cost from the provider’s side, but what about the prospect? The local no-kill cat shelter can’t afford a hefty bill regardless of the work’s quality, while the same fee for a Fortune 50 company may be a pittance. (And let’s not forget that the F50 assignment may be much more sophisticated in scope, tech requirements, etc.)

If we want to earn more, we could determine the most lucrative niches and go after them. Good idea, but seldom recommended. Instead, we should do what we love so much that work is like getting paid to eat ice cream. We should calculate our pay rate based on cost of living and then push it up plenty to fund the lifestyle of our dreams that we’ve illustrated on our cut-and-paste vision boards.

Then there is imposter syndrome, which according to freelancing experts is commonplace. That’s when we freelancers fear that the world will catch on that we are frauds, not as talented as we pretend to be.

Could it be that the real problem is freelancers who are shamed into asking for rates their guts say are too high? They repeat to themselves what the experts preach, that their discomfort is merely unfounded insecurity.

You get what you pay for, right?

At this point you may be saying to yourself that it’s all OK. Everything is just as it should be in this best of all possible worlds because as a client, you get what you pay for.

Alas, I have learned through years of experience as the client that it’s more likely for the opposite to be true: the more I pay, the worse the service.

I have found—with a few pleasant exceptions—that the freelancers with the highest rates have the biggest chips on their shoulders and are the biggest pains in the derriere.

Some of the most expensive freelancers are the most egotistical and condescending. They are the stingiest with their time and the most rigid about not giving away any work for free. Requests for reasonable turnaround offend them. They may even resent client work openly because it interferes with their true creative calling.

Most important, the highest-priced people often produce work that is no better than the work of lower-priced people.

I don’t begrudge freelancers their top fees. I’ve landed high-paying work myself. However, freelancing rates should have some relationship to the demands of the assignment and the level of performance, not merely ego.

As freelancers, let’s reconsider rate setting. There’s more to “getting paid what we are worth” than claiming our self-esteem.

Posted in How much to charge Tagged with: , ,

Our most interesting writing projects are the most challenging

The most memorable writing advice I received as an Ohio State undergrad was from Mr. Smith (can’t remember his first name), in freshman English 102.

I complained that the more interesting my essay, the worse my grade. The ones on typical freshman-English topics that I dashed off quickly with less thought or editing scored the As.

Mr. Smith said that the topics that bored me were the topics I was most familiar with. On the other hand, fresh ideas were new to me. I had thought about them less. I was still developing my ideas.

The boring topics were easy to structure. Three reasons why … Four benefits of . . . Five life lessons.

I’d start with an introductory paragraph on the importance of the topic and introduce the number of concepts I would present.

Then I would write a paragraph or so on each. In those days, paragraphs were longer. They started with a summary introductory sentence. Then three (or more) ideas were developed, each in its own sentence. Followed by a summary sentence to wrap it up before heading off to the next topic. (This was back in the seventies before bullets—of  the writing type—had been invented.)

I’d add a little twist to connect each paragraph with the following one (another trick I learned from Mr. Smith). Perhaps a little phrase at the start of the following paragraph, such as “As an example” or “Furthermore.” Or it could be something really short, such as “Then…” It could even be repetition of a word used at the end of the preceding paragraph.

The same problem holds true today: The more exciting and novel an idea feels to me, the harder it is to write effectively about it. I keep revisiting and revising and doubting and fretting. At the same time, I can handle a simple, kind of regular idea quickly and efficiently.

That’s part of why it is so hard to write a book or to submit an article to a prestige publication.

The ideas are rich and scintillating. We ponder them, both in our waking hours and as themes in our nighttime dreams. We start writing. It’s a mess. We write some more. We even start a fresh draft. Finally we are done . . . more or less.

It is more difficult to write the novel idea that we care about more. The more it matters, the harder it is to write. The concept is so iridescently beautiful in our heads that no words in print seem to do it justice. It is harder to commit and easier to become discouraged.

The reverse happens when writing business copy for clients. The work generally proceeds at a reasonable pace and comes to a satisfactory conclusion in a reasonable amount of time.

Success results with ease not because we don’t care—we do!—but because we are not so emotionally involved. We understand the assignment and outline major points. Then we sit down and produce. We don’t expect to create breathtaking copy. We expect to meet client expectations and we do.

Between less emotional baggage and a firmer understanding of what is to be written and how it is to be structured, the typical paid business assignment is much easier than our personal projects. Thankfully.

Because if all writing was as intimidating as the big, personally meaningful projects to which we aspire, freelance writing would be exhausting.

Posted in writing Tagged with: , ,

Marketing for freelance: Expert says I’m on the right track

Live phone conversations are the way to go in 2016. Email lists are likely to fail.

To be honest, an article in the January 2016 issue of the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News by Pete Gracey doesn’t say I’m right. Gracey doesn’t even acknowledge I’m alive. Still, he and I are on the same wavelength.

In his “Five Must-Know Sales and Marketing Predictions for 2016,” he writes that “the use of automated e-mail for sales prospecting will get punched in the face.” He claims that open rates will drop precipitously and that email is too impersonal.

Actually, I believe that open rates have already dropped and that unsubscribe rates remain modest because people are so overwhelmed with floods of email that they won’t even take the time to cancel. (Anyway, many of us fear that when we unsubscribe, we are acknowledging that the account is live, possibly encouraging more spam.)

Then Gracey predicts that live phone conversations will make a marketing comeback as emails fall to the wayside because “customers and prospects seek authentic engagements.”

Yep, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

The telephone has been around for a long time but it continues to excel as a communications medium. For complex conversations, it allows more nuances of expression and prevents misunderstandings. It’s warmer and more friendly.

And it’s the fastest, most efficient way to exchange information, ideas and emotions.

Want to market your freelance services more effectively? Why not simply pick up the phone.

(Here’s a link to a summary of the AMA article. The summary falls far short of the full article, which is available online only to organization members.)

Here’s more info:

Hey, why not take my B2B phone call?

5 do’s and 5 don’t’s when phoning for freelance and consulting work

Is phoning for freelance and consulting work really so awful?


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

What do you do that’s special? (describing your work)

If you are a freelancer or consultant who has been challenged with this or a similar question by prospects or even at workshops and marketing programs, you may feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. I-wish-I-could-sink-down-below-the-floorboards-and-disappear uncomfortable.

What service do I offer that is truly my jewel? My diamond of infinite value? My special sauce? My quality that incites gasps of wonder? My special thing that sets me above any competitor in the world, so awe inspiring that no one else is qualified to be in even the same category as me? So juicy that everyone is drooling in envy?

Here are three valid, real-world possibilities to consider when talking to business prospects about how you are special:

  1. I do for you (or “my clients”) what you would do if you had the time to do it yourself.
  2. I do for you (or “my clients”) what your staff person would do for you, with the same quality and just as appropriately, if this staffer had the time to get to this assignment.
  3. I do what you need done that you and your staff don’t have the skills and / or resources to do, and I do it as much like how you would do it as possible.

Choose one. If you don’t know which one fits the situation, choose the first.

You can expand on the concept. Here are some ways to expand it:

  1. I have more time than you do. I seldom attend meetings and am not called upon for corporate firefighting. I work at my private desk with far fewer interruptions. I devote my full focus to your project and get it done by deadline.
  2. You can participate in the project as much or as little as you like. You can give detailed input. You can delegate to me and depend on me to do an excellent job. You can assign a staff liaison to advise me. You can review the work and make suggestions several times. (Of course your pricing suits these details.)
  3. I can study your company’s past work in this area and match it in content and style. Or I can go in a new creative direction if you prefer.

Note that we are talking about freelancing and consulting assignments for companies, not coaching for individuals.

People in the market for coaching don’t want coaching per se. They want transformation. They want miracles. They pay for personal help that inspires and elates. They pay for it themselves.

Often they don’t know what they want until they hear it. From you.

Freelancing and consulting as the concepts are used here are about providing services to companies. These services are already well defined. You’ll use words like “writing” or “designing” or “diagnosing.”

These corporate prospects aren’t looking for miracle workers. If you suggest you can perform a miracle, they will be suspicious if not outright turned off. You are claiming that despite their years of experience, you know far more than they do. They are insulted.

Sometimes we deliver our elevator speeches to broad-based networking groups or practice them at marketing workshops. Take the leader’s advice with a grain of salt or even a full saltshaker.

How you talk (and write) about your work should connect with your most likely prospects.

It doesn’t matter if an expert uninformed about your industry or function thinks your words lack pizzazz. It’s what your true prospects think that matters.

Your true prospects don’t care about cute or zippy. Your nonprospects may be temporarily amused or impressed, but they will not become prospects. And if they don’t actually understand what you do, they won’t refer you to others either.

The more specific your offering, the more they want to hear that specificity, no matter how dull it seems to others.

Do you agree? Disagree? What has worked for you? Please comment.


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