Saturday, May 30, 2009

"No one goes there no more. It's too crowded."

At the Saturday farmer's market here in Fredericton, there's a small prefab hut that houses two competing samosa vendors side by side. (Samosas are a stuffed triangular meat or vegetable pastry in the same culinary family as an empanada, pasty or my friend Lara's Craven Haven Jamaican patties.) A buck each or a dozen for $10.

But from a sales perspective, it's a curious dynamic: Every weekend, Yummy Samosas (shown in the photo) is empty, while Samosa Delight often has 50 or more people standing in line. Samosa Delight has a wider variety of filling options, which undoubtedly has something to do with the difference. On the other hand, after you've waited 20 minutes in line, the service is Soup Nazi-esque. When a window opens, you damn well better already be in motion towards it, and you'll get a dirty look if you give them a $20 and they're low on change.

So, this morning, I tried an experiment and gave Yummy Samosa a try. Instantly, three or four customers lined up with me. Sure enough, each vendor's spicy chicken tastes, spicy chicken. Makes you wonder if Mr. Yummy Samosa should pay people to fake standing in line. That's what I'd do, along with giving out free samples.

The title of the post is widely attributed to Yogi Berra, commenting on an overly popular New York bar, but who knows.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stop me if you've heard this one before

So an American attorney, a Canadian tax accountant and an American CPA walk into a bar...

Well, they didn't really walk into a bar--I've been talking with them in trying to get some international tax issues sorted out. Being self-employed in another country comes with a heap of implications far beyond the usual capabilities of QuickBooks, TurboTax, voodoo and chicken blood.

Long story short, we were informed by the Canadian tax adviser that I am going to owe taxes on my "worldwide income" to Canada for the time I am here, and U.S. law provides for the Foreign Income Exclusion so I'm not in double jeopardy. (Note: All of my clients are in the U.S., but because I am doing the work while residing in Canada, they have a claim on the taxes.) So far, so good.

After arriving at the arcane intersection of immigration law and tax law, however, I concluded that there was another key step: I needed to make sure I wasn't obligated to pay into both countries' social security systems. This is precisely what the US-Canada Social Security Totalization Agreement does, and we have similar treaties with dozens of countries.

You can read the legalese in its entirety if you can't get to sleep tonight and/or want to have nightmares, but here are the steps I'm taking based on the counsel I've received:
1) Apply for a Certificate of Coverage as a self-employed individual from the U.S. gov't.
2) Present said certificate to the Canadian gov't.
3) Apply for an Individual Tax Number for Non-residents, which gives me a route to pay taxes to Canada.

"And the taxman’s shouting ’cause he wants his dough
and the wheels of finance won’t begin to slow."
--The Jam, Burning Sky

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One person's "negotiation" is another person's head banging against the wall

After dealing with a few hours' worth of idiocy and bureaucracy unrelated to work, I needed a laugh today. This was just the ticket: The Vendor-Client Relationship in Real World Situations. Disclaimer: Mercifully, this doesn't resemble any of my existing clients, only the ones I've cut loose, never to be heard from again...

Monday, May 25, 2009

By any other name

A client of mine that's been in business for nearly 20 years is going through a bit of what I'd diagnose as name anxiety disorder. They're pretty well convinced that their current corporate moniker is confining them to a very specific market and inadequate to appeal to the market that they'd really like to go after.

It's a challenge--their name is indeed bland, and contains a word that is both overused in the business world and says nothing about what they do. At the same time, they're torn, because the owner of the company is well known and well liked in the business community, so there is equity in the name that they've been using for two decades.

Even as we go through the exercise, I'm from the camp that it's the company itself that ultimately determines the success of the name, not the other way around. But surely one of the lessons, when naming your company, is to not paint yourself into a corner from the outset.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Animal spirits

Québec City was our destination of choice for the Victoria Day long weekend--absolutely magnificent place, like Paris with the haughty edge dulled by Canadian politesse.

On Sunday, my wife and I headed out sans-enfants to Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens for an afternoon appetizer and cocktail. They're not kidding about the "anciens" part (the building dates to 1675) and their repertoire includes wild game that we'd never seen on a menu before, such as wapati.

We ordered a pair of La Fin Du Monde ("end of the world") beers, and meanwhile tried to crack the French code of the menu. Foie gras seemed like a suitably French thing to order, and caribou sounded like fun. "Would you like the caribou before the foie gras?" the waitress asked in broken-but-passable English, and we said "Oui," or more likely "Por favor," which is a hard habit for me to break.

Five minutes or so later, the waitress dropped off the two beers and a small cocktail glass containing a light amber liquid and a lemon twist. My wife and I looked at each other, and were certain something had been lost in translation. When the waitress returned, I smiled and pointed at the glass and said, "Um, I'm sorry, but what is this?"

A puzzled look crossed her face and she said, "It is caribou. Did you not want?" The 12-watt lightbulb goes on in my head that I had misread aperitif as appetizer, which it most assuredly was not, and thus we had not ordered the meat from a large horned animal at all, but rather some sort of identically named cocktail. The waitress started to apologize and say that she'd take it back, but we started laughing and insisted that we wanted to try it.

After returning home, we confirmed that Caribou is indeed an authentically Québécois drink--something like a sherry, and notorious as the drink of choice for winter Carnival revelers. It also confirmed the old saying that experience is what you get when you don't get what you want. Particularly when you're traveling, there's nothing better than that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Driving Me Incremental

I don't know what law of physics governs this, but small changes are often more painful than big ones. (When it comes to creative issues, anyway.)

When a client provides a medium-size list of things that need fixing, give me an hour and I'll churn through it. But there are other clients who might give me an itty-bitty comment, one that's practically too small to even bother opening the file, and it gives me a migraine--because I know that there's no way that it's the only change. And the next change will be just as minute. And pretty soon we're on Version 8 with no signs of stopping anytime soon.

If any good comes from such a thing, it's a reminder to me to be vigilant of delivering clean, concise changes to my graphic designers, web designers, etc., etc.

The road to Hell is paved with incremental changes. 4vcxn7ae5t

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wouldn't it be nice...

A fellow freelancer writes: "The business side of freelancing isn't as appealing to me as the creative side. How can I get into a business mindset?" Here's my take:

While it's appealing to think, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if all I had to do is the creative stuff," getting better at the business end of things provides access to more interesting and, ultimately, more lucrative freelance projects. That's your incentive! It's sort of the same principle as forcing a smile making you happier, or standing up straighter making you feel more powerful. Your creative talents are helping someone else succeed in their business, and that's a reason to hold your head high.

One of the specific steps I always recommend is taking a seminar in sales techniques or negotiating, particularly if you've never had a corporate job that taught/demanded those skills. You'll find it helps your confidence, and discover that it's not rocket science. It doesn't have to be specific to your creative field, and it's probably better that it's not--you're looking for a better understanding of the principles, which are universal.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Follow FAIL

I read somewhere that the average person gives up on Twitter after a month. I didn't even make it that far. There are tons of people who've torched Twitter badly enough that there's no need for me to pile on--I'm simply stating that I'm dumping my bookmark and not going back in the foreseeable future. Maybe Apple will turn it into something I like.

ad contrarian has executed the best surgical strikes, here, here and here, among others. And the comments are priceless.

OK, I lied: On May 12, I went on to Twitter to make a final post, because it occurred to me there were probably some people there who knew about the Freelance Forecast and might be interested in the results. So, if you're one of those people--welcome to the blog. But you're not likely to see me on Twitter after this. I welcome anyone to make the case that I rethink my decision...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freelance Forecast 2009: The Results

The survey results for Freelance Forecast 2009 are in and downloadable at the Boomvang Creative Group web site. Just click on the thumbnail image in the lower right-hand corner.

Thanks again to all who participated. And if you didn't participate, please make sure to sign up for next year's survey at Survey Monkey! And you're obviously welcome to forward the link to other freelancers or to clients who use 'em.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Union labeled

During my recent cross-country drive, I listened to as much local radio as I could. One of the shows I tuned into in the Midwest featured an auto industry discussion--and at the risk of oversimplifying things, I'll just say the topic was whether a union should be willing to take across-the-board pay cuts to keep a company solvent. Callers were equally heated on both sides...and at one point, the host said something to the effect that, "I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I go to work is to earn more money every year."

In light of the past few weeks' events, this comment has stuck in my craw. For 10 years as an independent businessperson, my income has ranged widely--up or down tens of thousands from one year to the next. I am subject to the whims of the market and economy as well as the work I put into my business. I'd like to think I'm going to make more this year, but there are no guarantees. I don't get a cost of living increase.

With that perspective, I am astonished at the reality-free zone in which some businesses appear to operate. You're losing money, and the union wants to be insulated entirely from that, to the extent that it could put you out of business? Upper management is often equally complicit, having shown no desire to inject reason into the process as they made promises that they had to have known would be unsustainable.

Epilogue: The radio discussion, as it happens, was about Ford--and several days after my trip, upper management ended up taking pay cuts while the unions made concessions on freezing wages and not taking bonuses. As it should be.

Meanwhile, witness the diametric opposite in the outrageous financial manipulations of GM, Chrysler and our federal government. They couldn't get me to buy their lousy products, so they're extracting the money from me via taxes. Nice business plan if you've got friends in the right place, I guess.

For the record, I am a longtime Ford customer, but that would end the day they take any bailout money.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fuzzy Wuzzy

Late last week, I received a call from a client for a postmortem on a recent editing project. More specifically, it was the supervisor of the production person with whom I'd been directly working; the supe and I hadn't spoken before.

She dived right in asking questions about what I thought of the process and the overall document, and I dived right after her with straight-shooting answers.

A bit too straight, perhaps. After I ran down several minutes' worth of suggestions on how to fix what was wrong, there was a bit of silence. "So," she says, "What about any warm fuzzies, you know, anything positive to tell the team?"

I cringed. I strive to be an optimistic person. But my mistake was that the trust I had developed with the multiple other team members didn't magically transfer to this person that I was talking to for the first time. Even though she cut to the chase, I should have been more mindful of the need for balance.

Luckily, there were several good things that I could name--the production team was terrific to work with and easy to compliment. Nonetheless, the interaction served as a not-so-gentle reminder to be mindful that rapport doesn't allow transitivity the way a math equation does.