Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted

I always find it curious when self-employed folk resist taking a vacation, as if the world would stop spinning in their absence. No, you don't get paid while you're gone. No, an important new business call might come in and there's no one there to answer it. It's the circle of life, Simba.

So, today we're off--sans kids and sans electronic connectivity--to Cape Breton and Newfoundland for 10 days of simply messing around in boats, on bicycles, and on beaches.

I'll look forward to catching up with all y'all upon our return on July 26. Be well and be good. But not too good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Freelancer's Guide to Getting Paid--on Time

A few weeks ago, a commenter asked me to address how freelancers can deal with slow-pay or no-pay clients. Seems like we've tapped into a trend, based on today's Wall Street Journal article titled "Freelancers' Guide to Getting Paid--on Time" [subscription required*]. The WSJ article cites a stat from the Freelancers Union that 77% of their members have clients who didn't pay at least once. Frankly, that seems low, unless a lot of their members haven't been around very long.

In any case, their first few solutions are what I use for my own business--no rocket science, just common sense: Don't be embarrassed about asking for what you're owed, try going straight to accounting if you're getting a runaround, withhold future work (politely but firmly), and offer alternative payment plans (two or three installments, for example).

The other three solutions, however, come with caveats. "Consider adding late fees," as the author admits, may get you labeled as high maintenance. "Consider working with freelance-liaison firms" is all well and good if you want to go the Guru or oDesk route, but as I've said many times here, I don't. And the final solution, "Sue the company in small claims court," isn't something I particularly want to get involved in. Mercifully, I've never gotten skunked on a job large enough that would have made it worth the money and psychological capital to pursue.

Here's the deal: The riskiest job is the first job you do with someone, particularly in a crappy economy. So, some suggestions in addition to those above...
  • Be realistic. If you're soliciting new business now, you need to accept that there will be flakeouts. I experienced it in 2000-01, the same thing is true now, and it's part of being in business for yourself. Don't spend the money before the check has cleared.
  • Request a deposit on new jobs and on existing clients who have had payment challenges in the past. This serves a tri-fold purpose: 1) It gets you some money upfront, 2) it confirms that the client is serious and 3) it provides some negotiating leverage. If someone won't agree to pay a deposit, that is a major slow-pay/no-pay warning sign.
  • Be patient. The best way to ensure you get paid on time is to work for people with whom you've developed a business relationship of trust. There are no shortcuts.

I was hoping to find a guy wearing the traditional barrel-and-suspenders outfit for today's clip art, but no luck.

*The Wall Street Journal is the only online subscription that I pay to receive, and it is absolutely worth the $103 a year.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sons of Maxwell: "United Breaks Guitars"

Anyone who's ever had luggage delayed, stolen, damaged or pulverized by an airline will appreciate this Sons of Maxwell video and the backstory on the band's website about the destruction of a $3,500 Taylor guitar and subsequent customer service runaround. A couple of thoughts, in no particular order:

  • This Canadian band's humor, employed in a video that's now been viewed nearly a half-million times, is a far more devastating approach than 100 handwritten letters and phone calls to customer service
  • I love, absolutely LOVE, the fact that they call out the name of the customer service person that gave them the final "no"--instant, well-deserved infamy!
  • What conversations are taking place at United right now about how to handle all the negative PR they're getting?
  • Do you think they regret taking responsibility and doing the right thing?
  • Will United approach things differently next time? Do you think their competitors have taken notice?
  • How many times over have these guys made back their $3,500, thanks to people like me having downloaded Dave Carroll's solo CD at $10 a pop? I think their only mistake is to not have any of the Sons of Maxwell albums available on iTunes. I emailed Dave; will let you know if I hear anything, but I suspect he's got a busy schedule!
  • Dammit, I wish I could play the guitar. Or sing worth a crap.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Reese's Peanut Butter Cup principle, in action

During the '70s and '80s, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ran a famous ad campaign in which a person carrying a chocolate bar and another carrying a jar of peanut butter would run into each other, and, after a flash of indignation, discover what a delicious combination the two flavors made together. I'd rank it as one of the most memorable ads of my childhood.

So, this morning, a college friend of mine alerted me to the Venn diagram you see above, while a post over at the rough-and-tumble Why Advertising Sucks raised a discussion about how you define success, and how others often try to define it for you.

To me, standing at the intersection of visual diagram and blog post, it seemed like peanut butter smashing into chocolate--better together than separate.

At the risk of going all Zen on you, I offer no answers of my own here--I only suggest that each one illuminates simple truths that are worth pondering for yourself.

Note: In the interest of giving credit where it's due, there's also a discussion about the "How to be happy in business" diagram over at What Consumes Me, the blogging home of its creator, Bud Caddell.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Res ipsa loquitur

A friend posted this link on her Facebook page. As a person who operates on the periphery of the Phoenix ad world I thought it too interesting to not share. I guess it is catching fire 'round the blogosphere.

Open Letter From an Ad Agency Intern

I have some sympathy for the author, to the extent that she's expressing thoughts that have popped into every intern's head since it was called "apprenticeship" in the Goode Olde Days.


As I keep telling my kids, like it or not, companies and schools are going to search everything you say and do online for the rest of your lives. Not every thought in your head needs to be expressed online. Assume people have a camera phone aimed at you. It's a crappy deal in too many ways to count, but best get used to it.