Speak Your Client’s Language

This simple title covers three topics.

Speak Your Client’s Business Language

Today I bid on a project at Freelancer. The project deals with writing copy for a web site for a particular type of business in a particular country. I fine-tuned my bid to highlight issues relevant to his business.

I could have used my standard bidding text for this type of work, but that did not deal with this client’s specific business. He may not have understood the jargon involved in copywriting for web sites. I hope he appreciates the effort to make my bid meaningful for his context.

Some people want to focus on deliverable items; others on time and schedule; yet others fixate on cost. Be sure you address the issues relevant to your client.

Speak Your Client’s Computer Language

Another client has sent two files by e-mail that my Microsoft PC could not read. He easily reformatted the “.pages” file into Word’s “.doc” format. However, I could not find a program to deal with a “.caf” file. After a cursory search, I told him it was a problem. He sent me a link to the official Apple site for a copy of Quicktime for Windows. After a download and installation, I now can listen to his audio message.

Let’s not argue about the fact that Google did not recommend Quicktime. I admit, I searched for a “conversion” program for “.caf” rather than a “player” program. From a business perspective, it is far better to support the client’s files than to complain about them.

Speak Your Client’s Human Language

This is either the most difficult or most obvious item in today’s list of tips. Obviously both of the above clients speak English.

But the first prospective customer is British as far as I know. I selected some words with that in mind. The other client is an American from the south, plain-spoken but well educated. I use a different “tone” as well as vocabulary when writing for people from these different countries.

Some nationalities expect more “polite” words, such as “if you please”. Others want to be brisk and brusque, so as to save time and maximize efficiency.

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My First Affiliate Sale through Squidoo and Amazon

Here is a moment of shameless self-promotion and boasting. Some months ago I signed up with Squidoo to create web pages, or “Lenses” as Squidoo calls them. I now have exciting news:

“The DeHaan Lens for Coat Rack Stands” has racked up my first affiliate sale for an “Oak Finish Wood Hall Tree Coat Rack” via Amazon.

The Business Case to Write Squidoo Lenses

Squidoo is a pretty popular site. Its current Alexa rank is #186, meaning that Alexa figures it is the 186th-most-visited site on the Internet. It has a large number of categories, with many, many lenses in each.

Squidoo provides a “social blogging” site, with little editorial supervision. I suspect that they would disable lenses or disenfranchise members upon complaints of breaking rules. They do try to recognize high quality lenses. They encourage people to follow other members, to visit their lenses and vote for favourites.

Squidoo also provides serious tools to monetize one’s lenses. They actively promote adding Amazon modules, so a typical lens has many links to products featured in Amazon. Squidoo makes it clear that these affiliate sales, or pay-per-action (PPA) bring the most revenue to the author of a lens.

In addition, Squidoo shares revenue from other on-page advertising, both pay-per-clickthrough (PPC, where the visitor clicks through on an advertisement) and probably pay-per-1000-views  (PPM, where ‘M’ is the abbreviation for the Latin “Mille” or 1,000…should have been PPKV but the Great Squid isn’t used to the metric system) too.

Squidoo also offers other sales modules, including e-Bay auctions updated when the page is loaded.

In the past two months, I’ve earned just over 50 cents per month on 13 lenses, simply by being visited a bit. I had fallen into despair, thinking that I would never make a sale. Now, oh joy and rapture, someone has bought something.

As I understand Squidoo’s arrangement, they hold back any affiliate earnings for a month to ensure that the buyer does not cancel the purchase. So it may be late May or sometime in June before I see an actual dollar value assigned to this sale.

Of course Squidoo takes a cut of the commission from Amazon. That’s fine…I don’t think my self-branded blogs qualify for affiliate sales yet, based on low readership.

The Key Point for New Bloggers

The key point: Squidoo offers new bloggers a site with the instant opportunity to earn based on page views, click-throughs and  affiliate sales.

If only people would buy a Shaker coffee table or a 5-piece Mission style master bedroom set from my other lenses…


The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The old saying is “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. I suspect that was stated by a copycat who needed to deflect someone’s anger at being imitated.

When I worked for a  firm as an I.T. consultant, I used to say that “Contract renewal is the sincerest form of flattery”. The most sincere “Thanks, well done” statement was followed by the question “Can you stay for the next project? We could use you”.

The sales and marketing advice is that it is easier to retain a customer than to create a new one. After all, an existing customer already knows you, your products or services, your style and your capabilities. A new customer may not even know you exist, let alone that you can meet their requirements.

As a freelancer, I still say that “Contract renewal is the sincerest form of flattery”, although that should probably be tweaked to reflect something more like “Repeat business…”. Today I was fortunate enough to have a second project from one client. It has happened before with others; hopefully it will again.

This advice still needs to be made more clear to be truly useful, or “actionable”. That sounds like a “tip” coming on.

TIP for Repeat Business:

Do good work, on time, within budget, with clear up-front and ongoing communication.

Your further suggestions would be welcome here: how should a freelancer work to encourage repeat business?


Read the Contract Twice

Today’s tidbit of advice to myself is: read the project description.

A recent client thanked me for my work and asked for the bill. Since this was contracted through a third-party website that normally has fixed-price projects, I replied “I had bid $X and would not try to ask for more”.

The polite reply was “I asked for a bid on the basis of #Y words, but it explicitly said that you would be paid proportionately for 500-word increments”.

Well, I was blushing as I re-read the project description. Yes, there it was, clear as day. Microsoft Word gave me the word count so I could send the invoice.

I know why I had forgotten that part of the project description: I had been overwhelmed by the amount of detail it needed. Besides, I lost several hours of sleep last night finishing the draft that was accepted.

Tip:

Read the project description or contract, especially when you think the scope is creeping…or when you think everything is just fine.


Multi-Tasking, or Stirring All the Pots

This post will be brief, since I am fully engaged with one client’s work and also need to stir the other simmering pots.

That might be the best image for this post: a chef keeping several pots and pans cooking without scorching.

The inspiration for this article is something I see myself doing from time to time. I become very busy with one project, then get stuck with some niggling problem. Suddenly my productivity dives.

The solution seems to be to resume working on something else. Keep other activities going!

Clearly there is the danger of allowing small tasks to prevent the big one from getting done. It is important to do the most important things first. But eventually that will prevent anything else from being completed.

TIPS:

  1. If one task gets stuck, start another…rather than just taking a break.
  2. Regardless of tip #1, try to focus on the most important task.
  3. An alternative to tips 1 and 2 is: budget your time (2 hours for the top job; every other task gets 15 minutes).

I need to get back to my other tasks now…


Partial Projects and Expanded Projects

Many projects suffer from scope changes. I suspect that projects with no changes in scope are a vanishingly small minority. Certainly in the IT (Information Technology) world, the scope tends to grow throughout the project, as the clients realize how much they forgot to include in their original requirements.

How does a small consulting business protect itself from scope creep? There are four main routes:

  • Iron-clad minimum payments
  • Partial payments for partial projects
  • Work orders with new costs for new deliverables
  • Open-ended retainer fees so clients pay for dithering

Here is a little more information on each route:

Iron-Clad Minimum Payments

These minimum payments reimburse the consultant for the upfront time and effort of bidding. These are usually invoked if the client “cools off” after signing a contract but before any deliverables are completed or approved.

Another name is the up-front “retainer fee”.

 

Partial Payments for Partial Projects

Itemize the deliverables in the contract, project plan or scope of work. Ensure, of course, that these are included in the signed-off contract even if they are found in separate documents.

This is something like your automotive repair shop’s itemized invoice: list everything and price everything.

Then charge for what you actually delivered, in case the project is terminated before completion.

 

Work Orders with New Costs for New Deliverables

This item truly addresses “scope creep”. When the client asks for more…even if it simply extends an existing item…get the request in writing and haggle out the price.

This does not apply if the consultant forgot to include something in the original quote. But if the client makes the request, ensure it is priced out fairly.

If you decide to provide the extra service at no extra charge, that’s your call. Just be sure your client notices that it is an extra item.

Updated March 25th: Here is an example. One client’s ghost-writing assignment suffered from scope creep…adding a chapter to a small book, then spinning off an article, and then re-working the article. I called him on it; he replied with an apology and an offer to up the payment. So even though the original contract did not include these clauses, this particular client recognized what was happening and made good. It would have been wiser to put all the conditions into the original contract, but it is still possible to make a poor situation better.

 

Open-Ended Retainer Fees so Clients Pay for Dithering

This item solves the problem of a client who cannot make a decision. “What colour would you like? Do you accept the new design? What should go there”?

Include a penalty, whether daily or monthly, so the client knows that their time is costing them money. You have to keep some slack in your schedule to respond when they ultimately do contact you. Your cash flow is being harmed by their delay.

Calling it an “on-call retainer” might make it more palatable in the contract. Do explain it during your initial negotiations. It can keep you afloat while your client treads water.

 


How to Make a Slightly More Clever WordPress Change

My previous WordPress post talked about making a minor change by “brute force”: work your way through the \style.css file, tweaking one colour at a time, until you find the right place to make the change.

This time, let’s do a little more thinking.

Suppose you want to change the colour of hyperlinks, but only in the header. The \style.css might give you some hints, but to really get into it:

  • Open the \header.php file
  • Look for a style id, perhaps header.text.link
  • Copy that name (header.text.link)
  • Make no changes! But now re-open \style.css
  • Use the browser to search for that id (header.text.link)
  • If you find it, add your “colour: #AA2288;” change at the end of that description
  • Save the change, and check the result

This is no guarantee of success, but it may give results sooner than simply trying each spot.

Bonus TIP: I used this approach yesterday, and realized that the original developer had not set a colour code where I wanted to make my change. There was the reason why I had not found a code to change: without a previous code, there was nothing I could find and change.

Warning: The term “style id” and the example “header.text.link” are probably not the right technical terms.


How to Make a Minor WordPress Change through Brute Force

TIP on how to make a minor WordPress design change, such as changing the colour of visited link, in one place or many:

  • Open the style.css from Appearance / Editor
  • Ensure you know the HTML tag, such as “color: #0000AA;”
  • Make sure this is a bright colour that will jump out at you when you try it out
  • Add this line of code once, “update”, and switch to a different window to see the change
  • If it changed the correct elements, document it with “/* change #01 to colour of visited link */
  • If it was the wrong change, comment it out with the “/* oops, this did ABC instead of XYZ */; then go to the next likely spot and try again
  • Remember to change the colour to the one you really want…that bright colour may not be perfect
  • Also document the change up in the comments at the top
  • Copy and paste all the text into a notepad .txt file so you can read it without logging in as a designer
  • “Update” the style.css to save your documentation, then log out

This is a “brute force” approach because you just take one step after another, keeping track of the mistakes and eventually you will make the right change.

The alternative is to carefully study the theme’s style.css until you know exactly what to do, and do it right the first time. If you succeed, you have my praise. I took this “brute force” approach to my current client’s project because it was quicker than analyzing the code and guessing wrong…over and over. (Well, about three overs).

In my spare time, I really need to study “how to WordPress”.


Beginning a Client’s Web Re-Design Project

Although I had won the contract to improve the colours of a client’s WordPress web site about a week ago, the client sent me the password only yesterday.

When discussing the project the week before, I had carefully asked whether my client had full access to the site and its tools. “Yes, we’ve paid, we have ownership. We will dig up the user ID and password for you tomorrow. No worries”.

Unfortunately, they only had a user ID at the “editor” level. This is not sufficient to change the colour scheme. It is fine for adding content, but not for the work for which they had engaged me.

This leads to three tips for projects that need powerful access:

TIP for Estimating the Schedule: Build in the lead time for getting authorization. I am sure glad I did!
TIP for the Discussions with Clients: Explicitly ask for the necessities, such as authorization; and explain why.
TIP for the Statement of Work: Build in a penalty if the client delays the work; this includes:

  • A slow start with authorization or in making decisions on requirements
  • Delays in answering queries or in reviewing or approving work

Personally, I did fine with the first and last tips. I thought I had carefully asked about authorizations, but I had not probed to the level where the client understood that I needed the “admin” rather than an “editor” ID.

As the saying goes, “Well begun is half done”. The Murphy’s Law corollary is “Start poorly and everything else will fail”.


Check Freelancer’s “Milestone Payments” Manually

We service providers at Freelancer appreciate receiving payment. We also know that, when someone posts a message onto the private message board of an active project, Freelancer sends a notification e-mail to our own external mailbox. (For example, my notifications go to mike.dehaan at dehaanservices.ca).

In the past, any escrow payments made into the Freelancer account also triggered a similar notification e-mail.

A few weeks ago, however, one buyer made his payment to my account. In a previous communication, he said he was getting over an illness but would let me know about his final approval for the project.

Well, I did not receive any notifications. When I posted a message to him, he said “I paid you already? Did you not receive it?”. I checked the “milestone payments”: there it was. I clicked “release” as the “action”.

Since it has not been released yet, I suspect that my action did not send him a notification e-mail either.

QUICK Freelancer TIP: From the second row of your main menu:

  • Hover over “Payments”
  • Click on “Manage Milestone Payments”
  • Scroll down to see whether any payments are waiting for you
  • If so, and it is time to cash in, click the down-arrow on “action” and select “Request to Release”
  • Follow-up by posting a message to your service buyer on the project’s private message board