How much free advice should you give away in a proposal?
If you work in professional services (think: public relations, management consulting, lobbying), one of the perennial questions you face is this: “How detailed should I make my proposals?”
On the one hand, you want to show that you grasp the situation and to demonstrate your expertise. On the other hand, you don’t want to work for free. Nor do you want to give away so much info that the client-to-be no longer needs you.
Consider the following example (from P.R.): Should you share the names of the relevant reporters you have relationships with? In my experience, most proposals will drop names but not contact info. I think that’s a smart compromise.
Here’s where things get tricky: Should you go further? For example, should you work up a sample pitch? Should you mention that TechCrunch is always hungry for scoops about a startup’s latest fundraising round? Should you reveal that Ellen Pollock is the business editor at the New York Times, or which outlets, if you pay them, will publish your op-ed?
In other words: Should your proposal include a plan?
A rundown of the pros and cons — along with some viable hybrid approaches.
Marcus Sheridan believes in bucking a trend. As the owner of a pool-installation company, he’d encountered the same question from customers over and over: “How many arms and legs is this gonna cost?”
His competitors wouldn’t divulge a price without first having a conversation with the prospect. As Marcus recounted to the New York Times: “Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person, because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their websites.”
Marcus thought differently. As an entrepreneur, he knew that if he could provide something his competitors would not, that difference would pique people’s interest. So he wrote a blog post titled “How Much Will My Fiberglass Pool Really Cost?” Soon, the post appeared first when people Googled questions about the price of a pool.
To be sure, Marcus didn’t cite an exact figure. But the fact that he identified figures at all, including figures for the most popular options, saved his company from the brunt of the 2008 recession.
And yet, almost 15 years later, Marcus’s method remains the exception rather than the rule: Most businesses — especially freelancers — remain adamantly opposed to making their prices public. Ask around, and the reasons run the gamut.
I might be less gullible than an 80-year-old grandma, but my hubris lowered my defenses — and it nearly cost me thousands of dollars. Here’s my story, along with six smart takeaways.
Imagine that you’re a freelancer. A potential client gets referred to you by a trusted colleague. It’s a colleague you’ve been working with for years, and everyone he’s connected you with has proven to be a serious prospect. You’re so excited that you make a rookie mistake known to anyone who’s gone on a first date in the last decade: You fail to Google the guy.
The project at hand (writing the script for a workshop) has an aggressive deadline (less than one week), along with two provisions you’ve never encountered: The client doesn’t care about the tone or style of the text; he just wants it to be “informative.” And he wants it not as a Microsoft Word or Google document, which are easily editable, but as an Adobe Acrobat P.D.F., which is not.
Why is this odd? Most people who hire a ghostwriter care about their words; that’s why they pay big bucks for a pro. Also, most want to tweak writing that goes out under their name; rare is the client who accepts whatever you’ve written uncontested.
On one hand, these requests constitute red flags. On the other, they also make your job easier. Your mind leans toward the latter.
Please stop using this nonapology apology.
Have you ever told someone, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”?
If so, please know that this is most certainly not an apology. It’s not even close.
In fact, this everyday phrase is one of the most specious, one of the most insidious, and one of the most repugnant in the English language. It’s a head nod toward contrition, but it’s unforgivably devoid of sincerity and ownership.
Let’s unpack the explosive meaning of these seven little words.
Wikipedia has a lot of rules. And if you don’t know them, you’ll have great difficulty adhering to them.
As a Wikipedia consultant, I encounter the following conflict every day: Everyone wants a Wikipedia page for themselves, their C.E.O., or their organization, yet few people know what it takes to create one.
Indeed, half my job consists of counseling clients on what’s possible and what’s not. In that spirit, I’ve written a six-part checklist for those considering a plunge into the wonderful but weird wikiworld.
Why you should send emails when you’re angry.
“Count to 10.”
“Breathe from your diaphragm.”
“Stick with ‘I’ statements.”
Most advice about anger management comes down to this: Don’t act when you’re angry.
Allow me to offer a contrarian viewpoint: When it comes to email, do act when you’re angry. Received a nastygram? Respond in kind. Hand a mike to that voice inside your head that’s shouting, “What a jerk this guy is!”
Let me explain.
If you want to speak with the media, then you need media training.
Never confuse a reporter for a friend.
This conflation is often the first — and most damaging — mistake that people make when engaging with the press. After all, it’s tempting to get chummy with a reporter. He’s a professional listener who’s eager to quote you. In the glare of the spotlight, you get seduced by his charm and let your guard down.
But here’s the thing. Reporters have a job to do: To serve up the news in a way that’s interesting. You, too, have a job: To promote your side of the story. Inevitably, those two missions will clash.
How I learned to stop worrying and love phone calls.
Early in my career, I hated phone calls. They were time-consuming and inefficient. Why can’t you just email me, I’d often wonder?
My aversion was so acute that not only did I exclude my phone number from my email signature; I also recorded a message for my voice mail that said something like this: “I rarely check these messages; please email me.”
In short, I viewed Alexander Graham Bell’s invention as an unnecessary evil.
Today, I know better. I know the phone is not a burden but an opportunity. I recognize that for a relationship to thrive, you must do more than swap written words; you need to hear the other person’s voice.
Always have a conversation before you provide your price.
Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”
As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.
Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.
To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)