Be interested in other people: the golden rule for freelancers?

When I talk to fellow freelancers who do a lot of work from home, a couple of challenges seem to come up again and again: staying solvent and staying sane.

We know we have to keep the pipeline of assignments flowing, to avoid the ghastly feast or famine syndrome, but how do we get enough (but not too much) new work lined up when we’re busy getting our current work done? And while we’re managing that balancing act, how do we keep ourselves motivated, up-to-date and avoid turning into people who talk to their furniture having spent so much time in our own company?

Here’s something that I’ve observed seems to help: being interested in other people. I’m a nosy so-and-so, a chatterbox and a bit of an approval-seeker (Do you like my new website? Do you? Do you?). But it turns out that these qualities come in pretty handy now I’m self-employed. I’ll admit, I went a bit bonkers when I first started out as a freelancer. It was January. I was snowed in. And I went from having about 50 face to face bits of friendly useful office chitchat a day to asking my cat how her weekend was. So I realised early on that I needed to plan to have at least one cheery phonecall or coffee date every day in order to keep myself going. Sometimes with a former colleague, other times a new contact. Just keeping in touch, exchanging advice, sharing know-how and news. Getting feedback, advice or just letting off steam.

Some really great things happened as a result. I didn’t have to look for new clients – they found me. My lovely network would mention me when asked for a recommendation and as a marketer, I know that a lot of this was to do with me being “top-of-mind” thanks to our recent chats. When thinking of a brand (or person) we tend to remember those we spoke to or heard from not long ago. I was accidentally doing Relationship Marketing.

I also came away from most encounters feeling inspired to get on and do something I’d put off, or more confident about tackling something new and a bit scary, or knowing more about something I’d almost certainly find useful at some point.

So getting back to the two challenges. If you find yourself worried about either or both, I recommend making more time to befriend and be a friend. Schedule some “Let’s catch up” calls for next week. Email your contacts and tell them what you’re up to, and find out their news. Take time to have lunch with an old colleague. Trust that you won’t have to spend time looking for work; work will find you. And your marbles will stay put.

Your cat will be grateful for the extra peace and quiet too.

PS: I wrote a paper on Making and Keeping Friends (advice for my colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies on how to build and maintain strategic relationships) so you may find some of the tips there useful if you’re looking to grow your network.

Objective setting: sometimes being SMART isn’t enough

Generally speaking, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound (although there are some variations on this). It’s a great checklist for objective-setting and just meeting that criteria is harder than you might expect. But for nonprofits and those with limited resources for marketing, being SMART with objectives isn’t enough.

I’m currently working with the lovely people at IDS who run the Eldis Climate Change Resource Guide. We’re developing their new marketing plan through a series of  workshops which gives us all time to do some reflecting and research between sessions. In preparing for the workshop on Objectives, I pulled out my usual SMART checklist and realised we needed to put the draft objectives through two more filters: are they Ethical, and are they Rewarding?

First, a quick recap on SMART and how it might apply to nonprofits. Why do you need to spend time getting your objectives Specific? Often, you might not be the person who implements the plan or reviews it at the end so now’s the time to be clear about what success will be judged on and to double-check your reasoning. Are you being precise about the Who and the What?

“What gets measured gets done” is a familiar expression and a hard lesson to learn (interesting debate on the origin and meaning of the saying here). If your objectives are Measurable, then it will be your brief to the Monitoring and Evaluation section of your marketing plan, and here’s your chance to discover in advance if this is something you can actually monitor going forward. Can you produce a baseline for it? This is a good test for how measurable it is and a tool for helping you decide how high to set your aims (what does a 10% increase really look like?).

If you’ve done your SWOT analysis then you’ll know if your objectives are Achievable i.e. something you can do, bearing in mind your skills, knowledge and resources, but remember to look at them as a set, rather than individually. If it’s just you and a small budget getting things done, how big a task are your setting yourself if you have to achieve all of them?

I’m seeing more and more development organisations using a Theory of Change to articulate their assumptions about their ambitions and activities. Whatever strategy tool you use, if your objectives are Relevant, then you should be able to see where they fit into your overall vision and understanding of how change happens.

An easy one to overlook, are your objectives Timebound? Have you put in a deadline and is it the right one? Think about your reporting and funding cycles; maybe a month earlier will make a difference.

Being SMARTER: 1) Are our objectives Ethical?

Of course you’re all good people but it’s worth asking: is achieving these objectives in the best interest of our stakeholders? Are we being responsible with our resources? Like many nonprofits, Eldis is using public funds to make a difference in the world, in this case, by increasing global free access to knowledge on climate change and development. Adding Ethical, makes us consider whether the objectives are going to make the best possible use of that money, especially for those needing to respond to the Value For Money agenda.

Being SMARTER. 2) Are our objectives Rewarding?

Brilliant objectives are good, achieving them is great. Have you got a set of objectives that prompt enthusiasm, or dread? Some things just need to get done, and the motivation might come from the way they are pursued (the choice of tactics) but ask yourself, do the objectives inspire you and anyone else who will be working on them? If you thrive on a challenge and want to learn as you go, check if you haven’t made any of them too Achievable. For year-long objectives, are people going to be able to see results before the end date? If not, maybe set some short-term sub-objectives so you can celebrate success along the way.

I’ve found the SMARTER checklist helpful for agreeing objectives, and think it could be an interesting framework for reviewing what’s been learnt about marketing and objective-setting. What other filters do you use for your objectives?

From Follows to Fivers: Crowdfunding as market research.

Disclaimer: I had a Victor Kiam moment after stumbling upon hiSbe’s crowdfunding video (the subject of this post); I liked the campaign so much, I invested in the company. I’m now a proud Non-Executive Director of a social enterprise that plans to give folk on average incomes an opportunity to shop ethically (“How It Should Be”). Here’s what I learnt about crowd-funding along the way.

Crowd-funding is becoming an important source of income for startups, both nonprofit and commercial. Buzzbnk is just one of several specialist services that support ventures or enterprises that are looking to grow, to attract funding from people interested in supporting social change. Typically, campaigns run for a limited time, e.g. 2 months, people give small amounts in return for benefits, e.g. public recognition, invitations to organisation events, discounts, etc. and if they don’t raise their target amount then the money is returned to investors.

The “crowd” element shifts the focus from attracting investment from a few people, to generating small contributions (and word of mouth) from lots of people and that’s what makes it interesting in terms of market research.

An important stage in New Product Development, is test marketing, e.g. launching a product in a small way to refine it and learn more about demand before a full (expensive) roll out. Even before that, you need to test the demand for a product (or service).

Crowd-funding could serve a useful function in finding out if (enough) people really are prepared to put their money where their mouth is before a new venture is launched. An enterprise like hiSbe, that aims to leverage shopper power, will need to have local support (not least, lots of customers) in order to achieve its social goals. Running a campaign prior to opening the pilot store is one way of testing the truth of that support, and raising start-up funds at the same time. Do you want to know if your Followers, Friends, Connections, etc. really care? Ask them to whip out their credit cards.

Likes are the digital equivalent of having friends and family said they’d buy your gizmo if you were able to get it produced. Crowd-funding shows that social media backing can be skin-deep. Some proof of this can be found in the Buzzbnk archive of campaigns that were Misunderstood i.e. ended without meeting their targets. Looking a bit deeper at the projects, some of them had 1000s of Likes on their Facebook groups, but only a handful of people ended up donating a tenner. Whereas, among the Successful campaigns, we find examples where there’s less social media backing, and more financial backing e.g. Pants to Poverty, which exceeded its target.

Is it all about the idea? Or is there an art to converting people from passive supporters to active fans?

Crowd-funding is an interesting way to check whether there’s genuine, active support for your project or venture before it’s too late and raising its profile in the process. But some of the success lies in positioning as much as the product. The Guardian has some good advice on how to make Crowd-funding work well in the nonprofit sector, much of which can apply to businesses too.

No more tiers: five things that can take the pain out of decentralised marketing communications

Marketing communications is no longer just the responsibility of those with the words in their job title. Many organisations require staff in different roles to incorporate promotion, dissemination and general news-spreading into their workload. This decentralisation of marketing communications has the potential to be very effective, however it doesn’t happen by itself. Here are five things I have observed can make
a difference:

Motivation – whether from the results people hope marketing communications will bring, or from enjoying the process (using new tools, using their imagination, doing something tangible, interacting with real people, etc.). On the other hand, if staff can’t see a personal benefit to doing it, they are less likely to allocate time to it or have the enthusiasm that successful marketing communications depends on. When did a reluctant marketer every convince you to do anything?

Time – staff need genuine encouragement from their managers that they should prioritise spending time on marketing communications over other activities, rather than it being something to be done in addition to their current workload. If not, it’ll either languish at the bottom of the “to do” list making people feel depressed every time they see it, or it will get done but staff are likely to become stressed and de-motivated.

Freedom – giving people the space and permission to experiment with new communication tools, to come up with their own ideas, and make (inevitable) mistakes. But they also need to be clear what the boundaries are: e.g. house-style guidelines, approval processes, legal restrictions, etc. Staff might surprise you with their innovation and unearth hidden talents.

Focus – when people know what the specific purpose is for their marketing communications, who it should be aimed at and have measurable targets, they can use their time more effectively and see how well they are doing. Realistic, measurable targets can help with Motivation. It helps if your organisation has identified its niche (in comparison to others in the sector) and how to select which target audiences to prioritise.

Support – this can include peer support mechanisms (e.g. meetings where people can share their experiences, ideas and challenges with others), having someone to ask for technical advice or feedback, reference tools, and a champion or cheerleader for marketing communications who will persuade people to keep going. Perhaps a role for the Marketing or Communications Officer?

These are observations from a number of organisations working in the development and public sectors. How do they fit with your experiences?

(This post was originally featured on my earlier blog, Positive Influence. I’ve been told the advice and observations are still as relevant as ever, hence its reappearance here)