Note 2: The blog post for Friday, May 22 did not launch. I still have no idea why, but I recreated it here (edited, because I can’t help myself).
Your experience is valuable, but no matter what your experience is, it’s tempting to take the hook of possibility, especially if the hook is baited with people-pleasing. Freelancers (whether artists or writers or photographers or musicians or anything else) chase possibilities. Sometimes people-pleasing is useful exposure, sometimes exposure can kill you.
If you own your own business, chasing possibility is part of life. A big part. Sometimes the hook of opportunity pulls up a
gem of an opportunity. Sometimes, it’s an unstructured piece of junk. Almost always, it’s hard to tell the difference.
I’ve written about those “great exposure for you” false opportunities. A friend wants you to donate your time, energy, artwork, writing and dresses it up like an opportunity. Choose carefully, make sure it is a real opportunity for you.
So when the woman called from a town three hours away and asked me to teach a collage class in her town rather than have her drive to my class close to my house, it was understandable. When she promised she would bring her friends to fill up the class, the warning bell clanged in my head. My discernment vanished in my eagerness to please someone (a familiar danger alert for me) and I didn’t think it was odd that I should drive three hours while this entire promised class could have split the gas and driving time.
Wise woman Pema Chodron says we keep learning the same lesson until we understand what we need to learn.
Two hours and five phone calls later, I had arranged a class and a demo, rented a hotel room, spoken to the marketing manager of the teaching location and created the class. After hotel, gas, demo time there was no profit, but who cares? It was an “opportunity.” (You may now start to snicker).
I proudly emailed the woman who was going to stuff the class with her friends, sent her the date and time, and gave her registration details. (You may now slap my forehead and ask, “What were you thinking?”)
No reply. You are smarter than I am, and you know where this is heading. And you are right. The next day I got an email telling me the day really wasn’t good for her or any of her friends, and I should email her next time I was in town. She also sent me a list of classes she was teaching and suggested I drive down and take one. And bring my friends.
Learn from my mistake, step-by-step:
1. When talking to a prospect, find out exactly what they want–a class close to their location? Attention? Conversation? Mention a price range to see if it changes their interest level. If they mention friends who will be brought along, ignore it. That phrase is very similar to “I’ll call you” after a first date or “How are you today?” when your boss comes into your office. It’s something polite to say. No offers or interest are implied.
2. Compare what they want to what you have to offer and what you need. Travel is expensive, so your class price might have to increase. Would you go to that town to teach without the call? What real opportunity exists for you? Is there interest? Is there a client base? If not, say, “No, thanks.” Firmly. Practice this before you pick up the phone.
An excellent counter-offer on my part would have been to ask her to gather her friends, agree to a location, and have me come to teach a custom class at a price that made me a modest profit. Don’t take the hook until you have something you need, too.
3. Do not make a commitment to please a prospect. A prospect is an unknown quantity. A prospect is not yet a client. Every company, business, and freelancer has to weigh the conversion cost of prospect to client. If you lose money occasionally, it’s part of doing business. If you lose money frequently, you need to look at how you are doing business.
4. Avoid needy puppy behavior. Needy puppies don’t get the business. Worse, they don’t get respect. Think about what you have to offer. Make it the best offer you can. Then stand behind it and enforce it. Do not offer to jump through burning hoops to prove your worth. That will just get you burned.
5. Create a marketing plan and stick to it. Set a time in the future to evaluate your plan. Changing it based on the last thing you heard (“I’ll fill up this class for you, guaranteed!”) is not a good business plan.
—Quinn McDonald wishes she had stopped, looked and listened to herself before lighting the hoop on fire and jumping through it.