All posts by Jake Poinier

What Don’t You Understand About Free Advertising?

By Jake Poinier

Right before the holidays, I received a story assignment for a lifestyle magazine—which meant trying to reach sources right in the heart of the holidays, and which is always a bit tricky with vacations and understaffed offices.

One of the guys called me back when I was on the 9th hole of a golf course with my family. Another called me at 7 a.m. on a morning after we’d been out late, so I was a bit bleary-eyed. Nonetheless, both were helpful once we finally connected.

The third contact, not so much—and they’re important, because they’re in the magazine’s local area. I left a voicemail. I filled out a form on their website. I called again and reached the guy, who said “send an email with interview questions to my assistant,” which I dutifully did.

I heard nothing.

My editor gave me an extension to get the locals in. When I gave another call to the company, the guy reiterated EXACTLY what he’d said the first time about sending an email to his assistant, adding that he’s too busy to schedule an interview at a moment’s notice. When I mentioned that it wasn’t really at a moment’s notice since I’d indeed done so more than a week prior, he was unapologetic. But he did ask that I contact his assistant again to get on his schedule.

So I slinked back to my editor for another extension, and her response was classic: “What is it about free advertising that they’re so adverse to?”

I’ve never quite understood when a company has a chance for free editorial placement, and they make life difficult. Maybe they’re suspicious that it’s a disguised sales pitch. Perhaps they’re so successful they don’t need more business. I dunno.

What I do know is that, 24 hours and a voicemail and an email reminder later, I still haven’t heard back.

Have you taken the 2012 Freelance Forecast survey yet? Please do—and don’t forget to share it on your favorite social media and with your clients.

Take the Freelance Forecast 2012 survey

freelance forecastBy Jake Poinier

Heading into the holiday stretch, it’s time for FREELANCE FORECAST 2012, Boomvang Creative Group’s fourth annual survey of creative freelancers and the clients who use their services. It digs into the details of best practices, where freelancers find clients, why clients hire freelancers, and a bunch of juicy details about rates and expectations for the coming year.

As in past years, there are two versions of the survey:

  • The Freelancer Perspectives version of the survey is located at:
  • The Client Perspectives version of the survey is located at:

IMPORTANT! Freelance Forecast is the only survey I’m aware of that takes an annual pulse check from freelance clients, and the more clients we have sharing their insights, the better. Please consider forwarding the client survey link to one or more of the folks who’ve hired you in the past year and to business associates who use freelancers.

All participants will receive a copy of the 2012 survey results (including both client-side *and* freelancer responses). You’ll also be entered into a drawing for a $100 iTunes, OfficeMax or STAPLES gift certificate. Your privacy is paramount—all contact information will be kept 100% confidential and will not be used for any purpose other than the survey.

If you’d like to see reports from past years, please visit this link.

The surveys will close on January 14, 2012. Thanks in advance for participating, and for sharing the links with fellow freelancers and clients.

The Unconsciously Competent Freelancer

unconsciously competentBy Jake Poinier

Peter Bowerman wrote a thought-provoking post the other day at his Well-Fed Writer blog: One Big Reason Why Commercial Writing Pays Better and Resists “Off-Shoring” (and Why This Other Kind of Writing Doesn’t…) It’s worth reading the whole thing, but it was actually the comments that sparked me to write this riff on his thoughts—which revolved around epiphanies.

If you’ve spent any time in the corporate world, or even in semi-serious athletics, you’ve probably heard of a psychological principle called “The Four Stages of Competence.” Briefly, they are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, and you don’t recognize it.
  2. Conscious incompetence: You understand that you have a deficit, but you still don’t know how to do it.
  3. Conscious competence: You know how to do something, but it takes a concerted effort.
  4. Unconscious competence: You understand something so well that it’s second nature, and you can even teach it to someone else.

I recognize all of those learning steps in my progress as a freelancer. I suspect you do, too. But what is interesting to me is understanding how differently the writing side and business side evolved. As someone who’d written for magazines, PR and marketing/advertising firms, I estimate I was somewhere in stages 3-4 on the wordcraft end of things when I left my corporate job.

I was firmly in stage 1, however, when it came to running a business. Of course, I had *experience* in various businesses and industries for 10 years, and even exposure to financials and sales calls with people who were at stage 4.

But there is no replacement for time and hard knocks from entrepreneurship—and shoring up the business side is paramount, even if you’re a stage 4 writer, editor or graphic designer. In fact, Malcom Gladwell, author of Outliers, defined a “10,000-hour rule” as a specific timeline for success in a pursuit. In case you want the math, the road to becoming an unconsciously competent freelancer will take about 5 years at 40 hours a week. And it’s worth every minute.

Freelancers: When you assess your own career, what stage are you in on the creative side? On the business side?

Jake Poinier runs Boomvang Creative Group and blogs as Dr. Freelance. His most recent post was “Brochure writing and playing nice.”

Image courtesy of cobrasoft.

Worst Clients and the Pay-to-Hassle Ratio

By Jake Poinier

I was on a Twitter chat this morning with the Editorial Freelancers Association, and the topic came up of “what if you have tons of work, but aren’t making much money: what to do if you’re charging too little for your time?”

Perhaps a bit flippantly, someone answered “Charge more!”, which I rejoined with “STAT!”

But upon further reflection, as much as a fast-moving Twitter chat allows, I added, “dump your worst client on an annual basis.” To which the moderator responded, “how do you choose your worst client?”

Ah, now we’re on to something. How do you identify your worst client? My gut reaction was that it’s your lowest paying one, but that’s not true. Your worst client is…drum roll please…the one with the least favorable pay-to-hassle ratio.

For example, your lowest paying client might offer interesting projects or pieces that look great in your portfolio, or they might offer a wellspring of referrals that make it a more lucrative relationship than shows up in Quickbooks. So, my equation includes the following factors:

  • Pay: Do they pay well? Do they pay promptly, or are you always chasing them?
  • Project quality: Is it work you enjoy? Is it stuff you’re proud to have in your portfolio to attract new clients?
  • Maintenance level: Is the client pleasant to work with or do they require lots of handholding/revisions/weekends?
  • Ancillary benefits: Do you get referrals from them? Discounts on their company’s products and services?

No two clients are the same, and some of the items may be more important to you than others. (Personally, pay rate weighs pretty heavily!) And while you may not necessarily want to dump your worst client, it’s worth having perspective in order to take corrective action.

Freelancers, what would you add to the equation? Which factors are most important to you?

Jake Poinier blogs regularly at His most recent post was “3 ideas beyond the freelance echo chamber.” And he’s happy to swap Twitter follows at @drfreelance.

Why You Should Love Negative Feedback

By Jake Poinier

I’m an optimistic, positive person. Which is why the conclusions from this article—the positive role of negative feedback—caught my eye the other day: “What marks the transition from novice to expert?”. It describes freelancing to a “t.” It’s worth taking a minute to read the whole thing (it’s very short) and even downloading the source document, “Tell Me What I Did Wrong: Experts Seek and Respond to Negative Feedback” from the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers found that novices sought and responded to positive feedback, while experts sought and responded to negative feedback. Their conclusion? “Positive feedback increased novices’ commitment and negative feedback increased experts’ sense that they were making insufficient progress.”

This dovetails with my experiences as a freelancer, and even within my career as a whole. At first, you’re concerned if you have done a task correctly—you simply can’t judge it yourself because you don’t have enough experience. You love it when you get praised, because it means you’re figuring it out.

As you mature, it’s still nice to hear “Good job!”, but that’s no longer your sole motivation. Thoughtful, negative feedback is much more instructive. Indeed, it can be somewhat disappointing when someone gives you positive praise on a project that you know isn’t your best work!

In hindsight, the people who have pushed me the hardest have taught me the most, starting with the first editor I ever had (who bought red pens by the metric ton), and most recently this morning, with a client who kept saying “no, no, no” to every suggestion I made for an email subject line. It can be frustrating, sure, and I would never retain a client who’s a jerk about it. But in the end, negative feedback, taken professionally rather than personally, is one of the many keys to becoming an expert.

Jake Poinier is the owner of Phoenix-based Boomvang Creative Group and blogs as Dr. Freelance.

A Client’s-Eye View of Freelancers

Bfreelance clientsy Jake Poinier

If you haven’t already seen it, the results of the 2011 Freelance Forecast survey (pdf download at the link) have been published. I’ve done this research for three years now, and while I find the freelancer responses interesting, what’s most useful for my business is what clients have to say about what they like…or hate.

The adjacent word cloud above gives a visual perspective on “the ONE most important quality in a freelancer.” If you’ve been at this game for any length of time, the answers shouldn’t come as a surprise: reliability/dependability, talent/quality of work, and hitting deadlines.

But this year, I also asked for some follow-up data: “Name ONE thing you wish every freelancer would do when working with you.” You’ll find all of the responses on pages 16 and 17 of the survey; many of the respondents simply said “communicate” or “ask good questions,” but the devil—as usual—is in the details. Here are three of the client comments, and my thoughts reading between the lines:

  • “As minor as it sounds, [a freelancer should] acknowledge receipt of the assignment. I don’t like guessing whether they’ve received it and understand it. What I dislike even more is reaching out to them to make sure they got it.” Takeaway: This isn’t minor! Always take a moment to write an email to the client and, most important, say “thank you for the assignment.”
  • Some responses were in conflict with each other. For example, “Keep me posted that progress is being made through the course of a project and that the deadline will be hit without any problems” versus “Contact me only when there’s a problem with an assignment.” Takeaway: Again, this comes down to knowing the client. The best way to know their communication style is to simply ask their preference.
  • “I want freelancers to tell me when there is a better way to do something than what I have told them to do. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, but I always want to hear the reasoning behind their choices. I want their expertise.” Takeaway: Tread carefully here. Some clients are ready for the unadulterated truth, others may say they are…but will react poorly to someone calling their baby ugly. Make certain of which type of client you’re dealing with before being too abrupt.

Resourceful clients have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a freelancer. Many of their common complaints—or things they love—are completely under your control. So, do what you can to “wow” them, and you’re well on your way to Referral Street.

Jake Poinier runs Boomvang Creative Group and blogs as Dr. Freelance.