September Meeting Recap: Peer Mentoring for Business Success

Moderatorpeer-mentoring

Julie Tereshchuk, Editor-in-Chief, Texas Lifestyle Magazine

Speakers

Amy Hufford, Principal, Stellar Communications

Jenny Magic, Communications Strategist, Raise Your Hand Texas

Julie Wickert, Proposal Manager, Hart InterCivic

At our September meeting, we heard from members of the Women Communicators of Austin mentoring committee. These generous mentors — Julie Tereshchuk, Amy Hufford, Jenny Magic, and Julie Wickert — are also long-time freelancers. In addition to talking about the benefits of mentoring, they gave us great business advice and answered some frequently-asked questions. Here’s what they had to say.

Mentoring is good for business

Being a mentor gives you more than positive feelings. It feels good to help someone, but it can also be good for business. You may be able to refer mentees for jobs you can’t or don’t want to do, and they may refer work to you.

Sharing knowledge when you get a chance is great for business. For example, being on a panel about WordPress led Amy to a huge contract and put her on the path to becoming a president of Women Communicators of Austin. Jenny’s participation on panels and programs fed her business for five years.

Julie T. sees mentoring as a kind of crowdsourcing to help mentees tap into all WCA resources. [Check out wcaustin.org to learn more about the career and professional development support WCA members receive, including the “Ask a Mentor” section.]

For Julie W., mentoring is not just about business skills; it’s about making connections for people. One mentee was advanced in her career but new to town. Julie connected her to people and organizations and provided encouragement, all over the course of three lunches.

“Coopetition” vs. competition

fa_mtng-06_0916Adopting the mindset of “coopetition” — building mutually beneficial relationships with freelancers who do similar work — is key to fully embracing the idea of mentorship.

The panelists agreed that we should get over the mindset of worrying about competition from other freelancers and help one another. Julie T. put it this way: Who will refer business to you — someone you’ve helped or someone you’ve refused?

There’s no true competition among freelancers because everyone is different, several speakers stressed. Clients aren’t just buying deliverables. They’re buying a chance to work with you and your particular strengths and personality.

When Julie W. launched her writing career, she started networking and joined every group in town she could find, including WCA. She found that WCA was where she wanted to invest the most time. At first, she says, she felt like she was “in a room full of me’s,” but she realized she was in a room full of people who could provide referrals or leads, as well become clients themselves. Be sure to get into those “rooms full of me’s” as well as rooms where other people need your services, she says.

It can be more useful to network with people who do what you do than with potential clients, Jenny says. At an event, networking with potential clients may allow you to build a relationship with two or three people. She’s found that networking with a group of other freelancers while talking about the industry and sharing experiences may do more to feed your business in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

The more than 40 attendees at the Fibercove session voted on questions they’d like to hear the mentors address. Here is some of their advice.

fa_mtng-09_0916How do I get more referrals/work?

  • Consider starting with pro bono work to get work out there with your name on it. Search out organizations you’re excited about and, for example, offer to write a blog post. But don’t work for free for just anyone who asks you. Do it for an organization you believe in. (Editor’s note: Like Freelance Austin! See our guest blog submission guidelines here.)
  • Try to create an “ecosystem of solutions” for clients, with you as the content provider (or whatever service you offer). If you don’t have 10 people who are sending you work, build those relationships so you have a real team around you, not just a loosey-goosey mix of people. Do the same for them.
  • Network with freelancers in other industries, such as tech. For example, sometimes clients think they need a newsletter but, in talking through the project, it comes out that what they really need is a web developer. Most web developers are not great at communication, so networking with them can lead to work for all of you.
  • Figure out who a potential client buys from. Who do they seek out? Then make friends with those people.
  • Find “pools” such as a PR agencies and ask for referrals.
  • Circle back around to clients — “I have some time available and would love to help you.”
  • Find touchpoints between you and clients. Try to find a nugget of value you can provide: “I found this article that reminds me of a project we did. By the way, I have time if you need something.” Then you might get, “I don’t but (potential client) does.”

fa_mtng-08_0916How do I get better projects?

  • You get what you put out there, so watch out for underselling and underpricing yourself. Be bold in pricing and you’ll get better clients. Think about doubling your rate for new clients. If you’re at the bottom of your price point, you get people shopping for the lowest rate. Get comfortable asking for the type of work you want — even practice saying your rates out loud.
  • Ask yourself some questions before you accept a project. Will they pay you on time? Do they respect the work you do? Will you enjoy working with them? Do they give off a good vibe?
  • If someone is often referring work to you that feels like a castoff, figure out how to work on that relationship. Provide value to them so they can learn your value. Articulate how you’re different from other freelancers. Remind them that you’re peers so they’re not thinking of you as a “junior them.” If it doesn’t work, get them out of your life and say you’re booked!
  • If you’re referring work, you may be unsure about how much to say about the client or your business. You don’t have a responsibility to let the referral know why you don’t want to work with that client if that would reveal too much about your business, including your rates. What you tell the referral depends on your relationship.

Some things you might say are:

    • “I’m referring it to you because I can’t do it at that price.”
    • “What I’ve learned about the client is . . .”
    • “The client needs these things that I’m not a good fit for.”
    • “I’ve learned in conversation that their budget is x.”
  • Keep your skills sharp. Find a way to volunteer to practice skills, even if for a friend.
  • See if there’s a bigger pond to swim in.

How can you find out from clients what they’re willing to pay?

Sometimes clients know what the market will bear and sometimes they don’t. Try asking:

  • “Who’s the person at your organization who will give me sales figures?” (Then get those numbers.)
  • “Can I ask what the budget is?”
  • “We can work with that budget, but we need to figure out what to cut from your deliverables.”

Many freelancers are afraid of the word “selling.” Don’t be. We all have to sell.

How do I know how much I should charge?

  • Start by figuring out what you need to earn to be happy in your life. What is your time worth?
  • Adopt a percentage mentality and look at what value you’re providing. For example: “I’m not selling you a white paper. I’m selling you a one percent bump in sales.” Or for nonprofits: “I do visual storytelling to connect with donors.” Look for the submessage.
  • “Bid like a boy.” One person gave a rate to a male contractor who said it was too high. She then found out he charged twice as much. Be bold!
  • Keep in mind that PR agencies commonly double your rate. If you charge $60, they charge $120. Experienced clients are likely to be comfortable with that higher range.
  • Sometimes we need to educate a client on what the project needs to be successful. If you line-item each task — noting that writing also requires time for research, for example — you’ll have a better idea of what you need to charge while selling your bid to the client.
  • Gauge the space your client is working in. Where is your client selling? What is their price point? Tailor your price to that.
  • If a client doesn’t have the budget for your rate, make sure you can refer another freelancer, who might do the same for you.

How do I find out what other freelancers charge?

  • Ask people who do something different. For example, ask web developers what they ask for: “When I refer a freelancer to you, what do you expect your budget to be?”

Should I specialize in a niche such as nonprofits or be more of a generalist?

  • The specific attracts the general. When you’re a specialist, people often assume you know everything else related to that niche.
  • It’s smart to narrow your focus by reality. Don’t do lots of different things, but don’t limit yourself. If you want to specialize in nonprofits, that doesn’t mean you don’t do corporate work. But tell a consistent story: “I’m an NPO specialist, but I also do this . . .”
  • Be aware that some people who hire freelancers are hesitant to work with people who focus only on nonprofits. They may value broader professional experience gained outside of the nonprofit world.

Interested in becoming  a mentor or learning from one of WCA’s volunteer mentors? Check out wcaustin.org for more information.

Lisa Roe

Lisa Wyatt Roe is a freelance writer, editor and social media strategist with experience in newspaper copy editing, magazine publishing and Facebook wrangling.

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