Heart of the Deal: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Adapt

The Copywriter Conclave of Portland recently engaged in a lively and free-wheeling discussion about prospective clients and proposals. We were able to attract prospects and even Heart by Corazonget to the proposal stage, but sometimes, the almost-projects fell through shortly thereafter. We all determined that some unseen, emotional aspect comes into play during the proposal/interview stage.

Here are some things we think will help us in the future (and maybe other small business owners too):

Prepare Your Project Proposal

Sending a proposal in the body of an e-mail (or a plain Microsoft Word document) is quick, but it might be too quick.  Spend some time creating an attractive proposal that contains your prospect’s logo, and your logo (or a nice font) and turn it into a PDF. There are some cool services like FreshBooks or Pancake that can also help you.

Use the Force

Yes, it’s time for another “Mahesh Star Wars analogy.” Star Wars: A New Hope cemented its place in the world-culture when Luke turns off his targeting computer during the climactic battle inside the Death Star trench. There will always be “that moment” when you’re discussing your prospect’s project where you’ll notice a synergy between the prospect and yourself. You may feel that sharing a personal detail could add depth to your conversation. Maybe one of you tells a joke or you bond over being parents or non-parents. Whatever it is, if it fits well, then trust your feelings.

Value Integrity

News sources inform us that the Great Recession is largely behind us, but the effects continue to linger, and they probably will for a while. For example, I’ve noticed how gun shy people are around major buying decisions. There may be moments when they convince themselves they don’t need a particular service. We all do it, even when we know we really need something. And here’s the thing:  businesses need quality content. More than that, business owners need quality content made by people who can verify results and reach audiences. We can’t pretend that keyword spinning, copy mills, and empty jargon lead to engaged audiences and higher revenue. Not anymore. So convince them that your skill set matches exactly what they seek.

You can know the minutiae of your product or service, research your prospects’ companies and the problems they face, and then put together a killer proposal. There will always be a “wild card” element you cannot control. If you’re freelance or a business owner, you walk a tightrope without a safety net. Clients and orders are the lifeblood of your business. If you don’t close a deal, you have to start all over again. The stakes are always high. But if one prospect doesn’t work out, then it allows you to hone your pitch for the next one. I lost out on not one, but two, projects in one month…and then I landed the biggest client of my career (so far) one week later. So don’t lose heart.

How do you approach the proposal process with your prospective clients?

(This post originally appeared in slightly altered form at Enlighten Writing.  Image credit.

4 Valuable Services For Freelancers

U.S. CurrencyLast week we talked about 8 Cheap and Good Ways to Build Your Skill Set. This week we’re talking about valuable services for freelancers that aren’t necessarily budget-busting but ain’t cheap, either. As freelance writers and editors, our main selling point is how we can enhance businesses, institutions, and entrepreneurs by hiring us.  The services below help us enhance our own value propositions.


If you need to edit a document in Acrobat, create your intellectual property via Photoshop, or design a long-form project using InDesign, then you know Adobe is essential. The company now offers convenient cloud-based monthly plans.  You can even choose a single-app plan for less than $20 a month, and the entire Creative Cloud is available for less than $50 a month.

$19.99-$49.99 per month. More info here.

LinkedIn Premium

LinkedIn’s free profile gives every member some advantages, but the premium versions are much more robust. You get way more InMails, more profiles per search, and the ever-useful “Who’s Viewed My Profile,” because we all enjoy flattery.

$47.99 for Business Plus and $74.99 for Executive. More info here.

Pancake (or FreshBooks)

I used my own non-branded invoice for the first couple of years of my freelance writing career. That got old fast.  I researched invoicing programs and started using FreshBooks. I switched to Pancake this year. Pancake charges a one-time fee, and then you host the software on your site’s domain. It has many of the same features as FreshBooks, including time tracking, project management, one-click invoicing. I love it so far.

$179 one-time set-up fee for Pancake.

$19.95-$39.95 monthly plans for FreshBooks.

 What non-cheap services do you use for your business?


8 Cheap and Good Ways to Build Your Skill Set

Looking for some cheap and good ways to build your skill set? Here are eight resources I’ve used in the past, currently, and can highly recommend:

  1. Copyblogger: Free content marketing education, and business development upgrades.
  2. Freemixx: Open source photo editor
  3. Inc. Magazine: Advice, tools, and services that help your small business grow
  4. Lumosity: Sophisticated, scientifically designed brain training for anyone. It may seem like fun and games, but it’s actually making your brain better.
  5. Lynda: Online video tutorials to help you learn software, creative, and business skills.
  6. Mercy Corps Northwest: Provide affordable business development education, financing, and business services.
  7. Treehouse: Learn how to build websites and apps, write code, or start a business with video tutorials and exercises.
  8. W3 Schools: Free coding education.

What cheap skill-building resources have you come across in your professional development? Share them in the comments. It would be great to build this list out more!

Annual Business Services is a Tax Scam

Last week I got a letter from Annual Business Services. It looked like it was sent by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office regarding official tax-related business. The envelope looked slightly spammy, but mostly legit. Here’s what it looks like:

Annual Filing Services Scam

Hating to receive mail from the government, I opened it immediately to make sure I wasn’t late on something. There was no letter of introduction, no State of Oregon letterhead, no “Sincerely” farewell. What it said at the top of the form was “2014-Annual Minutes Form.” And what it said at the top of the other piece of paper in the envelope was “Instructions for Completing the Annual Minutes Form.” It also said that a payment of $125 was required with the submission of my minutes, which I could pay by check, money order, or by filling out my credit card information.


The State of Oregon has never asked me to do that before. And all other things being shady, I went onto the Oregon Secretary of State’s website to double-check the proper procedure for filing shareholder minutes. Guess what I found? Two posts dated July 2014 and May 2014 warning business owners to beware this company that’s masquerading as a State entity. Here’s the post.

If you’ve received this letter, don’t fill it out! I just went to the website, www.annualfilingservice.com, and they’ve shut it down. I had gone before and it was an ugly templated thing.

On the form it said to respond by August 29th, so this post is a little late in coming. Hopefully they haven’t made off with your $125 by now. If they have, report it to the police and/or the Secretary of State’s Office.

3 Professionals Every Freelancer Should Have on Their Team

Every freelancer is good at what they do. Whether your a copywriter or welder, graphic designer or gardener, your time is precious and it’s best spent doing what you’re good at. For everything else, I recommend you hire someone to do it for you. Your business team will help you do your taxes, make your business a legal entity, draw up legal documents, deal with non-paying clients, and buy business insurance. The resources listed below are located in the Portland-Metro area (and may practice in Washington as well).

1) Small Business Attorney

Business attorney rates, like any service provider, can best be described as having a range. The range I’ve encountered is $150-$1,000 per hour. There are also pre-paid legal service providers out there, if you want to go that route. Your best bet will be to find a small business attorney amongst your network of family and friends, and enlist their services. Working with an attorney who has her own practice (versus a huge, cookie-cutter firm) would be my recommendation.

If you live in the State of Oregon, I can highly recommend Katie Lane. I recommend her because she specializes in working with freelancers. I know quite a few attorneys, and she’s the only one I’ve met who knows the complete ins and outs of what a freelance business professional needs.

As an additional legal resource, MercyCorps Northwest offers a series of small business consulting services including: general small business consulting, legal consulting, record keeping, and credit consulting.

2) Accountant/CPA (Certified Public Accountant)

Tax time is no joke. While I’m sure I would feel very proud of myself if I did my own taxes, I will never ever be as educated about the latest and greatest tax breaks, rates, and deductions available to me. I just won’t. I’m a writer. I am writing. This is what I do.

Spending more than a couple hours per year dealing with my taxes makes me nervous. And bored, to be perfectly honest. My CPA is Geoff Dougall, and he’s like a unicorn: absolutely magical and very real. His office sends me a reminder in the mail that tax time is upon us (with a little booklet that helps me prepare everything he needs!), we meet for an hour to go over my financials, I leave, the magic happens, and they tell me when my returns are ready to pick up. See? Magic!

Yes, I pay him for the service he provides, AND he keeps me financially safe, secure, and cared for. I’ve worked with Geoff for years, and I hope to do so for many more to come.

3) Financial Advisor/Planner

When I was renting a desk in a larger office, I called my financial advisor to give him my new address. During that call, he asked if I was interested in purchasing renter’s insurance. I said “No, why do you ask?” He said, “Because you’re renting a desk in a shared office. And you’re probably leaving some of your business assets or other property at the office, right?” He was. “So anyone who has access to that office, or happens to wander through, could possibly steal your stuff. See what I’m sayin’?” I did.

The insurance would cost me $5/month. I bought it. He also helped me set-up my first 401K, an investment account, and wants to “get me into a Roth IRA” in the next few years.

If you don’t already know a Financial Advisor or Planner that you trust, start by asking the people in your network to recommend someone.

What other complementary business professionals do you think should be on the team of every freelancer?