Monday, January 27, 2014

5 Outsourcing Tips: How to Effectively Communicate & Work With Contractors and Freelancers

As a freelance copywriter, many times I work with clients who just don't have any idea what they want or need when it comes to their writing objectives. In the copywriting and design world, these strategic instructions are called "creative directives."  However, that doesn't mean it's impossible to figure out my clients' needs or wants. I just completed a fast turn-around project, and it was a new industry that was unfamiliar to me. However, the project flowed smoothly and I was able to complete the project quickly. It also helped that it was a former colleague. Since we worked together in the past, we knew each other's work ethic and are both very detail-oriented.

Last year, I took on an outsourced blogging project for a copywriter friend, and it was a seamless project as well. Why were these projects successful? Because they were both very clear with directives and what I needed to do. The blogging project involved a lot of research (also, it was another industry that wasn't familiar territory), and the article angles were very specific. I also work for a fast-paced marketing & design agency with multiple projects and clients. Everyone involved in the project needs to be on the same page in order for projects to succeed, and to make our clients happy.

Even if your project is challenging, that doesn't mean it's impossible to get what you need/want from the contractor. If you have outsourced projects or plan to work with contractors and/or freelancers in the future, here are 5 outsourcing tips you need to know BEFORE hiring independent contractors.

1. Do not expect the contractor/freelancer to read your mind. You need to have somewhat of an idea as to what you want.That's the purpose behind holding initial strategic planning consultations, phone interviews/meetings, etc.  For example, don't approach a web developer with: "I need a new website by next month." Why do you need a new website? What's the purpose/objective of your website? Don't answer with the standard "I want more clients, make more money, etc." Who doesn't want to have new clients and make more money? Don't be vague. Be specific about your project goals. Also, don't forget to communicate on a regular basis with your contractors. If you aren't an email person, let the contractor know up front that you would rather talk to them via phone or Skype, etc. or vice versa. Establish SPECIFIC project details from the very start! Contractors aren't mind readers - that's not their job. If you don't understand something, don't be afraid to clarify and ask questions (even if you think they are silly!) Remember to answer contractors' questions in a timely manner. If the contractor has to wait for you to answer their questions, remember that delay holds up YOUR project and THEIR deadlines.

2. Put everything in writing from the very beginning and don't proceed until you have a signed contractual agreement. After sending you a proposal/quote and when you agree to the project details, the contractor usually draws up the contract. However, you can also create your own contract for them to sign. In the contract, outline (point-by-point) the details of the project, fees/rates, and your directives (goals, objectives, etc.). If you are working with multiple contractors on one big project, include a project plan and clearly outline each players' roles, deadlines, etc. in the project. It's important that everyone involved knows what's going on with the project--the left hand needs to talk to the right!

Make sure to include a clause in your contract that states you can "kill" the project at any time and dissolve the contract. Sometimes what looks good on paper doesn't translate in the real world. As a copywriter, I pride myself on completing projects on deadline and communicating effectively - and on a regular basis - with my clients via email, phone, text, and Skype.  However, not every freelancer out there is ethical or even qualified. Carefully vet contractors before you hire them, and ask for testimonials and professional references. You want to have an "out" if the contractor just can't meet your goals and/or you have a personality conflict. You will still need to pay a contractor for ALL completed work up until the point you dissolve the contract. If you ever run into a bind with a contract dispute, consult an attorney for assistance.

3. What you see is what you get...or expect to pay more money. If you change your mind about the direction of your project and decide you want a different website design (and the website is in the final stages of completion), be prepared to start from scratch. Most contractors/freelancers are flexible with changes mid-stream (dependent upon contractual agreements), but time is money for independent contractors. If the project is near completion and you decide you want to create a new concept/idea, then you're looking at a brand new project strategy which means a new budget and contract. This seems like a no-brainer, but I've experienced this issue first-hand and it happens quite often.

4. Leave your ego at the door. Don't pretend or think you know MORE than the contractor you hired. This can turn into a nightmare. I actually "fired" clients for this very reason. It works both way. An unhappy contractor can immediately dissolve the contract with you as well. There is a reason you hire a professional that knows more than you do. Let them do their job, and don't be micro-manager or a know-it-all. Obviously, if the contractor gives you a smoke and mirror show and has no clue as to what they're doing, you have a legitimate reason to fire them and hire a more qualified person.

5. Heartfelt compliments and rockin' testimonials don't hurt either. Freelancers and contractors find a lot of their business through word-of-mouth, so if you are pleased with their work please let them know (and let others know too). Testimonials and good references are a huge selling point for independent contractors. Also, if you have it within your means/budget, throwing a few extra dollars their way for a job well done doesn't hurt either. If you need this contractor's services in the future, this is a great way to establish rapport and a solid working relationship. A small bonus is always nice, but even a simple thank you and heartfelt compliments can go a long way.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Power of Social Media: How Facebook Helped Solve a Crime

I watched a local news segment on Saturday night about a local businesswoman in Sacramento, Calif. who sells hand crafted artisanal ice cream (Popcycle Creamery) and how her custom bike was stolen, despite it being locked up in a secure location. It was disheartening as the bicycle is used as part of her cart/business, and I felt so bad for her (since this is how she generates her income). One of my friends posted on Facebook to keep an eye out for her bike, and even though I don't live in Sacramento anymore I wanted to follow the story and show my support.

There's a happy ending to her story as her bike was recovered yesterday (luckily, with minimal damage and it's still in good shape to ride) - THANKS to the power of social media and local Sacramento law enforcement!

When you start to become frustrated with social media and think it's a waste of time, think again. Because of social media, a crime was solved and this woman can now return to selling her yummy ice cream.

This is from Popcycle Creamery's Facebook page:

"Good morning POP peeps! I just want to send a special thanks to CBS Sacramento and Sacramento Police Department for their vital roles in recovering my POPcycle!

On Sunday afternoon, 2 officers were in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood taking care of business and one of the officers spotted the POPcycle sitting abandoned in an alley. He recognized the bike from the news segment done on Saturday evening. The other officer recognized it from a Facebook post Cross Fit West Sac on Saturday. The power of social media - wowza!

The thief gave her a few bumps and bruises -- they took the pedals, the seat, the lights, cup holder -- but otherwise the POPcycle is in good shape and will be happy to get a little cosmetic make over on these few items. I am just so thankful that the bike itself was not damaged. She will be getting a good bath and should be rolling soon -- for now she is taking a little rest in a secure undisclosed location,

Although the experience of having it stolen was a bummer -- the amount of love, support and sharing of my story has far outweighed the sadness I felt upon discovering my girl was gone. THANK YOU! Keep on pedalin' - never give up!

p.s. for some reason the post won't let me tag CBS, Sac PD or Cross Fit West Sac - you all have ice cream on the house coming at you!" 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Smart Tech is Top Online Marketing Trend for 2014

Sorry for the absence. I'm back in time to kick off the New Year with the hottest online marketing trends for 2014.

The 2014 marketing prediction articles are circulating right and left this week. This article by Entrepreneur listed  the top 10 hottest trends for the upcoming year. Smart objects take the number two spot on their list. It seems like smart technology took 2013 by storm with companies launching their latest and greatest mobile device, tablet, etc. We saw the launch of the iPhone 5 this year and Apple has announced they will launch their iPhone 6 in the fall.

Technology seems to be leaning towards sci-fi trends such as watches that double as a computer/smart phone. One of the latest trends is Google Glass. Last year, Google launched these funky wearable glasses (which look like space age sunglasses) that double as a basic computer. Google is expected to launch a better and more improved (and less expensive) version this year, but it's not expected to be released until May.

Other hot tech trends that will help online marketers target the mobile/smart crowd:

  • iPhones & iPads will have bigger displays
  • Smartwatches 
  • Smartphones to be improved with better high-resolution & curved displays

Keep "smart objects" in mind when developing your online marketing strategy this year. Make sure that your online marketing campaigns and content read well and look good on mobile/smart devices. Build websites that are mobile and user-friendly, and understand how your smart tech audiences think and act. They are busy and on-the-go, and they want information that's quickly accessible. Also, make sure to get on board with a smart device - yes, it's time to get rid of that outdated flip phone and join the 21st century.

Wishing you much success & prosperity in 2014! 

Therese Pope, Copywriter/Content Developer & Digital Buzz-icist

Content Writing & Marketing Tips ** Online Buzz Branding

** Digital & Social Media Strategies