Monday, May 30, 2011

Volunteering for Fun & Non-Profit Addendum

On May 16 I wrote a post about volunteering as a way to market your business. I received an query from a reader on another forum as to what to do when the non-profit client benefitting from your donation of services has endless changes and extra requests. Good question! This is a bit stickier than with a paying client, because you can't exactly add on an upcharge as you would if there was money involved. Here's how I responded:

When It Looks like the Karma is Going Sideways
Sometimes, in spite of all your explanations about the limitations of your donation as set forth in your proposal, you’ll be faced with the expectation that you will keep plugging away at the project until “everyone is happy with it.” When that occurs, you can do one of two things.
You can call a come-to-Jesus meeting and refer the client to your original agreement, reminding them that an offer of donated services is not the same thing as indentured slavery. Your proposal notwithstanding, because they are so devoted to their cause, they may have no idea that they are making unreasonable demands. This is another opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and train your non-profit how to be a good client. Whether this is possible depends on the individual circumstances.  
The other alternative is to look at the repercussions of bailing vs. sucking it up and finishing the project. It could be that the PR fallout from not finishing might be worse than not having done the project at all. Either way, this situation requires a judgment call on your part. Since all situations are different, you will have to decide what it is worth to you, whether you draw a hard line or see it through to the end.
Recently I was faced with this situation, and decided to suck it up and finish. I was quite sure the intention was not to wring every possible drop of free work out of me. It was rather the result of inexperience on the part of the client and their trust in me to help them get what they needed. I also saw an excellent opportunity to have my halo polished publically by some very happy campers. I ended up spending twice as much effort on the project as I had intended, but the result turned out to be one of the best logos I have ever done. Needless to say, I have put it in all my online portfolios and in a design competitions. Hopefully the karma will include some professional recognition!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inertia in the Marketplace

One of my favorite ways to describe what graphic design really is that it’s a form of pretty potent behavior modification (see my post of 2-7-11). Designers combine words and pictures to persuade and/or inspire the viewer to behave in ways that benefit the clients of the designers. That usually means “Buy my stuff.” Pretty straightforward in its intent, if not in its execution. We’re a pretty manipulative lot, at least when we’re effective. And in order to be effective, it is well to remember the two basic behaviors that marketing is always trying to modify.
When you want to persuade people to take action, you are asking them to do one of two things: 1) either start doing something they’ve never done before, or 2) stop doing something the way they’ve been doing it and begin doing it a different way. This distinction is crucial in crafting your approach. In both cases inertia has to be overcome.
In the first instance, getting people to start doing something that they’ve never done before requires a compelling case for the new thing. Up to now the need hasn’t been perceived because the object hasn’t existed. In this case inertia = no perceived need. How the iPod was initially marketed is a good example. Potential buyer inertia was overcome by positioning the product as surpassingly cool, partly by offering its market a way to enjoy music in unprecedented ways.
In the second case, to get past the inertia of sticking with the comfortable same-old, a strong case must be made for why switching to Product A will be better than continuing to use Product B. This can be based on cost, convenience, quality, efficiency, or any number of characteristics depending on the product’s market. Above all there must be a strong incentive for risking the discomfort of the unknown. Here, inertia = preference for the familiar. So the rivals to the iPod now have to explain why you should buy their product and not the iPod.
I am not sure which type of inertia is harder to overcome. But I am very sure that we need to be aware of which type we are addressing, and craft our approach accordingly. Otherwise our marketing will fall on deaf ears.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Volunteering for Fun & Non-Profit (and “Free” Marketing!)

As businesses, we are continually challenged to find and engage with our target markets. And as small enterprises, we have to do this as cost-effectively as possible, being without the big marketing budgets of corporations. A great way to do this is to volunteer.
I live in a small community where it is possible to connect in ways that may not be possible in larger areas. However, there are certain principles that can be applied at any scale, including online.
1. Choose strategically as well as ethically. There are two things to consider in choosing how to volunteer. One, of course, is to pick a cause that reflects your personal values. If you support organic farming, you could join the board of the local farmer’s market. If you support community outreach to at-risk populations, you might volunteer for the YMCA or United Way. Service clubs like Rotary are highly effective at doing good and have many business people as members.
The other consideration is strategic. Most organizations have boards whose members are listed on their web sites. Look at the board lists of the causes you want to help, and look for people for whom you would like to work. Volunteering is a perfect way to showcase your worth while supporting a cause your prospect cares about. But your support has to be sincere – phonies and opportunists will eventually be outed, resulting in negative marketing. Sincere support is first, your marketing agenda is second.
2.  Volunteer for tasks that require your abilities. This is a golden opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, professionalism and integrity to potential clients. You will be judged the same as on a paid job, so treat it accordingly. Show up, do what you said you would do, and be accountable and available. Don’t assume that because you are working for free that the job is any less important to your reputation or matters less than your paid work.
3. Define the assignment the same as you would paid work. Set it up in front with a formal proposal that has a defined scope, timeline, etc., just as if you were being paid. This does two things: it sets limits as to what you will do pro bono, and it educates your fellow volunteers as to what such a job entails. It would be very bad if your philanthropy resulted in misperceptions about what it really takes to provide products and services. It’s up to you to prevent that by being clear about the assignment’s details and boundaries.
4. Execute as though the gods were watching your every move. This is your chance to show the pillars of your community not only how excellent your work is and how professional you are, but what a joy you are to work with. People tend to hire those they know and trust. This is how you show that you are that person. People also tend to hire those who they feel have similar values.
5. Do not neglect invoicing! It’s another opportunity to educate your future client, and also gives your group a valuable tool for fundraising. Non-profits are always chasing grants. Often grants require either a hard or soft match for the funds they hand out. A hard match means the group has to match the grant in dollars. A soft match means the group can provide a match of in-kind products or services. This has to be documented, however, and that’s where your invoice comes in. You submit an invoice as you usually do with its actual price, and then add a note that says “Discounted 100%” (or 50% if it’s a partial pro bono). This will not only allow the group to use your donation as a soft match, but it will also make them fully aware of the value of what you gave. This will ensure that when Mr. Fellow Board Member comes to you for his business that he doesn’t have any unfortunate assumptions of what it will cost. And it will also make you look like a hero for thinking of it. They will thank you.
When It Looks Like the Karma is Going South
Not all non-profits are ethically squeaky clean. Recognize when your benefactees may be sliding towards exploiting you. This can happen for a number of reasons: when a non-profit is starting up because someone is trying to create a job at no cost to himself; when the board has no respect for anyone’s time or abilities but their own; or the executive director, ditto. It’s up to you to see when this is happening and deal with it in a way that is not damaging to your business.  No cause is worth feeling used and resentful. But - even if the group you volunteered for turns out to be less than ideal, you did a good job, you made new connections, and now you can return refreshed to your regular clients.
Weasels Are the Exception, Not the Norm
The vast majority of people and groups are wonderful. Besides the chance to make meaningful and satisfying connections, volunteering offers opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in ways that are not always available to a small business. In volunteering, the very least you will gain is getting to know some great people, and the knowledge that you have used your talents to make the world better.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Was Completely Distracted by This

I had every intention of writing another post this week, filled with more trenchant observations (or at least some snarky comments) on the intersection of design and business, and then this came to me in a forward. Its sheer beauty and wit completely threw me off my rails. See for yourself:
The campaign's been out for a while, but I hadn't seen all the different versions pulled together in one place. It just blew my socks off - it will probably do the same for you. Enjoy!

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Excellent Guest Blogging Adventure

I often comment on posts on a favorite blog of mine called the Creative Freelancer Blog, a part of the Creative Freelancer Conference site. I attended the conference last year for the first time, got a ton of good information and really enjoyed the professional fellowship. Recently I posted a question that I'm sure has been on the minds of many professionals on the wrong side of 50: how do we stay in the game as we get older? In the case of graphic design, there seems to be a definite youth bias in hiring, whether it's for employees or for independent contractors.

Much to my surprise, the post got dozens of responses and more are still coming in. It's apparently a burning question for many, especially since the economy took a dive. The stories are fascinating and the ideas for coping are all over the place. Take a look and see for yourself: too-old-to-be-a-designer?

Hopefully you'll be inspired to add your own two cents, whether you're a designer or not. Actually, especially if you're not a designer - tell us what you think!