Junkets, Gifts and Ethics

Establishing and documenting your code of ethics is important for protecting your professional reputation.

The topic of freebies has been something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years. It’s tempting, particularly when starting out as a journalist, to see the offers of travel and the occasional gift as part of the benefit of the job. But it’s important to realise that one of the most important assets you have is reputation. And establishing and documenting your code of ethics is important for protecting that reputation.

I was reading this story about car makers modifying review cars provided to journalists and the following quote stood out to me.

A good review is worth a lot. Some marketers value a page of mainly positive editorial as worth 2½ to three times as much as a page of advertising.
That helps explain why companies fly journalists around and do their best to wrap them in cotton wool. (Some journalists think it’s because they are important and/or respected. Sad, sad souls.)

In case you missed it there are two key things

  1. Good editorial is more valuable than advertising
  2. Vendors and public relations people treat journalists well, at least partly, because happy writers may be more likely to write favourable copy

That means journalists need to keep their eye on what’s actually going on.

Last year, I was flown to Japan by a printer manufacturer to visit an R&D facility and meet with senior management. The value of that trip, for me, wasn’t the frequent flyer miles. The value came from the contacts I made and the increased product knowledge. Sure, some of that information could have been imparted by sending me a bunch of documentation. But the opportunity to speak with the people involved in the product development directly could never have been translated to paper.

As a freelance journalist, if you make the decision to accept a trip, then you need to make it clear to readers that when you write about the trip that you flew courtesy of the subject.

With gifts – it’s tougher. It would be easy to say “no gifts” but the reality is that something like a pen, cap or t-shirt isn’t likely to influence a writer. So where do you draw the line?

Fellow writer Renai LeMay is the editor of Delimiter. He recently declined the offer of a free tablet computer or smartphone at a product launch. Journalists in attendance (I wasn’t at the event) were offered a choice between the devices. He has a policy for his company of accepting gifts with a value in excess of $200.

Whether you agree with LeMay’s policy, what’s important to note is that LeMay has at least thought about it and has a policy.

I’d probably go a little further. I’d suggest that journalists should all

  1. Set a limit for the value of gifts
  2. Keep a register of gifts received
  3. Declare all gifts and sponsored travel

What do you do about gifts and trips? Do you have a policy? Let us know in the comments.

Three steps to avoiding the freelancing trap

Freelancing? Not rich yet? Want to know why?

One of the traps of freelancing – really it’s going into small business by another name – is “the books”. No, this isn’t a lesson on book-keeping or reading balance sheets or even a master class on the dreaded BAS [Business Activity Statement], but instead a small piece on a common freelancing trap.

We know we need to make a profit. That’s what pays the rent or mortgage, buys food, takes care of insurance, rates, electricity bills etc. And of course profit is equivalent to sales minus costs. And therein lies the trap.

We all know how much we “sell”, that’s the easy bit. Costs are a different thing again. Who truly knows what their monthly costs are? Go on – be honest.

Step 1 – Catalog Your Expenses

Excerpt from one of the sheets of my spreadsheet

The only way to find out is to get a receipt for everything you buy and catalogue it. Even better, to get a more accurate average, do it for three months. And I do mean everything – as well as the obvious mortgage/rent, fuel, weekly grocery shop, include all those little things you normally wouldn’t consider such as the daily and weekend newspaper, your lunch from the sandwich bar, that Friday night beer at the pub, entry fee to the zoo with the kids.

Everything.

Don’t cheat at this either. Even throw your credit card payments in there for example and any money you set aside for holidays etc. These should also be entered in step 2 (below) that is later creating a meaningful budget from these numbers.

I use a purpose built Excel spreadsheet I made to catalogue this stuff, work out budgets, variances and summarise them all into monthly running totals. If you want a copy, let me know at david@auscamonline.com.

At the end of the first month you’ll be very surprised at how much you are spending. This is a good thing as it will allow you to create a realistic budget and find ways of cutting costs. Which means of course that the profit gets bigger! And that is the end game.

2 – Cut Unnecessary Costs

Cutting costs can be as simple as making a sandwich rather than buying one, using the bus or train on occasion rather than taking the car to appointments, making sure all unnecessary electrical appliances are off and not just on standby, making your own home brew (which is bloody good fun and a huge cost saver over packaged beer), washing the dog yourself as against a weekly hydrobath and so on.

3 – The Reading List

There a number of very good books I have read recently on these sorts of topics I can heartily recommend. I bought them through the Kindle bookshop via Amazon, but they are available in paperback too (although I do recommend the Kindle option!) [Affiliate Links]

The eagle-eyed among you will notice a common thread here (mostly). All except Alan Sugar are members of the Dragon’s Den team from the BBC TV show. They are all self-made multi-millionaires (as is Alan Sugar) and tell it as it is.

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This is a guest post by David Hague, editor of AusCam Online. You can follow David on Twitter  – he’s @vbthedog

Business plans, setting goals and getting things done

Setting a business plan sounds smart. Perhaps it’s not.

When you’re planning to make the change to being your own boss it’s tempting to spend a lot of time working out how to make the shift without actually making the shift. There’s a name for that – paralysis by analysis. I thought long and hard about making the change last year. I was coming off a 10 year stint at the same company and really needed to find something new to do. After close to 20 years working for other people I figured that I could either try going solo or die wondering.

A post at Freelance Folder talks about how freelancers don’t need Business Plans. I’ve never seen a business plan that bore any resemblance to reality. It’s typically a mix between guesswork and telling someone (usually a bank manager) what they want to hear. I prefer a different approach.

1. Set some financial goals

I suggest that you need to set three different types of goals; a break even goal (what you need to survive), a comfort goal (what you need to have some fun) and the BHAG – a big hairy audacious goal. This is the one that lets you take an overseas holiday with the family or buy a nice car or indulge in some other luxury item.

Set the goals and write them somewhere you can see them. I have them on my whiteboard.

2. Work out how much you need to earn per day to hit the financial goal

If you need to earn $104,000 per year to reach a goal you might think that’s $2000 per week or $400 per day. You’d be wrong. In Australia, full time employees are entitled to 10 paid sick days per year and four weeks of annual leave. So, instead of having 52 weeks to make your money, you have 46.

That means you need $2260 per week or $450 per day.

3. Try not to start out with no money or clients

This is the tough one. If you’ve been working full-time, there’s not much chance that you’ll have  full client roster that can pay all your bills on day one. That means you’ll either need a partner who can cover the bills or some money in the bank. While you might not be able to plan what will happen to your business in the first few months, you should at least plan to be able to eat.

4. Don’t blindly accept every job that comes your way

This is one of the tough ones. It might be tempting to accept every job that comes your way no matter how much it pays. Remember your daily earning goals and work to them. If a $200 job comes in and it’s going to take three days – you’ll want to consider whether it really worth accepting. By accepting low value jobs you’ll establish yourself as a low value product. However, if the $200 job comes in and you can do it in a couple of hours then that might be a good option.

Remember – while your clients will measure your value in words or images, you need to charge yourself out by your time.

How do you plan? Let me know in your comments.

The 7-step guide to using social media for small business owners

Social media can be an immensely useful tool for small businesses. Here’s our 7-step guide to getting the most from social media for your business.

This guest post is by Phoebe Netto, the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses. Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives. Visit www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there) or follow her on Twitter at @Phoebe_Netto

In marketing yourself and your business, you should aim to be at every watering hole where your ideal clients congregate. After all, if people do not know that you exist and what you can offer, how else will they become clients? For many of you, one of those waterholes will include social media.

Social media opens up a whole new audience to you, provides a means to make new connections, and gives you the tools to introduce yourself and your services in a subtle way to your ideal clients.

It allows you to extend the reach of your thought leadership and gives you the opportunity to share examples of your work and testimonials. Social media can also provide you with a constant flow of advice, ideas, and links to resources that are focused on your area of expertise or interest.

Regardless of what social media platform you decide to use, there are universal principles or golden rules that you must adhere to. You will notice that these rules are not much different to society’s rules for social engagement offline.

1.        Do things on purpose

If you are on twitter, know why you are on twitter and let your tweets reflect your purpose. The same rule applies for every social media platform. For example, I help small-to-medium businesses and sole operators grow with marketing and public relations. I need to ensure that the majority of my tweets on twitter are about small business, marketing and public relations. My twitter followers should know what to expect of my twitter content.

One of the mistakes that many small businesses and sole operators make when using social media is that they do not choose the right platform. This results in busy activity rather than productivity. Only focus on social media platforms that are a gathering place for your unique target group.

For example, young pet owners would be more inclined to interact with you on facebook than on LinkedIn. If you are a freelance journalist, twitter would be best as there are countless editors to interact with there and you can share links to examples of your work.

2.        It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason

Always remember that social media is not a foreign land speaking in another language. It is real life with real people, real relationships and real conversations.

This is why many of the same social etiquette principles that we value and operate by in business and in life, also apply to social media.

3.        It is better to give than to receive

In my business there are a couple of principles that lead to successful marketing and public relations. In media relations if you give others (journalists, editors and the publication’s readers) what they want, you will get what you want. For example, if I help a journalist by giving them a great piece of news or a well-written bylined article, I will get what I want which is great coverage for my client.

Similarly, marketing is most successful when it is focused on meeting needs and making life easier and more pleasant for others. When a small business addresses the deepest concerns and desires of both its clients and potential clients, and makes them feel special, they will attract leads and repeat business.

When operating by the following rules, social media can deliver your message to new audiences, provide you with new connections, and act as a platform to share your expertise and thought-leadership:

4.        No yelling in the hallway (or on social media)

Would you ever walk into a room full of strangers and announce, “I can take your business to the next level at half the price”? No? Didn’t think so. So don’t do it on social media.

If you notice that someone on your social media platform asks for a recommendation or complains that they can’t find a good provider of a certain product or service, then sure – feel free to suggest a solution or offer to discuss offline with them. You might even land a nice piece of new business. The point is to be helpful, with brings me to my next point.

5.        Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you

Use social media to share, give value, help others, provide helpful information, collaborate, and create a reason for people to want to know more about you and what you do.

You can give value and at the same time promote your business by sharing links to your blog, provide thought leadership, expertise and helpful advice. This shows that you are passionate about your industry area and gives people a non-confrontational and subtle way to experience your knowledge.

Make sure you also share other people’s blog posts, links to useful website, spread great social media content (such as tweets) from others, and promote other businesses (if worthy of promotion). Remember, it’s not all about you!

6.        You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason

My mother always used to tell me this and she was right (as usual). Social media is not a forum for monologues. Those who do not interact or listen to what others are saying on social media will eventually find themselves very lonely (offline and online).

Worthless tweets and overactive robots cause more harm than good.

Instead interact with others by asking questions, offering advice and responding to other people’s online questions.

7.       All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Show your personality. People do business with people, not companies. So make sure show your personality so people can feel a connection.

Be sincere. You can’t fake relationships – even on social media. Put a smile on the faces of those who follow you.

These principles are also golden rules of social media. Zig Ziglar summarised it by saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” When you follow these principles you are well on your way to building important connections with your ideal clients.

Social media is one of the greatest tools available to small-to-medium businesses and sole operators. You can communicate directly with your ideal clients without going through a ‘middle-man’ such as a journalist, advertisement or website.

What was your cheekiest pitch?

Pitching for work can be tricky. But sometimes an unconventional approach can be successful.

Cheeky MonkeyA few years ago, I decided that there was a magazine I really wanted to write for. It was a combination of the subject matter and the prestige of the masthead that drew me. However, it was clear that the editorial team was fairly stable.

After a few months of reading the magazine I noticed that one of the regular contributors was not delivering at the same quality as he had previously. In depth topics lacked analysis and seemed to filled with padding rather than the quality I was used to.

I looked up the editor’s contact details and sent an email stating that I was a freelance writer looking for new opportunities and that I felt that the column I was reading was dropping in quality. The editor responded to my email saying he’d keep me in and. I thanked him.

About a month later the editor contacted me and offered me a three month trial writing the column in question. That was six years ago and I’ve written for every issue of that title ever since.

So – what’s been your cheekiest pitch?