An Easy Way to Exceed Expectations

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 8:06 AM | Category: Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

This fall is my family’s 14th and final year at the elementary school where all three of my kiddos attended for at least five years of their lives. It’s going to be tough to leave because many staff members are like family. Volunteering at the middle and high schools aren’t the same as at the elementary school. So I’ve been making an extra effort to be more involved because it’s my last chance as a parent.

A moment of insanity … volunteering to do the newsletter

I went a little crazy and volunteered to do the PTA’s newsletter. I knew I could do the newsletter, but the time commitment was a concern. (I know how to say no. Yes, really, I do!) It took a lot of time to do the just-released first issue, but it’ll go faster next time now that I have a template for it. (I hope!)

To my surprise, the raves started pouring in. I couldn’t imagine why because previous editors did a nice job with theirs. Folks said they appreciated the extra effort with the interactive features, such as linking to parts of the PTA website and adding bookmarks that you can click and it takes you to the related page. They also liked the editorial calendar with due dates, list of articles in past issues month-by-month and easy online access to the calendar.

One issue down. Eight more to go. I hope I can keep this up.

Lagniappe: Do more for others

Lagniappe [lan-yap] n. 1. Small gift given to customer with a purchase. 2. An unexpected bonus.

Employers and clients hire folks to do a job, provide a service or create a product. They also gain our expertise and experience even if it comes from an unrelated field. That’s part of providing good customer service. Part of our job is to speak up when a manager leans toward a decision that may not be the best one for the company. Sometimes you have to be proactive and say, “I don’t recommend this route because of XYZ. The better route would be LMN because … .”

You inform. You offer solutions. You explain why. You respect the final decision. That’s all you can do.

You can also look for ways to help improve the business. For example, one client’s website had a bug and his staff couldn’t fix it. I went in, played with it, harumphed a few times and finally fixed the little bugger. (Ha! I’m reading “Ender’s Game.”) What I do for the client? I’m an editor and writer. He didn’t hire me for web design or website management. (I got my start as a writer by writing about web design.) It’s a skill I happen to have that turned into a lagniappe.

It’s not just for surprising and delighting clients and employers. You can apply it to all parts of your life.

What’s your lagniappe? What are some ways to do a little something extra for clients?

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Be Selective with New Clients

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 at 11:18 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

As my family prepared to move in our first home, like most people — we had lots to do in the house. To do it all would mean taking shortcuts and buying low-priced items. The result would be less than flattering. The job called for prioritizing to ensure we bought decent quality items. First up: windows. We needed blinds, lots of blinds or else I would go blind with the too many windows we had. (Seriously, the eyes are sensitive to sunlight.)

Remote control

Image from sxc.hu user ColinBroug

Next, bedroom furniture. Previously, we lived in military housing and chose to focus on the downstairs rooms rather than upstairs including our bedroom. The rest we added when we could or when we saw something that worked.

Good thing we didn’t do it all. It turned out those first few items we bought were my least favorites. The toddler-abused blinds need replacing. The bedroom furniture … I love its function, but not its color. I thought the wood would be a white wash wood. Instead, it was painted a bothersome faint white. We could paint it, but the colors wouldn’t work well in the dark-colored bedroom. Natural wood color works best.

This situation can happen when work slows down and it’s time to bring in new business. It’s tempting to take on every opportunity that comes along. It’s like a reverse of firing bad clients except you’re proactive. Instead of finding yourself working with a less than ideal client, feeling miserable and having to figure out how to get out of it — you skip all that.

I happened to be working on finding another client to serve when several opportunities came in. For one of them, warning signs alerted me to do serious due diligence. In the other, the prospect asked if I could write articles on X, Y, Z topics. I turned it down because I know those topics would require a lot of energy and most of it not good. I’d rather spend the energy looking for a client I can better serve doing work I enjoy.

Turning Down Opportunities

These signs give you the clues you need that a potential assignment or client may not work for you. Be careful when it comes to an assignment that scares you because you’re afraid to fail, not because something is iffy about the client. It may be an opportunity to grow.

  • Boring. Think about your least favorite industry. Do you want to spend hours living and breathing that industry? When you work on things you despise, it takes longer and drains more out of you.
  • Suspicious. You find little information about the company or person contacting you. The person may use a common email address, provides terse responses to your questions and reveal little else.
  • Budgeted. I saved time for a prospect whose message implied she was focused on price. I gently responded if she was looking for a low-priced writer that I was not a fit for her.  I don’t turn down all budgeted assignments. For example, I liked an owner and his business, so I came up with a way to quote a lower price that worked for both of us.

Digging Deeper

Sometimes the first or second contact isn’t enough to decide yea or nay. This is the time to dig deeper. Someone contacted me about writing a bunch of blog posts. First warning sign. The email address came from a yahoo.com address. Second warning sign. The “From” address only had a first name, but she signed her last name in the first message. Half a warning sign.

I searched her name, email address and company name (I had to ask for the company name as she didn’t mention it in the first email — another sign) and found nothing. At this point, I decided this wouldn’t work out. Rather than turning it down, I replied with more questions. Never heard back. Hmm …

When you’re not sure about an assignment, these actions help:

  • Research. Look up the client, company, email address and whatever info you have. Don’t stop with the client’s website. Go to social networks like Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.
  • Ask. It feels awkward to ask some of the questions you need to ask, but how will you feel if you take the job and hate it? Request links to related sites. For example, I received an assignment to write for sites on generic topics. Ask for links to those sites.
  • Probe. Make sure you get a full picture of the assignment. At first glance, one assignment sounds like writing X articles. Read between the lines, and it could easily be more than double the work because of other tasks involved.
  • Check. Your network may know about the person or company. If you find out who has hired your prospect, contact them.
  • Follow up. Don’t feel pressured to stop asking questions after the first contact. Ask more questions especially if the answers reveal little new info. (This could be a warning sign, or simply someone who is rushed and wants to reply quickly.)

What types of assignments or clients have you turned down? What do you watch for when a prospect contacts you?

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Links: Winter Break 2009 Edition

Friday, December 18th, 2009 at 8:18 AM | Category: Books, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Tech 2 comments
Wanted: Missing Gingerbread Pal

Wanted: Missing Gingerbread Pal (click for story)

Ah… kids get out early today as we begin winter break. We don’t have anything planned except a couple of trips to Grandma’s in Fort Worth for the younger set. Maybe play some board games. 5th grader has to work on his science project. I imagine there will be movies and board games happening during the break. What about you?

Please vote for your top 25 books on writing.

Brain food…

And for fun because we’re allowed… FailBlog edition (most links from the I Can Has a Cheezeburger crew)

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Having Multiple Streams of Income Is Key for the Self-employed Individual

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 8:42 AM | Category: Books, Business, Meryl's Notes Blog 11 comments

No LimitsWelcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas (OK, the blog doesn’t live on a server in my house — but that’s where you’ll find me… in Plano, not in the server). We’re happy to be a stop in Sara Morgan’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. Here’s a bit about fellow work from anywhere’r Sara… (Stay tuned in this long post if ya wanna win this book!)

About Sara Morgan

Sara Morgan knows just what it is like to have a good job that is just not the “right” job. As a software developer, she has worked for large and small companies spanning multiple industries. None of these jobs ever provided Sara with the fulfilling life she was searching for and in 2005 she made the jump to self-employment with the start-up of her own consulting company, Custom Solutions, LLC. Sara Morgan is the author of No Limits: How I escaped the clutches of Corporate America to live the Self-employed life of my dreams. For more information about Sara and her book, check out www.nolimitsthebook.com.

Sara MorganHaving Multiple Streams of Income Is Key for the Self-employed Individual by Sara Morgan

Four years ago, I quit my high-paying corporate job as a web developer and started my own software consulting business. I was one of the lucky ones, because I had a high-paying and high-in-demand skill set that allowed me to make a good income, despite the inevitable challenges of self-employment.

I realize though that most people seeking self-employment will not be this fortunate. For these people, I strongly suggest having multiple streams of income. By doing so, you can ensure that you are always able to pay the bills, even when one thing you are doing fails to generate the income you need. It is just the simple concept of not putting all your eggs in one basket. This is very old, yet still appropriate advice that applies aptly to the self-employed individual.

For myself, since I am promoting my latest book No Limits full time and have not been doing any software work for over six months, money has just been going out and not coming in. I was lucky enough to have built a small nest egg, which has allowed me to get away with this for a while. However, that can only last so long, so I recently started a third business as an independent garden consultant for The Happy Gardener.

The Happy Gardener is a great company that I only found out about when I interviewed the owner, Annette Pelliccio for my latest book. The company makes and distributes earth-friendly lawn and garden products that are chemical free and actually good for the environment. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know how important it is for all of us to be environmentally conscious, so I am really excited about being able to get behind a company like this.

If you are considering making a jump to self-employment, I would suggest that you have at least three alternative sources of income. This will help you to weather the inevitable “life” storms that affect us all. Other than that, always remember to Work, Live and Have fun!

Your Turn

Leave a 50+ word comment in this post by 11:59pm on October 21. That’s all ya gotta do to be entered to win this book. Tell us about your dream career or whatever strikes ya. The unbiased and robotic Random.org will pick the winner.

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Links: Memorial Day Weekend 2009 Edition

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 at 7:17 AM | Category: Books, Business, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing No comments

(moment of silence) Thank you, soldiers.

And for fun because we’re allowed…

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Mommy, Where Do Clients Come From?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 7:49 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 10 comments

Clients and MomWell, my dear, they come from many places. If you go to the library known as Freelance Folder, you’ll see people sharing how they find their clients.

When a freelancer and a client meet, they check out each other to ensure they are a fit. It may take some bio and web site reading to get familiar with each other. After making it pass the test phase, they come together and a product or service is born. No storks involved.

But how do freelancers and clients meet in the first place? Believe it or not, Mommy never relies on cold calling. Isn’t she lucky? Imagine how many bad phone calls I’ve had trying to contact strangers through the relay service. Blind dates just don’t work well here.

All of the following ways work because Mommy met at least one client each way.

  • Referrals: Mom has clients from everywhere. Only one client has an office in Dallas. Yet, Mom found him through a colleague based out of Seattle. I helped teach a thesis related course for a few years plus created the bibliography guidelines for the school. Professors refer students to me for editing help. I love thesis editing because I learn new things like the impact of gentrification on cities.
  • Social network profile: Just last week, someone who found me on LinkedIn sent me a query to do web content for his business.
  • Existing clients: It’s important to keep current clients happy. It’s easier and cheaper to keep clients than to find new ones. A current client emailed me a project for another client.
  • Plain ol’ reply to ads: A lot of people think this doesn’t work anymore, sweetie. With many people out of jobs, we all think every opening receives hundreds of applications. I replied to a call for writers and landed the gig.
  • Twitter: I don’t think Mom has gotten any gigs directly from twitter. But it keeps her name out there as she tries to help others solve problems and link them to valuable and fun resources.
  • Networking: Another client got to know me through his site’s forums and a couple of email exchanges. Networking involves many places including twitter, blogs, Facebook.
  • Web site: A web site with all of its contents add to a person’s credibility. Well, if it’s done right. Too many business sites have no About page, photos, bios or anything to put a friendly face behind the company. Add a newsletter along with an email subscription box and you start building relationships.
  • Existing work: A client liked several articles your mom wrote and contacted her. Another client and I worked for the same web site.
  • Interviewees, editors and resources: I can think of at least three people I interviewed for an article or book chapter who eventually hired me.
  • Volunteer work: I encourage new freelancers to build their portfolio through volunteer work. Besides that, you do something good. People will notice your work and refer you or hire you.
  • Former students: I suppose this could count as existing work. I assisted many professors in NYU’s online graduate program. The students got to know me through online classes.

I’ve bought ads for directories with local non-profit organizations. I knew it was more for helping out the organization than advertising. As you know, I have only one local client and he found me through an online search.

So there you have it, darling. That’s where Mommy’s clients come from. And in not one instance did I rely on protection in the form of advertising or blind dates from cold calling.

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Links: Love Edition 2009

Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 11:37 AM | Category: Blogging, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 4 comments

Links: 2009-02-06

Friday, February 6th, 2009 at 10:40 AM | Category: Books, Business, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 1 comment

Today would’ve been my dad’s 78th birthday. Here’s to you, Dad.

And for fun because we’re allowed…

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Links: OMG January 2009 is almost over!

Friday, January 30th, 2009 at 9:55 AM | Category: Blogging, Business, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

And for fun because we’re allowed…

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Links: 2008-12-19

Friday, December 19th, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Category: Blogging, Business, Language, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 1 comment

And for fun because we’re allowed…

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