Fighting Words

Another day, another sermon to the choir from proponents of positive dog training. If you are not in the dog world, the furious dialogue is probably unfamiliar to you: dog trainers who apply Pavlovian and Skinnerian theory to their craft have harsh criticisms for trainers who rely upon (and teach to their clients) training and handling methods based on pack theory.

Let me be clear: I get that pack theory has been debunked as an explanation of domestic dog behavior. So, why has it won mind share? And what can positive dog trainers do to counter it? A recent article from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors illustrates how not to make the point.

Like almost every article I’ve read on the topic, this one comes across as a condescending scold. Therein lies the problem.

Declarations and insinuations that positive trainers are “more scientific” and better educated than their readers and opponents are not effective as persuasive language. “Pack theory” is rich with metaphors for relationship dynamics that people experience with other people and believe they understand. Whether or not the concepts explain human-human relationships accurately, they evidently do not apply to relationships between human beings and dogs.

The case is strong for spreading the gospel. The messaging, right now, is weak.

What’s the story?

Unscrambling Your Small Business

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Unscrambling Your Small Business

Talk to anyone about starting a business and you’ll hear one, if not all, of the following three warnings. You’ll even hear them from small business owners. #1 – Having clients is like having multiple bosses. #2 – Being self-employed means working 24/7. #3 – Business owners are always scrambling for work. Truth? If these conditions exist in an established business, you’re doing something wrong. A very specific thing: your business lacks a cohesive structure. Ultimately, you must define what you do and how you do it – and redefine it periodically – so your customers don’t define it for you. This involves more than pricing or positioning. What’s needed is modeling. Identify a specific unit of sale and its cost (in time and money) to deliver. Calculate how many of those you need to make a profit. Test whether the market will bear a price that is feasible. Rinse and repeat. What independent professionals often do, (I speak from personal experience unfortunately), is to offer ourselves up as skilled or expert workers but let clients define the scope and operations of the work itself. Imagine the chaos if a restaurant owner tried to sell only “food”, let patrons order whatever they want, and had to pull together ingredients, equipment, and staff on a case-by-case basis. That is the position you’re in when you interview individual clients, determine a set of activities, and negotiate hourly fees based on the going market rate for that activity. The ideal position: you promote your capacity to deliver a specific result, product, program, or set of events. You set prices in line with the budget your prospects have for the particular need you fill. You deliver your services in a predictable way that best uses your strengths and resources, including your ability to minimize time and money spent to perform to standards of excellence. There’s nothing wrong with working hard. It’s absolutely necessary. However, in a functional business: #1 – The business owner, not the customer, is the boss who controls and directs the work. #2 – Work schedules and processes are designed with appropriate time constraints. #3 – Systematic marketing is an integrated part of operations, not a a chase for jobs defined by other people.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Is Resume Speak Killing Your Business Prose?

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Is Resume Speak Killing Your Business Prose?

Many years ago, I hired a personal trainer who operated his own practice within my health club. I had seen him working with his clients, liked his style, and observed that the people he trained got results. After our three trial sessions, he sat me down to discuss the possibility that we’d continue working together. (I was already sold.) He handed me his brochure, which spent 4 of its six pages describing features and benefits of his business and sharing testimonials. The other 2 pages contained a long list not only of certifications but of all of the continuing education course he’d taken in the previous 5 years. The effect? I thought, “Wow, this guy is so good and so insecure.” Though resumes have evolved into more aggressive marketing documents, most people of my generation learned to create resumes to impress senior people in our own fields. Traditional resumes demonstrate aspiration to or achievement of insider status. Customers aren’t looking for that. I appreciated the reassurance that my trainer was certified and that he had happy clients willing to testify to his excellent work. Reading about his philosophy about health and fitness helped me know what to expect when working with him. I was interested to know his areas of specialization. However, I had no particular use for a list of classes he took with organizations I wasn’t familiar with. Unlike a club manager who might want to hire him for a job, I would have had to take time to conduct additional research just to verify the credibility of these entities. My trainer’s error was assuming that customers wanted to know if he “measured up.” Bosses want to know that – in part they need to justify your hire to their bosses. Clients and customers just want to trust that you can help them. Say THAT!
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Happy Birthday, Lucy! Built to Last

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Happy Birthday, Lucy! Built to Last

I don’t have time for the eloquent Lucy tribute piece I hoped to write. So, I’ll share this tidbit. I have spent years of my life watching Lucy. I’m watching the Hallmark Channel’s I Love Lucy marathon right now as I work. The image of her that sticks with me is one I only read. The day she filmed the first episode of the television series, Lucille Ball was on the cusp of 40 with a dying film career, a fragile marriage, a high-risk pregnancy, and hostile business associates at the network. She made a long-shot gamble in an unknown territory and snatched glory from the jaws of crushing personal and professional failure. A lesson in resilience!
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Who Do You Love?

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Who Do You Love?

Most marketing gurus will tell you, “People do business with people they know, like, and trust.” To get more clients, the advice goes, let people get to know you, establish your credibility, and be personable. Why do so many people resist the idea that a business owner should vet customers against the same criteria? Your freelance practice has limited capacity, so why not save your precious time for people you enjoy?
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.

Project Fee or Hourly Rate? That’s the Wrong Question

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Project Fee or Hourly Rate? That’s the Wrong Question

Today I read yet another set of blog posts debating whether writers, designers, and other creatives should charge hourly fees or project fees. The debate leads freelancers to focus on the wrong questions. If you’re going to make a living as an independent business owner, first get a good understanding of how your business model generates revenue. At the simplest level, when you sell an hour, you’re selling labor. You agree to engage in a particular activity for a particular period of time. Charging that way is appropriate when the job can be reduced to its manual labor component. For example, one proofreader may be faster than another; however, it makes sense to pay a proofreader for the time she spends with pencil to paper. Some hourly work represents a mechanism, not direct compensation for activity. Consider the psychotherapist. What a client buys is an active relationship that plays itself out over a span of time. The therapist-business owner who charges $150 per hour actually markets a year or two of treatment to an individual client. The meaningful unit for planning purposes is $7500 annually or $15,000 per customer. The potential client has to weight whether he can afford the entire investment, not if $150 per hour is a fair price. Now let’s take a look at the project fee. The critical piece in arriving at the right project fee – actually pricing a project. Compare these two approaches to Web design: Design firm number one targets independent schools. Working from a template, they construct sites with standard modules such as athletic calendars, fundraising appeal to alumnae, school mission and vision aimed at prospective parents, and interactive, password-protected sections for teacher-student communications. They have a tested consulting process designed to elicit the information they need from each client. Design firm number two works with solo business owners. Some of its clients are clueless as to the basics of marketing and haven’t yet settled in a niche. Some are micromanagers. Some are expert marketers looking for particular technical features. The firm relies on a network of subcontractors, affiliate programs, and other vendors to deliver excellent service. Every project is different. Firm number one can probably almost always predict the time and materials it will take to complete the job. What they provide is more than the sum of the parts. Automation and formulas lower the operational costs while adding value to the service. While each school has a unique personality to convey, one of the goals is that the school looks and feels like A School. A flat fee can make negotiations simpler: they can propose a specific, predictable result for a set price a customer can slip right into the budget. Firm number two has a different challenge. Often, the client has no grasp on what the real work is (as in the case of the “copywriting” job that really entails “marketing coaching” or the “products page” that will require programming to install a shopping cart.) In this circumstance hourly might be the way to go – or even a hybrid method where particular tasks or subgoals are expensed. So, what kind of business are you in?
  • Are you carrying out a specific activity that you would want to bill for?
  • Driving a structured process toward defined deliverables?
  • Holding responsibility for an entire area of work, with numerous contingencies?
Think through that first, and pricing won’t be such a mystery.
Barbara Ruth Saunders is a writer, editor, and writing coach.