Welcome to Freelance Friday! Each Friday, I’ll share something Freelance-y that I learned during the week that will help other freelancers or entertain cubicle-queens. Thanks for reading!
Ready for a business-y conversation? I guess you must be, because it’s Freelance Friday and you’re here reading. Let me get to it:
I bet this is something they cover in MBA 101 somewhere, but I’ve only recently been able to put it into words. Even though all of us do something for a living, that something does one of two things (or maybe both?) for your end customer or employer.
Either you provide a product that can be manipulated or used however a customer wants (such as: a mattress, a book, a piece of art), or you provide a service that ends in a result (such as: a doctor’s advice that leads you to feel better, a marketing consultant that brings in more business, a dog walker who leaves you with a tired dog).
This line between product and service is a fine one that most freelance writers walk. It has caused me, in this order, confusion, grief, and finally mild indignance. Here’s why:
Limits of Time, Expertise, Energy, Patience…
Companies can guarantee results because they have a huge team put together to deal with every aspet of a project. For example, a PR company has a writer to write, an account manager to interact with the client, a strategist to interact with publishers, and an accountant to track money stuff.
A freelancer, on the other hand, may have each of those individual skills but not the hundreds of hours per week to manage all the pieces of that project and control the outcome to have something “go viral” or show an ROI on specific metrics. As a writer, you have finite time and a focused expertise, so you should be focuisng on providing that single product. A perfect, thoughtful, researched product, but still simply a product.
Providing “Results” Sucks
This phenomenon bothered me as a teacher, too. It was so stressful to have the “results” depend on something so outside my control. That is, the teachers are held accountable for test scores but not in control of anything leading up to that point. Just think of all the things outside of a teacher’s control that can affect a student’s desire and ability to learn:
- The kid’s sleep the night before
- The kid’s diet
- The kid’s sexual activity (gross, but true, even for 9th graders :-(!)
- The parent’s relationship with the kid (or problems at home)
- The kid’s class before mine (or after mine)
- And even more! I’m tired of listing things!
In freelancing, it’s much the same way. I dont want to be responsible for a post going viral. “Going viral” depends on a thousand things outside my control (the site’s traffic, the site’s promotional efforts, the mood of the reader, the other news in the news cycle that day). I want to be responsible for what I’ve chosen as my profession: well written, researched and authoritative writing that’s enjoyable to read.
Does that sound like a cop out? I’d love a POV from a publisher, editor, or other writer on this topic!
The Real Question: Result or Product?
The real question comes down to this, and each business needs to answer the question for itself: When you perform a transaction with your ideal client, is that client buying results or a product? Does the answer impact the price of the result or product? And what do you do when (as is happening now), so many clients want a result!