Finders And Grinders

Back in the olden days, when electric typewriters had golf balls or daisy wheels and the Wang girl was the only person in the office who knew exactly what a word processor was… we had to work a little harder for our clients. By that, I mean finding them, not actually working for them. That hasn’t changed and if anything, might even be a little more involved as the market is currently flooded with laid off American professionals whose only flaw is their spelling (that’s a little Aussie humour, so smile Yanks, your colleagues in the English writing world feel your pain and our time is yet to come, no doubt).

We have gone global in a big way thanks to the Internet and while it has created many new opportunities, it has slammed a fair few doors well and truly shut also. Print media is feeling the pain and so too the thousands of journalists laid off as news media corporations seek new revenue streams other than print media advertising. All of these educated, experienced and talented professionals now have to compete with the barely literate looking for ‘content’ for their junk web sites. These ‘clients’ jumped on the SEO bandwagon that believed lots of ‘content’ with tons of keywords and backlinks would rank their web sites higher than everyone else, many even used software to ‘spin’ dozens of versions of an original piece to spread the love even wider.

This worked for a while but this year Google sent the Panda after them and slapped the sass out of the SEO world. Now quality content seems to be back on the top of the agenda. The damage, however, has been done. Many writers with English as a second language (L2) were able to fill their rice bowls by writing tons of rubbish for a buck a ton. Writers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines in the main were able to get the work on offer and produce a product acceptable to the clients who were able to beat down the price simply because it is a lot cheaper to live in the third world than the first or the new. Fair enough. But now the online writing employment sources such as Elance and Odesk are flooded with writers willing to write for the cost of a chapatti and the thrill of eating for another day. I don’t blame them. If I were one in a billion competing for space, food, air and everything else I would do whatever I had to do to survive and feed my family. So I am not bashing the L2 writer, or even their clients who expect everyone to write for such low reward. Blame is a waste of emotion and energy let alone time and my time is worth more than the $2-5 an hour they seem to think it is.

So back to the thrust of this post. In the old days, I had a boss called Henry. Henry was a likeable rogue and above all else, a survivor. He once told me (in fact he said it many times) that there are two kinds of people in business. Finders and Grinders. Finders find the work and the Grinders grind it out. Finders make more money than Grinders and they never get dirty but it isn’t as easy as just doing the work. If it were there would be more Finders than Grinders and that is not the case, never was, never will be. He spoke the truth.

If you can find the work, you can find the Grinders to do it. Better to take a share of ten jobs than to grind your way through just one in the same amount of time. To get to that position though you need to be able to find enough work for you to grind and keep your nose above water. So on your way to becoming the Finder of the century in your chosen profession, how do you actually find work? Once again, we go back to the olden days. Back when only cars had mobile phones and whenever we were not in our car we had pagers or beepers.In those days not every telephone in the office had numbers to punch, sometimes you got stuck with the old dial phone and that could wear a finger down if you had more than just a few calls to make. That’s why pencils had those little rubber things you could stick on the end and use to dial the number… oh the good old days!

In those days of yore I had two techniques for finding work. The first required a telephone directory, the Yellow Pages. I would choose a category and then ring everyone, one after the other, and make my pitch. I used a script to begin with to keep things consistent and to keep me on track. The objective was not to get work but to get an appointment. Today, with the Yellow Pages online and the speed and ease of email, too many people use that method but try and rush for the jugular. As everything has sped up many tend to think you have to Find at the same speed when the reality is a lot of clients need to be wooed, courted and given time to get their head around the idea of a cold call having value for them.

In those days people got so many cold calls just getting through to the decision maker was an art in itself. Today they get tons of SPAM and the problem remains, albeit slightly adjusted for the 21st Century. The other method that worked a treat and got me out of the office was to pick an area, either an office tower in the CBD or an industrial area and then work it. You would approach the receptionist and let her know you were looking for clients and ask who would be the person to speak to who could make a buying decision and would they be so kind as to give you their name and number and you would be happy to call back and make an appointment. If you got that far you would then say that since you were here would there be any chance So and So is available for a moment so you could pass on your card and let them put a face to the voice that will be calling them officially in a day or two? I had several variations on this to make it interesting for me and to cover any twists in the plot that might happen while you were in motion.

The bottom line is that it worked. It was slow, laborious and labour intensive, or if I were an American, labor intensive, but effective. Above all else it gave me a chance to see the client’s premises and make first contact with the gate keeper. I always treat everyone with respect but especially those who have some influence in whether I eat or not. I made it my business to be nice without being patronising and to learn their preferred name, use it and involve them in my business. Funny how people move around in any business or industry and over the years I would run into the same gate keepers and the same decision makers from time to time though working for new firms. Now and then I would change industry and revisit them with new services or products and it was an easy start.

You can apply these ideas to your freelance writing business. You don’t have to write for the world, or someone on the other side of it, just because you can. Why not reach out to the local business community and see how you can add value to them. Put your face in front of theirs and give them what nobody else can, especially not over the internet; your personal attention. People buy based on emotion and relationships and the internet has alienated us from our clients in a big way. It might seem more efficient but in the long run it is not conducive to building a relationship that will last. It is easier to drop a faceless contractor you have never met in person than one you have and when the crunch comes, you need every advantage you can lever to stay in business. Remember two things:

1. There are Finders and there are Grinders and if you can’t Find for yourself let alone others, you can’t Grind.

2. This is it, your life. It is not a dry run or dress rehearsal, this is the real deal and you only get the one crack at it.

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