Thirty Eight.

How to drum up work in a pandemic without being seen as ‘opportunistic’.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from consultant and governance expert Gemma Sykes. She says:

“As well as struggling with trying to work with a 6 year old and an 18 month old around — and a lot of my work disappearing over night! — I need help on how to drum up work without sounding opportunistic or seen to be exploiting the situation.

Also, what’s the etiquette on mentioning that working with you means supporting a small business at a time when we’ve been really badly hit and not eligible for government support? I don’t want to sound like I’m begging, particularly with charities whose service users are likely to be badly affected (much much worse than me in many cases) but I also need to feed my kids and pay the mortgage!”

• • • • •

This episode is supported by Nutmeg.

Nutmeg offers customers a high-quality investment service at a reduced cost, whether they have £500 or £5 million to invest. Nutmeg now manages over £2bn on behalf of over 80,000 customers, making Nutmeg one of the UK’s fastest growing wealth managers and the fifth largest wealth manager in the UK by customer numbers (Source: PAM Asset Management, January 2019).

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Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:01:17] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It for the Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:01:27] – Steve
Hello! Yes, each week we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, and then take your comments and start the next episode with those. I mean, the last episode wasn’t actually us answering a question, it turned us into having just a minor breakdown therapy session, but your comments did come in nonetheless…! Thank you so much to everybody who said nice things about that episode.

[00:01:48] – Frankie
Beth Cox said,

“I had an absolute crisis this week as even when I could snatch an hour or two for work, I couldn’t get in the right headspace to focus on it and consider what I needed to consider. After having a minor meltdown and a chat with my mum, I realised that I just needed to tell my clients. That was definitely the right thing to do, and they were amazingly understanding.”

[00:02:05] – Steve
Oh, God. One of the best things I have done was when I emailed my clients and said, “it is not business as usual, it’s business as best we can”. And they totally got that. And it’s been cool since. I have missed so many deadlines. It’s been marvelous.

[00:02:22] – Frankie
Tell me about it. God, I’m so sorry if I owe you work!
[00:02:25] – Steve
I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ in that way. I like this kind of laissez-faire thing.

Jules Gilbert got in touch as well. Hi, Jules.

Jules said,

“I will never be able to watch Titanic in the same way again.”

By the way, actually, this comment wasn’t related necessarily to that episode, but to the one where we talked about what might happen when the school’s closed.

[00:02:48] – Frankie
Oh, yeah.

[00:02:49] – Steve
And it was Gareth who said, in fact… he’s written a blog post about this — that he has been using the Pomodoro technique with his three kids. He has three foster children.

[00:03:00] – Frankie
With the kids?

[00:03:02] – Steve
Yeah, with the kids.

[00:03:03] – Frankie
As in they’re doing it?

[00:03:04] – Steve
Yeah, well, so they’re all doing it. But one of the really nice things… so he’s written a blog post. But one of the really nice things that they were doing in their house as well was making it so that each of the children got a bit of time where the lounge was theirs and theirs only, so they could play whatever games they could get on the computer systems or whatever. It was just theirs — their music, their time.

[00:03:26] – Frankie
I’d like a bit of that.

[00:03:28] – Steve
Yes. Oh, my God, Frankie.

[00:03:31] – Frankie
Like where is my personal space? Where has it gone? Is it over there? Hello?

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:08:11] – Steve
Okay, this week’s question comes from Gemma Sykes, who is a consultant and director at Governance United Limited. So yes, so Gemma is an experienced governance expert in the voluntary and sports sectors.

Anyway, Gemma says,

“As well as struggling with trying to work with a 6 year old and an 18 month old around, and a lot of my work disappearing overnight, I need help on how to drum up work without sounding opportunistic or seem to be exploiting the situation.

Also, what’s the etiquette on mentioning that working with you means supporting a small business at a time when we’ve been really badly hit and not eligible for government support? I don’t want to sound like I’m begging, particularly with charities whose service users are likely to be badly affected much, much worse than me in many cases — but I also need to feed my kids and pay the mortgage!”

[00:09:03] – Frankie
On the line about, you know, “I really need your help right now because I’m a bit screwed” — personally, I would avoid that. That’s always my go-to line when they don’t pay me, right?

[00:09:19] – Steve
You don’t want to pull that one out too soon!

[00:09:23] – Frankie
Yeah, I just feel like it kind of goes without saying right now. I don’t know… I feel like if they’re in a position where they’re not employing freelancers right now, that line isn’t necessarily going to persuade them. If they don’t have the budget, they don’t have the budget, do you know what I mean?

[00:09:38] – Steve
Yeah. They either have the work and need someone to do it or they don’t. They either are looking for freelancers or, you know, an outside consultant to work with or they’re not. And I don’t think playing that card would change someone’s mind.

[00:09:57] – Frankie
But I do advocate pulling it out when people owe you cash.

[00:10:02] – Steve
Yeah, see, that’s a different scenario, isn’t it? That’s the guilt trip.

[00:10:07] – Frankie
“I’m an actual person with financial obligations!”

[00:10:11] – Steve
But when you’re talking about trying to get somebody to work with you in the first place, I don’t think… yeah, people are just going to work with you or not.

[00:10:25] – Frankie
The main meat of the question then is around how to get work without… she says, “Without sounding opportunistic or be seen to be exploiting the situation.”

Okay, so I’ve got something to say on this, which is…

[00:10:37] – Steve

[00:10:40] – Frankie
I think, because this situation is so extreme and affects everybody very differently. I think, literally, whatever you do in terms of promoting your business right now will be seen by somebody as one of those two things. Opportunistic. Exploitation-al (is that a word?) And I don’t think that has anything to do with you. It’s about them and their situation and how they’re feeling about that and the emotions around that. Also their general feelings about being sold to generally, let alone in this weird scenario that we’re in.

I wouldn’t stop yourself from reaching out for work because you think it’s going to potentially offend somebody or piss somebody off. Because I think right now — I think somebody will feel that way, full stop. And that’s not your fault.

[00:11:36] – Steve
I think as well, though, some things are more likely to sound opportunistic than others. I don’t know. I can’t imagine it being what you do, Gemma — though I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely understand governance! — but, yeah, it still stands. I don’t see how that could be ‘opportunistic’? Opportunistic would be trying to sell hand sanitiser to people!

[00:12:03] – Frankie
But is that even opportunistic if there’s a genuine need for hand sanitiser? Like it’s such a grey area, isn’t it?

[00:12:09] – Steve
No. Okay. Opportunistic is like selling it very expensively, I guess.

The fact is people either need us now or they don’t. Something can have happened to their industry where they don’t need us right now/they can’t afford us right now, whatever. So I think you still need to show up and stay in touch with those people.

I imagine — particularly in the voluntary and sports sectors — that a lot of that is relationship based and genuinely caring about what they do. So continue to genuinely care about what they do and check in on them. And you don’t even necessarily have to be ‘selling’ to them. You just keep that relationship alive. And then if they need you right now, then they’ll think, “oh, Gemma, she’s that nice person! I’ll go to Gemma”. But equally, if they don’t, further down the line, they’ll be like, “oh, yeah, Gemma was there for us when we needed that thing!”

[00:13:03] – Frankie
I think a lot of people are afraid of their potential clients or customers being cautious about investing in stuff — spending money.

Also, this other side of it, about offending somebody who might be in a worse off situation than you or whatever else. I also think that this current situation is making everybody be a lot more open in a lot of ways. Like, I’m talking to my neighbours, dude! I never talk to my neighbours!

[00:13:28] – Steve
What? Hang on, hang on. What about the one downstairs who…

[00:13:31] – Frankie
Yeah, alright, well he doesn’t count.

[00:13:32] – Steve
Ah, right. See the previous episode, everyone!

[00:13:34] – Frankie
But I feel like there’s actually a lot more connection going on right now than there has been for a long time. And I think if you approach it right and you’re talking about things in the right way and you’re approaching people in the right way, I think there’s actually a lot of scope for making much more human connection with potential clients and customers. And that people might buy from you because you’ve sent them something that is personal to them or recognises the situation they’re in right now.

There’s just this general feeling of togetherness, right? Embrace that. And I don’t mean like, putting out a Facebook ad that references that and talks about that. I just mean putting out comms and reaching out to people in a way that is human and real and honest and is like, “this is what is going on in my life. These are the things I’m still available to do. I appreciate you’re going through X, Y and Z. Here’s some of my latest work here’s… here’s a poem I wrote to make you feel better”. I don’t know, like, as you say, reminding people you exist and therefore might want to hire you in a way that is just a bit more raw.

[00:14:46] – Steve
Okay, so, ordinarily drumming up business includes creating content that helps people.

[00:14:52] – Frankie
Yeah. Do we want to talk about that? Because I’ve got a big rant about — there’s enough COVID content!! She says, in a podcast about COVID content!

[00:15:04] – Steve
Okay, yes, there is, but if you’re creating something which is of genuine help to your audience, your potential clients, then why not? Yes, there is a lot of content out there. Most of us are sick of reading ‘working from home’ articles.

[00:15:26] – Frankie
Yes we are!

[00:15:26] – Steve
I am overwhelmed when I go on Twitter and stuff by the amount of content out there. But that doesn’t mean that maybe you’ve got an email list who could benefit from something you’re writing. I’ve written emails over the past couple of weeks where people have written back positively saying, “yes, I needed this”, or like, us creating this podcast! We could be thinking, “does the world need this podcast” and then people replying saying how much they enjoyed that particular episode.

Now, there might have also been people going, “are those idiots still banging on? We don’t need you right now!” right?

[00:15:57] – Frankie

[00:15:57] – Steve
There probably were people thinking that, but the fact is, other people were up for it. But, yeah, it’s that whole thing of… Where somebody says, “oh, why should I start a podcast? Or why should I write a song? There’s already loads of singers in the world!” Yeah, there are. But they’re not you.

[00:16:14] – Frankie
Is that my daughter crying? Gah, sorry, carry on…

You’re right about email, though. As we’ve all been told a thousand times this year — I feel like your mailing list is your number one marketing tool. And it’s true, though, isn’t it? That is an audience that has actively signed up to hear from you, right?

I mean, I don’t know if Gemma has a mailing list. If she doesn’t, she should start creating one. But if she does — put something out. It doesn’t have to be epic, it doesn’t have to be complicated. But again, it’s the combination of a reminder that you exist, connecting with people in a human way, writing it in a personal, honest, relevant to what’s going on right now, empathetic way, but also giving them something useful.

Like, if you can nail that one email — that could result in loads of work for you. If not in the next week, in the next, you know… before June when you might get some support from the government!

But at the other end of that, right… I do think there is a line.

[00:17:20] – Steve

[00:17:22] – Frankie
It’s about how you talk about this stuff. And I think… Now, I’m not a marketing expert, I am a lowly graphic designer. But personally, right now, I think recognising that this is all what we’re going through is good — but not necessarily in a way that has to be explicit, you don’t have to call it out for what it is. We all know what is going on right now. So I think there are, like, ways and means of talking about it and the language that you choose is quite significant, right?

[00:17:50] – Steve
I think, as well, there was a point very early on where things seemed more opportunistic, whereas now most people recognise the fact that life just has to continue.

[00:18:04] – Frankie
Well, we’ve all got to make a living!

[00:18:05] – Steve

[00:18:05] – Frankie
She says, “I’ve got to feed my kids and pay the mortgage”.

[00:18:09] – Steve
Nobody resents that. Nobody wants any business to fail. They just might not need you.

Like we said — unless you’re blatantly opportunistic, nothing really is opportunistic. You’re just trying to keep your business going and do your job.

Now I can hear crying…

[00:18:29] – Frankie
Yeah, the door is open.

[00:18:32.690] – Steve
Is that our cue to finish? Okay. Right, in that case, we would love to know your comments on this. Maybe you face a similar situation, or maybe you’ve just got some words of wisdom and support to give to Gemma, which are better than ours? Great! Get in touch.

What would your advice be?

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