Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Brooooce - and rates for the job

It's great to be sitting here listening to the mint-new release of The Boss, Live at Hammersmith from '75. I wasn't there...I make no claims to be - I was only 11 at the time. It was another decade before I caught Le Springsteen live. This Hammersmith CD is superb - sooo much good stuff on it. These days he's no longer young and hungry - but still great live.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be writing a client magazine for a law firm at the moment - but am being easily distracted. Though my briefing has been good, there's so much new terminology to learn. And with legal bods checking every phrase I turn, every word seems loaded with greater significance.

Part of my recent distraction has been responding on CiB's freelance forum (details here) to an interim contract posting.

The posting ran........ am looking for a decent freelance internal comms manager to take on a two to three month assignment in central London asap, ideally from early March.The role is most likely full time, though we may consider four days a week.The target day rate is around £200 and a limited company set up would bepreferable. My client is a 'big 4' professional services firm and the role is to support a newly-formed internal support function of around 550 people. It will involve developing and deploying a number of new channels (e-newsletter, webcast, etc), creating content for the first round of quarterly team meetings,advising internal clients on day-to-day comms, seeking input from a networkof Communication Champions, liaising with the leadership team, etc. There isa full time coordinator/administrator in place and a senior manager due tojoin towards the end of April.

I will be providing limited senior-levelsupport during this time. Professional services experience would be great, though we're happy to consider someone with broader corporate experience (exposure to support services would be a distinct advantage). We basically need someone who inspires confidence, requires minimal hand holding, can quickly get to gripswith a complex organisation and can deliver quality content for a diverse audience!

No as far as I'm concerned, that's an interesting opportunity for an experienced interim - and one I'd expect to be paying £400-£500 a day.

So I took a pop at the guy who posted the job, basically saying he was taking the piss and devaluing the service we offer.

He took umbrage in a slightly patronising way saying: Thanks for circulating such useful feedback Mark - and delighted to see you detected the irony in my note. The good news is we've had a flurry of CVs from some very strong manager-level candidates in the £250-350 ballpark (though little interestfrom this forum, which is clearly in a different league..) I realise this role is a big 'ask' for the rate, but there are lots of people out there who see beyond the pound signs and are willing to consider opportunities for the experience it gives them, the access to a new client/sector and the mediumterm certainty it provides. It might not be up your street, but not everyone is offering strategic counsel and not everyone can command £1000+ per day. Like accountants and lawyers, we operate on a scale of fees to reflect differences in experience,seniority, knowledge, etc. Most clients I deal with understand this and,when a partner-level candidate is required, are willing to pay the premium. Before slamming someone for offering upwards of £1000 a week for five days guaranteed work for three months (is that really such a bad proposition?)it's worth stopping to think about those people who are just starting out asfreelancers/interims, who have less 'strategic' experience than you and who are, after all, the future of our humble profession. If we can manage not to turn them off they might actually see the day where we achieve fees on par with the established professions...

Now I reckon, this chap has just priced himself too cheaply with the client in the first place, which has left him with too little wiggle room when pricing the more junior role in the business relationship. But I didn't say that, instead, I responded saying: Perhaps it was the way you pitched the job. Other than the rate advertised, it didn't seem like one for a beginner. Irony? Well, passed me by that one, but then I'm just a thick strategist! Funny though that £200 has already crept up to £350.

£12k may sound great - but the demands of such an interim position generally mean that all other work is put on hold - as is the opportunity to pick up new work. That's fine if one can move immediately from project to project - unfortunately they rarely line up on that wonderful linear path like shiny red buses.

I've mixed project freelancing with interim contracts for six years now, and invariably still find working life is full of peaks and troughs - and £200 a day when you have to cover, pension, insurances, travel, accountants etc. doesn't leave a lot for the downtime that could well occur after such a contract.

Change the title that comes from the level of skill and experience many on this forum offer from communicator to management consultant (and that goes for virtually all of us, whether we call ourselves business writers, strategists or flippin' verbal contortionists) and clients would happily be prepared to part with double the daily rate that we average.

But somehow communicator is still seen as a task to be done once the decisions have been made. As such, it's transactional and low value. If that's the role you're selling into your clients, then, yes, I think you're doing a dis-service to both communicators and the client.

What you asked for in your original post felt much more as if it had a start point of £400-£500 a day - especially as it was central London and for a prestigious client (based on the kind of roles VMA have been pitching through the CiB website). Pitching it at £200 a day just made them sound a bit tight.

We will only raise the perceived value of organisational communication by demonstrating our professionalism - and one small aspect of that is knocking back peanut pay.

As for my strategic counsel, clients are getting it for a good deal less than £1,000 a day.
I don't decry the role being offered here - but match the spec to the salary. What was offered originally here was a beginner's salary for a role demanding experience - I've read the ad again and you definitely weren't looking for a newbie. I'll be very glad if the actual daily rate creeps up to match the real demands of the job.

There were postings for and against what I had to say this morning - but you need to be a CiB freelancer/small business to read them. However, the fundamental aspect for me is that too often we sell our expertise too cheaply.

The hourly rate offered for this job is a third of what plumbers charge around here.

No doubt the debate will continue.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Negative energy

Jac's four months into a six month contract which means I'm in the office on my own most days. And on quiet days like today - with the half-term break just over, it's hard to summon up sufficient energy to get something new done.

At present I'm waiting for one client to come back with final amends on a summary of their global employee commitment survey; waiting for a design agency to come back with the visual they're putting round my words for a financial services brochure; waiting for a corporate client to give the yes/no to a proposal for poutting their marketing tools on line; waiting for a law firm to give me a final story/contact list for their client mag and waiting for a pharma to move into the next phase of their relocation communications.

Nothing has moved today, which is a tad frustrating.

I have put a cheque in the post to pay for an ad we run in Communicators in Business - though I need to change the strapline on future placings. I've also chased payment from a corporate for work completed more than a month ago - for which they still haven't raised a PO (grrr!!)!

But aside from that I've managed little to do with work. I've exchanged some e-mails with a couple of friends; downloaded some pictures we took in Bournemouth over the weekend and binned a load of old paperwork. But it has been hard to get down to anything too serious work-wise. after a week when the whole family has been flu-ridden, I've actually got a fair bit of energy today - making 'client suspense' all the more frustrating.

I'll have to find a positive way of channelling the energy for the next few hours.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Surviving PowerPoint

I like this guy's blog 10/20/30 and what he has to say about PowerPoint presentations.

I've sat through soooo many death-by-powerpoint presentations over the years, yet still get given 30 million pieces of information on a regular basis and am then asked to 'create a deck'.

Frankly, that totally knackers the concept of a good presentation. So, I go back to the speaker and work out with them what they want to get across and what they want those on the receiving end to know/feel/do as a result of listening to them.

Normally I'll then draft a script and give it to them to make their own. Experience has proven to me that it's much better for the speaker to have something to deconstruct and reconstruct than be faced with a blank piece of paper.

Once I've got their revised draft back and have made any necessary tweaks to the language and flow to ensure the audience will 'get it', I'll look at where imagery and emphasis will add to what the speaker has to say. Whatever slides - and there won't be many - that go in will amplify their points and add to the audience's understanding.

Then we'll rehearse - preferably with some of their peers as a live test audience - until they're comfortable with what they're saying and how they plan to say it, and look at the presentation in the context of what's around it (is it part of a larger conference session for instance).

Little details like how they'll be introduced, walk-ups and walk-offs, and what they plan to wear, plus the more important aspects such as how and when to handle questions and comments all play a part in the relationship. All in all, the aim's to reach a planned outcome.

In great presentations content management is king - and PowerPoint can be a weapon of inordinate distraction, delivering not clarity but regicide.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Funny old month. One piece of work I wasn't looking forward to turned out to be great, while another client's project turned out to be seriously life shortening. I've aso won a new contract in a new area in keeping with the direction that I want to take the business. And, in reshaping my life and priorities, I've also stepped down from rugby coaching for the time being.

Leaving the rugby coaching behind is a wrench. But after nearly four years and a home move to another county, I was becoming stale and the team needed a lift. I'm sure they'll go on to great things, and I hope I can get involved at assistant level closer to home next season.

Working for an IT team once again turned out to be seriously weird - and I'm glad the project has finished. My real bugbear is that IT folk are more concerned with the shiny tools and and communication-by-calendar rather than really defining the purpose of why they're communicating. Still, my piece of work defined that they needed a direct, full-time, in-house resource so maybe that person, once hired can make a real difference.

On the success front, we managed the announcement of a £75 million inward investment in the UK arm of a pharma company smoothly and without surprises - despite tha fact it means a relocation out of London for up to 250 employees. It was great to be able to clearly define the task and make it happen - all over a six week period. I hope it'll lead to continued partnering with the client over the next two years as they build their new facility and a new culture for the business within it.

Finally, last Friday I picked up two pieces of writing - one small, but a client returning to Leapfrog yet again, and one completely new client - a law firm looking for a new voice for its client publication. I'm really looking forward to being that voice.