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Please, Just Give It a Break!

Two among the many things I learned during my internship in McCann-Erickson still reverberate to me clearly: 

One, the “busy working-class person” is one of the lamest profiles to describe today’s professionals. Our mentor, strategic planning expert Hans Lopez-Vito, gently but firmly reminded me that lesson, while our group was working on an exercise one summer afternoon years back. As I recall that incident now, I chuckle inside and tell myself how right he was, and still is. After all, in this day and age, who isn’t? We’re always preoccupied, always going here and there, always barraged by a list of to-do’s and to-be’s. This is a busy world, and we are a busy people.

Two, the best ideas don’t happen when you’re busy. Dan Matutina, also one of our advisers back in the day, quickly reminded us youngins that we should set a limit to fretting and fumbling over a plan. You have to step back, relax, and enjoy other things, and let the lightbulb moment happen on its own. The idea has to incubate inside you before it comes out, fully-formed: an amazing concept consolidated from personal experiences and other ideas. 

We need our downtimes. We need space outside of work to see the world from a grander perspective. We cannot process the bigger picture if we stay holed up in our cubicles, listlessly checking our inboxes for emails. It’s integral to commit to a life outside of work so you can bring in fresh perspectives the moment you return to your office. 

Jeff Weiner, Linkedin CEO, echoed my thoughts when he said: “There will always be a need to get things done and knock another To Do item off the list. However, as the company grows larger, as the breadth and depth of your initiatives expand — and as the competitive and technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate — you will require more time than ever before to just think…That thinking, if done properly, requires uninterrupted focus; thoroughly developing and questioning assumptions; synthesizing all of the data, information and knowledge that’s incessantly coming your way; connecting dots, bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues; and iterating through multiple scenarios. In other words, it takes time. And that time will only be available if you carve it out for yourself. Conversely, if you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it. The resulting situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than thinking strategically would have to begin with.”

(To read more about his article, The Importance of Scheduling Nothing, click here.)

Last weekend, while talking to a lawyer friend who was very committed to balancing her work and life (this is another story of course), I realized how important it is to live life fully, now more than ever. It sounds like cheap advice we often read from self-help books, but it pays to remember that our work productivity depends on the quality of our life outside of work. To be frank, I believe the best ideas I’ve put in in my years of working came from the time I actually spent outside of work.

At the end of the day, take note that work is a means to an end, not the end itself. So enjoy the ride, have fun, and make it worthwhile. 

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You Are a Special Snowflake (But Do They Know?)

I was tagged at a lengthy discussion on the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines page – apparently, a freelancing website (a competitor, not Freelancer.com) organized a press conference to reveal the “state of the freelancing market”(based solely on their company’s data, I must add.) 

This post is partly about that, and mostly the conversation that came after. 

According to the report published by ABS-CBN News, the competitor’s top-earning freelancer made US$36,612 
through their platform. (Notably, the report said that the unidentified Filipina made the most money among all freelancers in 2012 – an unfair generalization considering that one, the study didn’t include other outsourcing and crowdsourcing platforms present in the Philippines – or at least the large ones; and two, and this I say with the possibility that I might be wrong – the report failed to include freelancers who opted to stay away from online freelancing jobs.)

The forum was abuzz and questions/comments were fired from left to right: Celine Roque, one of the group’s more vocal members (a top-earning freelancer herself, which gives her all the right) said, “Pero general complaint ko naman yan sa mga news items covering online freelancing, usually walang context or they treat making money online as if it were something magical, when really wala naman pinagkaiba ito sa making money offline.” 

Which makes perfect sense to me. To be frank, whether online or offline, talent, effort, and guts can make or break a person’s career. Talent, while the most necessary, is not the only thing that propels people to success: how far will you take that with your drive to reach your goal? While we may hate the fact that confidence is key, seeing how many underperforming people earn their success with a lot of confidence should mean a lot for talented people continuously riddled with self-doubt.

At the end of the day, it’s not just talent that matters. You should be able to position yourself properly as an expert in what you do. I don’t care if your business is towing trucks, but if you position yourself as the fastest tower in town, that sure would mean a lot to people stranded in highways at 3 in the morning. 

(I know you’re saying, “That’s common sense!”, but note that we often take for granted the obvious – fair reminder!) 

But more importantly, after setting yourself uniquely apart from the maddened throng, the next thing is to deliver your promise. Mitchell Harper, BigCommerce CEO,  said it best: “The one thing you have to remember is to always (always) deliver on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). You want to become well known for your USP and if you do anything and everything you can to make sure you and your staff members deliver on it, you’ll be amazed at the amount of referral business that will come your way.” 

Bottomline: we’re all special snowflakes – we just need to tell everyone what makes us so special. 

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Your Inner Slave Driver: The Zeigarnik Effect

I guess everyone struggles with productivity every now and then. Some perhaps even more so than others. 

I found the video below very interesting because it reminded me of how willpower is an exhaustible resource (for more about this, clickhere) and that you have a personal slave driver called The Zeigarnik Effect. 

So how do you get the Zeigarnik Effect to pummel you into doing an unleft task? The Nike slogan said it best: just do it. Start on the task and –zim zala bim!- watch how guilt gnaws you the moment you try to leave that particular task unfinished.

Watch the video below:

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You Are the Brand

You are the brand.  Whenever you go out there – whether for a job interview or to build networks (even make friends!) – you position yourself as someone who can offer something valuable or life-changing. 

You can’t avoid it: the way you dress or talk or compose yourself communicates how you want to be perceived. You are your brand. And this video by Reinventing You author Donnie Clark lays out five important points to set yourself a cut above the competition, namely: 

1. Build your skills
2. Leverage your points of difference
3. Develop a narrative
4. Reintroduce yourself
5. Prove your worth

Watch him explain it here. 

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It Pays To Be Curious (And Other Things Smart People Do)

Some people are naturally curious and others are not. No matter which category you are in you can benefit from behaving like a curious person. Next time you are listening to information, make up and write down three to five relevant questions. If you are in a lecture, Google them after for answers. If you are in a conversation you can ask the other person. Either way you’ll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help encode the concepts in your brain. As long as you’re not a cat you should benefit from these actions of curiosity.

Read more: 5 Things That Really Smart People Do 
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Don’t Shoot the Messenger – Or, how Freelancers Can Get Paid More

The other day, during a conversation with Freelancer.com’s Philippine Country Manager, Jorge Azurin, he articulated a very interesting insight regarding online freelancing marketplaces like Freelancer.com: 

Don’t shoot the messenger.

I’ve heard a lot of my freelancer friends say that any serious freelancer should avoid jobs from these freelancing marketplaces like the plague. When I asked why, they said that employers who go to these sites are not concerned with quality. Instead, they’re only after getting the most amount of work done at the least price possible.

It can seem that there is a constant drumbeat in the world for lower prices, and it is easy to hear only that loud drum,” says Hunt Big Sales consultant Tom Searcy. “But you can use your own choices to learn a lot about premiums and preferences to develop new offerings for your customers.”

He adds: “Whatever the product: Some customers are clearly willing to pay much more for what are arguably incremental differences in product, service and experience.”

So how do you raise your prices? Tom gives three rules, which I’ve posted below:

Ask. When considering premium-priced offers, talk to your customers who are on the higher end of your value spectrum. Those are the people who have already demonstrated a willingness to consider components of value beyond price.

Test. Market testing is a science for very big companies, but for your company it may be just as simple as trying something and seeing what the reaction is.

Measure. Always compare past performance to new performance to see if there has been an impact on volume, margin, satisfaction, and acceptance.

Going back to the issue of freelancing marketplaces like Freelancer.com – while there is a surplus of people willing to sell themselves dirt-cheap for their services on these platforms, you don’t have to go that route. Show how valuable you are, price yourself accordingly – and explain, explain, explain if you must.

Some of the successful ones on the site managed to raise their prices by gathering testimonials from other employers. Of course, they made the sacrifice of pricing themselves lower than they were actually worth until they received a substantial number of recommendations and a high rating. While this is an option, you can also ask an employer you met outside the site to hire you through the platform and give you a testimonial after the job is done. This way, you have the best of both worlds: you can command high prices on the platform, as well as for clients you meet outside the site.

Will you burn the mall because the customers who go in ask for a discount? No. The same goes for Freelancer.com and online jobs marketplaces. The platform is merely that – a place where employers and freelancers meet. It’s people who ultimately dictate how the game will be played. So know your value, dictate your price, and utilize the features of the platform to your advantage (such as the security of payment the website provides, among other things.)
   

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Freelancers Should Get Paid Properly – and On Time 

Allow me to say that I understand perfectly well the typical freelancer’s problems. 

Even before I started working for Freelancer.com, the world’s largest online freelancing marketplace, as the company’s Asia Regional PR Director, I’ve done my fair share of freelance work and dealt with a number of clients. 

I’ve also seen how it works from the other side of the fence: I’ve collaborated with freelancers on different projects and I know how fun or difficult it could get to work with a freelancer. 

There’s no dearth of horror stories on freelancers doing a lousy job, but this time I’d like to tackle a more pressing issue: employers who think they can get away with treating their freelancers terribly. 

Here’s a piece of advice for employers who hire freelancers: have some humanity and pay your freelancers properly, and on time. Most especially, full-time freelancers.

Freelancers may do it for the love, but as an employer, we need to understand that a freelancer also has to pay his bills. They don’t just magically whip out stuff from nowhere and give it to us – it takes time, talent, and resources to get a particular job done. 

From an outsider’s point of view, a freelancer may seem to be delivering such a brainless, menial task, but it takes a true expert to comprehend that you need pure skill to make something look so elegantly executed. 

When we cheat our freelancer by paying less than what he deserves, or by delaying the payment for days while piling excuses upon excuses, we show how thankless we are by depriving them for the good job they delivered.

And what do employers get when the good ones are finally out of the game? They will have to deal with those who deliver substandard work.

TL;DR

Employers, if you’re not willing to treat your freelancers well because you don’t believe in respecting other people, then at least do it because you know it will eventually be bad for your business too. 

And if that doesn’t convince you to change, then be prepared to deal with sucky results from the not-so-good ones next time. 

***

I believe it takes a certain skills set to become a business-savvy entrepreneur – and a lot of freelancers out there barely survive just because they do not possess the talent necessary to grow their business (or assert themselves.) 

This lack of knowledge subjects them to abuse from employers  – mistreatment which a poor freelancer will likely ignore, hoping that the amount of abuse is inversely proportional to the rewards they will get in the end (whether it be monetary or network-wise.)

Whenever I talk to a newbie freelancer (or even a professional freelancer at that), I always encourage them to ask their employer to register on Freelancer.com and get hired by their employer through our platform. 

And that’s not just because I work for the company – it’s because, truth be told, Freelancer.com has a number of features that make sure freelancers will get paid for the work they do.  

With Freelancer.com’s Milestone Payments feature, a freelancer can ask an employer to deposit the money to an escrow-like system before the freelancer works on a particular project. The beauty of this feature is that an employer can’t withdraw the money he deposited unless the freelancer releases the money back to the employer. And should the freelancer and employer end up vilely disagreeing on some details of a project they’re working on, they can always elect to have Freelancer.com’s Disputes  Resolution team to resolve the issue. 

If you’re a freelancer reading this, why don’t you put that Hire Me button on your website now? Unless of course, you want to suffer through the same hell you’ve experienced charging your employer once the project is done. 

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Why I (Somewhat) Disagreed: PublicityAsia Joyce Ramirez’s Speech

“For everyone who loves you, there will be others who will hate you. If you do not elicit a reaction, then that means you’re irrelevant. So as long as there’s a response, whether positive or negative, means you have made an impact. And that’s the essence of what effective PR is all about.”

No question, I think Joyce Ramirez is talented, and I admire her to some extent. Admiration though, does not necessarily mean adulation or emulation.

If you follow her on Twitter, you will know that the woman’s character packs a punch. Maybe I judge too quickly based on her online persona, but she comes across as someone who is equal parts mean and charming. She knows how to stir a virtual debate – pressing the right buttons here and there to get her audience listening. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned from observing her strategy is it takes a very (how do I say it?) street-smart person to manipulate human nature. Despite how we strive to overcome our baser selves, the ghetto in everyone of us lies inside, waiting to be unleashed at the right moment by the person who knows what makes people tick. 

I’d like to think there is some truth to her morsel of advice, which goes: “For everyone who loves you, there will be others who will hate you. If you do not elicit a reaction, then that means you’re irrelevant. So as long as there’s a response, whether positive or negative, means you have made an impact.” But is eliciting a reaction enough to conclude that one has effectively executed a public relations strategy? 

It raises a few choice questions in my head: on the long term, is risking negative PR even worth it? And should PR, at times, be diplomacy’s worst enemy? I sincerely think it’s one thing to be secretly thinking nasty things, another to say it to a few close friends, and definitely a whole new level altogether when you scream it out loud and rally people behind you. 

I don’t mean to imply that we should all end up becoming hypocritical and act differently from who we are. And I don’t mean to say that it’s only important to highlight the good things. I sincerely think even negative feedback can be turned into a positive thing (just like what my former boss Amor Maclang repeatedly says: one just needs to properly frame one’s mind.) But to actively seek negative responses for the sake of creating impact doesn’t bode well, if you ask me.

 That being said, Joyce makes some really good points worth mentioning, such as:

  • Concentrate your forces. Makes a lot of sense to me. I think we as people just haven’t evolved enough to be good multitasking, yet. (This article seems to agree with me.) 
  • Increase your skills set. Working for Freelancer.com, which has grown exponentially over the last few years (we’re now at 7 million users – that’s one per one thousand people in the planet), has taught me this: the advent of freelancing has made 1.) able professionals accessible at a click of a button; and 2.) a lot of underperforming people easily dispensable. It’s now imperative to become multi-talented to add value to your organization, more so in this fast-changing world where paradigms become myth in a flash of a second. 
  • Be healthy. Fit people are productive people. It’s impressing to have people who understand that one’s physical and mental fitness is key to delivering well. When stress levels get too high at the workplace, do you know who ends up suffering from a stroke or heart attack? Your guess is as good as mine.

What do you think about her speech? I’d love to hear it.