Last week, I recontacted a girl I used to do judo with, who is now a designer (not a “graphic designer” per se — an object designer). We talked about her work and what she did, and ended up trying to see if there was anything we could do together for Going Solo.
I met her to discuss this — it was a very strange experience for me to be “the client” and to feel totally lost about what she was going to do for me. And also, to be wondering how much this kind of thing would cost me. I had more than a few thoughts for my clients, who sometimes turn green when I tell them the price tag for what we’ve discussed.
What I’d like to talk about here is something she said: “on peut tout faire avec tout”, meaning “you can get anything for anything”. Not very clear out of context, I’ll admit. We were talking about budget. Basically, what she meant is “tell me how much you have for this, and I’ll figure out a way to give you something for that price”.
As the client in this story, I personally found that much more comfortable than to have to wait for her to come up with a quote (which would probably make my heart sink) and then get into painful discussions to see how we could reduce the cost.
My needs here aren’t very specific. I want a logo, a “look”, banners, some printed material, etc. And it makes sense: I can probably get that for 2000 CHF, and I could also get it for 8000. What I’d get would be different, of course — but basically, it would fulfill the basic need.
I liked what she said, because it resonated with some background thought process of mine which never quite made it to the surface. In my “industry” (let’s think of social media here, like corporate blogging), you can also “get anything for anything”. Want a corporate blog? Well, we can do it for 2000, but also for 20’000 — or even more.
Let me explain a little. This is something that’s been bothering me for a few months, and I’m glad I’ve finally figured it out.
When I quit my day job (or was about to do so), I set up blogs for some clients. It was very lightweight: evangelize, install WordPress, show somebody how it worked, adapt a design to a WordPress theme, give some strategic advice (not always received) — and there we go. Sometimes, I didn’t even go through all that. It was “talk a couple of hours, open a WordPress.com account, done”.
But I wasn’t that happy with the results. People often didn’t really “get” it. I felt they were under-using their blogs, that they could be doing so much more with them. Sometimes, people “didn’t get it” to the point that they actually didn’t really use the blog we’d set up.
So, I changed my way of working. Over the weeks and months, I came to understand just how vital training was when it came to understanding social media. Not just the technical aspects, but as I’ve written again and again (and probably elsewhere), the cultural and strategic aspects of it. So, I started to include that in my discussions with clients.
“Setting up a blog and learning how to publish a post is just the beginning. The big job is understanding the blogging culture, and figuring out how blogging fits into or changes (in most cases!) your communication strategy.”
I didn’t want my clients to be disappointed in their blogs, or to “fail”, or to mess up too much. It brought me to quoting healthy 5-figure prices for “we’d like a corporate blog” type of requests.
Not surprisingly, they thought it was a tad expensive. “Isn’t the whole point of this social media stuff the fact that it’s supposed to be cheap?” So, I didn’t get the gigs in question, and I wasn’t very happy either. The corporations I’ve been in touch with seem quite ready to be evangelized about social media, but not really ready to bet money on it.
(I know a lot of what I’m saying is old news, so forgive me if I seem to be stating the obvious to some of you.)
About a week ago I had a chat with one of my old clients, who told me that after about a year of having a rather non-bloggy blog things were slowly starting to change. Nothing very notable, but they were loosening up. They brought in somebody to help for the website who was more of a “web” person, and that had a positive influence on how lively the publication was becoming.
This seemed to bring me an answer to something I’d been uneasy about: lately, I’d caught myself explaining how blogging, as a tool, creates a certain kind of culture and communication strategy — but in the same breath, kind of negating that by insisting that throwing blogs at people doesn’t make bloggers out of them. I still think I’m correct about this, but it’s more complex than I make it sound. If you give somebody a blog, and they use it long enough, sooner or later they’ll start to “get it”. The catch is that there are high chances they will give up before they get there. And also, there is no knowing how long they’ll take to “get it”.
So, what do I do with this? On the one hand, it is possible to keep blogging “cheap”. On the other hand, I do believe it makes sense (particularly for corporations) to invest a hefty chunk of time and money in learning to get it right. (Corporations don’t hesitate much about spending lots of $$ — or even €€ or ££! — on software solutions… put that money you’ll save on the software in training and strategic consulting when it comes to social media.)
I realised that the key was compromise.
Say your budget for opening a corporate blog is 2K. We’ll open a WordPress.com account or install WordPress on a server somewhere, get you a domain name, maybe a cheaply customised theme with your logo in it. I’ll show you how to use the tool’s basic functions. I’ll give you some advice (blogger’s survival kit), recommend some other tools to try, and that’s about it. You’re on your own.
You’ll scrape your knees. It might take you a year or more to figure out for yourself that blogging isn’t about reproducing your “print” or “old marketing” content in a light CMS called a blogging tool. You might give up, or decide that this blogging thing is not all it’s hyped to be — it’s too hard, it doesn’t work, it’s just a fad. On the other hand, if you do hang on in there, feel your way through the crises, engage with your readers, learn to be part of the community, mess up and apologize… There is a lot of value in there for you.
If your budget is 50K, we’ll do things differently. I’ll follow and train your team over 6 months. I’ll walk you through the crises. I’ll help you prevent some. I’ll hold your hand while you learn. Talk with you when your communication strategy feels rattled by this alien blogging thing you’re doing. Help you see clearly so you understand what’s at stake more clearly when you have decisions to make. Spend time convincing the sceptics that what you’re doing really has value. Teach you to write better, as a blogger. Show you how blogging is part of this Bigger Thing that’s been happening online over the last years. When we’re done, I’ll have taught you almost as much as I know, and you’ll be autonomous.
In both cases, I’m compromising. The client is compromising. Blogging is about learning in the open, messing up in public, and getting scalded by the heat of real relationships and real people and real conversations. It’s about being human.
Where exactly is the compromise?
In the first scenario (the “cheap” one), the client isn’t really ready to invest much time and money in understanding blogging, or doesn’t have the means to do so. If he’s not committed or not passionate enough, the whole thing will fail. Remember that many people start blogging, and then stop. They’re just not around to tell us about it. All we see are the natural bloggers, those who have it in their blood, so to speak. Those who have a personality that fits well with the medium. On the flip side, the client gets the “real deal” right away. No training wheels.
In the second scenario (the “expensive” one), the compromise is in saving the client’s face. It spares the client the indignity of learning through making lots of mistakes, and in public. By investing time and money, and hiring competent people, you can avoid making gross mistakes, and appear to “get it” faster than if you jump in and half drown before you figure out how to float. We’re compromising here by preventing the client from looking too bad while he gets to grip with the new medium. Ultimately, the client will have to learn to lose face every now and again — nobody can prevent the business from messing up now and again. But it won’t be due to being uncomfortable with an unfamiliar medium.
I don’t think there is one right way to get into blogging. Just like there is not a “best” way to learn, between taking classes and learning all by yourself. Both of these scenarios are good — and all those in between. It will depend on the client:
- is the client ready to scrape his knees in public, a lot — or is he still happy with a rather controlled communication strategy, which he wants to ease out of gently?
- is the client willing to see his attempt to get into blogging fail (for a variety of reasons) — or does he want to put all the chances on his side to make sure he sticks with it?
- is the client on a budget — or is money not an issue?
Which brings me back to where I started. Translating what my friend says to my own business: if you want to get into blogging and your budget is set, it’s possible (within reason, of course). In all cases, you’ll get “blogging”, but you’ll get different flavours and intensities of it.
You just have to trust the professional you hire for this to be giving you your money’s worth.