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Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur ma carrière et les enjeux du marché d'aujourd'hui pour les "pionniers des médias sociaux", avec en toile de fond l'effondrement de nos contextes d'être et de communication dans le monde en ligne (Facebook, bonjour).

Contexte collapse. It’s crept up on me. It used to be semi-overlapping publics, or more precisely, they point to two different faces of the same thing.

Semi-overlapping publics remind us that we do not all see quite the same public. This was the “new” thing Twitter brought compared to our old IRC channels. Now it’s trivial, obvious even, to point it out.

Walking Alone

Context collapse points to the fact that the natural boundaries in our lives have broken down. I was aware of this going on, and it never really troubled me. On the contrary: I loved (still do) the idea of bringing people from different places together, of the melting-pot, of wrecking the big, artificial and sometimes even harmful boundaries we have erected between our private and professional lives. We are whole people.

But what I’m seeing now is that contexts have collapsed to the point where it is putting a break on our desire to express ourselves. I am feeling it myself.

I just had a great catch-up call with my old friend Deb Schultz from over the Atlantic. We shared our observations on our professional lives, so similar. I’ve had other conversations with my peers lately, people who have “been around” this “online social stuff” for a long time. I went freelance 10 years ago, and as I already mentioned the “market” has changed dramatically. From medium-sized fish in a small pond, pretty much the only person in my geographical area you could call up to interview about “blogs” or ask to give a talk on the topic, I feel I am now in a really big pond full of fish of all shapes and sizes, thrashing about much more vigorously than I am.

Talking with Deb tonight, I realised how “not alone” I was in my current professional predicament. And here’s what it has to do with context collapse: I feel I have lost the spaces I used to have which were public enough to be useful, and private enough that I might feel comfortable saying “hey guys, time to send me work/clients if you have any leads”.

Facebook is full of everybody, including ex-clients, future clients, even current clients. Peers, family and friends. Context so collapsed it is flat as a pancake. I think I did well online in the early days because I am not as scared of context collapse as most people. I am comfortable talking (and being honest) about a lot of things with a lot of people. My online presence brought me visibility, which brought me a career. Contexts “just collapsed enough”.

But everybody has their limits, and, like many people, I find it hard to talk about the challenges I might face running my business with people who are paying me for said business. Because you want your clients to trust you, and believe in you, because you’re good, right, and if you’re good you cannot be anything but successful. If there is a crack in your success, it can only mean you’re not that good.

It could mean you’re not that good at self-marketing and sales, though. (That’s another — long — post.)

(And a shout-out to Robert Scoble, who was an early inspiration to me when it comes to “putting it out there”, and who has come back from Facebook to tell us where he’s at. Read his post.)

During tonight’s discussion, on the backdrop of other recent conversations with my peers, I realised there really is a whole generation of us early independent social media professionals who are facing similar issues. Our industry has matured, “social media” (or whatever you want to call this online stuff) is in every company and agency. Those who arrived later in this area of expertise are specialised: you have community managers, social media marketers, digital content specialists, etc, etc.

We early birds often have more generalist profiles. I know it’s my case. We’ve touched all this, seen it grow and take shape. And now we wonder where we fit in. Personally, I’ve been wondering for years (on and off) if there was still a market for what I do. Is there a decent business case for “Stephanie Booth freelancer”, or am I just fooling myself?

At this stage, I don’t really have the answer. One answer I do have is that there is definitely still a market for what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years when I reframe it as “digital transformation” or “digital literacy”. I’d known for a long time that describing what I did as “social media” was problematic, because it bundled me up with “marketing”, or had people thinking I was a “community manager” who would “update their Facebook page”. So, it’s been a big relief to find a way to talk about this aspect of my work that feels right.

What I don’t know yet is:

  • how do I talk about “the rest” of what I do/can do: analysing needs, challenging solutions to make sure they really solve problems, digging to identify real problems, offering solutions, coordinating, planning…?
  • do I have the “business skills” (sales, marketing) to “make it” as a freelancer when I’m not benefitting from media spotlight or being one of the only fishies in the small pond?
  • is it time to “reboot” and work as an employee for a few/many years, and if so: client-side, agency, consulting… — and am I “employable”, at 40+, having been freelance for almost my entire career?

The “safe spaces” to talk about these things are not completely gone. We have one-one conversations, if we take the trouble to plan them, like my friend and I did tonight. We have spaces like the Going Solo Slack, where a handful of us chat from time to time. And newsletters. I really believe the context collapse and fragmentation of the major social spaces like Facebook has something to do with what I sense as renewed enthusiasm for a certain type of newsletters.

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Value-Based Pricing: Breaking the Time Barrier [en]

Value-Based Pricing: Breaking the Time Barrier [en]

[fr] En tant qu'indépendant, il faut absolument s'éloigner d'un modèle où l'on facture pour son temps -- et facturer en fonction de la valuer qu'apporte notre travail au client. Cela implique une toute autre approche de la relation client et du travail de l'indépendant, très bien expliquée dans le ebook Breaking The Time Barrier. Une heure de lecture en Anglais, un peu plus si vous êtes moins à l'aise. Mais elle va vous faire gagner de l'argent.

Today I read Breaking the Time Barrier. It’s a quick read, an hour or so if you take your time. If you’re a freelancer, you should read it. If you have an hourly rate and are selling your time, you should read it even more. Thanks a lot to Claude for sharing this e-book on the Going Solo Discuss group.

I was first introduced to the concept of value-based pricing by Martin Roell on the occasion of his introductory workshop on consulting at Lift’07. It made perfect sense: if your expertise can solve a client’s problem in 3 minutes, should you really be paid only for three minutes of your time?

As I was explaining to a prospective client of mine Monday morning, when you spend half a day doing an exploratory workshop with me (to try and figure out what the f*** to do with social media, if anything), you’re not paying for four hours of my time. You’re paying to have answers. You’re paying to know what to do. Why would I charge you less if I can help you get there in just four hours than if I dragged you along for two whole weeks?

Since way back when, I’ve tried as much as possible to price my services based on their value to the client, and not based on how long it takes me. Time-based fees make my skin crawl: the client wants to keep the number of hours down, the consultant wants them to go up. It’s a really stupid system. It also implicitly encourages an “employee/employer” relationship, with the client possibly breathing down your neck to make sure you’re making good use of this time of yours he’s buying.

After reading Breaking the Time Barrier, I’ve understood one of my missing links: not putting a number on the value my client will get out of my work — which is a necessary element to pricing my service as an investment.

I’m also always a bit torn about my exploratory workshops: I charge for them separately, because too many times I ended up doing a workshop, writing up proposals, and end up with the client walking away. I realize now that on some of the occasions my proposals were not adequate because I had not understood the monetary value what my client was hoping to get out of the investment they would be making with me. One of my issues is also that a lot of the value I bring is advice, and that is sometimes all my clients need from me. Sometimes all they needed was that initial workshop. I still haven’t really decided how to deal with this, but I realize I need to think about it.

I also find it hard to stand firm sometimes with clients who insist on counting in hours. Business is so formatted to function like this that even when you tell people that you have no hourly rate, also because all your hours are not worth the same, and how many hours you spend on something is your problem and not theirs, and that what is important on their side is the result and value they are going to get, the conversation still ends up drifting back to “ok, sure, but how much will you charge for a day a month?”

I’m also having trouble applying this model to training. Training typically is something with a day rate. How do I provide value-based training? Focus on competencies and outcomes — but then, there is the unknown: how well the student learns. It does not take a fixed effort to teach something to somebody. Some people learn fast, and with others… you can start again from the beginning next month.

So there we are… my questions-in-the-guise-of-musings to Karen in the story.

Do you still have a day/hourly rate? Do you apply value-based pricing for your business, or part of it? Do you have any answers for the points I still struggle with after all these years?

3rd #back2blog challenge (9/10), with: Brigitte Djajasasmita (@bibiweb), Baudouin Van Humbeeck (@somebaudy), Mlle Cassis (@mlle_cassis), Luca Palli (@lpalli), Yann Kerveno (@justaboutvelo), Annemarie Fuschetto (@libellula_free), Ewan Spence (@ewan), Kantu (@kantutita), Jean-François Genoud (@jfgpro), Michelle Carrupt (@cmic), Sally O’Brien (@swissingaround), Adam Tinworth (@adders), Mathieu Laferrière (@mlaferriere), Graham Holliday (@noodlepie), Denis Dogvopoliy (@dennydov), Christine Cavalier (@purplecar), Emmanuel Clément (@emmanuelc), Xavier Bertschy (@xavier83). Follow #back2blog.

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To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

To Be or Not to Be a New Media Strategist [en]

For years now (since I became self-employed, and maybe even before) I’ve been struggling to define myself and what I do. There are two main components to this problem, as I see it:

  • working in a fast-moving, cutting-edge field, where I’m creating my job and job description as I go along, and boldly going where none have gone before (haha)
  • inside that field, having a bit of a “generalist specialist” profile, which means that I do tons of different things which don’t always seem to go together (talk about teenager/education issues online; give strategic advice to startups; install blogs and teach people how to use them; etc)

Now, along my freelancing career, I’ve called myself a bunch of things (non-exhaustive list following):

  • blogging consultant
  • social sofware consultant
  • social media consultant
  • web consultant and commentator
  • 2.0 consultant

More recently, I more or less dropped the whole title thing, going for taglines like “I help you understand the internet better” and even giving up almost entirely before Lift09 and having “Online Person” written on my badge.

So, again: part of the problem is me (and my issues with defining myself) and another is the field in which I am. High tech and social media is a bubbly field. An expression is hot one day and cold the other. Hot in some circles, passé in others.

Take “blogging consultant”: when I started out, there were hardly any blogging consultants around. A year or so later, everybody and his dog who knew how to set up WordPress suddenly started calling themselves that. I remember talking to a friend some years ago: his company had hired a “blogging consultant” and we were both appalled at the kind of advice he was giving and things he was doing.

So at some point, to distance myself from such people (newcomers clearly more intent in blinding their clients with buzzwords), I stopped calling myself a “blogging consultant”.

Basically, it’s been more or less the same problem for all the titles I’ve tried to wear (like clothes).

Now, back to my own issue: the trouble I have explaining and defining what I do. I had a breakthrough conversation with Florian Egger at the Lift09 party (despite the dreadfully loud music during what was supposed to be a “networking lounge” time slot).

Here’s the image I like to use to explain this breakthrough: what I do could be represented by a tree. There are many branches and leaves, and a trunk. Until then, when I was asked what I did, I would talk about the leaves and the branches, but I never managed to pinpoint what the trunk was. It left an impression that what I was doing was ill-defined, scattered.

I have now understood that the trunk of what I do is new media-related strategic consulting, thanks to Florian who made me go through example after example of what I did, concluding each one with “well, that’s strategy too, if you think of it” — and I’d go “no, it’s not strategy… oh, actually, yes, I see what you mean… it is!”

So, that would make me a New Media Strategist. It sounds nice. And it fits. You know, like when you finally find a pair of trousers that seems to have been stitched for you?

And clearly, being able to say “I do strategic consulting” sounds way better than “well, I know a helluvalot of a stuff about the internet, and all this so-called web2.0 stuff, and I’m really good at explaining it and helping people and companies figure out what the hell they’re going to do with it, and how they can use it, and why it’s interesting for them, and I can give talks, do training, help set blogs up, promote stuff online, coach people on more or less anything social-media related, oh, and give advice, of course, people keep coming to me for advice, you know, and a whole lot of other things…”

See what I mean?

I also realised that until then, the services that I had advertised were my “side-services” — my branches. In a way, I’ve always tried to do the strategic/advisory stuff undercover. Not very satisfying!

So now, the question this post is leading to: is “New Media Strategist” already old and loaded? What does it sound like? Is “everybody” calling themselves that nowadays? (I hope I don’t come across as pretentious because I consider I have a tad more expertise on the subject than newcomers in the field who have been blogging for 18 months and tweeting for 6…)

One could argue that titles don’t mean much, specially in today’s hypernetworked world, where connections are the most important thing in life (aside from drinking water… and even that could be subject to debate). Reputation, that’s what counts.

I disagree. I may be well-known and respected amongst my peers, but given the nature of my job, my clients are usually outside (even very far outside) the social media bubble. A title of some sort gives people a starting-point to figure you out.

“Social Media Consultant”, in my opinion, is dead from overuse and abuse. “New Media Strategist” seems better to me (because I “came up” with it during that discussion — of course I’d probably heard or seen it somewhere before, but it didn’t sound like something that is being thrown all over the place on Twitter et al these days). Or “Social Media Strategist”? What about “Social Media” itself… does that sound too much like an empty buzzword today (just like “Web 2.0”, which I never liked and honestly, was a media/marketing buzzword from the start). And then, for me, is the added issue of translating things in French. “New Media Strategist” doesn’t translate well — neither does “Social Media”, actually.

Lots of questions, as you can see.

Do you have trouble defining what you do? What do you put on your business card? What do you do? I’d love to exchange stories. And, of course, hear what you think about “New Media Strategist” — as a title in general, and to describe me… if you know me, of course. 🙂

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Réflexions freelance [en]

Réflexions freelance [en]

[fr] Musings on my work as a freelancer. I'm thinking about concentrating my communication/promotion efforts on a limited number of things (my problem with being a "generalist internet expert" is that I do lots of different things, could do even more, but feel a bit stretched and unfocused at times). So, here goes:

  • coaching/training: from "learning to use this computer" and "getting the printer to work" (grandma or your uncle) to "learning all about social media/tools" and "publishing my stuff online". A one-on-one setting, and a general focus on "learning to understand and use the internet (and computers) better".
  • creating simple websites: I'm asked to do this a lot, and after years of struggling with clients to try to get them to "do things right" (easy to win them over, but it doesn't change the amount of budget available), I've switched over to a Trojan Horse technique. Give them what they want (a brochure-like website), but based on WordPress (my CMS of choice right now), which means they can learn to update the content, add a blog, etc. etc. Using WordPress as CMS is my Trojan Horse for getting clients further into social media.
  • speaking, in particular in schools: I gave a few talks at the ISL a month ago and they were very well received. A little promotional material would probably get me way more similar speaking engagements.

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning all the other things I do (and get paid for) or would like to do (and get paid for). It just means I'm going to concentrate my proactive efforts on those three things, which have proved to be realistic ways for me to earn money.

Going Solo Leeds is of course taking up quite a bit of my time, and I'm soon going to start actively looking for a business partner (a sales-oriented doer!) for Going Far. Stay tuned!

Ces temps, je pense pas mal à mon choix de travail/carrière. Parce qu’à part les nombreuses heures que je passe à préparer la conférence Going Solo (qui pour le moment ne rapporte pas tellement d’argent, on peut dire ça), je reste une indépendante dans le milieu parfois un peu brumeux des nouvelles technologies.

Moi qui suis quelqu’un qui frémit à chaque fois qu’on lui demande “et tu fais quoi, comme boulot?”, je me suis trouvée l’autre jour (lors du pique-nique mensuel des couchsurfeurs lausannois) avec aux lèvres une formule qui me plaît assez:

J’aide les gens à mieux comprendre et utiliser internet.

C’est vaste, oui, mais ça recouvre assez bien ce qui m’intéresse — et ce que je fais.

Mais bon. Ça fait un moment que je me sens dispersée. Je n’ai pas de message clair à donner pour faire comprendre au monde mes compétences et ce que je fais. En plus, il y a “ce que je fais déjà” et “ce que je pourrais faire”. Donc… je me dis que je devrais me concentrer (côté stratégie de communication en tous cas) sur un nombre limité de trucs. Surtout quand l’argent ne rentre pas à flots. Lesquels?

Qu’on me comprenne bien, je ne suis pas en train de songer à “arrêter” quoi que ce soit de mes activités. Je me demande simplement où concentrer mes forces. Si on fait appel à moi pour autre chose, pas de souci — je serai là.

Une chose que je me retrouve régulièrement à faire, et que j’aime beaucoup, c’est de la formation (ou du coaching) individuelle. Ça va de “apprendre à utiliser l’ordinateur et faire ses premiers pas sur internet” à “bloguer mieux” en passant par “démarrer un blog” et “maîtriser les outils sociaux”. Particuliers, indépendants, ou petites entreprises sont mes clients types pour ce genre de service.

Donc, j’aime faire ça et il y a de la demande. Il m’a fallu longtemps pour “publiciser” ce genre de service/formation, principalement parce que les tarifs que je me retrouvais à devoir fixer me semblaient vraiment chers pour des “cours d’informatique”. En attendant, il semble que je fais ça plutôt bien, j’ai un éventail très large de compétences à transmettre ou à mettre à disposition (je peux dépanner l’imprimante, installer l’anti-virus, donner des conseils stylistiques pour la rédaction d’un article, discuter d’une stratégie de publication, raconter les réseaux sociaux, les blogs, ou les CSS, bref, un produit tout-en-un), et je m’adapte à tous les niveaux (de la personne qui découvre tout juste l’informatique — et il y en a! — à l’utilisateur chevronné qui veut parfaire ses connaissances en matière de publication web, par exemple).

Pour les particuliers, disons que c’est un peu un service de luxe (je ne dis pas ça négativement), et pour les indépendants et petites entreprises, l’occasion d’acquérir des compétences avec un suivi très personnalisé (et compétent/à la pointe…).

Voilà — je me dis que je devrais probablement mettre en avant un peu plus ce type de service.

Dans le même ordre d’idées, on m’approche souvent pour “faire un site internet”. Durant longtemps, je crois que je m’y suis prise un peu maladroitement. “Non, je ne fais pas de site internet, mais je vous apprends à le faire et vous accompagne durant le processus.” Alors oui, bien sûr, je peux toujours faire ça. Mais il ne faut pas rêver — le client qui m’approche pour que je lui “fasse un site internet”, même si je le convainc de ce “faire ça bien” implique (pas un problème en général, dans ce sens-là je suis une assez bonne “vendeuse d’idées”), il n’est probablement quand même pas prêt, au fond, à faire le pas (que ce soit, bêtement, en termes de ressources et d’argent à investir).

J’ai fini par comprendre qu’il fallait s’y prendre autrement. Etre un peu pragmatique. Donner aux gens ce qu’ils veulent, même si on croit qu’il est dans leur meilleur intérêt de faire directement autrement. C’est la technique du Cheval de Troie (un bon cheval, dans ce cas): oui, donner ce qui est demandé initialement, mais sous une forme qui permet ensuite d’aller facilement dans la bonne direction.

Une petite digression/parenthèse à ce sujet. C’est une stratégie qui fait un peu usage de manipulation — mais assez légère, explicite, et dans l’intérêt du client. Elle est de cet ordre: c’est la différence entre demander “pouvez-vous SVP signer cette décharge qui nous autorise à mettre des photos de vous prises à cette fête sur internet” et dire “on va prendre des photos et les mettre sur internet, si cela vous pose un problème, merci de nous contacter au plus vite.” Vous voyez l’idée? C’est comme une de mes amies/collègues, qui répondait, quand on lui demandait comment convaincre un employeur de nous laisser bloguer, en tant qu’employé: “ne demandez pas; faites-le, faites-le intelligemment, et quand il commence à y avoir des retours positifs, votre employeur verra de lui-même que ce n’est pas dramatique, d’avoir un employé qui blogue.” (Ce n’est pas une tactique garantie à 100% sûre, mais elle a son mérite — on dit souvent “non” à la nouveauté un peu par principe ou par peur du changement, c’est une réaction normale.)

Donc, quelle est l’idée? Pour une somme relativement modeste (contrairement à d’autres solutions — avant de m’approcher, un de mes clients avait reçu une offre à 2500.- CHF pour un site statique de 5 pages, sans qu’il y ait d’exigeances particulières côté design!) je crée sous WordPress.com le site que désire le client, avec un design “standard” quelque peu personnalisé (logo, image d’en-tête), et le contenu que m’aura fourni le client.

Et c’est là que ça devient intéressant — et pour le client, et pour moi. Le client a son site, et **bonus**:

  • il peut le mettre à jour lui-même facilement (une fois qu’il a appris, ou bien s’il est débrouille)
  • le jour où il décide de se lancer dans l’aventure “blog”, c’est tout prêt pour
  • s’il veut ajouter des pages, c’est facile et il peut le faire lui-même
  • s’il désire par la suite se payer un design “sur mesure”, il n’y a pas besoin de toucher au contenu (Corinne fait de très beaux thèmes WordPress, par exemple)
  • s’il veut étendre les fonctionnalités du site, tout le contenu peut être migré sur une installation WordPress “serveur”, où l’on peut installer des plugins ou faire tout ce qu’on veut.

Donc, site mis en place à bon marché, et très évolutif.

En ce qui me concerne, si le client s’en tient là (je lui donne les codes d’accès, voilà) je m’y retrouve déjà: mettre en place un site avec du contenu qu’on me fournit est typiquement une prestation pour laquelle je suis payée plus pour mon expertise et mon expérience que pour le temps que j’y passe.

Si le client désire aller plus loin, par exemple être formé à l’utilisation de l’outil (s’il ne s’y retrouve pas par lui-même tout de suite), être coaché pour améliorer le contenu ou en rajouter, découvrir d’autres outils de communication en ligne… Eh bien, vous l’aurez deviné, je me retrouve dans la situation formation/coaching décrite plus haut.

Et si le client désire aller encore plus loin, j’envisage même d’offrir des formules “accès libre” (Martin nous expliquait lors de Going Solo qu’il faisait ça avec certains clients), où le client paie une certaine somme par mois (à négocier) en échange d’un accès “illimité” à mes services. J’ai mis des guillemets, parce que soyons réalistes, il faut tout de même mettre un cadre (je ne deviens pas l’esclave de mon client!) mais cela lui donne la possibilité de faire appel à moi pour séances, coaching, dépannage, e-mails, téléphone, mises à jour tant qu’il a besoin. La base de discussion pour le tarif d’un tel service sera la valeur qu’il a pour le client.

Donc, nous voilà avec deux axes: coaching/formation (très large, “mieux comprendre et utiliser internet, tant du point de vue technique que stratégique”) et fabrication de sites web “simples” (sans fonctionnalités nécessitant du développement particulier).

Il y en a un troisième: les conférences. Que ce soit dans les écoles ou bien ailleurs, c’est quelque chose que je fais depuis le début de ma carrière d’indépendante et pour lequel il y a une demande régulière. Je me dis que du côté des écoles en particulier, je peux être sans difficulté un peu plus proactive à vendre mes services. Un petit explicatif A4 bien présenté que je pourrais faire circuler m’amènerait sans doute plus de mandats de ce genre (jusqu’ici, je n’ai jamais fait aucune promotion pour ça, mis à part annoncer sur mon site que je le faisais).

J’ai donné il y a un mois environ une série de conférences à l’ISL — même si ça faisait depuis février que je n’avais pas parlé sur le sujet, tout est allé comme sur des roulettes et elles ont été extrêmement bien reçues. Je note que ce ne sont plus les blogs qui préoccupent les autorités scolaires (en tous cas en milieu international), mais bien Facebook — un changement de nom, mais la problématique reste largement la même. Je vais devoir me rebaptiser “experte Facebook” pour attirer leur attention 😉

Si vous m’avez lue jusqu’au bout, merci. C’était un article un peu “au fil de mes pensées”, mais ça fait un moment que je rumine ça et je crois que j’avais besoin de le mettre par écrit.

En parallèle, bien entendu, je continue ma vie d’entrepreneur avec Going Solo Leeds (12 Septembre) et les événements à suivre, organisés par Going Far (entreprise en cours de fabrication légale… enfin un de ces jours). Je vais bientôt me mettre à la recherche d’un (ou une!) partenaire business, dans le genre “qui fait les choses et est orienté vente” — toute une aventure dont je vous tiendrai au courant.

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Talk: Being a Blogging Consultant [en]

Talk: Being a Blogging Consultant [en]

[fr] Notes d'une conférence que je viens de donner en Serbie sur ce qu'est le travail d'une "consultante en blogs" (notez les guillemets). Je préfère en fait me définir comme une spécialiste de l'internet vivant (celui des dialogues et des relations humaines) et de sa culture. J'interviens partout où ce genre de connaissance est utile à mes clients.

Here are some rough notes of the talk I gave at [Blogopen](http://blogopen.eu), reason of [my presence in Novi Sad, Serbia](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/11/12/blogopen-in-novi-sad-serbia/). I hope they can be useful to some. Number between square brackets refer to slide numbers (

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

(http://www.slideshare.net/sbooth/being-a-blogging-consultant) embedded below).

*If you have notes of this talk or by any chance have recorded it, please leave a link in the comments.*

**update: yay! some short recording snippets. see the end of this post.**

[1] [2] Two years ago I was a teacher, and if you had told me then that I would be here in Novi Sad, talking about what it is like to be a freelance blogging consultant, you would probably have seen me make a face like this:

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 9

[3] Later on I’ll tell you about what a “blogging consultant” like me actually does, but first of all, here’s my story. I grew up with computers in the house, discovered the internet in 1998 and soon after [created a website](http://old.climbtothestars.org/hist/version1/). I [started blogging in 2000](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2000/07/) and gradually built a small reputation for myself online. By the time the Swiss media discovered blogs in 2004, I’d been at it for a while. When they started looking for Swiss blogs, they found me, and the phone started ringing.

You know how it is with the media: once one journalist has written about a person or a subject, all the others follow. I started [giving interview after interview](http://climbtothestars.org/about/presse), exciting at first, but somewhat tedious after some time. But I was lucky to have very good local media coverage, which did help people find me or hear about me.

Just before the press started to show an interest in me (and blogs), a friend of mine asked if I could explain to her how to make a website. We sat together for two hours, and I told her how the internet was made of servers, and websites were in fact files that lived on those servers, files you can make in a text editor with special markings known as HTML, with CSS to control the visual aspect. She said “wow, you’re really good at this, you should get people to pay you to do it!” I was a bit skeptical, but thought it would be cool. So just before my first appearance on TV, I created a [professional website](http://stephanie-booth.com/) (just a few pages, and if you look at it now, it’s really out-of-date — I’ll be working on it during the [“Website ‘pro’ day”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/31/une-journee-pour-bosser-sur-nos-sites-pro-website-pro-day/) in a bit over a week). And on that website, I made [a page](http://stephanie-booth.com/particuliers/) saying something like “I’ll explain to you how to make a website, this is how much it’ll cost”.

Shortly after my TV appearance, I was contacted by a school who wanted me to come and talk about blogs to a class of teenagers. It went surprisingly well and I really enjoyed it, so I added an extra page on my professional site saying [“I give talks in schools”](http://stephanie-booth.com/ecoles/). Little by little, through word of mouth mainly, I started having clients. And at one point about 18 months ago, I started having enough clients that I could consider quitting my day job (teaching).

That’s how I became a professional blogging consultant.

[4] So, what does a “blogging” consultant do? It’s not just about blogs. Actually, one of my ongoing struggles is to find a “job title” to define myself. “Blogging consultant” already existed, and people knew about blogs, so it wasn’t too bad.

[5] Blogging is more than it seems. It’s a tool, but it’s more than that. It’s also a culture, and if you’re a company or an institution, blogging is a communication strategy. We see companies and media corporations using the blog tool to publish press releases or official documentation. That’s using the tool, but they don’t get the culture, and they haven’t changed their strategy. *(You might want to see the notes on my talk [“How Blogging Brings Dialogue to Corporate Communications”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/09/24/how-blogging-brings-dialogue-to-corporate-communications/) if this topic interests you.)*

[6] One expression we hear a lot in this kind of context is “social media”. Traditional media go in one direction. Journalists write, people listen (or put their fingers in their ears). It looks like this:

Cluetrain 101 Sketch 1

With social media, on the other hand, we have a new type of media (well, *reasonably new*) where conversations take place. Communication goes both ways:

Cluetrain 101 Sketch 3

So basically, being a “blogging” consultant has a lot to do with social media. (Understanding and explaining it.)

[7] All this kind of stuff is explained in a great book that everybody should read: [The Cluetrain Manifesto](http://www.cluetrain.com/). You can [read it for free on the Internet](http://www.cluetrain.com/book/index.html) or buy it as a real book if you prefer. The Cluetrain Manifesto was written in the year 2000, so quite some time ago, but it’s still spot on. It tells us how people are sick of being marketed at and talked at, and how people are already having conversations everywhere about brands, companies, and these conversations are happening on the internet. Companies, politicians, and media empires would be smart to step in and join the conversation. Anyway… read the Cluetrain Manifesto if you have any interest in what’s going on on the Internet.

[8] So, in my job, I don’t just work with blogs. In addition to blogs, sometimes solution require wikis, podcasts, or social networks. [9] Using these tools brings up values like dialogue, transparency, authenticity, and often leads to rethink strategy. [10] Finding a solution for a client can be helping them re-organise their e-mail, set up a mailing-list, or simply build a website. Maybe it requires social tools like Twitter or Dopplr, or they might even want to know about virtual worlds like Second Life.

This is clearly not just about “blogging”. It’s about this bigger world blogging is an important part of.

[11] I like to think of myself as a specialist of **the living web** and its culture. The living web is the internet of people, conversations, and relationships.

My work is anywhere people need this kind of knowledge. Who needs this kind of knowledge?

[12] Schools, politicians, companies big and small, freelancers, non-profits, media, startups, people…

[13] Here’s a little more about what it means to be a freelancer consultant in today’s world.

[14] [The Balance of the Soloist](http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/2006/09/08/going-solo-a-few-words-of-advice/) according to [Stowe Boyd](http://stoweboyd.com/message):

> The most difficult challenge for soloists is to find a balance between the various activities that must take place to survive. I like to oversimplify these down to three:

> 1. **Doing The Work** — The heart of consulting — of whatever description — is delivering the work. A soloist has to deliver value to the client in order to make money. Most consulting-oriented people start with this capability: it’s the other two that cause problems, in general.
> 2. **Marketing and Networking** — I have already noted that I principally market myself through blogging, and that I attend conferences: those are the outward signs of a willingness, or even an obsession with networking with likeminded others. When I find out about a web product that sounds interesting (my beat), I sign up for the beta, fool with it, write a review, ask for more info, and very soon I am involved in a direct communication with the company’s management. I read other people’s blogs and comment on their ideas. When attending conferences I try to chat with both old friends and folks I have never met before. I know many consultants whose natural introversion makes such activities difficult if not impossible. But these interactions are just as critical to being a soloist as performing the work, and are likely to take up just as much time!
> 3. **Prospecting, Contracts and Cash Flow** — I am always happy to talk about money, and as a soloist it is imperative to get what you are worth, and then to collect the fees. This is a blind spot for many, and a make-it-or-break-it issue. I know a lot of folks that find it hard — even with people they know well — to ask for a project, an engagement, whatever, and to demand payment later on. It may seem obvious but many consultants only get involved with this as a necessary evil, but it’s not. It’s just as central as delivering the goods and networking.

Stowe Boyd, “Going Solo: A Few Words Of Advice”

These are the three skills the freelancer needs. Often people drawn towards freelancing are people who are good at doing something (the work) and reasonable networkers — and the third part (money) is the most difficult.

[15] **the work**

This will of course vary from person to person. Depending on your skills and abilities, you will be doing different things. For example:

– talking (like this talk I gave — speaking engagements)
– explaining — talking with clients to tell them about things they need to understand
– solving problems
– gathering information (about your client, about a subject you need to know more about)
– managing projects
– installing tools (WordPress, wikis…)
– coding HTML, CSS, or even PHP
– doing graphical design in Photoshop (I don’t do this, I’m really bad at it, so I usually tell the client he needs to have somebody else for this)
– training — it’s not that easy for “normal people” to learn how to use a blog tool… and more importantly, understand the blogging culture. Linking can be the topic of a two-hour class! (what to link, when, with what text, trackbacks, linking technique… suddenly text has two dimensions instead of one, so it changes writing style…)
– “cluetrain 101” — explaining the basics of what the internet is changing to the way we communicate
– experiential marketing (I’ll blog more about this later) — where you use a client’s product and blog about it
– blogging for a client (even though it’s not something I believe in, and I don’t do it — some people might)

[16] **Marketing**

– blog, blog, blog. And blog more. Demonstrate your expertise. Look at how [Thomas Mahon](http://englishcut.com/) used his blog to demonstrate his expertise at being a high-class tailor. Blog about what you know and what you’re doing.
– be a good connected net citizen. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, IM… be out there
– talk around you offline
– go to events — try to speak! send in proposals! [Barcamps](http://barcamp.org/) are a great place to start because anybody can talk. Get somebody to film you and put it online. If you’re not speaking, [publish live notes of the talks on your blog (live-blog)](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/08/01/on-liveblogging). People who weren’t there or didn’t take notes might appreciate yours.
– in short, take care of your social capital ([whuffie](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whuffie)) — your social connections
– if you’re lucky enough to have journalists call you — be nice with them. I would probably not be here today if it hadn’t been for the local press in Switzerland.

[17] **Cash**

Often a difficult point, as I mentioned.

– how do you actually get to the point where you close a deal?
– contracts
– you’re worth more than you think! Have friends help you keep that in mind before you negotiate with clients.
– will you be paid per day, per project?
– how much? fixing the right price can be tough — I haven’t completely figured out pricing yet.
– when do you ask for money, when do you not ask? Sometimes it’s [not that obvious](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/30/operations-mediatiques-marre/).

In addition to this, going freelance might mean you have to think about:

– insurance
– taxes
– laws
– accounting
– invoicing

And also… balancing your personal and professional life. All this “taking care of your social capital” does tend to blend the two — in a good way, often, but also in a way that makes taking days off or going on a real holiday very difficult. Pay attention to that.

[18]-[23] So, looking back… After my initial “no way!” reaction to the idea of being a “blogging consultant” two years ago, even though I went through phases like this

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 2

and this

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 12

and this

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 11

and even

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 3

overall… I’m pretty happy about my life as a blogging consultant:

Expressions (Stephanie Booth) 14

*note: I took all the rather cheesy “emotion” photos myself the morning before the talk, because I didn’t have the time and resources to go hunting for good “emotional faces” stock photography… I hope you’ll forgive me!*

You can find [more stuff about consulting in my del.icio.us links](http://del.icio.us/steph/consulting).

Thanks to everybody who attended my talk and gave me kind feedback. Many Serbian bloggers also mentioned my talk in their blog posts, but I’m afraid I can’t understand any of it! [Here are the links](http://del.icio.us/steph/blogopentalk%2Bcoverage%2Bstephaniebooth), though:

– [Borska internet organizacija | BITNO na BlogOpen-u / 2](http://www.bitno.org.yu/vesti/?p=33)
– [Blogopen utisci](http://blog.aurora-dizajn.info/izvestaj/blogopen-utisci/)
– [BlogOpen & Novi Sad – dan posle | O zivotu, Vaseljeni i svemu ostalom](http://www.mmilan.com/2007/11/11/blogopen-novi-sad-dan-posle/)
– [BlogOpen – Elektro kuhinja – Blog.hr](http://elektrokuhinja.blog.hr/2007/11/1623579400/blogopen.html)
– [» Blog Archive » Susret na Blog Open-u](http://www.gradjanski.co.yu/blog/?p=13)
– [Nemanja Srećković » Blog Archive » Utisci sa BlogOpen-a 2007](http://blog.nemanjasreckovic.com/2007/11/10/utisci-sa-blogopen-2007/)
– [BlogOpen Review](http://blago.blog381.com/2007/11/10/blogopen-review/)
– [Uh kakva subota! at Samo malo](http://samomalo.hermani.info/?p=345)
– [BlogOpen u Novom Sadu – total report | Webmasterov blog](http://snaxors.com/blog/?p=57)
– [BlogOpen utisci | Dragan Varagic Weblog](http://www.draganvaragic.com/weblog/index.php/349/blogopen-utisci)
– [BlogOpen weekend](http://www.blogowski.eu/2007/11/12/blogopen-weekend/)
– [Blog Open…i kako ga pregurati](http://auroraborealis.blog381.com/2007/11/13/blog-openi-kako-ga-pregurati/)

As far as I can tell, some posts simply mention me. But if there’s anything said worth to be translated or paraphrased, feel free to do so in the comments! (Just tell me what link it’s about…)

**Update:**

Thanks a lot to [darko156](http://komunikacii.net/2007/11/12/blogopeneu/) who filmed two short video sequences and uploaded them to YouTube. Here they are. The first video is slides [4]-[7] (what exactly a blogging consultant is, social media, The Cluetrain Manifesto):

The second is slides [7]-[10] (Cluetrain, social media tools and values — dialogue, transparency, authenticity, strategy…):

Curious about [what I was waving in my right hand](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/1988146940/)?

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Blogopen in Novi Sad, Serbia [en]

Blogopen in Novi Sad, Serbia [en]

[fr] Je suis allée en Serbie donner une conférence sur "être une consultante en blogs" lors du festival "Blogopen" qui a eu lieu samedi à Novi Sad. La conférence s'est extrêmement bien passée, mais n'a malheureusement pas été enregistrée. Les retours ont été assez incroyables, au point que c'était presque pas forcément évident à gérer.

For the last few days I’ve been getting weird digital looks on IM and IRC. You’re in *Serbia*? What on earth are you doing there?

Simple answer: I came here [to give a talk](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/11/12/being-a-blogging-consultant/) during [Blogopen](http://blogopen.eu/). A few months ago I was contacted by [Tatjana Vehovec](http://mooshema.com/). [Pedja Puselja](http://www.blogowski.eu/), a popular Serbian blogger living in Strasbourg, had recommended me as a speaker. Well, past the initial surprise, I happily accepted. That’s how, Saturday just past, I ended up [giving a talk on what it is to be a “Blogging Consultant”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/11/12/being-a-blogging-consultant/) to a room full of Serbian bloggers and other interested people.

Those of you who give talks regularly know that all “performances” are not equal. I’m happy to say this was a good one. (I was quite happy with the one I gave at Web2Open too, come to think of it.) It was streamed live on Blog.tv by Pedja, but unfortunately (and to my great frustration) it was not recorded. (Had I known it would be broadcast, I would have let you know…) I really need to remember to organise recording for future speaking engagements.

But then… wow, the feedback I got was almost overwhelming. At least three people came up to me saying my talk had really inspired them. A publisher in the room asked me if I would write a guide to being a “blogging consultant”, which would be translated into Serbian. I had put what was left of my Moo cards on the table, thinking a dozen or so people would take one — they all disappeared. I got interviewed on Croatian national TV (the journalist was very nice and promised to send me a copy of the raw interview — I hope he does, because I was very happy with it and would like to be able to show it to you).

Basically, I felt like a superstar or an extraterrestrial which had just descended on planet earth. A very mixed feeling, I have to say — somewhat pleasant, but mainly disturbing to me. I felt like it created a huge distance between me and other people. Hence my use of “overwhelming” to try and describe it. I was very *very* happy to have my lovely host [Sanja](http://auroraborealis.blog381.com/) by my side during that day. (I’ll write more about that in another post.)

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"Pouvez-vous nous faire un site?" — rôle du consultant [fr]

"Pouvez-vous nous faire un site?" — rôle du consultant [fr]

[en] I'm regularly asked by potential clients to "make a website for them". This is not something I do -- if it is the only thing expected from me -- because I think that it is often a recipe for unsatisfaction. I see myself as somebody who is mainly going to educate my clients about "the internet", and accompany them in setting up a solution for their web presence which keeps them as autonomous as possible.

This post is mainly a reproduction of a document I made for a client, explaining the difference between a "service provider" and a "consultant", and the advantages of hiring the services of a consultant, even if what you want is "a web site".

Il y a quelque temps, j’ai été contactée dans le cadre d’une appel d’offres pour un site internet. Cela m’arrive relativement régulièrement: “Nous n’avons pas de site, pouvez-vous nous en faire un?” L’attente du client, dans ce cas, est généralement la livraison d’un site clé en mains pour lequel il aura fourni un certain nombre d’informations au prestataire de services (exigeances ou souhaits concernant le graphisme, la structure du site, le contenu), avec un minimum de formation pour pouvoir s’occuper du site par la suite, ou un contrat de maintenance.

Personnellement, je n’aime pas du tout travailler comme ça. Je préfère apprendre à mes clients comment pêcher (ici: mettre en place une présence internet) que de leur donner une caisse de filets de carrelet (ici: un site internet bien emballé avec manuel d’utilisation). Même si on peut argumenter que je ne suis pas une [pure consultante](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/02/07/martin-roell-getting-started-in-consulting-lift07/), c’est quand même le conseil et l’accompagnement qui sont au centre de ma démarche, dans une optique “comprendre et apprendre internet”. Ça convient, ou ça ne convient pas, mais c’est comme ça que je travaille en ce moment.

Suite à une première rencontre avec le client où j’ai expliqué tout ça, j’ai résumé sous forme d’un document écrit les principaux éléments de la discussion. Comme je l’ai déjà fait (voir: [Musique: bénéfices d’une bonne stratégie internet](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/03/18/musique-benefices-dune-bonne-strategie-internet/), je reproduis ici avec quelque modifications (anonymisation en particulier) ce document.

#### Consultant ou société de services

Le rôle d’un consultant est d’accompagner le client dans une démarche (de changement ou de résolution de problème). A ce titre, il peut être appelé à fournir des services, mais ce n’est pas là son rôle premier. Il vise à ce que le client soit autonome à la fin du mandat. C’est un investissement dont les résultats resteront sensibles sur le long terme.

La société de services fournit un produit fini, souvent avec un contrat de maintenance. S’il faut apporter des modifications au produit après la fin du mandat, il faut faire à nouveau appel à la société de services (et payer en conséquence). Le client reste dans une relation de dépendance, un peu au coup par coup.

Cette distinction est certes simplificatrice. Dans le cas qui nous occupe, on peut dire que le “problème” auquel on veut remédier est la non-utilisation d’internet comme canal de communication, et que “créer un site” est la solution proposée. Mais ce n’est pas nécessairement une solution suffisante, car les attentes quant à la résolution de se problème ne sont pas juste “avoir un site”, mais à un plus haut niveau (stratégie de communication tirant parti de ce qu’internet peut offrir, peut-être une certaine autonomie par rapport à ce média généralement mal connu, également).

En l’occurrence, l’appel d’offres lancé par l’organisation concerne principalement la livraison d’un produit fini (un site internet), dont une partie du contenu et des caractéristiques ont déjà été élaborés de façon interne.

En tant que consultante, je ne livre pas de produits finis comme le font les sociétés de services, à moins que cela ne soit dans le cadre d’un mandat plus large. Le risque que le “produit fini” ainsi livré tombe à côté des attentes réelles mal identifiées est en effet trop grand. Je considère que cela ne rend pas service au client (qui court de grands risques d’être insatisfait en fin de compte), et par extension, cela ne me rend pas service non plus en tant que professionnelle.

#### Un consultant pour une démarche internet

On peut se demander — et c’est compréhensible — s’il est vraiment pertinent d’utiliser les services d’un consultant pour la mise en place d’un site internet. Ce n’est effectivement absolument pas nécessaire si tout ce que l’on désire est “un site”. Cependant, il faut être conscient qu’en abordant les choses ainsi le site en question risque fort d’être insatisfaisant, ou de le devenir dans un futur plus ou moins proche.

En effet, un site internet, au contraire d’une brochure imprimée, n’est pas véritablement un produit qui peut être “fini”. C’est un espace, un lieu d’ouverture sur l’extérieur à travers internet, et qui est en évolution permanente. Faire évoluer cet espace (ne serait-ce que pour garder à jour le contenu pour refléter l’évolution de la vie de l’organisation) demande l’acquisition de certaines compétences à l’intérieur de l’organisation.

De plus, internet n’est pas simplement “du contenu imprimé accessible par ordinateur”. C’est un média à part entière, avec ses caractéristiques propres, sa culture, ses règles, et sa technologie. C’est un média très mal connu du public non spécialisé, d’une part parce qu’il évolue très vite (rester “à jour” demande donc un investissement conséquent), et d’autre part parce qu’il est très jeune (les personnes de plus de 25-30 ans n’ont en général eu aucun contact avec ce média, même passif, durant leurs années formatrices).

Faire appel aux services d’un spécialiste de ce média lorsque l’on décide d’y faire ses premiers pas permet:

* de comprendre réellement ce qui est en jeu, et donc d’être plus en contrôle de ce que l’on va y faire, et de ne pas naviguer à l’aveugle;
* d’adapter l’utilisation de ce nouveau média à la culture spécifique de l’organisation, y compris à son degré de confort avec un outil peu connu, et donc potentiellement déstabilisant et inquiétant;
* d’avoir un interlocuteur qui peut “faire l’intermédiaire” entre l’organisation et les sociétés de services auxquelles elle ferait appel;
* d’acquérir une plus grande autonomie par rapport à ce média et une stratégie de communication en évolution.

#### Forme possible d’un mandat

Voici par exemple comment le consultant pourrait accompagner l’organisation dans le cadre de la mise en place d’un site internet:

* soutien pour la gestion du projet à l’intérieur de l’organisation
* formation technique et “culturelle” des personnes gérant le site, y contribuant, et des décideurs
* assistance technique et stratégique en cas de difficultés
* accompagnement durant la préparation, mise en place du site, et même après
* réponses aux questions
* coaching rédactionnel
* interface (“traduction”) avec les prestataires tiers
* aussi possibilité d’agir comme société/fournisseur de services (=”mettre en place le site”, avec un outil de gestion de contenu léger rendant les mises à jour possibles de façon autonome), mais pas obligatoire
* …

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