Client Phone Calls: House Rules [en]

I have recently become aware that I am developing a certain number of “house rules” for my phone calls with clients (particularly first-contact phone calls). I thought I’d share them here with you in case they could come in handy to other freelancers:

  1. I don’t give rates on the phone
  2. I don’t agree to new things
  3. I don’t talk about what I’m doing with a contact to a third party within the same company unless my contact introduced me to them.

I’ll detail the whys and the hows of these below, but first of all…

Me and phone calls

I often describe myself as a phonephobic. There are situations where I’m perfectly comfortable on the phone (with friends, for example), but anything that hints of administrivia or relationship tension just makes me go ballistic if it needs to be dealt with by phone.

There was a time when I would walk into town to the offices so I could deal with admin stuff face-to-face, rather than pick up the call and get it done in five minues.

To be fair, I’ve had my share of traumatizing phone experiences (when I was a scout leader as a teenager, and all through my adult years). I also worked as a phone interviewer (surveys) for a couple of years when I was a student — so I’m not completely incompetent either. I’m not exactly sure why I am so scared of phone calls, but I am.

If you’ve had me on the phone you probably have no idea of this, because I cover it up, but it translates in me procrastinating a lot when I need to call people back, and agonizing for days — weeks — when I decide I need to cold-call somebody.

Still. I don’t like it, but I’m functional — however, I need to take into account that I feel under pressure on the phone and take steps to make things easier for me. (Less blunders = happier clients, in the end.)

Not giving rates on the phone

First of all, let me say that as a freelancer in a pioneering industry, determining how much to ask for the services I offer has always been a bit of a headache. From undercharging (way too often) to overcharging (a few times), I’ve done it all. Convincing people they need me is not too much of an issue, but actually asking for money is where I more often than not start sliding down into the pit of self-deprecation.

I’ve been doing this for four years now, and I’m much better at it than I was. I’m actually even starting to consider myself pretty competent, to say the truth. But even with the worst of the pricing-angst behind me, offering services for which there is no real fixed market-price to a wide variety of clients means that pricing is not simple. (Think Oracle and Intel on one end of the spectrum, and struggling artists and newbie freelancers on the other.)

Recently, I realized that I was much less likely to undercharge (or overcharge) if I had a little time to calmly think about my pricing, without the client breathing down my neck on the other end of the line. (Well, my clients aren’t actually that bad, quite the contrary, but given my phone anxiety, that’s quickly what it feels like.) I asked around a bit, and discovered that quite a few of my colleagues had a “no money on the phone” policy. By e-mail is fine, face-to-face is fine, but not on the phone. If your client is going to go green (or speechless) when he hears your price, chances are you’d rather it not happen on the phone. And if your prices are right, then that’s what’s going to happen.

So, unless you’re going to systematically undercharge, keep the money talk off the phone.

I make exceptions when the service is very well-defined and there is no hesitation about the price. For example, if a freelancer calls me up because he wants to spend half a day with me to make his website, I’ll give the price on the phone.

But even that is not without danger: I have given freelancer prices to small companies in this kind of situation, because I didn’t have enough information at that moment to realize what kind of client I was dealing with. And it’s always very unpleasant to have to send a follow-up e-mail saying “actually, it’s more expensive than I told you”. And it’s even more unpleasant to be stuck with work you’re undercharging for.

Not agreeing to new things on the phone

I’m easily enthusiastic about new projects, and that does give me a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. Again, as there are few things more unpleasant than saying “Oh yes, great, let’s do that!” and having to follow up with an e-mail the next day (or worse the next week or the next month) explaining that you overcommited and have to back out.

This can also help manage scope creep for existing projects.

When I was a teenager, my dad showed me these cards they were distributing students at his school. They were guidelines to help them decide when to say “no” to something. One of the guidelines was something like “If you feel under pressure to say yes, then that alone is a reason for saying no.” Taking a little bit of time to think about something on your own or by talking to a trusted friend cannot hurt. Don’t fall for the “now or never” ploy.

Third-party calls from the same company

I am not a fan of triangulation. I know from first-hand experience that it does not make for happy relationships, and do my best to not fall into that kind of trap with my clients.

If my client is a company, I usually have a single point of contact. If my contact puts me in touch with other people from the company so that I can do my job, that is fine. But if I receive a cold call from a third party from inside the same company, asking for information about an ongoing project, I will not discuss it without checking first with my contact.

In practice

These three guidelines I have are actually there to allow me to make decisions or deal with situations without being under the pressure of having to give an immediate response to something. I think the phone is particularly pressure-inducing because silence is less acceptable than if you’re face-to-face.

I think if you’re somebody who tends to be anxious in this kind of situation or agree too quickly to things, it helps to have these predefined guidelines for what to do in certain set situations — particularly with first-time calls with clients (and, I would tend to argue, for subsequent calls as well; can you tell I don’t like the phone?)

If you have other guidelines for your phone calls with clients, do share them in the comments.

Here are a few useful lines I try to keep handy. Do you have others?

  • That sounds really interesting! I’d like to sleep on it a bit and get back to you in a few days.
  • I’m afraid I don’t give my rates on the phone. I’ll send you an e-mail with my rates by tomorrow.
  • That sounds reasonable. Let me think about it and give you an answer by the end of the week.

And as a final note, yes, I know that my clients are reading this too. I don’t mind being comfortable about my shortcomings. And I’m not interested in entering professional relationships (or any, for that matter) based on power-play. Which is, let’s face it, the only kind of situation where talking about this kind of stuff in the open could be harmful for me.

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A Day at the Frankfurter Buchmesse [en]

[fr] Etat des lieux sur mes recherches de fonds et exploration du monde de l'édition pour mon livre sur les ados et internet. Envies de publier (via internet) des livres avec mes photos, aussi.

A month or two ago, I was chatting about [my book project](/categories/livre/) and [decision to find funding]( to [Joi]( He suggested that a trip to the [Frankfurt book fair]( might be useful.

First on, the Messe is just *huge*. I spent a morning there and just walked, and walked, and walked. Overall, I found my visit rather disappointing, though I did learn some useful things (though they weren’t exactly what I wanted to hear). Here’s the information I gathered, from a visit to the Swiss booth and discussions with a few people.

– I have a list of Swiss (French-speaking) publishers, and a shortlist of 4-5 who could be suitable for my project.
– Publishers, distributors, and bookstores are all part of the same organisation (in CH).
– The market is saturated, publishers are swamped with manuscripts, and it’s even worse in France than Switzerland (so, I should stick with local publishers — the fact I’m already recognised as a local authority also pushes in that direction).
– I can forget about a deal with an advance, so I need to look at other sources to finance the *writing* part (Loterie Romande, educational associations, foundations… I’ll hunt around a bit to compile a list.)
– Swiss publishers don’t like agents, and having one might make it even more difficult for me to find a publisher.
– The publisher deals with the printing guys to get the book published, and deals with the distribution guys to get it distributed. [Hunter](, a seasoned bookwriter, tells me that unless I’m getting a huge advance, having a publisher is not worth it — I can deal with printers and distributors myself. Will just have to check if this is a viable approach in the Swiss market.
– The publisher is precious for the editing process, because he knows what is good and what is not, the head of this Swiss association tells me. Hunter, on the contrary, tells me this mostly gets in the way. A good editor can be precious but chances are I won’t be getting one.
– If I go the self-publishing way (offline), then I’ll need funding for the printing, which could be a problem.
– One option, which Joi suggests and I’d been getting at, is to start off by online-self-publishing (Lulu, Blurb, or another), and once there is enough buzz, sales, reviews, etc, approaching publishers.
– I really need to work on a proper proposal, and I have a better understanding of what such a proposal needs to look like. I got some advice from talking with a publisher over dinner (thanks again!) and Chris Webb left me a pointer to [his interesting series on book proposals]( in the comments to [my previous post]( From what I gather, the more there is in the proposal, the better.

So, where do I go from now?

– **Write a proper proposal in French** (as the book will be in French). This obviously needs to be broken down into manageable pieces (GTD-style), and I realise that the big nasty bit for me is the outline. I have tons of ideas of stuff that I want to put in the book, but I’m not sure how to organise it all yet. I’ve been mind-mapping, but it’s a bit overwhelming and messy. So I’ll start by writing all the rest (the easy bits).
– **Write a project funding proposal** which will probably not be as detailed as the one for the publisher.
– Ask around for leads to getting funding, compile a list, send out funding requests with proposal.
– Send the proposal to the 4-5 publishers on the list, once it’s done.

Language? Isn’t it kind of weird I’m speaking about this in English? On the other hand, I don’t want to “cut out” my English network by blogging exclusively in French about this book project.

All this thinking about self-publishing has given me the desire to put together one or more photo books. I’ve barely been printing since I went digital, and it’s nice to have photos in physical form too, as [Moo](’s success demonstrates. My friend [Andrea Lindenberg]( has put together a [collection of her best riding show photographs]( — if you like horses, you should definitely check it out. She’s very talented.

My [Flickr photo collection]( is approaching 10’000 photos. So, again, the inevitable **choice** problem. I’ll certainly make a book of my best Indian photos at some point (most of them aren’t on Flickr but are either slides (first trip), negatives (second trip), or digital-[dumped-in-directories]( (third trip). I have a set called [My Favourites](, but it’s very out-of-date and doesn’t contain any recent photos. I can probably dig out the photos I use for Moo cards or stickers and add them, though.

Any opinions? If you see any photos of mine that you think deserve ending up in the (a) photo book, don’t hesitate to tag them “forthebook”. Thanks!

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First Draft of Book Presentation [en]

[fr] Un premier jet de ce que pourrait être une présentation de mon projet de livre, en anglais.

*// Here’s a first draft of what a short presentation of [my book project]( would be. Comments and nitpicking welcome. Is this convincing? Does it sound solid?*

#### A Book About Teenagers and the Internet

Teenagers are very active internet users. Parents and educators, however, less so. There is often quite a bit of confusion over what teenagers are doing online and how risky their online occupations are. Attitudes range from complete lack of interest (probably fuelled by fear of technological incompetence) to outright panic (particularly about sexual predators, with complicity of the media).

Adults who are not particularly internet-savvy (and even those who are familiar with it) need a sane guide to precisely what all this “online stuff” is about. What is beneficial? What is harmless? Where are the real dangers? How does being “totally wired” (in Anastasia Goodstein’s terms) influence relationships and social life?

This book will be is a guide to understanding today’s online world, aimed at parents, teachers, and educators. It will helps them make informed educational decisions about teenagers’ use of the internet. The focus will be is on de-dramatizing a lot of the “risks” the mainstream media have been very vocal about (sexual predators, for instance) and on promoting a deep understanding of how online and offline are integrated in teens’ lives. This brings about new issues with are maybe not dramatic, but which can be challenging for our youth, and which they should not have to face without the support of the adults they love or trust in their lives.

Part “tourist guide to the online world”, part essay, this book should be is a precious ally for those living or working with teenagers, and who sometimes feel at loss with what the internet is all about;, as well as contributing it also contributes to a more general understanding of how the internet is changing our lives.

#### About the Author

Stephanie Booth has been a very active and respected online citizen for close to ten years. After graduating in arts (Indian religions and culture, philosophy, French), she worked first as a project manager and then as a middle-school teacher. She left teaching in 2006 to devote herself exclusively to helping others understand internet culture and technology, and make good use of it.

An important part of her work has been giving lectures in French-speaking Switzerland about “the living internet” (blogging, instant messaging…) to teenagers, parents, and schoolteachers. Her extensive personal experience of “internet life” married to a strong academic background and her ability to explain tricky concepts to a variety of audiences in a down-to-earth and convincing fashion have led her to be recognized by both the media and school authorities as an expert on “teenagers and internet” issues.

She has been writing regularly on her blog Climb to the Stars for over seven years, both in English and in French. A lot of her thinking about the internet can be found there.

#### Contents

– Kids online, parents offline: why is it a problem?
– How teenagers use the internet: it’s a town, not a library
– Where can it go wrong?
– Core online publication issues: anonymity, permanence, findability
– How afraid should we be of sexual predators?
– How online communication affects relationships
– What can parents do?
– The bigger picture: media education

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Project With Technorati API [en]

[fr] J'ai un projet de répertoire de blogs suisses construit sur Technorati. Je cherche un développeur pour la partie PHP/MySQL/TechnoratiAPI et un designer/graphiste pour l'interface web. C'est un projet non lucratif mais qui peut rapporter visibilité et célébrité à  ceux qui y prendront part!

You might have heard that [ is for sale]( “Announcement, in German.”). As we all could suspect, Matt unfortunately and understandably doesn’t have time for [SwissBlogs]( “The oldest Swiss blog directory.”) and handed it back to me a few weeks ago.

I have plans for SwissBlogs, which involve a complete make-over and using “what’s out there” as much as possible. I think it’s silly to spend energy re-inventing the wheel. I won’t go into details here, but my idea involves building on all the data already available through Technorati. [I mentioned this idea on the bloggerbosse list]( but got the feeling everybody was just interested in building something from the ground up.

I have the ideas, but not the time (and my limited skills would make the necessary time long) to implement it. I’m looking for a developer who could do the PHP, MySQL and Technorati API stuff, and a designer to take care of the web part. The directory I have in mind would be a public service, and would be **strictly non-profit**. I want people who are in the directory to not worry about their data being sold or distributed as part of a list for marketing purposes.

If you’re interested in participating, and have **time and energy** to spend on the project, drop me a line or leave a comment. Credit will be given, of course, which means fame awaits you if everything goes as planned.

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SwissBlogs Needs Your Help [en]

SwissBlogs is putting together a team of motivated people to improve it drastically.

[fr] Je cherche à monter une équipe de personnes motivées pour faire vivre SwissBlogs, un des répertoires de blogs suisses les plus en vue. Au programme, entre autres:

  1. amélioration générale de l'interface (formulaire qui se pré-remplit avec les informations meta du weblog, possibilité d'éditer ses infos)
  2. intégration avec
  3. version italienne
  4. processus de modération plus efficace

Si vous voulez faire partie de l'équipe, contactez-moi! Je cherche aussi des modérateurs, pour approuver les nouveaux sites ajoutés à la liste. Le site est en PHP/MySQL pas trop propre 🙂

SwissBlogs, one of the best-known Swiss blog directories, has become too much for one person (me) to maintain, even with a little help (Matt). Plus, you all know by now, that if I’m pretty good at having ideas and launching stuff, I’m much less good at keeping them going. I guess that’s just who I am.

I am therefore looking for motivated (and multilingual!) people to help me keep this directory going, and improve it (it has hardly changed since I quickly threw a few lines of dirty code together over 18 months ago).

I would like to put together a team of 5-6 people. Here is a quick list of what I’m thinking about for the coming developments of the directory:

  1. provide italian translation of interface
  2. allow people to edit their own data (add username/password functionality)
  3. automatically fill-in the form with as much data as possible pulled from the blog page meta tags (like ViaBloga does with their blogrolling system)
  4. more integration with it initially used the SwissBlogs list, but now the two lists have grown separately — people sign up on but not on SwissBlogs, and vice-versa
  5. in particular, information can be used to determine if a blog is still active or not
  6. add screenshots of blogs
  7. improve moderation process
  8. better sorting and filing of blogs (add tags?)
  9. improve general usability of form/site, and redesign…

Of course, we also need moderators — people who will check new blogs before inclusion in the directory.

Please get in touch if you would like to be on the team, or be a moderator.

Have I posted about this already? It rings familiar but my memory and site search are failing me.

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Sunday CD's #1 [en]

Five CD’s I own: Live in Dublin by Chris de Burgh, Dil Chahta Hai soundtrack, Asia (eponym album), Rebel by John Miles, and Stereotomy by The Alan Parsons Project. More next week!

Stephanie made me notice yesterday that she had not really figured out what music I liked. In a sudden surge of inspiration, I had an idea for a little game I’m going to play with you these next weeks. Feel free to copy and repeat for yourself!

I’ll try to pick 5 CD’s out of my CD-rack each Sunday (the one currently in my CD player and four more as randomly as possible, with my eyes closed). I’ll list them and tell you in a few words why I have this CD in my CD-rack, if I listen to it a lot, how much I like it — in short, what it means to me. In other words, this amounts to using my CD collection to give you a little insight into my musical tastes, history and culture.

So here goes, 5 CD’s for today:

Chris de Burgh: High on Emotion — Live from Dublin (playing)
This is one of the last batch of 5€ CD’s I ordered at Amazon after Christmas. Chris de Burgh was my second “favorite singer” when I was ten or so (after Joan Baez). We had lots of Chris de Burgh LP’s and cassettes at my parents, which I left behind as I moved out, and now (thanks to Amazon) I’m re-building my collection. I like Live albums in general, so I picked this one up — and I don’t regret it.
Dil Chahta Hai soundtrack
During my previous trip to India, I went to see one hindi movie: Dil Chahta Hai. As usual, I bought the soundtrack as a souvenir. I remember I used to listen to it a lot when I started work just after the trip, and it still makes me India-nostalgic when I listen to it. There are some really nice songs on it (like the title song of course, and I have a soft spot for “Tanhayee” — and Sonu Nigam’s voice.)
Asia: Asia
This is another album I picked out of my father’s extensive LP collection when I was a (pre-)teenager. Probably I heard him playing it once, and noted I liked it. I used to play the LP in the kitchen when I was cleaning up after evening meals. I made myself a cassette with my father’s two Asia LP’s, and listened to it in my room a lot. I bought the CD recently (in one of those “cheap CD” boxes in a store) for historical reasons, and I listen to it every now and again.
John Miles: Rebel
I just love the song “Music” (another one I discovered through my father’s LP’s) and bought the CD just for that song, in another “cheap CD” box. I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to the whole album since I bought it. But I own it 🙂
The Alan Parsons Project: Stereotomy
Yet another out of my father’s collection and my teenage years (they all seem to come out from there, don’t they?) I haven’t listened to it for ages, but I really like all the songs on it. When I was in Gymnase (the swiss equivalent of High School), I had it on a cassette with “Eye on the Sky” and used to listen to it on my walkman, during one cold Lausanne winter.

That’s it for today, folks! Today’s choice gives the impression that all my musical culture comes from my father’s LP collection (not entirely wrong, but not entirely right either), and that I buy all my CD’s at discount prices (pretty correct, actually — I go on CD-shopping binges when they are anywhere below the normal presposterous prices.)

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