“Holding so much hourly work is selfish”.

I freelance on Upwork and visit the community forum every once in a while. Today was one of those times. That’s how I noticed a post in the forum, made by a fellow freelancer:

Basically some of the Veteran freelance are kept on Farming hourly work although they already have so much in list, this is a nice strategy in securing income but too selfish for those freelance with no work and newbies. Hourly job count should be limit into a small number.

(Emphasis theirs.)

Naturally, this led to a rather “spirited” debate in the forum, with a lot of critics talking about free market economics and basically shutting the OP down with the equivalent of “It’s called Capitalism, stoopid.” (Also: grammar snobbery, which I don’t truck with anyway.)

What’s a social democrat to do?

My comment on the situation:

First of all, why assume each one of those hourly contracts is active? I’ve got some 7 hourly contracts and all but two of them basically function as a retainer of sorts. Weekly hours worked are on a sliding scale, going up and down as the clients need. So why do I still have them? Because the clients like what I do, they trust me to do it, and we’ve both invested in a working relationship that stretches back years now.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal but this isn’t just the free market working–this is individual autonomy and freedom to choose and to consent, to enter only into the relationships we want. Newsflash: clients who want to work with other people work with other people! Why should those who don’t be forced to find someone else just because one project ended? Why should the freelancers they prefer to stick with be made to feel guilty for not “cutting them loose”? What, would you also suggest that because it’s so hard to find love in this world, all romantic relationships should have a built-in expiry date and it’s selfish to be in a long-term relationship (don’t even get me started about polyamory) when there are so many single people in the world?

Clients are not text on screen and a nice wad of cash in your bank account. As freelancers, we don’t deal with “money”/”jobs”/tasks. We deal directly with real, live, human beings. People are not currency to be passed around and redistributed in the interest of “fairness”. Relationships matter. They might in fact be the most important determinant of job success. You can learn to code, write, draw, manage–whatever hard skills you have, they can be standardized, measured, and improved through a clearly defined learning program. But your job is not to push pixels around. Your job is to help someone. You might be able to become a better PHP programmer after reading a technical book, but you can’t just become a better communicator overnight because you read a book about communication. And personality? Forget about it–nobody can pick up a book and just “learn” to have a different personality. That match is precious and I can understand why freelancers and clients would both be reluctant to give it up.

But hey, for all this, I still don’t get paid for hours I don’t log–if a client won’t need anything from me till October, does that mean I don’t have any bills to pay till October? I don’t only exist when somebody messages me either. I have to eat, too. So yes, if I see a project I like that sounds like something I want to commit myself to, I go for it. If the feeling is mutual, I get the job.

Quit shaming people for being honest and autonomous in who they work with and how. There are real problems with the freelance economy, but these things aren’t those problems. The one contract “arrangement” I find objectionable is when (often veteran) contractors bid and win a project because of course they’re overqualified for it, but then they secretly subcontract it to newbies/less ‘visible’ freelancers. I feel this exploits both the client (who paid to have YOU work on it) and the subcontractor (who doesn’t get a smidgeon of credit, and only a fraction of the budget the original client allocated for the job, despite all their hard work). That’s about it.

Transparent, mutually consensual and respectful long-term working relationships are neither exploitation nor unethical. They are something to aspire to as a personal and professional goal. Redirect that energy to finding people who are looking to work with someone like you. And once you find each other, you might also discover you’d rather not work with random other people either.

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Cuter Tweeter: Add Tweetable Image Links to Your Posts

Noticed how many news websites and blogs let you tweet something right from within the post?

You can get that too. No plugin required. (No rocket science either.)

But isn’t there a plugin for that?

Sure there is. If you use WordPress, you know there’s no shortage of plugins for everything under the sun and then some. There are some things to keep in mind though:

  • Each plugin you add is another potential security vulnerability. (Just ask the folks using MailPoet: back in July, a lot of them woke up to find their entire sites–maybe even servers–hacked. Years of hardwork=poof. Gone.)
  • Each plugin you add is also an additional demand on resources. It may slow down your website speed, insist on adding scripts where no script has gone before, unnecessarily bloat your file directory, or simply refuse to play nice with the other plugins you’ve got installed.
  • Each plugin typically adds functionality that is only functional so long as the plugin is. A great example of this are shortcodes. I love shortcodes. They make WordPress sites super-awesome and super-easy. Little known fact: bye-bye plugin, bye-bye whatever shortcode it added. You end up with an embarrassing little reminder of the Little Code That Was: [INeverThoughtAnyoneWouldSeeIt height=bigpx width=widepx]
    (And no notifications. As far as WordPress and browsers are concerned, you were struck by an inexplicable urge to write gibberish bound by square brackets but hey, that’s humans for you.)

In short: mo’ plugins, mo’ problems.

I get it. But I don’t get code, y’ know?

Have no fear, copy-paste is here. Delia from Blogformatting.com wrote a neat little tutorial on tweetable links and kindly included the source code for such links. Here’s the part that really makes the code work:

<a href="http://twitter.com/home/?status=Your Text Here">[Tweet this!]</a>

This code will produce something that looks like this: [Tweet this!]

Does that get your clicking finger itchy? Not mine. (I know, I’m a bit spoiled. I prefer clicking on links that also look like they promise value.)

Now, you may or may not know this, but links don’t always need to be text and there’s no special magic involved in making them different. It all comes down to structure: the part that makes a link behave as a link is <a href> (wondering what those letters mean?); the part that tells it where to point and/or what function to perform is =”URL/?dynamic action/function if needed ; and the part that tells it what to display is whatever comes between the opening (<a href>) and closing (</a>) tags.

This flexibility in its basic architecture dramatically increases the ways you can use a link. Such as: using graphics instead of text.

And WordPress makes it real easy.

Enough already! Show me how!

There are two methods you can use.

Home Free, Code-free

    1. Assuming you’re logged into your WordPress dashboard and have written the post you want, click “Add Media”.

      ImageLinks_Step1_Add Media
      Step 1: Add Media
    2. Upload or select the image you want to use.
    3. Edit image properties.
      ImageLinks_Step3_Edit Image
      Step 3: Edit Image

      This is where it all happens:
      ->Make sure you add

      http://twitter.com/home/?status=Your Text Here

      as the custom URL your image points to. Everything after status= will be included in the tweet.
      ->Want those tweets to mention you? Add @YourUsername in the text. Want your post link shared with the quote? Add the (shortened) url. Just remember, there’s a 140 character limit.
      ->Do not include double quotes (“) in to wrap your quoted text. They will break the link. If you care about grammar (like I do), then use single quotes.
      ->Add a Call-to-Action as a caption: it encourages people to tweet something; it also lets your readers know the image is clickable. This is especially important if you’re using a non-standard image as your tweet button.
      ->You can specify image dimensions at two points: either before you upload the image (use an image editor to resize it) or selecting a size from the display settings. Use vector graphics for best results, and PNG files for transparent backgrounds.
      ->Don’t forget the quote! Your audience can’t read text included in a hyperlinked URL so you’ve also got to write out the quote as regular text. I would recommend highlighting it in some way, not just to draw attention to it but also to give your readers a visual cue as to what text the tweet button will quote.
      ->You don’t have to add alternate text to your images (readers generally only see it if the image doesn’t load) but I like to give search engine bots a little something too.

Click “Update” and voila!

Copy-Paste Code Ninja

This should work for every type of website that uses HTML–not just WordPress. Copy and paste this in your text editor, modifying as necessary:

<a href="http://twitter.com/home/?status=''Your Text Here"><img src="http://your.image.source/file.png" alt="What is Your Image" width="#" height="#" />Your Caption.</a>

HTML5

I haven’t tried it, but this should work:

<a href="http://twitter.com/home/?status=Your Text Here"><figure><img src="http://your.image.source/file.png" alt="What is Your Image" width="#" height="#" /><figcaption>Your Caption</figcaption></figure></a>

And that’s a wrap!

You can test out graphical tweet links right now:

Go Beyond Text! Images are attractive, attention-grabbing, and give you an opportunity to brand your tweetable links.

Tweetable Image Links
Tweet This!

Limitations and Further Reading

  • This tutorial teaches you how to use images to let your readers tweet text quotes from your posts without the use of plugins or extensive coding. It does not teach you how to let readers tweet images from your posts.
  • I think it should (in theory) be possible to use a similar approach to allow readers to directly tweet your images and video content–but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial and not something I am looking into, now or in the near future.
  • Are you wondering how to embed tweets in your posts, not how to let users embed your text in their tweets? That’s a whole other ball game.
  • Want that nifty “highlighter” effect as readers scroll to through the tweetable text? If you use WordPress, there’s a plugin for that released by coders with a solid reputation. Don’t use WordPress? There’s something for you too.

Credits

The birdie image used in this post was created by the brilliant Mirjami Manninen, and can be downloaded for free from Smashing Magazine.

Parting Words

Did this post help you? Did you use the code shared here? I don’t have a coding background (all jiggery-pokery is self-taught in my case, learned while I was supposed to be working to get into med school/become a doctor) so I’m intensely shy about sharing anything about it, including my opinion. So do let me know what you think of it.

To Poach or Not to Poach? The Ethics of Marketing to Competitors’ Customers

Derek Halpern has a new post that provides some good food for thought: is it ethically acceptable to pitch to a rival’s clients? His conclusion: it’s not black and white, but why cross a grey line when you’re better off finding entirely new customers?

Put those gloves back on, ladies and gentlemen.

I asked them how they’d feel if I went down their client list, and messaged each of them. Both of them said they wouldn’t like it. Naturally.

Oh tech people.

They notoriously HATE marketing and selling. And they’ll slam people who try to grow their business…

…but then we look at their actions. Behind closed doors, when nobody is looking, they’re marketing and selling in the worst way possible.

I’m me. I LOVE competition. I grew up playing chess, had a stint as a professional gamer, and nothing makes me happier than beating someone who’s trying to beat me.

But this has got to stop.

Not because it’s slimy. Not because it’s border-line unethical. It has to stop because this is a HORRIBLE way to win business.
[Source]

Is it? Is it slimy? Is is borderline unethical? (And what does that mean–almost bad or almost good?) Is it a horrible way to win business?

I’ve been following Derek’s blog for a while now: I love his ideas, consider him one of my mentors, and hardly ever comment on his posts because I’m too busy nodding in silent agreement. But besides being an introverted admirer, I’m also passionate about things like ethics and social justice. When it comes to business practices, “borderline (un)ethical” doesn’t cut it.

So I thought about it, and most of what I thought, I also posted as a comment on the blog post. Here it is with some differences.

“I don’t like it” is Not a Marketing Strategy

“Slimy” is an expression of personal disgust, not a strategy breakdown. “Horrible” is a subjective perception, not an objective assessment.

The objective assessment: unless you know exactly who to approach (the visibly unhappy, the barely interested), pitching to your rival’s clients runs a significant risk of being futile from the get-go. As a marketing strategy, it is ineffective. Not morally reprehensible. Not horrible. Not always useless. Just far more trouble than it may be worth.

You’re not going to get very far if you don’t focus on growing your own little garden of goodwill. But short of a mudslinging campaign (unless it’s a battle of the brands done right, with humor), underhanded viciousness (see also: buying toxic backlinks to mess up a competitor’s site), or outright lies and slander, I don’t see what’s unethical about scoping out your competitor’s lawn.

More Freedom, Fewer Gag Orders

If it’s not illegal, not malicious, not slanderous, not based on falsehood, and not even occasion-inappropriate (like telling somebody to sign up on on your job site after they just quit another one) then how is that message unethical? Since when did good business become all about coloring within ‘grey lines’?

Sure, pitching to another company’s clients may not win you friends (and that’s something you need to think about) but here’s the thing: Derek is right when he says tech people don’t ‘get’ marketing or selling. Because those guys are wrong–not when they go after his customers, but when they feel upset at the thought of him doing the same to them. That’s not how it works–you don’t grow by limiting the messages your customers receive, you grow by beating those messages with a better one. Monopolies aren’t fair to anyone, not even you in the long run.

My job as an entrepreneur is to make something that makes people’s lives better. My job as a marketer is to create value, not control what people say about it and to whom.
There are lawyers for that.

Every Time You Lose a Customer, Everybody Wins. Including You.

No, seriously.

Somebody on the post pointed out that they offer pain relief through massage therapy and that other massage clinics are not viewed as competitors. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason why doctors and teachers don’t generally view other healthcare and education professionals as “competitors” in the traditional sense even if that’s exactly what they are: the bottom line is the welfare of the client. This is naturally more accentuated in some industries than others.

But here’s the thing: that’s exactly why competition is necessary.

The idea of client loyalty being something that must be earned and maintained is exactly what drives many of the best of us, but it doesn’t work if every company stakes out their patch of earth that nobody else is allowed to trespass on–and here’s the key part–by virtue of it already belonging to them. No. Just no.

There’s no grey line here: the people who love your service are NOT going to be swayed one bit by this approach, and Derek is absolutely right that if a marketer doesn’t realize when they’re barking up the wrong tree then they need to stop. (And preferably get another job.) If anything, this will only make those clients even more loyal to you because they’ll have consciously put themselves in your corner when propositioned to betray you. (Just spend two minutes watching a political or religious debate and see the power of cognitive bias in all its reinforced beauty.) Honestly, thank those competitors for that; you couldn’t have done it without them!

BUT then there ARE people who might be swayed. These are the people who weren’t happy with what you had to offer, for whom your service was not such a great fit. So what does that mean? It means somebody found a service they are (or think they will be) happier with, you got rid of an unhappy or unmotivated client, and the country’s economy is better off for it on the whole.

It’s a lot like romantic relationships, I suppose: if you love someone, let them go–if they don’t come back, they were never yours. You may or may not expect out of courtesy that people won’t hit on your partner, but even if they do–your relationship is only as committed as your partner’s decision to flirt back. That commitment is what makes the difference to your future together, not other people’s interest or lack thereof.

Because really. They’re people, not eggs.