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Columns by Linda  Formichelli:

Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



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When you were a kid, you blew off your mother's advice. "I'm a big kid," you said. "I don't need to wear a hat / look both ways before crossing the street / avoid taking candy from strangers." Then you grew up, fulfilled your mother's worst fears by becoming an IP, and realized that the advice you disregarded as a wee one could, if carefully followed, help you in your solo marketing efforts.

In case you weren't paying attention to your poor mother way back when, we've asked other, more obedient IPs to share their mommas' advice with you delinquent kids.

It's Cold Outside. Wear a Scarf!

This doesn't mean that you have to wrap your head up in a wooly muffler when you visit clients. However, it is important to dress appropriately for the situation. A casual creative meeting with a young entrepreneur, say, calls for different dress than a first meeting with a banker. And just because you work at home in your jammies doesn't mean that your prospects will appreciate your freewheeling sartorial ways. If you don't know the dress code of a prospect, you can either go undercover and see for yourself or ask the receptionist.

If You Don't Ask, You Don't Get

Some IP-unfriendly policies are just waiting to be broken. Take, for instance, getting free plugs for your business. It's not automatic, but sometimes it just comes down to knowing who to ask.

"In some cases a magazine or newspaper has a policy that they don't mention your business affiliation," says Judy Katz, publicist and CEO of Yourlifeasabook.com. Katz's late mom, Sylvia Richman, taught her how to get around this policy: by speaking up. "One national magazine sent a photog, who spent hours here," Katz says. "Then they showed me the copy -- with no mention of my business -- which was my quid pro quo for doing the enjoyable but time-consuming interview. I asked the writer -- sorry! I asked the fact checker -- sorry! Finally I asked the right person, the editor." Together they found a way to unobtrusively mention Katz's business.

Believe in Yourself

"My mother, Dorothy, got nearly everything she ever asked for," says IP writer Mark Brennaman. "She did it by believing in herself and in the goodness of the world."

In her small Kansas town in the '50s and '60s, Dorothy Brennaman was appalled at how the sherrif's department dealt with young mentally challenged people who slipped out of their homes. "If 'one of those' was seen walking in public they'd be taken to a cell until the parents could be located," says Brennaman. "My mother decided to start a school for all the town's mentally retarded children to provide community understanding and stimulating education for the developmentally delayed."

Brennaman's mother persuaded the trustees of an estate to sell her the home for one dollar. She enlisted the help of the Jaycees to remodel the house into an educational and occupational school. She even got the Jaycees to build a swimming pool in the backyard for physical therapy. And would someone who didn't believe in her mission or herself have had the guts to ask the manager of the F. W. Woolworth's to donate every toy the school needed?

"I learned how to approach seemingly unapproachable people because I believed in myself and in what I was doing," says Brennaman. "I've been successful in getting clients and writing assignments using the lesson my mom imparted: Be bold, yet humane, in pursuing your dream."

Do Unto Others

Many is the smart aleck child who, when mom told him to "Do unto others," said, "I'd like it if the cat pulled my tail / my baby brother force-fed me dirt / the old lady down the street left a bag of flaming dog poop on my doorstep."

But now you're all grown up, so it's time to get serious about this old saw. How receptive are you to the marketing call you get first thing Monday morning or to that end-of-the-week sales pitch you're hit with on Friday afternoon? Would you like to find out that the house painter you hired had fudged his credentials and didn't know which was the business end of a paint brush? I didn't think so.

You Have a Mouth -- So Use It

This marketing gem comes from Naomi Skriloff, mother of IP marketer Lisa Skriloff. After all, if you don't tell prospects that you exist and what you can do to shine a ray of sunlight into their dreary wage-slave lives, who will? "I have cold called people at the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance or based on newspaper articles I read," says Skriloff. "I introduce myself at networking receptions." If you have a mouth, as many of us do, use it to make yourself known to prospects.

Don't Be a Doormat

This is another saying that Skriloff learned from her mother, and she's used it to kick bad clients out of her life. "I freed up my schedule for accepting new clients by not renewing a contract with a client who spoke to me condescendingly," she says.

How true. On the freelance discussion boards I see anecdote after anecdote of IPs who ditch troublesome clients -- and as if by magic, new-and-improved clients move in to fill the empty spaces. This happened to me a few times last year when I shunned magazines whose editing practices were so over the top as to be abusive. I would worry for a while after each episode, but soon a better-paying, friendlier magazine would come in to take the degenerate publication's place.

Learn to Take Criticism

When Martha Garvey Jr., a writer and teacher specializing in interactive media, produced her first book report in the third grade -- "a veritable tome about the railroad" -- her mom, Martha Garvey Sr., read it and handed it back to her with proofreader's marks. "Well," her mom said, "it's a nice first draft."

Garvey Jr. says it was a valuable early lesson that stayed with her: "Good writing is rewriting, even when you're in primary school. And it made me realize that writing could always be improved. I try to remember this when I'm working with my clients, and I think it's made all the difference. I don't get defensive when people ask for changes or clarification; to me, it's an important part of the process that I learned at my mother's knee."

Even if your mom didn't hand back your little book reports covered with so much red ink that it looked like someone sacrificed a goat on them, this is an important lesson for IPs in all fields. Accepting a client's criticism of your illustration or your code or your brochure will help you bring these things up to snuff so you can attract bigger and better clients with your portfolio.

Get to the Pig

"Whenever one of my sisters or I got a little longwinded, my mother would say, 'Get to the pig,' meaning, get to the good part of the story," says Garvey. "Working in the world of the Internet, it's even more true now than when I first heard it. Longer is not better. Mom taught me to take pride in how few words I could use to tell a story, not how many."

This is always true for Internet writing, whether you're writing for your own marketing site or for a client. When you're competing with sites like amihotornot.com and wheresgeorge.com for your prospects' attention, short and punchy is the way to go.

Mom's advice to get to the point also translates into what marketers call your "elevator speech" -- a Reader's Digest-style condensed version of what your business is and what makes it so darn special. The idea is, you're supposed to be able to assail potential clients with this speech when they're stuck with you on an elevator ride. If you have no elevator nearby in which to trap your clients-to-be, you'll be ready to go when you cold call your busy prospects.

See? Your momma was full of marketing wisdom. Listen to her and watch the dollars roll in. Just be sure to wear a scarf while you're doing it: it's cold outside!

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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