Monthly Archives: January 2010

How to make more money from an arty-farty job – jack it

A new podcast from I Will Teach You To Be Rich features a young lady, Cass aka WebWallflower, who used her skills as theatre stage manager to become a freelance niche conference organiser. Apparently she was earning up to US$400 a week in her previous job, and now as a freelancer she’s making three times that and working three times less.

She really brought to light the magic of niche; she specialises in organising conferences and events just for start-ups and web 2.0 companies. Why clients hire her: she’ll take care of all the gruntwork involved in organising a conference (a/v etc), booking a venue and negotiating a bargain (apparently hotels always quote 40% over the price they’re willing to settle for), finding speakers, sponsorship… and on the day, her clients can be free to network and make business rather than take care of logistics.

She also selects her clients quite carefully – and focuses on taking on jobs that will get her more business e.g the right target market, and a good fit for her expertise and network. For example, she can organise an event for doctors or lawyers but would rather not as she wouldn’t bring as much value to the table, and vice-versa – she is not au fait with that particular market so would less likely get new clients.

She also takes investing in her business as a given – for her having a website and getting a faster computer are essentials. If you’re not psychologically prepared to pay to invest in your business, you’re not ready. It forces her to get things done/get more business since the overhead’s running!

She invested time as well, to figure out if this is the way forward. She was moonlighting whilst working 50-100 hours a week for the theatre, when it dawned on her that she was making as much money as a conference organiser in half the time!

Her main skill that she took from being a stage manager is being able to juggle plenty of proverbial balls in the air, liase with people in a friendly way, and keep the show running. Over time she’d developed a formidable database of contacts that she can call on to sell conference tickets to, or ask to speak at these conferences. She develops her business mainly through word of mouth and through the conferences she has organised – and I guess now, from interviews she’s done with the likes of Ramit. She never fails to make sure that she is noticed in conferences – despite being an introvert – and keeps her online presence alive via Twitter and Facebook.

The more she specialises, the more valuable she becomes, and hence the more likely clients are willing to pay top dollar!

Her sales pitch with a prospective client is not really a pitch – it’s a chance for her to suss out the clients’ needs. Through  information such as what they’re hoping to achieve through their conference and the sort of content/market they’re after, she’s able to work out how much they’re willing or should be spending. She also assuages their fears and make sure they know that they’ll be free to create new business and network while she handles the event’s logistics. If they’re actually not quite ready to host a conference, or are unclear about what they want to achieve, she tells it like it is and points them elsewhere! She doesn’t just hard sell. This shows her to be genuine and a source of expert advice, and in fact she’s thinking of providing a service where clients who aren’t quite ready to pay for full-blown event management to sit with her for a couple of hours to work out what they can do to organise their own forthcoming event.

As for getting paid, she either charges a flat fee and requests 50% upfront, or if she believes the conference is going to sell, and she thinks she can benefit from future business, she’ll charge a lower flat free but will take a percentage of profits after the conference.

She also advises that, to get the most out of a conference, it’s best to have it two or three times – with each time it gets cheaper to produce and will make more money, as it gets more established and punters know what they’re in for (plus the whole word of mouth effect from each successful event!).

Very useful ‘day in the life’ story to inspire us to see how we can take our existing skills and put it to use in a different capacity.  It is also another example of how starting small works, and that it’s better to be a big clever fish in a small niche pond. Listen to the full audio interview on I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

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Logic of Life

Just read Tim Harford’s Logic of Life book. It’s interesting and enlightening just like his previous book, Undercover Economist. It would make much much more sense to me if I can read it all in one or two sittings than snatching a bit here and there on tube journeys, because by the time he’s on Chapter 9 and he’s going ‘like we found out in Chapter 3’, and I’m like ‘what happened in Chapter 3?’ – and even if I remembered…

Hmm, my song Whizz Around the Sun  just came on on my Last.fm library radio. My songs are very distracting to me!

… by the time I read the next line I’d forget what the argument was. Haha.

Harford wrote about whether divorce is underrated, why bosses are overpaid, how politics gets skewed to supporting the few, and many more. As for how politics supports the few, it’s not repeating the same old ‘overpaid politicians’ rant, it’s throwing light on on how trade sanctions (e.g local only sugar) and geographical sanctions (e.g green-belt) are a bad idea. These groups have more to lose, so can throw more money at it and try their damnednest to vote for the party that does them the most favours and supports their cause, while the cost to the rest of the population is only 10p or smth; basically an amount not worth squabbling over, or worth getting out of the house to vote. Harford equates this to splitting the bill at the end of a dinner party at a restaurant; everybody tries to order smth more expensive because the cost is going to be absorbed by someone else. That someone else might not bother fighting over the extra £1 to their share. Add it all up… the cost to taxpayers to appease everyone is a hefty bill.

Harford also mentions that more money is going to rural societies just to prop them up, compared to more economically-viable cities. Another point is also that it makes more sense to make cities bigger because city dwellers use less space, have less stuff, use almost exclusively public transport (me, me, me!), therefore being more environmentally friendly than those out in the country. I would definitely drive if I move out of London; I remember lots of lost time, overpriced bus tickets and rude bus drivers, and couldn’t wait for the day I got my driving licence. If London had more space to develop,  it would also probably help London look less like a sh*thole as it would have more space for trees and greenery, with the right planning policies in place. I see more trees in Singapore than London, and it’s a third the size and is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world. It would also bring more homes into the market making property more affordable. (there are loads of empty properties lying around; that’s another story!) Of course, over-extending London/cities could be a bad or a good thing!

Why is the top honcho in a company paid really highly? To make the people below him/her work harder in the hope they’ll get the prize one day, and to reward high stock market returns. Online contact is not a substitute for in-person contact – in fact it only makes them meet up more.

All in all it’s an enlightening read, with some controversial ideas to make you think.

Side-businesses – just go for it!

It’s great to listen to an interview on I Will Teach You To be Rich,  by an entrepreneur with a full-time job (at Twitter!). Elizabeth gets to indulge and earn an income from her hobby, which is letterpressing.

The main point I’ve learned is that when starting out,  there is no point fussing over creating a website, or even a business card. They are just barriers to entry. You are better off using free, cheap and existing tools to help you get off the ground – for instance, using cloud computing tools like Zoho to manage customers and having a seller profile on etsy.com or eBay. She’s been going for 4 years and only just launching her website!

It’s better to get practice on selling your product rather than creating a multi-page business plan right from the start. Her way of progressing is to meet the needs of the next challenge she encounters, rather than dreaming up of every eventual possibility, finding it all too much, and giving up a full-time job. This is a good method for side-businesses as it reduces the tendency to stall and procrastinate.

Thanks for the tips, Elizabeth from Paperwheel!