Masterclass Rescheduled : On Art, Science and Commerce of Pricing | 5th June 2020

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Due to post-cyclone disruptions, we have postponed the start of the Masterclass from 29th May to 5th June 2020.

Pricing is a critical element of a professional service or a business. It is so critical that this information can be considered an encrypted signature of a business. For a highly competitive business or professional space, Pricing decides whether you are working harder but having little to show.

The webinar takes up this foundational issue and discusses actionable practices to address the issues.

Date : 5th June 2020, (Friday)
Time : 1600 Hrs. GMT onward
Duration : 45 mins Presentation and 15 mins of Freewheeling Q&A
REGISTRATION

1. Higher Conversion
2. Using Price as a competitive and marketing tool – Value chain method
3. Value based pricing and artful communication instead of word / hour   based pricing only
4. Higher success rates in bidding for projects (critical for new  freelancers)
5. Getting better rates from existing clients (adding value instead of hours )
6. Acquiring  premium clients 
7. How to avoid being labeled based on your encrypted signature (i.e.communicated pricing)

Wordsmith Marketing : Wild Forest and Walled Garden

A committed and full time freelancer can be considered a hunter-gatherer. A hunter can choose his area of hunt – whether within some bounded place where targets are plenty but so are other hunters. Or it can be the wilderness of a steppe or prairie where there is no map but there are very few hunter.

He hunts for clients / projects and gathers fruits of his labour in the form of cash, assets built from this cash-flow, brand, reputation, relationship and enjoying leisure which can be converted into subtler form of Marketing.

In our time, various aggregators / job portals for freelancers have emerged which can be considered to be Walled Garden. The rules of Walled Garden are quite well known, including risk and reward.

I am going to focus on the Wild Forest Hunting. Here are some observations, primarily based on human nature and does not need any special knowledge or expertise. Ironically, this knowledge is the most special type and I even dare to say that those who specialize on the knowledge of human nature actually practice omniscience.

  • A high road with huge number of people drawn in will eventually become a traffic jam and after certain time, from a vantage point, everything will look like a rectangular box, whether a Ferrari or a Maruti. In short, for an observer cognitive overload sets in and the ability to differentiate becomes less and less. 

LIC (Life Insurance Corporation) Agent and Human Nature

I always have a soft corner for LIC agents and the reason is that their job offers them unique perspective to the operation of human nature on a wide scale, although most are unaware of the value of this experience.

An agent, a friend once complained that even though he was working very hard and making pitches to hi-value prospects, conversion was poor. The conversation happened in a small town tea-shop. The man was very friendly, very humorous and a pleasant company to be with. Some of his anecdotes are so real (yet so rustic and off-colour that I cannot write) and he was having a knack of exploring comic side of human sexuality ( what a master writer like Milan Kundera found highly serious matter to explore and he did explore). In short, a very pleasant, humorous, good-looking, decent and social man was not able to convert hi-value leads. The study of human nature needs one ingredient : interest and leisure. Nothing else.

I had told him the following and this is valid not only for a freelancer but for all small business leaders – an insight into human nature which we forget while lost in the operational areas of our business :

My dear friend, if you want to sell something to a millionaire, it is utterly foolish to offer only operational cost-saving, material gifts and takeaways and some additional facilities which can be counted to be in few hundreds. Do not even waste time on this mode of approach. Whether the hi-value or high net-worth man is a self-made man or through inheritance or good fortune, either way, he has been exposed to such pitching and feels bored and the value offering, relative to him is utterly low. So, even though you are offering the best (from your POV), this is utterly valueless to him. You have committed the cardinal mistake of a mediocre person : “measuring everyone by your own stick.”

Instead, study him. Study his inner circle. Study his hobbies and liking. Do not focus on what you can offer but focus on what he is hungry for.

You may not believe, he may like your company, your conversation, coloured with very off-colour jokes infinitely more than your operational excellence. Once you enter into that zone, he will not only be your client, he will help this “friend” by telling other people.

This is the secret behind working less (harder) and gathering more value.

This explains why supremely competent and capable CEOs remain at the end, a hired gun from the marketplace, at a price, a very high price but always employed by someone who may not even have a fraction of the competence and operational excellence of the CEO.

A series of webinars to discuss these formally for freelancers – where a Freelancer is considered to be  CEO, Business Owner and Custodian is organized, spread over a month, entitled – Freelance MBA – 7 hour Masterclasses at Freelance Foundation.

Wordsmith Insight : The Guru Business

Most of the Westerners are exposed, at least to the word “Guru” and “Yoga“. Most of the Eastern Gurus deal in “Yoga” and its many variants and sub-classes and specialties. I am neither qualified nor very keen to say anything except the banal and plain-vanilla advice  – “Customer, Beware

I am neither a yoga practitioner nor have any guru, in the Eastern sense.

I have observed, through my living experience in India for most of my life something I should put on record and this is this and I would like all Europeans, especially West Europeans to know  and to emphasize, I put it as a quote :

Many Europeans might have forgotten due to the lapse of time and also of successive generations of the miracle that happened in the Western Europe five hundred years ago. I am talking of the birth of Modern Science, through a complex process. Five hundred years after, I, when as a young adolescent could feel the incandescent radiance of that spirit of free inquiry and studied Physics where for the first time, I was told that I needed not to believe but argue within some some self-evident rules – observation – hypothesis – experiment – The Scientific Method. I spent, while I was twelve years old, of first reading about Mendeleev’s  Periodic Table and that delight and wonder will remain till my dying breath. The tradition simply declared : “Nature cannot be fooled, neither by cardinals, nor by kings and nor by powerful men.” There were aberrations and deviations but once the fundamental shift has taken place, there was no going back. From Galileo – Pascal – Newton – Faraday – Feynman – what a grand journey !

The heart of all guru business is an overt or covert belief system. I am fully aware of the fact that Contemporary Science has also degenerated and resembles something like the same “Guru Business.”

I, at the cost of being criticized and abandoned by both the parties, urge all Europeans to be critical of Eastern mysticism – of the Guru Business, of all Vague-o-logy.

I urge all of Europeans and their transplanted culture across the Atlantic to drink deep from the fountain of their own tradition – of most-profound skepticism, of being irreverent, of being critical and not suspending their innate disbelief in accepting any explanation or surrendering their critical faculties for “enlightenment”, “nirvana”, “samadhi” and such abstract state of being.

In the same tone where I urge all people to be critical about the mathematical mumbo-jumbo of Contemporary Physics, I urge everyone to be critical about the Guru Business.

Both these are fundamentally the same : an elaborate apparatus to crush your shoots of primal and common sense re-action : “This is too complex and too good to be true. I cannot have any grip on this. This is beyond me.”

Coming to more practical and brutal reasoning – “If this is beyond me, my money and attention is beyond them too.”

Be equally critical of String Theory evangelists of the East and the Vedantizing Westerners – most are victim of the same stuff – Vague-o-logy.

The tradition I spoke of in the beginning, of the tradition of free and critical inquiry into profound aspect of existence was irreconcilable with vagueness.

In short : your innate critical faculty, your innate sense of disbelief and dissonance is very valuable – do not suspend or crush it.

Any real progress starts from this point – this mustard seed of doubt.

I doubt, therefore I am.

(An algorithm never doubts itself, it never will)

Wordsmith Insight : 10 Life Wisdom from Sherlock Holmes

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Mr. Holmes, the greatest consulting private detective of both the worlds – real and imagined has been my hero of childhood and remained so after thirty five years. I cannot remember any other hero who has endured so long.

After I became a freelancer, while paying tribute to him in 221 B Baker Street in one of our Tours of England, under the aegis of Freelance Foundation, I had a revelation.

I. Always keep faith. If you have promised something to someone in terms of confidentiality, keep faith, irrespective of whatever happens later in the relationship.

II. Value Friendship. Even a genius of the highest order needs true friendship.

III. Never be emotionally involved with a client. A client is a factor, an element in a long chain.

IV. Art for art’s sake. You cannot grow only by doing something in purely utilitarian manner. “Only in 3 of 56 cases, my name is even mentioned.”

V. Fee and Money. A gentleman is above money. “I have a fixed fee save when I remit it altogether.”

VI.  Be Critical : Neither  name, nor fame, nor money, nor beauty should suspend your autonomy to exercise the power of being suspicious till proven otherwise.

VII. Small things are everything : Live with an intense sense of curiosity and wonder that what other people overlook becomes a matter of high importance for you.

IX. Do not fall in love with your own theory. We have infinite capacity to self-deceive and fool ourselves but facts cannot be fooled.

X. High Self-image : If one has a low self-esteem one will not exert himself that much. With high self-esteem comes the demand of exertion and they create a positive feedback loop.

Extra : Think, talk and write precisely. This is an art and needs a lifetime struggle and exertion.

Freelance MBA – 7 Hour Masterclass from Freelance & Wordsmith

Freelance MBA Masterclass

7 hour investment is not for the curious. This is not one-off webinar. This series is a Journey with a tribe who will eventually do the following :

  1. Foreign Legionnaires of Freelance Foundation
  2. Freelance colleague for Wordsmith Communication
  3. Teacher for Wordsmith University Press – Freelancer Business School

Registration at http://www.thefreelancefounation.org

1980 (AIDS) – 2020 (COVID) : Distance : Sexual to Social

In 1980s when I was a boy, AIDS virus became a menace. Interestingly, when we became adolescent, it was told to be operating within a high-risk group. It is sure that AIDS menace helped to boost sale of condoms, primarily a birth control device, to a protective device. AIDS remained a disease with no vaccine, no cure – only some mix of available medicines.

Forty years later, in 2020, COVID / CORONA is the new menace. No vaccine. No cure. Mix of available medicines and hope on the immune system. It created a new term – Social Distance. Mask is the protective device.

During AIDS menace, a FAQ question could be : Shall I get AIDS while kissing ?

I am not sure regarding the answer in case of AIDS but about Corona everybody knows the answer.

Forty years later, I sometimes wonder while reflecting on something – Our Body. How little we know in spite of so much advances being talked about.

I always preached, without anything related to God, Creation Myth of anything but a plain fact : Our body is not manufactured in this planet.

There is a Hindi song, I don’t know the lyricist or the singer but the lines are : “Pari hu main… mein hu he nahin iss duniya ki..”

(“I am a fairy… I am, verily, not of this world”)

The oblique wisdom I get after this Corona menace : Our body is not manufactured in this world. And so is Corona 🙂

Wordsmith Insight : Convention and unconventional danger – Empire to Family

We live in a time where “Change is Good” is a kind of mantra.  But is it so ? Fashion can change and surely it does but if this change is imported into other spheres, will the result be always good ? I doubt and here I provide three examples, one from an Empire and one from a family story and another from the city of Calcutta.

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Since the founding of Rome, it was the policy, later a convention, then a tradition that no land within Italy will be provided to anyone other than Roman citizens to settle. In her glory days, Roman ruling class were acutely aware of the strategic importance of the distance between assimilated citizens and the fresh barbarians (whom we call immigrants today).  The policy continued for seven hundred years. Even Christian piety could not change this policy. However, in 7th century AD, when Valens was the Roman Emperor and Rome was proving the aphorism – Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, a barbarian tribe was allowed to settle in Italian mainland for the first time. It was a policy shift, it was change, it was radical shift as today’s newspaper would have called it. Three years from this policy shift, Valens was assassinated by the same barbarian tribe and Rome fell – a fall, in the word of her greatest historian, Gibbon – “..still remembered by the nations of the earth.”

Helping a relative in distress

Some twenty years back, A family known to me suddenly lost the father and there were three young children and the eldest being somewhat ten year old.  Their mother was non working and the family dependent on monthly pension and some cash in the form of gratuity and CPF. They were in difficulty but could manage. A richer relative had a house – locked and it was decided to offer this house to them to stay at a very nominal rent. I was consulted by the rich man (who was distant uncle of mine) and I told him the story above. Then I recommended : instead of allowing them to stay in your home, you sponsor their stay in a rental home and ask them to try to generate supplementary income so that in near future, your support is no longer needed, otherwise this generosity will be considered an entitlement.

The cash outflow would be higher for the time being but you would avoid many future troubles and bitterness.

Like Valens, he did not listen to. He was too much moved by the distressed family and the tears of the widow and the children. He was a kind man and allowed them to stay in his home – a small cottage in a small town with a nice front yard and back-yard.

Today, after twenty years, the family now is much stronger – financially, socially through marriage ties and also being resident of the locality (whereas the kind yet foolish uncle was an absentee owner) and they would not move. The only option left for the uncle is to sell at the price they offer or knock the door of the courts which is exactly wanted by the settlers.  One of the daughters told me, once – “this fellow (owner) is too greedy… he is asking too much money…. we had offered him a reasonable price but see, he still wants more. What can we say – people are like that nowadays.”  They knew it and my uncle and his heirs, for all practical purposes had lost this particular asset.

Human nature does not change and hence there is some deep survival and existential truth in respecting conventions.

In a family, one can always ask the pioneer who is demanding a radical shift, generally between a father and son : “My dear fellow, I have passed my life in this traditional framework. I am not qualified to dismiss your proposal because its outcome is yet not fully known. You cannot also claim to know this fully for the same reason. Hence only question, that is left to you is this : do you want to be the first person to sign this document / do this act which no one did / did not for at least four hundred years of recorded history in our family ?”

The young radical now does not see an “abstract” problem but he in within the darkness of the problem.

Calcutta Landlady

The story is almost twenty years old when it happened. I happened to know a Bengali lady in Calcutta who owned at least four flats in the Eastern suburb of the city. She was a widow and had two boys who were graduate level students. I speculated both of them are classic “Bengali Mama’s khoka and babu” as she was only running here and there while managing her properties. In order to sponsor higher education of one of his sons abroad, she decided to sell one of the flats (with a tenant in) and I came to be one of the prospective buyers. My term at the negotiation was simple : I shall start negotiation with the flat being empty. She assured me  that her tenant was very good man and he would surely oblige. I had told her that I did not think that this will be easy. She was little offended.

I visited the Housing Co-operative incognito and tested my hypotheses on three counts, based purely on human nature and my special and extra-ordinary knowledge about Bengali people :

  • The tenant, a Bengali himself detected that the lady was virtually alone and his sons were either not-interested or incapable. Either way, they were not qualified to be owners and managers of the vast assets they  were going to inherit. The mother, for reasons unknown had pampered them and in her motherly love, committed the cardinal sin of making one beneficiary without accountability.  Nature does not respect this gross violation of her inner laws. The tenant did not move. 
  • The elders of this Housing Committee were not interacting daily with the owner but with the tenant. Moreover, in such committees, there were always jealousy of someone getting rental income. Thus their sympathy is bound to lie with the tenant and with some other interchanges between the parties, there was no one to impress upon the owner’s interest. The owner was alone, vulnerable and ready to be placed in a situation where she would be forced to make her choice rather than making a free choice.
  • Subsistence is so easy in a fertile place like Bengal that if someone has secured a place to stay, one can have much less worries about life. Our landlady was holding such an asset and hence it was, relatively speaking and in Bengal context, extremely valuable, not as a trade-able asset but a resource to have a bandobost or settlement of life, which has a term too, aram se.

Our landlady, in her motherly love did not respect the convention : if you are heir to something, you have to work for it. You have to show by your deeds and words that you deserve to be a heir. Otherwise, it will be taken away from you – through subtle or brutal means.