What I Learned from My Children: Simplicity

A 19th century architect at the drawing board
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The day before a state-wide math assessment test, my husband humorously asked our oldest who took algebra at the time, “Do you remember how to add, subtract, multiply and divide?”

“I don’t know. When I do a math problem now… if the answer is simple, I think it’s wrong because it has to be more complicated than that,” she said.
That’s how many adults think. We never believe the obvious and forget that it’s possible for the answer to be a simple one.

Simplicity in Writing

A former client contacted me about a new web content gig for a company that sells products outside of my expertise. However, one of my kids LOVES this category of products. So it was an exciting opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone. She asked me to write a sample. I went to work in writing a story around the product. I studied the other products to see how much technical information to provide in an attempt to get in customers’ minds of what they want to know.

In reality, all I needed to do was capture highlights of the products and the experience of using them. After all, the web site had detailed information elsewhere. The client was delighted with the sample as well as the content that followed.

Simplicity in Quoting Projects

How are you doing at providing quotes to new clients? Is it a struggle? It has gotten easier for me, but I wish I had John Hewitt‘s formula when I first started freelancing. His “World’s Simplest Freelance Rate Formula” is a simple yet effective process that works with new and experienced freelancers — no matter what you do.

For those in freelancing careers outside of writing, substitute “per word” with “per page,” “per design,” “per call,” “per marketing project” and so on. Meet John’s amazing and powerful formula:

  1. Start at $20 an hour or $.20 a word. This is a fairly low level. Feel free to start higher.
  2. Increase your fee by 5 ($25 an hour $.25 a word) with each successful gig.
  3. When your prospects start telling you that you charge too much, don’t raise your rates for six months.
  4. Try raising it again.

I won’t begin to quote the many articles I’ve read that recommend avoiding a per hour charge. Some cases may call for it — and I do work per hour for several clients. Why no per hour charge? Let’s look at an example.

A client asks for a quote to blog for him. For an ongoing project, charging per page would be wise. Here’s a very simple example of why this works better:

  1. Your hourly fee is $50.
  2. You write a blog entry in 30 minutes, which is $25 if you charge per hour.
  3. Charge $50 per blog entry and you’ll come out ahead.

Of course, not all entries will take 30 minutes depending on the subject and length. But you can see how a per blog entry works better than per hour.

Update: A Twist with the Youngest Child

My six-year-old brings home a math pack every Thursday. It consists of games and puzzles related to math. The latest one required he pick one of the word problems to solve. Then three of us (11-year-old joined us) create a solution using words, numbers and pictures and share it. We had to list how our solutions were the same and how they were different. A great lesson because it shows there is more than one way to solve a problem.

The 11-year-old took the easy way out and simply wrote, “7 – 3 = 4.” So our only option for the “same” was that we all used numbers. My six-year-old didn’t like that. “It’s too obvious. It’s too easy,” he kept saying. Really, the simple answer was the only answer.

I started reading The Little Prince and it makes a reference about how children look at things differently from adults. Much like this theme. The narrator drew a picture that looked like a hat. It was a python swallowing an elephant, but adults could not see that. The Little Prince did.

What I learned from my daughter: Sometimes the answer is a simple one.

What problems have you come across where the answer turned out simple?

This entry is part of Middle Zone Musings: What I Learned From… Children groupwrite project.

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7 thoughts on “What I Learned from My Children: Simplicity”

  1. Hey, I like that formula, Meryl. I’ve long considered trying my hand at freelance writing, but have had no idea how to price myself. This is a great rule-of-thumb I can use. (Assuming, of course, there’s anyone out there who WANTS my service!)
    The overall lesson is a powerful one, though, and one we all need to keep in mind no matter what the issue.
    Thanks, and a hat tip for the WILF entry!
    .-= Robert Hruzek’s blog …Getting the Wrong Impression =-.

    Reply
  2. @John, thank you for sharing a valuable tip.
    @Robert, thank you for giving me an idea for a post.
    I’ve updated the post because something happened last night with my youngest related to this very topic. I thought it best to update it rather than put it in comments.

    Reply
  3. Hi Meryl, Keeping it simple is deceptively difficult. Our urge is to layer on, because to leave something out means we have to trust our judgement on what the customer will want. But just as a specially prepared dish is often more satisfying than walking a smorgasbord a finely tuned piece works best.
    I like the formula you mention. In the consulting work I do I often provide a project cost with time estimates. The goal is to hit the big number without resorting to the hourly calculation, but by showing what hourly work is expected to go into that number I am able to discuss projects that are getting out of hand early on.

    Reply

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