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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

4 Questions to Help You Find Freelance Purpose

What I'm listening to: Your Long Journey by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

It's been a good start to the week. After a busy, enjoyable weekend, I sat down on Monday with just one project in front of me, but with a few client calls to prepare for. It was nice to have the luxury to really delve into the companies and do some research.

Recently, I changed my letter of introduction (LOI) to get a little more personal. One of the changes I made was to accentuate my background in relation to their needs. It's Marketing 101 - what I learned in college - but it's the biggest mistake people make. They talk at their customers, not with them.

But part of that change included showcasing my purpose. Not my purpose for writing, but my business purpose. I'm there to help companies in the insurance and risk management industries find new clients, impart information, and improve the message. That's my purpose. I may not state it verbatim, but I make sure that message is in every note I send to new clients.

So what's your purpose? Don't know? Don't sweat it -- I didn't know for years myself. It took my sitting down and asking myself what I wanted before I could say with certainty the purpose that found me is the one I want.

You may get lucky like that, too. Maybe your purpose landed in your lap. Or maybe you're lucky because you're doing what the rest of the writing world is doing and actually scoring gigs/making money. Or not. If not, try answering these questions:

1. What kind of writing do you gravitate toward? Stop thinking in terms of what you think you should be doing. What do you read? What are you talking about after you read it? Is literary fiction your passion or are you more of a mechanic wanna-be? Do you enjoy writing marketing copy? You don't have to be expert -- just interested enough to want to pursue it further.

2. How would you define your career to this point? Pretend you're writing a summary for your resume. What things would you want to list first? Chances are, that's an area you're inclined to enjoy. Follow it.

3. What one thing you've written has made you most proud? There's always something that stands out as a moment you'd like to repeat, be it that time you were published in Elle or when you knocked that client brochure out of the park. Take cues from the things you are proud of. Those are things you've done well and apparently love doing.

4. What would you enjoy learning more about? For me, this was a pivotal question. I fell into this specialty, but once I was in, I really enjoyed it. I wanted to know more. It intrigued me. What one thing have you done or dreamed of doing that you'd enjoy knowing even more about?

Your purpose today isn't necessarily the purpose you'll have next year or even next decade. Times change, as do people, and you may find an area that excites you even more.

Writers, if you were to sum up your purpose in one sentence, what would it read?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Using Writing Contracts to Nail Down Projects

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: Just Another by Pete Yorn

Yesterday was a bit of a blur. I sat down to accomplish something. Well, I managed my marketing and a little editing on my poetry. Nothing more. There's a fatigue running through me that can only be thyroid-related. Good thing I have an appointment in two weeks. I just hope I'm awake for it.

There's a discussion on a LinkedIn forum I help moderate about managing client expectations. The original poster was lamenting what she thought were mistakes made. I'm not so sure. See, while we writers do make mistakes sometimes, most of us are pretty good at dotting our I's and crossing our T's. I suspect in her case, as in quite a few cases, the problem was unequal expectations -- she expected one thing, the client expected the other.

Ineffective communication is the death of many good client relationships.

Sometimes there's nothing you can do. Not every client is understandable, and not every writer can interpret "We want something different" into a winning project (well, probably no writer can do anything with that without further direction or information). For those times, give yourself a pass. Chalk it up to you can't please every writing client every time.

For those other times when it's more a matter of not asking enough questions (or the right questions), we writers do have options. For me, I like to use both the formal project proposal and the writing contract for spelling out projects and getting on paper exactly what's expected. Here are some areas in the contract where you can both get it in writing and cover your arse should they decide suddenly that a new direction is in order:

The Scope of Work: It's at the beginning of my contract, right under the intro to who's who. My phrasing looks like this:
  1. In the Client’s estimation, the project requires that the Contractor …. PROJECT DETAILS HERE.  The Contractor will provide the following services: PROJECT DETAILS HERE. Research will be provided at the Contractor’s discretion.
Right there where it says "project details here" you fill in everything you expect to be working on. Don't skip any details. For example, suppose you're writing a course for a client. You might want to use this type of language: 
  1. In the Client’s estimation, the project requires that the Contractor write an online course. The Contractor will provide the following services: writing of a telecommunications certification training course. Client will ensure compliance with accreditation requirements. Research will be provided by the Contractor.
That section shows who is responsible for what. The client can't say he didn't know you weren't ensuring compliance for him because it's right there in the contract.

Project Objectives and Deliverables: Much like the Scope of Work, this section spells out exactly what you're going to be doing. In some cases, I like to include mention of project details twice in contracts (not always, but with complicated projects, it's essential). I spell out the client objectives as I've interpreted them, and I include exactly what I'll be doing. For example, our telecommunications course might look like this:

Create six chapters, including summaries and 10-question chapter exercises, on the following topics:
  1. X
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three
  2. Y
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three
  3. Z
    1. point one
    2. point two
    3. point three

Payment and Fees: This is as important as the Scope of Work and Project Details sections. Communicate very clearly to your clients what your payment process is, when you expect payment, and what you're charging. If they sign it, they're bound to it. So are you, so make sure you estimate wisely.

Note: for times when you're giving an estimate and don't know, you may want to use a disclaimer. I use one that says something like "The Contractor’s fee for writing is $XXXX.  It is estimated that the writing process will take XX hours of the Contractor’s efforts.  If the writing process takes longer than the initial estimate the Client and Contractor may agree to extend this Agreement with a simple addendum to this Agreement. The Contractor’s hourly rate for additional work is $XXX." It's then clear exactly what's going to happen should you exceed that estimate. This gives both you and your client assurance that neither projects nor fees will spiral out of control.

Writers, how do you use your contracts or proposals to make sure you and your clients are on the same page?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Worthy Advice: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: The Road to Home by Amy MacDonald (including Caledonia)

I don't need a calendar to tell me September is almost here. The clients are starting to call, email, and send projects. It's going to be a busy fall, and I'm happy for it.

I was looking for something else when the Craig's List URL was auto-filled into my browser. What the heck -- let's look, I thought. The result: this week's This Job, Not That Job contender.

Receive 6 letters in the mail, Make $100
Is your home or office address located near the center of Philadelphia?

Make $100 by receiving 6 letters in the mail.

Basically you receive 6 letters in the mail and then you get paid by just telling (or texting) me the information on them by phone.

Thank you for your time!

--- $100, you say? Great! Easy work, too. It's not even writing. And right there is the problem. Why is this posted in the Writing Gigs section? Because someone is looking for a desperate soul. Yes, we've been painted as desperate. You can thank every desperate freelancer, new or otherwise, for that distinction.

Let's get to why this sucks so badly:

What's contained in these letters exactly? Are they going to be from a jilted lover? An attorney? A tax entity? You don't know. THAT is what's wrong with this offer. There's no indication that while this person has their privacy guarded that your privacy will be afforded the same consideration. 

It smells of something sleazy. Really sleazy. Possibly illegal, but you won't know until you contact the person, at which point it may be too late for your own identity to be saved.

Instead, please try something like this:

Freelance Writers to Write Listicles

Freelance writers needed to create “listicles” about cities in Buzzfeed style.

We’re looking for writers who:
-can write at least four articles a week
-can write about places they have never been from an insider/local perspective
-have experience sourcing Creative Commons images
-have been working as freelancers for at least one year
-have experience writing listicles and similar online content

Pay: $100 per article

It's a bit of work and not exactly the best rate ever, but it's a better way to earn $100.

Writers, what are your limits when it comes to the jobs you'll take?

Monday, August 18, 2014

When to Follow Writer Advice (and When to Go Your Own Way)

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: Conductor by We Were Promised Jetpacks

It was nice to get away. It wasn't a long break -- 4 days -- but it was welcome. Saturday afternoon, we started the 7 1/2 hour ride. It's always made longer because we stop at our favorite place -- Strong Hearts Cafe -- in Syracuse. But so worth the added time.

I enjoyed spending time with my parents in one of my favorite places on the planet. I fished, but it wasn't the focus of the trip. The focus was spending time, unwinding, feeding the resident chipmunk, and just enjoying the outdoors. We slept in the one-room cottage with the windows wide open, and luckily only one night was too cold for that. In the main cottage, Dad got the wood stove going on Wednesday night and we played card games and laughed into the night. A perfect way to detach from electronics.

I was back on Thursday night, but I left the Away message up until today. I needed the time to wake up (that's one long drive) and catch up on emails. Wisely, I'd unsubscribed from quite a few emails over the last few weeks, so I had less to weed through.

I love the discussion that cropped up while I was away on last Wednesday's post. I knew when I posted my rant about long sales pages that it would get some dissenting opinion, especially from Jenn and Eileen, who were seeing reasons for the success of the long sales page technique. As I said then, I don't like it. Despite the arguments for it (and Eileen made a strong case for it because of the tests that have proven it effective), it's not something I feel comfortable using.

Either way, the post wasn't about the validity of the methods or people who use them, but rather about people who are out there giving bad advice or just mimicking the advice of others (and charging you for it). The message of this post is when you should follow writer advice and when you should go your own direction. And guess what? It's going to be totally up to you to try what works and forget what you don't want to follow. No one here can say what's going to work for you. You say what will. That's as it should be.

Here are some guidelines for vetting advice:

Does it come with products attached? Even if it does, that's not cause for automatically dismissing it. Look closely at the advice. Do you like what you hear already? If so, maybe sample the product, if possible, before committing your money to learning more.

Does it sound sensible to you? While people may use various methods of winning clients or negotiating or whatever the topic at hand, you may not find it sensible. That's where the next new method gets its start, if you ask me. For example, since we're talking about it, the long sales page may be the method that nets the most return today. But what about tomorrow? True, it's effective today, but what's the shelf life of something being used/abused too much? When it comes to advice, ask yourself: is the advice something you can apply to your own personality and business that won't come across stilted or forced?

Does it fit with what you do? Are you really trying to attract book publishers, or is your market more for the technology realm? Specific advice isn't one-size-fits-all. Look for unique differences and how they would translate to your business before accepting the advice verbatim.

Is the person giving advice trustworthy? I don't think I need to tell you there are people out there whose main objective is to earn money from you. There are people who slap together webinars, e-books, and other products with little thought toward the content and more thought to how to repackage and resell. Do you trust that the person advising you has your interests ahead of their own? What background does the person have? How involved are they in the very thing they're attempting to advise you on?

Is it something you can see yourself doing? If you can imagine that advice fitting into your life and you being able to replicate it with success, then it's for you. If you see any reason why it may not work -- you'd have to put too much money or effort into it, for example -- look for ways to amend the advice, or forget it.

Writers, how do you vet writing advice?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

7 Lousy Marketing Tactics

What I'm hearing: Rain on a tin roof, a loon in the bay....

Today I'll be waking up to the sounds of birds, frogs, and maybe some rain. The cottage I sleep in (there are two on my parents' property) is a one-room place with a tin roof. There are no amenities beyond the four windows and a screen door. And that's all I need.

Before I left, I was having an email conversation about false prophets. On one forum, there was a lot of vitriol aimed at one self-professed expert. Some of the reasons weren't really reasons -- this particular prophet had poo-pooed content mill work, which frankly I have to agree with because of what those clips do to your reputation. However, there was plenty of distaste for some of the expert's tactics -- most of which had to do with marketing.

See, it's a fine line to walk between professing your stance on a particular business practice and tying it in with your shiny new webinar or course designed to teach "the right way." In most cases, it's a horrible, transparently bad sales tactic.

And yet, those aren't the only marketing sins some writing gurus are committing. Here are a few that get under my skin:

Long sales pages. I don't know where anyone got the idea that a sales page that goes on forever is A) something anyone wants to read, B) a good idea at all, or C) effective at anything other than boring the hell out of everyone who attempts to read it. No. No. And NO. We're writers: our job is to be concise and clear. Present it and wrap it up, people. Please.

Thinly veiled sales pitches. The biggest complaint in that forum thread I'd read was the helpful advice directly coupled with a course or webinar costing hundreds. In one case, a poster commented that she'd seen an offer just under $1K. It's not hard for intelligent people to draw a straight line from your helpfulness to Bullshitville. From what I'd read, these writers were not only not buying, but not thinking too highly of the person making the offer.

Not practicing what you preach. It's not too difficult to see when your "instructor" hasn't done the work they're teaching in ages or, even worse, at all. Why would I take a course in magazine writing from someone who writes for blogs? Likewise taking a fiction writing course from someone who's written only corporate stuff.

Dangling the fake carrot. It's a fairly useless, and transparent, sales tactic to send out notices that your course is nearly sold out or that you have no seats left (or just two, which seems to be a common claim). Phony waiting lists or threats that you're about to miss the boat may work once, but when you see it from the same people all the time....yea, it's not true.

Always selling in every single interaction. Come on, give it a rest already. Don't be that person no one can have an intelligent conversation with because you're too busy trying to find the "angle" that will pull money from their pockets. I've seen it in comments left by some of the worst offenders. "Over on MY site, you'll see I've written about this extensively" or "I was just saying this to someone in MY course, which still has some openings...." Most of us with brains have stopped listening.

Incessantly patting yourself on the back. When was the last time the self-titled expert gave a shout-out to someone who isn't an affiliate or isn't going to further the expert's career? If you pay attention to the way in which people talk or write, including linking to their own content instead of sharing the love, you'll figure out who's in it for themselves.

Promising wealth -- at a price. It's the old snake oil sales tactic: it's so easy to do it, but you have to buy this in order to find out how easy it is. Look, there are gurus out there who really do know what they're doing, and they're working at it every day. Those are the people you want to buy from. Those who are constantly selling and promising? Look closely. What have they done lately?

Writers, what can you add to the list?

Monday, August 11, 2014

This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: Nothing. I'm fishing.

As I spend this week tormenting Canadian fish, I wanted to leave behind a few things for you all to discuss. And anytime I want a good laugh, I just head to Craig's List and look at the job ads.

That's not to say all the ads suck, but let's just say it's become a breeding ground for the truly awful. This one stands out if only for the unique spin they've put on having you work for nothing:

Looking for Bloggers!

We are looking for bloggers to ad content to our website. We will get your work out there, and gain a dedicated group of followers for your blog in exchange for the right to post your content on our site.

Please don't hesitate and contact me today!

I just bet you're looking for bloggers. What's offensive about this (besides every syllable) is its placement -- in the jobs section. It's not a job -- it's serfdom

So let's go on to those syllables:

"We're looking for bloggers to ad content to our website."
First, it's "add" so right away, we know the standards are pretty low. Also, any time the words "we" and "our" come into play, I think of a company. Companies hire employees. They pay those employees. So why isn't this one paying?

This is why -- they've found what they think is a great trade.

"We will get your work out there, and gain a dedicated group of followers for your blog in exchange for the right to post your content on our site."

Alas, there's plenty wrong with that sentence. Let's break it down.

"We'll get your work out there" -- who are "we" exactly? Why your work and not theirs? And where is this mythical "out there"?

They go on: "...and gain a dedicated group of followers" -- okay, since this is a relative unknown (it is, trust me), are they bringing in the followers or are you? And how can they promised "dedicated followers"? Are they counting themselves?

More: "...for your blog" -- Okay, back the truck up. What does your blog have to do with this? At all? Are you expected to link to their blog? Are you expected to promote their blog on your blog? What gives?

And still more: " exchange for the right to post your content on our site." Soooo much wrong with this. First off, it's not a "right" they're entitled to. Also, posting your content should be done thoughtfully. Who are these people? Do you know? No? Then why agree to post on their site? What if they do something completely newsworthy (in a bad way) and bring you down with them?

"Please don't hesitate to contact me today!" -- Now it's "me." Clearly, someone is being shady about the person or people behind this endeavor. And I'm hesitating -- big time.

Okay, now that we've seen just how bad bad can be, let's look at a much better offer. This one comes via Jenn Mattern's excellent list on her All Indie Writers site:

Guest Posts Wanted. $100 per article.

WHO IS GOING TO PAY? will transfer $100 to your Paypal account.

At the beginning of the month after your article is accepted.
If your article is published on January 22nd you will be paid on February 1st.

I started my Guest Posts Wanted $100 offer to improve the quality of content at

Here’s 35 reasons why I’m paying $100 for guest posts.
Have questions? Join the discussion.

Helping people understand the value of high quality content and rewarding those who create it.
Value > Money.

Here are the guest post guidelines:
Articles must be 100% original. They will be checked.
You are selling the exclusive rights to your article you may not republish it elsewhere.
Your article may be edited prior to publishing.
Final approval will be made by the editor Darnell Jackson.

If your article is accepted:
You grant full rights as the exclusive publisher of the article online.
You may not republish this article online. not even on your own site.
You consent to the full article content, extracts, samples or examples appearing on other @FreedomMMCowned sites, products and services.
Payment of USD $100 will be made at the beginning of the month after your article is accepted.
You must have a PayPal account in order to be paid.
Here, you're getting paid. They're expecting original stuff. They're telling you in detail how you'll get that hundred bucks and what they expect for it. Not a bad deal for some quick cash, right?

Writers, what are some of the awful "offers" you've seen?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Free Advice Friday: To Contract or Not?

What's on the iPod: Rain King by Counting Crows

Yesterday felt like Friday to me. That's because today, I'm out of here. There's a little river in the middle of Ontario where there are some fish and a few parents camped along the shores. I must go visit them all.

I did manage three newsletter articles and a magazine query, plus on Wednesday, I had a conversation with a client prospect. September is coming. If the way I suddenly feel like wearing pants all the time (even in the heat) doesn't tell me so, the clients returning do tell me so. 

That means new clients, as well, which means contracts. Or does it?

With some clients and assignments, you just need a contract. It's a given. Anything involving multiple projects or multiple thousands of dollars needs to be formalized, I think. 

So when do you need a contract and when can you get away with just emailed terms? That's today's Free Advice Friday topic: writer contracts (or not).

To Contract or Not?

Isn't that always the question? Your answer is going to depend on who it is, what it is, and how much it is. Here are my loose rules for my own contracts:

Client new to working with freelancers. Contract. Absolutely. Not only will this help them feel more comfortable making the commitment, but also it will help you ensure that they understand all the contract terms and payment requirements. When I contract with a client new to freelancers, I make sure to bullet-proof it and point out key areas - Payment is due whether they use the results or not; edits are limited to three rounds of revisions; all parties giving input have to be named at the outset, etc.

New clients. Possibly. They've worked with freelancers before, so it's not a question of making them feel better. Here's what I do with new clients - if it's a simple project, I spell it out in email and ask them to agree to the terms. If it's more complicated, involving multiple projects or weeks/months, I send over a standard contract. 

Magazines. Maybe. Usually not. One-time contracts are okay for me. Once we get to know each other, we can skip it if they feel comfortable doing so. First time out, it's usually a good idea to have it in writing along with any kill fees. I work with one magazine that, three years later, still sends contracts. That's good business sense, so don't be insulted. 

Established clients. Almost never. We've built trust, and as long as I deliver on time and they pay me on time, we're both okay with emailed terms. One company I've worked with for six years has never signed a contract with me. I did one small job that led to a few more and a few more's no longer an issue.

Clients who set off your radar. Always and with caution. If you get a gut feeling the client may not pay or may be difficult to work with or may flake out on you, chances are you're not going to work with them anyway. However, if you have any inclination at the outset that there could be a problem with interpretation, client availability/responsiveness, project scope creep, etc., make sure to get a solid contract in place.

Projects that can morph. Essential. I remember contracting with a company to complete an insurance licensing course. The contracted amount was thousands under what I'd ended up earning. That's because, not knowing the size of the project or time needed, I wrote in a contingency that paid me for any time over the contracted amount. Saved me a ton of aggravation. If you're going in blind, put a safety net under you.

Phoned assignments. Yes, but can be in email. If you know the client, just go over what you'd agreed to in email and ask them to confirm it. If you don't know the client, get a contract under their noses before you life a finger. I remember way back when taking on a 3,800-word article (at $1 a word) and receiving nothing but silence when I delivered it. It was a new publication and it never got off the ground. Time wasted.

Writers, when do you require a contract? 
Are all your contracts formal? What percentage are emailed agreements/terms?
Have you ever accepted assignments over the phone without written terms?

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