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Friday, October 02, 2015

Writers Guide to Choosing a Trade Show

What's on the iPod: The Wrestle by Frightened Rabbit

It's been a nice, short week for me. I was off on Monday, and now I'm in Cape May enjoying some time off. Okay, as a hurricane bears down, but it's an adventure in which I'm not in front of a project. It's been a busy summer. I'm ready for a short break.

In a conversation over on Anne's About Writing Squared forum, the discussion was around deciding if a particular conference attendance would be worth the money. It's great to say "I'd love to go to this" but if you're spending close to $1,500 (as in this particular case), you need to know if the potential is there to connect with people who will hire you.

Not all conferences and trade shows are alike. For example, an association I belong to has an annual conference. It's an educational conference for writers and editors. What are the chances I'll be able to sell to other writers? Pretty damn slim. And frankly, that is a conference to attend to learn new skills and meet other writers and editors.

What conference or trade show to attend is going to depend greatly on the mix of people at whom the conference is aimed. Are you about to attend a nursing conference with nurses in attendance? Unless there are plenty of vendors, there's no point. Nurses rarely need writing services. However, that one-day finance seminar I attended worked because I sat next to people who were indeed in the business of hiring a writer.

So what do I look for in a conference? This is my list. Yours could be different, but you won't go wrong if you start here:

Exhibitors. I look at how many companies are exhibiting. Why? Because those are your potential clients in most cases (not all). The more, the better. My chosen conference has over 2,000 exhibitors. Plenty of opportunity. Would I attend one with hundreds? If it fit with my background, sure. With ten? Probably not worth it.

Press passes. I attend one that gives out press passes. To qualify, you have to show that you've been published or writing in that area for the last year. Easy -- I write for the association magazine. I maintain a blog on the industry, as well. However, some conferences have no requirement. You simply walk in and get a free pass. Since many conference fees can run into the thousands, free is what you're after. In some cases, press passes are not given out. If that's the case, you really need to consider if the price paid is going to be justified by the work you receive.

Attendees. In one case, I attended a financial seminar because the attendees were both marketing people and senior management people who would be in the position to hire me. It was an intimate meeting -- under 100 people. That gave me time and opportunity to shake hands, have conversations, and ask questions. If you're considering an event that has a small attendance, make sure the people you'll be around will be in a position to hire you.

Distance/cost. I'll admit I skipped my chance to go to Hawaii. The conference was held there right after the recession had hit, and the cost of airfare was prohibitive, as were the hotel charges. Plus, I'd talked with a number of regular attendees who weren't going because of the cost. Good thing I stayed home -- the attendance was dismal that year. Consider how much it will cost you to attend. Will you have to buy meals or are there plenty of parties and hospitality suites? (I bought one meal in New Orleans, and that was a lunch on the way home.) Is the venue easy to afford or are you going to be in it for thousands? Is it close enough to make sense?

Prep time. I like to give myself a good six months of prep time before a conference. You could get ready within three months, but my process of setting up meetings starts early. I'm trying to appeal to vendors who will need new marketing materials for the show. You could simply go in with the goal of getting a face-to-face meeting to discuss future projects. Either way will work.

Desire. Some years I just don't want to go. Two years ago my conference was in Denver. Yes, I would have loved it, but it was wedding madness here at home. I couldn't justify going, and my head wasn't in that place. Too much wedding stuff happening to concentrate on the prep. Maybe you feel compelled to go, but the venue or the time of year just doesn't appeal. Nothing says you have to. And nothing stops you from contacting your potential clients without attending the show.

Writers, do you go to trade shows, seminars, networking events or conferences?
How do you decide what event you'll attend?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5 Ways to Manage Client Upset

What's on the iPod: Free Fallin' by Tom Petty

Busy week, albeit a short one since my husband and I are finally going to take that vacation we've been putting off. Sadly, it's just four days, but it's four I don't have to think about projects or money or anything beyond relaxing. After the weekend I just went through, I'm glad for it.

Because my weekend was full of stressful situations -- early mornings, waiting, big crowds and navigating on foot for ten miles, not to mention having my mother and her friend to entertain -- I was thinking of how I could redirect my stress or upset in ways that wouldn't hurt anyone's good time. It was easy thanks to the atmosphere we were in, but I'll confess to a few moments in which I wanted to snap at someone or where I needed to un-hear what someone had just said that was way too inappropriate or prying.

In more than one instance with the mom or her friend, I was biting my tongue. Hard. It's a privilege of getting older to be able to say what's on your mind whether it should be said or not. After hearing about five different judgments in the span of 15 minutes, I was contained, especially since it was the first time I'd spent any length of time with the friend, but I did assert my boundaries and halted the negative conversation without getting angry or raising my voice.

I used the same methods with the ladies that I do with clients. I invent a new reaction and discard the one that isn't working. Here are some ways in which to do that:

Get in their heads. That client could have his or her head on the chopping block, or he could have just found out his company is laying people off, or perhaps her supervisor hates her and is looking for a reason to let her go. Always assume something other than you is causing their stress and upset. Until they tell you otherwise, it's a safe way to approach conversations.

Don't hear the emotion -- hear the facts. Sometimes clients are just too frank. They'll spill out every little thing that bothers them about what you've just presented or what they don't want to see from the likes of you. Instead of getting your back up, ask for specifics. Where did things start to go wrong in the piece? What bad experiences have you had that you're hoping to avoid?

Modify the conversation. Take control of it calmly and gently. Ask questions that get to the root of the problem (and also make the client feel heard). Talk through some of the possible solutions. Ask if there's anything the client would like you to do that would satisfy them.

Stop talking. Sometimes our first reaction is to talk. Assure them this, promise them that. Only problem is we're not hearing them because we're so busy trying to fix it verbally. Shut up. Listen. Let the client tell you what's wrong and where it went wrong for them. Don't try to speak for them or fill in the blanks.

Maintain your own calm. Look, you can't stop someone from being upset. You can, however, change your own reaction. If you refuse to allow someone else's upset to change your own mood, you can respond and amend the situation from a much better perspective. Detach.

Writers, how do you deal with client upset?
What methods do you use for redirecting your stress?

Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm Poped.

It was a long, tiring, glorious weekend in which I experienced many firsts. The first time I've ever seen a city completely shut down to vehicle traffic. The first time major highways were closed. The first time train service was running just two time periods a day.

The first time I've ever seen a pope.

Okay, not in person, but to be in the same city, to see his helicopter fly overhead, to see a million-plus people come from all over the world to be there and hear his message was enough. I didn't have to see him in person, nor even up close.

It's tough for us to imagine what it's like when an entire population, shoved into cramped trains, restricted from going here or standing there doing so with joy and a sense of brotherhood. But there it was. From Secret Service to National Guard, from cop to street vendor -- every single person I encountered was smiling, sharing, and treating each other with respect.

That it happened here -- in the City of Brotherly Love, which we've joked is more like the City of Brother, Hand Over that Wallet -- was even more of a joy. In this, the place I've moved to, it's hard to get a smile out of people let alone help if you need it. People aren't unkind -- just busy. Too busy to make friends, too busy to stop if your car breaks down, too busy to give one more panhandler any more money.

Yet there they were on this particular day, breaking their own unspoken rules.

I'm a non-practicing Catholic, so for me to get excited about a pope just doesn't happen. But this one is different. He's sending out a message of inclusive, loving behavior -- you know, like Christians are supposed to behave -- and doing so without being offensive or laying down the law like the priests I grew up in fear of. It's what I had been looking for all those years I'd been the faithful Catholic, being taught how we were to love everyone while the church was teaching us something more akin to "Well yes, but only if they're Catholics."

Yes, this is definitely different.

I won't go into the issues the church still has. There are many, and it will take much more than one pope to undo the centuries of problems and conflict, both internal and external, that Catholics struggle with.

For now, it's one man and the glimmer of hope he's brought to millions. He's not doing anything revolutionary. He's simply living what he was taught, what many of us from all religions were taught -- love, respect, and caring for our fellow humans. He's the example. We're the ones who are tasked with copying off his paper.

But back to that day. My mother and her friend came for the chance to see a pope. That didn't happen directly, but they were thrilled to be part of it, and to take part in the outdoor service on Sunday led by Pope Francis. They traveled a long way to see him -- 300 miles -- but nowhere near the distance of some people, such as the family who drove from Argentina to Philadelphia. Or the busloads of people traveling from Boston, Indiana, Iowa, Texas and so many other places across the country. Or the people from Dominican Republic. Nigeria. France. Japan. Talk about uplifting.

We got up way too early (5 am), walked way too far (10 miles) and crowded into too many tight spaces and crowded areas. And we never complained. Not even after a 30-minute wait for what we thought would be a pope drive-by that never happened. People were talking and laughing with each other and the police, and just enjoying the moment they were blessed to be in.

We participated in the service from Love Park, around the corner from any view of the actual ceremony. It didn't matter. Even with a view from a JumboTron, we had an experience none of us will ever have again, and one that won't be forgotten.

For that one day, the city was in love, and they were sharing it with each other.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Your Freelance Career Evaluation

What's on the iPod: Naked Kids by Grouplove

Today's my TGIF (TGIT?). I'm taking tomorrow and Monday as we have this guy from Argentina showing up, and about a million of us are going to the city on Sunday to greet him....

Pope madness. It's not the visit itself that's created the madness (though it's been the rocket fuel) -- it's the preparations that haven't been easy to navigate. The ticket-purchasing debacle I mentioned on Monday was bad enough. Then came the logistics as local authorities decided it best to close roads and restrict access (and parking). So I went on the hunt for a parking space within walking distance.

$75 later, I've reserved a space in a local business's parking lot. I think I got a bargain, too. Others were charging $130 and up for spaces that are still miles from the train station. I was relieved to pay it. We have one taxi service -- one. And it serves a nine-city suburban area. Chances were slim at best. And forget Uber. Who's up at 4:30 am?

All this parking-space planning was going on as I was finishing a rather involved project, which happens to be one of two projects left on the pile I'd started the month with. I reviewed it yesterday morning, handled a small request from a client, then had --- what's this? -- actual free time in my work day for the first time this month. So what does a writer do when there's free time?

Evaluate the career.

It's way too easy when we're busy to overlook potential issues or things we're not doing that could reduce our income or our client pool. So it makes sense to look things over -- really look -- every quarter just to make sure things are going in the right direction.

It's like a monthly assessment. Actually, I use my monthly assessments as a starting point. If you're looking to understand where you might be missing opportunities, that's as good a place as any (and it's a good reason for you to play along here on the blog at the end/beginning of every month).

But let's assume you don't do monthly assessments for a moment. (For examples, click on the Monthly Assessment labels on the right.) In that case, open a Word document. Start with headings like these:

  • Queries sent
  • Emails/letters of introduction sent
  • Social media contacts made
  • Job listing applications
  • Work from new clients
  • Work from existing clients
  • Earnings this month
  • Bottom line (your assessment of how things went, what you could do differently, what worked, etc.)
With your monthly info, over time, you'll be able to see a clearer picture of where you're going wrong, what you're doing right, and where the bulk of your work is coming from.

So, for those of you who assess monthly, let's look at the info up close. Look for:

What worked. This is going to differ, as you well know, from one quarter to the next or even one week to the next. Clients have unique triggers. So what was drawing them in the most?

Who the client is. It's so much more than just how you approached them. The client's business, motivations, needs, and focus all count. Look at your current clients closely. Try to locate similarities, timing, reasons why they hired you, etc.

Which previous/existing clients or new prospects may need the same thing. The similarities among your paying clients are little road maps right to a similar type of client. Who better to approach first than someone who might already need you? If nothing else, it helps you refine your approach.

How often you marketed. Consider this your personalized tough love time. Did you really send out as many queries as you thought you had? Were you in touch with your targeted number of clients per day/week, or did you slack off when the workload became heavy? Here's another important question to ask yourself -- 

What excuses did I use this month that got in my way? That's why I suggest the bottom-line assessment each month. You write your own excuses as you justify why it was a light month or why you worked just three days a week. For each excuse, brainstorm ways you can eliminate it going forward. For example, instead of saying the family trip getting in the way, you could plan next time to work two hours extra each week before and after that trip. Or you could take on higher-paying projects to make up for the time off.

Writers, how often do you evaluate your career?
What other ways do you use to determine if you're on the right track?

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Worst Freelance Writing Career Roadblock

What's on the iPod: Misfits and Lovers by The Wallflowers

Progress. That's how last week ended. I'd made significant progress on a white paper project, and I hope to have it finished by Wednesday. Good thing -- I have two more projects starting up, and a third that will show up right when I don't have time. I got the nod for it three weeks ago, so I'm trying to get ahead of schedule just in case it's a tight turnaround.

We spent Saturday in the city, where we walked a good bit (the pedometer app clocked 6 miles), ate, and did some shopping with my daughter. She took us to her office building, which is right behind Independence Hall. That's our rest stop this coming weekend should the Pope's visit become too much for our older visitors.

The whole process of coordinating a 45-minute train ride (which is now going to be about 20 minutes since they're eliminating most of the stops on the line) has been one giant gray hair. First, we had to buy tickets at a certain time on a certain day online. Then the website crashed. That meant they had to rejig the website and process. The transit group implemented a lottery system. That worked. So I got the tickets and joy ensued. Only...

They've limited each train line to two stops. Now instead of having people well-disbursed around the area, they're cramming them into two stations per.That's so the police won't have a tough time monitoring the stations, because their comfort is much more important than the comfort of the paying customers trying to get to the city....I get it, but wow. Makes terrible sense.

Then local authorities made getting to the station hundreds of times harder. They declared a state of emergency for that weekend. Fine, but in preparation and with the mindset of "making things easier" for everyone, they're closing nearly every road getting to my station. That's to "streamline" crowd, which is most of the 110,000 riders expected at that one station --five times the number of passengers at my station on an average weekday. Plus, they've restricted parking for miles, including the two really small lots at the station and the three bigger unused commercial building lots right next to the station. Because asking for cooperation (or allowing local businesses to charge for parking) is apparently a bad idea? So now five times the number of people will have to find some way to cram into the lot that holds about 200 cars...and with one taxi company in town and bus service shut down....

Their plan needs some work.

I've seen similar kinds of blocking coming from the freelance writer community -- the "catch me if you can" approach to the career. It's the flip side of the "I'll take any work any time" attitude, which is equally damaging to a career (and earnings). It's the "you have to convince me it's worth it" approach, and it's a major career stopper.

If you've ever said/done any of these things, you could be hurting your career.

The aloof "I don't need the work" attitude. You might think your detached demeanor in a client conversation is sparking a client's intrigue, but it could be your client is tired of ego-driven people (especially if they work in an ad agency or with creative people regularly). If the client thinks you don't need the work, they're going to go with the person who showed more of a collaborative attitude.

The over-sized ego. It's great to have confidence in your skills. It's lousy when that confidence comes off as boasting. No one enjoys listening to an elevator speech that is full of bragging, name-dropping, or "You won't find a better writer" statements. Be confident, but don't forget what really matters -- your client's needs.

The "get in line" approach. I'm busy. You're busy. Sometimes we have to tell clients that right now, we're not available. Typically, I like at least a week's notice when possible. But if your regular approach is to put them off without trying to fit them in, you're not creating the kind of "Gee, he's sought after so he must be good!" response you think you are. If you push back every time on the clients who need you within a few days or a week or two, they may stop checking in because they've found someone who has a more flexible schedule.

The hard-assed caveats. You have a work process. Your client has a different one. It's going to require give-and-take on both sides. So don't go into your negotiations or initial conversation with guns blazing about what they must do and what the penalty will be if they don't basically fall down and worship at your feet. It's okay to set your boundaries -- if there's no feedback within a certain, reasonable period of time, you'll assume the project passed muster and send the invoice. It's not okay to unleash the fire-and-brimstone indignation on them. They don't owe you their undivided attention or loyalty.

Writers, what career-killing roadblocks have you seen freelance professionals use?
Do you know anyone who's lost a client prospect because of an attitude or action?
How do you walk the fine line between setting boundaries and pushing people away?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

7 Ways to Vet a Writing Course

Today is going to be busy. I have plenty of interviews to go over for a white paper, and some research to finish up. Plus, writers group is here tonight. Not only do I need to clean -- I need to write something to present.

Behind the scenes here at the blog, I'm busy putting together a list of resources -- this one focusing on webinars and training courses. It's going to be a little different from the 33 Places to Learn New Writing Skills list I made a while back in that I'm focusing on webinars and workshops given by writers, and some of them will have a price tag involved.

That's when it gets interesting, for the second you put money into the equation, the stakes go up. How do you know that what you're paying for is something that's going to give you real value? If you've ever paid big bucks (or even small bucks) for a course or workshop that was nothing more than a weak interpretation of the same old stuff you can find online, you know how important it is to vet your options before plunking down cash.

And there is a way to vet your options. Start here:

Get an outline. Your presenter should be giving you an outline of what you can expect. And my rule is the more they charge, the more information they should provide on what you'll be learning. If your presenter isn't interested in giving you an outline, spend your money elsewhere.

Get feedback. Don't rely on testimonials that accompany the sales content -- those can be coerced out of attendees too easily. Instead, find a neutral forum or email group and ask. Ask if the content matched the outline, if the presenter was involved, if their questions were answered, and if they had any concerns. Did they feel it was a good way to spend their money?

Look for experience. There are way too many pseudo-experts out there who are intent on selling you something. Yet how much do they really know? Look at their bios. If they've been in business a year or less, why are you trusting them with your money? That's not to say newbies can't have something valuable to teach -- I've known one or two I'd learned plenty from. But you have to question how someone with say a year and a half or two years of background can teach you how to market successfully or drive sales through referrals.

Also, look at their resumes. Too many times I've come across people selling courses on topics that aren't even in their area of expertise. If your writer is about to show you how to break in to celebrity magazines, they damn well better have a background in that concentration. Otherwise, the information is coming from where? Answer: probably the Internet. In that case, save yourself some money and do your own research.

Measure responsiveness. So this presenter is promising hands-on, personalized attention. Why not try it out before you commit? Send them a quick note asking something relevant to what the course would include. If you get a response within 24 hours, you have a winner. If you're sitting there three days later without an answer, let's hope you've found a better alternative already. If not, look for one. That's not to say the presenter will neglect you based on one email-- people can get busy for any number of reasons. If your quick reminder gets no response, move on --there's a good chance the presenter won't have time later, either.

Consider the price-to-content ratio. My own exercise includes looking at how many minutes/hours are being offered, how detailed the content is, and how much I'm being asked to pay. Price is a very personal decision, so I can't tell you if it's worth it, but if I'm expected to pay hundreds for a 2-hour webinar, it had better be jammed with information.

Look for unique content. Is this presenter proposing to give you something you've not heard before or something you'd otherwise have to study in a college setting? If so, it could well be worth it, if the outline and content depth is there. If the topic sounds identical to other offerings, might be best to skip it.

Check content for availability elsewhere. Too many presentations (way too many) are giving you information that's already free somewhere else. I like to take the outline and search each section head online. What you'll find is that most content is available -- that's normal. What makes it a presentation worth buying is how much isn't available, or what this presenter's particular spin is. That should already be spelled out in the course title or outline, but an in-depth search of the course's offerings could reveal that your presenter has something unique. Or not.

Writers, how do you determine if a course or presentation is right for you?
What's the most you've ever spent on a course/training/webinar?
Did you get what you paid for? 
What advice do you have for other writers looking for the right skills training?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Letter of Introduction, Simplified

Thanks to everyone who showed up for the Marketing Q&A webinar hosted by Jake Poinier! It was a great conversation and I hope you took something actionable away from it. We promise to do it again soon.

We had some really interesting conversation in the webinar, too. With 54 people in attendance, the questions were coming faster than we could answer them. So I'm hoping to devote some time on the blog to addressing marketing questions that you may have, or if you attended the webinar, you didn't get a chance to ask. Feel free to send me an email or ask in the comments section.

At one point in the webinar, we talked about the letter of introduction, which is my favorite marketing method. Some of the attendees were interested in seeing an example of the LOI. So it's probably a good time to go over one.

A word about LOIs -- my letter works for me. It may not work so well for you, or it may not feel like something you want to use. In fact, Jake said that his LOI is usually three or four sentences long. I say whatever works best for you is what you should use. And if sending emails isn't your preferred method of contact, don't do it just because I like it. 

But if you're an email wonk like I am, read on.

To me, a good LOI includes a short intro/reason for writing, observations about the company/person you're contacting, a brief (really brief) rundown of your background, and a call to action. 

Some things to remember:
  • Keep it simple. Don't write volumes on first contact. Just introduce yourself and ask for a future conversation. Notice that I tied the reason for my letter to an event. For me, I've gotten a really good response rate from using that focus. It tells them I understand their industry on a pretty deep level. Whatever your opener (even if it's a simple "I'm writing to introduce myself and my services"), don't belabor it. And avoid getting "sales-y" with your opening line. Nothing screams "phony" faster.
  • Don't sell. In my sample, you'll see me trying to get an appointment. I skirt the edges of selling, but that kind of approach is going to depend on time, place, and person. (In this case, I'm imagining I'm contacting someone before a trade event.) In general, though, the idea is to start the conversation. 
  • Focus on the client. It's too easy to talk about our background or experience or samples. But the best idea is to focus on what you can do for the client. Always ask yourself "What does this mean to them? Why should they care?"
  • Do your homework. Know something about the person or company you're contacting. Mention something about them in your note. Don't go overboard and don't simply quote verbatim from a press release. Really learn what they do before you put fingers to keyboard.
  • Keep the bio short and relevant. In what I've provided, I showed them who I was, what I concentrate in, who I've worked with, and how I can help them. To me, there are still too many "I" statements, so I'd rework those before sending it out.
  • Ask for some action. Whether you want a meeting or a call, ask for it. Don't ask them to hire you -- not yet. It would be like getting married before you go on a date. Get to know them first, and give them the chance to know you.
  • Remember the reason. Your LOI should be establishing contact, not nailing down contracts. Use it to start a relationship. From that mindset, write your letter. 
In this example, I tried to give a really simple idea of what I include. Again, it's highly adaptable and I suggest you alter the language -- this example is not one I send out, so it's untested. 

Hi Matt:
(Reason for your email/letter) I see you’re heading to the ABC Conference this year. Would you have time for a brief conversation about Appleton Consulting’s communications/marketing needs?

(Your observations) I noticed Appleton has just launched a mobile claims app. Do you deliver company news or alerts through the app? I’d be happy to sit down with you at the show and discuss your mobile capabilities and potential, plus go over some of your wish-list communication/branding items. For example, if you’re looking to expand the number of thought leadership articles you’re placing in the industry magazines or if you’re hoping to establish a customer-facing newsletter, I can illustrate some ways I can help you gain more brand awareness through that content.

(About you) I’m a veteran writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, mostly in insurance and risk management. I’ve worked with companies like yours, helping them create articles, newsletters, websites, and media materials. Clients I have worked with include Ogilvy Public Relations, Aon Consulting, Principal Financial Group, and XL Group. Because of my connections at most of the industry publications, I understand their content needs and can suggest topics that fit. I’m including URLs to some of my samples.

(The call to action) Would you have time either Monday or Tuesday to talk? I have time available between 9:45 and 1:30 both days.

Thanks, Matt. I appreciate it, and I look forward to talking with you soon.


Writers, how often do you use LOIs?
What do you include?
What's your preferred method of reaching prospects?
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