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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Home

What I'm reading: A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin
What's on the iPod: The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) by U2 (Free album available on iTunes right now)

Home.

What an absolutely fantastic week away. Southern England is a treat for the senses. The place is all about walking and being outdoors -- trails everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. The UK (for it is still the UK on the heels of today's vote in Scotland) has a long tradition of public footpaths, rights of way, and trails that wrap around and cut through all directions of the country.

What's not to love?

We were fortunate to have chosen a B&B in a town that hasn't changed in population for 700 years. The bed and breakfast backed up to a trail -- the South Downs Way, to be exact. In fact, the town sits right in the Cuckmere Valley, and has amazing walking (and views).

And walk we did. One day alone, we logged over nine miles (I used Walkroid app). Total -- well over 40 miles in one week. By the time we were packing to get on the plane, we were taking on huge hills with minimal effort and going long distances without thinking about it. I could absolutely live in this place, I kept thinking.

The treat of the week: High tea. Take a look at the tray in the picture to the right and you'll see why walking 40 miles was almost necessary. That was our "snack" before dinner.

We arrived home around 1:30 am yesterday morning, having had a flight delay and then construction from Newark airport to home. I vaguely remember yesterday, but it involved pillows and naps.

Today, it's back to work full steam. I have projects waiting and marketing to be done. Lots of ideas brewing, so it's time to get some down on paper.

Also, next week starts a series of posts from writers just like you (in fact, you can be included). One reader asked the question: what tips would writers have to share with beginning writers?

The answer: plenty. Stay tuned for a weekly post offering up at least five top tips from successful writers, in their own words. It will be interesting to see how many of their best tips overlap.

And if you're interested in putting together your own top tips post, please email me: lwbean AT Gmail. Five at minimum, ten at most.

So, what have you been up to since I was gone?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Breaking Bad Has Taught Me About Writing

I'll be back in my chair tomorrow. When I do sit down, I have a full day ahead of me with at least two projects. I don't like leaving in the middle of things, but that's the way the projects rolled this time. Some things can't be helped.

As I was once again watching the Breaking Bad Binge on television, I was lamenting the show's ending. For some reason, the end of this one has lingered. I missed other shows, like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, but not like I miss BB. For me, Walter White is as addictive as his product.

So as I pack up my bags and board the flight home, I wanted to share those quotes from Breaking Bad that can teach us about our careers.

Walt: Respect the chemistry. It was Walt's attention to detail that made him the king of crystal meth production. Similarly, it's our attention to detail that leaves our clients wanting more. Maybe not in an addictive way, but in the "I can count on the best from you" way.

Jesse: I suggest you stop whining like a little bitch. Oh, Jesse did love to say "bitch" a lot. However, this statement sums up Jesse's interaction with one of the lab partners he was training in proper cooking methods. Writers, if you've ever complained about the work being too hard, too confusing or too scarce, do what Jesse says.
Saul: Congratulations, you’ve just left your family a second-hand Subaru. Maybe attorney Saul's meaning was different, but writers, be sure you're charging enough to allow yourself to prosper. If you're working steadily and still not able to keep up with bills and expenses, it's time to raise the rates.

Walt: Say my name. By this point, Walt had morphed into his Heisenberg persona. In some ways, we writers have to morph from our personal side to our business side, not unlike Walt. True, we're not hiding from the feds, but we're presenting ourselves as professionals nonetheless.

Walt: I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen, 50-years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth. Words to live by.



Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing Link Love


I should be back at the desk next Wednesday. Meantime, here are some favorite posts by some great writers:

The Three-Day Rule by Walt Kania - a great plan for any freelancer to live by.

Self-Publishing for Freelancers: Don't Forget Phase Two - Yo Prinzel shows us how to be brutal with our beloved manuscripts.

Want to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger? Do These 3 Things - Jenn Mattern shows us how to put some impact behind our blogging.

Writer Marketing: How to Focus on Value - And Sharon Hurley Hall knows how to make that happen.

Earn Income as a Subcontracting Resume Writer - Kimberly Ben does, and so can you.

6 Steps to Get Your Content Marketing to Kick *Bleep* and Take Names - Meryl Evans gives us the ultimate guide to doing just that.

Writers, what great advice have you seen lately? Please share it in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

4 Ways to Collect Without a Contract

What I'm reading: Pigs Will Fly by P. G. Wodehouse

Right now, I'm in southern England, hopefully relaxing. I know I'll be coming home to a number of client projects -- I'm just not sure how many. Right now I have two, but there are at least that many more in talks right now. It's going to be a busy return and, hopefully, a busy October.

I was talking with a local writer friend recently. She told me how she'd been stiffed by a client for a sizable amount of money -- all without a contract. It was one of those times where she trusted the client (for good reasons) but they turned out to be less than honest in dealing with her. Now she's out the money and the time spent on the project.

Or is she?

Just because there's no legal document doesn't mean there isn't some form of agreement. Depending on how you handle it, you may not be out the money. Here are some ways that may save you the aggravation:

Written agreement of any sort. If you've discussed the project in email, you might be able to make a strong enough case for compensation. I like to get clients with whom I'm more comfortable with to give me the go-ahead or agree in writing to what I've spelled out in email. If you and your non-paying client have any email exchanges at all, look through them to see if there's any formal acceptance of the project or the terms.

Recorded conversations. Mind you, if you've not told your clients you're going to record the conversation, it's not admissible in court. However, if you have their agreement on tape and their acceptance, you could have a fighting chance of collecting (remember, I'm not an attorney, so check this with a legal expert).

Your own notes. Track all communications, especially those at the end of a project. That's when most clients go silent until you hit them with that final invoice and threats of legal action. If you've followed up to gauge their satisfaction, make note of it. If you've tried to get in touch via phone, write down when and what message you left. These notes establish a pattern on your end, and show how you tried to satisfy the client. It also can show the client's lack of follow-through, which is good for your case.

Billed as a service. Think about it -- you don't have written contracts between you and your plumber or HVAC person, do you? You call, they respond, they bill you. You don't pay, you still owe. Talk with a legal expert (I'm not one) or a collections agency to see what your options are.

Also, make sure to watch the client's website/publications for a while. There's a chance they'll try to use your content without payment. Should that happen, you can then go through legal channels to get what's due you.

Writers, how do you collect from a client who isn't contracted with you?
Do you work with any clients at the moment who aren't contracted with you?
Under what circumstances do you think a contract isn't necessary?

Monday, September 08, 2014

6 Ways to Keep Writing Work Coming In

What I'm reading: Pigs Can Fly by P. G. Wodehouse

This time tonight I'll be boarding a flight to England. Meantime, I have this morning to wrap up projects, get another project in good shape, and yes, market. Always market, right?

Because any time away from the career means a hit to the wallet, I've devised my own system of keeping work coming in. Here's what I've been up to this past month:

Market every day. Every. Day. Even a note on Twitter to a client or a LinkedIn group comment can be marketing. Don't feel limited to sending out emails or making phone calls.

Check in with clients. That little exercise netted me three new projects this month and one on the way. One person even said "You must have ESP." No, but I stay in touch so you think I do.

Look for new avenues. I'm setting my sights on a particular trade show audience. You may decide to find one great magazine market. Just extending that far out can reap big rewards.

Try something old. I went on Craig's List. Yes, I did. I looked for gigs. Found one, too. It turned out it wasn't a good fit, but the client did call and I was the one who said no. You never know when those old methods will work for you. Dust one off and see.

Be seen. Warm up your Twitter account and hit the LinkedIn forums. Where other professionals hang out, there's always a chance you'll connect with your next client. Talk about the work you're doing (but don't reveal what you shouldn't) -- that shows clients you're actively working in their industry.

Ask around. That client who loves you may know someone else who needs your help. Maybe send out an offer giving them $50 off their next project for every referral who hires you.

Writers, how do you keep work in the pipeline, especially when you're heading out of town?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Riding the Writing Excuse Train

What I'm listening to: Bloodstream by Ed Sheeran

Lots of work at my door right now, and naturally, I'm about to head out of the country for a week. As I've always said, if you want work, just plan a vacation.

I'm not so busy that I haven't been able to interact on forums and LinkedIn groups. It was on one particular thread that I noticed it. The writer had made reference to needing to do something to bring in more money, to move herself in a new direction.

Per usual, the advice was there. Have you tried this? Why not reach into that area? Good advice from a number of successful writers. I would have been happy to receive such support.

I won't say the writer wasn't grateful -- she was. She thanked everyone for their input. It's what she did next that tells me she's not moving anywhere but possibly backward.

She started making excuses.

Part of her excuse-making did stem from a bit of venting/whining. We all go through that, right? But the larger part -- the important part -- was that she wasn't showing any desire to take the advice and try it out. Looked more like she'd rather fuss about what's broken than actually doing anything to reverse the trend.

It's the Excuse Train, and she'd bought a one-way ticket.

I get it; we writers all have periods where work isn't there and where clients seem to evaporate like water on a sidewalk in August. It's not that we don't go through the exact same things. It's how we respond that separate us.

Peter Bowerman has an excellent post on his blog about pushing beyond our comfort zones. Rather than repeat his advice, just visit and give him some comment love.

What Peter says is true -- you have to go to where it's uncomfortable or unfamiliar before you'll take your business to the next level.

So if your business is stagnant or floundering, what could be the cause? Here are a few to ponder:

Inertia. Isn't it just easier to say "Freelancing is dead!" rather than proving that statement false? It's not as much work to declare something like that than to market your ass off or make contact at trade shows or networking events. The success of your writing business is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

Stagnancy. Really, read Peter's post. It's a great reminder that we're never done growing as writers. Even the cushiest of writing careers go stale. Think of your business as a plant. If you don't water, it's going to wither and die.

Fear of failure. If you've ever thought or said "I can't" when thinking of moving into a new area, fear is the reason. If you've ever said "I'd love to, but..." remove the "but." Then do what you said you'd love to do.

Lack of talent. Not everyone who calls himself a writer can actually write. In a recent conversation, a client told me "You'd be surprised how many writers we've seen who deliver stuff full of typos and grammar mistakes." Sadly, no I wouldn't. I've seen writers who call themselves gurus and mentors who can't string together a coherent thought. If you don't take your craft seriously, how can you expect clients to?

Not thinking creatively. It always astounds me when writers don't think far enough beyond their current borders. So you're writing for the landscaping industry. You feel you're stuck in that industry, but you're not. Think about what industries support that one -- how about power tools, manual tools, associations, seed companies, plant producers, patio, deck, mulch.....you name it. Stop thinking so narrowly. Go to a trade show or even a home show if you have to. You'll be shocked to see just how far-reaching that one industry can be.

Your attitude toward the work. Deadlines still mean something. So do your client's requirements, the project parameters, and the contract you signed. If you went silent or got too loud with a client, you've just lost one more connection, one more recommendation, one more potential referral and repeat customer.

Arrogance.  Honestly, I've seen writers who think because they were once somebody (somehow or other) or they have enough experience to finally be somebody, they needn't try. "I want them to come to me!" Alas, it's a big planet and it's really easy to overlook one person, no matter how talented they think they are.

Writers, what have you seen that gets in the way of success?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Monthly Assessment: August 2014

What I'm reading: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
What I'm listening to: Happy by Pharrell Williams


September -- she's here. Time to get serious, right? Time also to see how August went for us writers.

Whew. Much more like it.

With June being ridiculously slow thanks to so much time off and with July picking up quite a bit, I was relieved to see August getting busier yet. Where much of my spring marketing was met with "We've hired someone to do that" (and amen for the economic recovery), summer has turned into quite the opposite. This is the Dry Season (my own term for the cycle) -- yet here was work coming in.

Most of it is still in talking/contracting stages, but that just means September will be fantastic for earnings. I did have a vacation in the middle of this month, so the earnings will reflect the time away.

Here's what happened this month:

Queries:
I sent a few. So far, no one has bitten on the one idea, which I've tried with three different editors. No more sent.

LOIs:
I restructured my approach and sent out fewer, more targeted notes. That resulted in getting actual responses (people like a conversation much more than a sales pitch). I'm in talks with one of those companies as we speak.

Social Media:
It never hurts to send out a blast about your availability, so I did just that. I sent out two this month (don't want to be annoying about it). Nothing yet, but a few more people now know I'm there. Also, I contacted someone I'd met at a trade show a few times. He'd been promoted - I congratulated him via LinkedIn. That resulted in ongoing talks about projects.

Job postings:
Despite my allergy to the job posting, I found a few high-level gigs to apply for. One resulted in my phone conversation/hiring this past week.

Existing clients:
A favorite client was in my email this month, and the project made up the bulk of my earnings. I can count on them to call every few months, and I always enjoy the projects. Last week, I contacted 4 existing clients who'd dropped off the radar. The result: 3 sizable projects headed my way.

New clients:
Two so far, but there may be a third (and possibly a fourth) on the way. In one case, it reinforces my belief that people you meet today may buy in years to come -- stay in touch.

Earnings:
It's great seeing checks in the mail, isn't it? This month was still a bit short of my target, but the work that's lining up promises to exceed my September goal. Let's hope so.

Bottom line:
Slow and steady does win the race, but so does mixing it up. I looked for clients who would provide ongoing work at a good rate, and luckily what I wanted was right there in the job listings on Craig's List. Also, when I saw the LOI wasn't netting me anything, I knew it was time to make it much more personal. While I've changed just one paragraph in that letter, I've made sure to make a direct connection. It's paying off so far. This month, the snail mail letters go out, as well. I'm looking to bolster the income for the holidays.

Your turn.

Writers, how did you do this past month?
What worked? What didn't?
What will you change going forward?
Words on the Page