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Monday, October 30, 2006

Your Potential Employer Speaks

Like most writers, I’ve been on the job search side of things. I’ve sent out the queries, copied clips and stuffed them in envelopes, included my SASE, etc. Since things have gone electronic, it’s much easier to give a potential employer exactly what he or she is looking for. Clips are now electronic or can be made into very portable PDFs. Resumes are attachable. Emails are delivered instantly. So we should have more time to really sell ourselves, right? Not judging from my email. So far, my search for a viable worker bee has left me a tad disenchanted.

Recently, I found the need to solicit help from fellow writers on a project. I placed an ad, spelled out exactly what I need to see, what the job entails and what it pays. So far, I’m less than impressed with the responses.

First of all, if you want to make a good impression, don’t start out by saying “Here are my clips and my resume. Call me.” If you can’t be bothered to “sell” it a little, I’m less than convinced you’re going to bother with other little details, such as facts or deadlines. Next.

If the ad asks for clips, send them or explain that your clips are unpublished samples; but please, send something. All the employer wants is proof that you can string words together coherently. If you can’t show that much, there’s no way you’re making it past the Delete key.

Convince your employer he or she needs to hire you. Don’t just say, “I can do this.” Show how. Tell the employer where your experience coincides with his or her needs. Enthusiasm and confidence are great, but if you’re not showing what you’ve done or in what areas you’ve read or studied that might help out the employer, why should he or she trust you?

One good note from my recent experience – I was not inundated with resumes or notes from unqualified people. Amen. That renews faith in my counterparts that we don’t just snap up any available job out of desperation. The choices I have are few, but there are a couple of shining stars that will most likely get the nod because they took the time to pull together a presentation instead of short, dull or otherwise incomplete emails that just beg to be deleted.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Your Free Coach

It's not often that we get free help in our careers. People make big money coaching, consulting and offering career advice. However, there's one place that exists where a budding writer can get sage advice, lots of help for specific problems/questions and join in a unique camraderie. Check out Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing site ( Click Here). Anne offers tons of valuable, and yes, free advice for writers at every level. The forum is a wonderful place to meet working writers and to get top-notch advice. No matter what your specialty/question, chances are someone there can help. Anne also posts jobs twice weekly (sometimes three times, depending on how much work is out there). You can't miss with this site.

While you're at it, don't forget to sign up for Anne's free newsletter. It's always great to feel connected to a group of writers who share the same passion. Hopefully, I'll see you there.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Overworked, Week Two
I'm a bit more than two weeks into my working full time plus freelancing. It's been interesting. I love the day job (albeit a temporary day job). The work is interesting and there are plenty of gaps in the day where I can check my email and respond to client inquiries. No, I haven't done my freelance work at the office - that's just wrong. Although there have been days where I've sat doing absolutely nothing, I'd never combine the two. I'm paid to sit there. And sit there I will.

This overworked status has taught me a little about organizing one's work - you'd be amazed at how much you can get done if you're organized. For instance, when I'm at the office 9-to-5, I use my lulls in workload to map out what I'm going to do that evening when I get home. I start with the priorities - whose project is first? Then I get out important emails to clients and interview subjects. From there, I read up on projects to see what kind of workload I'm looking at. Then I plan my days ahead.

This week, I'm looking at one article revision, two articles due to two different pubs, and an ongoing project that absolutely must see more action. First thing's first - quick revisions. Then interviews scheduled. Then project work. Toward the weekend, I'll have (hopefully) an interview or two under my belt, so I'll be able to put in a few hours over the weekend writing the stories. If not, I can push them both until early next week and they become next Monday's priority.

I make lists. I start with a list of what has to be done. Then I get out another piece of paper and list what has to be done first, then second, then third... you get the idea. If the work is really slow at the office, I'll then type this all into an email I'll shoot home. When I get home, there it is waiting for me.

The tough part is working until quitting time for most people. There's no way you're going to convince someone to stay until 5:30 and talk with you via phone until 6:00 when they just want to go home, too. (Hey, they may be working two jobs, too!)

I'm not working under perfect conditions. Frankly, I'd much rather be home doing my thing and organizing without the added pressure of my day disappearing. But when the projects dwindle and the checks don't arrive, a writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do. The conditions are working, and that's good enough for now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Proof That It Works
A friend of mine was recently telling me how she'd worked for a magazine twice and after a year, still hadn't seen payment for either article. Oh, they had good excuses. They were dancing around the issue - "We sent a check. If you haven't received it in a week, call us. We'll have to wait two more weeks to make sure it hasn't cleared the bank or has returned, then we'll put your invoice back in to accounting." This went on for eight months.

I asked her if she'd ever threatened litigation. She was a bit surprised, saying she didn't want to ruin the relationship. But after pausing a moment, she came to her own conclusion - the relationship, she said, was already ruined thanks to their behavior. I told her to put one phrase in her next correspondence "To avoid any unnecessary litigation, pay within ... days of receipt of this letter."

She did. And guess what? After being jerked around for eight months, she received payment in full for both articles. She was thrilled!

Mind you, you shouldn't go around threatening to sue every client who misses a payment deadline. I'm all for understanding that things happen - people miss a payment, invoices get lost on desks, people forget and yes, they even put it off intentionally. But when you've waited three months and the excuses are becoming more inventive, it's time to toughen up. No, you don't have to call names nor do you need to write nasty emails. Instead, just include a highlighted section of your next invoice showing the late fee, and also showing the phrase "to avoid collection issues, please pay within 7 days from the date posted on this invoice." You may want to remind the client in a "business voice" that there could be a collection issue. That gives him/her two reminders in one correspondence, making it harder for the client to deny seeing the notice.

If your client hasn't responded at all to your invoices and has gone silent, give him/her a call. Find out if everything is okay. Then proceed as usual. Life does often get in the way. Only you can decide if the reason is good enough to wait one more month for payment.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Projects From Hell (and why you should be pickier)
At the moment, I'm feeling the weight of an unending project bearing down on me. The clients want to see it completed. I want to see it completed. But it goes on and on.... and guess what? The amount of stress this project is causing is not offset by any great amounts of money. I bid low, thinking it would be much easier than it turned out to be. Shame on me.

Here's a lesson for you - no matter what project you've taken on, make sure you take it on at a price you can live with. This one I'm steeped in at the moment was big - and the per-page rate seemed fine. I knew the parameters and the page setup, but I took it thinking the page setup wouldn't make that much difference. And yes, you guessed it; the page setup is such that I'm actually working for peanuts-per-hour. I'd dump it, but I'm not the type to dump clients just because the workload is heavy. So I slog on, hoping my inches of progress get me to the finish line someday. And honestly, I don't ever want to get the reputation of not following through on a project for ANY reason, especially one so whiney as "the work is too hard!" Work is hard. Life's a b*tch, etc., etc.

So how do you know what you're getting into? Oftentimes you don't. What I suggest to you (and what I'll be doing from now on) is to really examine the project from the outset. Before there are any contracts or agreements, look at the work the client expects to be done. Clarify any parameters in writing. Make sure you understand that 44 lines per page, for example, is the equivalent of one and a half single-spaced pages, which nearly doubles your output. Know all the requirements and really look at them before you sign the contract.

If your parameters aren't clearly defined, you will need to work some safety nets into your contract. For example, suppose you're ghostwriting a book that you think will take four months of your time. Make sure you state that in your contract - that payment is due upon completion and delivery of the manuscript (and make sure it's stated so that it's when you deliver it, not when the client says it's completed) or within four months, whichever comes first. Otherwise, you could be waiting much longer for your payment.

Before you start any project, give yourself a reality check. Can you complete it in a specified amount of time? Is that in your contract? Is the work you agreed to the type that might turn out to be harder than it first appears? Are you and the client in agreement about just what's expected and is that spelled out in a contract?

And finally, is the price quoted enough to compensate you for your time? If the answer is no, turn it down. Nothing's worse than a project that makes you hate dragging yourself to the computer every day. But if you find yourself stuck in one that doesn't seem to end, don't take it out on the client by delivering sloppy or late work. It's not his or her fault that you bit off more than you could chew.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Your Fluctuating Career
When your career has taken more turns than a taxi in Manhattan, you may not think anything of it to jump from one job to another. In fact, if you're a freelancer, that's part-and-parcel of your profession. However, there may come a time when you need to leave the freelancing behind either temporarily or permanently. And the worst thing to come to grips with is that feeling that you're failing at something.

I took on temp work recently, which may become more permanent than the freelance job. My bank account resembles more a ransacked piggybank than a savings of any sort. My business expenses have me wondering just how I'm making those credit card payments, and I've not seen a check in so long I'm wondering if my clients have died. Enter the temp job. It will shore up my bank account, pay off some bills and give me restful nights instead of angst-filled ones.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances, I'm here to say it's okay. It's okay to take on a 9-to-5. If you plan to freelance the rest of your days, you're going to run into this at least once. It's not giving in, and it's not failing. It's doing what you need to do in order to eat. So why not do it?

That brings me to another point - are you sure your career aligns with your future? For instance, do you want to retire someday, or do you want to own a vacation home? Or are you happy to work into your dotage (by choice or not) and forego the comfortable life for the happy work life? These are things you need to be asking yourself. Is a freelance career something you can live with? Forget the golden images of working in your slippers and of lounging on the beach with a laptop - aside from the slippers part, you're going to be sorely disappointed if you think writing from home is any great luxury. You're still going to get carpal tunnel, stress, deadline headaches and deadline anxiety. You'll jut get it all without the nasty commute. Yes, we call our own hours, but guess what? If we want to be competitive, we're going to be working 9-to-5 (or typically 8-to-6) like everyone else.

It may not be pretty advice, but it's the best I can give you. Get real with yourself - tell the truth about why you want to freelance full time. If the answer keeps coming back to "calling my own shots", rethink it. If the answer comes back to a variety of work and the chance to build a business model that works, this may be for you. And if you cannot accept that the job comes with major glitches and the occasional, or not so occasional, corporate stint, then just stick with a regular paycheck.

Oh, and please make sure your goals are doable from whatever career path you take. It would suck to find out five years from retirement that you're not anywhere near ready for it financially.
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