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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Pretty Sure I'm Right This Time

In a really strange conversation with an interview subject yesterday, the man I was talking to was dead wrong and I could prove it. But I chose not to. His pronunciation of my last name was waaaaay off the spelling of it, and when I corrected him, he said, "No, it says right here in my email that it's (whatever he'd called me)." I corrected him again. And yes, he argued that I was wrong. How does a person respond in that situation?

I changed the subject.

Here was a person who has to be right all the time. I know who I am. This guy had other ideas. It became instantly unimportant to me that I have to change his mind. It was also a signal that this was someone I'd rather not know, so if he mispronounces my name, at least I won't be associated with him, right?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Job Listings - May 29, 2007
Newbies - One Key to Financial Success
I'm busy - maybe as busy as I was last year at this time. But last year, as some of you may remember, was the year Lori nearly took (gasp!)a "real" job. Why? Because as busy as I was, I was busy on big, slow-to-finish-and-slow-to-pay jobs. This year, the jobs are ongoing, regular gigs.

And that's the key to your own success. Yes, it's great to take on big projects. It's not great to take on just big projects, and your wallet will soon understand the importance of steady work. So if you want to have success at freelancing that lasts beyond a few months, take this advice to heart - get yourself at least two steady gigs.

Why two? Because as you've already found out in dealing with one-time gigs, there's no such thing as a "sure thing." I was recently hired to write two articles a month for a new magazine. The "new" part was the first clue that I shouldn't rely on this as a steady source of income. Startups are great if they last. This one is doing okay, but the management is pretty unorganized right now, and the work has been spotty at best. There goes that steady check.

But I didn't panic because I have three other steady gigs to fall back on. I write a weblog, which gives me guaranteed cash in my bank account each month. Small amount, but it's noticeable when things go lean on me. Then there's the client with the ongoing need for case studies (two clients, actually, so I guess we have four steady gigs). Then there's the newest job that turned steady without my knowing it. I tried out and the editor called and nonchalantly told me about my writing the front-page copy every couple of weeks. I guess I'm hired.

While I'm sitting well now, I'm not resting. Neither should you. Never bank on any job lasting. Clients change their needs, their staff, their management. You're in today and out tomorrow. If you're always looking and securing ongoing work, any loss will have less impact on your bottom line.

Try some of these gigs. Who knows which one will become your next source of steady work?

Writer/Researcher for Ongoing Work
Freelance Blogger
Freelance Writer
Freelance Editor
Fashion Blogger
Freelance Copywriter

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Playing Emotional Hardball

Expanding on this week's theme - difficulties with bad clients - I think it's time we touched on what I think is the toughest speed bump to ignore - emotional hardball. That's when you, the professional writer, follow your invoicing procedure up to and possibly including the threat of litigation only to be met by one of the following:

-Counter-threats
-Blame
-Accusations of shoddy workmanship
-Name-calling
-Lies

Let me say right here that we are fortunate. Of all the clients we deal with, the ones I'm describing are definitely in the minority. Most clients reading this may worry that they're accused of this. Disclaimer: Clients - if you're reading it and are worried, that's the best indication that you're nowhere near guilty of any of these tactics. We can spot trouble a mile away by now. We can discern good from bad and we thank the Maker for you good ones!

Back to our topic. I myself have been faced with every one of those items on the list thrown at me by bad clients. So have you, I bet. What to do? One word - DISENGAGE.

See, the only thing that matters in all this is that you conduct business professionally. In most professions, there is a proviso in which the last resort to collect is to either sue or send bills to collection. When dealing with bad clients, you must stop thinking like a person. You're a business. This is business. It doesn't matter if the bad client calls you nasty names, lights your cat on fire or calls your talent into question. One fact, and one fact alone, matters here - your business has billed and has not received payment. If you have been cordial and professional to this point, there's no reason to be anything else going forward. Cordially remind your bad client of the overdue payment, of the steps necessary to avoid litigation or collection, and hold fast to what you state and be prepared to follow through. Don't get sucked into the drama - drama is the enemy. It breaks down your defenses, makes you doubt yourself and sucks you into pointless, tiresome fruitless exchanges with a person who is diverting the point from the real issue.

That's not to say the bad behavior won't continue. And for anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Psych 101 or behavioral patterns, you know that the behavior will indeed escalate before it stops. Don't go there. Just don't. Think you can't resist? Think you need to defend your honor? Hogwash. Some of the things my writing friends and I have heard include lack of following an otherwise unmentioned procedure; being a hard-ass; being a dumb-ass; being sexually frustrated; not getting any lovin' at home or otherwise; being too stupid to understand why payment isn't forthcoming; having no talent; destroying or sucking the life out of someone's words; being this close to being sued for not delivering what was already approved (that one's a classic - we should start our own Wall of Fame and award a spot to each writer on receiving his or her first charge); being too out of touch to manage to invoice the way the client wants (and the way the writer is just now hearing about); being a no-talent hack; being a fraud; etc., etc.

Does it hurt to hear it? Yes, if you let it get to you. However, you need to see it for what it is - an attempt to discredit your services and avoid payment. If a non-paying aggressive person wants to discredit you, so be it. That's not important (unless you're being discredited publicly to groups of potential or current clients - that, my friend, is called legal action in the making). What is important is the "avoiding payment" part. Focus on that. Ignore the emotional crap, for that's exactly what it is - crap. You're better than that. You're a business. Businesses don't have feelings.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Did I Just Step in Something?

I love creative people, except when they think they're being creative when in fact they're being skanks. Just experienced an incident with one particular creative who owes me money. In fact, the check's been absent since somewhere around January. I sent yet another invoice, this time with a late fee.

Let me tell you what amazes me - how all of my previous invoices were sucked into this person's spam folder, yet this one makes it through and incenses the recipient. That's the excuse I got when I was told (nay - berated and told) that the check would arrive sans the late fee. Whatever. Just make sure it arrives before I start collecting on my pension, please, lest you see more late fees and (gasp and egad!) litigation. The note was indeed a lovely stall tactic - a creative one, but pretty damn clearly a stall tactic - and failed to pin the blame on me (though doggone it, this person tried like the devil).

Some of the points brought up by said creative - why didn't I send a paper invoice? Where was it? They were waiting for it. Okay, if you really were waiting for it, and somehow I don't see that happening, why didn't you ask for it? I find it hard to understand why, when all of our dealings (attachments included) were conducted via email, that this person would expect a snail mail invoice and more to the point, why this person would expect me to believe that all previous correspondence made it through the firewall but OOPS! That nasty little invoice was sent to the Junk folder. Gosh, I must not know much about technology.

Something smells. Pardon me while I check the bottom of my shoes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Job Listings - May 22, 2007
Writer Bill of Rights
I'm very glad to see this week's topic has generated so many responses! I'm somewhat sad to see that I was getting lots of agreement - that we've all been victims of Clients Behaving Badly. For the most part, we have great relationships with our clients (I say this so new and potential clients don't get the false impression that we're hard to work with - we're not. We're just not all that excited about being treated badly.) We do, however, come across the occasional rotten egg.

What upsets me is that I think this is a trend that's not yet peaked. In my mind, I equate the rise in bad behavior to the new generation of "article mills" that offer you minimal dollars for maximum efforts. That cheapens our trade, in my opinion. While the clients behaving badly are not necessarily these particular people, that they exist and exploit seems to filter into how we're treated by others who may see us bidding like idiots to get to write 300 articles for someone for 10 cents an article. How can you respect an industry that allows that to happen?

At any rate, some folks do have the impression that we are less-than-professional because we work from home. A false impression, yet there you are. How can we change their minds? By drafting our Writer Bill of Rights - where we pledge to both our clients and ourselves to conduct business as professionals. We will expect proper consideration for proper work performed. We will expect professionalism in our clients and demand it in ourselves. We will actively engage with our clients and we will actively seek payment, including down to litigation, in an effort to protect our image and our livelihood. And we will be discerning in what we take on and in how we present ourselves.

That includes turning down work that is well beneath us and below minimum wage. To that end, I do my best to bring you jobs that I myself would bid on. If they say "Ten bucks an article" you won't see it here (or if you do, I was sleeping when I posted it).

Freelance Copywriter
Freelance Assignments (Says local Ohio area, but those with specialty writing might have a shot)
Web Writer/Analyst
Training/Technical Writer
Speech Writing
Assistant Editor (Yes, it's freelance)
Freelance Real Estate Writer (Must live in northern VA)
Freelance Writing Assignments
Freelance Food Writer (Austin area)
Article Writers - Southwest slant
Freelance Editor/Writer
Freelance Copywriter
Technical Writer/Journalist
Freelance Article Writer

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Client Gaffes and No-Nos

I've preached plenty about what we as writers should or should not do. Professional etiquette must be followed even in the face of the most wretched humans to hit your in box. For the most part, we writers listen and respond well. However, not all clients understand proper etiquette when dealing with a freelancer. Consider this your primer, folks.

1. If it's 9:30 pm, don't even think I'm answering that phone. Nor will I answer it at 9:30 am Saturday morning. Or Sunday afternoon. Freelancers are not "free" at any given hour to chat about your project. On weekends - get this - we actually have lives! I know it's hard to imagine, but we do get out more than you think. Why, the last time one of you called, I was holding a paint roller in one hand and the phone in the other. Do not assume we're at that computer 24/7. Those people are called "gamers."

2. Insulting our work won't get you a discount or free work. You tried, didn't you? You called four times and each time you started the message with a bitch about what wasn't right before you requested new work to be done. And you called on a Saturday morning. Thanks. My kid really appreciated being awakened at 8:00 am. Respect boundaries, you putz.

3. Pay promptly. Pay promptly. Pay promptly. This isn't a hobby for us - it's our jobs. We treat you professionally and we perform a service for you for which we expect to be paid. Go figure. So don't try telling us the check was just sent and then come back a month later saying it's on its way. The Pony Express no longer operates and if they did, they'd be a damn sight faster than that. We're not buying it. Pay your bills on time. Our mortgages/car payments/tuition payments depend on it. If you don't, we're calling your boss and getting him or her to try the same treatment out on you. See how much you like it.

4. Don't invent problems. Oh, you think we've never had this happen, don't you? You hold off payment until we tack on late fees or (egads!) threaten litigation, then suddenly you voice your dissatisfaction with some aspect (or all) of the project. Now's not the time. Then was the time. We can see clearly that this is a stall tactic. And like the "check's in the mail" ploy, we're not buying it.

5. Talk to us. Sure, we're writers. We know how to craft nearly any prose imaginable. But we're not mind readers. We cannot tell you what you want to say if you don't communicate with us. If you see the first draft and it's not what you wanted, tell us! We're not fragile little things who can't take the pressure. We've had much tougher editors than you - so let us know instead of firing us or throwing your hands up in disgust. We're here to fix it, too. We can't do it if we don't know it's broken.

6. Reply! Okay, so you have a cash flow problem right now. Happens to the best of us. Tell us so. Don't just ignore the emails and phone calls. That does one thing - it gives you a horrible reputation as a client. And we do talk to each other occasionally. Not that we'd sully your reputation intentionally, but we watch each others' backs - don't be the person we warn others about.

7. Put the whip away. So you run a big/medium/small company. You're used to telling people what to do all day. That doesn't mean we need the same direction. In fact, most of us have survived quite well without someone dictating when we can breathe. Remember, we all own our own businesses. We're used to being disciplined. Yes, we'd love your input. No, we don't want someone telling us we have to devote endless hours to just their project. Look at our titles again - freelance writers. We have other clients. You're our entire world for the allotted time each day. Beyond that, we are working hard for others, too. Laws were created that define an employee versus a freelancer. Unless you feel like picking up our benefits, be careful with requiring specific hours of our "freelance" time. If you can't accept that, you need to hire a staff writer.

8. Be our coworker. Bet you didn't know that you were entering a partnership when you hired us, did you? Well, if you want your project to reflect your values and your needs, you need to be involved. We'd love to have your input during the creation phase - it's how we know we'll give you what you want.

9. Respect us. We respect you. We respect your project needs. We respect your deadlines and yes, even your quirky topics. Please respect us as professionals and respect our time off. We're here for you during business hours. If you need to speak after hours, just ask and we'll work it out. But please, please don't call as we're walking out the door to our kid's prom party/graduation/christening/bar mitzvah. Respect our home life as we respect yours, and we'll get along just fine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Job Postings - May 15, 2007
Supply and Demand

Yesterday's rambling about traffic held a hidden gem of a topic - how compensation for freelancers would change if the corporate world were to suddenly embrace telecommuting. Two thoughts went through my head simultaneously as Mike Seiber commented on the idea of better compensation in a "new" world. First, our salaries would indeed suddenly make sense to those who are now working from home and seeing that it's not as easy/fun/relaxing as they thought. Second, would the salary adjustment last?

The reason I thought the second is this - we price according to the supply/demand of our industry. We're available to help with one call or email. We have the perceived freedom (and it is a perception only) of dropping what we're doing and writing or editing at will. Once the world starts working from home and catches on to the idea that we're just grunting it out like everyone else, will our value suddenly diminish? Call it too much chocolate-induced worrying or call it hindsight, but I want to toss that idea out to writers and see if it sticks or stinks.

I'm an optimist - I think our newfound value would last. Mind you, there will be factors working to bring us down, such as writers who will work sixteen weeks for five bucks or who will work for the dreaded "ad revenue" cop-out. But I think our intrinsic value will remain and those now working from home will sympathize with the 10 p.m. client calls and will share our love of the Caller ID features.

Time will tell, I guess. Meanwhile, see if some of these jobs will help spike your annual net worth. Where the information was available, I posted salary info.

Wordpress Blogger Pays $1K/mo.
Baking Blogger Salary plus bonus
Ghostwriter
Contributing Editor (FT, but the word "contributing" suggests offsite)
Freelance Writer Pay per assignment
Freelance Writer
Medical Copy Editor
Copywriter
Real Estate Exam Writer

Monday, May 14, 2007

More on Telecommuting

After spending a lovely Sunday afternoon waiting for two freaking hours in line to cross the George Washington Bridge, I've come to realize that we're too crowded. In fact, what should have been a two-hour commute from the Philly burbs to Manhattan took five hours. It was gorgeous outside too, which compounded our agony of being stuck on concrete (which resembled being stuck in concrete). Our roads are inadequate for the number of cars on them. If this is weekend traffic, I'd hate to be around for rush hour(s). Our plans to stroll through the Botanical Gardens were gone. We were able to drop off our friend, share a Mister Softee with her and get going.

Times like this remind me just how lucky I am that my work comes to me. I can work completely from home. So can he, but his company is still of the opinion that employees need to be present in order to be managed.

Let's hope the next generation - the iPod generation - embraces the virtual office much more than our generations did. If gas prices keep jumping (and you know they will), our telecommuting existence will become the ultimate prize. And who knows? That may just make it easier for us to attain the pricing we deserve. If the stigma of "working at home equals less pay and all play" is wiped out by pure necessity, I predict writers will soon be given a better platform on which to argue a fair wage - if not given more respect for being disciplined enough to handle an at-home job.

Friday, May 11, 2007

My Favorite Blogs

Kathy Kerhli has named this blog as one of her top Thinking Blogger Awards, an honor I never saw coming and one I thank her for! Why did she name this blog? Here it is in her own words: "Lori Widmer's Words on the Page because she's a more experienced and far more successful freelance writer than I am." I argue the experienced and successful part, but I thank you, Kathy, for reading and being one of my cyber-chums!

Time to pay it forward - here are my picks for Thinking Blogger Awards, all of which I read daily or nearly daily:

Anne Wayman's The Golden Pencil. Anne knows writing. She spreads that knowledge willingly with anyone and everyone. A true professional.

Kristen King's Inkthinker. Kristen continues to amaze me with the depth of her talent and energy. She knows more than most writers twice her age.

Kathy Kerhli's Irreverent Freelancer. I love someone who calls out bad behavior and knows how to protect her professional boundaries. Kathy's taught me a few things about standing up for what's right.

Devon Ellington's Ink in My Coffee. Devon is the Cybil of writing - she makes multitasking (and multi-pseudonyms) look easy. Talented writing and a good heart. She shares glimpses into her life as lessons for us all.

Leigh Zaykoski's Wealth of Words. What a fun, personal account of one woman's writing life.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Scam-Baiting
I read an article in The Atlantic today about a new tack taken with scammers - you know, that Prince's widow from Nigeria who needs you to transfer some money. It's called scam-baiting. Instead of deleting these messages or worse, being taken in by them, folks are seeking them out. Why? It's an attempt to engage the scammer and suck him/her into a different type of scam - one that wastes time and energy. Some of these scam-baiters have elaborate tactics - one dude had his scammer carve a Commodore 64 computer out of wood, and then airmail it to the US - for a fictitious art competition. Another had a "dying" scammer carve a wooden bust for an art scholarship, only to lose it when the scammer sealed an African squirrel in the box with the bust, thus chewing holes all through it (and no, there was no squirrel, but Photoshop made it true). (The "dying scammer, by the way, is still alive and apparently doing quite well despite his contention in his initial email that he was on death's door)

Some are less elaborate - photos of the scammers holding signs that have nasty sayings on them like "I like sailors" or "I need a vaginal prosthesis." The idea is to keep scammers busy running down false trails to divert them away from scamming.

One website - 419eater.com - is devoted to the "art" of scam-baiting. Some of these ruses are quite detailed, which makes me wonder just how much time these guys have on their hands.

It draws you into an ethical dilemma you didn't see coming - these thieves, who are after your money, are made to look like complete fools. Most are unaware of it. Others catch on and let loose on their scam-baiters.

Visit the site. Tell me what you think. It's intriguing reading, to be sure.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Motivation, Please

I don't want to work today. I was in Manhattan yesterday and I got back home after midnight. Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but this came two days after flying back on the early-morning flight from Cleveland. Mistake! Never take a 7:25 a.m. flight. You have to be at that airport before the sun wakes up. A wasted day of napping to feel human again. And arriving home early this morning sure didn't help that feeling of falling off the chair (thank God for arm rests).

So I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, not to mention trying to concentrate in order to type out some notes on an interview. The subject matter is new and the client is testing me, so this is not the time to fall asleep at the keyboard. Because most of the stuff I write is technical, I could easily nod off anyway (true confession time - not everything I write about fascinates me). The study is warm today. All I need is a hot bath and a soft pillow and it's lights out.

I started in on that taped interview three times now. Funny, but each time I push that button, I realize that something else needs to be done. So far this morning, I've watered the perennials in the garden, washed out my travel mug (the ONLY way to drink a honking-big cup of chai tea), eaten about a dozen Girl Scout Thin Mints (the cookies were in Cleveland - don't tell me you wouldn't make the trip, too!), answered a number of emails, scoured weblogs and posted comments, got into a lovely conversation with Caridad Pineiro about Paris Hilton and the latest Hollywood "spoiled brat pack", and paid a few bills. It's procrastination. So whaddya do when it strikes?

How about nothing? Sometimes it's okay to allow your brain to go on vacation, even when you have looming deadlines. For me, I have five days until deadline. The interviews have been conducted and the story is mapped out somewhere in my brain. That I can't think straight isn't going to bother me so much today. There's always tomorrow. Today, I'd much rather enjoy the 80+ degrees outside and perhaps watch a little Eddie Izzard DVD for levity (If you've never watched Eddie Izzard's standup routines, I recommend Dress to Kill or Glorious for starters). I should prepare invoices. I should call the potential client about the ghostwriting gig. I should finish this article.

Shoulda coulda woulda. Maybe a noontime siesta is in order...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Job Listings - May 8, 2007
A Small, Familiar Rant

The low-paying "employers" are becoming more creative. Here's the ad I saw today - "Build your writing portfolio here - FREE!" Needless to say, it was just one more non-paying, sweat-your-arse-off-for-an-ungrateful-thief ad, but it was disturbing to see the ad framed in a way that may have made beginning writers think they were getting something special. Truth be told, we can build our writing careers in a better way - have someone pay us to do so. There's a novel idea!

Beginning writers, listen up - if you want FREE EXPOSURE for your writing and the chance to build your portfolio for FREE, get a website and put your samples up there. It's much more important that your potential clients see your work in one place than all over the web and exploited by strangers. As my writing chum Kathy Kehrli would say to these scam artists, Screw YOU!

I'm getting off my soapbox for now. Here are some potential clients who actually have the decency to pay you for your troubles:

Travel Writer
Script Writing
Write About Homeless Programs
Content Input for Website
Freelance Writing
Blogger
Technology Blogger
Medical/Technology Writer
Comedy Feature Film Writer
Ghostwriting
Telecom Editor
Business Plan Writer
Editor

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Life's A Big Gas
Or
The Perks of Working from Home
$2.99 - that's what the price of regular unleaded was yesterday at the Valley Forge Texaco station down the street. I'm terrified to drive past again for two reasons - one, because the price is surely to go up and two, who can afford to drive at those prices? With prices expected to top $4 this summer, it's time to pay homage to the freelance life.

We don't commute. We shuffle. Be it in slippers, socks or barefoot, we have the sweetest commute on the planet - from coffee pot to keyboard. Imagine the amount of gas we save annually! Why, if I were a math genius (or even a math coherent), I'd be adding up what my former 60-mile-per-day commute was costing me in petrol. (If you're adept at addition, my car averages 29 mph highway, 22 mph city and the drive was twenty minutes of stop-and-go traffic with 20 more minutes of 70-plus speeds) I can say I saved a bundle on toll fees - I paid turnpike tolls of $11 a week prior to the last two fee hikes. My car is happier, too. No longer am I changing oil every five weeks nor am I wracking up a good 2,000 each week between work and errands/play.

It's funny how corporate America has set off down the path of creating alternative fuel sources for autos and promoting public transportation (and doing a lousy job at both, in my opinion), when the answer is right in front of them - promote telecommuting. I'd wager that 80 percent of all jobs in this country can be performed at home (and remember, I'm a math illiterate, so I'm just grabbing a random number). Do we not work as hard as those in an office? Are our deadlines met or missed with just the same frequency? Do our working existences not depend on our performance just as much as it would if we were located in cubes five stories off the ground?

It's all about control, in my opinion, for those who manage and run the corporations feel they need to be in control. If you can't see your employees, how can you control their output? I've had conversations with numerous employers and employees alike - the mindset of the employers seems to be that employees need direct, hands-on management. The mindset of the employees is that less management means more time to produce. Frankly, it's all moot. Employee performance is just as easy to measure from a distance as it is up close. If the work is done, you'll know it. If it's not, you'll know that, too.

Go ahead and get the hybrid car. It's still necessary to save our planet. But while you're at it, find a better commute. How about none?

That works for me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Job Listings - May 1, 2007
Following Directions
I'm constantly surprised by the number of people who have horror stories regarding writers. Yea, I said writers. See, just like any other professional group, writers seem to suffer from the same malady - we don't follow directions. As much as I'd love to oppose those who say writers drive them crazy when they don't follow simple directions, I can't. I've experienced the same thing.

See, these complaints are coming from your potential clients. They post an ad, much like the ones listed below, and they tell you exactly what they want from you. Yet invariably, they are inundated with submissions that don't follow directions. One employer lamented that he specifically stated no attachments, yet all but three of his respondents sent attachments. Another said she asked for a letter stating the candidate's qualifications. Only one person followed through. The rest just added attachments and contact info. In my own experience, I asked for a query letter and some samples. Only one person out of ten bothered to do that. One person was brazen enough to send a note saying "Call me" with just a name and number. Another sent an attachment and a signature.

If you think potential employers will look past all their requirements and head straight for your brilliant resume and clips, you've got a surprise coming. Because you didn't bother to follow directions, they discounted you as someone who's either A) difficult to work with or B) someone who isn't able to follow simple directions. Don't shoot yourself in the foot. Give them what they ask for. Be diligent enough, professional enough, to honor their requirements. It's not a sign of weakness, nor will it compromise your art. It might just land you the job.

This week's offerings:

Content Editor
Freelance Writer
Website Writing
Freelance Magazine Editor
Freelance Editor
Blog Writer
Diet Blogger
Freelance Writer
Contributing Writer
Project Writer
Words on the Page