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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cutting the Cord
A Continuation of Our Standards Discussion
This week I had to do something I'd much rather not do - I had to quit a client. I've quit a few clients before, but this was different. I rather liked these folks, and I enjoyed the work. So what made me do it? Lack of a contract.

See, I've been burned in the past. I've been burned by very nice people who have promised things, but haven't put it in writing. Due to these experiences, I have been diligent about covering my backside. So when the payment terms of this latest "test" project came in, there appeared to be a large amount of vagueness surrounding just how the compensation would be calculated. I asked for a contract, and added if the client wanted to negotiate with me, I was open, but that I had to halt work until we reached an accord.

The response saddened me. Instead of sticking to the point, which was the contract I was asking for, the client instead chose to take offense to my objections. Instead of hearing me out, he expressed his dismay. Instead of offering alternatives, he demeaned my work and lumped it in there with mass-market rags(it was indirect, but I knew what he was attempting). Instead of being professional, he let his ego get bruised at the first objection. He said no one has ever had a problem with the terms before. So who is working under such fuzzy conditions? I wished him well again, and told him point blank - this isn't personal. It's just business.

And that's how you must look at it. It's business. The minute you let emotions get mixed into your negotiations, it's over. You're no longer acting like or being treated like a professional. When it happens, on either side of the equation, it's time to cut bait.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Happy Birthday to...

... me. And to anyone else born on this day (writer friend Pat Marcello comes to mind). That's it. That's all the fussing I'm doing. As the years pile on, I've decided it's better to avoid and ignore. That I spent the morning in a doctor's office for yet one more painful joint is enough to make me want to just eat the freakin' cake and be done with the aging thing.

On to today's topic. Contracts. What do you do when your client says they don't have contracts for new writers and that they're more apt to just say what they're paying you? You push back - that's what you do. And that's what I'm about to do. I have a client who is pleasant enough, but who failed the "contract talk" portion of our relationship. I don't work without a contract. Period. That this one spelled out in email what I'd be making isn't quite good enough for me. It was too vague. Yes, there was mention of a rate - one rate for their new hires (me) and another, not-so-clear rate for "top" writers going forward. I need more clarity. I need to know how far "forward" we need to go in order for me to get that kind of cash. I also need to know what this person considers to be a "top" writer. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I've been at this long enough to avoid mentioning it for fear of sounding like a dinosaur. I've earned my stripes, basically. Why on earth am I now required to adopt a work-and-see attitude with this particular client?

I've been going back and forth in my own brain about this client for a few weeks now. The lack of clarity, the tunnel vision of the editor (if you can't make a source talk, you can't - that's the story too, right?) and the sour taste left by one particularly involved assignment not yet being accepted (it's been a month - the "right" source isn't calling back, you dig?) makes me want to cut the cord. Why don't I? That nagging doubt that another project will take its place. If my meetings go well on Monday, this project will be history. But without additional clarification on what constitutes payment, I'm outta there. Writers - professional writers - have standards. Time to enforce the boundaries.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Job Listings - June 26, 2007
Having Standards
The toughest thing you will ever face in your freelance career is that person staring back at you in the mirror. That's right - you're your own worst obstacle. Why? Because more often than not, you're willing to compromise your standards in order to secure the job. I'm here to say stop it. Stop it right now.

Look - if you want to earn big bucks at freelancing, you have to stop accepting low-paying jobs. Sure, that check for a hundred bucks helps when the gas bill is due, but in the long run you're settling. You're allowing yourself to take crap jobs that you know full well are crap jobs, but you justify them by saying they're "easy money." Really? Easy money? I see them as roadblocks to the real money. While you're working on that web log that pays a buck a post, you're not looking for or securing that job that pays a buck a word or better. Also, it's not exactly a huge bonus to have some of these jobs listed on your resume. Which would read better to you - health article writer for an article mill or article writer for Top Health Magazine? How about catalogue description writer versus writer of corporate white papers?

I understand why you take the low-paying stuff. I've been on the side of where's-my-rent-money-coming-from. But if you change your mindset and put a bit more faith in your ability to find and secure real gigs, it will happen.

With that in mind, take a look at some of these gigs below. Mind you, I cannot tell you how much each pays. I cannot decide for you how little is too little. I can bring you just a few more options to choose from. Good luck with the search for bigger and better.

Onsite Freelancer - Hoboken/Manhattan
Freelance Education Writers
Writer/Editor for Men's Site
Web Writers
Freelance Proofreader
Editor for lifestyle magazine
Women's Lifestyle Blogger
Freelance Article Writer
Employee Comm Writer/Shmoozer
Real Estate Ad Writer
Writer for Shopping Venues

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Buck Stops Where?
Had an interesting situation a while back with a client in which I was told that because I wasn't around to answer questions, this person missed his deadline. The scenario briefly - an article I wrote and handed a week before this particular request came in. Since we'd pushed back on the deadline a few times, I had no idea when the copy deadline was. Given that this was a piece that the editor said was finished in his book, I went about my other business. I also went out of town for a few days. Imagine my surprise when I returned to an accusation - because of my absence, the publication missed deadline.

Does anyone else think that the blame for that doesn't quite rest with me? It's true I didn't communicate my absence. However, it's also true I was told the article was finished. Nowhere was the deadline even brought up. I did drop that client after a while because there seemed to be a pattern of mildly blaming behavior developing. Yet it does occur that those higher up the food chain can occasionally pass along blame for their own miscommunication or lack thereof.

I bring this up because a current client situation is strikingly similar. However in this case, I'm taking a less passive stance. Instead of expecting the communication to start flowing like honey from a hive, I'm initiating it. I see it as a need - I need to know deadlines. I need to know when this particular client is really signing off a piece. I'm making sure now that the communication is clear and that both of us understand the process. I don't like doing the job of someone else, but lacking that person's communicating what's expected, I'm doing so. It's for the good of future projects, and it may just help someone who could use a better system of dealing with writers do just that. Am I wrong to assert myself in this way? Frankly, I don't see it as wrong, and I don't care. It's not about feelings and politics and pecking order. It's about doing the job.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Chuckle
My writing chum Mike Sieber wrote a great rant about logos recently on his Adventures in Copywriting web log. Go on - read it. I'll wait....

What made me laugh is that this is the same frustrating scenario we've all faced at one time or another. We have clients who, for whatever reason, focus their energies on one aspect of a project. Usually, it's the wrong aspect. Sure, a nice logo is important, but if you aren't clear in what you're selling, it's not really going to be much more than a cool graphic taking up space. Mike's frustration is echoed by all. We've all faced the "I need the words 'strategic partnership' in the copy at least three times" requests. In these cases, it's tough steering a client in the right direction - they're fixated on what they deem to be the most necessary part of their project.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. For the man who wanted sales letters, and an envelope to go with, I tried explaining that too much copy on the outside of an envelope will cause that envelope to hit the trash can faster than the rest of the mail. No one wants to be screamed at. And an overabundance of copy is like a toddler stung by a bee - it demands tons of attention from people eager to flee the noise.

Sometimes the client wins. As it should be, for this is their project. You can either advise and let it go or advise and drop the project if it's against your better judgment to continue. Just get your concerns written down should that client come back at you with accusations of incompetence once that nasty project with all its flaws comes up against the real-world critics.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Baby, We're Stars!
Dear chum Anne Wayman and yours truly appear in the latest issue of The Writer! Thanks to Debbie Swanson who penned the article on where to find sources for your writing. Good job, Debbie! You made us look good. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Disconnect
Certain young, ultra-connected inhabitants of my house seem to think my cell phone should be on at all times or I should at least be near a phone and available. I've been asked, "How can anyone find you if your phone is turned off?" To that, I respond, "Perhaps I don't want to be found."

Over the years, I've had requests/demands from any number of clients that inflict on my private time. For that reason, I've learned to protect my space. I work during normal business hours and only occasionally, upon request, will I work with someone after hours (I'm flexible with time zone issues and work schedules). It happens sometimes that we just can't talk until after hours. If we arrange something in advance, I'm cool with that.

Most people get this. I've worked with people who are very understanding and who appreciate that freelance writers can't be available 24/7. Then there are those who push the boundaries and test the limits. Maybe they think they're special. Maybe they think their one request is okay. Maybe they don't care. Maybe they don't take time off themselves and cannot understand how anyone might need to do so.

I had one of these requests/demands this past week. Since my youngest graduated from high school and I had out-of-town guests and a party (not to mention the trip to the youngest's college for freshman orientation), I put the "away" message on the email on Thursday and went about my personal business.

Sure enough, a call came in. You guessed it - Friday afternoon, two hours from my normal quitting time. It was a request for yet one more thing on a project that I was told was finished four days prior. Then came the line I loathe most - "I wish I had your cell phone number so I could get in touch with you." That is exactly why you don't have it. I give that number to clients who have proven they respect boundaries. You aren't getting it. Ever. Neither is the man who expected me to attend a conference call at 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night right in the middle of my vacation week (and yes, he's the one who snipped at me "Didn't you just have a vacation?"). That number is reserved for those who understand that the "free" part of my "freelance" title does not include answering calls during my daughter's commencement, nor leaving a party with 32 people in order to fill one last request that I didn't see coming. (and before you think I'm getting too harsh on the caller, this person also sent two emails and therefore knew full well I wasn't around.)

I can't help it that some clients live at work. I remember emails from one very demanding man that were time-stamped 11:46 p.m. While it helped me to understand why he didn't think anything of demanding everyone drop what they're doing at his request, I lost all desire to work with someone who didn't understand that personal time is infinitely more important to most of us than work is.

No matter what stage you're at in your career, do yourself a favor - don't apologize for having a life beyond your work. Set your boundaries, know well in advance how you'll handle work that comes in after hours, and let your clients know you're willing to take on special after-hours requests if you can schedule them. The assumption is that we sit at our keyboards and wait for work to come in all day and night. Not so. We volunteer, we work second jobs, we raise kids, we reconnect with significant others and yes, we've even been known to sit and do nothing. These are clients we're working with - not bosses. Even most bosses would understand that it's not okay to call you after hours and expect you to put down your dinner fork and attend to business.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Hiccups
Even though I have ongoing work, I'm starting to get nervous. See, I just came off a whirlwind couple of months where I was chained to the keyboard finishing numerous projects. For the past two weeks (it seems like longer!), I've been relatively idle, with just two projects taking up my time. It's given me some time to write here, and to explore other possibilities. But I'll be honest - I've been sitting back and enjoying the quiet.

It's a hiccup in the workload. There are two other projects pending and a rather large one to be negotiated yet, so I'm not worried. I busted my chops earlier this year with marketing and amen and alleluia, it worked out. Whew! It also helped that two sizable checks arrived today. Makes the hiccup easier to ride through.

But if you're like my one writer friend, who finds himself sitting idle despite his best efforts to secure work (and he's talented and experienced enough to be somewhat picky about his gigs), you probably need to spend less idle time playing Scrabble Blast (although I don't know anyone who does that...) and more time finding alternate ways of getting your name out there.

If you're in a slump - and the summer months are often slump-filled months - consider a few of the following methods of finding gigs:

1. Temp agencies. The reason you're not getting overflow work is because there are a ton of vacations happening, and smart managers and owners know that their summers are not great times to start anything. However, these same people will need stand-in help for those employees on vacation. Get thee to a temp agency - Aquent, Boss Staffing, the Creative Group, etc. - and sign up. Assignments can last a day to a few months or longer. You can also drop back out whenever your workload picks up again.

2. Marketing to advertising and marketing firms. Hey, why not go directly to the source? These folks are always on the lookout for contract help throughout the year. Most of it can be done from home. I've worked with one company a number of times. Never met them in person - only in email.

3. Brochures to new clients. If you're specializing in an industry, you're in luck - most industries have trade pubs that have what's known as resource guides. In those little advertorials, you'll find all the contact information you'll ever need for sending out your own brochure touting your writing skills. Follow up with a phone call to the marketing or communications person within a week.

4. e-Newsletters to existing or former clients. You never know who's going to need help, nor will you know when. Keep in touch with folks (without being a pest) by sending them an e-newsletter. What to include: how to write a press release/sales letter/website home page/etc. My e-newsletters include articles on the importance of understanding your press release audience, how to market to customers in new ways, or even email protocol 101. Whatever value you can bring to your customer base should be included. I make mine about two pages, complete with graphics. I save as a PDF and send it out, but you can handle it however you like. Just make sure you have a short plug about your services, including a "Did You Know?" section explaining some of the services you offer that clients may not have been aware of.

5. Emailed articles for current clients. I learned this trick from a "change agent" - Patti Hathaway - who taught people the value of marketing in new ways. If you're going through the news on Yahoo! or Google and you see something that reminds you of a client, send it over to them. Attach a note saying, "I thought this would be of interest to you." Also, she suggested you set up Google news alerts that will let you know when your clients are mentioned in the news. Then you can forward the notice to them with a note. It's a nice way of keeping a connection going.

6. Ads on Craig's List. It sounds nuts, but I've managed to score some pretty big gigs by both answering ads and placing them on Craig's List. I place ads for ghostwriting services and have had a few inquiries (and one deal soon to follow). These are free, folks. Take advantage of the free advertising. Also, there are any number of writing gigs on Craig's List. Don't see any in your area? Then click on another city. Most are freelance gigs, so feel free to check out jobs listed in Phoenix if you live in Minneapolis.

7. Emails asking for work. This is my favorite method, reserved for those folks I've already worked with. I just drop them a note - "Hi! Hope you're doing well. I have a temporary break in the workload - do you have anything I might be able to help with?" That's all. Nine chances out of ten there won't be an immediate need, but there's that tenth one with the overflow work. And there's the project by one or two of the other nine that will appear within the next few weeks....

Marketing is an ongoing process. It doesn't have to be painful, nor does it need to suck up all your time. But if you're sitting there right now with no projects and wondering where to turn, try one or two of these. Things could be looking up for you tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Job Listings - June 12, 2007
Two Really Good Years

It's been a really good two years. The best, in fact. Today is the anniversary of the day I was smart enough to marry the man whose car is parked in the other garage bay. :)

It's been ten years since we first met (last week - we cram it all into June). In those ten years, I've understood the importance of having someone who supports your career choice. Both of us have some intense work projects that often steal our time (his more intense than mine), but we've managed to understand and appreciate the other's need to immerse in the work sometimes. We've also been able to tell the other "Let's get some dinner" when it's past 8 p.m. If you have the support of a great partner, your career has one more positive thing going for it.

Perhaps your partner will be happy to hear you've scored one of these gigs:

Freelance Content Writer
Freelance Writer
Dog Care Writer
Freelance Writer/Finance/Tax
Genetice and Health Blogger
Freelance Writer/Local Magazine
Ghostwriter
Freelance Advertising Copywriter
Freelance Finance Writer (onsite - Miami)
Mobile Computing Blogger
Internet Marketing Copywriter
Web Copywriter
Contributing Writer
"Green" Writer
Freelance Writer
Online Editor (part onsite - part work from home - Manhattan)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ask and You Shall Receive
In a recent conversation with a writer friend, he was a bit taken aback by the contract terms sent to him by his latest client, which we'll call Big Name Publication. He spelled out a few, which had to do with kill fees and reprint rights. He was concerned and didn't want to continue the assignment with the contract as it was written (he'd yet to sign it).

He went back to Big Name Publication and asked for the changes, fully expecting them to deny his request, at which point he said he was willing to walk away from the project. Much to his surprise (and mine - I'll be honest), Big Name Publication accepted his requests and my friend is now working on a lucrative project with an added layer of protection.

It's encouraging because we're in a changing industry. We're becoming so accustomed to low-ball offers, bad deals and pseudo-clients that we're unsure how to negotiate with the real ones. My friend's experience has given me hope that indeed employers - legitimate ones - are willing to bend a little in order to work with writers.

So don't be afraid to negotiate. If you don't like the terms, ask for revisions to the contract. And be prepared - not all clients are going to be willing to amend the contract. When that happens, know how you will respond. It's called your BATNA - Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement - and it's your walking-away point. It's the action you will take if the terms aren't agreeable on all sides. Feel free to employ it when you're sure negotiations are finished.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

Job Listings - June 4, 2007
When the Customer is Wrong
I had a conversation with a writer friend this past week regarding one of her current clients. Her "editor" had made some friendly criticisms of her work - and from this chair, incorrect criticisms. That was disconcerting enough, but when he took her well-crafted sentences and "edited" them to the point where one sentence became three or four fragments, that caused my friend to ask what she should do.

Frankly, what should she do? She's already voiced her concerns. In this situation, this is not a client who has no writing background. This is someone who claims to be an editor - one notch up the food chain. This is someone to whom criticism isn't usually aimed. In this case, I would voice my concerns and let it go. I'd also make the choice of whether I want to work with this person again.

We all come across people who for one reason or another are not people we can work with effectively. In this case, the client is very nice and understands his own limitations, but still insists on things my friend isn't comfortable doing. She's weighing her options - should she stay with a paying client who is otherwise okay to work with, or should she opt for work that won't appear as amateurish clips later in life? I think I know which way she'll go, for she's as concerned about quality and doing a good job as most of us.

This week's job listings:

Freelancer - Metropolitan Transit Authority
Onsite Freelancer - HBO
Freelance Writer - Tax Services
Freelance Content Author
Freelance AVID Editors
Freelance Legal Reporter
Web Development Blogger
Freelance Book/Web Writer
Freelance Ethics Writer
Book Editor
Words on the Page