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Thursday, September 27, 2007

His Own Personal Identity Crisis

And it's a good thing

It's always exciting to see someone whom you "knew then" reach a milestone. Graphic god and Internet chum Jeff Fisher has succeeded in publishing his book Identity Crisis: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities into Successful Brands (available here).

Jeff is truly a branding guru - his list of clients reads like a Who's Who lineup. And now he's sharing his brain power with the rest of us. Read his Identity Crisis blog, and don't forget to check out his other blogs: bLog-oMotives and Jeff Fisher LogoMotives.

Congratulations, Jeff!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

May I Quote You?

Yesterday, Jessica asked how I estimate a project price. Mine is not the only way to go about it - it's the way that works for me. Here's what I do:

First, I look at the project. Some projects are going to be much more involved than others. For example, copy for a tri-fold brochure will take less time than say a technical white paper of ten pages or more. I assume a typical tri-fold brochure will take four hours to write (I get that idea from looking at other tri-folds and noticing the amount of text). That includes going through any notes from client conversations, or emails. Now I assume at least three rewrites for little tweaks. My rule of thumb - the more people involved, the more tweaks I'll need. Remember, a giraffe is just a horse designed by a committee. Also, if I'm working with a new business owner, I assume a fair amount of worry about image and content. That's fine, but I price per hour or I use a contract that allows for only three edits at the current price.

Once I determine from the "typical" existing copy samples, I total my hours times my fee. Then I add 25 percent. Why? Because it's rare that any project goes off without some hitch, and this also proves as a bit of a buffer should I underestimate the scope of the project.

So, to price your project, start with your hourly rate times the estimated number of hours you think it will take, and then add 25 percent more to the total. That should put you in the ballpark. Oh, and do yourself a favor - establish a minimum fee right up front. Mine is a 3-hour minimum charge. It keeps you from spinning your wheels on small projects, and helps to weed out the less serious clients.

I'll Wait for a Buy-One-Get-One-Free Deal

Here's an interesting idea - shop for your next writer based on price alone. Oh, I hear you all groaning out there, but this is the idea of the new millenium! For why else would people post projects and respond questioning why you're so much more expensive than everyone else? And why would they come back a month later asking for a "test" project pricing? See, the ad stated the "employer" wanted someone to write something like 45 newsletters, just as many websites and sales materials up the wazoo. Carefully, I calculated all the different projects mentioned per item grouping, determined if any could use templates and duplicate material, and then took about 10 percent off the top (as it was a competitive bidding site). I came up with a $36K price tag. Wouldn't you know I got a note back immediately: "Why are you nearly 200 percent higher than all the other bids?"

My answer: "Because given the amount of work, type of work, and expertise required, this is what it costs. I base my estimate on a per-hour charge and I estimate it would take XXX hours to complete all the work. Mind you, if this is monthly, I can work out a discount for ongoing work."

Silence! Until.... a month later: "I want to get going on a white paper. What's your price for 20 pages with what I'd call more notes than actual writing?"

My answer: "$1,200 based on a 12-hour project. That's assuming I'd need to contact you for more information and assuming these are detailed notes. I use a project timer, so if we are short those twelve hours, you gain. If we run over, I charge $100/hr."

Again, silence.

Can you really run a business (or am I giving too much credit here?) in this manner? Can you really shop around and make the price fit the project? Dontcha see that's going to bite you in the a$$?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Job Listings - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stick a Fork in Me - I'm Done
The steam is subsiding on the client problem of yesterday. While I'm still highly ticked, I'm going to get beyond it. If I think about it, it'll just start the anger up all over again.

So what can we learn from this experience? I trusted him to a degree, though I did ask for his paperwork (proof he really was running a charity) and he provided it. I did the Google search, at his request, and found glowing articles. And honestly, I thought that was enough. So, at what point can we be sure we're working with a legitimate client? Any thoughts? Short of a background check, aren't we sticking our necks out just a bit all the time? True, this was a gig in which I did volunteer my time (I felt that strongly about the cause), but what unnerved me was that I encouraged others to get involved, thus sullying my reputation a bit. I'm able to live with him jerking me around, but not with my causing others anxiety over it.

The answer may be the airtight contract. While it won't guarantee payment, it will legally bind a client to some form of honesty, even if it's tenuous.

Ah well - live and learn. Here are a few job postings that may work out better for you....

Freelance Copywriter
Proofreader - Ongoing (Pay: $12/hr.)
Freelance Writer - Urban Magazine
Writer - parenting magazine
Freelance Mag Editor
Technology Blogger
Eco-Beauty Blogger
NYTimes Line Editor (PT)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fool Me Once

Okay, I'm officially pissed. I started working with someone a short while ago on an alleged charitable project. I volunteered my time, which turns out to be a good thing. This "client", I just find out from some strenuous digging, has an arrest record and more than a few brushes with the law. I posted his story here on this site - and I've removed it. I won't be party to any shady behavior. Mind you, there's no evidence that what this person is attempting is a scam, but frankly the track record is enough to make me run the other way.

I'm so upset. I wrote the person an email stating a toned-down version of my upset, and I'm wondering why I didn't just give a proper lambasting. I'm fuming, yet I'm not releasing it. That's a bit unhealthy, dontcha think?

I'd love to tell you how it all came about. I can't. It was some strange fluke that sent this person into a tizzy - a tizzy that came at me, and one I thought I might be able to clear up. Oh, the tangled web woven by the client just didn't add up, so digging I went and crap I found.

Is it too much to ask that clients be straight with us? Can I please refrain from doing background checks on everyone who wants to hire me? I'm so skittish I'm nervous about sending out a contract to a real client right now!

That's too high a price for me to pay. If it's stupid to trust, then call me Homer Simpson. But don't cross me. My temper is short and my memory long.

Temporary Highs

Over on Nikki's blog, she laments the "freelance" part of our careers. As she puts it, it sometimes feels like a temping situation. In fact, she's right - it is.

Like I was saying before, nothing in this world is permanent anymore. We have offers from people who are dying to buy our services on a regular basis. But then "regular" becomes a bit hazy. The client with the funding today becomes the one shutting down tomorrow. The rush of work by another client could turn moot the moment management decides the project is dead. I have one client who kept me hopping for three solid months. Now - silence. Why? A key person in the office left unexpectedly (and apparently shredded documents and evidence in the process... hmmm...). No more time to focus on what's not absolutly necessary until they can sort out the mess left behind.

Right now, I'm riding an incredible high - lots of work to do, a lot more pouring in. But I'm not tempting fate enough to believe any of it will last beyond the next minute. As the nursery rhyme says, to market, to market....

Friday, September 21, 2007

When It's Over

With Apologies to Sugar Ray
There comes a time in any client-writer relationship when it's time to say goodbye. In the best scenario, that's when the project is completed and you both go about your business with hope that there will be future projects. In the worst scenario, that's when you two have hit a roadblock and the relationship, for one reason or another, crumbles. Yet somewhere between those two scenarios is the time when the project changes and you have to make a hard decision.

Let's take a for instance - Client comes to you with a small web project. You quote the price, write up the agreement, and all is well. Then it happens - Client sees more potential to this. Client now wants to extend the web project into an article or even a book. While Client can change his mind, you are not bound to performing under your old contract any further. In fact, you need a new one if you're to continue.

And it happens - creative juices do get the better of us and projects morph into something completely different. But it's when you need to make adjustments and present them to what may be a reluctant compadre, for Client doesn't see his change of mind as a change in contract terms. He sees that he's contracted for your services. It's up to you to tactfully point out the scope of the work outlined in said contract, and how now neither of you are working within the boundaries set in that contract.

Client may not like this. Client may decide you're in it for the money (to which you must resist the subsequent "DUH"). Client may cease all work on current project because of your pointing out the need for a new contract. Fair enough, but Client is now in breach of current contract, thus owing you money. If you're a good little freelancer, you'll point that out politely and offer to finish up the current project so as not to leave Client hanging. If he turns you down, send the final invoice.

Keep very aware of what's going on with your projects. While there are a few things you may want to handle that are not part of the original agreement, watch yourself. Don't set a precedent, and certainly don't let a client's enthusiasm cost you in terms of fee and fairness.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Favorite Blogs

I'm too overworked to come up with anything beyond what I consider "release" links - funny or otherwise entertaining blogs that I turn to when my brain smells like burnt toast. Today's that day, so here are a few I can't live without:

I Can Has Cheezburger: There's something so hysterical about these photos and captions.

Waiter Rant: To think this is how some people behave in public!

Indexed: Drawings that amuse and maybe even educate! Naaaa... just amuse. :)

HaHa Nu: Yea, it's just funny.

Evil Mad Scientist: Oh, what fun!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Job Listings - September 19, 2007

Improving Your Net Worth
As busy as I am, I'm a bit afraid to quit those lower-paying regular and semi-regular gigs. That's because busy, in my experience, is temporary. However, there comes a time when we're lucky enough to pick and choose. It's not often, nor is it ever a permanent situation, but picky's a damn fine place to be sitting, even once in your life.

So what do you do when the work's coming in and you can't handle it all? Some smaller gigs you can contract out to your writing chums, but if it's still too much, you need to decide what stays and what goes. And yes, it boils down to money.

Try raising your rates with incoming clients. Those who are apt to hit you with low-ball offers won't hesitate to take the work elsewhere. It's a chance for you to increase your worth (and if I know you, you've underestimated that worth). Freelance chum Anne Wayman has a great article over at About Freelance Writing on how to raise your fees. Definitely check it out.

In a few cases recently, I gave a much higher, and much closer to the mark, price on new gigs. In one case, I got the job, too. The others? They weren't serious enough to continue, in my opinion. If you're shopping price for creative talent, you're not going about it in the right way. Finding talent that matches your needs is an entirely different beast from finding a price you like and THEN choosing a writer. A bit bass-ackwards, in fact.

So try it. Try raising rates. Chances are, you're undercharging now as it is. Raising your rates will help shrink the workflow to just those who are serious enough to warrant your skills.

Meanwhile, check out the job listings to see if someone else thinks you're worth it:

Freelancer Fluent in Spanish
Medical Writer
Features Writer (Arizona)
Real Estate Investment Writer

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Firing Clients From Hell

I can't stop laughing - over on Rich McIver's CRM weblog, Rich identifies our worst nightmares - varying degrees of the hellish client. What's more, Rich tells us how to rid ourselves of those who mean to cause us undue stress. Samples include: the bargain shopper, the one who wants your home phone number, the one who pays you when he gets paid, the one who wants to sue all the time, and my personal peeve, the client with the not-so-small project.

You have to read it. Go to Rich's weblog to view the entire article. Thanks, Rich!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Reactionary Client

It happens - you come across a client who is wonderful in all ways ... except there's this tendency to overreact. I had one recently who was in danger of hyperventilating because of a minor miscommunication that put us back 6 hours on a project. Okay, you're already over your time budget by an entire month. As my father says, you can't be late twice in the same instance. No great shakes - it was an easy fix. But the reaction made me cringe. It's the type of reaction that's unnecessary and certainly unnerving.

It's also a warning sign you should heed. If you have a client who wants to write you off as a louse the minute anything at all goes wrong (think back a month to my client who thought I was fabulous and then in the next assignment wanted to ditch me altogether), ask yourself just how much more stress this could put on you. And ask yourself if you're willing to put up with it. And please, remember - one person's fire does not translate automatically into your emergency. If you're the type who can ignore or not be bothered by someone's constant overreactions, go for it. But if you're like me and you have enough to shovel already, the added stress just isn't worth it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hysterical Signs

or Why I Love My Hometown Spirit
Visited Pittsburgh last weekend and while we were there, my daughter and I found ourselves outside Heinz Field just as the Pitt game was ending. As we walked toward the ticket office, we saw him standing across the street holding a cup in one hand and a sign in the other: "Why Lie - I Need a Beer."

His cup, as they say, was running over. No one likes a panhandler, but everyone appreciates a self-deprecating soul.

Absence Makes the Blog Heart Grow Fonder

Where IS everyone? I just went through my blog roll and I find that only a few are around blogging like mad, where many blogs lie dormant a week or more. Worse, a few have been deleted, which means that once again, I have to delete a link from the roll.

I hate doing that. It's as though my expectations, my hopes, have not been realized. See, I'm addicted to news from fellow bloggers. My solitary career existence relies on cyber news from others in my situation. When they're not there, I begin the stages of blog withdrawal, which are:

Denial. One week without blogging leads me to believe the blogger's busy. He or she is on vacation, overrun with projects, etc. No need to worry, right? Yet I do...

Acceptance Okay, time for a quick email to the absent blogger. Maybe there's an illness... or worse. Don't panic, Lori. Just send an email. And wait...

Upset I mean, really - why put up that blog if you're going to ignore it? I've half a mind to delete you from my blog roll. So there!

Resolution I'll not take it personally. Things happen. Blogs die of natural causes. I'll just quietly remove your link and move on. I'll miss you, but in the spirit of Codependent No More, I'm not going to encourage you or worry about you. Delete. Move on.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Attention to Detail, Please

It's hysterical - I'm in the middle of a test project and I'd sent a quick note to the project lead and asked if what I was attempting was okay, attaching the beginnings of my work. The note came back with all sorts of markups on the test. Only thing was the copy that was marked up and I was chastised for "not paying attention to detail" was the test copy they had sent to me in the first place! Et tu, Brute!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Grammatically Yours

I'll admit right now I'm not a grammar guru. I'm sure there are any number of mistakes in my posts. I'm a writer - not a scholar. However, there are one or two mistakes that could really reflect badly on you. One in particular I've taken the better part of the last week to remove from, of all things, an academic text. It's the old then/than switcheroo.

I can't fault my 18-year-old for making the mistake. She's young - grammar is something that supposedly we learn with age (notice I said "supposedly" - that's because "supposably" isn't a word). But I can fault a major institution. And a college. And business people. And fellow writers. This one is like nails on chalkboard for me. It's also the easiest habit to break, in my opinion. Here's how - then indicates time, as in "I'll eat dinner and then I'll call her back." Than indicates comparison, as in "My nail polish is better than yours." That's it. That's how you know. So, a quick test -
If you were to tell me you prefer your toothpaste over mine, which word would fit here - "My toothpaste tastes so much better _____ yours."?

If you were going to give me directions, which would it be - "First, you put the noodles in the boiling water, _____ you stir in a little bit of olive oil."?

I'm not the true grammarian. If you need a better fix, visit Julia Temlyn's blog.

Breathe!!

Whew! My absence this week is due in full to a huge project that I just finished what I call preliminary work on. Hey, we know it's coming back at least once. But for now, the bulk of the work (and the bulk of the pressure) is done.

Odd week - I'm trying like hell to finish up tons of work, and damn if tons more isn't knocking on the door. I love it, but I'm going to pass out if I have to spend any more 10-hour days at it! So, this afternoon, I'm headed out for lunch. I'm going to the mall food court. Then I'm waltzing right in to the nail salon for a pedicure. Time to breathe.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Role of the 24/7 Freelancer

If you're a freelancer wondering what your duties are to your client, or if you're a client wondering just what you can expect of your freelancer, listen up. Beyond the obvious - delivering asked-for writing within the specified time frame - I'm here to tell you that one job that is NOT part of the freelance package is availability.

Clients, look - we try to be accessible within reason. But expecting a writer (or any contract worker, for that matter) to be at your constant beck-and-call is absurd. Nay, it's treating a freelancer like an employee. And unless you feel like picking up our benefits and vacation time, don't do it. So while we may have instant messaging or email or a cell phone at our disposal, it is not license to expect us to be instantly available within your working hours. You are a client, not a boss. Remember that. While we'll do everything within our power to answer your questions quickly, we cannot (and frankly, will not) devote all our time to just you. That is, unless you want to hire us full time. Then we're yours to do your bidding alone.

Writers, listen up - if you're stressing yourself because your client is giving you grief about not being available at all times, or if you're actually sitting there with that chat window open while you try to eat dinner, stop it. You're setting an ugly, impossible precedent.

Also, this matter of time off. We are allowed it. We can take the afternoon off to go to the dentist. We can take a week to get away from the computer (and again, the cell phone is off limits unless we have arranged a phone conversation during that week off). Boundaries must be in place. Otherwise, all bets are off, meaning freelancers are also able to call clients during their vacations and ask them to work.

Ours is a business, not a whim. Both sides of the equation need to respect that fact in order to allow for peaceful coexistence.

Now, I'm off this afternoon. Wanna make something of it?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Season, New Soul-Searching

Lisa Gates over at Intrisic Life Design has come up with an excellent post on going inward. Check it out. In fact, her entire I'm Calling You Out series has great advice on how to put some real meaning in your day.

So when was the last time you looked at your work process or your job-searching process and tried to see where you could be more effective or more productive? That goes for those of you who are overworked - when was the last time you prioritized your workload and assessed it for areas where you might be spinning your wheels? And if you're a fretter like me, when was the last time you wrote down your laundry list of projects and really looked at it to see if you're fretting needlessly or if you're really over your head?

Thanks, Lisa, for yet another great post.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your Earnings Pain Point

A writer friend and I were talking recently, and she echoed my sentiments - those writers who say "I won't lift a finger for under XX/hour or word" are either bluffing or selling themselves short. See, this friend and I are now working for a company that enhances our bottom line by four figures monthly. And guess what? The pay is not all that great. But then again, the work isn't all that difficult.

So tell me, whaddya do when faced with the following situation - a client comes to you, offering half or less than you've decided you'll ever accept. The work is clearly a walk in the park, requiring very little output for the smaller amount of cash. Let's assume these are articles of somewhere around 750 words and you're getting a whopping $200 apiece. Mind you, that's somewhere around 27 cents a word. You've sworn you'll never work for less than 50 cents a word. But this is an article you could do in your sleep. And it's ongoing, steady work that taxes you none. If you're smart, you'll lose your standards and take the gig.

What?? Lori's recommending you work for less than you're worth? Before you call with your concerns, I'm not sick nor have I taken a blow to the head recently. I'm trying to point out the obvious - sometimes, the simplicity of the work is matched by the compensation. Never mind the word count - mind instead the output.

Let's look at it from a different angle. You're hired by Playboy to write a 6,000-word article on the sexuality of the aborigines in Australia. For this, you get $2 a word. Great! However, you're now tied up for the next six weeks or so, tracking down experts on the culture, the ethnic group itself and you may even need to find yourself a few aborigines whom you can A) understand, and B) figure out how to ask such sensitive questions of. How much time is going into this? About six weeks' worth, from my estimation. You're getting paid a lot more for a lot more work.

Now, let's look at this low-paying project. You've been asked to write an article on the use of physical therapy over medication. Like I said before, it's a short article - 750 words - and you aren't expected to quote sources or interview experts. Information can be taken from other printed sources as long as your points are supported and the reader is able to understand why physical therapy is sometimes better than using pain killers. How much time will you spend on this article do you think? Sure, you're not getting top dollar, but you're not killing yourself and putting all other work on hold in order to complete the job. In that case, this may be a great little gig for you.

It all comes down to your availability. If you're already overrun with better-paying work and it would cut into your heavy workload to take on such easy stuff, then pass on it. But if you're looking for a steady way to bring home the bacon, and it's easy work, why not? Only you know your threshhold for what you can afford to take and what you can't. Just don't pass up the lower-paying stuff based on price alone. There are some gems out there that could help sustain you in the leaner months to come.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Job Listings - September 4, 2007

Permanently Temporary
Forever seems to be a shrinking concept - especially with ongoing projects. What's interesting is the long-term work opportunities that fade away after one or two projects. At the beginning of this year, I signed on for a long-term gig. It lasted two articles before the employer ran out of capital. Another long-term gig this May quickly faded after six projects. Still another is looking like it's beginning its death knoll.

I'm not worried. Why? Because I signed on with another long-term client two weeks ago. See, we freelancers can't ever expect anything to last. We can't hold anyone to their promises of ongoing work (unless we're promised specifics in contracts). We can't assume that the client who has tons of funding today will have a single dime in two months. We can assume that we need to constantly look. Yep, constantly. As I'm buried under tons of projects right now, I'm still looking for more. Why? Because these projects will end. Some will fade away. Others may not pay. There's never a guarantee.

So here's to the temporary nature of our jobs. May we always find one more project to help sustain us. May our revenue always match our output. And may a few of you score with the job listings below.

Pregnancy Blogger
Cell Phone Blogger
Adult Entertainment Writer
Researchers and Writers
Magazine Writer
Online Magazine Writer
Freelance Copywriter
AMA Proofreader
Writer/Editor/Proofreader
Minneapolis Magazine Freelancers

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Blog Day 2007
I missed Blog Day! Because of my crazy workload, I didn't get over to Lillie Ammann's blog until today (Sunday - yea, I'm working through the holiday). There, she explains Blog Day, and gives her list of five favorites from different genres.

So, late to the dance I come. Here are five I think are noteworthy. I visit them every day or nearly every day.

Irreverent Freelancer. I just have to have my dose of Kathy's wit and humor. It makes the workday more bearable.

Overheard in New York. Want a good laugh? Try this site. It's nowhere near G rated, which is why I love it.

Lucky Shopping Blog. I'm a shopaholic. I read a magazine purely about clothes shopping. I read the blog. I'm hooked.

Booktending. Sometimes, I just need to hear pearls of wisdom from one of the most precocious librarians I know. Let Booktender (or Bookie, as I lovingly call her) entertain you with her wit and her look at life from a more interesting perspective.

Craig's List Curmudgeon. Who doesn't love a blog that outs pseudo-employers posting on Craig's List? The curmudgeon says what we're all dying to say.
Words on the Page