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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Recession Proof

Fellow writer and consummate blogger Devon Ellington posted about the need for writers to buck up in their expectations of what they should earn. As she put it, "Yes, we ARE in a recession. Sometimes you need to take a job you don’t really want to make some quick cash. But don’t settle. Always strive to use each gig as a building block towards a better and better-paying one." Amen. Alleluia, sister.

See, the problem from where I sit is some writers (and dare I say even seasoned pros) are using this R word as an excuse for not scoring the jobs. I don't get it. I sit here in the midst of the same recession, yet this was the best month of my freelance career in terms of earnings. I'm not lacking for work or for checks. So why are others struggling?

Attitude. If you approach your career with doubts leading the way, guess where you're going? Right down the path of Can't Get There From Here. So what if you try this - what if you attack the path with a solid plan and a positive attitude? What if you say "Hell no!" to the low-paying gigs and take only what you know will benefit your financial picture? How will that affect your career? How about your attitude - what do you think it will do for that?

So, what's stopping you exactly?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Let's Talk Numbers

With the onslaught of what I think are the worst possible "job" offerings out there right now, I think it's time for us to talk once more about valuing yourself. Kathy Kerhli, whose Irreverent Freelancer site is one of my go-to sites each day, has dug up a winner for her Middle Finger of the Week award. Click on this link and read it. Go on, I'll wait...

Did that get your blood boiling? Yes? That's because you have a brain. The person posting that pseudo-job was not only offering to pay crap wages, but he was insulting about it. If it's so easy a high schooler can do it, then why bother to hire a professional writer? Why not do it yourself, pal? I'll tell you why - because he's not interested in getting crap back. He wants quality, but he's not willing to pay for it. He'll just try to make you feel bad about yourself should you not meet what I suspect are his unbelievably harsh demands.

You wouldn't take that gig, would you? But you would take one where the poster says something like, "I haven't a lot of money for this, but I promise to pay you more once I get this site up and running." Why? Because the person asked nicely? Is that nice tone going to pay your bills? No? Then stop it. Stop taking crap jobs right now.

People like the poster Kathy pointed out make it easy for you. You can see the jerky behavior coupled with the low fee and you figure "Screw that!" - as well you should. What you don't see are all the other ads, masquerading as "real" jobs with "future" potential or "ongoing" work that pays just as little as the jerky man's job - sometimes even less. And for some reason still unexplained, you take those jobs. I know some of you do because I've seen you "outbidding" each other in those online shark tanks. Tell me - when you decided to start that writing career, did you really intend to spend days on end writing for $4 an article? No? Then why are you?

But you need clips, you say. Put up your own website, I say. Why sell yourself short or give yourself away to strangers? If you wouldn't walk into a local business, work for ten hours and walk out without payment, why in God's name would you do it for strangers on the Internet?

Find your lowest price point. Set it in your mind. Got it? Now, go out and get some real work.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Reinventing the Edge

As I watched the IMAX production U23D this weekend, which was freaking amazing, I thought to myself, "Self, why do you suppose more bands aren't going for these innovative productions?" As I sat there counting freckles on The Edge's arm and watching the verbal foreplay Bono and Larry Mullen were having with lyrics and a drum, I couldn't help but think of how these guys have stood the test of time. For me, it's not because they're Irish (go team!), but because they're innovative.

U2 has consistently been out in front in terms of new things. Not novelty - lord no. But new areas in which to introduce music and their message. iPod commercials - they were the first. Thousands of television screens as a stage backdrop - again, they did it first. Music that evolved instead of sounding the same with each release (think Boston in the 1970s for an example of how to kill a career by keeping the same old same old going).

In all their years of making music, these boys have never rested on their previous success. They've pushed beyond what we expect of them. They've delivered more than we expect, and not always what we want (The Fly being my own personal least favorite). The lyrics are a huge part of what they do, but so is going where they haven't been. They put their efforts into their music, their journey, and they take us along unselfishly. We've rewarded them, too. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gazillions in record sales. Lumping them in the same company as The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. Coming back for more.

So tell me - when was the last time you did that for your clients? Did you deliver the goods, or did you deliver good enough? It's all about leaving an impression that no one can do as good a job as you can. It's about making them think you're the one who must be called, the one who will wow them every time. That's how you create urgency. That's how people remember you as a real expert, a true professional. You give them more than they bargained for, and you appeal to their intelligence. That's how you become the writing equivalent of a rock star.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Problem #1 - Making Time for Marketing

I'm spending extra hours this month trying to get all the projects done on time. See, they all (save one) have the same deadline. They all need to be finished on or before January 31st. I'm working some twelve-hour days mixed in there with some ten-hour and one or two 9-hour days. I took on the commitments, so I'm going to finish them. Dammit.

But where does that leave time for marketing? Where is the time for finding the next projects? I admit it's tight and I've had little time for it, but I'm setting aside an hour every evening, after my brain just stops working and before I detox with a little online Scrabble (it's amazing how badly you can play at 8 pm after a full day of insurance writing). In that hour, I will contact old clients. I will - maybe, if I still have any steam left - print out a few brochures and send them off. I will cruise the job listings on sites like Media Bistro or the "regular" job listings sites like Monster and Career Builder. What I won't do is say, "Oh, forget it. I'll do it tomorrow."

Tomorrow isn't an option because tomorrow never arrives. It gets pushed back and back and back....

Okay, so you have no time to market. Do you have time to cruise LinkedIn or Facebook? Yes? That's your marketing time. And yes, networking sites can work for you, but that's a slow building of the credentials and contacts. Let me tell you how many gigs I scored from a networking site - one. Yep. One. And it was one of those "I need a website, but I can only spend $100" gigs. That was back when I was stupid enough to take jobs like that thinking they'd lead somewhere. It did. It led to a job for the guy's mother, who wanted the same or lower price and when I told her I had raised my rates, she never called back.

How do you market? What are some of the easier ways you fit it in when your workload doesn't spare you much time?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alligator Skin

Last night I was explaining to a non-writing friend how I've learned over the years to implant a healthy dose of doubt and more than a little moxie into dealings with new clients. As she gasped and muttered "Oh dear" as I mentioned casually that even new clients are thought of in terms of how airtight their contracts are and what my recourse is if they attempt to avoid payment, I realized just how far down Skepticism Street I've traveled. I want to trust 'em all, yet I trust none of them. If I do, I'm dumber than a post.

It's part of that thick skin we must develop in order to survive. Jennifer at CatalystBlogger posted about this thick skin recently, and I have to agree. Survival requires not only a thick skin for warding off the nonsense, but also skepticism in your dealings.

I'm sitting here working my tail off on a big project for a new client. I'm seeing the work nearing a close and I'm wondering if the check will come at all. See, it's a new client. I want to trust this company. Really I do. But didn't I go digging through that contract looking for key phrases that, if present, could have made working conditions impossible and payment even harder? Actually, I did that before I signed it. Momma didn't raise a complete fool. And I got a partial payment up front. Again, not a complete fool here.

I remember leaving church on Sunday waaaaay back when I frequented church. It was Palm Sunday and the congregation was recreating the walk Jesus took, only instead of over palm leaves and on to immortality, we walked from the parking lot back to our pews. But as we left, the priest said, "Ladies, take your handbags. Remember, this is a Catholic church." While we laughed, the message was clear - trust in God, but lock your car. Don't leave it to fate unless you're willing to accept the results.

That's how to approach any client you've never worked with. Pore over that contract. Learn the phrases that could have you writing until you're six feet under without payment. Find those clauses that could alter your payment, such as deductions for missing deadlines, even if you and your client agreed on an extension. Don't trust a single item to chance unless you're a gambler and you like living on the edge of that particular hell.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Meme, Myself, and I

In a double team effort, Devon Ellington and Susan Johnston have both seen fit to lambaste me with two separate meme tags. The first one is seven random things about me, and the second is three writing tips.

Seven Random Things:

1. I hate memes.
2. Like Susan, I have an addiction to Starbucks chai lattes- I know they're bad for me, but I can't resist.
3. I often think about how I'll spend my first million.
4. I'm a die-hard, double-dipped, rabidly frenetic Pittsburgh Steelers fan, born and raised.
5. I love to cook - vegetarian.
6. I used to live on a farm, and I have canned all my own vegetables, spaghetti sauces, and yes, I've made quilts. Color me Amish.
7. I'm addicted to clothing and shoes - I bought three pairs last week and if they'd had my size, I'd have scored two more this week.

Three Writing Tips:

1. Give yourself more credit. If you don't trust that you're worth more money for what you do, you'll continue to work for peanuts. Period. Your destiny is entirely up to you. Make it happen and stop waiting for it.

2. Try something new. I never knew a thing about workers compensation or risk management. Yet when the time came, I tried. And at some point, I stopped worrying every word and decided to have fun with it. It scored me my first editorial title. You can do it with whatever comes along, too. And if you fail? It wasn't the right subject matter for you. That's all.

3. Market like you mean it. If you send out emails saying something like "Sorry to bother you but would you happen to know if you will need a writer anytime soon?", you're not getting the job. Screw up your courage, pretend for the time you're typing that Stephen King or John Steinbeck learned all he knows from you, and really ask for the job. And once you do, follow up. Constantly. Make sure that person knows you're there, you're a writer, and you're the writer for the job.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beginning Writers, Listen Up

If any of you out there are interested in some solid info on how to start, where to start and what to do once you start, toddle over to Michele Tune's blog. Michele's got a really cool three-part beginner's series, and she spells it out for you pretty succinctly. What I like is she's given you a good bit of preliminary info, and then she throws the cherry on top - where to look for work and what to be reading in order to get those jobs.

She covers a number of industries, so give it a read. Michele's my favorite "beginner" as she shares her journey with us, much like my other favorite, Jennifer. To me, these ladies are doing it right - they're showing you their experiences and letting us all learn from them.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is There a Wrong Way to Network?

Seems like a stupid question doesn't it? But if you think about it, you've probably been the victim of someone who's guilty of bad networking. Let me give you an example:

Years ago, a salesperson came to our house trying to sell us meat products. Mind you, she played it up nicely, saying the steaks were preserved in airtight plastic to assure freshness, but basically she was peddling laminated ribeyes. In farm country, no less. Give her points for trying, but she had her market ALL wrong. Someone living in an area surrounded by homegrown beef products isn't going to jump at the chance to buy hermetically sealed rump roast. But that wasn't her biggest mistake.

That came when I whipped out a calculator and figured out that the pressurized beef was going to cost us about $14 a pound. That's a steep price even now, and we're talking 1987. When I asked her why it was so expensive, she turned off the charm instantly. She closed her sales book, and without looking at us again, she said, "Well I guess this isn't for you, then." Gone were the smiles and the congeniality she'd shown us the moment we opened the door. Gone was the eye contact. Gone was any sense that we were worth her time. In fact, she was brusque with us and hurried to her car.

See, she didn't understand the value of maintaining the relationship even though the sale disappeared. She didn't figure that somewhere down the line when the market for press-n-seal meat dried up, she might be moved to take a job selling real estate or furniture or be in the position to ask for a reference of her sales technique. She simply closed the door on us. And she used a nasty little trick of whipping out the emotions in order to guilt us into lord-knows-what, for logically - sensibly - packaged meat that could stand the test of time was not something we would ever need.

So yes, there is a way to network incorrectly. If you network simply as a means of collecting names and contacts that you plan to pester for work in the immediate future, I don't see much work in your future. If you network with the primary goal being to meet interesting people and to befriend others who may or may not use your services but who are good people in general, you'll be more pleasantly rewarded. First, you'll remove the anxiety of meeting people who are in the position to hire you, freeing you up to have a nice conversation. You'll also realize that we're all connected by common threads as humans, and it really doesn't matter if that person can help you.

I remember working with someone who, if I had to give him a label, would be known as hyperactive neurotic. In the short time I knew him, he drove me not just up the wall, but through several layers of it. I was cordial to him, professional, and I only snapped once when we reached about the six-hour mark of his obsessing about why he was fired from the last job (I could've clued him in, but I prefer not to feed the animals). When we parted company, I was sure he'd never be heard from again.

Wrong. He contacted me, but in a surprise move, he had referred me to a friend of his who worked for what became my ongoing client. My patience and decency toward someone in the workforce paid off, despite my private wishes that he'd be stricken with mono and laryngitis all at once.

So network like you mean it. Network like a person who doesn't need the work, but genuinely wants to know the person you're talking to. I think your results might surprise you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Year of Better Work Habits

So far, January is starting out well. Not that there's a ton of work in my "pipeline", but that there's a lot more planning on my part. Today I'm off to visit a potential client a few hours away, and I hope the connection will be successful in terms of work. If not, I've made one more friendly contact in this world, and that's never a bad thing.

Another thing I've done - I've dropped a low-paying client. This one made it easy because the pay was quite low, but I never like turning my back on steady work. I'm convinced, however, the time I'd otherwise spend working for peanuts will be used for higher-paying work.

Therein is the change from last year. Last year, I was content to stick with low-paying regular gigs. Nay, I was more nervous about losing the small paycheck. But I'm employing a new strategy this year. It's called actively searching every week for new clients or work. Too often, we get overwhelmed by current work and the marketing and networking disappears. I'm of the opinion that we writers would not have down times if we spent much more time on our job searches.

So that's what I'm going to do. You're welcome to join me. I'll keep you posted on how it's going and what is working for me. I'd be thrilled to hear what's working for you, as well. The more we help each other, the better off for all of us, right?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Do the Follow-Up Thing

As indicated by my previous post, following up with clients has been a bit of a weak area for me. However, the times I've managed to do so (and not sound like a bumbling fool), it's paid off in some way. Either I get valuable feedback on how to improve myself going forward, or I get some work out of it. To be honest, I did ask for feedback after an interview once and the woman was so scathing in her critique (everything from my work style to the clothes I wore) that I wondered what made me nuts enough to ask. Frankly, I had to believe it was a sign that she would've been a nightmare to work for, for she critiqued my clothing as though I hadn't enough sense to wear the proper colors or styles. It was kinda funny because I had left my office on the spur of the moment for the second interview, so you'd have thought she'd have understood given that I was at least wearing business attire. Oh well. Live and learn.

Anyway, yesterday was a good day. I was digging around the in box and came across an email from a potential client who'd contacted me months ago. I popped a quick note off to her asking if she needed any help, expecting absolutely nothing of it.

Guess again. The note came back from this client's colleague - they're interested in future projects. And she liked my follow-up skills.

Do it. Follow up with folks, even months after the fact. You just never know...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mistakes and What They Teach Us

I've often wondered why actors aren't expected to study bad movies more often. Isn't it true that we learn from our mistakes just as much as we learn from what others have done well?

Over on Kristen King's blog, guest author Steve Wagenheim gives tips for copywriting in 2008, one of which stood out more than the others - "... learn from your 2007 mistakes." Amen.

See, I'm all for reevaluating and revamping as needed. Yet rarely do I hear any writer proclaim on weblog or otherwise that he or she is looking backward in order to move forward. No, we get a ton of resolutions right now, but nowhere do we hear anyone really study their performance and their income versus that performance.

Well, we should. We have at our disposal all the information we need to improve our careers. We have evidence of what's worked, what hasn't, and where we as writers failed to follow through. We need only to look back and see it all. For instance, did we send out brochures to no avail? Why didn't it work? Did we follow through with those same targeted clients or did we just let that initial contact die? And those jobs we took - did we spin our wheels writing articles for too little cash and too many requirements? What did we pass up that we should've taken? What did we leave out of those contracts that need to become part of future ones? Did we work on those books we've been threatening to write, or did we wait for someone to magically discover that we're writing them and offer oodles of money? Did we let fear of rejection stop us from even starting?

What's the single most important lesson you've learned from your 2007 mistakes?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Most Talked About

Let's take one more look back on 2007 and see what posts on this blog were tops, 'kay? And instead of my rattling off a list of my ten most favorite whinings, I'm letting you do the talking. Literally. Your posted comments have determined the Top Ten posts of 2007. I'm talking about the sheer number of responses - if it created a discussion that lasted beyond ten comments, it counts. So here are the ones you found most worth discussing:

With 10 comments: Unexpected Roadblocks

With 11 comments: The Tax Man Cometh

With 11 comments: Client Gaffes and No Nos

With 12 comments: When to Hold Your Tongue

With 12 comments: Bad JuJu

With 13 comments: When There Isn't a Clue

With 14 comments: The Changing Face of Freelancing

With 16 comments: Paying For Work

With 16 comments: I'm Pretty Sure I'm Right This Time

With 17 comments: Blog R.I.P.

Are there any in particular you liked?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year, New You?

Let's be honest; we somehow equate the beginning of each year with the chance to reinvent ourselves. And we do - for about a month. All our good intentions become crammed into the first week of the new year. Some are reasonable goals, such as contacting X number of potential clients per week. Others are not so reasonable, such as making it a goal to sell a novel by March (a novel we haven't written yet). And by mid-February, our goals are long forgotten and we're right back into that same old routine that we swore we were leaving behind.

Here's a better idea - develop a system of checks and balances. Instead of making December 31, 2008 your deadline, push it up to January 31. And February 29 (take a look - it's a leap year). And March 31. Whatever goals you've set for yourself will be successful only if you make yourself accountable much more often. It's not enough to say "I'm going to make $100K this year." You have to keep your eye on the revenue if you want any hope of meeting that goal.

I've said in past posts that I think Anne Wayman's notion that we make goal setting an ongoing process is a wonderful idea. So why not sit down today and spend an hour or so deciding what you want to accomplish this year, what process you will create in order to accomplish it, and how often you'll check in with yourself to see how you're doing.

In a business course I took once, we were instructed to make a business plan. That's the easy part, said the instructor, for it's where you'll write down all you want to do and how you'll go about doing it. The tough part, he said, was sticking with your plan and harder still was amending it when necessary. As he put it, if you write that plan and then forget all about it, you've done nothing for your business.

So, what's on your plan? How and how often do you plan to monitor your progress?
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