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Friday, August 29, 2008

Office Hours

Got a nice break in my workload this morning - met a writer friend for Starbucks. We solve the world's ills over caffeine. Or at least we think we do.

Got another small break - a friend who works a 9-to-5 called. She's home and had some time to chat. I was able to spend a few minutes gabbing with her, which is rare. We usually chat only in email.

But these two instances can be viewed as interruptions if we're busy. One was planned - I needed to see another human and I needed to get caffeinated after the week I've just been through. The other one - technically, an interruption. But luckily I had time. If not, she'd have gone straight to voice mail. Sorry, hon. Gotta earn my keep here.

It got me to thinking - I keep regular work hours (or what I consider to be regular - I'm here beyond 5 pm most weekdays). I handle client requests only during those work hours unless it's a west-coast client who needs me to accommodate the time change. I've refused calls on Saturdays, calls after 6:30 pm, and calls at 7:30 am. In our line of work, nothing is that critical that it can't wait until a decent work hour.

Maybe it's because I work regular hours that I don't take after-hours work. Is that crazy of me? Am I missing out on paying work? Honestly, no. I've never seen anyone go with someone else based on my lack of availability on a weekend or after 5. Well, almost. I did have one crazy who expected me to be on a conference call right in the middle of my vacation at the shore. Still, I was there at the appointed conference call time. He was not. He had taken offense to my being out of the office that week, and expressed his discontent verbally. That, my friends, is what we call a client with whom we won't work. No one that demanding would be easy to please anyway.

Do you keep office hours? Do you work the same time every day, or is it sporadic? Either way, how do you handle client calls and requests? And how do you handle personal interruptions, such as friends or relatives calling?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Go On, Just Pile It On

It must be just before a holiday weekend because here comes another big project and another "Are you able to work this weekend?" request. It came in yesterday morning as I was firing up the computer to get going on the first big job.

A request like that wouldn't be a problem if I A) didn't have plans to spend part of the weekend finishing up projects I've had to put off to get these done, B) didn't have plans to actually have a weekend (I admit it, and I won't apologize for admitting it, dammit), C) didn't already turn down one identical request that came in first, and D) didn't work so hard during the week to make deadlines happen for people that I've worn myself out.

Mind you, I charge a lot more for weekend work if it's a true emergency. If it's holiday weekend work - double or more my rate, if I'm able or willing. I'm taking my free time to help a client with an emergency and that does require emergency rates. I'm still baffled that there are such things as writing emergencies. Did someone trip over a dangling modifier and sprain a verb? Is someone in a comma? It's a mystery...

But boundaries - yes, we need to enforce our professional boundaries sometimes. Had I accepted both "Are you able to work this weekend?" requests, I'd have been way overworked, way underpaid, and way resentful. Look, I'm a redhead. Rumor has it we have a low threshold for patience as it is (which isn't entirely true - I simply have a low tolerance of stupidity and unfairness). I'm not going to enjoy working a weekend, nor will I be eager to work again with someone who expects that of me. These clients were kind - they asked. They didn't demand. But I've had some that have demanded. I've resisted the "Kiss my Irish ..." and just wished them well as I deleted their contact information.

What are your limits? Do you know them? Do you enforce them? Do you ever bend them?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Service or Support - It Needs to Work

Yesterday's Microsoft-created mania is behind me, amen. Today I hope to make huge progress on this project so the client can at least gain some headway on her deadline.

Side issue that seems to be growing - we switched our cable service from Comcast to Verizon Monday. The technicians were quick about it - I was offline five minutes. But then we had a Tivo that couldn't seem to synch with the new cable system. I had spent over 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon on Thursday trying desperately to get an answer. Here's how it went:

Called the main number to sign up for the service a week prior. I asked the Verizon rep taking my order this: "We have Tivo. Can we order a cable box with a serial 232 port?"

Her response: "I don't know what that is."

Me: "It's a serial connection instead of a coaxial connection. May I order that now?"

Verizon girl: "I'm not sure. Let me finish signing you up and then I'll transfer you to tech service."

Me: "But I don't want to sign up unless I'm sure Tivo will work with it."

Verizon girl, not wanting to talk about it at all: "Once we're finished, I'll switch you over to tech service." Note that she's calling this Tech Service and not Support. The new politically correct version of fixing what ails us.

Me: "But it's pointless if I can't use it with Tivo."

Verizon girl: "You'll have time to cancel. A woman who ordered service last week has to wait until mid-October, so you'll have time."

Me, reluctantly: "Okay."

She completed my order and gave me the installation date - five days from that date. Oy. Okay, she transferred me to Tech Service. Busy signal. Groovy. So I called back.

Me: "I just ordered a cable installation and I would like to make sure we receive a cable box with a serial 232 port."

Tech Service: "I've never heard of such a thing."

Me, a bit surprised that Tech Service has no idea what a standard serial port is when I, the complete tech idiot, does: "It's just the standard serial port that comes on older printers and some laptops."

Tech Service: "Let me put you on hold and check on that."

Ten minutes pass. She comes back.

Tech Service: "Well, I can't find any information on that request for you. I'm going to transfer you to Billing and Sales. They should know."

Wait. Billing and Sales? For a technical question? But before I could say anything, I heard the sound of "on hold" reminders. After ten minutes of those, a person answered. Let's just call her Perky.

Perky: "Hi there! How are you today?"

After thirty minutes of this crap, I wanted to say, "Ready to beat the living hell out of the next person who asks", but instead I play along: "Fine. And you?"

Perky: "Just wonderful! What can I do for you today?"

Again, wanting to say "You can drop the perky attitude before I come through the phone and choke you" but instead opting to ask the same question I've asked most of that morning: "I ordered cable service. We have a Tivo. It requires a serial 232 port. May we get a cable box that has that connection, please?" Note that I'd begun speaking in short sentences. Less information confuses fewer people.

Perky: "Well I have no idea what that is! But let me put you on hold, dear, and I'll check for you." Amen. Hold. At least the canned voice on the hold message isn't mocking me.

After 10 minutes, Perky's back: "Well, I have an answer for you and two choices. I don't really know if there's a serial port on that cable box, but here's what you can do. You can either rent a DVR from us at $15.99 a month or you can purchase a cable card for your Tivo at $3.99 a month. Since we have a special with your package that allows you a free DVR for a year, I suggest that one."

Me: "But we have a Tivo already. We paid money for it. We can't return it. We also paid for the service for a year." And the correct terminology is "a choice" or "two options." Not "two choices." Sheesh.

At that point, Perky started rattling off the "unique" features of the Verizon DVR. Funny how identical those unique features were to my existing Tivo. I told her so. Her response: "Well, if you get ours, you don't have the headache of figuring out how to make Tivo work." Ooo. Great selling point!

It was then I decided to thank her and be done with it. We did get the service. The box did have the serial connection (how difficult is it to turn the thing over and look?). With some online help, we were able to get Tivo working late last night. Luckily, Tivo has a better user forum than Verizon.

Anyone else ever feel compelled to inflict bodily harm on people who aren't hearing you, understanding you, or caring that you need their help? Anyone else think that Tech Service should at least live up to the name?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kaboom!

That's the sound of my day going up in flames. Got to work early today in order to make what I thought would be great progress on the big project. Microsoft, however, had different plans for me. The file I was able to open and work on yesterday is not "too complex" to open. So says Word. I can't repeat what I said, nor what I've been saying as I threaten to go Apple on their asses (though would that really help as Apple also uses MS Word? Hmmmm...). Apparently there is a "fix" for this admittedly Microsoft-issued error. Let's just not go into how I've sat for an hour and a half waiting for this simple "fix" to download. Rat bastards. Why is it we take substandard crap from software companies? Why do we allow them to make us feel stupid? Or is that just me?

Anyway, I'm not without other things to do, though this does nothing to help my client meet that deadline. It does, however, mean I'll be putting a few extra hours in this evening. Time to start drinking more caffeine.

While I take a break from a simpler project and a lot of unnecessary whining (my whining, of course), let's chat about the potential client who bargains with you. I'm not talking the client who says "My budget is X" when you present your fee of Y. Everyone has a budget limit, and yes, we all want some sort of price break if possible. No, I'm talking about the client who literally counters again and again your fee. I had one client prospect who wanted a series of ghostwritten books. I gave him a per-book fee. He countered with his budgeted price. Okay, I'm used to that. Among supplying him with ample payment options, I suggested instead of his much-lower fee that I give him a professional discount if he signed on to have me complete all 4 books, with the stipulation that should we part ways prior to any of the books, the rates would be higher to compensate for my losing out on the other work promised. It was a fair rate - a full $5K per book break in price.

Know what he did? He countered it with an even lower price. No, he said. He wanted to pay $8K less per book. Uh, wait. This isn't exactly Kmart here. You're not buying a used car. You're buying my services and my expertise. It was then I realized this was a bargain shopper. He wasn't serious about getting the job done correctly - he put price ahead of quality. Fine. I'm not your writer. You're not my client, either. When price becomes your main concern, you've lost sight of your goal and you've completely lost my interest, for I won't be nickel-and-dimed to death.

He had the money, too. He'd just finished telling me how his company had grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. He showed me a summary of financials - he was understandably proud of the accomplishment. But he lost my respect the minute he started bargaining instead of viewing our partnership as a legitimate business arrangement. It was as though the project was play time for him. That's fine, but that's not how I view my career, and it's how I knew we wouldn't "play" well together.

How do you counter the bargain shopper?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Return of 12-hour Days

One of those promised projects from last week is definitely (?) arriving today. It will mean tons of work in a short amount of time. Also, it means all the projects I didn't finish last week are now crammed in there with this project, plus with any other must-have project that may mosey in this week. I have my plan - spend this morning clearing up (or making progress) on two articles, then hopefully I'll have the project in hand to dig in and get going. I expect 10- to 12-hour days. I knew it. I planned for it. And isn't today the day Verizon is showing up to install the new cable service? Naturally.

If you get a post out of me this week, it'll be because I'm either A) not as busy as expected, B) wanting somewhere to whine, or C) taking a brain break. (If you've subscribed, you'll get the notification of any new posts.)

Meanwhile, we're about to enter September, which means around mid-month our quarterly self-employment taxes are due. Why not use that time to assess your game plan, as well? Are you using Quicken or something similar to see what your income and expenses look like? (Don't I just sound like I know what math is these days?) We supposedly set goals on January 1st, or resolutions for some of you. How are you doing with those? Seriously, have you looked back at them at all? Why not fess up right here? We're all in it together. If you're having troubles setting and sticking to goals, say so. There are plenty around here who have managed to attain goals. Why not tap into the experience?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Friday Crunch

Let's take bets, shall we? I received all those calls at the end of last week from clients who needed work done this week. It's Friday. Despite being out for two days, I returned to see my in box empty. That's right. Those must-have-it-this-week round of projects have yet to show up.

So I'm betting at least one shows up today at 4 p.m. with this caveat - "We need it by Monday." Great! That'll be double my usual rate, for weekend work is optional on my part. If my weekend rate doesn't suit, I'll settle for getting it to them by Wednesday at the usual rate. If in fact it can be done by Wednesday....

What irks me is I cancelled a lunch play date with Devon (sorry, sugar) because all this work was coming in. You know, all the work that isn't here yet. I'm on a slow burn right now. Perhaps it's the way I was raised or the way I'm used to conducting business in a corporate setting. If you tell someone you need their help within a specific time frame, you either show up or hey, let them know what's going on. I can understand it with one client as they were still tying up loose ends on the project before handing it off to me. But does an email take all that much time to type out? How about a "We're still getting the project info gathered. Look for us to show up next week instead." That could've been sent oh, I don't know, on Wednesday or Thursday. Because I was expecting all this work, I planned nothing extra. And here I sit. Playing on Polyvore or researching future articles. But not much else. Oh, the articles I could've started and finished in this time! Sheesh.

On a good note, I did manage to score an impossibly hard interview time with a client today, so the day isn't a total wash. And as I said before, I take projects in the order in which I receive them. Your deadline is important to me, but my time has to be equally important to you. That I've blocked out my entire week for work that hasn't arrived doesn't make me too anxious to wait around for work that may or may not show up at all.

Question for you writers - Kristen asked this a few weeks ago, but let me repeat it. Do you charge your clients for the time you spend waiting for them? If so, how do you determine when to charge and when not to charge?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Worse Offense

Last week we talked about glass ceilings in the freelance world, which to my knowledge are rare. This week a more heinous beast - harassment, cat calls, misbehavior by male counterparts. I'd love to say this is as rare as the glass ceiling in freelancing, but ask ten women and I'd bet about 8 of them have had an experience that left them angry, scared, shaking, incensed, or doubting themselves. Bridget over at Biz Chicks Rule posted her experience last week. Apparently, just walking past a group of men warrants the misbehavior.

Despite my advanced age (way over 40 here), I still get rude comments. I've had everything from indecent propositions in email to men sliding their business cards into my hand seductively while telling me how gorgeous I am. The latter I blame on the conference mentality some of these dogs revert to the minute they're away from home. The former I cannot explain.

Why? Why is it women can conduct business without going there (not exclusively, for there are women dogs, too) yet some men cannot? I remember once laughing at a man's joke at a conference. Apparently, I have a sexy laugh (I don't - I laugh like a burst gas pipe) because that was the very next thing out of his mouth. I remember walking through a conference hall, feet killing me, on my way back to my room for the night. A man was standing at his booth and he came over, took my hand, slid his business card in and purred about how I was the loveliest creature he'd ever seen and to call him. I gave him a disgusted look and asked him if he minded if my husband called instead. That he didn't back off after that showed the mentality of a man in heat. Jerk. Then there was the interviewer who called me back to meet with him after he'd hired someone else. He wanted to explain why he didn't hire me, he said. But after what I thought was a pleasant conversation, I had to fend off more and more suggestive emails from him. He was married. Then there was the colleague I met for lunch who liked my personality, he said to my face. In email, he told me about everything else he apparently liked about me in embarrassing, sickening detail. Did I deserve this crap? No. I was friendly. I was myself. In a few cases, the fact that I had a pulse was enough to get them going. I am NOT hot, unless you count the hot flashes. I'm honest and I'm open. And that, my friends, gets me into more trouble than it's worth.

My husband has commented a number of times on how he feels there's a wall between him and female colleagues. He's a friendly person who likes to hear other people's stories. He tries to get the women talking, but he says he's met much resistance and coldness to his inquisitive side. He asked me why some women are just so hard to talk to. I pointed to my own experiences - when women open up and display a friendly nature, there are men out there who take that as an invitation to start hitting on them. I'm not saying it's our fault, nor am I saying this happens all the time, but some people just cannot discern between friendly and flirting. Some are threatened by independent females. Some are just horny old buggers who can't behave in public.

What are your experiences?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

If The Clients Are Calling, It Must Be Nearly Labor Day

I'm not in today, really. I'm posting this well ahead of time. Daughter is headed back to college and I must drive her across the state lest my car disappears for weeks on end. And wouldn't you know it - the minute I can't be around, the clients come calling. In droves.

It's an odd phenomenon - they see Labor Day as some arbitrary must-have-it-by deadline. All four clients who called last week expect their projects to be completed by yours truly no later than Labor Day. And all believe they're my only priority.

I have two other commitments to complete first, then the daughter's return to school, and now I'm tapped to write a client piece this week, edit a society paper this week, and oh, proofread a rather large manuscript by, you guessed it, this week. Note that it's Wednesday. Note also that I've received none of these projects as of this writing (I'm writing this Tuesday the 19th). Not everyone will be happy, least of all me. I am anal about deadlines and I refuse to say yes to something if I can't meet the deadline. So I'll work my 10 or 12-hour days again and I'll do my best.

What do you do in a case like this? I let everyone involved know that I wouldn't be in today or tomorrow. Sorry folks, but my kid comes first. Beyond that, I'm taking these in the order in which they came in and not based on the amount of fussing or pleading that's involved. I'm only one person. Last I looked, I don't even own a cape, so you get what you get.

How about you? Have you yet seen an upsurge in your workload?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Must-Haves

Yesterday I showed you my favorite free downloads. Today, I want to share with you the websites I can't live without.

PRN Media. Seriously, if you're a writer, you need this site. You can get hooked up with experts aplenty just by registering and then sending out a query on your article topic. The ProfNet query section is by far the best resource ever for finding experts. Ever.

Stock Xchng. Free (or almost free) high-quality stock images. Just credit the photographer!

Clear English. The source for dictionaries of all sorts, grammar resources, and writing resources.

Area Code Listings. I visit this site almost weekly. It helps when arranging interviews, and has saved me many missed phone calls.

Zaba People Search. You can find just about anyone here. Up pops name, addresses, birthdates, etc. Scary, but useful if you're trying to locate a particular expert who has left one job for another.

Thesaurus. MS Word's thesaurus function just doesn't cut it sometimes. This is a great alternative.

THOMAS. Site of the Library of Congress, you can look up bills, laws, etc. by code or by keyword.

Zillow. This website not only lists the current estimated value of your home (and others around you), but also it gives you aerial views and hybrid views to help orient.

I Can Has Cheezburger. No typos there - that's the name of it. It's the world from a cat's view. Hysterical! When things suck, I go here for relief.

How about you? What sites are your must-haves?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Free Online Must-Haves

Talking with a writing friend the other week, he expressed the need for a backup drive. He's talking external drives. I should have one, too. I don't, but what I have is pretty good - it's Mozy.

Mozy lets you back up your files virtually. You get 2GB of free storage. All you do is download the application and set the time and frequency of your backups, as well as what files you'd like Mozy to back up. That takes a bit of time at first, but once it's done, Mozy does the rest. I've been using it for a year now. I love it. If you go over your 2GB, you can always purchase more space - how about unlimited backup for $4.95 monthly?

Another cool application I use regularly - Project Timer. It's simple - a tiny window that you can "pin" on top of your project or allow it to be hidden. You can create new project files easily. It's not fancy like some, but the beauty is its simplicity. I've used it for a few years.

Here's a must-have: SpyBot. You've heard of it, I'm sure. If so, you probably have it and use it. If not, get it. This little gadget finds and eliminates spyware and adware. For anyone sharing a computer with the family or not having anti-virus software installed, it's a must.

For those of you who have issues with Outlook, try Mozilla Thunderbird. It lacks one critical function for me - a calendar. But it really is a neat little email program. You're going to like the way you can customize your email.

Do you have any favorite freebies? Any anti-virus or writing-related stuff you can't live without?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bossing Around

Yesterday's post included the link to a Yahoo! hotjobs article giving tips on finding a job that fits. The first tip was "Who's the Boss?" Great question not only for job seekers, but also for those of us who have just taken on client projects.

I've been on projects that have had a hazy line drawn around the authority or point person. I reported to Jane for weeks only to have Joe override Jane's authority and take charge, leaving me in total confusion and the project in shambles. So now I ask, and I do so when in teleconference with the project group or in email with them, or whenever there's a hint that someone else along the way will be involved - who's the final decision maker? Whom do I run my edits by? Who will be the project's lead?

That's not always enough, either. One project nearly died because the project lead failed to mention that the interview subjects were to have editorial oversight. Add two more people to the approval process, which adds much more work, stress, and red tape to my job. Had I known, the fee would've been higher - much higher.

Let's not forget the times the project lead had one idea in her head about what I'd be writing versus what the magazine I was writing for actually expected.... oy.

How do you get to who's in charge?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

If the Job Fits

In a recent one-on-one with a potential client, I was doing my best to convince her I was capable of A, B, and C functions. Problem was she wanted D, E, and a smattering of F. We both came to that conclusion at almost the same time. She expressed reservations and then cited the group within her organization I'd be working with. It seemed fine to me until she revealed a very specific, very technical aspect of that group and its needs. I knew I wasn't the right person. I told her so. She was relieved. Frankly, so was I. It would've been awful to take that job only to find out the workload wasn't what I'd expected or could handle.

Yahoo! hotjobs had an article up yesterday on Making Sure Your Next Job is the Best Fit. While the article's aimed at job seekers looking for full-time employment, the tips make perfect sense for us freelancers. We go through the hiring process much more often than our full-time counterparts. Understanding when to say when is critical, but most important is knowing when the job won't fit and when to say so.

I was lucky - it took just five minutes to hear what the client wanted and know I couldn't deliver. Did it kill me to tell her that? No way. I'd rather leave with my reputation intact than stick a client midway through a critical project. She was left with an impression that I know my limits and I'm not afraid to say so.

Have you ever turned down a job for reasons other than payment? What were the circumstances?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Aging Office

I realized yesterday that my ancient tape recorder (seriously, I think I've had it more than 20 years) was dying. I could record, but the tape had both the new recording and older ones. At first I'd thought it was the tape, but after about four of them, I figured it had to be the machine. Time for a new one. I picked up a nice Olympus DVR - model 4100PC - and the preliminary tests have been great. I get to give it a true test today in a phone interview.

In general, I've been behind the curve technologically, but I've reasoned that I really didn't need the new stuff. I replace things when they break, not when a new thing comes out. So now I'm staring at this 9-year-old Dell desktop and wondering if the speed has just been surpassed by my need for more responsiveness. I suspect by December, I'll have to replace it. It's on its second hard drive, so at least part of my computing is in the same decade.

That raises the question - desktop or laptop? I hate laptop keyboards and screens, but those are easily modified with external keyboards and monitors. My reason for considering the laptop is portability. We have a higher-than-average number of power outages for the suburbs, and once this year I've been forced to grab a laptop and make do at the library with just the info I had access to, which wasn't much. How much easier to unplug and go!

Do you use a laptop? If so, how have you set it up? What brand has been good to you or given you grief?

I'm lucky (?) that my all-in-one printer died a few years ago - I loved that printer, but a power surge fried some things, and I was forced to upgrade. Luckily, the price on the Canon Multipass line had come down to half what I originally paid. I got a bit more power and function for a lot less.

So how old is your office? Do you believe popular opinion that we should upgrade every two years? What's your ideal office look like?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How To Get The Job

Dear friend Anne Wayman has a great post on her blog detailing how to apply for freelance gigs. She includes the top two reasons why you're not getting jobs now. Please read them. These are the mistakes I've seen writers do when answering ads. I know. I placed an ad once. And of all who answered, only one got it right.

While there's not much you can do about not having the credentials for the job, there is something you can do about giving the employer what she's asked for. Nothing screams "Couldn't be bothered to do it right" more than sending a "Here's my resume. Let's talk" query instead of the resume, cover letter, and two samples the employer asked for (I received two of these).

Anne's post goes on to detail how you can personalize your query. And you should. Your personality is what the employer is looking for. Would you hire the person who writes "I saw your ad and I'd like to be considered for the position" or the writer who instead says "I have pleased over 200 clients, matching my writing skills to their projects with successful results. I'd love for you to be Satisfied Client number 201."

Don't forget to match the tone of the advertisement or the company, if you know it. I had my own post on how to apply for the job here.

Thanks, Anne. A timely reminder as we head into our busy season!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Glass Ceiling or Timidity?

An interesting discussion is brewing on Allena Tapia's About Freelance Writing blog. She shows a few articles that bring up the idea of a glass ceiling in freelancing. One article she points to is a New York Times piece on a perceived glass ceiling in blogging. Wisely, Allena doesn't draw conclusions on the suggestion, but asks readers for opinions. Here's mine.

I've come across a glass ceiling once in my entire working life. The boss didn't like girls. He worked with the men of each department and held meetings that omitted women - some of whom held supervisory positions over said men. That was the clearest indication ever that this boss was not allowing women to advance or participate.

Beyond that, I've seen no evidence in my freelance life that a glass ceiling exists. I write for a lot of industries that are "male" in nature. Except for the errant interviewee who thinks a girl wouldn't know the first thing about his industry (I let them live, but I may have emasculated one or two with a show of how much more I knew about their industry than they did), I have never been treated any differently than the boys in terms of pay or assignments. While there are editors or publishers who may indeed pick boys over girls (I know of one), it's not that common. They want talent and reliability - who cares what package that comes in?

My opinion - and you're not going to like it - is that we women are the cause of a lot of our own glass-ceiling-type problems. I saw it when I worked on the magazine staff. Freelancers would negotiate rates and nine times out of ten, the women would accept the lower offers while the men would bargain for and win the higher rates.

The New York Times article points out the Pew Internet and American Life Project that shows the disparity between male and female bloggers does exist, but with 14 percent of male Internet users blogging to 11 percent females, can we really consider that signs of a glass ceiling?

How about you? Have you experienced any glass ceiling?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Background Checks for Clients

Many of you know about my run-in with an alleged scam artist. While he's still making his way through the court system, it's indicated that the authorities do have enough evidence to prosecute and that this man may indeed be found guilty of a number of charges.

Since this episode, I've been extremely careful with whom I do business. But how do you do a background check on someone who hasn't been convicted of anything? I did the Google search on this guy and I did ask for proof of his nonprofit status (note - that stuff's apparently easy to forge - he's charged with falsifying those documents now). But this little website came to me through a friend on a forum. It's called Criminal Searches, and it's free. Just one more layer of security for those of us not wanting to stick our necks out too far with a new client.

But it's not perfect - my former client above does not appear in any of the searches. He hasn't been convicted of anything yet, so it won't appear until after the fact. But if you're doing business with someone who has a dirty past, it should turn up both charge and conviction date.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Maddening Silence

Don't you love beyond reason doing a project, meeting a deadline, and never hearing back from the client? I finished a project four or five weeks ago - one of those "We really need to get this done ASAP" projects where I broke my neck to give them a great product on deadline. I did so - two days ahead of schedule. The client said "Thank you! We'll get back to you once Legal goes over it." That statement alone is why I'm not panicking. Legal departments often take forever to go over articles and white papers. Why shouldn't they? There are bigger fish for them to fry than one five-page paper.

I was going to write to them two weeks ago, but given that I had a week off coming up, I thought better of it. The chances of one being asked to complete instant edits and fix what clients think are massive errors increases if one puts one's neck out just before a vacation and reminds said client about the project. Today's the day I'll contact them. I have a few days of idle time ahead of me (so far). They can respond at will and I'll be ready.

But at what point do you push the invoice question? I send my invoices along with the product in most cases. In this case, I did not. Knowing there's a legal department to contend with made me pause, but I should've in retrospect. But my other method of billing works just as well - wait a few weeks for feedback and, assuming all is well, send a follow-up note with an invoice. That usually does two things - it gets them back on the project and wanting revisions while they still have me on the books, and it gets my payment in the accounting loop.

How do you handle your silent clients? When do you invoice? What works best for you?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Idea Files

Amanda at From Ink to Ether has a great post up about finding ideas by reading magazines and seeing trends within the articles. It got me thinking about how we writers find ideas for our queries.

Like Amanda, I read trade magazines. Okay, not as thoroughly as she does, but I do read them. It's great to see an article about Topic A that either just touches on or doesn't address at all Topic B. For example, if I were to read a story on the nursing shortage and it had a statistic that said something like 80 percent of nurses are female, I'd be wondering if there's a reverse sexism issue within the profession. I'd propose an article on male nurses and how sexism has hurt or helped their careers. (BTW, don't bother writing this one - I just did.)

Another idea mill - press releases. It takes almost no effort whatsoever to contact a PR person or 12 through PRN Media and ask them to send releases to you. They're thrilled because hey, how many people contact them and say "I will accept willingly those releases others delete without opening." Well, maybe not verbatim, but you get the idea. And while a lot of releases are something akin to "Joe Shmoe has replaced retiring CEO Jack Black at ABC Company", there are often PR people who go beyond this very basic release and actually send you article ideas. I just finished one based on a PR person's idea. She was eager for me to talk with her expert, who'd just been hired to oversee the company's sovereign wealth investment division. There was my article on sovereign wealth investments, which paid handsomely. While hers was just a suggestion that I talk with her expert to get the company spin, I was able to develop the article from that suggestion. Thank you, PR person!

Other places I get ideas - television. I just finished outlining the first half of a book based on one 15-second news report that had me wondering about the survivors of an accident.

Conversations with others can set the ideas in motion. I had a few ideas come from talking with someone who said, "You know, you should really look into writing something about X. It's a big issue and it's not getting much press." (This is different than those people you call for an interview in which the topic has already been determined who suggest you'd be better off asking them questions about a different topic because they think it's more interesting.)

Also, I take ideas from life. Today I was getting bloodwork to rule out Lyme Disease (I live in the land of the deer tick) and I saw signs that indicated what Medicare won't pay for and what it will. It could easily lead to a story on the cost of retirement and how healthcare in general isn't really taking care of anyone.

Where do you find your ideas?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Cleaning the Freelance House

I'm back. Let's just say the fishing was adequate but not great. I did manage to catch two northern pike that measured up nicely. I won't bore you with details as they weren't all that impressive. But it was nice to see the parental units again and equally nice to spend time in the wilds of Ontario.

We came home a few days early, which allowed us to catch up on the rhythm of the house again before launching into work. It also allowed us to clean up the garden and the house a bit. Now for cleaning up the work.

I turned down work before I left. I hate doing it, but in this case it was necessary. I have been working for a magazine that pays on time, but pays very little compared to the effort it requires. I was sent a list of assignments through January. It was then that I said I simply couldn't take these assignments because I was very busy the next few months with intense, higher paying projects. I said if the pay were higher, I might be able to justify the time it would take to complete the articles. Sadly, this one isn't budging on price. I say sadly because they really are a pleasure to work with. However, the kiss of death is the price.

And it should be. While we can sometimes get away with writing for a lower rate if the workload is light or if we're between projects, it's not a pattern that will serve our careers well. We have to remember that. We are in business and our goal is to turn out a good project and make a profit. Ten cents a word may work for blog posts, but not for articles that require research and interviews.

As we slide into August and work begins to pick up again, it's time we take a hard look at the projects crossing our desks. Do they pay well? If not, does the effort justify continuing? How are any of these projects aligning with the goals we set back in January? Don't think that a low-paying job is something you must settle for because you're hungry or bored or afraid nothing else will come along. It's not. In fact, it could be an indication that some more targeted marketing and networking is needed from you in order to attract something better.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Devon's Extra-Special Big Day

Many of you who visit here regularly know Devon Ellington or have seen my links to her weblog, Ink in My Coffee. Or maybe you've read her comments here. She's part of the Words on the Page family - and part of my extended family (we adopt our favorites these days).

Today is a big day for Devon. Her book, Hex Breakers, is now a retail item! Devon has taken an area she knows from behind the scenes - filmmaking and wardrobe - and has turned it into a flight fantastic through a fantasy like no other. I've downloaded my copy and I'm settling in to read it the moment I return from vacation (don't you love the ability to write your posts ahead of time?). I suggest you do the same. Devon is a phenomenal and prolific writer, and I'm sure she's given us a witty and deep tale to savor.

Get thee over to Firedrakes Weyr Publishing and download your own copy. Congratulations, Devon! Much love and success!
Words on the Page