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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If You Answer to No One, Is That a Good Thing?

I've seen a few blogs recently that have asked very specific questions - only to be ignored. Not surprising. The questions, you see, are ones of accountability. Amanda asked What About Your Writer's Resolutions? and then she waited. Two of us commented. Not exactly total silence. It sure faired better than when I asked how you were doing back in June on the Mid-Year Report Card post (ooo, can you hear the echo there?). Now Anne asks about your goals - have you reached them? Again, two comments.

So if you don't answer to your freelance community about your business goals, whom do you answer to exactly? You don't have a boss, per se. You have many clients, but they don't care about anything beyond that project you're completing for them. If you fail to make enough this year to pay your taxes, it's no skin off their noses, right?

You may say you answer to yourself. Fine. But do you? Really? When was the last time this year (assuming we all set goals in early January) that you considered how well you were doing against those goals? Don't try to make us swallow the "But if I don't pay my bills I answer to my creditors" line. We all do. I'm talking the larger picture. If you set a goal to make, say, $50K this year and you don't make it, how are you going to hold yourself accountable if you ignore the situation? Does it pain you to admit to colleagues that your goals are as distant a memory as what you did on New Year's Eve?

Accountability, in my opinion, is absolutely necessary. I write a lot of business copy and what stands out in nearly every instance is that when these people have applied accountability to the job function of every employee, profits increased. Not just a little, either. The minute the employees understood that they owned both the praise and the blame for their actions, work became a bit more important and goals were suddenly on everyone's minds.

You work by yourself. You set your goals; you may even write them down all nice and neat in a Word document. Then what? Do you map out a plan of action that will help you toward those goals? Do you set weekly benchmarks or monthly goals to help you stay on track? Do you even look at those goals again?

How can you set up a system of accountability that has you answering for your actions or lack thereof? If you're not going to answer to yourself, who might you answer to instead? Are you willing to put your missteps, your fears, your successes, or your doubts in writing? If not, why not? What are you afraid of? Do you think all of us here aren't struggling with the same things you are? Come on - share.

I'll keep asking. It's my way of staying accountable. It's up to you if you want to answer. So I'll ask again - have you reached those goals? If not, what do you think happened? If you did, how did you do it? Let's talk.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blog Love

Amy Derby has a neat post up about blog etiquette. I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment of reading/commenting on others' blogs out of some skewed sense of reciprocation. Given the number of blogs I follow, that's way too much time taken away from work I should be doing. Besides, not everyone has thoughts that inspire me to respond. Not every post calls for a response. I don't, either. That doesn't mean I'm not reading. Besides, not everyone who reads this blog comments every time. I'm fine with that. That means I gotta work a little harder to bring you a topic you want to talk about, right?

But what about linking to other blogs? There I'm a bit more picky about protocol. I do link to sites that have not reciprocated, but that blog has to hold something particularly special for me or for the readers here. It's okay if you don't find my blog link-worthy. I may link to you for a while, but I may not. I have a TON of links and when I get in one of my housecleaning modes, the non-reciprocating are the first to go. Second to go are those blogs that have been dormant for two months. Seriously. If you're a blogger, you gotta update once in a while. If not, I don't care how much I admire you or love your work - your link will disappear. That's because I view my blog roll as a service for readers. I don't want to send people to a site that's still talking about Memorial Day when it's nearly Halloween.

What are your hard-and-fast rules about blogging and reading? Do you comment on every one you read? Why/why not?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Read My Guest Post on Biz Chicks Rule!

Thanks to Bridget Wright over at Biz Chicks Rule for inviting me to post recently! The post is up. Please visit and leave a comment!

They're Just Not That Into You

Rejection sucks. Losing sucks. Not knowing why can drive you completely out of your mind. So why worry? Because you're human.

Kudos to Anne Wayman for once again baring her soul about her being left off the Top Ten Blogs for Writers after occupying that list for two years. Anne stepped outside her own comfort zone long enough to show beginning writers that even we old-timers get fluffed up about rejection now and then. And in true Anne fashion, she follows up with a brilliant lesson-learned post that shows Anne's gift for teaching amid the personal angst. Give them both a read. Go on, I'll wait....

Back? Good. It took me the first two or three years of my freelance career to look at rejections as building blocks. It's tough not taking it personally when it's the beginning of your career and every idea you craft is sent back with that gawd-awful form rejection letter. But after about 100 (not kidding), I started thinking that each idea was its own separate chance - you know, a sort of ticket in the freelance lottery, only I was applying craft and a modicum of skill to the mix. All the while I read my Writer's Digest issues religiously and bought writing books and studied how others were doing it. Then it happened - someone said yes.

So how is it all these years later I still get worked up at some rejections? Like Anne's mini-meltdown, it happens. And it's okay that it happens. That shows signs of a person who's human, and one who understands that careers evolve even for those who have tons of experience. And that's it, you know. Just because we secure a place in line at the freelance buffet doesn't mean we get to eat everything in sight. Too many yeses make us complacent to some degree, so those nos are real blows to both the ego and the game plan. I still get told no often enough to keep me humble and to make me try harder. Isn't that a good thing? I have stopped keeping all my rejection letters. Not enough room to store them!

How about you? At what level of your career are you? What's your ratio of acceptances to rejections these days? Do you keep those rejections? Do you still get all verklempt over them?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Speak Up Already!

Know what the biggest problem in any company is, the largest obstacle to success and the primary cause of failed business, failed projects and failed earnings? Communication. You know it yourself - your biggest issues stem from either lack of communication, miscommunication, or misunderstandings surrounding communication. I know in my own career, I've watched large, well-paid projects die completely because the companies couldn't organize a luncheon let alone a successful project outcome.

What's unnerving is when you work with communications people and they can't communicate to save their souls. Had one project years ago where I was hired (and paid in advance, amen) for a communications project that never left the ground. The company specialized in communication. Their client wanted a book on communication. Yet this little phone committee of ours, which communicated very well when we did meet, couldn't muster a complete project for the client. The team leader was very good when he had time to focus, but when he became distracted with seven other projects, this one died. And worse, he stopped answering any emails. Once every six months, I'd get a note telling me they were nearly ready to return to the project. I'm still waiting.

From my own experience, I see this happening in big companies pretty regularly. A current client had my work in hand within two weeks of asking for it. That was three months ago. Both the revisions and the invoice remain untouched. Not to worry - the contract is in place and the money will arrive. I'm resorting to a mailed invoice if this week's email isn't answered. Paper's much tougher to ignore or lose.

So how can you improve the communication? The only way I've found is to be the proactive one. If they're all ignoring the project, become its vocal leader. Communicate with ALL parties involved in both group emails and individual ones. Find someone on that team who's happy to get it done or eager to align with you in order to check one more item off his/her list. In some cases, you may be able to work with one individual (make sure to let the crowd know you're doing so) and deliver a product that can then be walked through the committee one-by-one, if need be. It's not always going to be possible. In this current situation I'm in, I have two contacts out of seven or eight. I don't know the other players. I'm in the process now of getting one contact to focus on this long enough to approve it and send the invoice to accounting. If a legal team has to review it, fine. But I'm able to at least get it to review stage working with this one person.

How about you? How many projects of yours have died thanks to lack of communication? Which ones worked well for you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Truth or Dare?

Time to 'fess up - do you collect deposits/fees from every single client every single time on every single project? If so, you don't write for magazines, do you?

There are times when you just can't. Magazines pay on acceptance or on publication. If you think you'll get them to change their payment schedule, good luck. Also, in cases with regular clients who have proven themselves trustworthy, it can be much more cumbersome to try collecting before starting a project/string of projects when the client's deadline is quite short. I have one client right now who's given me ten projects in the last two weeks. I've worked with them for four years. No way I'm going to continue asking for up-front payment when we've established a proper level of trust. There are maybe three clients I'd do this for because they've been good to me and I've proven myself to them, as well.

How about you? When you take that stance of "Upfront payments before any work is completed" who does that include? How often do you truly enforce that policy?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cheap, Cheap...

I once worked for $15 an article. Before you flog me for telling others not to when I myself did, let me explain. It was 15 years ago and the market - the local newspaper. While I didn't make oodles of cash, I established myself in a credible market.

I bring this up after reading Jen's message to $5 article writers on CatalystBlogger. She wrote for the online article mills, but she did one better - she demanded, and received, a higher rate than the $5 per. Her ability to charge more showed others her dedication to writing as a business, and I'm sure it went a long way in defining her now-thriving business.

But $15, you say? For newspaper work? It was a little crazy, but I felt the way to build a portfolio was to start locally. It still is, in my opinion. What's more valuable to an employer - a resume that shows regular work at an established newspaper or 200 unedited articles churned out for an article mill? If I were hiring, I'd lean toward the newspaper clips first.

Do you have to work for less in order to eventually earn more? Not really. My goal then is different than it is now. I wanted to work for the larger local newspaper. In fact, I had started working for them. They paid a bit better - $30 an article, and then bumped it up to $35 an article - but when my contact there retired, there went the job. This was back in the day when newspapers thrived and editors were countless in a newsroom. One other editor knew who I was. So off to a smaller paper I went. There I scored many more assignments monthly, but I wasn't making as much per article. I was making more per month, though. And I was beginning to be recognized by local officials and politicians. That's a great foot in the door for any freelancer wanting to branch out into other areas. And it made me comfortable around people who had information I needed. It was that experience, and an article published in a small national pub, that helped me pull in magazine assignments.

What's the least amount you've worked for? Did it help or hinder your career? Did you ever work for free? Why? No judgments here - I once wrote for free for a nonprofit. Once, though. It never became a habit. How has your beginning in freelancing defined (or hindered) your goals?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Me First!

Leigh brought up an interesting point Friday regarding client accommodation. We all have the client who calls and asks "Are you free to help me with a project?" only to assume that two weeks later, you're still free. I've had it happen as late as a month ago. Three weeks later when I really didn't have time, they came knocking.

Simple solution - when they call or email asking if you're free, give them your immediate availability and let them know very clearly that any time beyond that timeframe is not included in your answer. "Sure. I have Wednesday of this week and most of Thursday and Friday. Next week is uncertain, so let me know what days you need me now and I'll schedule your work for that time. We don't want your project to be delayed unnecessarily!" Then ask when to expect the information, call, interview, etc.

You're going to have to stress at least one more time that your time is not infinite. Clients do want to be top of our list of priorities, but that's impractical. We have other clients like any other business (theirs perhaps?). It's okay to let them know that you can't always jump (and you shouldn't, frankly) when they call or write. You can fit them in, you can schedule a time that's all theirs, but you can't be expected to be waiting with an open schedule for weeks or even days. You're running a business.

I think the word "freelance" gives some the impression that we're scrambling for work and we're going to be eager to drop everything (including weekends and lives) in order to please them for a few bucks. I came across this once with the dude who asked if I was free for his project. I was - that week. I wasn't a month and a half later when he called back. He got upset when I told him I was out of the office the next week. Having dealt with too many underlings he could dictate to, he made the fatal mistake of questioning why I was out and where I was going. And he used a tone that indicated his displeasure. He ended the relationship shortly after that conversation, which saved me the trouble. I don't work for people who treat me like (but don't pay me like) an employee. You may get away with bitching at your staff for taking a vacation when it inconveniences you, but you don't own my business. And you're not going to dictate my business practices. (By the way, I didn't answer his questions - they were none of his business.)

While you may not be facing a "need it yesterday" request at the moment, it's always a smart idea to have a plan in place for dealing with those who want it now and even a plan for those who get upset that you're not jumping when they bark.

Ever faced a situation where you've had to sit and wait, put aside work, only to find out they're going to show up when you least expect it? If so, how'd you deal with it? Do you charge for the time you put aside? Should you?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Deadlines - Yours and Theirs

Show of hands - how many of you have received projects from your clients and found out their deadline is of the next-to-impossible variety? Whoa. That many of you? Me too.

I understand where it comes from. A lot of clients have to walk these things through various committees, through meeting upon meeting, and through legal departments and sign offs. What happens next is, inevitably, their now-insanely-tight deadline is thrust upon you.

Yet is it your problem? That would depend on a few things. First, are you able to meet that deadline? Often these quick turnarounds come amid other projects you're already committed to. In that case, you have to adopt a diplomatic version of the "get in line" response.

Second, are they willing to pay for this "emergency" work? Any time a client needs it today, tomorrow or in less than two days, that means you have to adjust your work schedule. You have to determine whose project has to be put off, which means you might risk losing a client or upsetting one pretty badly. That kind of accommodation comes with a price. My per-hour price usually doubles for emergency work.

Third, do you want to? Look, you're freelance. You don't have to take on someone else's stress, nor do you have to forego your weekend plans because someone else didn't leave enough wiggle room in the schedule to get the job done right. If weekend work is involved and you're a 9-to-5 freelancer, that's gonna cost 'em. Again, the weekend rate here doubles because hey, that's my free time being consumed.

Fourth, is their deadline necessary or arbitrary? I've had so many arbitrary deadlines thrust upon me I've learned to step back and look at why that date is really so important. In some cases, the client has to meet a printing schedule. That's understandable. In others, they have to have that information in their client's hands by a specific date. Again, understandable. What doesn't work for me is the "I need it done now because I feel we've wasted too much time on this already" demand. That's when you need to say "I can have that for you in one day/two days/yesterday/this afternoon. Be aware that for faster turnaround I charge double my usual rate." Then stand back and see just how firm that must-have deadline is. If the client argues the rate, put your rationale out there - you're setting aside existing projects in order to complete their project for them faster. That means you have to play catch-up with your entire schedule for that week. It's your practice (and be firm with this) to accommodate when you can at this higher rate.

Have you bumped up against the "need it yesterday" deadline? How have you handled it? What works for you?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marketing When You're Busy

It's true - schedule just one half day or a few hours off and the client projects come out of the woodwork. Today is a much-awaited hair appointment to cover up the stress remnants of the Labor Day client crunch. Tomorrow, I'm off in the afternoon to try making it to Erie by bedtime. And naturally, there are three must-have-by-yesterday projects tossed at me yesterday.

Thanks to Kathy at Screw You! for this post on marketing when she's too busy to market. While Kathy points out the dangerous thoughts that cross our minds when we're too busy to market ourselves, she also realizes the famine is soon to follow.

In discussions, posters lamented that they've marketed, only to turn down those offers because they're too busy. People, please. There's a simple solution - it's called outsourcing.

Obviously not all writers are insanely busy at the same time. Why not tap into their talents when your cup runneth over? I've been in the sweet position of being the source of other writers' outsourced projects in the past, and I've come very close to outsourcing my own work to my hand-chosen writers should my own cup breach the top. The arrangement I've set up is that when sending work I scored to another writer for completion, I keep a percentage, usually 10 percent. And vice versa. As the person sending out the work, you're grateful for extra help and you've managed to score a percentage for simply securing the work and facilitating the delivery. As the outsourced help, you've now established a working relationship with another writer.

Just be careful when choosing writers for help. In one case, I was nearly hung out to dry and almost lost a great ongoing gig as a result of another writer's bad behavior. Know your freelancer - not just on friendly terms, but on working terms. What's that person's record for delivering on deadline? Is this a specialized area requiring a writer who understands that area? If so, is your writer qualified? If not, how much time are you willing to take to bring that person up to speed? Have you seen the writer's work? If not, ask for samples. Hey, this is business. Your name and your reputation are on the line if the product is anything less than what you expect. Also, is the writer's work similar to your own? That's important in creating a smooth transition from your writer to you to your clients. You want someone who works within your same parameters - it avoids a lot of hassles and headaches.

Have your go-to writers on hand now when things are slow. That gives you plenty of time to determine who best fits your writing style, your audience, your needs, and your own work habits.

Do you have any outsourcing arrangements? Any that have gone south? What are your experiences?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Giving What's Expected

I had a client recently who needed me to rewrite something they'd just paid someone else to rewrite. In fact, the rather large document, which was supposedly updated by a marketing firm, looked suspiciously familiar - except for a few minor word changes, it was basically the copy I'd supplied this company two years ago and what they had been looking to update when they sent it to the firm in question.

How close was the copy? Let me give you an example, modified to keep both my client and the guilty party anonymous. Here's what the firm had supplied to the client:

"Your business can benefit from our distinctive services."

What had I written two years ago? This:

"Your business can benefit from our unique services."

There were eight more sentences in that particular section - all of them were sentences I'd supplied the client originally. Not surprising, the entire document was a near-mirror image of what the clients sent to these people in the first place.

Do I feel cheated? No. That copy no longer belongs to me. What I feel is disgust and outrage on behalf of the client. They paid for a complete revision. What they got was a watered down and damn-near identical version of what they already had.

In this case, it was pretty obvious the firm had no idea what the client's business was all about. If you say you'll rewrite something, do it. If you can't for one reason or another, suck it up and say so. I spent the better part of two days reworking copy to show that the client actually knows what they're selling. These guys had them sounding like beginners.

It's good for me because I'm now a more trusted source for this client. It's also good because work that would've gone to someone doing a mediocre job is now mine to complete properly. I feel no pressure to please them. I get what it is they do, I'm not afraid to ask a lot of questions in order to understand what they want, and I'm not interested in "jazzing" up copy without merit (if you call changing one word in one hundred "jazzing"). I'm interested in delivering what they want in a way that makes them look like experts. The rest is unnecessary.

Have you ever had to play clean up for someone else? Have you always given what's expected, if not more?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kristen King Announces Giveaway!

If you're in the market for a neat invoicing system or if you just can't pull together or make sense of invoicing and billing, listen up. Kristen King is giving away a 3-month basic membership for Invotrak, an online invoicing and tracking system. All you have to do is visit Inkthinker between now and 11:59 p.m. September 26 and enter. Entering is simple: leave a comment discussing your invoicing techniques or issues.

Thanks, Kristen!

Building a Writing Group

I've been in writing groups pre-computer, email-based, and face-to-face. In every case, the groups were different. Way different. Yet they all worked because we set the ground rules at the outset and followed them.

In the first group, we were a group of five or six. We met for a few hours every two to four weeks. We started out meeting at each others' houses. Then when we were attempting to bring in a few new members, we moved to the local library. Our system was simple - bring a story or poem. Read it out loud. Then listen as we gave you feedback. Except for the gawd-awful incident I brought up yesterday, it was a very successful group. It may still be meeting - I moved out of the area, thus ending my relationship with a great group of writers.

The second group was email-based. There were six to eight of us in the group, and all new members had to be vetted before being allowed to join. Here again, the rules were simple. Each week we'd set up a day for a meeting - usually Thursday. We'd send out our writing to the rest of the group before Tuesday and the group members would read them all, and in one large email to everyone, would offer a critique of all work submitted. If you missed two email meetings, you were no longer considered a member. You didn't have to submit, but you did have to let the group know by Tuesday of each week if you were submitting something. As time went on, we modified that system - one week you submit, the next week you critique. That also worked well, as it gave a little more time for us to read and respond.

The third (and final) group is face-to-face. We meet one evening a month. As I described yesterday, we have a rip-roaring good time gabbing for 30 minutes, then it's down to business. The structure is similar to the first group in that we read aloud and then receive criticism. However, we have no time limit. Since we're once a month, we go until everyone who's brought something to read is finished. We've gone until 11:30 in some cases, but we're all pretty much fine with that. It is, after all, just one night a week.

When you're putting together a group or joining an existing one, consider the structure. Will the group go beyond your bedtime? If so, are you okay with that? Often members with kids at home can't always make that commitment. Will members read aloud or will you expect/be expected to email ahead of time and have edits/suggestions ready when you meet? How many members are you willing to have? Some groups have 15 or more - ours has five and that's more than enough, in our opinion. Because our structure allows all members to bring a piece for consideration, there's no way we'd end at 11:30 if there were more people. In fact, our group had swelled to nine not so long ago. Everyone suffered. Members were complaining that they hadn't time to read their pieces. Others stopped bringing anything more than three pages. Some just didn't show up because they weren't getting anything out of it. It was then we decided that given those factors, plus distances folks were traveling, we'd split the group down geographic lines. It was painful, but it was necessary to regain the effectiveness of the group.

Having been there, done it, here's what I suggest:

Consider your format. How are you going to meet - in person or online? That makes a huge difference in how you're going to set up your group rules. Will your members send work ahead or read out loud at meetings? If it's an email-based group, what's your timeframe for submissions and critiques? How will you address membership rules, such as attendance?

Determine a meeting time/schedule. We all work, so once a month is all we can muster. Often even that gets tough to pull off. How often will you meet? Will you have time limits to your meetings? If so, how will you enforce them?

Limit membership. Unless all members are willing to send ahead and do critiquing at home, it's going to become too cumbersome too quickly. We've decided to keep membership at five. Any more than that would water down our critiques. Think about it - if you have five people reading, four people critiquing each of those readings at even five minutes apiece, that's twenty minutes per person. That's assuming the critiques are only five minutes long.

Have a member approval process. We've been lucky - so far all our members have been good writers. That's because we recommended others to the group that we knew personally. But it could've easily gone ugly had one or more people not fit with the personalities of others or had been beginning writers looking for editors.

Know the level of writing you're after. Our group would not be a good fit for a beginner. Most of us are working on novels or short stories, and collectively we have a gazillion years of hard knocks under our belts. A beginner would feel out of place. Also, we don't hand out assignments. Beginning writers often need verbal cues or assignments to get the creativity going. While we'd love to help, there would be an unevenness to the relationship and everyone would feel awkward - most of all the newbie.

Who gets to present? This one seems simple to me - open invitation to all members to read at any meeting is best. That's my opinion. Others love a system where each writer is given a particular meeting to present. I think that discourages participation - are you really going to show up if you don't get to read anything for the next three meetings?

Do you belong to a writing group? What's the system you use? What works? What doesn't?

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Fun with Verizon's Dick and Jane (and Doug and Vickie and....)

I just spent a good 35 minutes on the phone with Verizon. See, on top of my credit card numbers being lifted, my husband went through the same thing a few months ago. We're still getting caught up with what automated bill payments we've changed and what ones we've forgotten. Today, I was dealing with the Verizon bill, marked overdue. (A note that I'd just had a round of Fun with Verizon not that long ago.)

I called. Automated system. Fine. I've walked through enough of them to know how to respond "incorrectly" enough times in order to reach a real person. The sytem eventually rerouted me to live support only ... it didn't. No, instead I sat on hold with no music, no sound at all, for five minutes. I hung up. I was in Verizon's version of pergatory, apparently.

I went online. Change it there, right? Wrong. I went to the account info page to make the change and was greeted with this message: "You will lose your bundle discount (if you have one) by switching from your phone bill to another payment method. For questions, please call 800-XXX-XXXX."

Nope. Don't want to do that. But I had to put the new payment info into the system so I could pay the bill, right? I got on the phone again. It went something like this:

Verizon person #1: Hi. My name is Dick Doe. May I have your phone number to verify your account, please?

I give it. Then I say:

Me: I'm trying to change our payment information because we have new debit card information. Our original ones were stolen and the account numbers cancelled. Here's the message I got when I tried doing that online (and I read the message to the person on the phone). What should I do?

Verizon person #1: Wow. I've never heard of that. Let me talk with my supervisor.

(On hold, listening to a cruddy rendition of "Leaving it All Up to You")

Verizon person #2: Hi, this is Jane Doe. May I have your phone number to verify your account, please?

I give her the number.

VP #2: How may I help you today?

Huh? Okay, whatever. I tell her what I told VP #1. Her response:

VP #2: It says what?

I repeat it.

VP #2: That's strange. Let me get e-billing on the line.

(More music, same song. Meant to calm people down, but it's getting annoying.)

VP #3: Hi, this is Doug Doe. May I have your phone number so I can verify your account, please?

Again, I provide the number.

VP #3: How may I help you?

Me: You're the third person I've talked with so far, Doug. Here's the situation.

I recap all I've told the other two people, and asked, "How can I fix this?"

VP #3: It says that? Really? Never heard of that! Let me get IT on the line. Hold, please.

Gawd, there's that SONG again. I try to work on a client file as I wait.

VP #4: Hi, this is Vickie Doe. May I have..... (you get the idea)

Me: Vickie, here's the situation (I give her the shpiel). I've talked with four people now. How can I pay this bill and get this payment set up as automatic?

VP #4, slightly impatient: What state do you live in?

I tell her.

VP #4: Let me transfer you to the FiOS support group in your state. You may be on hold for a few minutes as they're very busy today. (Yea, no doubt given the stellar support I've been subjected to already)

Within mere seconds, I heard this voice:

VP #5: Hi, this is Audrey Doe. May I..... (oy, not again)

Me: Audrey, you are now person #5 I've spoken with on this call...

VP #5: Oh dear! That's unfortunate!

No kidding.

Me: Here's the situation. Our bill is overdue. I want to pay it. I can't. We have automated payments. I can't change it. Here's why. (explained message one more time) I would like to add a new payment method, but obviously I can't or I lose my bundled services discount. Why I don't know. But I will. It says so. I need to change this payment method now or this bill will be way overdue yet another month. Help.

VP #5, who actually heard, cared, and didn't try passing the job on to yet another person in the Verizon food chain: Sure, I can do this for you. What's the other method of payment you'd like to use?

I tell her. We get it all set up. I'm beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. Oops - too soon.

VP #5: The account is now changed. You now have your account set up to withdraw from your debit instead of your BANK ACCOUNT.

Me: What? We had this set up to draw from there in the first place? Then why is this account overdue?

VP #5: Oh, that's because you added new services. Typically, bank account withdrawals are on a monthly cycle. Your new services weren't caught in the first cycle. They'd simply be paid on the next billing cycle date.

Me: Then why did I just change the debit card numbers?

VP #5, obviously confused: I'm not sure.

I hung up and let out a loud groan. I told ALL of these people that the stolen debit card numbers were the reason I wanted to make changes. I also mentioned to every one of them the overdue bill status. Yet it took 35 minutes, multiple people, and a waste of my time and energy to make a change that didn't really need to be changed. Why? Why can't someone in that system thing beyond the support "prompts" and engage the brain?

What upsets me is I wasted billable hours wading through an obviously broken support system to find out only after five people and one payment change that I really didn't need to do that. Maybe if I'd asked the right question I could've avoided it. But where is it up to me to know their accounting system, the process by which payments are made, and that the overdue bill wasn't anything to fret over? Couldn't one single person there tell me that before I wasted all that time and all their administrative time/money?

Verizon, for the love of the Almighty - teach your employees to solve problems with the proper application of common sense. Hiring them and training them in company speak doesn't help your customers, and it's causing you a lot of administrative costs you don't need to be spending. If I were to treat my clients like this, I'd be out of work and out of clients.

Writing Group Etiquette

At a writing group meeting I was once part of, a new person dropped by the group to check us out. We knew within 20 minutes that he wasn't going to fit. See, our meetings were an hour and a half long. He took the first 20 minutes to avail us of his "vast" experience in writing, which amounted to a monthly fishing column in the local newspaper. But that experience was enough for him to believe he had plenty to teach us. And lord, did he try.

After his lengthy autobiographical "hi" we got down to business. I was first. I read my new essay, a two-page piece that he proceeded to rip to shreds. Mind you, I've taken a lot of criticism in my day - most of it useful. But this dude took it upon himself to take my story and go through it line-by-line, rewriting it entirely. (When someone argues your use of "said" or "and", you know it's nitpicking.) I listened to see if he had any suggestions for how I could make it better. Instead, he made the fatal mistake that hobbyists-who-think-they're-the-next-Hemingway make; he took my idea and inserted his own story where mine used to be.

I was tolerant, but when he changed my killer ending, which the others in the group loved, I objected. I said, "That's not how I want to end it." After spending close to an hour destroying any evidence that I'd written that story, he had the nerve to throw his hands up in disgust and declare sarcastically, "Well! I was only trying to help!"

If it had ended there, we would've had a pretty interesting story about a guy who was obviously full of himself, among other things. However, the story continued. That evening, I got a call from this man, whom I hadn't given a phone number to. He asked if I had a fax machine. Yes, I did, I responded. I'd like to send you something, he said. Puzzled, I said okay.

After the printer stopped spitting out paper, I picked up what he'd sent. This man whom I'd never met before, this self-proclaimed professional writer, had sent me a six-page single-spaced critique of my two-page double-spaced story. Because I'd objected to his rewriting my ending, he'd spent a page and a half of his fax to explain why my ending on my paper was much better done his way. Again, he chose to rewrite my story for me, right there on paper. To paraphrase Eddie Izzard (insert appropriate English accent): what an arrogant bastard.

The others in the group were mortified by his behavior, by how he'd treated my story, and by how he'd attempted to eviscerate me verbally. One woman, whom I always felt was one of the best writers never to have published, said if he'd done that to her, she would've died of embarrassment and rethought her writing. (I'm a bit more stubborn than that - I'd never let any man who thinks he knows everything determine my worth) Another in the group suspected that because I also wrote for a local newspaper, he felt threatened and wanted to put me in my place. Whatever the reason, we all agreed that he'd not be welcomed back. No matter - he never returned. He'd determined that we weren't up to his level of writing. How he'd know is beyond me - mine was the only story out there that evening and honestly, it wasn't that bad.

He made many mistakes in that group meeting. First, he became defensive of what had suddenly become "his" story. Hell, I didn't recognize it as mine anymore, so that had to be why he reacted so strongly when I disagreed with his ending to my damn story. Another mistake he made - coming into the group believing he didn't need it. If you're there simply to correct people and prove you're the better writer, get a job at the local college and pester adult learners in the evening classes.

He also made the mistake of talking too much. His gawd-awful-long introduction included handouts of his fishing column, which made it apparent to all of us (since we were all editors, as well) that he needed a bit of work in the editing department. He consumed too much time with trivial discussion instead of allowing space for others to move into and for the group to move forward in its goal that evening.

And let's just say his critique fell flat. Suggestions are welcome. Pointing out the writer's errors are also welcome. But starting with "This just doesn't work" and then rewriting it? Now you're just being insulting. I would never (nor should you) take someone else's work and rewrite every line, let alone fax it to them later just to make sure you've kicked them hard enough. You have to be a mighty narcissist jerk to think that's okay in anyone's universe.

I have belonged to a number of writing groups over the last *ahem* years. While each group has been structured somewhat differently, the way members conduct themselves obviously needed to remain constant. In the last three groups I've been in, we've had people who talk incessantly (and over other people), people who tell "cute" stories that last for ten minutes but never quite end or make any point, people who want so badly to be included, yet never show up for meetings (and they were email meetings, so it's not like sometime that particular day that person couldn't open a freakin' email). We've even had people who push their particular religious, political, or moral agendas to the point where other members whose beliefs were exactly opposite became offended. (The guy was a virgin nudist who loved to write graphic torture/murder pieces. The woman was a staunch Christian who penned God-themed essays. Tolerance between them lasted about three minutes.)

Here is a list of my current (and best) group's expected etiquette:

1. One person speaks at a time.
2. If you want to chat, come 30 minutes prior to the meeting so we can catch up and still start on time.
3. As we critique, one person speaks. No talking over another person's "turn" to critique. You can interject a similar point, but you have just one minute to do so. Then it's back to the person with the floor.
4. We're here to help - therefore, be kind while you're giving suggestions.
5. No idle chit chat during reading/critiquing.
6. If you have a funny story or anecdote to tell, get here early or write it in story form.

We've gone through a lot of changes in our group over the last decade, but we've managed to come up with what we think are workable points of etiquette. When our group swelled last year from five members to nearly 10, we had to come up with ways for proper critiques from the entire group. For us, the group became too big and we had to split the group in order to accomplish anything. We're back to five, and it's a perfect number for the way we operate.

Tomorrow, building your writing group.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do-Gooder Friday

Amie over at Written Expressions recently posted aboutVolunteerism interrupted. While it sucks that her attempts at helping out were interrupted, she brings up an interesting point - how can we as one-person shops be socially responsible?

Generally, we're not an ultra-wealthy bunch. But there are ways we can help others that don't break us financially. Here are a few ideas:

Dress for Success. I love this organization. Those of us who have left the corporate life behind probably still have some pretty nice office clothing hanging around with nowhere to go. Why not help a sister out? Donate your new or like-new office-appropriate clothing, shoes, and jewelry. There are local chapters all over the place, making it easy for you to clean out the closet and lend a hand.

TOMS Shoes. I just learned about this charity. Basically, you buy a pair of shoes from TOMS Shoes and the organization donates a pair to a child who has none. I'm currently ogling a pair of boots that are admittedly pricey, but I'd have new boots and some child would have his or her first pair of shoes. To me, the cost is worth the payoff.

GoodSearch. This one's so simple it's a no-brainer. Set this site as your default home page. Use it to search as you would use Google or Yahoo!. Only each search results in money being donated to your designated charities. See? Simple.

Free Rice. Another no-brainer. This one's been circulating for quite a while now, but the recent spike in rice prices (they've doubled) makes it more critical for those organizations relying on rice to feed the poor.

Volunteer English. This one's a local one, and one dear to my heart. I've been teaching for about six years now, and it's been hugely rewarding for both the students and me. Teach a foreigner how to speak English and you'll learn so much about their culture and about your own. And you learn about your own language, which is wonkier when you're trying to explain it to strangers. If there are no ESL volunteer groups in your area, why not start one?

AMURT and Ananda Marga Service Projects. These are also near and dear to my heart as I belong to the meditation group associated with it. AMURT offers aid all over the world - from New Orleans post-Katrina to remote regions of Asia and Sudan. Ananda Marga also establishes socially-conscious programs in places like Haiti, where they've opened and now run schools for children who before had no access to education. We donate to the Haitian school project, which just recently got a roof and put in a water tank on the roof (water is otherwise 3 miles away in the mountains).

Beyond that, why not volunteer for an hour at week at the local food bank, Meals on Wheels, or start a coat drive, donate old prom dresses, buy a kid a bookbag and supplies, etc?

Any favorites of yours not listed?

Credit Card Woes

I got a call from my bank yesterday checking on some recent charges. This happens a lot, and I've always been very glad for it. I wasn't sure about one charge yesterday, so the woman on the phone put my account on hold. Thank God she did - today the charges appeared. I had no idea I'd been to Miami, let alone bought lots of gas there! There were not one, but four charges, all around $75, all at gas stations in and around Miami. The card is now officially cancelled.

How'd it happen? I figure it was at the local gas station. There'd been a report about scam artists who were using some wonky technology to read card numbers as they are scanned at the gas pump. But I hadn't bought gas in two weeks, so how can that be? Could it have been when I took my daughter back to school and used it at the local ATM? No, that was inside the building and right next to a real live person's desk in full view of other bank employees. It could've been at the restaurant I took her to, or at the Starbucks on the turnpike or hell, at the local grocery store here. Or maybe when TJMaxx had that breakin, my numbers have been floating around in cyberspace and someone just now used them. How will I ever know?

I won't. But luckily I don't have to. The charges are already being disputed, and my bank, which is fantastic, has already sent a new card my way as of today. I won't tell you my bank because, hey, there's already too much personal information floating around on the Internet - why give away the farm?

What's so odd about all this is that I'm ultra-cautious. I shred everything. I burn stuff. I buy stuff online at secure sites (in fact the dude at the bank said it's very unlikely this happened as a result of an online purchase). I watch my back, but apparently not well enough.

So my experience should serve as a PSA for all of us. If you want to protect your credit, your numbers, and your money, take precautions. I suggest the following:

- Pay cash for gas, or walk that card inside and interact with a real live person.

- Don't use the debit function if you can use the credit function. Sure, you'll have to sign something, but your money's just a smidgen safer than if you punch in those numbers.

- Use cash.

- Don't use ATMs in public places, such as malls or outside gas stations, stores, etc. Go inside if you can. Also, know that ATM kiosk at your bank (if it's an outside one). If anything looks different - key pad, card slot or even an additional security camera, don't use it.

- Go back to using checks. Take it to the bank and withdraw it properly.

- Go to Staples. Buy a shredder. Shred everything that has any identifiable information on it. That includes checking/savings statements, credit card statements, cancelled checks, pay stubs, old 1040s, bills, etc. Leave nothing to chance.

- Cut up your old credit cards. Make them unreadable before you throw them out. I melt mine. It smells like hell, but just try reading the numbers after they've been in the fireplace.

- Never give out your PIN to anyone. Ever.

- Don't lend your card to anyone. Ever. Including your kid.

- Know those credit card offers and checks that come in with your name on them? Do you toss them? You shouldn't. You should be shredding them. I do. I rip the "convenience checks" off and run them through the shredder.

Any other ideas?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is That Your Final Answer?

I just picked up a brand-new client the other day. It was one I'd mentioned a few posts ago that a friend in the company had recommended me to. Mind you, I don't have any assignments yet, but I've now completed paperwork that's put me on the list of "approved contractors", according to the contact person. Cool!

They required me to make a bid. For the first time in a long while, I came smack up against a dilemma. Normally, my price is my price. I quote it and let the client take it or leave it. However with this particular client, I wanted to get in the door. I have deep expertise in their industry. I don't have all the expertise they're looking for in all areas, but I've dabbled in most. Since I was not the only freelancer being hired, I had to consider others' possible rates. Not knowing what others are charging, not knowing just how much cost was a factor, I adjusted my bid downward. Mind you, I made it a wage I can still live with. I know my limits and my own pain points. I'm content with it.

In a freelance bidding situation when you know you have some competition (not eLance. GOD not eLance), have you ever adjusted your rate to be more competitive? Have you ever regretted it?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McDonald's Economics

Whether the current administration admits to a recession or not, we're in one. How do I know? It's simple - go to your local McDonald's. You've been to one. Even I've been to one, and I'm a vegetarian (live for the fry-and-shake combination). Take a good listen to the person waiting on you. Notice anything different? Are you hearing them actually greeting you, taking your order and, gasp and egad, thanking you? Look at them - see anything new? What's that? Where that sour, disgusted look used to be, could that be a smile? Naw! Go on, rub your eyes and look again. You're not seeing things. That's because the caliber of employee just shot through the roof.

It's no secret that when the economy is great, jobs are plentiful. That means jobs at the lower levels of employment - those minimum-wage wonders most of us have suffered through as employees - are lacking a sufficient pool of applicants. And sadly, those who don't necessarily want to work or those who live close to a fast food joint or are still in high school end up filling these positions. Not picking on McDonald's, but the industry as a whole - and frankly even retail joints in the mall - struggle with this attitude.

But oh, when the economy tanks, look out. For now your minimum wage earner just became that new college graduate or that out-of-work parent looking for a second or third income, or that senior citizen whose prescription costs just skyrocketed. Applicants are now streaming into the local McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and the like and managers are in the sweet position of having more motivated people vying for the job of asking "You want fries with that?"

It's already happened. I went to my local McDonald's last week, but instead of the waitress grumping at me or mumbling something akin to "What do you want?" as she stares at the keys on her register, I got this: "Hello! Welcome to McDonald's. How may I help you?" Huh? I had to check the menu board at the drive-up window - I hadn't mistaken the Rite-Aid prescription window for Mickey D's. It really was McDonald's. Then I drove up to the "next window" to pay. Smiles. Lots of smiles. Oh my gawd, is that actual eye contact? When I pulled forward to the next window, there it was again - smiles, greetings, actual warmth. Huh?

I drove away not happy, but confused. It's odd, but I was accustomed to the mistreatment, the "get outta my face and let me get back to my conversation with my coworker" attitude that permeates fast-food establishments (and retail establishments, for that matter). Smiles were at a premium once. Now they're just tossing them around willynilly. It's unsettling.

Back where I come from, fast-food employees were always courteous. That's because our rural, steel-mill driven economy tanked in the late 70s and we were all forced to take entry-level jobs. Plus hey, in the country, people have time to be nice. Since living here in suburbia, I've learned that nice is too time-consuming for busy people. As much as I've mourned the loss of a culture that gives a damn about being nice, this sudden upswing in the need to please me has me wondering - should I just buy more Ore-Idas and ice cream until the economy picks up again?

What's this have to do with freelancing? We all know when the economy suffers, companies lay off employees. However, the work is usually still there. So when things are looking up at the fast-food places, things are also looking up for us. Now's your chance to put out those extra feelers. There are companies all around you, all around the country, and they're buried in work. So when the dude at the drive-up window starts treating you like a king or queen, get the queries circulating. Hey, it's so stupid it could actually work, couldn't it?

Do you notice more work since the economy started into this downslide?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

When You Just Don't Get It

Working on a project now with a regular client. In the past, I've had zero problems interpreting what they want/how they want it. Perhaps I'm tired, old, or some other form of out-of-it, for this time I'm just not getting it.

They're kind enough not to say so, but multiple revisions later, it's obvious we're not communicating effectively this time around. Maybe it's because I'm handling more than one project at a time for them - things are easy to confuse in that situation, no? But here's how I plan to tackle the problem:

- Use the tape recorder. It's the surest thing to just writing furiously as someone calls with a brain dump. I can keep my hands free, my mind engaged, and be able to ask the relevant questions.

- Ask more relevant questions. I realized as I started putting together one of the smaller items that perhaps I'm failing because the basic info is missing. So I've gathered a list of things I need to deliver this project correctly today. That should cut us down by about three revisions.

- Get ALL information, including main purpose/message of the project. I got halfway through one project when it was mentioned that the focus should also be on Y as well as X. While that would've been good of them to mention at the outset, I'll blame myself for not asking.

- Work on one project at a time. I love the pile of projects, but when I'm working on one, I have to resist the urge to leap back to the last one or two and answer revision questions. Finish what's in front of me before I lose my way in a maze of corrections/edits/revisions/first drafts.

- Stop trying so hard. Because I think this client hung the moon, I'm bending over backwards to meet their fast deadlines. I think the better approach would be to prioritize quickly, work on most urgent first, then work down the list. It's so simple, it might work.

How about you? How do you solve the communication problems?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Have You Nominated Your Favorite Yet?

It's time once again for Michael Stelzner's Top Blogs For Writers nominations. Go here to nominate your favorite. But be aware - you get one nomination. And your nominee must be nominated twice or seconded in order to be considered.

I've cast my vote already, but if I could, all of the following would be on my Top Ten List:

Ink in my Coffee
CatalystBlogger
Irreverent Freelancer
Inkthinker
The Golden Pencil
The Urban Muse
Writing Forward
From Ink to Ether
Written Expressions
The Writing Journey

This is by no means a complete list of all the blogs I adore. In fact, just take a gander at the ones listed over there on the left of this page. I visit all of those on a weekly basis. Each one has its own unique take on our industry (okay, a few are just there for the fun of it, like I Can Has Cheezburger). Each one helps us feel a little less alone in our careers and our challenges as freelancers.

Don't forget to vote for your favorite at Michael Stelzner's site!

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Posts That Got You Talking

I've decided to try something a bit different here. Some blog posts obviously get a bit more attention than others, and I thought it would be fun to revisit the ones from the previous month that had you busy commenting. I've looked at the posts from August, and here are the two most-commented-on posts:

The Friday Crunch: Yes, I did receive a project that day - and yes, it was urgent. Apparently, it was something you've suffered through, as well.

The Aging Office: Apparently, I'm not the only one who waits until stuff breaks before replacing it. I now have a cool new recorder, but how long before this computer goes kaput?

Six Phrases That Mean I'm Not Paying. Ah, timeless classics, I tell you. I guarantee you'll be hearing these same phrases years from now.

Down Time. My new swing got everyone reminiscing!
What are some of the topics that get you buzzing? Any favorites?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Promises, Promises

Heard from my favorite client yesterday - they're back to needing monthly newsletters again. Hooray for several reasons; the work is interesting, the people are great, and they pay on time without fail. Hooray, indeed!

Despite working under a post-migraine fog, yesterday brought an inquiry from one of the major companies in the area looking for some freelance help. Thanks to a friend working there for the recommendation! She's tried twice now to get me in the door for freelance stuff, but this is the first time I've been contacted. Cool.

I'm not getting excited. I've been there enough times to know that work potentials have a tendency to dry up faster than an ice cube in the Sahara (for some reason, I'm into these little comparisons this week - humor me). Just two weeks ago, I was staring down the barrel of three, possibly four client projects that would've been due just before Labor Day. In reality, only one came through. The other two are MIA, and the article that's due was able to be pushed back to accommodate.

My regular client is silent. Really silent. Where I usually have five projects a week, I've yet to get one this week. Can I blame the shortened work week? I will for now, anyway. Other contractors for this company are experiencing the same slowdown. It is temporary, but when you're looking ahead to October invoices, the sting is brought home a bit sooner.

But the new work is beginning to trickle in. I'm hoping for a bit of a flood, as I have to recoup from a slow July/August. I'm hoping some of these potential clients actually sign on. That would help. However, it's been my experience that out of every 10 potential clients, I see maybe two clients actually commit. That just means more marketing and networking for me to better my odds.

How often do you score the jobs that come knocking? Do you have a method for turning more opportunities into sales? Care to share?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lots of Work, Little Cash

How many times have you been there, too? The work - you're drowning in it. Yet the cash for that work? Let's just say Casper makes more appearances than your checks.

At the moment, I have about $7K in outstanding invoices. Only one is just slightly overdue. Taxes are due on the 15th (you do pay quarterly taxes, don't you?). Car inspection due in October. Oh, and I know I need two tires for the Jetta.

I saw a slowdown somewhere in my future, so I saved up. However, I didn't save up enough to buy that laptop for the kid (hers died just before she left for school). I planned on paying a few hundred for her books, but not a few hundred more for her tuition not picked up by loans. Cha-ching. So now I'm here waiting for cash that isn't here, watching my nice nest egg dwindle like fresh-baked cookies on the counter top.

Today will be spent chasing down invoices. The late-ish one will get a reminder and a "Can you help me locate the payment?" plea. Then I'll spend some time sending out queries for some article ideas, finishing up an article, and organizing my workload for this month. I'll check in with some of my regular clients and see what they expect in terms of work for the upcoming month. I'll touch base with people who just a few weeks ago wanted me yesterday for their projects. I'll see if I can get something lit under a few heel draggers. And I'll wait for the second half of the big project to begin.

Am I the only one compulsive enough to want to have my month laid out in front of me in terms of projects? When it slows down for you, are you on top of it instantly? If so, how long did it take for you to learn that? It took me almost four years to see that when I was busy, that's when I needed to be marketing. I still don't get it perfect, but I'm learning.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Recurring Client Issues

The meditation group I belong to teaches us about life's sanskara, or the stuff that keeps coming up throughout our lives that must be dealt with. For example, suppose you keep meeting the same type of person as you're dating. No matter how far outside your comfort zone you look, that new person soon starts acting like or resembling in some way your former dating mishaps. Or suppose you have long felt harassed by your aunt, who has a sharp tongue and doesn't mind belittling you in front of anyone within earshot. Or maybe you have a tendency to hire shady contractors. It's all sanskara, which means these situations are probably going to continue presenting themselves in your life until you find the strength or the patience to finally deal with them effectively.

In your working relationships, you're going to see them. It's the stuff that keeps recurring in your client base. For example, mine is the recurrence of clients who bring in posses to edit what I've already edited. Or it's the return of clients who are unorganized and want it yesterday. In my personal relationships, I've come across so many self-centered, arrogant people that I'm sure it's my sanskara to learn to accept them and look to their more endearing qualities instead of focusing on how I want to shake them and scream "You're not that special!" It isn't that these people are any more flawed than we are - it's that maybe we have perceptions of how they are based on how they affect our perceptions of ourselves.

According to Hindu principles, this stuff, the chum that's churned up in your life, is going to keep recurring until you figure out a way to deal with it internally. In fact, even then the issue(s) may never fully leave you. It's there to strengthen your conscience, bring some clarity to your awareness, and help you gain insight into your self. If you continue to allow the stuff to cause turmoil, it's just going to keep coming up. That's not a bad thing - it's a lesson waiting to be learned. So it goes with client sanskara.

What's your sanskara with clients? What client issues keep recurring in your career? How have you dealt with it in the past? What can you do to deal with it in the future? What do you need to do in order to let go of the frustration and move to a more controlled, professional place when these people waltz into your work day?

Monday, September 01, 2008

It's Unlimited, With Certain Limits, Of Course

I once signed up for a new phone service that promised me unlimited calling. It wasn't one of the big companies, but rather a startup company offering great rates. The first month, it was wonderful. For just $30 a month, I could call my sister and talk for an hour, or call my mother, or hey, even clients. Yes, that first month was wonderful. The second month, however, wasn't.

I got a letter in the mail. I was being billed over double the $30 or having my account canceled. You're going to love this one - I had unlimited calling, but when I called the company, they said that it was unlimited for people who stay within what they considered a "normal" usage amount. When pressed on what constituted normal, the rep had no answer. Whatever it was, I had exceeded it - either I paid the bill or they canceled my account. I did them a favor and canceled first. And I contacted the Attorney General's office. Nowhere in any of the paperwork I signed was there a stipulation that "unlimited" really wasn't unlimited. Thank you for the bait-and-switch attempt, folks, but I'm passing.

I bring this up because of the news that Comcast is now planning to limit Internet usage for its customers. Apparently, we email too often or we surf too much, for the company is putting restrictions on the amount of bandwidth we can consume. Here's the story. And here's Verizon's home page. Might want to do your switching now. Not advocating one over the other. I'm just saying I'm apt to do business with companies that don't limit my unlimited usage. Isn't that what I've paid for?

In this case, it's not bait-and-switch, but it is a bit shocking that a major company such as Comcast, which by the way has much better customer service than Verizon in my opinion, is cutting corners. I use the Internet and email for work and for pleasure. It has to be unlimited. I can't be worried about how much over my quota I've gone or when my service provider is going to call and slap my hand.

As freelancers, we need our tools to be there. If my unlimited phone service suddenly has limits, it's no longer useful to me. The same with my Internet service or my postal service or anything else that helps me earn a living. Imagine if we were told we couldn't send out more than 100 pieces of mail a year? You'd have to choose between sending your water bill (because hey, it's now going to cost you bandwidth to pay it online) or Aunt Bessie's birthday card.

What do you think of service providers placing restrictions on your business tools?
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