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Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Mish Mash

I live in a city that's apparently shut down for some celebration today (Phillies parade at noon - way to go, Phillies!). Congrats to the team and to all the die-hard fans! To those fair-weather fans - those who bitch royally about how that team "owes" them something - you get nothing. Be a fan or be quiet. Oh, and those of you booing the team that lost - bad form, people. It's called sportsmanship. Try it sometime. Otherwise, you look like a jerk on national television.

Halloweeen tonight! Oh sure, it's a wiccan celebration and probably goes against anything Christian or otherwise... but it's fun. Kids don't know anything more than hey, I get to dress up like Snow White and beg the neighbors for candy. Maybe that's the more disturbing aspect, huh?

Great costumes I've seen and where I've seen them:

--Paul Stanley of Kiss (my youngest)
--Mr. Peanut (my cousin back in the day)
--Santa (my son)
--A maxi pad with wings (the woman was wearing a white pillow case, a pair of wings, and had, well, pads stuck to her)
--Wilson from Home Improvement (neighbor kid wearing a hat holding a picket fence over his face)
--Princess Lieia (my youngest again, using bagels on a headband for the hair)
--A photo strip (woman on the Today Show this morning, using pics of herself on a long piece of cardboard and her own face peering through one of them)
--A box of popcorn (another neighbor kid whose mother put her in a striped popcorn box and pinned cotton balls in her hair)

What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Cell Phones Suck

Did you know you speak much louder when you pick up your cell phone than when you're sitting across from someone at a restaurant? Did you know that I heard every word of your conversation about the dog needing to see a vet for that "oozing, pussing foot" problem? Did you know I heard it just as my entree arrived? Did you realize how freaking rude it is to talk on a phone A) in a restaurant, B) when you're with someone else, C) loudly, D) and expect privacy?

I wish it were just the general public behaving badly. Alas, every conference and trade show I've attended proved otherwise. At the start of every session, there was a reminder to switch off the cell phone. In each instance, someone's phone went off in the middle of the session. Each time, the phone owner invariably would start talking, getting up to leave, making all sorts of noise. And of course, no whispering.

I've overheard some strange conversations that normally no one would hold in public, including the seemingly adult young woman who disintegrated my opinion of her by ranting on about how stupid her mother was. This in the lobby of a hotel. And she gave me a nasty look when she saw me look over at her. Right.

Then there was the man sitting by pool at a Florida hotel relaying his sexual escapades over the phone - and the little kids in the pool got to hear him, too. Unlike our lobby talker, he was dying for someone to overhear him. He was in town for business, as he loudly and proudly announced. Had I ever found out what his business was, I would have avoided that company like it was toxic.

I'm not against cell phones. I have one. I'm against the inability in a large segment of the population to discern between a simple call and a rather large, inconvenient interruption. My phone is a convenience - for me. It's also in my power (and yours) to not answer, to allow the caller to head to voice mail and, gasp, to miss a call. In our quest to become connected and always reachable, we've failed to ask if we should be that reachable.

Your phone is a business tool. Use it wisely lest it become a business liability for everyone within earshot.

What have you overheard?

Moments of Accidental Genius

I know the mood I intended when I started writing my latest novel attempt. I was reaching for a feeling of wallowing depression that encompasses the life of someone akin to Gilbert Grape (read the book - it's phenomenal; or watch the movie - Depp and DiCaprio are marvelous). How it translated in the writing group - "Wow! This reads like a comedy how the supporting characters manipulate the main character's life!" Not exactly a different view, but not exactly the one I had in mind. But when the gang said, "Brilliant!" I decided to trust their collective wisdom and write from that mindset.

It's "accidental genius", and it freaks me out a bit. I remember writing a story once about a woman who was a bit daft. One line in the book had her talking about a recipe she'd found in a magazine that was supposedly made by Elizabeth Taylor. The dish tasted like perfume. Honest to God, I never made the connection as I was writing. It was afterward, when the former writing group members pointed it out that I realized the connection between Liz and her new perfume. Oy.

It's that I can't control it, to be honest. I'm fine with intended genius, which in my world doesn't appear all that often (at all). That's something that's labored over, thought out completely, and applied with skill and care. But this churned-up stuff that comes off as intended symbolism or framing makes me feel like seeking out a psychic, a psychologist, or an exorcist. Someone needs to explain to me how this happens.

Anyone else experience moments of accidental genius? Does it unsettle you, too? What do you make of something that has a deeper meaning than the one you intended or wrote? And whom should I see - psychic, shrink, or exorcist?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Your New Best Friend

I had a really nice conversation with a PR woman yesterday, one that may turn out to be a lucrative partnership.

I used ProfNet on PRNMedia religiously for article sources. This gal has answered two of my inquiries and has supplied me with some great sources. In our last email exchange, she offered the usual "If I can help with anything in the future, let me know." I countered with "If you have any story sources or neat ideas that come along, I'd love to hear about them."

Her next note: "As a matter of fact..." and then she relayed to me information on a client of hers, who happens to have a pretty fantastic story to tell. We talked on the phone and she suggested a publication that may be a great fit. That, my friends, is the proper way to utilize PR people's expertise. It's a win-win for us both: I get salable story ideas and subjects and she gets client credibility and client retention.

Mind you, not all PR people are alike. I've suffered through my share of reps who send ill-fitting interview subjects and those who have no idea what their clients' (or in some cases, their own) business is. (News flash - they've suffered through just as many writers who haven't a clue, as well.)

But those who do their jobs well are fountains of information and resources, and they're only too happy to have you contact them, even if it's only to get on their press release mailing list. These are people you need to get to know. Court them. Bring them to your side and partner with them in terms of being a semi-regular source of opportunity for them, and they'll reward you with plenty of ideas and people to help broaden your work avenues.

This PR woman is not the first one I've worked with - others have supplied me with experts and cool stories that have made it to publication. A side benefit of teaming up with a PR contact is that sometimes they need a writer to help out with client articles or press releases. Guess who they're going to think of if you've been a successful partner in the past?

They're going to remember you because you took the time to ask, to talk shop, to swap war stories, to ask about the family, to connect. They remember, like all people do, those who make the effort to get to know them and to know their clients and their business.

How about you? Do you work with PR people?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Baghdad Burning

I am not a political person in any sense. I don't discusss politics as I find it a boring waste of time that polarizes us into camps of thinking, stripping away individual thought. I get passionate about issues, but I believe that real change isn't going to happen at the highest level of government - rather, the lowest, most ignored levels right here in the neighborhood. I also believe a dissolution of the party system would be the cure to our political ills. If people were forced to vote based on a candidate's actual beliefs and not on whatever party is backing him/her, we might actually make progress. And I don't believe that our country tells us the full story, but only what they think we need to know.

Nowhere was this last notion validated more than in the blog Baghdad Burning, written by a woman in Iraq nicknamed Riverbend. She writes from the heart and from firsthand experience in a war-torn, American occupied country. Her insights and her accounts of what she's seen, what's happening in her neighborhood, and how the "victory" in Iraq is really playing out is mind-numbing. You will not read that blog and come away unchanged. You just can't.

Thanks to Katharine for posting her concerns about Riverbend, who hasn't blogged in a year. Katharine compared her to a modern-day Anne Frank in that she has shown us things we in our safe worlds cannot imagine happening. I couldn't agree more.

Read her blog here. Then come back and tell me what you think.

Escalating Payment

I guess that's a nice way of saying "commencing litigation." I was relaying the huge amount of outstanding invoices (over $9K) to my husband, who asked why I didn't have an attorney to chase these things down. Well, probably because I can't afford one. He questioned that logic, citing that attorneys would typically take a chunk of the payment due as their fee. Sure, but why do I want an attorney biting in to each invoice, which probably averages $900 per? Would I be sending good money after bad?

There are a few alternatives. First, a collection agency. They chase the money for much less, and no amount is too small (consider that one called a relative of mine over, I kid you not, 50 cents). Collection agencies send the letters, make the calls, and secure the payment. What their percentage of collections-to-outstanding bills are, I can't say. It may be efficient if you have over 2 dozen bills, but will it work for the six or seven I'm holding?

Second, there's pre-paid legal services. You pay the monthly fee and you secure the services of an attorney practicing in the area of law you need. It works. I know folks who have used this service on a personal level and have been satisfied with it.

Lastly, there's the method I've used (and one that's tedious, but effective). I send notice of litigation, give them 10 days, then the plan is to file in small claims court. So far, I've not had one filing as the warning was enough.

Do you know of another way for freelancers and small business owners in general to collect on unpaid invoices? What's your process? How has it worked for you?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Admitting to Limitations

Got a note from a prospective client the other day after I'd responded to an ad. The question came - Do you have experience writing about this, that, and this other thing? I didn't have that experience.

All of us get these questions. Not all of us have the experience they're looking for. It's at that time in your career you have to make a tough choice - finesse the truth or own up to your own limitations. I suggest the latter. Every time. No way should you ever pretend to have more experience than you actually do.

So how to answer? Honestly. FYI, honesty doesn't have to sound defeatist or apologetic. My response went something like so: "I do know what a (this) is, but I've not written anything to date on the topic, or specifically for (that). I do have experience writing about (this other thing) and in producing a number of marketing pieces for various corporate clients (named a few relevant ones). That said, I'm quite comfortable taking on new topic areas. Most recently I completed an article about (cool topic) for (neat magazine), and I've just been assigned one I proposed on (really cool, high-level topic). There aren't too many topics in this area that I'd not take on. Well, one was a bit daunting - (the heinous topic). I'm the first to admit this is not my comfort zone. I turned it down - I know my limits!"

Will I get the work? Who knows? If I do get it, it will be because the client liked my honesty and feels my background is sufficient to give me a shot. And I won't feel like I've had to pretend to be something I'm not in order to get the job.

How many times have you faced this one? What have you done? Have you ever stretched the truth? Did you get away with it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes Virginia, There Really Are Pork Bellies

I'm researching a new article on the financial crisis. Finance is something that's fascinated me, but not quite my strongest area yet. The article I proposed has to do with speculation in the markets. Okay, I've lost most of you right now. I know, I know. Stop snoring and listen up, though, for I'm about to entertain you with a Not So Boring Guide to Financial Markets, as told by me, an interested observer.

There are such things as pork bellies. And guess what? They're exactly what they say they are. Pork bellies. Used in sweet-and-sour pork dishes. Swear to God. Here's a Wikipedia link explaining this little phenomenon.

People bet on the weather. This one I've known for a while. In one sense, it's helpful for people whose livelihoods depend on the weather (such as a farmer who needs just enough rain and no flooding or droughts) - it's used as a way to recoup losses. Hey, if you own 1,000 acres in Iowa and your corn crop pays your bills and feeds your kids, you're going to consider seriously putting money down on the possibility of a natural weather event ruining your crops. It's a way to get at least some money should the worst happen. Yet in another sense, it feels a lot to me like gambling-gone-wrong. Educated guesses are made, based on actual forecast models (companies make their living at this type of thing), of say how many hurricanes will hit Florida or how many earthquakes will rattle Aunt Millie out in San Francisco. Tons of corporations - household names even - use weather derivatives as a way to lessen their risks.

The Dutch have a very active, very lucrative stock market based on.... tulips. Hey, if your country's largest cash crop was in tulips, you'd have a tulip stock market, too. This is one sophisticated, heavily traded market. And yes, like Wall Street, the tulip market crashes. Check it out here.

You can actually sell stock you don't own yet. It's called short selling. Honest to God. They do this. A lot. You put down a bid on something that's got a low price - say oil (ha!). You buy an option, which is the right to sell an underlying security, such as oil stock, whenever the price drops. Mind you, you don't own this. You just own the right to sell it whenever you do own it. You're borrowing it, or renting it from the lender. Oy. Stick with pork bellies.

If you can dream it up, it can be traded. Ask Enron if you can bet on energy. They did, and they nearly brought down all the power grids in California in the process. Not to mention their own business because of the manipulation of facts in nearly every instance, but I digress. People trade energy, carbon credits, real estate, emissions, nutrients, orange juice, lumber, cows, and yes, pork bellies. It's educated gambling and you can lose your shirt (if you haven't traded it yet).

I tell you all this because this is an entirely new area for me. On the surface, it sounds like a high-level, ultra-detailed and completely boring topic, doesn't it? But you now know a bit more than you used to about financial markets, and also know that any topic can be interesting, even fun, if you get excited about it. When was the last time you allowed yourself to be intrigued in a new area? What's the most out-of-the-box topic you've ever taken on?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Blogging Isn't The Same As Article Writing

I read an interesting article in The Atlantic this week by Andrew Sullivan about blogging - why we do it (or more to the point, why he does it). He made the point that blogging is not like article writing in that your audience is not once-removed from you. If they don't like what you've written, you're going to hear about it in spades and without the buffer of an editor. He made several other points, but that one stuck with me. For me, it's the differentiator between blogging and writing for print. And there is a segment of the population who don't get it, haven't gotten it, and will never get it.

These are the ones Deb Ng talked about in her post this week about blogging for someone who doesn't know how to blog. It was great seeing her rant because A) in general, Deb doesn't rant, B) I didn't feel so alone in the ranting department, and C) she was spot on.

The trouble is some people are approaching blogging like they're approaching article writing. Only blogs aren't articles - they're mini-sagas, journals, communities, and they're more immediate and personal (and personable). You build a blog and you build your own blogger credentials through your online blogging network. You can position yourself as an expert, as a moderator, as a pain in the arse, whatever your particular point of view requires. Article writing - hey, you might be able to gain some expertise, but just try discussing that article with readers when you're issues-removed from it once it's published and you have to go through an editor to respond.

It's changing writing, but not all of writing. We'll still need information without the discussion/debate. We'll still want to sit down with a magazine and really savor someone's talent, skill, and labor. But it's making us more accountable for our research, our ideas, and our conjectures. In my view, that's going to strengthen us as professionals.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Return of the Sham Job Offers

Ah, fall. Gorgeous scenery, crispness in the air, the march of the morons...

I'm talking about the sudden onslaught of gawd-awful job postings that seem to crop up as the holidays near. Not that crappy offers have a particular season, but they tend to be in ample supply right now. One I read yesterday had my Irish up -

"SEEKING: Highly motivated interns to create relevant, quality content to help us grow our online fashion community and achieve editorial excellence. We’re looking for a interns that will take active approaches influencing the direction of the community by creating and connecting the content utilizing blogs, Web forums, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, etc. as a marketing medium to communicate brand and company messages on a regular basis. The fashion journalism team will collectively collaborate to set the tone and shape an engaging and interactive community with the following:
-Creating and moderating forum topics and discussions
-Writing articles for online submission
-Composing web press releases
-Creating and moderating polls
.....RESPONSIBILIITES Collectively:
- Develop strategies to motivate and engage our members to become an integral part of our online community
- Support the expansion of our community with new features and member interaction
- Create and manage contests and initiatives including concepts and promotions
- Collaborate with entire team and product teams to develop targeted messaging and creatives for campaigns

- Write and moderate persuasive, effective and appropriate content for blogs with compelling topics and discussions
- Monitor members’ blogging behavior patterns, voice, etc.

Forum Moderator
Creating and moderating thought provoking forum topics and discussions

Poll Moderator
Establish stimulating polls and encourage community to create polls

Article Content Writer
Compose weekly articles and monthly press releases to draw traffic to the site

Email Campaign Writer
- Creating weekly email campaigns to target our fashion community
- Development and ongoing management of email newsletter effort
- Develop creatives that support online content including blogs, e-newsletters and online content, videos, etc

- Can commit to a 6 month internship
- Knowledge and understanding of social networking and social media publishing tools and best practices.
- Solid knowledge of the Internet and deep online searching and researching
- Willing to get to know and understand niche audience and market
- Knowledge of writing press releases
- Demonstrate strong command of the topic, the rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure
- Is naturally scrappy with a can-do attitude
- Possess the ability to adhere to deadlines and adapt to changing deadlines is an asset
- Enjoy working with diverse subject matter
- Has a fashion passion
- Takes the initiative to become personally involved in our social networking community

Major in Communications, Journalism, or related major

- Please include a cover letter and resume.
- Please include the name of your educational program and field of study
- Please indicate your specific area of interest (e.g. blog, article writing, social bookmarking, forum, press releases, etc)
- Writers - In your response to this post, describe your area(s) of expertise and your writing experience, and include sample writings (preferably a Blog posting or article, not more than 500 words). If you currently have a blog, or writing samples, please send along the URL.

This internship offers telecommuting. Please describe your hardware,software and internect connectivity environment. "

The compensation? In their own words: "Compensation: College Credit"

Couple of things wrong with that, Skippy. First off, you're requiring someone who is already short on cash to give up a ton of his/her time and effort for college credit. Secondly, who are you to grant said credit? Last I checked, you had to be approved by the person's college as a credible internship possibility in order for that to happen. Where in your very detailed ad did you mention that? Oh, you didn't. Perhaps it's because you're varying your levels of truth today?

All I'm saying is this is one hell of a lot of work and effort for someone who isn't getting squat out of it (though I will say the promise of college credit is a creative scam).

What do you guys think?

Monday, October 20, 2008

When You're Out of the Office

Man of mine had minor surgery on Friday, which meant I had to free up my day in order to help him pre- and post-surgery. I informed the client base, but not all. Why? Because not all needed me that week. In fact, only two actually needed to know where I was and why I wasn't responding to emails. Beyond that, I told no one.

Is that bad business? I don't think so. Look, one of two things happens when you announce your impending absence - it's ignored or it's noticed and someone panics and tosses do-it-instantly work at you. While the latter isn't awful, it can really mess up a schedule you're trying to tidy up before you take the day off.

Another reason I don't announce these little absences to the world - while it's good to mention it now and again to let them all know you still exist, too many one-day or one-week absences might make someone think you're never around. And they notice. Remember the rude dude who questioned my being out of the office by announcing in a phone conference: "Didn't you just have a vacation?" He's the exception - he wanted me to be there at his beck-and-call. However, the student I tutor in English also has noticed that Lori takes a fair number of days off, saying in her charming broken English: "You take lot of vacation!" Yes, yes I do. And I put in 10- and 12-hour days, which should negate anyone's bitching about my whereabouts, especially when their projects are done and done correctly.

What are your thoughts on this one? If it's a one-day absence, are you apt to let them email you and receive the away message? What if it's a week or more? Do you have a protocol?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Freelance Facts

1. No matter how professionally you conduct your own business, there are any number of people out there who will not extend the same professionalism back to you. Expect it and screw on that professional face with every interaction. In other words, be the bigger person.

2. The Murphy's Law of Freelancing - if it's the holidays, your bank account is suddenly very thin. It doesn't matter if you've worked yourself sick all year and have bolstered that income to nearly triple. Every holiday is going to be tight. Buy your Christmas gifts in June. Trust me.

3. If you don't aim high, you'll always stay low. No one will champion your cause better than you. Likewise, no one can sabotage your efforts better than you. Go on - send that query to that magazine you've always wanted to publish in. It's only one stamp or one email.

4. Negative people influence your mood entirely too much to remain around them. This goes for negative clients and negative editors. It really doesn't matter how much you get paid if you can't stand the stress and the anxiety of it. Surround yourself instead with people who don't suck the life out of you emotionally.

5. Professional jealousy is flattering, but pointless. We all have talents that are unique to each of us. Some write fantastic fiction. Others write incredibly detailed annual reports. Some writers craft excellent articles, while some are talented children's writers. Appreciate each other and learn from each other. If you're jealous, be jealous and proud of your fellow writer at the same time.

6. The minute you have something on the calendar that cannot be moved, the work will appear in truckloads. If you've finally scheduled that root canal, you can bet your best clients are all showing up the day before with emergency, gotta-have-it-immediately projects. And you can bet you're going to work your tail off that night getting done what you can.

What are your freelance facts?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lousy Job of the Week

Since our Irreverent Freelancer Kathy Kehrli is on temporary hiatus, I thought I'd help pick up some of the slack left in her absence. Kathy typically brings us The Ultimate Get-A-Clue Freelance Request weekly. In keeping with her theme, I bring you this week's entrant for the Crappy Employer of the Minute Award:

"(Guilty company) is looking for a couple of interns to edit web copy with some writing. This is for resume credit only and does not require a large amount of writing.

When writing you will receive editorial credit for each piece written. It is best that you can work off interview notes. If you are not able to work off notes you are welcome to sit in on the interviews.
Please contact: Xxxxxxx XXX XXX XXXX.

Also seeking videographers.
Location: virtual
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: no pay"

Tell 'em what you think, gang. And Kathy, hurry back. We miss you!

Making Lemonade

Those of you who read here regularly know of my boneheaded mistake last week - I wrote a fabulous article only to find out I'd written the wrong one. This week is redemption time. I spent the better part of yesterday searching for a home for the mistake, and I may have landed on one that, with a little revision, may score a higher rate than the first magazine was paying. Time will tell.

What's interesting is the second article I wrote in order to give them what they wanted in the first place may also serve as a source of more articles. There's this expert I interviewed - fascinating person with a seriously quirky job - whom the editors had serious doubts about (mention someone who devotes a career to studying banned substances and people can get so puritanical!). The thought occurred to me as I was interviewing him that his story in itself was a unique one. So now we're shopping around two ideas thanks to one mistake on my part.

My mother-in-law believes something that I believe either Jung or Freud said - that coincidence must be looked at much more seriously, for coincidence itself is opportunity. I'm paraphrasing rather freely, but the idea is that coincidence itself is not what it seems. But it's a great lesson no matter how you phrase it - coincidence holds opportunity.

Have you had instances where you've made mistakes that actually turned into profitable ones? If not, what have mistakes taught you?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Standing Up for Your Business

Bankers, I get it. The economy's got you all running a little scared. I understand. Yet if you start squeezing us small business people for inane (and in some cases, contract-breeching) things, you're going to lose us. Time for a little dose of Chill Out, okay?

I say this because my bank, the one I love enough to recommend, has just sent me a note stating my line of credit loan interest rate is going up. However, the reason they stated, and the one I discussed on the phone with first the bank and then an attorney, is a mighty flimsy reason. Upon reflection, it's actually looking more like a pile of, well, bullsh*t.

The paragraph they cited as their reason for charging me more states that I have to maintain a business checking account that I use as a primary account in order to keep the interest rate at the current one. I have. However, according to Banker Dude on the Phone (BDP), I haven't used that account - you know, written a check from it or paid a bill with it. Only.... I have. Every month my interest payment on that loan comes right out of that very account they say is inactive. Uh, if money is being drawn from it, does that not constitute "activity?" In other words, WTF?

In conversation, BDP said the reason was that this apparently is not my "primary" business account. Again, yes it is. And that's easy for them to prove with a simple search of my EIN or even my Social Security number. I have one bank. They're it. I use that account as much as my little old business requires. I can't help it I'm not using it as say a Donald Trump would. My business does not require Donald Trump-like activity. More the Old Mother Hubbard type.

After talking at length with the attorney and reading the paragraph (really short one, so there was no way to miscommunicate it) to her, I'm now under the impression that my great bank is trying to snow me into paying more. So today, armed with paperwork and very detailed questions up the wazoo, I'm marching in to my local branch and stating my case and I'm not leaving until it's resolved to my satisfaction. The attorney says I need to write a letter if face-to-face doesn't get me anywhere. That I shall do.

I'm more than a little fed up with rules that change without reason (I've been operating like this for over three years - why the sudden interest in how I've done things now, huh?). I'm not into letting someone else dictate new terms on an agreement when I've not violated any of the old terms. It's wrong and I intend to give this one a lot of energy in order to correct that wrong.

Would you? How far would you go for your business?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sweet Dilemma

It's one of the strangest client situations, but it's not unheard of. Avid Writer Kimberly has a situation in which the client paid up front and then disappeared completely. If only that were the problem we all faced!

But it can be a problem, for now you're in a place where the client may return at any time and expect immediate help. And that's Kimberly's dilemma. She's waiting and has been for more than a month. She's hesitant to pick up any project too involved for fear the pre-paid client returns wanting instant attention. Kim, as they say in South Philly, fuhgeddabouddit! Send one more note stating that you have very large projects coming in and you're not going to be readily available in the coming weeks. That shakes the client into thinking about the project and it allows you to conduct business without the fear of having to turn this client's work down momentarily when they show up out of the blue. You've warned him. Payment up front does not give any client license to keep you waiting endlessly.

I'm still waiting - three years later - for the project I was paid a huge amount of money for to finish. It started. We managed to get halfway through it, then the client became unusually busy (staffing cuts stretched their already taxed time to insanely thin levels). I sent the obligatory notes every month asking where the project was and if I could help. When I got an answer, no one seemed concerned with my idle status. After two months of this, I moved on. After a year of it, I knew it was a dead project, for most of the team had moved on to other employers and the team lead had stopped responding. In fact, the one note I did receive from him had him asking me if they owed me any more money for the work I had done. Obviously that wasn't the issue. The issue was whether I'd fulfilled my obligation to them in their eyes.

Have you ever been in a situation where work is pre-paid and the client just disappears? What do you think is the right way to handle that? Let's discuss.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Being Late

Okay, it's been a month and a half. The invoice still goes unpaid and the emails go unanswered. Time for late fees.

I understand busy people and busy offices. I understand juggling the jobs of three other people that are now piled onto your own. But I do not understand the absence of common business courtesy. If I send an email and you don't answer, I follow up. If you still don't answer and that invoice is still sitting there unpaid, I don't care how large your corporation is or how busy you are - you're not paying your bill and you're now getting a late fee.

Even though this is a business I've wanted to work with for some time and even though I'd courted them for a while, I'm unlikely to work with them again unless there's some reassurance that my money, complete with late fee, is forthcoming and soon. Long ago I worked out an invoicing process that includes two late fees before litigation enters into the picture. I don't care if you're a large international conglomerate or a sole proprietorship - if you're late, you're going to meet the same process and the same end if you don't pay the bill.

Oh, and the late fees are 25 percent compounded monthly. I think that's more than fair. I rushed to meet your deadline - you need to show the same professional courtesy. Ignoring my emails and my invoices earns you a mailed copy of the invoice copied to your accounting department.

How do you handle late fees and nonpayment? What has worked for you?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ask the Expert - You

Show of cyber hands - how many of you consider yourself an expert in something? What does "expert" mean to you? If you think it's someone with an exhaustive knowledge of one particular topic, industry, or some such notion, you'd probably be female.

I'm basing that on what I've seen in the corporate world and on the resumes I write. In nearly every case where a man is seeking a CEO position, he's climbed up the career food chain in big steps, using job after job to attain his goal. I've written resumes for guys who have had maybe 4 or 5 years of experience in management. And they've secured interviews. The girls, on the other hand, have to be convinced. I remember one woman in particular had about 15 years of experience in managing others, had all the skills equivalent to what CEOs needed, yet still had to ask if she was aiming too high. Given that she had multiple layers of experience compared to the men who were shooting for similar titles, I was a bit surprised by the trepidation. And she's not the only woman I've worked with who was reluctant to aim higher.

To me, being an expert takes understanding what you're doing/talking about, but it also takes building a bit of a niche for yourself and having enough experience in that niche to run with the big dogs, so to speak. For instance, I know risk management stuff quite well. Never worked as a risk manager, but I've written about it extensively. The first time I got an email from a risk manager asking my advice on something was a bit of a surprise, but in his eyes, I was an expert. (Just goes to show that a little BS and a lot of attitude can fool a lot of people!) But am I? That would depend on who you talk to. I know a few people who would scoff at the notion, but I'm no slouch on the topic. I'd consider myself an expert only because if I don't, you'll say, "But you're just as guilty as the rest of womankind!" Okay, okay. Maybe it's a bigger issue than just experience.

How about ego? We girls aren't always ready or willing to subscribe to the notion that our talents are something to brag about. We rock, but we won't tell ourselves that. We celebrate those little victories, but we tend to overlook that it's our talent and our own perseverance that got us there. Why aren't we allowing ourselves to say, "Damn right we're good!"?

If someone gave you a pass right now that said "This coupon allows bearer total bragging rights with no repercussions or guilt" would you use it?

So here's your cyber-pass: Tell me what you're expert in. No apologies. Remember, you're the expert. :)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sensible Deductions

I was talking with the better half about my buying some stuff for the office - new desk, new computer, maybe a new chair. He asked why the rush. To get the deduction, of course! Per usual, he grounded me with a simple-yet-brilliant notion - if you're spending in order to save, are you really saving anything?

Okay, so I should've figured that one out myself, but let's just say I'm attracted to new, shiny objects. Do I need a new computer? Not yet. The processor is slow, sure, but I'm typing and surfing the Internet. I'm not creating complex graphics files or storing and editing videos. Word documents are about as thrilling as it gets here. Oh, and the occasional photo. But I want one.

Do I need a new desk? My workspace is adequate, but the entire layout of this study is a mess. I have piles to the right of me on top of a huge file cabinet that can't be opened unless I push my desk to the left a bit. To the left, the all-in-one and a pile of paper reams on the floor. Not hugely messy, but we can do better. I'd love an l-shaped desk that eliminates that nasty file cabinet. And can we please get some paint on these walls?

Anyway, the desk isn't really a must-have. The chair? Definitely. Despite the cushion, I can feel the bolts that hold the seat to the frame. Not exactly an incentive to work late. And it makes a gawd-awful cracky-bang noise when I lean back on it. Someday I may find myself on the floor looking up.

How do you determine things you need versus things you want? Do you go through a late-year buying spree in some lame attempt to score a few line-item deductions?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Things to Remember About Being Freelance

1. You aren't an employee. Therefore, no one has the right to demand your undivided attention unless you are being compensated accordingly (that includes benefits and vacation time).

2. If they don't know you're there, they can't hire you. Be vocal and promote yourself once in a while.

3. If you complain publicly about your clients, you'll soon have none to complain about.

4. You're allowed to work weekends if you want to. You're also allowed to not work if you want to.

5. Your success is in direct proportion to the amount of effort you put into it.

6. You still have the responsibility of acting like a professional. Pretend you're in a highly political office before you open your mouth or type that email.

7. You're taken as seriously as you take yourself. Don't apologize for pricing or make allowances because you don't feel like a real writer yet. If they hire you for what you can do, you're a real writer.

8. It's a business, nothing personal. If they hate your copy or dodge payment, leave your emotions for venting on your friends, not your clients. Fix the copy, add late fees, and run your career like the small business it is.

9. Learn from your mistakes. We all make them. Own up to them and move on.

What are your freelance tips?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More Cool Sites

While I'm off enjoying the sands of New Jersey, I've left you with some new haunts to check out. Here are some more I've found lately that I'm beginning to love. And you'll find them as new residents on my blog roll:

Gumbo Writer. Thanks to Angie for showing up here quite frequently lately. You've piqued my curiosity, doll. And I'm now a fan.

Fully Caffeinated. Carrie Wilson just makes me smile. Seriously. This is a woman with her senses wide open.

Editor Unleashed. Maria Schneider, recently of Writer's Digest's The Write Perspective, is now solo and blogging about it. Though my latest check of her blog shows it's not quite functioning, hang in there because she's never disappointed in the past. Worth the wait.

If you know of a particularly cool site, share it!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pumping Up the Blog Roll

I'm out the rest of the week here - don't fret. I've posted well in advance to keep from leaving you guys with nothing to do but work in the mornings. While I had some spare time, I went over my blog roll and did some housecleaning. I added some new blogs to the list. Welcome, guys and gals!

The Writer's Blog by Dana Prince. Why haven't I linked to you before, Dana? I've enjoyed this blog for some time now. A great place for some really novel ideas.

Word Vixen's Quest to Write. Again, where have I been? I've been reading this blog for a while now, and I've enjoyed her voice and her easy, conversational style.

Men With Pens. The idea is just so sexy, isn't it? These guys deliver great ideas and entertain while they're instructing us. Now if we could only get a few beefcake shots... kidding. Seriously. Or am I?

What are your favorites? Are you linked to this blog and haven't mentioned it? Now's your chance!

Friday, October 03, 2008

On Days When Lori is a Big Old Dork

I had quite a week this week. I completed interviews and writing for a fantastic article on nurses with addictions. Handed it in on time and everything. Only....I'd contracted to write a story on drugs that combat addictions. Oy and vey! said this Irish chick. I spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday fixing my mistake.

When the editor realized the mistake and contacted me, she asked me to let her know as soon as possible if this was something I was able to accomplish in a short amount of time, or if it was something I wanted to do. To me, there was no question - my mistake, my responsibility. I fixed it. I scrambled, dug for interview subjects who could talk immediately, looked for research, and wrote furiously, but I fixed it. Self-induced stupidity is not someone else's problem. My weekend was now hers if need be - I forfeit the right to one if I botch something. My other projects were suddenly on hold as this project took top priority.

Oh, I'd toyed with the idea of walking away, but only briefly. When the dust settles, we're all left with just our honor and our reputations as writers. The hand we feed now may be one that feeds us in return sometime in the future. At least, that's how I see it. I don't bail. It's against my nature and I'd be more stressed and bothered if I'd left someone hanging - someone I'd committed to.

How about you? Have you messed up and had to fix something? How have you responded?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Now You're Talking!

I can't believe we've worn through 30 more days already! In keeping with my attempts to see what you like to read, I'm once again revisiting those topics that had you commenting most. Here's what we discussed last month:

Lots of Work, Little Cash. Ooo, you liked this one! It seems everyone has had to wait for invoices and doesn't like waiting any more than I do.

Marketing When You're Busy. There was quite a bit of back-and-forth on this one. But if I'm too busy to market, what then? was the typical response.

Is That Your Final Answer? Apparently, none of us enjoy the bidding process. Is it really a necessary evil or just plain evil?

Me First! We love being popular. We don't love popularity that causes us stress. It's like, totally messing up my aura!

Any posts that stand out to you?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


With all this talk about goal setting and achieving these goals, it occurred to me that maybe you're not quite sure how to define your goals. Look, my goals are simple ones - make XX dollars by YY date. Anything more complicated than that is going to give me a headache. And maybe you're into the simplicity of it all, too. Maybe you enjoy saying, "I want to make $2K a month!" Hey, that's a goal. It doesn't have to be as complicated as "I want to realign my business processes to help me attain optimum success by increasing income in increments of $1K per month until I achieve superiority over the human race." Well, if you want it to be, go for it. I'm just saying that's entirely too much thinking (and too many buzz words) for me.

At the beginning of this year, I set out to make more money. I defined the total. Then I set out to do it. Only, I remembered to do it. That's where the success came from - working the plan. But first, the plan.

The plan is simple - market at all times. Market when I'm busy. Market when I'm not. Find new sources of income and work. Secure long-term clients who need regular work. And I put an amount per month that I wanted to reach. So far this year I've secured a handful of new regular clients and maintained a good relationship with an existing one.

You can do the same, you know. Set little goals. Weekly ones work best for some. And hey, if yearly is too stretched out, maybe weekly is your thing. How about monthly? It may work for you to set goals that coincide with your monthly expenses. Then again, you may think that's too detailed and you just want to make more than you spend. Even that's a goal of sorts, right?

The idea is to make the goals fit who you are. Also, you can set goals until the cows come home - if you don't plan, even a little, how you're going to reach them, well, we call them wishes at that point. As they say, wish in one hand.... you know which hand weighs more, dontcha?

What part of goal setting drives you nuts? Are you able to define how to reach them? If so, what happens then? Where in this entire process do you lose focus?
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