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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Great Big Internet Popularity Contest

It's rather disturbing, really. Our competitive nature seems to have transferred seamlessly onto the Internet. I'm not talking competition among businesses, which is normal. I'm talking about competition in the oddest places. Try looking at Entrecard, Yahoo! Answers, LinkedIn, and a host of forums on social networking sites, as well as pseudo-advertising sites. We're all competing for attention. Worse, we're rushing from site to site in order to raise our profiles with the Internet community.

Blogging should be different, but it's not. We want followers! We want commenters! We want to be popular! And when we get no comments or we have no one who wants to follow our blogs, we feel a bit like that shy kid on the playground in 1st grade, waiting for someone to want to bother with us. And don't we just feel a little of that anxiety you felt when the prom rolled around and no one had asked us yet? Or is it that Lori is living out her own issues online and the rest of the world is fine with this?

On Entrecard, which is a good site to join in order to drive traffic your direction, you earn points for "dropping" your card on others' site widgets (like the one to your left there). You're limited to 300 drops per day. I've never yet gotten past 30 a day - what a time sink! However, that's not the problem. It's the "ranking" that the Entrecard gurus give you for your "drop frequency." It's disturbing. Maybe I'm more competitive than I think (but I think it's coming from my own stubborn streak here), but I get a little, well, worked up when I see that ranking, which others may be judging me on, and I'm faced with the choice - spend the time dropping cards or earning money. Guess which one I'm picking?

All these sites are brilliant in that they're "rewarding" you for overuse of their websites and services, thus driving their own traffic on the backs of our insecurities. But what's it doing to us? I admit - I've raced to join in on voting for blog award contests, begged shamelessly for nominations, and in general had to ignore my feelings that no one liked me when I didn't get any notice. (I'm fine with it, really I am. Honest. Chocolate cures everything.) In a few cases, I put considerable effort into contests run by people I don't even know. Who are they to judge me? But there I was, begging them to.

I feel the same way about social networking. I belong to just two (three if you count the Facebook page I never visit). It's all I can handle and still work to make a profit. I don't Twitter. I'm not ADD enough for it. I want to, but it seems like an incredible draw on my already-stretched time. I want to Yammer (and I'm doing my version here), but again, who has time? I signed up for Technorati, Bloglines, and a few others, but I can't remember the passwords or why they were so important to me. I have a Tag and a del.icio.us on my toolbar - never used 'em. Have the RSS feed, but since you have to visit the blog in order to see the content, it seems a bit pointless. If I'm there, why not just read it without the RSS?

So tell me, what do you belong to? How is it useful to you? How is it detrimental to you? Why do you belong? And should I make an appointment for the shrink now, or does anyone else see the competitive nature of these places?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Odd Jobs

Whew! Twelve-hour day yesterday, but I made significant progress on the large project. One more task to complete and I may, God willing, be able to pass it off to them next week.

My long-time chum Kirk over at All That Is Necessary has a fun post about the weird stuff employers have asked us to do while on the clock. In typical Kirk fashion, he's shown us how employers can fixate on the minutiae, wasting valuable time/talent/dollars to answer some pretty bizarre questions or solve impossible riddles.

Piggybacking off his idea, let me ask you this: what was the strangest client request/demand you've ever fielded? Give details. Leave out names to protect the guilty, but do share. We've all had some nutty requests.

A few of the weird things I've had to do or have been asked to do:

1. Looked up jargon. During the dot com boom, I was employed as an editor. The press releases suddenly went from "Joe Smith promoted to VP" to "Acme Solutions releases its new robust, fully scalable, cross-platform, end-to-end user-friendly software solution designed to streamline the risk management function and drive mission critical value propositions." Yea, huh? As I shared on Kirk's thread, I looked those terms up (they were all shiny and new then), and realized I still didn't get what these people did. And upon asking, neither did their PR people. I admit that I took great pleasure in watching these guys squirm and repeat mechanically when I asked for an explanation. Stupidity in others, or any sign of a snow job, makes me evil.

2. Write an insurance licensing course from scratch - with no guidance. This was a Project from Hell. The client wanted insurance licensing courses for his online site. Great! Only the amount of work was astronomical, and the artificial deadline was impossible to meet. Not to mention that even with the help of five others, it took months. For what we were paid and given the lack of guidance and, oh, the hissy fit he took when I mistyped the number of pages, telling him we'd completed 152 instead of the 252 we were actually at, it was not worth it. At all. Best, he knew we'd completed more than that because I always attached the entire project so he could see where we were. And no apology for overreacting. Thanks. Next!

3. Write an article on pedophilia (and then watch my publication fold and you never hear from me again). I'll admit this one was fascinating. I was able to email a number of admitted pedophiles in various countries and hear what they had to say about what they consider to be "normal" behavior. I won't risk offending you guys with the stories, but it was bizarre and it forced me to suspend judgment when I was really wanting to vomit and shout at them. But I did get to ask them all - the objects of your affections obviously grow up. What then? Every one of these guys said they'd lose interest at puberty. (If you want to know more, write me personally. I won't subject everyone to these sordid tales.) But the dude who assigned the article disappeared completely, magazine and all, the minute I delivered the story.

4. Let me put you on retainer to write whatever I want - just send me your bank account number so I can transfer the funds. File my response to this in the not-born-yesterday category, for the dude was dangling a large amount of money in front of me. I checked him out, but I wasn't completely convinced he was legit. Let's just say his name appeared under a lot of new business opportunities and only one established company. He came to me a few days after another scam artist had visited, one that is now in jail. Even if he hadn't, he was getting my PayPal address. He complained that PayPal didn't allow him to transfer such large amounts. Then send me a check, I countered. Never heard from him again. What a surprise.

You? Any odd things happened in your career, either freelance or full-time?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trust Me!

Wow. It's taken me somewhere around seven minutes to get to this page from my home page. In Internet time, that's an eternity. The gremlins at Verizon must be on strike - our snails Esmerelda and Dave move around the fish tank faster than this.

Other than the obvious issues we'll be having with Internet speed this morning, progress is definitely being made elsewhere. I managed to transcribe one interview of four and my writer and I coordinated pretty well on that large, unwieldy project. I knew we would. I trust her implicitly.

If I'd tossed this project to anyone else beyond the two trusted people who have worked on it so far (and one or two others who haven't), I'd be sweating. I know these gals. I know their work and I know their personalities. One I've worked with in the past and she not only takes direction, she gets it completely and sees the end in the big picture. Amen, for I have been so careful to make sure I give proper instruction, and I'm never sure my communication is up to snuff.

You have to trust your writer posse. But that doesn't mean they earn trust just for being a writer. Choose carefully those who will work with you or for you, friends. Back in the day, I chose a writer who needed a hand. I gave her an assignment for an article. She never delivered. In fact, she never wrote back to tell me the subject was above her. I contacted her wondering where it was. That's when I found out. Lesson - if an untested-by-you writer needs a hand, give them links to other work sites. Don't hand them something that could sink you should they fail.

I can't blame her entirely. I came from a world of one-sentence instructions. Because I understood them, I may have assumed she did, too. When she didn't ask follow-ups, I figured I was right.

So we have two things to worry about here - finding a writer to help during the very busy times and being able to set up the project so that you don't chase them away with your lack of organization. I have the first one down. The second - I'm working on it.

What about you? Have you had success/failure working with other writers? And how have you been at giving instruction and a big enough picture?

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Week, New Challenges

Thank God for a busy, fun-filled weekend. I didn't have time or energy to carry last week's stress with me. We spent a fun, frigid, tough-on-my-wallet time in Manhattan/Soho/Upper West Side on Saturday, caught the stepson's performance in a fantastic Columbia-produced rendition of Canterbury Tales (you've never seen it like this, believe me!), and spent yesterday at the mall with daughter on five hours of sleep. Stress was reduced to the basics - "Stop buying! I'm running out of cash!"

Today I face a bit of stress - short week, ticking clock on a large project that is becoming my albatross, and two articles that must be done NOW, not later. Thank God she can drive, for daughter is on her own until Thanksgiving.

I've got reinforcement help on the large project, but the client just has to be patient. It's a massive document and there's no way any one (or two) writer(s) can get through this quickly. Per usual, heading into a holiday, I've inhaled and can't exhale lest I miss something. And once again, I'm trying to be Super Writer (though I like to think of myself as Captain Comma, thank you).

Not much to report other than being tired still and wanting to get through this pile of work by Wednesday. How about you? What's on your desk? How's your holiday shaping up? Any big plans?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tunnel Vision

After the day I had Wednesday, I was reluctant to get up yesterday morning. But the stress that plagued the day before was a memory, and life went on relatively painlessly. I managed to organize most of a large project and get on with business as usual with another one. While neither situation is ideal, I've managed workarounds that are bearable.

However, if you'd asked me Wednesday if I loved my career choice, I might have cried. Or ranted on you, depending on the precise moment you asked, for it was a bit of a mess that unfortunately involved emotional baggage - the stuff I hate most and what least belongs in business dealings. No, Wednesday I was deep in a tunnel with no light in sight.

What I despised most about being a full-time employee was the politics and the unnecessary amount of time spent on reinforcing the pecking order that often goes on in organizations. What I enjoy about freelancing is the lack of pecking order (one writer, one client, roles pre-defined) and the huge decrease in political maneuvering. Yet even in freelancing, there are times when you get political struggles, pecking orders, or both. And yesterday was my day to be reminded that even in my safe little cocoon, life can get complicated with unnecessary struggles.

We're going to face that stuff sometimes. Maybe it's because we need to be reminded that there's a world out there we've all managed to avoid or escape or leave behind. Maybe it's because we've gotten too big for our britches and need to be knocked down a few pegs. Maybe it's the karma train arriving on Track 4. Whatever it is, it's how we deal with it that matters. In our world, pecking orders are someone else's problem and political struggles are restricted to one or two odd projects. Quite often, clients live pretty steeped in these environments. It's only natural they try transferring that to us. But we're the lucky ones - they take it with them when they go, and we're left to our blissful selves.

Have you had to deal with someone else's power struggles or hierarchical messes?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Detante is What Kids on the Playground Do

Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the fly. Yesterday, I played the part of said fly as the projects around me went from confusing to downright frustrating. One is a long-time regular client and I didn't get very far in asking for some collaboration so the work process might somehow ease up for both of us. The other one is an ongoing issue involving scattered client communication, lack of organization, and instructions-after-the-fact. Needless to say, I was mentally toasted by 5 p.m.

In both cases, I know I was correct in my perception of each situation. The first one is a process that, because of one misstep or another, has me doing the same thing twice, wasting billable hours in the process. Come to think of it, the second one is the same. Because of lack of instruction at the outset, a rather large project is now being basically redone. It's costing them in time and money as much as it's costing me in time and lost projects.

Thing is, there are times when you're going to be right, the client's going to be wrong, and there isn't a single thing you can do about it. They want it done their way, even if it means you take the heat or you have the egg on your face. All you can do is CYA - email communications showing your concerns, suggested fixes, objections to specifics, etc. Sometimes, despite your best efforts to the contrary, the projects are going to head way out of control and you're going to be expected to forego your free time in order to fix what they perceive to be your fault.

Things to learn going forward (I say this as much for my sake as for yours):

1. Get all the information at the outset. Clarify any unclear stuff, ask specifics to pinpoint the goals and get as much of the details as you can.

2. Do your major communicating in writing. Don't leave anything to chance of misunderstanding. If your client is scattered or prone to finger-pointing, keep things in written form. That doesn't necessarily guard against defending yourself in phantom conversations you never had with the client that they're convinced you did, but I digress. And yes, that bizarre situation happened to me.

3. Do voice your concerns in writing as soon as they arise. Okay, give it an hour or so to make sure you're not simply misinterpreting something or misunderstanding the text or the work process. But if issues come up, tell the client as soon as you can. Just make sure you don't send out seven or eight frantic emails at a time as you come across more and more problems. One will suffice. (Yep, been victim to that, too)

4. Explain your process and explain where things went wrong on your side. This one's tricky, but if it's clear to you they've screwed up, you have to find a nice way of saying, "Yes, I'm happy to fix this for you. My concern is that the files have come in rather quickly and in no real order. Could you please take a moment or two to go over what you expect and how you'd like it all to go together?" That's a nice way of saying "You need to stop screwing around, organize it, and get back to me when you have your head screwed on properly." But without really saying it that way. ;)

5. Let it go. People screw up. No one likes to be caught messing up. Unfortunately, freelancers are easy targets for blame transference. If you can look beyond the emotional crap and the indignation, you can find a workable solution. Don't let emotions enter into it. At all. You can scream in the privacy of your study or bitch to almighty heaven to your sister on the phone. But better yet, just find a solution and move on. Emotions are huge time sinks and aren't billable commodities.

6. In the end, it's their project. If they want to pay for you to spin your wheels and double your efforts, who are you to argue? Own the process, but don't own the project. Oh, and know when to cut your losses should their vision and yours be so far apart that duct tape couldn't hold you together. Not every client is right for every writer. If you have issues that you think are unresolvable, find a gracious way to bow out, or complete the work and lose their contact information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zoe's Christmas List

She's 6 years old. She loves to draw. She's a spunky kid who loves cheeseburgers. For Christmas she wants apple juice, orange soda, Dr. Pepper, cantelope... oh, and a new heart.

Zoe, adorable niece of Nikki has cardiomyapathy with severe mitral valve regurgitation. What that means is she has a bum ticker, as her mom Chrissy puts it, and she needs a new one.

Nikki has returned to blogdom long enough to update us on why she's been absent. She's been extremely busy putting together a website, fundraisers, and donation arrangements to help Zoe and her parents offset the incredible costs associated with her care. Zoe spends her days in her room at the Cleveland Clinic, where she awaits a donor heart.

The blogging community, though massive, sometimes becomes very intimate and close thanks to the realtionships that develop among us. Nikki is one of those people who makes freelancing that much easier due to her open nature and her willingness to lend a cyber shoulder. It only stands to reason that we'd want to be there when she needs the support.

Please visit Zoe's blog and learn about an extraordinary kid and her unfortunate situation. While we can't really give her Dr. Pepper, maybe we can find another way to help her out.

Dead Stuff

At first we thought it was the sewer, so we called the sewer repair company. That was two weeks ago. The smell now is so bad we can't use the powder room. Just one bathroom, mind you. The others are fine. To be honest, I know the difference between rotting sewage and rotting carcasses (years of living in the woods, people. We've seen it all). Guess which one is somewhere in that bathroom?

We've tried baking soda (ha! barely touched the smell), vinegar (now it smells like rotting salad dressing), turning the fan on (which exacerbates it - can squirrels really crawl down those vent pipes and get stuck? I'm saying yep!), and now we're up to sealing off the room until the smell goes away, which may take quite a while longer, depending on size and type of carcass and where in the devil it may now be lodged. I smell it in the kitchen. I smell it four rooms away. I smell it in my sleep (luckily, that's merely the ghost of the smell in my brain). I'm stuck here all day with it. It hates me. I hate it. We both want to part ways, but aside from ripping out the bathroom walls or climbing on the roof and trying to extract something in gawd-knows-what-condition, there's nothing to be done but wait.

He wanted to blame my sauerkraut curing in the laundry room, but if sauerkraut ever smelled that bad, I'd have refused to eat it let alone make it. No, we both know where it is.

I'm on the lookout for garden lime. Something. ANYTHING. My next step is to seal the entire bathroom in plastic wrap.

Anyone have a way to absorb or rid ourselves of this gawd-awful smell?

Looking for Work in All the Right Places

It's that time again - time when clients drop back on their workloads and concentrate on their holiday parties, and time when you and I are left twisting in the wind, wondering where that next job will come from. While two months ago was the best time to consider what you'd be doing in November/December, you still have options for pulling in a paycheck or two during the down time. That doesn't mean you have to take those 50 articles for $5 jobs, either. Try these avenues instead:

Craig's List. You've heard me bemoan the downfall of this site's listings (not Craig's fault, by the way), but there is still decent work to be had here. Just screw on your skepticism and approach these ads cautiously. Look, if they promise the moon, it's a scam. Common sense should rule. If it sounds fantastic, step back and look for the holes.

Temp agencies. Just because some clients are slowing down their workloads doesn't mean all of them are. In fact, now's the time to find some interim work filling in for vacationing full-timers. It requires you to be in an office over a holiday, but it's a steady check when you need it most.

Regular clients. Send out your emails now alerting your regulars that you're available and you can get their projects in now before your prices go up in January. The opportunity to get you at a discounted rate will be tough to pass up. You might even want to throw in a 10-percent discount to entice them further.

New clients. Hey, why not try the same approach on a new client? Send out your brochure, postcard, whatever with your end--of-the-year discount attached.

Magazine work. Magazines need copy all the time; holidays are no exception. Might want to visit The Urban Muse's tips on querying to get some pointers on how to impress and get the assignment.

Residual income. Thanks to writer Dana Prince for some ideas on where to find sources of residual income.

Job boards. Anne Wayman does a marvelous job bringing you free job listings a few times a week. While some may not pay what you're used to, the idea is to generate some quick cash, right? Anne's site is a great place to start.

Media Bistro. If you live in a major metropolitan area, there are scores of freelance or contract gigs on this board. You have to register (free), but it's worth it.

Got any favorite ways to generate income this time of year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Like Totally

She sat behind me on the train. Each sentence had at least three "like" references, and I found it very hard to believe what she was saying - to paraphrase, that she was like an occupational therapist student and was like totally fried from her internship and she was like telling her teacher how like totally tired she was and like, how much time she takes to like, study every night. I fully expected to see someone in her late teens, but here was a woman, roughly 28-30, getting off the train. Color me, like, totally surprised.

She has no idea how very young she sounded and how very inexperienced and worse, inept she came across by her speech. Good God, if she talks like that in the workplace and I happen to be in the office she's in, I'm like totally getting up and leaving.

Good grief. And yes, I feel so old.

Who's Your Daddy?

I got yet another interesting email yesterday - this one offering me a DIY paternity test. In an age of spam blockers, junk mail filters and the general wising up of the population, who exactly do they think will click on these links?

Yet someone must or they wouldn't be sent. According to a Wikipedia article, there were well north of 100 billion spam emails sent per day in April of this year. That, my friends, is a lot of spam. And it's out there because people, true to nature, are curious beasts. They click on it. Yale University did a study on spam and its effectiveness, complete with click rates for some of the more prevalent spam messages. So if we're clicking on the crap, doesn't it stand to reason that we're going to click on the stuff that's meant for us specifically?

There's where your marketing opportunities lie. If you take the time to compile (or buy from a reputable list service) a list of contacts who need or use your services, you could soon see a few clicks to your site that pay off. Mind you, you're not allowed to spam. My suggestion is this - instead of sending out bulk emails that simply land in someone's junk folder, send out individual emails to your targeted client list, using their names, mentioning their companies, and showing them that you really know their business and want to work with them. Like snail-mail marketing, your goal is to connect with your targeted audience and show them the benefits they'd receive from working with you.

Do you use email as a marketing tool? How have you set up an email marketing process?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Calling in the Big Guns

I hate doing it. I hate approaching clients with their final notice and I hate reminding them of outstanding invoices. Yet if I don't, these things would never get settled. So Friday afternoon I flipped through the Current Invoices folder - three are overdue. One seriously. Out went my reminders.

What's frustrating is that I performed these tasks on time. I met the deadlines and in some cases, dropped everything to get the work to them quickly. In one case, the invoice is just barely late - it will be by Thursday - but I'm not worried about them so much as they've paid on time every time so far. I'm certainly not concerned about the long-time client who simply forgot to pay. It happens. But I'm really concerned about the one that's 3 months overdue and shows no signs of being paid. And naturally, that's the one I'm owed the most money on.

How do you handle lateness? I'm all for giving the benefit of the doubt after the first 30 days - we all misplace things or just plain forget. At 60 days due, we're now getting somewhat insistent, though still maintaining our cool and being cordial. At 90 days, we're insisting strongly to avoid litigation. And I do it with all clients - you can't forego the process for anyone no matter how much you like them. It's business. Handle all your business processes equally for all clients lest you have to defend your actions in court. If you can show a clear pattern of collection attempts that extends to all your clients, you stand a much better chance of securing judgment in your favor.

And isn't it just Murphy's Law that the ones who owe the least amount of money are the first ones to pay?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Contract Must-Haves

Don't groan - this isn't going to be that boring, I swear. But as we've talked over the years, I've come to the realization that contracts are needing a bit more, well, meat to them so that you and I can CYA. So here are a few things you might want to include in your next contract:

Payment terms. Don't laugh. You'd be surprised how many people overlook this one. It's not simply putting a figure down. You need to spell out how you expect that client to pay you - weekly, monthly, in installments, etc. If you're ghostwriting a book, this is especially important, for you don't want that last payment to be "upon delivery of final product." I've had projects that have gone on for years. Put an end date to that last payment. Trust me. Been there, suffered that.

Revision timeline. Ever sat for months waiting for clients to get back to you on revisions? That's why your contract needs a clause that explains that the client has 14 days from delivery (or 30 days if it's a huge document) to get back to you with changes. On day 15 (or day 31), you're working under a new to-be-negotiated agreement. (This one's particularly important to me - it's been four months now and I can't get them to look at it, let alone pay the invoice. Luckily, late fees are piling on. We're about to send out the litigation notice.)

Client expectations. This may sound odd, but you do have to get them to understand that you can't deliver on time if they don't review on time. I'm a big stickler for deadlines. If I have to meet them, so do the clients. I will deliver that project within two weeks, but they have to review it and get their revisions to me within an equally tight deadline or that project will never get completed. Clients have to be as committed to their project as they expect you to be. Our job is to help them deliver. If that means putting deadlines on them (and making it clear that the contract is void and payable upon breach), do it. Like your mother used to say about that nasty medicine, it's good for them.

Additional work will be negotiated under a separate agreement. This does a few things - it guarantees that the work you're about to sign on for isn't going to snowball into massive amounts of work that you've bid only a pittance for. If your agreement is to write two articles, write two. Don't take on a third under the same agreement, for that turns into six and now you're unable to pull the plug. Also, it forces the client to consider exactly how much work is needed.


Define your word counts or per-piece counts. While writing the company's corporate profiles or two ghostwritten articles may seem like fairly specific jobs, how many "executives" are they expecting to pile on to your profile heap, and are those articles in your mind 1,500 words and in their minds 30-page white papers?

What else do you put in your contracts?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Many Faces of Plagiarism

Jen at CatalystBlogger had a great post nearly a year ago on Shady Writing Projects. On the list was "Rewrite this so we can't be sued for copyright." While it's pretty easy to figure out what to do when a client hits you with that line (run), what about the clients who don't tell you you're simply reworking someone else's copy - and it's not theirs? Jen says run it through Copyscape, which is a great idea. If it shows up somewhere else, dump the client, but do let them know about copyright laws and plagiarism fines. While they may not listen, they can't say they weren't warned.

I worked with a client once who did something just as bad - he removed all attributes from all the statistics and quotes I'd supplied with an article. Actually, the situation was even weirder than that. His client was paying him to generate articles. He hired me. My workload suddenly increased, so I hired a writer friend to help with one of the articles. He did a spectacular job presenting the topic and all statistical information.

Then things got weird. I sent the article to the client dude and he sent it back with all the attributes removed. I told my friend, who was understandably upset, as was I. I argued on behalf of the writer (who the client dude thought was me), but he dismissed everything, including mention of plagiarism, by saying his client wanted it that way. Fine, but his client had better be able to stand up and defend that action, for this client dude had done something pretty dumb. He signed a contract with me, including a nondisclosure agreement, but never mentioned who the client was. There was nothing tying that work back to me (you might argue there were emails, but those same emails included my strong objections to his removing said attributes - doubtful he'd use those). If his client goes down, he does, too. Even better - because my writer friend and I had worked together for years, we had no written agreement between us - it was over the phone. My friend's name would never be attached to that article. My client dude had no idea he was even involved. Amen for that.

I was somewhat fortunate in that the client dude did run the copy by me before sending it on to his client. I found that rather odd, but it gave me an out. Should things get ugly, he can't argue I did it, for I have written proof to the contrary. And again, prove I wrote that for your client.

Plagiarism that happens once the piece is beyond your control shouldn't be your problem, but it is. If someone comes back screeching to you about suing, you need to be able to defend your actions. Back up emails to Mozy. Ask to see that final copy or that published piece. Make it part of your contract if you feel compelled to. The days of writing, filing, and forgetting about it are over thanks to the proliferation of clients who have no knowledge (or concern) about copyright laws or plagiarism issues.

Have you ever dealt with a less-than-above-board client? What was the situation? How'd it turn out?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Case of The Rising Interest Rate That Isn't

Victory! Proving once again that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, I repeated "Can you help me?" to my bank (the one that was about to raise my interest rates for "nonactivity" in an active checking account), I have prevailed. I was informed by the very same man who first informed me that I'd not followed the rules exactly that indeed they were seeing more activity in my account, therefore, my LOC interest rate stays the same. Yee HAW! In retrospect, they were putting my back against a mighty thin wall as they aren't the only bank in town where my money can reside.

Okay, the loan condition they thought I'd not met was weak. It said, "Pursuant to Paragraph 12 of the Agreement, you agreed to establish and maintain a business checking account with us during the term of this Agreement which shall be your primary depository account...." Okay, since I did all that, what was the problem? The letter did not state, but the bank dude did, that I obviously didn't use this account as my primary business account. Uh, yes I did. And yes I still do. I'm just not a mover and a shaker, you know? It goes on to say that if I "fail to establish and maintain" this here account, they're going to raise my rate by as much as 1 percentage point. The letter was one of those ones that is missing the salutation - you know they're serious when they omit the salutation and use words like "pursuant" a lot.

So I did what was counter intuitive to how most would handle it - instead of fussing up a storm (oh, I wanted to), I asked for help. It's one of the rules spelled out in Getting to Yes or Getting Past No (can't remember which - it's been a while). The idea is to bring them to your side. The best way I know how is to ask for help. Suddenly, that person has a vested interest in the outcome. We all want to help! We want to be the one who solves the problem! If we accomplish that, we know it's going to be a good day!

While this situation isn't indicative of how to ask for help - if they'd fussed too much, I'd have picked up my accounts and gone elsewhere - it does show that sometimes it's okay to try the gentle approach first. First, mind you. If you get no satisfaction and they're just not listening, I say get noisy on their arses. (Note--this noisy part doesn't apply to client interactions. There, you get litigious.)

Have you ever tried this? What works for you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Blogging Platform

Didn't know you had one, did you? You may not, actually. It would depend on your purpose each time you sit down to type something into your little corner of cyberspace. Does your stuff have a theme? Should it? Do you feel yourself twisting in the wind a bit, or are your posts a bit of this and a bit of that because that's how you like it?

Blogs evolve. Let them. This one here started out as a tool to attract clients. Oh, the best laid plans.... Instead, I post about writing a lot, but I post about other things, too. Like elections (not so much - boring!). Like cell phones. Like my disgust for Verizon's pathetic customer service. Whatever it is, it's the thing that's on top of the other stuff in my brain when I sit down here to type. If that thought doesn't scare you off, imagine if I were to start allowing others to post their testimonials here. While I don't mind a guest post or two, I'm not a huge fan of someone with an agenda, like good old D. A., who sent me not one, but two notes, almost identical, to two different emails I possess, asking to write a little ditty about a site he works with (we'll just say he works FOR them because we weren't born yesterday, okay?). D.A. wants to show you guys the reasons why his "employer" is a special place to work. He's freelance, you know. He really, really likes this company because, apparently, they pay him to.

Don't worry - D.A. isn't posting here. That he hit another site of mine - my fashion blog (don't go there - I'm still trying to find a rhythm there) - and hit me with the same pitch made me suspicious enough to delete the comment and his email. I'm sorry - know your audience, dude. I did have another request from a gal - K. K. - with basically the same idea only not so in-your-face as D.A. I'm not sure if she's legit (doubtful), but it's again a question of interaction. If you post here, if you comment or interact or have your own blog I visit, I'd love to hear your ideas for a blog post. If not, if you just sent me a form letter asking for the space on my blog for whatever agenda you have to push, move on.

Have you been hit with any odd requests to post on your blogs by people you don't know?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Networking is a Two-way Street

Over the weekend I did some trimming to my blog roll and to my general philosophy about a few contacts in the writing world. See, I have little problem linking to you if you're engaging with people who comment, you visit once in a blue moon, or you link back. While linking back to me isn't a necessity, it helps if you're one of those types who don't visit or comment or even acknowledge a pulse exists beyond your own site. You gotta give me something here, people!

I linked to one site in particular for ages. Yet in trying to engage the site owner, I got nothing. Asking direct questions - pointless as they were never answered. Trying to engage the owner in the comments section - same result. I'm sure this person is a good person, but in the realm of networking, there's a huge disconnect. Networking is something that in some way must be a two-way street. I don't care how popular your site is - you cannot expect visitors to continue visiting, or frankly caring, if you post and disappear. Silence like that comes across as unfeeling, uncaring, and a bit on the arrogant side, no matter what your true intention is. Next!

There are a few sites I'll always link because of the interaction I find there - Tess Gerritsen has always engaged with her visitors and she's sent one or two notes to me directly. That's a person who isn't talking to you only to further her career. She's a genuine soul. So is J. A. Konrath, whose site on writing is exceptional, and his sense of humor is a welcome addition to the comment roll. And I like sites like Writing Frump for the sheer fun of it, as well as the I Can Has Cheezburger site - my favorite place for a laugh. If it's a fellow freelance writer, I have to feel connected in some way.

Are there some sites that you link to that simply aren't linking back? Are there other bloggers who just won't give you the time of day? If so, how do you handle that? What have been your experiences?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Random Chum for a Friday

I may actually finish this large project I've been working on for what seems like months (but has actually been a week and a half). I could conceivably hand it over to the client by Monday. In order to do so, I may - are you sitting down? - work the weekend.

Right now I'm overrun with projects. Not money, mind you, for it seems the check-writing community has come down with a collective case of carpal tunnel (we're up to about $12K in overdue payments, but who's counting? Oh, I know - me). I did get one small check from a great client in Manhattan. They are professional, courteous, and just great people. Yes, I'll bend over backwards to take on any projects for them, no matter how busy I am.

Two articles due, one big project, and aren't they calling to see how available I am for next week? Frankly, I'm thrilled to give up some free time - holidays are coming and the money will be a welcome sight!

I take a pretty firm stance on working hours. Because most of the folks I work with are in the 9-to-5 crowd, I'm here all week. By Friday this chair and I have a serious feud going on - we both want space. It's self-preservation more than anything. I would work all weekend if I could. And I'd hate myself seriously on Monday for it.

Remember the article I wrote that wasn't the one I was supposed to write? This has now become the Project That Will Not Die. Got a note from a PR contact with concerns about how some of the facts were presented. Hey, I'm a careful writer. I tape every conversation. I transcribe them all and I write with those notes as guides. In one instance the interview subject explained his affiliation with a particular company, which indeed was how I presented it. Only....according to the PR contact, he's not really affiliated with them. I understand her concern - her client is the company in question and it's her job to watch their backs. I feel bad that this made it into print but upon reviewing the taped conversation, it is how he aligned himself. And there were some other things - spelling of a drug (oddly, the one contact did spell it for me) that is exactly one letter off. That letter, apparently, means the difference between one company's drug and another. Since I didn't connect any drug to any manufacturer, no great shakes there. And there was a question about how the drug user in question actually took the drugs. Again, tape recordings clear things up so quickly. And thankfully, this wasn't my gaffe. The magazine will print a correction and didn't seem all that concerned, so things are amended and hopefully this entire underpaid, overworked situation will go away finally.

My bank called yesterday to offer me a phenomenal rate on a business credit card. While I had the gal on the phone, I asked her about the situation in which said bank is raising my interest rate on my line of credit because, in their opinion, I don't use it enough (somehow indicating that this is not my primary business checking account when in fact it's my ONLY business account). You remember them. Because of my workload, I never made it to the local branch, but I asked this gal to check into it for me. She was as flabbergasted as I was. I explained I have two business bills - two. LOC loan payment and utilities, which I pay to my husband in the form of either personal check or cash, depending. I can't pay ALL my bills through the business account - cell phone, cable, etc. - because frankly, they're not all business bills. And I'm NOT going to separate them out every month and write separate checks to my husband for each one (he pays them and I reimburse for half). So my answer will come today or Monday. Fingers crossed. If need be, I'll take money from a mutual fund and pay the damn thing off just to avoid the stupid hike in interest that frankly shouldn't be hiked at all.

That's been my week. How's yours been? What have you been up to? What are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

October's Most-Commented

Today I'm neck-deep in a huge project, trying to get an article started/finished, and planning to spend some quality time adding to my Nano count. Since I'm busy treading water, I thought now would be a good time to see what had you talking last month:

When You're Out of the Office - Sure, we let them know when we're out for a week, but what about for just a day? Who needs to know?

On Days When Lori is a Big Old Dork - Oy. First mistake like that in my career, but recovery, thank God, was fast.

Things to Remember About Being Freelance - Remember to stand up for yourself and for your business.

Sensible Deductions - Just buy what you need, not what you want. Feel free to let this advice fly in the face of a huge sale, such as the one Circuit City is about to have (they're closing some of their stores).

Any favorites of your own from here or from other sites?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Grace and Change

John McCain is a gracious man. Despite an increasingly negative campaign in the last weeks of the campaigning, he has always been a good person. While he wasn't able to prove it to enough of the people, McCain has a long career of bipartisan service. His speech last night was typical of what I've come to know of the man - gracious and eloquent. I like him as a person and I applaud all he's done as a senator. In fact, this election was a choice between two good people. I think the choice the country made was the right one, but I would have thrown my support behind McCain had he won. It's what we need to do as a country - drop the rhetoric, the negative bullshit, and move on together. It's time to change our ways.

Barack Obama was the best choice in terms of that change. Whether you like it or not (go on, like it!), we're no longer the same country we were yesterday morning. We're hopefully a better one for having shown the world (for they were watching) that we don't want to divide along racial or political lines any longer. No, that thinking is the least effective way of getting things done. We want to choose the best candidate based on his policies and his overall direction.

One thing didn't sit well with me last night - it was the way the media behaved once Barack had won. This was a huge victory for the African American community and their joy is long overdue. Maybe that's why the media focus was solely on the African American reaction to the win - because dammit, they've been waiting for so long for it. It's about time they get their moment, don't you think?

I hesitate to add this, but this win wasn't simply one for the African Americans, yet the media didn't show that. The media didn't show the record number of first-time voters of all races standing in line for hours. They didn't show the overwhelming number of women who chose Obama. Nor did they show the Hispanic population, who helped bring Obama more electoral votes. They didn't show the celebration at my daughter's college or any other college by young voters who bothered to know and care about politics. And you'd be hard-pressed to see a middle-class white couple being asked how they felt about the man they helped elect. I'm not upset for me - I'm worried about how those images will play in those areas of the country who voted for McCain because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for a man of color.

It's that concern that really unsettled things for me. These are people who were spoon-fed garbage they've come to believe - that a black man was gonna take over "their" country. He would spend their money on welfare, crack babies, and any other stereotypical bullshit that the anti-Obama crowd could sling (to those who either spewed or bought into that trash - grow up. You're embarrassing the rest of us). The overuse by folks in both the McCain campaign and these groups of Barack's middle name helped fuel the fear that terrorism was his agenda, not change.

The media did nothing to counter those fears. Maybe they shouldn't. Maybe I'm hyper-sensitive to how these groups will react to seeing celebrations and connecting it to the racist fear-mongering feeding off stereotypes. Maybe it's not the job of the media to try to enlighten those who are so far-removed from reality or who really do buy into that crap.

What do you think? Am I alone is my concern? Either way, today's party time. As Carrie Wilson pointed out a few weeks ago, no matter what the result, November 5th is the day we all deserve a drink.

Care to join me?

Why Technology Bites

I spent six hours Monday working my heart out on a client file, carefully saving every ten minutes or so. Went to open the file yesterday - yes, it's gone. Nowhere to be found. I searched for it. Nope. Every unedited version is there, but not the one I need. I looked in the Temporary folders - nope. Six hours down the tubes. And it's now up to me to come up with six hours gratis. No way a client pays for my technological gaffes.

What went wrong? Any geeks out there who care to explain how a file opened from email and saved to gawd-knows-where vanishes the minute you un-hibernate the damned machine? Naturally, I'd not saved it to where my Mozy backup program reaches. Of course not. That, my friends, would be too easy. Argh!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Making Change

We were up at 5 and at the polls by 5:30. They didn't open until 7, but we weren't the only ones there - we were third, fourth, and fifth in line. The earliest was there at 5 waiting.

Glad we did, too. By 6:15, all the parking spaces were gone. By 7, they were parking a mile away. We were in and out by 7:15 and on our way to the train station. The stepson came a long way just to vote - he took a taxi, bus, train, and a ride from us to get to the polling place. Upper Manhattan to Chester County, PA. That, folks, is taking your civic duty seriously. He's my hero for it.

In seeing the crowds, I commented on how great it was to see people finally taking voting seriously. Why now? asked the stepson. Why didn't we care when his generation was younger? Is it because his generation cares more? Great questions. No easy answers, either. Did we care less than he does now? Is it polarization? Is it the economy? Or is it that we finally get that our vote is not insignificant?

I've always voted. I'm of the opinion bitching about government is reserved for those who bother to participate. I never espoused the "they're all the same" view of politicians. They're not. The system may be slow to change, but we're wise enough to realize that one person can indeed make a difference to the whole. Our society is filled with causes that have been won or lost on the actions of a single person.

Have you voted? How long did you wait?

TGI...W? (A brief political announcement)

I'm so excited about tomorrow. The election will be over and we'll know for sure who our new President will be. But that's not the main reason. No, I'm excited because tomorrow, all the damned phone calls will STOP.

I'm on both the state and the national Do Not Call lists. Apparently, nonprofits and partisan groups are exempt, for my phone rings all day and most of the evening. Both camps, all trying to convince me to vote for their candidate or their cause or - and I HATE this - trying to convince me that Barack Obama's a bad man. I'm sorry, but I've not had one Democratic call demeaning John McCain, so I can only assume, given the deluge of calls I've received in the past month, that the Dems have taken a somewhat higher road. (Hint to the Republicans - if I were an undecided voter, your tack would turn me off BIG time)

So far just this weekend, it's gone a bit like this:

Saturday - 8 calls
Sunday - 7 calls (we spent the day somewhere else, amen)
Monday - 8 before noon
Tuesday - God help me if I don't rip the thing out of the wall today

And for the record, I may speak for all voters when I say:

- I don't care how much Sarah Palin's clothes cost. For that same reason, I won't tell you how much I spend on shoes every month.
- Same with Cindy McCain's wardrobe.
- And Michele Obama's.
- I don't want to hear how Obama is somehow a terrorist because of his middle name. That's just fear-mongering garbage.
- Joe the Plumber? Who cares? He doesn't represent me, nor does he represent my issues.
- To quote Bill Clinton's campaign - It's the economy, stupid. It was then. It is now.
- No, I will NOT put a sign on my lawn or a bumper sticker on my car. My vote is guaranteed private by the Constitution.
- Polarizing us along party lines does nothing but tick everyone off. How are we going to get anything accomplished if we're worried about who bleeds red and who bleeds blue?
- Stop sending all your fliers denouncing the other candidate (this is for those in local races). You look like a fool who has no agenda.

Any peeves of yours? How many calls per day are you getting?

Monday, November 03, 2008

When Clients are Wrong

What? you say. Can clients really be wrong when the customer is always right?

Uh, yes.

Recently I had a situation with a client in which he thought I said one thing when emails clearly showed I had said nothing of the sort. It was obvious there was confusion. What wasn't obvious, to him at least, was that he was alone in that confusion. But how do you tell someone who's hired you (and able to fire you just as easily) that the mistake isn't yours, but his?

By now you've probably discovered the fine art of CYA - cover your... you know. You have emails and notes, right? While the emails will back you up, what if what he thinks you said is something that occurred on the phone? Notes are great, but little nuances are lost. Tape the conversations if you must and let the client know you're doing so - it's a nice backup to email.

Okay, so let's assume this was an email exchange. How do you prove you're innocent? That's easy enough. But how do you show him his mistake without ruffling feathers?

What I did was to express my own confusion and claim honestly that I didn't recall what he recalled. He thought errors in his copy were my doing, but files he sent originally clearly showed the error - one I'd never have known was an error - was there from the start. I simply thanked him for bringing the issue to my attention, and I forwarded back to him the original copy, saying I received this, was this a previous unedited version that perhaps slipped through on his side, and what could I do to help?

The key is to stay out of blaming each other. Sure, it wasn't your mistake, but you're not here to judge. You're here to help him sort it out and get back on track.

How have you handled this?
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