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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Your Monthly Assessment - January

Oh, I know how you hate when you're called out like this, but I figure since I'm doing my own monthly business assessment, why not include all of you?

This month I set a small goal, expecting business to be slow (and missing a week because my mom came for a visit). I was right on target, too. Amen. Had I set too high and missed, I'd be kicking myself right now. In fact, I invoiced half what I did last January, but again, I expected a slow down. How can you face this economy and not expect it? I was not aggressive in marketing this month, but I managed a few queries and a few inquiries with current clients.

Your turn - did you set a monthly goal? Did you reach it? Why or why not, do you think? How did you do at marketing? Was it an easy month or were you, like me, feeling a bit shell-shocked post-holiday or amid the current financial climate? What can we do better?

I have one particular feeler out to a regular client that may pay off in another ongoing project. I'll be approaching them with it on Monday, so stay tuned.... Oh, and just to keep us all on our toes and on our game, I'll be posting this sort of thing every month's end. Why not? It could actually inspire/goad us all into doing just a little bit more.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Social Irresponsibility

The Great Social Networking Experiment (just one more time)

It's already happening - one week into my Twitter networking experience and already I've spent entirely too much time "tweeting." Yesterday was a light work day, true, but it seemed to take me forever to finish one small project. Here's how it went -

(opening email) Wow, 12 more people are following me on Twitter. Okay, I must act like a good networker, so off to Twitter to check each one out and reciprocate. One or two were obvious advertisements and their posts, which you can see in detail, weren't relevant or were way too frequent and irrelevant.

(back to email. Okay, what am I doing today? Client wants...) Ooops. Another email. Huh? Three emails? Three more followers? Okay, off to Twitter....

Ten minutes later (Lord! Got to get going here. Okay. Back to the email. Client wants X, Y, Z, and ...) Was that my Twitter app? Yep. 20 more tweets. A quick peek. Ah, I have to respond to that one....

Five minutes later (Getting into the client's mindset, imagining his life a bit, starting the project. Okay, open a Word document. Getting a paragraph down ....) Again with the email? Well, just in case it's client work....damn! More followers! This is getting a bit hard to keep up with. Okay, let's just type their names into the Twitter app .... cripe. Why can't this app find them by name? Why are they using handles instead of their names? Open IE again, head to Twitter....

Five more minutes go by. (back to the project - damn, did I really stop mid-sentence? Where was I going with that? Time to turn Twitter off. I closed the app. Okay, now let's get busy. However, five minutes later...) Oh good GRIEF! More followers? Forget it! I'm not looking! No, I'm not. I have a client to please here. I don't care if a follower is upset that I didn't instantly reciprocate.

(Back to the project. Again in five minutes when my email automatically downloads...) Tough. I have stuff to do. I can't be bothered. A week ago these people didn't even know me. And how the hell are they getting anything done? They're constantly tweeting!

(Got a good half hour of solid, somewhat uninterrupted work in. Finished the first draft of the client project. Switched to Outlook to send it...) Are you kidding me? Now I have about 15 more followers and a few of them sent personal messages. No way. No freakin' way. What's the Twitt-iquette? Do I respond now or when I have actual time? If unsure, do it now.

(Sent off client project with a brief note to the client explaining what he was seeing and why.) Back to these messages. Prioritize. Answer them in order. Take a look at and follow most of the new followers. Oh, and I haven't tweeted all morning. Great way to build a following. Damn, where's the rule book for this thing? The user's manual? What's the right way to do this so it doesn't suck up so much time?

I knew it would happen. I resisted. I caved in thanks to those who say they've had great success. My problem - I'm a bit of an enabler (make that a lot in certain situations) and I can't disappoint people. Mind you, I have disappointed people in the business world and I've done so quite willingly. But I'm new to Twittering. I'm feeling my way. I have to stay on the good side of all those Tweeple.

So far, I've not seen any benefits. It's early - I understand. I'll read the articles on How to Build Business Using Twitter (there are slews) and I'll do what I'm told. And I'll let you know if it actually works.

How about you? How has your Twittering experience been? How long have you tweeted? How long have you resisted tweeting? Why does/why doesn't Twitter appeal?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Here Comes the Shovel

No, not for snow - for the high levels of crap job postings that are increasing in frequency and ridiculousness. A sampling from this week:

"...editing about 95 website reviews; each review is about 125 words and consists of the review, site name, URL, as well as a brief summary. Many reviews will require rewriting the 20-25 word summary. You will also need to fact-check the precise website name write two or so "tags" (for each site; and edit/rewrite the review to conform to our style, which emphasizes fun/smart/stylish reviews." For a grand total of $225. Total. Not per review. Total. Right.

How about this blogger job requiring 5 posts a week and 5 responses? "Blogger will receive by-line as well as bio on the About Us page - payment TBD once site is up and running. This is a great opportunity for new and aspiring freelancers to expand their resume, gain exposure and increase experience with a simple, fun job!" The pay? You read it - a "by-line" and bio and that little carrot dangling in the form of possible (never probable) payment once these guys strike it rich. And if it's that much fun, do it yourself, you putz.

Then there's the "advertorial article 500-600 words for general public" that pays a whopping $35. Oh, and let's not forget the "Looking for an author to read my 135 page fiction book" who's willing to exchange "a plug for your own book"...where? Who knows? This poster never did say where that would be included.

Times are tough. But that doesn't mean we need to entertain or accept these kinds of offers. In fact, this is an indication of what I've already mentioned - Craig's List is not, and should not be, your primary source for lucrative work. Too many other job sites exist that offer much better opportunities. That doesn't include the pay-to-view sites, which in concept and practice bother me. Why should you pay to find work? Isn't the idea to get work so you'll be paid?

What are your primary sources for work? Most lucrative? Where have you found your ongoing work?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Insider's View of Twitter

The Great Social Networking Experiment (yet again)

My questions, confusion, and laments about Twitter have captured the attention of one freelancing chum - Amy Derby. Amy was kind enough to ignore my whining and answer my myriad of questions regarding proper Twitter usage. Thank you, Amy, for your patience and your help to my readers and to me.

How are you using Twitter? Busines or personal or both?
In the beginning I used it mostly just to talk with my writer friends, to keep up with current clients who were already on Twitter and to search for prospective clients. Since August, I've hired three people I met on Twitter -- a blogger, a web writer, and a virtual assistant who helps me with research. I've also used it to meet local people who are involved in social media; I've met (in person) a LOT of people and four people from my small-ish suburb, which is pretty cool. Some are folks I collaborate with on projects, refer work back and forth, etc -- others are just friends. I've also gotten several of my clients onto Twitter to expand their own networks, which has been great. There's a growing legal community on Twitter, so it's been very helpful for me to be able to put out a question and get an instant response from so many folks I wouldn't have otherwise been connected with. I also Twitter for fun. (What can I say? I'm an iPhone addict.)

You mentioned you've found work this way. How did that come about?
There aren't a lot of people who do what I do. So when a lawyer searches someplace like Twellow.com or one of the legal directories I'm listed in for a law blogger or consultant, I come up. I currently get an average of three emails a week from lawyers who say "I found you on Twitter. Can you tell me how me more about what you do?" These are folks who hadn't seen my blog or otherwise heard about me from anyone else. I also get a lot of recommendations through others I have worked with or talked with -- some are on Twitter -- and from people who I don't really know but who have seen my Tweets. I get a lot of Direct Messages on Twitter like "So and so told me you might be able to help me..." All of that is very cool, but also sometimes a little overwhelming. I honestly wasn't prepared for so much new business when I started my @lawfirmblogger account on Twitter.

How does a shmuck like me use Twitter? Can you drop notes to people or is it more of "tweet here" and "tease there" appeal?
I don't think there's any right or wrong way to do it. One thing I quickly learned is that it's a little like blogging, in the sense that there are the Great Self-Proclaimed Gurus who think their way is the only way and that everyone else sucks. I think there are as many effective ways to use Twitter as there are to blog, or to do anything else. It all depends what you're using it for and what you want to get out of it.

How about posting links? How much is too much if it's to promote yourself? What rule do you follow?
I don't promote myself much. I promote others a lot, and in turn they promote me. I don't ask anyone to promote me, and one of my biggest pet peeves is folks who are like "Please retweet my post!" I generally unfollow those folks. If I post something on my blog that might be interesting, I'll do a Tweet about it. But that's maybe on tweet out of a hundred. I tend to think people who use Twitter as self-promotion are missing the boat. Constant self-promotion feels like spam on Twitter, just like it does anyplace else.

Is there a Twitter etiquette that's followed?
There probably is, but I'm not sure. And I'm betting if you asked a hundred folks, everyone would answer differently. My own personal Twitter etiquette is to respond to the people who talk to me -- like, if someone does an @reply and asks me a question, I answer. Some people don't do that. I would feel rude ignoring people. But everyone's different about replies, just the way they are with responding to blog comments, etc. I also think there are a lot of silly theories on who to follow back, etc. On my @amyderby account I follow back pretty much everyone who follows me, unless they're a spammer. On my @lawfirmblogger account I mostly only follow back people who are somehow connected to the legal community, or who tweet about stuff I want to read about while I'm in my business hat. I've been called rude for that, but oh well. You can't please everyone.

What do I, a beginning Tweeple, need to know about this stuff so as not to destroy my career while attempting to enhance it?
I'm not sure there is anything all that major to know. Other than maybe that it's just like blogging: what you see can be read by anyone, anywhere, even ten years from now. That's something I didn't really keep in mind at the beginning, and there are things I've said that I've wished later I could take back. Nothing career-shattering. But I tend to be sarcastic and there have been times that my sense of humor isn't always appreciated. So maybe, Think Before You Tweet? :-)

How about the rest of you Tweeple? What answers would you give to the same questions?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blogs that Grow Business

The Great Social Networking Experiment (continued)

I know you come here to listen to me moan about various woes, low-paying jobs, and my latest hangnail, don't you? You don't? Well, maybe you should tell me why you're here. What compels you to stop by this site and honor me with your presence every day/week? I know you do - you've left your comments, made me a Favorite, followed me, get my RSS feed, and run up the total on the site visitor meter. And I can't thank you all enough for it. Without you, I'd be twisting in the wind - the sound of one hand clapping. Laurel without Hardy. Tea without sugar.

This blog was started as a place for me to build a little bit of e-street cred among my peers, and as a place where potential clients could find me or check out my style. It seems to be working - you're here, at least. The clients? I've had a few from the blog. Yet even though I have a purpose in mind for the blog, it's taken on its own life form. It's entertained, informed, maybe even educated a few along the way. And I've had people view me as an expert of one form or another. That's never a bad thing (unless you see me as a brain surgeon, which would be a bad, bad assumption).

If you think blogs can't do much more than serve as your personal platform, you're wrong. Look at the careers that have been launched, enhanced, or even damaged by blogging. Did you know who Michael Stelzner was before blogging? Devon Ellington? Have you watched your favorite newcomers become leaders in the blogging world (like Melissa Donovan or Jennifer Williamson)? Haven't you enjoyed Kathy Kehrli's irreverence enough to make her a Top Blogger? How about Susan Johnston's Urban musings? These folks have all marked their territory, so to speak, through blogging and keen utilization of this handy little social networking tool.

But beware what you write, for cyberspace has an infinitely long memory and even worse, people are much more willing to get ugly with you online than in person. One best-selling book author was badly attacked over some off-hand comment she made (I won't embarrass her by pointing you to her). Worse, her comment landed on another blog and the blog owner and her followers quickly began eviscerating the author, each comment more caustic and harmful than the last (we call that the pile-on, and it's akin to watching lemmings leap in succession over a cliff).

Are you using blogging to its potential? Here are a few things that will make it easier for readers to return:

Allow for multiple subscription methods. Be it email subscribing or access via a feed reader, give your readers what they ask for. I recently added links at the end of each post that allow people to bookmark favorites into various bookmarking/subscribing tools. I also provide Feedburner access so you can follow via email or read posts in IE (if your version is new enough). Another cool little tool that Blogger allows is the "Followers" widget. You can quickly add someone to your "Blogs I'm Following" list, which appears in your dashboard. Moreover, others can follow you.

Register your blog on reader sites. I use Technorati and Bloglines, which both compile summaries of your favorites and introduces you to other new "favorites." Users can also search for blog topics and if you're registered, guess who they're going to find? And like all good RSS feed readers, these online sites grab your updated content regularly.

Get an Entrecard. This is a neat little social networking tool all its own, but it works in tangent with your blog to bring traffic to your site. Think it doesn't work? I know of at least 6 loyal posters here who came in via Entrecard. And like chum Kirk Petersen found out, Entrecard, if approached with patience, does work.

Link, baby, link. Want to make new friends and maybe get a reciprocal mention on another's blog? Share a link to their blog with your readers. Don't link willy nilly - make sure it's relevant to your readership (your primary audience and focus), and make sure it's useful. For more punch, head over to the linkee's blog and post mention of the link in the comments section.

Build a blog roll. Nothing drives traffic to your site more than being an active member of others' sites. By active I mean commenting regularly (once a day, once a week, whatever suits your schedule) and extending the courtesy of alerting others to these blogs.

Comment elsewhere and respond to your readers. Recently I removed one or two blogs from my blog roll for one reason - the owners never commented or acknowledged their readers, nor did one of them ever venture outside her own little blog world, which after three years I'm not putting up with that! All I'm saying is putting up a blog isn't just a "Here I am - adore me" notification. It comes with responsibility to be a good member of the blogging community. Interact once in a while.

Alert your Facebook and Twitter communities of new blog posts. I admit I don't do this in Facebook as that is my "completely social" network, but I have begun Twittering my latest posts, which have already begun to bring in some new faces. If the technology is there to spread the word, spread it thickly, but with care.

How do you promote your blog? And why do you visit this blog? How did you find out about it?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Twitter-pated

Just a few days into my Social Networking Experiment and the first SN application - Twitter. Some initial findings:

- It does matter what Twitter "reader" you use - greatly. I had one that had small print, massed-together messages, and no appeal beyond turning it off. I now use Twhirl. Much more user-friendly. It's helped me remain a Tweeple.

- You can promote your blog or your business, but not habitually. Word on the Internet is that it's bad form to constantly toot your own horn.

- You're able to link to authors, publishing houses, and other organizations. Useful if you want to stay on top of your particular industry niche.

- People will blather on about anything. Really. Do I care that you had grilled cheese for lunch? Color me uninterested.

- It's tough finding something to say at first. My first Twitter was not quickly followed by my next and my next. I'm trying to leave a good impression, so I'm much more careful what I write about on Twitter than on, say, Facebook, where I've been known to let it all out.

- It's all in who you follow. And to be followed, you must follow others. Choose wisely.

Any Twitter users who can offer more advice/observations?

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Great (or not-so-boring-and-somewhat-interesting) Social Networking Experiment

I did it for you guys. Really. Yesterday in one of my more fickle moves, I decided to explore some of these various social networking sites and tools and conduct my own experiment. I want to answer these questions: What's available and how does it work? How are people using social networking gadgets and sites to promote their businesses? Is it working for them? How much time do they spend tweeting or posting or responding to anything that isn't work-related?

I'm starting with Twitter. I was totally against subjecting myself to yet another attention-grabbing technology as I mentioned not two posts ago, but thanks to a few posts here and a bit of research turning up ways to capitalize on Twitter, I bit the bullet. I promise to report in often on how it's going and what value I'm finding in it, if any.

So far, it's been an exercise in extreme patience as I learn the ropes and set myself on the right course. For instance, I want to follow friends, but I want to establish business connections as my primary goal. How? By linking to friends, of course. But also by reading and researching and doing a bit of Twitter searching for industry names and long-lost contacts.

I've connected with a few of you "Tweeple" already, so bear with me as I learn the ropes and bug the hell out of you for the sake of research. You're going to get the lion's share of my questions, so brace yourselves.

All this month (or until work picks up again) I will be exploring some of the more popular social networking sites and how they can benefit you (or not) as you attempt to raise your Internet profile and hopefully score more work. Are there any favorites you'd like me to look into?

Tenacity and the Word 'No'

I'll give her credit - she's tenacious. The editor of a magazine I worked with recently has once again contacted me to complete a story for her. That would be fine - only, I told her twice now that her publication doesn't pay enough for me to justify the work involved, and that I had accepted more lucrative jobs elsewhere.

I can't blame her - it's tough finding writers who want to write for trades, much less those who will actually do so reliably. But even though things have slowed down considerably here since pre-Christmas (it'll pick up soon - I'm sure of it), I won't take the job. In fact, I didn't even respond.

You may think that's unprofessional, but you have to understand - I told her. Twice. Any further debate on the topic isn't going to change her mind or mine. It'll just prolong the obvious conclusion. But you'd be proud of me - I resisited my initial temptation to write back and ask if the rates had gone up. They haven't. I know because I asked less than two months ago. Those rates are set in stone. And they equal ten cents a word for technical writing. Uh, no thanks.

It's about knowing your limits and avoiding being roped into doing what you know won't benefit your career (and what may even harm your chances of getting higher-paying work). Do you enforce your professional boundaries when someone turns on the charm or chastises you? While I can tell you flat out that the latter won't work EVER, the former can have some effect on you if you're a pushover. I'm not. Therefore, next!

How about you? What are your limits? How do you enforce them? And just for fun - would you have responded a third time? If so, what would you have said?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weird Client Tricks

My girlfriend and I were sharing war stories over tea yesterday morning at the local Starbucks. She said she'd never had an instance where a client didn't pay her. It would've bothered me more, but she's a part-time freelancer and she works with a lot of local publications and clients - she has face time with them. For that reason, I suspect, she's been quite fortunate.

Something else she's been able to avoid - weirdness. Mind you, we all have our crazy days or clients who make us scratch our heads, but I think freelancers are prone to meeting some of the more, well, unique people on the planet. Here are a few I've met:

The man who corrected me on how to pronounce my own name. How do you convince someone who's mispronouncing your last name that he's wrong when he's entirely convinced you are? Answer - you don't. You move on to someone who doesn't need to be right about everything. This guy argued - twice - that I didn't know what my own last name was and that he knew because he had it written and sitting in front of him. It's when I knew I was wasting time and air on someone I didn't want to know.

The man who was once a woman. Look, I don't care if you spent ten years wearing heels and a dress while sporting male anatomy. I live for a to-die-for pair of shoes and killer frock myself. But this chap, who was three minutes into our phone conversation, shared entirely too much personal information entirely too quickly. The conversation about his past life was about a three-conversations-later one to have and only if it was relevant to his project, which it was not. Not the way to introduce yourself and convince me that you know and respect boundaries, especially your own. To me, that was the larger issue, and one I couldn't get around.

The liar who may have committed a few felonies. It raised the question about just how much of a background check is enough. My gut said something was amiss, but the paperwork and a cursory Internet search turned up nothing on this client, who was allegedly running a phony charity. He was arrested nearly a year ago, posted bail last month only to be met at the prison door by the feds. Back in he went on charges of impersonating a Secret Service agent. Yes folks - these are the people I attract. Scary, isn't it?

The man who couldn't help but 'educate' me for my own good. LOVED this one because I couldn't stop laughing. I'd submitted a bid in response to his company's ad asking for articles on very specific topics. His subsequent note made it clear that his was a "showcase" website and I could expect the sum total of zero as payment. When I refused, he actually wrote back and gave me a 'primer' on how PR works and what his site could do for me. His "repository" site of talent would help clients find me. I couldn't help it - I had to tell him that he'd found me, so what was the problem exactly?

The man who wanted me to trust him. Implicitly. Without a contract. You never realize the true value of a contract until you're faced with a client who refuses one and who insists - strongly - that he's always worked on the honor system. This guy was particularly odd because as we "negotiated" in email, the terms became looser by the minute. The pay went from a per-word rate for XXXX words to a per-word rate "rounded down" from the nearest ten and based on the total amount of words he published, not the total amount I wrote. His mortification when I thanked him and expressed that I don't work without a signed contract convinced me I'd just avoided a major shafting.

The man who wanted to put me on retainer - as soon as I sent him my bank account information. No he didn't? Yes, he did. No, he didn't get it. I know a phony carrot dangling when I see one. I dangled my own - just send it through PayPal, I insisted. No, he said. They won't handle such large sums. Then a check, I said. He never wrote back. Gosh darn - look at all that money I've turned away. Not.

Surely I'm not the only one who's ever had a weird client. If you can do so without revealing too much, what are some of the stranger situations you've found yourself facing?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Real Reason Why I Don't Twitter

Raising my right hand, I'll swear before this Internet community the truth - I, Lori, am a techno-holic. I sort of knew this all along, but it took Facebook to bring me to my knees and my senses.

Recently I was "found" on Facebook by a high-school chum. Her contacting me piqued my interest in this Facebook page my daughter had put up for me. I'll admit I never understood the "pokes" and the "gifts" and the myriad of requests that kept piling up in that in box. I didn't bother to learn because my first attempt left me wondering just what the hell I was wasting my time with this crap for. But after the friend started chatting with me on my "wall" I started looking up other high-school friends, and then other friends in general and before I knew it, I was updating my status every few hours and checking to see if it was my turn for any of the numerous Scrabble games I had going or if anyone beat my score on the Know Your Steelers trivia game or the Word Challenge (this is where I first realized how competitive I truly am) and if anyone had befriended me....

I learned Facebook enough to be dangerous. And there goes my hours that could be spent earning money. With Twitter, it's instant, it's constant, and it's too damned enticing for someone like me. After reading Maria Schneider's Twitter list of must-have contacts, I'm beginning to see the value in it. But value comes only if you use it in moderation. I'm weak. Moderation is not something I can do well when it comes to technology. It's why I have no iPhone yet. The addiction would be immediate and devastating.

So you Twitterers, you social networking butterflies - how do you use your technology without letting it overwhelm you? Where are your limits, if you have them? How has it helped your career? Hurt it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Would You Settle For Less?

Inauguration Day - a new beginning. Much like New Year's and our penchant for resolutions, today's a day where we ignore the harsh realities and try to find that silver lining among numerous clouds. I sit here hopeful, yet people being people, I know it won't be long before the political maneuvering will hit full throttle and attempts to change for the better (or worse - but any attempt is better than inertia) will be drowned out by the power plays, the mud slinging, etc. ad nauseum. It makes me want to shake people and shout "Grow up already!" Playground games and politics bug me no end.

Nevertheless, we writers are steeped in a new economy. We knew long before the word "recession" was allowed to be acknowledged that things had changed for the worse. Ironically, those changes have made it easier for some of us to find work. I worked my best year last year. Will that repeat itself this year? Time will tell. I'm nervous. Each layoff and corporate failure may pour immediate work into our laps, but there's a point where the work will dry up because of good old supply-and-demand.

I've heard one or two writers actually admitting to rethinking their rates in order to gain more work. Is that wise? If so, how low would you go in order to accommodate a client and secure business? If not, why should we stay at our current rates? And if you're raising your rates, how tough a sell will that be in this economy?

I'm standing firm for now. My cost of living is still rising. My kid is still in college. My bills are still coming in. Will I lower them in the future? That depends.

My opinion is you should lower your rates only if you can justify it. If the workload is light or if it won't take you long to complete it or it leads to more work (that pays better or the same), do it. That's going to require a bit more examination of the project and the goals and how you and the client are communicating. There's no reason why you should lower your rates and then find out the job entails a lot more than you expected, or that the client is too scattered to make your price worthwhile.

Thoughts?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Perspectives

Last week our favorite Irreverent Freelancer Kathy Kehrli opened up about how she changed her ways, albeit briefly (for we love her irreverence too much to see it disappear). The result was her ability to secure two at-risk clients by simply stepping back and reassessing each situation.

While I don't advocate being a pushover, I do believe all writers should practice what Kathy did - a change in perspective. Sometimes you think that project's going to be completely impossible, or you think those client demands are just too much for you to maintain your integrity or your sanity. But what if you suspend judgment, even for a day, and really examine that demand or that project one more time from the client's point of view? Maybe you'll see, like Kathy did, that things are workable after all.

I think we freelancers need to take this perspective thing a few steps further. Say you've struggled finding clients, struggled securing enough work, struggled getting payment, and generally struggled to make a go of it. Have you bothered to step back, reassess what you're doing/not doing, and go back at it from a different perspective? Here are a few things I've learned by doing so:

- Marketing while I'm busy helps to eliminate gaps in work.
- Allowing myself to be more vocal/helpful with clients makes them realize sooner I'm their advocate.
- Having a consistent billing process is absolutely essential if I expect to collect.
- Running my writing work like a business and not like a hobby allows me to be tough when I need to be.
- Turning down low-paying work and aggressively seeking higher-paying work is always a good decision.
- Realizing business plans only work if you use them, amend them, rely on them, and work them.

If you looked at your writing business right now, what do you think you could improve? What do you want to improve? Have you asked others how they do it? Or are you able to see the flaws in your plan and fix them?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Everybody's Working for the Weekend....

Is the song stuck in your head now? Are you even old enough to remember Loverboy?

Since I took the first part of this week off to host my mom, I'll be pulling out the laptop this weekend to do some work. Fortunately, lots of work came in while she was here (and she was here 3 1/2 days, so I'm doing the happy dance). I secured three more projects without lifting a finger to do so, and I have one more in the works. Another was just a joke - $5 a post for a weblog requiring research and a few hundred words twice a day. Uh, no.

You guys know me. I don't normally work weekends. But in this case my guilt won over my need for a weekend. Actually, I don't need a weekend since I just got back to work. Therefore, the only time I'm taking off is Sunday at Steelers kickoff time. I might even watch that other PA team since I'm sitting in their territory....

Since the man has his weekends off and we covet our time together, there are only a few times I'll give up my weekends. They are:

- When I've not worked much of the week prior to the weekend.
- When a project is critical and I'm being paid for those weekend hours.
- When I've messed up and have to deliver on time (that's happened once or twice).
- When I know I won't be around the following week and the client needs it now.

I know some of you do work weekends, but most don't. What are your reasons for forfeiting time off? And if you do work weekends, when do you get time off? Do you?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Keeping Clients Happy When You're (Officially) Not Around

Despite being off much of this week due to my mom's visit, clients are still calling and still needing work done. Mind you, I didn't put an "away" message on my email or phone because I decided I'd check in every evening to see if there was anything critical. In one case, I'd already promised a client I'd handle any revisions in the evenings.

Like lions to the slaughter, clients came in droves the minute I stepped away (I swear they sense my muscles relaxing). This week I've had four inquiries and a fifth just came in over the phone. Luckily, I just put Mom back on the train going west. My office is unofficially open this afternoon.

As independent contractors, we should do our best to be available and show clients we're reliable. But mothers will visit, Internet connections will die, and sometimes we just get all wild and crazy and decide to go on vacation. How do we handle our clients' needs while getting away when we need to/want to?

Once before a lengthy vacation I did send out an email to my regular clients and to those on the fence yet letting them know two weeks in advance that I'd be out. That email resulted in one job prior to the vaca, one "Have a great time!" note, and one job scheduled for the week just after I got back. It was so much better for the clients that they knew ahead of time instead of bumping into my "Out of Office" auto-response. They were able to plan a bit better. Also, it sent the message that we are contractors, but we're not always at 24/7 disposal. I found it to be a very nice way of extending a professional courtesy (you don't have to tell them anything), reinforcing my own boundaries, and allowing them ample time to plan a work-around with me. They need me, but I need them just as much.

When you shut off the computer for a week or so, how do you handle clients and their needs?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lori's Annual Reminder That You're Worth More Than You Think

Welcome to a new economy and a new round of idiot job posters hoping to secure your writing talent for little-to-no money all by either sweet-talking you or convincing you you're out of your mind to expect more than they're offering. With our financial pictures fading to darkness nationally, don't expect anything but an increase in crap job postings.

So why do you take these jobs? Is it because you're afraid there's nothing else out there for you? Is it because you really don't believe you're worth more? Is it because you believe the claims that the work is "easy for the right person"? Are you afraid of offending someone by telling them they're not paying enough? What is it? For I sit here year after year scratching my head - writers are taking these jobs, breaking their backs to turn out copy, and getting a fraction of what they should be.

There's really no reason for it, either. With layoffs at an all-time high and more companies looking to outsource just about everything, the work is there. Last year amid the recession-that-we-weren't-admitting-to, I earned the most I've ever earned, freelancing or otherwise. So have plenty of others who read and post here. I worked with clients I came in contact with years prior through temp agencies (and you must wait a specific amount of time per your temp contract before you can work for these clients, if at all, so check the contracts) hired me directly. They saved the agency fees and I was still able to raise my rates beyond what I earned through temping (which was still a good rate).

It's all about cost cutting, but not at your expense. Most legitimate companies are willing to pay your rate because it's saving them either in temp fees or in staff salaries/benefits. Now more than ever, do not apologize for your rates or slash them willy-nilly just because a client balks a little. You have a valuable skill set and they need it. You deserve decent pay for your work. So ask for it.

And for gawd's sake, stay away from the crap jobs. You know what they are and what they look like by now. Make this the year you believe in your worth.

Have any of you seen an upswing in work and new clients? What about the crap jobs? Anyone seeing more of them?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why I Hate Vacation Time Off

Oh, how we all long for time off too, don't we? But have you noticed the weird phenomenon that occurs when you go off on vacation - be it the Christmas holiday or the vacation-by-the-lake kind? The working world senses you're about to leave and pounds you with projects. Then you come back to .... silence. It's as though you've died or have been transported to another planet.

And it's as though now you're reinventing your career. Now you have to market more than usual (or more than nothing - you didn't think I knew that, do you?). You have to scrounge up work and clients and there's this little sinking feeling in your gut that makes a bit of room for self-doubt. Or is that just me?

The ideal situation is to set up work to come back to, but even that is dependent on client schedules. Still, knowing there's a magazine article assignment waiting can be a good thing (unless, like me, you stress about leaving the office with deadlines pending). I have one regular gig that keeps me well afloat in the lean times, but when that's the only job I have going and the first week of January is already history, I'm going to get nervous. News flash - I'm already nervous.

Luckily, clients are trickling back in. I'm sure now that I'm off this week, there will be some urgency to at least one pending project. Amen. I love urgency when I'm idle. It sort of validates my existence. To me, anyway.

So how to you prepare for that post-vacation silence? What's worked for you? What hasn't?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mixing It Up

I'm out of the office this week, but I left vapor trails for you. Being the duty-bound soul I am, I had to write some posts in advance so as not to lose any of you faithful followers. Yes, I have a sickness. It's called punctuality. I can quit any time I want. Really.

In looking at what worked for me last year, I realized that I hadn't done nearly enough magazine writing. A shame, because I've located a few great sources of work that pay well and on time (again, punctuality is a thing for me). This year, I plan to look for more magazine work using trusted sources. Note the trusted sources part - that's essential. Let me explain.

I once worked for a publication that was quite legitimate, but had some mighty strange working habits. I wrote a story based on their assignment, almost to the letter, and they rejected it, saying I'd missed the boat. Since I was in the middle of my next assignment for them, I wasn't too concerned as yet another assignment was also being determined. What brought all this to a screeching halt was our contract negotiations. As I explained in previous posts, the publisher flat-out refused to sign one, saying he was a stand-up guy and I needed to trust him at his word. A few emails and realizations later, I ended the working relationship mid-article. He took high offense. I walked away knowing it was the best decision I've ever made (based partly on his taking high offense, but mostly on the red flags that were increasingly present). The only question that remains is if he actually used that rejected article. The reason - they're an online subscription-only publication that can't be viewed without paying the steep subscription price. There's no way for me to know if it was used or rejected as they claimed. I'm leaning toward the former.

I've also worked with new-to-me magazines that just don't pay either on time or at all in some cases. I've wasted countless hours badgering, tacking on late fees, and threatening legal action to secure the cash owed me. I got it, but it's just not worth it.

Finding trusted sources isn't easy. It requires that you tap in to the wisdom of other writers. They may not want to share their good clients, either. But it doesn't hurt to ask them if they'd put in a good word should the magazine need more help. Also, you'll have to read regularly the posts on sites like Writers Weekly, where writers post warnings on certain publications. And if you toddle over to About Freelance Writing, you can post questions about specific magazines on the forum.

How do you locate trusted sources?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Business Interruptions

It's slow here right now, as I suspected. One client is sending work by the bucketload, but others are silent. I'm hoping it's simply that it takes a week for them to get back into work mode and start aligning those projects again.

It won't matter. My mother informed me she's coming to stay with me next week. Love seeing Mom. Hate missing work right after I'd taken two weeks off for the holidays. But on my list of priorities, family is first. Therefore, I shall push back those feelings of "won't meet my monthly goals" and entertain her. Then again, I may get a story out of our escapades. And I won't tell her that I promised one client I'd check in nightly for any revisions/updates.

Maybe it's the fear of starvation, but I can't switch off the freelance mindset. Do you have this trouble? My hair's grown about four inches since the last cut. I keep meaning to take time off to get to the salon, but work gets in the way. The dentist, luckily, was scheduled the week I took off for the holidays. But the daughter's eye appointment wasn't, and since I'm paying, I had to be there with her. Then yesterday she needed an SLR camera for her next course. Again, I'm paying, so I had to go with her. Tomorrow, we take her across the state and back to school, stopping overnight at the parents' and picking up Mom (school and Mom within 20 miles of each other). It's a weekend, so I'm okay with it. But imagine if I allowed myself to work weekends. I'd be typing on a laptop in the car (someone else driving, of course).

Because I have 9-to-5 clients, I work weekdays (and usually from 8-to-5ish). For that reason, I'm stingy with my weekends and I will not work over holidays. But oh, the guilt if I miss a weekday, even for a few hours! Next week I'll be in my own professional hell because my mind will keep wandering back to work. I know myself. I can't go fishing in Ontario without spending the first day thinking about what client may be having some sort of writing emergency.

Anyone else suffer this kind of guilt? How do you combat it?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Open Oven, Insert Head

It never fails - I'm riding the high of a great freelancing year and a nice holiday season when WHAMO! there's that damned 1040 tome weighing down my mailbox. Each year I vow to get an accountant. Each year I don't. Each year I do my own taxes. Each year I get a letter from the IRS in May correcting my carefully prepared forms.

Tax season, for me, is like deer season for deer. There's nowhere to hide. No matter what I do, I'm right in the crosshairs and no matter what electronic program I've tried (and I've tried plenty), the IRS is going to hunt me down and tell me where I went wrong.

Last year I used TurboTax, which rechecked my numbers and informed me I was in great shape. For the first time in years, I was elated. Finally, I thought, I've done it right. Imagine my suprise when my now annual IRS "Here's where you screwed up, Lori" letter arrived a few months later, along with a bill (including late fees) for what I hadn't done right. But TurboTax promised! Damn it! Damn it all to hell.

This year I'm starting now. I'm compiling all my forms, papers, 1099s and the like and locating an accountant. Every year I let my better half talk me out of it, but it's pretty clear I'm not exactly cut out for filling in those blanks alone. I need a skilled hand to hold.

Do you have an accountant? How has that saved you money? And do you hate the ides of April (more or less) as much as I do?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

If Your Paradigm Shifts, Will it Hurt?

I'm a jargon hater. Seriously. I can't stand the use of five-dollar words when a ten-cent word will do. Yet without fail I see numerous business folks using words like "business critical function" (and where's your hyphen, people?) and "paradigm shift" when they really mean "important" and "change in business focus." It's like an addiction for some. And when I'm charged with interpreting this mumbled mess of buzz words into a new client message, I start to lose it a bit. No, a lot. I lose it a lot.

I once came across a client piece that was 14 pages of today's top buzz words. My task was to boil this down to two pages of relevant, compelling copy. When working on marketing pieces, I usually open a blank email while I work and jot down questions. In this particular piece, the questions nearly outpaced the copy provided. The client, bless her heart, had learned every single bit of jargon she could. If I were to add up all the buzz words using our five-dollar price tag, she'd spent about $2,985 by page 4. Hence my long, confused note back to her for multiple clarifications in people terms. Much to her dismay, I replaced all "facilitate" references with either "use" or "organize" depending on the meaning.

While some clients insist on using certain buzz words (they have reputations to uphold as leaders in their respective industries, or as "top jargon users"), there's no reason why you can't push back a little and insist that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. While it's great to use some jargon to show the client's level of expertise, it's not great to confuse the hell out of the average client. And honestly, there were press releases and various marketing pieces I've seen in my day that simply made me feel too stupid to do business with these people. Not exactly the way to win over new business, is it?

Here's a little list of jargon that is not only trite, but completely overused. If you can talk your clients into it, avoid them.

- mission critical
- paradigm shift (or anything paradigm, for that matter)
- facilitate
- key performance indicators (just freakin' tell me what they are)
- knowledge transfer (can we just say train or educate?)
- administrate (is that even a word?)
- leverage
- critical anything
- synergy

Got any favorite peeves?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ethics and Common Sense

Writer friend and I were talking about journalistic ethics again. It's a topic we bring up on occasion, and it's one that leaves us both shaking our heads. We mainly lament the lack of ethics courses in various college journalism/media concentrations. We wonder out loud and to each other, where exactly do these new journalists and media people learn their ethics? I chimed in that common sense should rule, but again, if your parents taught you no common sense, how are you going to know where to draw the line?

This came up after I'd talked to my youngest about her college Ethics course. I was more than a little surprised that her major - Communications and Mass Media - does not require a Journalism Ethics course. Nope. Instead, she talked about religious ethics, which may help but doesn't exactly outline plagiarism and copyright law.

Here on this blog I've brought up various situations of unethical behavior, such as the dude who removed attributes from an article I supplied. Then there was the dude who wrote a book based on the content of several other books, blatantly lifting ideas from others' pages and claiming them as his own. Oh, and let's not forget the editor who, when reading a freelancer's query proposal, said without another thought "Which one of you staffers wants to write this?" It shocks me how often people in creative professions will leave numerous footprints all over ethical standards. But again, don't you have to be taught those?

So here are a few ethical lines you should not cross:

- When in doubt, don't.

- If you didn't write it, you have to give credit to the one who did.

- If you like someone else's idea, congratulate them. Don't reword it or revise it or otherwise steal it and call it yours.

- If you quote another source, you MUST give attribution.

We as writers have to take a hard conservative line. If the schools aren't going to help the next generation (or even the current one) to understand what's ethical and what's not, we have to police our own ranks.

I know some of you have had website copy lifted and reprinted without your permission. How did the offender respond? What else have you experienced?

Monday, January 05, 2009

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit

Today's the day I tell a prospective client that his project is not a good fit for me. It's unfortunate as I think the guy's nice, but I've asked repeatedly for and have not received the project outline or notes. What I have received are musings that are nowhere near related to the project as outlined in our client meeting. Each request from me garners one more unrelated snippet or link to something funny or some other story that's just not what we talked about. Maybe they're all supposed to be related. If so, I'm still backing away. If the communication at this stage in the process is so out of whack, imagine trying to bring order to it once we get underway.

That, however, is not the only reason I'm dropping the project.

There seems to be a level of heightened expectations about how this straightforward project will somehow solve numerous personal crises for the client. I'm a writer. I'm not a therapist, life coach, custody attorney, divorce mediator, or savior. It's too much to be expected of one person. When I met with him, I had my doubts, but he was genuinely nice and had what appeared to be a pretty standard project goal. Since that meeting, I've come to realize there's just too much emotion attached (and we're talking from additional family members who have also contacted me since that client meeting) for me. Way too much.

And to add one more level of "No you didn't" to it, he introduced me to his friend and said, "She's writing my project for me - we're paying her with the proceeds of the pre-sale!" Oh no you're not. I work for present currency, not potential currency.

The toughest thing you as a freelancer will face is walking away from a promised check. But there are projects (and people) that just don't fit. Suppose I took this project based on this client's promise of "payment from proceeds." What if only 25 people pre-order the book? What if only 3 do? Please, if you're ever offered a "percentage of sales" or any other "promise" of future payment, turn and run.

Suppose also I did get payment up front (as you should, too), but the project didn't deliver what the client expected (all those emotional/legal additions that are his and his alone). How can I, as a writer, take on a project for someone who expects the project to say pay for his father's nursing care or avert his neighbor's impending lawsuit against him? I can't. And his disappointment may land us in court should he decide I didn't do a good enough job. Again, run.

There's no need to mention what bad communication between your client and you can result in. You already know. And hopefully by now you can see those red flags waving and have learned to avoid them at all costs.

We've all taken on projects we shouldn't have and have lived to regret it. What are some of yours? Do you have any deal breakers that help you decide?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New You

We were at the local coffee house open mic last night. One of the performers looked into the crowd and said, "Happy New You. I won't say happy New Year because if you don't change you, it's going to be the same as last year, isn't it?"

Light bulb moment.

We're so busy looking at this clean slate of a year and wondering just how many significant and insignificant promises to ourselves we can cram into it that we fail to realize that without some actual movement from us, we're not getting any closer to any goal. So if the goals you develop - the business plans and the diet plans and the plans to stop this bad habit and start that good one - are sound yet they never make it to fruition, the problem, my friend, is your approach.

When I first started freelancing, I had this mentality that every job was an alignment of my talents and friendship with a client and friend. Wrong. The minute you enter friendship into the equation, you lose your objectivity. You can't add late fees to your friend's invoice! You can't push back on a friend and tell him or her that the idea is weak! And you can't conduct business as it should be conducted - professionally. I had to stop being a friend and start being a business owner.

Maybe your problem is you doubt your worth. That's a tougher one to overcome, but believe me, the moment you realize this is a job like any other job and you have something these clients need, it becomes easier to charge what you're worth and push doubt aside. Nevertheless, there will be clients who criticize your work. And they may be right. Your job is to look at that criticism and determine where it's coming from. Just don't take it personally. This is not a personal endeavor - it's business. If you can't train yourself to think as a business owner, hire a coach (Lisa's amazing) or take a business course so that you can start seeing this as something other than your life's passion.

Or maybe the problem is you just don't know how to market. That's much easier to solve, for I've blathered on endlessly about how to do so effectively(check out the Marketing Series and Marketing tags on this blog), as have many of the folks whose links appear to the left of this blog (Anne Wayman in particular has devoted years of free time putting up articles on her site that answer nearly every question you could possibly have). There are book resources aplenty, and even a few webcasts if you search. I won't do the searching for you. Some things you have to do for yourself. It makes the successes you'll reap that much more sweet.

So what are your plans for reinventing you this year? In what areas do you need to change your mindset?
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