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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monthly Assessment - March

Yes, it's time once again for us to look at the month and see what went right, what went wrong. Ready?

Oh, what a month. No, not work-wise. Just oh, what a month. Too much weirdness, too many failed attempts to find work, too much idle time spent dealing with unnecessary, well, crap. Here's how I did:

Queries -
I sent out about 2 to 4 queries to new publications each week. That amounted to about 30-45 minutes per to read, research, and craft a relevant pitch. Not one of them turned into anything. At least it beat inertia.

Job postings -
Since I was last depressed out of my mind after scouring the job boards, I became more selective in how often, and how long, I'd search. I'm good for about 10 minutes on job boards before I start getting that hopeless feeling. So nine minutes in, I'm looking to go back to something else - anything else - to avoid that feeling. I did find (thanks to Anne Wayman, who sends me insurance-related posts she locates - thank you!) three possibilities, one of which has already fallen through (see my post on disappointing the dude). The other two may come to better ends as the one client already contacted me (and is local). We'll see.

Existing clients-
Silence. I did hear from one client I'd contacted. He's also suffering. His client (I subcontract for him) has cut back, so neither of us are working for his client at the moment. My one ongoing client has plenty in the works, but nothing moving. I have a list of topics to create marketing pieces and articles from, but they've yet to give me the green light.

Earnings -
Not great, but not dismal. I billed one client (yep, one) and have an invoice going out today for a second. I'm about $2,300 under my monthly target (I set aggressive goals). No excuses. I could've hit the marketing harder and suffered the job boards.

Bottom line -
MUST create new marketing plans and get them into action. It's time I rework my brochure, postcard, and put together a plan for a "sale" of sorts. Also, I've been toying with the idea of reviving an industry-specific weblog for two reasons - it's a great sales tool for those in my industry, and I love the topic.

How was your March?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Price is Right

Ruthibelle asked last week how to find what other writers are charging. Great question. Anne Wayman wrote a post about this a few years ago, and it holds true today. She includes a link to Eldon Sarte's Profit Goal formula, which I think is brilliant for determining how much you need to make to pay your bills and still have some left over. For beginning writers who are unsure where to start, this formula is a great place to begin and end. What he includes in the formula is a 6-hour workday, which will also account for vacation time, sick days, and time off for good behavior. What it may not take into account is that you won't be billing all of those hours. In fact, you'll be lucky to bill half of them. And remember, this rate is your profit, not your per-hour rate.

I double that rate. Seriously. My rate, which has held steady for nearly five years, is $100/hr. I was about to raise it when the recession came barreling into the freelance world. Taking into account my expenses, I'm probably bringing in a $50/hr. profit. Since I work on actual projects about 15-20 hours a week during a slow period, that doesn't add up to a lot, does it? However, there are times I work myself sick and double or triple that amount. But those weeks aren't typical.

Other writers - how do you determine your rates? Is it an arbitrary number? Is it your fee because it's what others charge, too? How did you come to that number and do you think it's viable for your experience and skills?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Just Call Me Disappointment

I knew when I was crafting the proposal last week that it wasn't going to fly. While the potential client had all the earmarkings of someone who understood paying fairly for services rendered, there was that underlying current of not understanding exactly what constitutes fairness. I can't blame him for not having the knowledge of industry-standard rates for writing, but I can't work for what he has budgeted, especially since the project required specialized industry knowledge and a background in the project he's proposing, which I have. When he saw my proposed rate, he was disappointed. Yes, I knew you would be.

Let's just say right here he was a nice guy and he was willing to think about my rate. Then again, that was before he saw it. His rate, it turned out, was a mere 10 percent of what I could do the job for and still survive (giving him a price break due to some existing material). So facing his "It's out of my price range" note, I had a choice - either accept it and move on or panic and renegotiate. Guess which one I chose?

I'm all for counteroffers, but I'm totally against lowering your rates below what you can afford to work for just to win the bid. A couple of reasons why - you lock yourself in at a rate that's nearly impossible to circumvent for any future work from this client(knowing that your client can't afford what you're really supposed to be charging). You'll always be known as the writer who will break her/his neck to do a job for bargain rates. And even if this client makes scads of money off your final product, the chances of you seeing a raise are pretty slim. Not that it can't happen, but I wouldn't look for it.

The other reason why I don't like lowering rates just to win work - you look desperate. Hey, maybe you are. But you've set the tone with your client that even you don't respect your talents. Why should a client care if you underpriced yourself and can't make ends meet? Think he's going to rethink what he's paying you and increase it because you're such a swell person? Right. Would you rethink sending the dentist a bonus because damn, that last cleaning was amazing? I'm just saying that not respecting your abilities enough to charge what you should opens you up to a general lack of respect throughout that project, such as the "Hey, one more thing" additions that get piled on to that already large helping of underpriced work, or a general feeling from your client that you aren't serious about your career - that it may in fact be no more than a neat hobby for you or that you're desperate and will work for nearly any rate. Not exactly the message you want to be sending, is it?

What do you think? Would you work for 10 percent of a project's true value just to get the experience? What are some of the offers/counteroffers you've received that you had to turn down?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When to be Unreliable

There are a few people from my past who keep showing up occasionally wanting favors. They don't ask how I am, nor do they care. They want help. Free help. And they want it yesterday. They're life suckers - they roll into my life and suck up any and all free time, help, money, etc. they can out of me, then roll back out like engorged ticks, satisfied. One in particular called three times in the same week recently asking for help on three separate issues. I help when I can, but when I'm being taken advantage of, I have a foolproof plan for halting the freebie train - I drop the ball.

It goes against everything I'm about to let someone down. I'm a helper. I'm a recovering codependent. I have to help or I work myself up over letting someone down. But it took just one or two serial life suckers to make me realize that frank talk, rejection, and saying no wasn't ever going to work. Instead, I said nothing. I simply let them make their case, responded with "Uh huh" at the appropriate times, and said something like "Well, that's a pickle, isn't it?" More often than not, I let these calls or emails go unanswered. I'm sorry - if you want to go to lunch or you want to touch base because you genuinely care about me, great. But if I see you or hear from you once every three years, you're obviously using me.

Whenever I'm caught in one of these conversations, I stop short of promising help. I say I'll see what I can do, but only when asked directly and ONLY when there's no way around it. Remember, "No" doesn't work on these people. I will do whatever I may have said I'd do, like in the last call from the one life sucker, I did pass along a call to an agency for her, but I'm not following up. They each have the other's contact info. In my opinion, that's the end of my commitment to this particular situation. I will not arrange everything for her as she expects, nor will I coordinate her schedule with the agency or help her with the paperwork. Grow up already. Oh, and lose my number, would you?

Another serial life sucker was thwarted by my moving from one town to another. Since he called me every 8 months or so, he had no idea (nor would he have cared) that I'd lost my job and moved in with my now-husband within just a few months. I thought about sending him a holiday card - for that's the only communication without strings he'd ever engage in with me - but I couldn't. See, each time he called, it was the same story. Help me. Be my reference. Write my resume. Let me treat you to dinner. And inevitably, he'd cancel dinner. Every time. I'd understand it if he had to cancel, but it was clear he never had intentions of picking up the check or even meeting an old friend (was I ever a friend? I wonder) to see how life was treating her. I'd take it personally, but he did the same thing with a mutual friend of ours. She got fed up about the same time I did. He'd made the same promises to her. And like me, she never saw a meal or even a face-to-face conversation with him. Luckily for her, she'd moved much sooner and therefore he'd lost her contact info faster. He's probably on to someone else by now.

These aren't clients, thankfully, but I have had one or two clients who have had troubles understanding the word "No." In those cases, I repeated myself in writing and refused to get into a continued conversation on whatever it was that caused me to draw the boundaries in the first place. I guess my point is it's okay to be unreliable when you've tried every other viable means of relaying to your client or your friend from high school or that old coworker that your free time is not up for grabs any longer.

How do you deal with a life sucker? Would you be able to be unreliable if it meant the cycle would break?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Murphy's Law and Putting Your Foot Down

It never fails - the minute I'm facing a slow day and I think maybe I'll take the laptop and disappear into the local cafe, the work comes flying at me like those monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That was my yesterday. Two small projects that I could have finished by 11 am were halted by numerous little projects that kept interrupting. I stood up at 1:30, frazzled and ticked off.

Mainly the interruptions were revisions to previous projects. Nothing major, but the proliferation of stupid questions yesterday was puzzling. And yes, there IS such a thing as a stupid question. (I'm working as a subcontractor, so the client's clients never know I'm involved, so I'm safe to gripe a little here.) The oddest question (and counter to my response) went something like this:

"What's the rationale for leaving off that one section of information? It doesn't list any specialized services." I looked on the client's client's provided info - nope, not there. So I asked to get that info so I might consider it. The response: "I'm asking why it was left off. I want your paid opinion for what the thinking is behind that." Uh, isn't it clear enough? My business card does not say psychic. You did not provide that info. Therefore... But in an attempt to please and not come across as snarky, I asked the client's client to refresh my memory. Sure, I look like I don't know what I'm doing, but the point is I'm not offending him by saying something akin to "Duh!" Let him be right in his own mind. It hurts you none. Seriously.

But in some cases, you absolutely must put your foot down. The clients are not always right. If, for instance, I'm putting together someone's press release and they want mention of their product and related awards, plus want it mentioned that they dined with Al Pacino back in 1995, I'm going to ask for not only verification of this, but also the ways in which that dinner may relate to the current press release. If it doesn't, hey, I'm not going to include it without voicing my objections and reasons for my objections. Name-dropping in general is just a bad idea unless you're trying to score a job with a celebrity gossip mag. If those celebs are endorsing your products, fine. If not, you're making an unfair (and possibly litigious) connection between a celeb and your product. No way I'm going to allow you to do that without telling you. And if you decide to do so after you know, I'm not your writer.

Have you ever had to say no to a client for his or her own good? How'd it work out?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No You Didn't

I was reading a fun post by Maria Schneider the other day about the stupid things people say to writers. Go read the "You Get Paid For That?" post. I'll wait....

So what was the stupidest/rudest thing someone said to you upon learning you were a writer? We've all heard the "Oh wow! I've always wanted to write a book!" response, partly because the world is full of frustrated writers. That one is almost forgivable. But what about those who say things like "Oh, how adorable." Or "Really? So you don't have a real job?" What's the worst you've heard?

I've had a few responses that put my back up. Probably the absolute worst was the stereotypical British snub. We were in Italy at an event for my husband's work. The man across from us (who was from England) was talking with my husband and they weren't agreeeing on something scientific. The man was trying his best to put my man down, but since my man was raised in the same country, he knew how to play the game, so to speak. Having had no luck, the man turned to me, looked me in the eye and said, "And what do you do? Are you in science, as well?" I said no, I was a writer. He stared at me for two seconds, then turned to the person sitting to his right and started talking to him, never acknowledging that I'd even spoken. That, friends, is a British snub. And I love the British - much fun on a trip normally. But this particular man was everything pompous and stereotypical of, well to be fair, of anyone who has to one-up someone, British or not.

What have you been subjected to?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Time Off a Deal Breaker?

Good news on the work front - a call came in yesterday from what turned out to be a potential client. Honestly, the client identified his company, but having at least 12 calls a day from telemarketers, it wasn't until I hung up I realized he was calling about work. He'd asked if I had time, which I didn't, so I scheduled a call for today.

That's okay, you know? Even if I had realized what he was calling about before hanging up, I'd have done probably the same thing. I was literally walking out the door. I was also not connected to my computer, where all my info on the job, my clips, and my experience sits. I like to be prepared. I may have lost one job once because I talked with the client on the spur of the moment and I left out a few key clips that would've proven my experience was what she was looking for. I won't do that again.

But then it begs the question - is time off unpopular with clients? If you choose to do business Monday through Friday and not on weekends, are you leaving a bad impression of someone who won't drop everything to please? Let's hope so.

I'm of the opinion you need boundaries. Even if that means losing one or two clients who expect you to drop all to work 7 days a week, so be it. Ten years ago when I was working with people who would schedule calls at 7 pm because they were still in the office (dumb), I marveled at how the mindset then was of drop-everything thinking. I did lose one client once because of my lack of instant availability. He worked until midnight on at least one occasion (time stamped on his emails). I did not. That was a problem for him, especially when I went on vacation and had the beach house booked the week before he called. He was outwardly put off by it. Sorry - "psychic" isn't on my business card.

The impression you should be leaving is one of a professional who isn't desperate. While it's okay to be eager to help, it does not mean you have to give up your life to please. I think given this economy, it's even more important to uphold the appearance of a professional who isn't so hungry for work he/she would take anything and do anything to make a buck.

What are your boundaries? Do you have specific hours in which you work? Are you available for calls at all times? Where do you draw the line and how do you protect your sanity and your personal life?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Even Cheerleaders Need Prozac

I didn't want to admit it, and I tried keeping my chin up and my cheerleader game face on, but it's no use. Work, right now, is mighty tough to come by.

Maybe it's not fair to compare one year over another, but last year at this time I couldn't keep up with the projects. I called in for reinforcements because I was in over my head. This year, the echoes are loud and long. I fear that folks who have laid off or terminated most of their staff aren't outsourcing - they're simply not doing anything at all.

To be honest, I'm not marketing hard right now. I'm putting out about two-three queries a week. The rest of my time has been spent with ongoing stuff and tying up an article that proved difficult to find experts for. And resting. For some reason, I'm feeling the need to relax and take a breath.

I know, I know. I have to get the brochures revamped and circulating. I have to start cruising the job boards for the gems (the process I hate most because of all the crap out there right now). More magazine queries, more client contact, more general promoting of the business and exposure to people beyond these four walls.

But what do we do when the work isn't there? I heard from another freelancer who uses my same temp service when things are dry. Even the temp agencies are laying off. Not good.

Time to get creative, but NOT time to lower rates or expectations. There are buyers out there. There have to be. Otherwise all magazines, advertising, and corporate communications would be gone. Sure, there are fewer avenues, but there are still avenues. Ever the cheerleader. But what about when the cheerleader needs Prozac?

What's your job situation like right now? How are you finding the work you have? Anything you've found to work well for you now? Now's the time for creative twists on our marketing. For instance, I'm compiling a mockup for a client to "sell" an ongoing project idea. It may never fly, but it will be a template to approach other clients, as well.

You?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can We Charge for It?

On Twitter the other day a fellow writer was lamenting how she'd spent quality time putting together a proposal for a client she suspected had no money. Turns out she was right. She wondered out loud (in Twitter Land) if there was something to be done so that she could stop spinning her wheels and giving away freebies. Had other writers come up with a solution to this decidedly frustrating situation?

I had a conversation with an interior designer once who had the same issue. She'd go into homes and give clients a top-to-bottom plan of how she would redecorate. They'd thank her, promise to call, and then use her plans without hiring her. After the third incident, she started charging for consultations. As she put it, "I'm fine with them using my plans if they've paid for them." Given her level of experience and her training, I'd say that's only fair.

We have experience and training too, you know. Yet we'll send out proposals, suggested strategies, and even outlines of work we'd do for a client who hasn't yet hired us. Why do we do that? We'll consider putting together a sample when we have scores of clips lying around. We don't ask to be reimbursed for fear we lose.... what? A job we don't have or an employer who already doesn't value our time and talent? Why are we so eager to stick our necks out and risk nonpayment or worse, theft of our samples (had that happen once) when we're not even sure there's a job to be had?

A few weeks ago I mentioned an ad that came in with an automated response. One of those "send us your ideas for revising" the website in question. "If we like your work, you're hired!" I had responded to one of those a month prior, but I kept it close to the vest. I gave them a response that told them when they hired me based on clips and prior work, I'd give them a detailed outline, but that their site lacked clarity, needed a theme, and needed direction. That's it. I teased them with some bullets of what I would do: things like "Determine direction and theme"; "Revise copy to match product offerings"; and "Rework product descriptions and overall flow." Sorry - without any money or contract, that's all you're getting out of me. And I'm glad I withheld since two weeks later an identical response to a different ad came back. Obviously, this is a ploy to get free help and not a legitimate offer at all.

As freelancers, we need to take more care in what we're willing to do in order to secure work. I know at least one freelancer who charges for samples and says so up front. I myself have taken to responding like this: "I'm happy to provide any of my free samples as evidence of my skills. For a more targeted sample, I charge $50 per 100 words."

Why not? If a sample or two of what we've already done isn't enough, I say it's perfectly fine to expect compensation for the work you do in order to complete the task. It's your consultation fee for your initial client contact. Would you charge for it?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And the Winner Is....

...Stacy Quarty! You are the winner of the Amazon e-gift card. Send me a note with your preferred email (just click on the link to the left there) and I'll send your Amazon card today!

Here's how we decided -

I went to Random.org and typed in numbers 1 through 10 as values (I'd posted at the #2 position, so I simply removed myself and moved everyone up one in the count). That made Stacy #5 and that's the number that was generated.

Thanks everyone! Since this seemed to be a huge success, I'll be trying this again in a few months - let's try for it on my self-proclaimed Writers Worth Day.

Per usual, I'm very glad for all your comments and interaction here. Thanks again for making this place a nice community of freelancers and friends.

What I Finally Get About Twitter

Update on the Great Social Networking Experiment

I get it, okay? I finally understand that Twitter, like any other social networking tool, works as well as you make it work. It takes a little time to get your rhythm, but it does work.

Here's what I've learned about Twitter:

Twitter in small doses. My first mistake was thinking I had to have Twitter open all the time. Twitter's a good ten-minute exercise, enough to see who's awake, who's around, and who's up to what. If Twitter is going off in the background all day, you'll never get anything done.

Retweet others often. The fastest way to make friends, beyond direct interaction even, is to retweet. Just hit "retweet" and resend that person's message to your contacts. A great way to help someone build a network or locate an expert for an interview (used a lot for that, in fact).

Relax and get to know people. I wanted to be like the others, but it wasn't until I relaxed that I really hit my Twitter stride. I stopped mimicking others' styles and started tweeting and retweeting and responding as I would an email or a blog post. Already I've made some new friends.

Follow carefully. I've un-followed only one person so far, but there are one or two I may drop if the relevance and content of their tweets stays the same. It's not that they're being nasty or weird - it's that what they post isn't my particular cup of tea. For instance, I don't mind political posts at all, but I do mind caustic ones (and one after another after another...) that demean one person or groups of people. Be nice or be gone - my Twitter mantra.

Stray outside your comfort zone. I love following other writers and editors, but I like following people in real estate, marketing, finance, tai chi, reiki, etc. If the person's Twitter profile is interesting, I'll follow.

Follow job posting tweets. Several exist. I follow:

@journalismjobs
@media_pros
@cwjobs
@mediabistrojobs
@freelance_jobs

I also follow some local job posting tweets for fun.

Post a personal blog posting. Once a day, I tweet my latest blog post. It's brought maybe one or two new visitors, but I refuse to retweet it and make a pest of myself. Once is enough. Better is to build the network so that folks will want to click on the tweet link.

Tweet carefully. I had an unfortunate conversation with a dude wanting info on a topic, only the info I gave him didn't fit his audience, he said. He assumed I knew his audience. I'm not psychic, so I disappointed him. Never mind what I thought of his communication abilities. Even after realizing his audience, I'm still convinced what I told him was relevant. I question his expertise now, but is that a true representation or the limitations of Twitter's 140 characters? Best to ask questions if you're not sure. Avoids unpleasantness on both sides.

If you are on Twitter, what are some of the things you've learned?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Three Years and Counting

Three years ago today, I posted my first blog entry and wondered "If I write it, will they come?" They did. At first in trickles, but three years later the Words on the Page blog is a thriving little community of commenters, online chums and offline friends who keep coming back for more. I'm honored, and I thank every one of you.

The first to arrive was Devon Ellington. She's been posting with me the longest, and her support, both online and off, has helped me in ways too numerous to mention. Thank you, sister.

When I started this little experiment, I wanted to do exactly as my tag line up there at the top of this page suggests - give some advice and share some ramblings on this career of ours. We've covered everything from cover letters to marketing and back. Sometimes commiserating, often sharing laughs, you have helped this blog live and breathe and you've become part of something very near and dear to me.

So in honor of my third anniversary of blogging, I'm inviting you to post your thoughts: Where was your career three years ago? How has your career changed? What has surprised you most about freelancing? Are you in a better place/worse place/same place?

All who comment are eligible to win an Amazon gift e-card courtesy of yours truly. Winner will be selected randomly using a random number generator. All posts dated March 17th will be considered. I wanted it to be a Guinness in honor of this most auspicious holiday (in my book, anyway), but alas, not all are drinkers. But you can buy a book on Guinness - how's that?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Giving Good Phone

Last week I had a call that was expected to take 20 minutes. An hour and a half and several failed attempts to interrupt the talker later, I made excuses and hung up. It was gawd-awful. Worse, the caller was offended when I halted the one-sided conversation. Devon came to my rescue beeping in on call waiting a few times to drive the point home, which was wonderful - thank you again for getting my back!

Only once before did I have this experience where the caller was in full monologue mode. At the time I was interviewing that caller for a magazine article when I was on staff. After 45 minutes of trying to steer him back on track and having him shout (literally) over my questions in order to give me the story he knew I'd rather be writing (as he put it), I thanked him quickly and hung up.

That it's happened to me twice is an indication that going forward, I need a phone plan. Thanks to Kristen for giving me some suggestions that work for her. If both Kristen and I have had issues, I'm sure you have, too, or you will. Either way, here's a working plan for keeping things under control when you're on the phone:

Preface the call with a time limit. In my opinion, the best way to limit an incessant talker (even before you know you have one) is to start the phone call by saying something like "Thank you for giving me 20 minutes of your time. I'll make this quick as you're busy and I've got another call coming in at X:XX." It's direct, it sets limits and helps you steer the talker back on track by pointing to the time. (Kristen's idea, and a good one.)

Send an email prior to the call detailing your time frame. It never hurts to send out the Outlook meeting invitation, but follow that with a quick note saying you'll be talking with this person between X and X:30 o'clock. It gives an exact window and allows you the opening to end things that are rambling into places unknown.

Interrupt. Your mother, your father, even your teachers have taught you not to interrupt. But when you have a serial conversationalist on the other end, you must. Otherwise you'll be growing old with a stranger instead of your family. Interrupt. If, as in my case last week, your talker talks right over you, continue interrupting with the person's name (thank you, Kristen!) until you get his/her full attention. Then express the need to get back on track so you can both meet other obligations (your next call, for example).

Notify your talker he/she is way off topic. Yes you can. If he's going on about his custody battle or dropping names at the rate you'd expect from People Magazine, there's nothing wrong in saying, "I think we're getting off track here. What I really need to know is...."

Plan a quick exit. Sometimes they come up for air, albeit briefly. Wait for it... then say "Well! Thank you so much for your time! I hadn't realized how much we've talked here. I really must go. But I do appreciate your time today!" and say goodbye. If that person starts talking, say in a good-natured way: "Well we'll have to leave that for another day as I'm all out of time here. Thank you again!" and say goodbye. Keep repeating. If you have to go there more than twice, I'm all for hanging up. Seriously. Yes, you could lose a client, but if that person isn't listening at this stage, it could be a nightmare going forward.

Feel free to move it to email. There may be edits for my project of last week, but there's no way in unholy hell I want to get back on that phone with that person. Being available by email gives a bit more brevity to the conversation. You may still get tomes of information, but now you can scan down to what you want instead of trying to stay tuned in as they give you every excruciating detail imaginable. And it allows you to get the person's full attention when you send back questions.

How do you get it to email? Simple. Be honest. "Since I'm trying to consolidate so much information accurately, it would really be better for me if we move to email. It helps me focus on what's important and keeps my follow-up questions more relevant to your project and less time-consuming for you. And it allows you to go over your points to make sure it's what you want to say." Don't go back to the phone no matter how much your client calls or asks for it. You've already seen it's not going to work for you. Feel free to say you can keep both of you on task better in email.

How have you handled phone calls from Hell?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Start Cheap, Stay Cheap

This is probably not what you want to hear during a shaky economy, but lowering your rates is going to backfire.

I was skimming back through my blog posts when I came across this one from 2006. At the time, I'd just had a client whom I'd worked for at a cut rate recommend me to his mother and her business partner. I was excited for the work, and then we came to fees. When I gave her a fair price, she dumped me. Seems she was expecting the same $100 work I'd given to her son. Even though he knew at the time that it was a one-time deal based on our ongoing working relationship, he couldn't help telling her "She's good and she's cheap!" Not exactly the image you want to maintain.

It's why I'm an advocate for a one-time discount in order to either keep existing clients or bring in new ones. Discounts are a way to say to your loyal customers - "I appreciate you placing your business with me." Discounts for newcomers allows them to feel a bit better about working for someone who's perceived to be flexible, even if it's a temporary flexibility.

Another way to offer a discount without making it a habit is by giving a "bulk rate" for clients who contract multiple projects with you at one time. I did this for a guy I was negotiating with. While that didn't work out for other reasons(he was clearly bargain shopping), it's still a great way to line up work, relay your appreciation to the client in terms of a discount, and secure a more trusting relationship going forward.

Are there ways you offer clients discounts without framing yourself as a "cheap" service provider? What has worked for you?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Pain That Gets You Right There

I've probably mentioned before having a desk chair that had me craving Fridays at 5. What I didn't tell you is the husband bought me a new one for Christmas - a top-of-the-line Big Girl Chair, with more adjustable settings than Craftmatic could dream up. Happily, I loaded my old chair into my car and left it at the local Goodwill store, for the chair and I may not have agreed, but someone else may be a better match.

That's when things went a bit awry. The lower back pain was almost instant. Okay, adjust the seat depth, tilt the back rest back a bit more, keep the 90-degree rule... Nope. I've been blaming my pain on my exercise regimen, but I know. It's the chair. I've just done one more adjustment - tilting the seat forward, hopefully taking pressure off my lower back. Ten minutes in, my kidneys are noticeably aching. This isn't going to work.

So how do you test-drive a chair? And we should be able to. Aside from the computer itself, that chair is the most important piece of office equipment we'll own. It can make or break us. When it fits well, we don't even notice. But when things are off, it's like being married to a tempest. It's the investment we should spend the most time, money, and thought on. But we don't - until something goes wrong.

Fortunately, he paid a fraction of what this chair is worth (it retails for $750; he got it for $88). If it doesn't work, I won't feel completely awful. His chair (same one in a different color) works well for him. Then again, he spends a few hours a day in it - not all day. Right now, given the troubles walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping this chair's caused, I'd pay a fortune for one that fits.

I'm giving this a few more weeks of adjusting, readjusting, and re-readjusting before I break up with this chair. Meantime, do you have a chair you love? Where did you get it? Does anyone know of a place to test drive a chair? I mean, really sit in it for an hour or two to see how things are working out? Chairs are like dates - a good one makes you want to stay a while longer. A bad one causes more grief in a short time than it's worth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Technology That Ticks You Off

Perhaps I shouldn't write when I'm upset, but that I'm upset in the first place is bad, especially since I should be writing instead of being upset. Did I lose you? Stick with me - it gets better.

I bought a digital recorder a while back - an Olympus VN-4100PC. Since my old recorder died (and I was tired of buying tapes), it was love at first hook-up. I quickly learned to set the microphone on Low to eliminate background noise, and the machine took me from zero to fluent in under 20 minutes. But there are flaws.

First, why would you manufacture a machine that doesn't have a power adapter? This thing doesn't eat through batteries, but I do a lot of phone interviewing. A lot. The lack of AC power has caused me a few panic-stricken moments during interviews when the power bars are dwindling.

And tell me why the software that comes with this beast doesn't work. Please. Someone tell me why a digital recorder with cutting-edge technology has such lousy software. I'm talking IF it works, you're limited to downloading only one of the four folders or everything on the recorder. Seriously. I can download either all of it or none of it. Usually my options are limited to nothing.

I've tried re-installing software. Again, repeating the same steps nets me the same crappy software. And online help? Limited to a manual that doesn't even discuss software, a FAQ that doesn't discuss software, and a support button that keeps you in the same manual/FAQ loop. No way to contact support other than screaming at the top of your lungs over the Internet. So I am. Right here.

I wasted an hour of my time trying to re-install, reboot, upload to different places, and just trying to get this recorder to function with some modicum of ease. Oh, and I went through another set of batteries trying all that. And let's not forget this was with an article due and a client call.

Anyone out there have a digital recorder? Is it the same or different? How has your experience been?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Discrimination and You

Thanks for all the great discussion around the WAHM post last week. I was glad to get such great feedback, and very happy Katharine brought up discrimination issues based on something an HR rep once said to me. She made an excellent point, too. What that HR rep said bordered on discrimination, if not crossed the line entirely. Not cool.

However, in the freelance world, discrimination isn't monitored. How we put ourselves in front of clients makes a difference. I myself wouldn't want to work for someone who would discriminate, but I'm also not going to give off an image of anything but a writer/editor. My Mom status has nothing to do with my skills. If I create an image in the client's mind that mixes both family and career, is that client going to think I'm serious about the career part when I'm not able to separate it in my own mind?

I mentioned this discussion to the better half. He'd never heard of a WAHM. His first question - "Why would anyone call themselves that? What purpose does it serve?" The only one I can see is it creates a community among working moms, which feels supportive. That's great. Let's just leave it off the marketing stuff, okay? I do think it pigeonholes you into a role that only a few clients might feel comfortable dealing with. The rest? They're going to pass you over because they can't see how a mom or a dad billing themselves primarily as a working parent (and you do, you know - all those qualifiers in front of the noun still point to the primary subject, which is that you're a parent) can focus on the work part and leave the parent part behind. And they're allowed to discriminate. No laws protect you as a contractor from this kind of discrimination. It sucks, but it's reality.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Huh?"

This is a totally off-topic post, so pardon the break in our usual writerly discussions. Just some things I've been wondering about. Feel free to add your own!

Why is it you have to have a Google account to be part of Blogger, but you can't use your GMail address as a logon? Every time I log in, I ponder this one.

Why is it AAA even exists? They won't tow the car unless it's within 100 miles of the destination and even then they'll hassle the crap out of you if you're A) not the member listed on the card but the member's child/spouse driving your car, B) not with the car (let's all hang out on the interstate berm for three or so hours, shall we?), C) not the member, who must be there when they come to tow it, D) not able to be added the same day and expect service (but you'll still take my fifty bucks the same day, right?), E) not born on a Tuesday on the Equator, F) not a member of Heaven's Gate Temple, G) not sure what George W. Bush's golf score is, or H) just wanting to get home or somewhere safe when you're stranded. Having just rescued my daughter and her friends this weekend (friend's car died two states away), I wouldn't have believed the hassle had I not witnessed it myself. They treated that girl like she'd robbed a bank.

And that's another why - why can't a 20 year old rent a car? Some companies won't let you rent a car until you 25, which makes little sense. A German kid I tutored once (he was 21) couldn't get a rental car to go on his cross-country trip. How limiting is that? Just pass the cost of insurance on to the consumer, fools! It's the American way, right? When my car was in an accident and my daughter needed to get to work (I was out of the country at the time), they wouldn't rent a car to her even when I offered to pay a premium AND showed them proof of insurance for her. Guess what? She drove it anyway because she had to. So there.

Why is it people use "supposably" when they mean a real word, such as "supposedly"? And for that matter, why do they use "weary" when they really mean "leary"? Are you tired or are you hesitant? I mean, if you're really that tired, perhaps you're weary of my conversation, but are you afraid to join in, which would make you leary? If you can't use it correctly, don't. Just. Don't.

What makes you go "huh?"

Friday, March 06, 2009

When to Let Go

There was a situation recently involving one of my clients and one of their customers. (Facts have been altered to protect those involved, including me.) The customer was considered a difficult sort and the client was scrambling to make her happy. From her first contact with them, she'd laid down the ground rules, which appeared from this side to be bark loudly and threaten to bite and make them jump over themselves to please. A job that normally takes a few hours and one person had been elevated to several days and numerous people. Admirable. But stupid.

See, I know how much this customer is paying for the clients' services. I also know how much I get out of that, and I can guess (conservatively) at how much each of the people on this job now are getting. The cost for the customer does not change, nor does the payout for the client. Yet there we all were wasting many more billable hours on this customer when the payout would be much, much smaller. And the larger question - would the customer even like the results? If not, there goes more time wasted.

To be honest, I'm the same way. I try to please and I'll go out of my way to make a client happy. But how many times I've probably worked well over my fee range to do so for the sake of repeat business or good reviews? More than I should have.

It's a fine line. We want to please, should please, should care about the referral or the return of said client. But there has to be a point when we realize the efforts involved and the mismatch of client-to-service provider just isn't worth it.

Do you know when to let go?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Craving Balance?

Good friend and exceptional coach Lisa Gates is offering something you'd be crazy not to snatch up - a free Craving Balance goal-setting teleclass. I said free, as in no money down, no payments ever. Having been fortunate enough to have attended one of Lisa's coaching sessions, I'm here to tell you this is a sweet offer. Knowing Lisa, it'll be comprehensive and ultra-helpful to your careers and your life.

Space is limited, so sign up ASAP. Click here to register.

Can You Barter For It?

Saw a segment on the Today Show yesterday about bartering in a tough economy. Everything from cars to vacations to haircuts to decorating is fair game. As things get tighter, how can we get what we need without spending money?

For about 5 years now, I've been bartering with web designer Kevin Prutzman (an excellent designer who hears what you want). He needed web copy - I needed web design. We've managed very well to give equally for what we receive. Our only agreement, the only one we've needed, is in email. In fact, I sent him a note two days ago about changing the colors on my site. In exchange, I worked up a marketing plan for his latest venture. To date, no money has exchanged hands, but we're both happy with the exchanges.

What do you need that you can't afford? What can you offer someone in exchange? Is this a good business practice? As long as you have a strong agreement, listing expectations from the outset, this is a viable way to enhance the business (or personal) without draining the account. Several bartering websites exist, including:

- FriendlyFavor.com
- Swaptree.com
- U-Exchange.com
- TrashBank.com

(Since I have no personal experience with any of these sites, approach with caution.)

If you're more comfortable making arrangements one-on-one, try asking on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, or anywhere you come in contact with business associates or friends.

Are you willing to exchange your services for maybe a trip to Paris? Would you ever consider bartering?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Blip on the Work Radar

It was more than a little scary to be driving late Sunday night from Manhattan to Philadelphia in a big snowstorm. I'm okay with the snow and driving - I'm not okay with being passed by idiots doing 70-80 when conditions (and warning signs) call for 35 and under. If I die at the hands of clueless jerks who think they're invincible, I'm coming back to haunt them to their graves. If they live. If not, I'll hunt them down in the afterlife and chew them out royally.

Before we headed to the city, we checked weather reports (it's what I do). Despite sunny skies and a near-balmy 40 degrees Sunday morning, a storm was on the way. I had deadlines Monday morning, yet there was a real possibility I'd not get home. The weather on this side of the state seems harder to predict, so it's always a crap shoot when you get such reports.

Either way, I prepared. I wrote down the contact info for my client. Had I been stranded, she'd have received a call or a text message telling her the situation. In most cases like this, clients will be able to rearrange. Having my backup plan in place, I cruised up the New Jersey Turnpike feeling a little more able to enjoy the stepson's performance in Manhattan.

But stuff happens, doesn't it? Power outages, snow storms, traffic jams, and, God forbid, accidents. Are we prepared from a work standpoint? Because we are minus coworkers, there's no one to pick up the slack and get the project going or completed. We're it. How badly would a minor inconvenience (or a major one) affect both clients and our careers?

That leads me to my questions. Is taking along contact info enough? Let's face it - not all projects are able to be put off. Should we have backup writers in place in case of emergency? What's the fine line between preventative planning and anal behavior? Will missing that deadline ruin our future with that client? If so, should we be anal for the sake of the career? Or should we decide that working with a client who would fire us over an act of God isn't worth the hassle? But is it that simple?

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are Moms Bad for Business?

I'm about to offend a lot of women who designate themselves as WAHMs - work-at-home moms. It's not an intent to offend, and it's not a character bashing. It's some advice on how to market yourself. Start first by removing the WAHM from anything associated with your business.

Thank God for Scott Stratten. He posted a video blog post at Jessica Knows that is exactly what I've been dying to say for ages but was too chicken to do. Well if Scott will stick his neck out in order to help you, so will I.

Think about it - if you're a mom (I am) and you work at home (I do), why exactly is that relevant to your job? My husband is a dad who works from home occasionally. What would he gain by saying so? What would he lose? What are you losing by telling everyone you're able to stretch your time and you mingle business and personal? You don't mix the two? Isn't that what you're saying when you say you're a WAHM?

I remember sharing lunch with an HR rep at a major corporation. She was spilling some of her peeves. The biggest - women who bring up family in a job interview. She said she removes them from serious consideration because that's someone who can't separate business and family at the initial stage of the process. She said most HR reps find the mention of family as a sign the candidate is not fully committed to career goals, or won't give 100 percent at work. (To emphasize the point, she said most men don't even consider bringing up family in interviews. Those who do are not considered, either. Fair play, as she put it.)

You are a writer/designer/fill-in-the-blank. You are also a parent. You may be a daughter or a son or a favorite uncle/niece/cousin. But how any of these connections can possibly be relevant to your career or how you're going to give your client what's asked for is baffling to me. And to be honest, I've often felt the WAHM designation was a bit demeaning to women and I'm surprised women adopt it. You are a business owner. If you were a man, would you list yourself as a WAHD? If you cared for an elderly parent, would you think anyone would hire you because you're a WAHC (work at home caregiver)? Do you understand why this can be harming you by creating a duality to your existence, thus splitting emphasis when it comes to your career?

Before you argue that telling the world you can multitask is the entire point of the designation, consider this: you have a ton of life lessons. Where you learned them is of no consequence. Would anyone care to know if I'd learned how to negotiate during a lengthy divorce proceeding? Or if my relationship with my parents is strong or tenuous? Does it matter that I come from a family of five or fifty?

What matters, what will always matter, is what you can do for the client. Don't harm your chances by making yourself out to be a less viable, less serious candidate.

All WAHMs - I love you all. Really. I am one. That's why I hope you'll take this post in the spirit it's intended. Calling yourself a writer and a mom in your marketing isn't benefiting you as you'd hoped. More than likely, it's harming you.

Thoughts?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Grammar Nails on Chalkboard

I received a nice note from Jo Anne, who stopped by here last week. She'd read a post or two about grammar peeves, and she brought up one of her own - the misuse of the word "myself" in place of the word "me." Example: "Jane and myself agree that proper grammar use is important."

Maybe some people think it makes them sound smart to use the word "myself" when it's obvious the words "I" or "me" belong. But unless your name is Myself, stick with a simple, and correct, pronoun.

According to my Harbrace College Handbook, revised thirteenth edition, intensive/reflexive pronouns "often refer to a noun or pronoun already mentioned in the sentence. They always follow the person or thing to which they refer." Repeat: They always follow the person or thing to which they refer. That means using "myself" in place of "I" or "me" is just wrong. The book calls out the rule even further, using a cute little "Caution" note/icon, saying this: "Do not use myself or me in place of a compound subject." And it gives a little example, phrased much like the one I provided above, and crosses out "myself" and adds "I."

So what's your biggest grammar peeve? I'm a bit tired of the misuse of then/than. I see it at all levels of education, and I nearly thrashed my child for writing an email that contained "then" where "than" should have gone.

How often do you run into grammar issues with your clients/friends/family?
Words on the Page