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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monthly Assessment - April

Yes, once again it's time to bare our souls - or rather, our careers - to see how we're doing on our way to freelance success. Like always, I'll throw myself under the bus first in hopes you'll follow. ;)

April - what can I say? Taxes had me crippled the first week and a half, but I did manage to score another client and a few more projects from existing clients. But I worked myself nearly sick for my regular client. Luckily, this month's paycheck was ample payment for the added stress.

Queries -
I stuck with about 2-4 queries weekly, still not scoring any new work. My old stand-bys are still hiring me, but new magazines seem to be ignoring queries from untested writers. I could be wrong, but I think our window of opportunity is open just enough so that you can't quite latch the window, you know?

Job postings -
I did respond to a few select job postings, but a few turned out to be more wrath-inducing and time-wasting than anything. You've already seen my latest encounter with one job poster and how plagiarism is being remarketed. I landed one blog gig from a company that is paying decently and instantly - I think I'll love working with them.

Existing clients -
Amen for people who already love you and your work. Court them. Please them. Walk their dogs. Wash their cars. Appreciate them fully. I did ongoing work for two clients this month, which amounted to the majority of this month's invoices. One was a note to the client asking about a slightly overdue invoice. Got the cash and three more assignments.

Earnings -
Better than expected. Still under the monthly $5K goal, but not by much. In fact, I came within a few hundred dollars of it. I feel pretty good about that.

Bottom line -
Increased marketing did help, but not much as I didn't implement the brochure/postcard plan I'd set up (blame the IRS for sucking up the extra time). At the moment I have two key clients making up the majority of my income. That has to change. I need at least one more regular client, so May's efforts will focus on locating a more regular, decent source of income.

How was your April? How many projects did you handle and how did that measure up to your income targets?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Adding Value You Didn't Know Existed

If spending just a few hours researching could net you more value to your clients, and perhaps a little more money, would you do it? Sure you would, especially if there was a little more money involved. You're a business person. Business people don't walk away from cash, especially when it could be easier to earn than the cash we earn from our writing and editing.

It occurred to me after the last ghostwriting gig I had. Those of you who have ghostwritten will recognize this - you meet with the client, who goes over the project in detail. You take notes, you ask questions, and you brace yourself for the question or comment that always comes, one you haven't found a decent answer for. It's when the client looks at you and says some form of the following: "Where can I get this published?" or "Are you able to help me promote this?" And once more you have to tell your client, gently, that's not within your scope of expertise.

So why isn't it? It's not as though it's a big shock when they ask. We know it's coming. We stammer and possibly promise to look into it for them. But why aren't we already aligned with some publishing options, such as a list of agent names or a list of publishing houses? Mind you, that won't get you extra cash right away, but it's going to go a long way toward convincing your client that he/she's chosen a writer who understands how to move a book from concept to publication.

So how much help should you offer? That depends really on your comfort level and contacts in those areas. If PR is not your thing, that's fine. But why not have a list of PR contacts who work with book authors or publishing houses? If you're not into being a book agent, why not hand your client a list of book agents instead? It's the attention to detail that's going to win over a client who's on the fence. If you're armed with places for your client to go once your project is completed, you're going to give that person something no other writer's bothered to - a little streamlining of a new process for them.

If you write or edit books, this is a great way to beef up the credibility and possibly the income. If you write press releases, it never hurts to have PR contacts for those releases, lists of potential sources for stories from those releases, etc. If you write articles, why not befriend your sources? It's not outside the realm of possibility to bring up the other things you write about if asked, and it's a good idea to follow-up with a "thank you" and a link to your site or your samples. A current project of mine came directly from an article source. I wrote their profile for a magazine. They liked it so well they hired me to write a piece for their employee publication.

How are you adding value?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fighting Words

From now on I'm taking Eileen's approach to job listings - I'm not going there. For here's what happened last week when I did.

The ad was for a business article writer. The poster did write back. Let's just say for once, price wasn't the major issue. Here's the response:

"In most cases, you'd need to Google to find source articles/posts to blend & rewrite to 60% original. Then you would add a few sentences you think will give the piece more quality thinking / a good flow."

For those of you new to freelancing, that's called plagiarism. Making it "60% original" does not make it your work. It makes it someone else's work with edits. You can call it "blending" and "rewriting" all you want, but if it's not your original copy, you're stealing it. And don't think these freaks who post these ads are going to take the heat should the authors sue. You, my friend, are going to be the primary target.

I sent back a response to the poster, who also wanted to pay me a whopping $6 per 420-word page. I made sure to point out the plagiarism concerns that this person should also be considering.

You already know what the response was, don't you? Yes, the job poster sent a note full of justifications. "I'm afraid you don't know the entire process, only the set up that I was asking you to handle. There's quite extensive work that I do to edit and improve what's you would have given to me. If you had re-worked it to the extent I asked, I then would have had something fairly unique with which to do my own deep embellishes and improvements."

Whatever. Your own misspellings aside, you're proposing that your contractors steal someone else's work, rewrite parts of it, and you're paying them garbage rates to do so. Put whatever spin you want on it - it's still illegal and unethical.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Dose of Reality, Please

With the Second Annual Writers Worth Day coming up on May 15th, I'm looking for ways to introduce a little reality into the heads of writers who think $1 an article is a great wage. I saw the other side of the spectrum over the weekend when I saw State of Play with Russell Crowe as the lead character, a reporter for the Washington Globe, out to report a case. The message was that this character could solve mysteries using his pen and detective-like skills, and that he worked in a stereotypical newsroom, full of excitement, tight deadlines, and full of witty, brilliant people.

It's an image that's as unreal as the one portrayed by CBS Early Show of the woman who can sit by her pool and write for $1 an article and be able to afford that pool. It's also an image that's propagated time and again, over and over, decade after decade. Imagine my disappointment when I walked into my first newsroom as a stringer. There wasn't electricity in the air, people rushing about to meet deadlines, or even groups of reporters planning their next approach. It was a newsroom full of people who looked, well, bored. And no one was solving crime cases. No, they were listening to the police scanner and hoping something came up to write about that would sell newspapers.

But while that aspect of the movie put my cynical nature into overdrive, I was actually glad for the imbalanced portrayal. Maybe this overstatement of a reporter's abilities and job duties is exactly what we need right now. Let's face it - the image of us writers having value in the market has taken a serious pounding thanks to crap jobs generated by fools wanting to put up a website and monetize it and bigger fools who take the crap jobs at all. Maybe we need a little Hollywood glamour layered on thick to send the message that this is still a worthy, noble profession.

So Russell Crowe's character isn't making the paltry amounts of money that reporters generally make, and given his length of his tenure at that fictional paper, I find it difficult to believe his soul wouldn't have been sucked out of him and he'd not really care to solve a crime, even one involving his friend. But isn't it okay to let the world believe it, even for a few hours in a darkened theater?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Where Have You Been?

Writing chum Anne Wayman had a fun post up last week on her blog about the jobs we writers have had over the years before this one. Since I'm trying to get a ton of work done before noon so I can enjoy maybe an hour of this fantastic weather, I'm going to shamelessly lift Anne's idea.

What jobs preceded your writing career? Where were you before you were here in the trenches with the rest of us? Which one was your favorite? Least favorite?

My career path -

1. Fast food joint waitress (hated it)
2. Fast food fish joint waitress (still hated it, but not as badly)
3. Rawleigh products salesperson (Amway without the press coverage)
4. Licensed real estate salesperson
5. Stringer for one local paper, then another
6. Underpaid marketing person for an insurance agency (sorry Ted, you just didn't pay well)
7. Data coordinator in the Job From Hell
8. Senior editor for a national trade magazine
9. Freelancer

Favorite was senior editor. LOVED my superiors and my work. Then all went south when the superiors left and new people with new ideas that didn't include me came on board. Saw it three days into the new EIC's tenure. Cleaned out the desk a month before the actual termination (yea, they thought I couldn't see it coming - right!).

Worst job by far - the data coordinator job. I'm about to offend our gender, ladies, but working with a group of female managers is pure micro-management HELL. One woman, great! Two, pretty good. Five? Freakin' nightmare. When you ask your boss how your job fits with the jobs of your office mates and she says "That's not important", you know there's a disconnect. When you have to requisition the admin for a pen, that's too tight a ship. When you have to join a WATER club because that's the only way you can drink the water in the cooler, that's just plain nuts. When all 32 in the office get a collective chewing out because we're all leaving at 4:26 by the manager's clock when we're to be leaving at 4:30, you wonder why she didn't simply adjust her clock to match ours instead of assuming we were a bunch of slackers.

How about you? Where have you been before this?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

And Yes, We Should All Be Outraged

It seems the world is conspiring to make this Writers Worth Day more necessary than ever. Devon brought up on her blog a segment she'd seen on CBS's The Morning Show in which Daniel Sieberg interviewed a woman who writes by her pool all day (the segment is called Selling Online Expertise). I won't call her a writer, for a real writer wouldn't work for what she does - $1 to $20 an article. And she's serious. She claims to make $1,100 a month, but I wonder - does she sit by the pool 24/7 in order to accomplish that? Why in the world would ANY writer bust ass to put out 2,000+ articles a month when I can make the same money with, oh, ONE article? I'll tell you why - because that's one uninformed wanna-be.

I'm trying to be nice here and I really don't know why. Yes, you may sit by your pool. Yes, you may make that much money for all those articles, but why? Is it because you have a spouse who covers for you if you don't make your quota? Is it because you really don't want a career but just a hobby? If so, take up knitting. Spare the industry any more pain. Do you really sit by that pool all day or are you locked in the house until all hours because you have to churn out article after article? you, God forbid, just rework someone else's writing and get paid for that?

I sit by a lovely cherry tree. I have a wonderful view of trees and grass and the occasional deer or fox. I work hard, but I don't kill myself. And guess what? I make much more than that in a month. All original content, all at a fair rate, none of it paying anywhere near what this woman accepts.

We shouldn't be allowing this kind of report to go unanswered. We should NOT allow the notion that this woman's lack of discretion on what she'll take for a job is anywhere near a fair wage. I'm going to contact the show myself and let them know. And I'm spreading the word here and now.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Widget Anyone?

Here you are - the first annual Writers Worth Day widget in honor of the ... well, Second Annual Writers Worth Day, which is May 15, 2009. Mind you, I put this together myself and I am not a designer, so if the size is wrong, as I'm sure it is, I apologize. I have attempted to embed a link back to this blog for details on Writers Worth Day. It may work - it may not.

Please post this on your blog, your website, your email sig, wherever you can to spread the word and raise a little collective consciousness about our industry and our value.

Yet I'm Not Waiting

I joined Twitter because many of you convinced me I'd have access to, and possibly work from, other tweeters. Lo and behold, I did get a note from someone looking for exactly my writing experience, but I'm not getting the job. See, it's the same company I'd turned down once before. They pay well, but the stipulations weren't something I could live with.

You may remember them - the publisher was in no way interested in signing a contract with me after my initial article with them. In fact, he said he'd rather not because it wasn't necessary. But it became increasingly necessary as he spelled out the rather ambiguous agreement we were to have. I was to write 2K words. He'd pay me for what he used and round it down to the nearest ten. Couple things wrong with that, wouldn't you say?

When I insisted politely that we put it in writing because, as I put it, it would be a shame for me to assume I'm writing and getting paid for 2K words when he uses just 200 words. He countered that he'd never do that - he'd just not use the article if that's all he could use. And that was supposed to make me feel better? When I said I'd never in my career heard of anyone rounding down, he countered that he'd never in all his career had anyone question his integrity. And he was livid. Only ... there really wasn't a reason for him to be livid. I'd not said or done anything that was out of the ordinary scope of negotiations or business professionalism.

Let's just say there were many red flags flying. I bowed out and did not finish the second article assignment because he would not put in writing that I'd be paid for it. I doubted I'd see the check for the first article. To his credit, I did. But the allergic reaction he had to contracts made me pretty sure that there was something amiss. I know I did the right thing. So when the managing editor got in touch last week, I knew when I answered him I'd never hear from him again.

Employers - while you may need writers, you need to understand that we conduct business. We don't write for you based on blind faith. That's just plain stupid. And it's something you should never do, either. Again, stupid.

What's the strangest client situation you've found yourself in?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Worthy Activities

The Second Annual Writers Worth Day is less than a month away - May 15. If you're tired of low-paying job postings, tired of writers taking too little for too much work, tired of being told "But I spent all my money on the web design!", this day is for you. Since we can't change the industry from the pseudo-employer side, I'm proposing we change it from inside our own ranks. Here are some suggestions for you to join the cause on May 15th -

- Post to your blog. You can link here if you like, but it's not necessary. The idea is to spread the word about the cause in your own way, to become an advocate for the industry.

- Speak out on forums. Too often we see writers taking horrifically low amounts of money (or worse - no money) for their talents. If you see it happening, speak out. Educate these writers where they cluster. Be kind, but be convincing.

- Comment. Many of this blog's more interesting posts have resided in the activity in the comments section. If you see someone taking less than they should be, say so. Be bold!

- Twitter. Tweet your opinions about writers who devalue their worth. Tell the Twitter-sphere how we're no longer sitting still for the erosion of the industry.

- Email clients and writing colleagues. Those who have valued you in the past are strong supporters who could help change mindsets in the business world. You don't have to evangelize - simply send a notice to clients on May 15th stating the purpose of Writers Worth Day (to come here soon) and thank them for valuing your industry and your training. Might want to offer a discount along with your thank-you message.

- Hold teleclasses, online classes, email classes to educate writers. Newbie writers are lining up behind any number of writers in an attempt to cull information and learn how to start a business. Why not make one of those classes a lesson in rates, crap jobs, and how to set rates and hold firm to them?

Kirk mentioned a logo - I'm working on it. Those who are interested will be able to post the widget on their sites. I'm also considering putting up a Writers Worth Day page on my website to serve as a link to the widget.

What can you do to spread the word on the Second Annual Writers Worth Day? Please, if you want to start now, do it! It's never too early to tell other writers what they're doing to all of us when they give it away.

Any other ideas?

Monday, April 20, 2009

We ARE Worthy

Here's a scenario that happened recently -

Patient: "Doc, I have this sprained ankle. Can you look at it?"

Doctor: "Sure. Let's see what openings I have today."

Patient: "By the way, since this is probably just a sprain, it'll be a breeze for you to fix, right?"

Doctor: "We'll have to see if it is a sprain. I can't tell until I examine your ankle."

Patient: "But suppose it was just a sprain. It would be easy for you to fix, I mean, if it turns out to be a textbook sprain, right?"

Doctor: "Uh, I suppose so. But again, I can't tell until I see it."

Patient: "Here's the deal, doc. I know it's a simple sprain because I diagnosed myself on WebMD. So what I'll do is this - if you fix this little sprain today for nothing, I'll bring all my business to you in the future. All my colds, all my migraines, viruses, stomach trouble, everything. See, my health is a labor of love for me. I don't have a lot of money right now. So you work for me for free and in exchange I'll tell everyone I know what a great doctor you are."

Doctor: "Wait, I don't think..."

Patient: "Why not? You're one of a million or more doctors. Look, if you don't do it for free, there are plenty other doctors lining up for this ground-floor opportunity! Fix me for free and I'll refer you to my 14 remaining friends."

Doctor: "I'm a trained medical specialist! My training was extensive and I put 6 figures into my education! Are you out of your mind?"

Patient: "Actually, that's why I have 14 remaining friends. My free psychologist told me I was crazy and they all left. But I'm not! He just didn't know what he was doing. He wanted actual money for his work. I don't think so!"

Doctor: "You need to leave now. I'm unable to help you."

Patient: "Oh, so you're a quack! Don't mess with me, buddy. I'll ruin you in this town. Besides, I could tell by your first sentence to me you have no idea what you're doing."

Okay, so this is made up. And it's absurd, isn't it? Do you know any doctor who would treat a patient for free just because the patient promised ongoing work and a referral? No?

Then why do writers fall for this crap? If you've had enough, join me on May 15th to educate the writing masses. Post on your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, or on a friend's blog in the commments. Let every writer know that we do not have to accept less than we are worth. We don't have to argue, as Kimberly mentioned in Friday's comments, that raising our rates from ridiculously low to still ridiculously low is justifiable. We should be arguing that anything lower than what we'd make in an office is totally unacceptable. Look, we're never going to convince the job posters, the pseudo-employers, and the trolls who want it all for free or insanely cheap. So we have to educate our own.

If we don't this will be the new norm - I had a "you're hired!" note on Friday morning from the job poster who was not offended by my disclaimer. Alas, while he was indeed legitimate in one sense, he expects articles for a whopping $20 each. Researched articles. On a specific specialty that hey, not everyone's even heard of let alone read about let alone written about.

How many ways can that middle finger get exercise these days? I can list about five.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Our House In the Middle of Our Street

I'm heading back to my hometown today to see friends and family, but I wanted to share a little bit of Spring in Valley Forge with you. Here's the view from our driveway.

Happy Friday, everyone! See you all on Monday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just How Much Do We Owe the Industry?

You've heard me fussing and lecturing. You've read Screw You! and Kathy's outing of each pathetic job offer she comes across. You've read blog post after blog post deriding you, begging you, insulting you for taking any job that doesn't pay you a fair rate for your skills. You think it's because we don't want you to waste your time and talent. That's true, but the bigger reason I do it - I don't want you screwing the rest of us out of a decent pay.

It was a commenter here who drove the point home. She said she'd given her price to a local client and the client's response was to use those $4-10 a job postings as an example of why her fee was too high. That, my friends, is everyone's problem. For now the annoyance has become a real problem that every single one of us is facing.

I know many writers believe that letting the writers with no scruples take these jobs is keeping them out of direct competition with the rest of us. I used to think that was true. Now, I'm seeing how the actions of the unsure are about to come crashing down on all of us.

So to my question up there in the title - how much do we owe the industry? From this chair, we owe it to ourselves and our own future earnings to take a hard stand against scam jobs and to take an even harder stand against writers who take these jobs. If we can't convince them to have more pride, to earn more than minimum wage for skills others are getting hundreds an hour for, then we need to convince them that freelancing is not their industry. Sorry to say it, but there's no longer any room in this field for people who devalue their own worth.

So educate your newbie peers, and even those who are thinking that cheap is all there is out there now. It's not. It's just what they're finding because they aren't marketing themselves but rather taking the passive approach and letting the jobs appear before them.

In just a few weeks, I'll be holding the second annual Writers Worth Day, designed to help us recognize our value in the market and build our confidence and our cash flow. This year, I'm urging you with blogs to join me in spreading the word about the reality of these pseudo-jobs, minimum wage, and why writers can't take it anymore.

Are you with me?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Heart My Followers

I put up the widget a while ago, not expecting much. But you guys have surprised me, and I'm so pleased to see that this little blog has 42 followers now! Welcome to everyone, and please, join in!

Chuck posted yesterday (hey, Chuck!) with some advice and a link to a pretty neat marketing blog - I checked out the blog, which had some pretty cool articles on prospecting and sales. If you think you're not in sales, you're quite mistaken. We're all selling.

So how are you selling? Are you expecting the same clients and industries to feed your sales? If so, time to sit down and really consider what other industries could use your expertise. For instance, if you write for insurance magazines, why aren't you also approaching insurance companies or brokerages to take on some of their corporate writing (bonus points if you say because that's where Lori specializes and I don't want to steal her clients)? If you write for any industry, you can also write client and company profiles in that industry, or take on their weblogs, or suggest marketing pieces. I had a reader here ask me recently for some ideas on how she could get into freelancing. She worked in a firm that focused on environmental issues. My gawd, the things she could do given the current focus on all things eco! She was so excited to hear how her current job could map over into writing gigs, and frankly, it was there for her all along.

Look at your own background. Some of you are great at math. Some of you are nature buffs. Some of you enjoy astrology, astronomy, alternative medicine, medical writing, etc. How can you expand on your own experience to gain more work? I'm not talking about specializing, though that is something to consider if you want to really kick up the income potential. I'm talking about expanding what you already know or do into new areas.

So what market have you always wanted to break into? Let's see if we can come up with some ideas and grow our job possibilities.

On a side note, it came as a bit of relief to see that our own Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, navigated Turbo Tax in the same fashion I did. I don't feel so badly now. If the man running our banking system can get the same error I did, I'm pretty convinced the estimation portion of Turbo Tax may not be accurate. Though Geithner blames himself, I wonder. Yes, he should know better, but should I?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freebies R Not Us

Last week I applied for a project and this week, I received a response. Great! Except... yes, the old "sample of how you would handle this" request. Look, I'm all for giving you an idea of how I'd handle your gig, but "samples" are limited. This one asked for a small sample - 100 words - and it is on a fairly obscure industry (but I have written a few articles for that industry already). Noting the gang-emailing format, I decided what the hell - I'll give you 100 words. But for free? Nuh uh.

Here's what I put in the same email right below the sample: "Since this is a sample, it is not for publication anywhere without reimbursement. If you like it and would like to use it, I'm happy to discuss a fee for the sample." If this turns out to be a legitimate client, that line should not offend. Hey, I don't work for free. You billed it as a sample - a sample it shall remain until you find a way to pay me for it. If it is a scammer, the message has been sent - we're on to you and "free" isn't happening anymore. Since this is a weblog "post" sample, I'll know if it's used.

Given the collective track record of people who request samples, I'm not holding out much hope of this going anywhere. That's okay. I'm setting the stage for being treated more professionally. Funny thing is, if we allow even the scammers to dictate the terms to us and we don't draw our own boundaries, how can we ever expect to be taken seriously?

Do you let potential clients like this know you expect payment if they use your work?

Monday, April 13, 2009


Nothing excites me more than curling up on a rainy Saturday with a warm, cozy Schedule C. That's exactly how I spent my Saturday - glued to the tax return. I know - I was going to hire an accountant this year. I didn't. Why? Because time got away from me, per usual. I have made it a goal to make an appointment with an accountant before June. No more will I trust electronic programs to make my life easier. On the contrary, life, for me, became a bit of living hell thanks to that software.

It's no secret I'm not a math person. So it came as more than a shock to find out the "simple" software program designed to do all the work for me "guaranteed" screwed up. And if they're thinking I'm going to figure it out and self-correct, well, that's where they've failed big time. I used Turbo Tax. It's billed as easy. It is easy. Accurate? That's another thing.

I owed a whopping amount this year. Think the price of your first car - doubled. How can that be? I knew I'd make more last year - and I did - but I'd estimated higher, too. A $7K difference between the estimate and the actual earnings turned into about the same amount of tax. How? Because somewhere in the Turbo Tax brain, my estimated tax payments, which should have amounted to $2K a quarter, were calculated to $700 a quarter. And hey, don't expect me to catch that mistake. Remember, I'm the type of person they make these things for. In fact, I'm a bit disappointed in Turbo Tax. If they cannot program to my level of ineptitude, what exactly is the point?

I will say that this year's return was easier for me to fill out than in previous years, and that the online fillable forms at the IRS website are great - and you can file all of it right there for free. Since I'd done my math on paper with a pencil already, it was much easier to fill them out since these are just forms with no extra instruction. And this year's estimated taxes have been figured out with the IRS' help, not that of Turbo Tax. Bet it's more accurate, too.

But taxes are paid and life goes on. Are you estimating the same, less, or more work for you?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is Freelancing Dying?

Peter Bowerman had a great response to an article on the Is writing for the rich? article appearing in The Week not long ago. The author, Francis Wilkinson, is fairly convinced freelancing is not a lucrative field any longer. In his last paragraph, he says it all - if highly skilled, high powered people write for free, why should anyone else get paid for it?

While that statement alone is worth pondering all day (and arguing about how that in itself is killing our industry), I don't agree with the notion that no one can make money at freelancing anymore. That, my friends, shows a lack of insight into freelancing. Of course he's not going to see how it can be lucrative - he's not a freelancer. So let's tell him here exactly how it's working for us.

To be fair to Mr. Wilkinson, he's spot on about the fact that some exceptionally talented writers (or even moderately talented writers) are giving it away. It's why I beat the "Don't go there" drum every time one of those slimy job offers surfaces or why I can't stop fussing about the latest twist on the same crap job postings. We as an industry must protect our own interests. It's not enough to just let the foolish writers take the $10 jobs. For that just exacerbates our problem. The next time you try selling your rate to a client, you may indeed be facing the "But I saw 100 people online doing this very thing for $10" argument. We have to be our own gatekeepers.

Freelancing, from this chair, is not dying. It's growing. The article laments that newspapers are dying because they can't afford the rates from the "good old days." No, I say newspapers are dying because they won't afford decent rates. Same with some magazines who pay their writers sickly wages and wonder why they now need a revolving door for all the quick exits. The lousy newspaper writing he mentions in his article can be traced right back to the wages these places aren't willing to cough up to attract more talented writers.

You can't blame all that on freelancing, now, can you?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Yes Virginia, There Really Are Stupid Questions

Some of you asked about the service I'm using to identify "unknown" or otherwise blocked numbers on my cell. It's called TrapCall, and I found it thanks to someone on Twitter who'd posted a CNN article about the service. For the majority of the wireless providers, it's free.

No more calls. None. Miraculously, it has stopped completely. Was this last caller an actual client? Hard to say, but my gut was saying no given the amount of detail in the call, the way it was delivered, and the familiarity of the voice. I'd like to think no organization or person would stoop so low as to resort to those tactics, but I've seen too much. It could, and probably has, happened.

But it's been a week of weirdness. As I was explaining to one writing friend, the oddness seems to come at me like I'm magnetic or I have some orbit that sucks 'em in. This week I've had strange questions lobbed at me that were clearly not in my area of expertise - one was can you find me this particular bit of information? Sure - if I were a lawyer. When I put it like that, the asker said, "Oh, but the idea came from a lawyer." Really? Then why are you asking me? Ask the lawyer! I know why. Lawyers charge for every conversation. Maybe I should, too.

Another weird question came in on Facebook yesterday. Complete stranger with broken English (and he's going to try to convince me he's legitimate) says he wants a freelancer to handle a project for him. Great, but the part that made me delete was "for a nominal fee." I did ask - what do you think is nominal? I know what I think of it - I think it's an attempt to get a grammatically-correct document from an English speaker for free. Fat chance. Been around that block enough times to know it's not my neighborhood.

Let's not forget the one former client who wrote asking my advice on what kind of caption I'd write for something (I kid you not). When I mused about how the client should delve into the similarities and come up with words that describe that particular image, didn't I get a note back that said, "Really? What would you come up with?" Sorry - freebies R not us.

The full moon brings them out, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

I don't know whether to be confused or ticked off, though I'm leaning toward the latter. I received a number of hang-up calls to my cell phone again yesterday, and one very odd call to my home phone, which came right after a "private" call hang-up. Normally, I might think the message that was left was legitimate. However, I'm tempted to believe the caller was not who that person claimed to be, nor wanting to funnel work to me as stated. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I'm convinced I'm being harassed.

Remember the association I didn't join? The calls did seem to stop, but yesterday I received a larger-than-average number of calls to my cell (very few people have this number, but this group does) and another upsurge in home calls. That has me thinking the message stating that this potential client had been trying to contact me for two weeks or better and will take business elsewhere if I'm unreachable is a ruse. Maybe I'm wrong, but my instincts are telling me otherwise.

The caller was brusque - explained that there was work to be had but that I hadn't answered and this person had no idea why I hadn't called back. Here's a clue - you never left a message until yesterday, and even then, there's no call-back number. None. I cannot call you if I don't know you're there. Since I receive about 30 calls a day from unidentified numbers (and not work-related), I have to screen calls or I'd never get a thing done. Now, thanks to the message, I have to start answering every one. I'm not doing it to gain work - I'm doing it to prove myself right about who the real caller is and that person's agenda.

I state this here because I'm pretty sure this isn't a real client. Even if it were, do I want to work with someone who won't leave a call-back number and gets upset that I'm not answering messages that aren't left? I can help you, but you have to meet me halfway. As a working writer, I have to rely on answering machines so that I can free up my time to complete client projects on time. Otherwise, I'd be always on the phone. Any professional understands that - at least I hope so. If not, we may have a problem from the get-go.

I've taken steps to verify my suspicions. I'll share these with you once I see if it works. And I'll share the results.

Meantime, do you screen calls? If so, why? Do you have a dedicated work number, or do you use the home number?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Constitutes Conflict of Interest?

Over the weekend I was asked to work for a new client. Client B was the subject of an article I wrote recently for a Client A. They liked the article so much (and liked working with me, they said) that they called me first to handle their new writing project. I was tickled.

The question of conflict of interest came up. Since I'd written their profile for someone else, they said, would it be a conflict to write for them now on different projects? Honestly, I don't see how. The article I wrote was one profiling their company for a magazine. What they're hiring me to do is write profiles of their customers for an internal marketing piece. What's more, the article appeared already and I cashed the check for it mere hours before they called me. I based none of my article content on any promise or hint of future work (nor would I, but I'd avoid any appearance of such a situation just to maintain client reputations). Their article was written months ago.

But I did contact Client A to let them know. Look, if there's a conflict that they see, I'm open to hearing about it. I may not agree, but I'd rather be safe, and courteous, than to simply charge in and let them find out on their own. While in my mind there's absolutely no connection or conflict, they may have situations that have arisen in the past from these very types of circumstances. I do not want to damage my relationship with Client A, or their or my reputation, over another job.

Let me just say if it had been a case of working for Magazine A and Magazine B, I'd have a little trouble with one telling me I can't work for the other - unless, of course, they contract with me for ongoing content in exchange for my exclusivity. If I write one article a year for you, that does not constitute an ongoing relationship. Each publication gets from me my best. I would never - could never - attach my name to a substandard product that was intentionally flubbed to make a client look bad. Uh uh. Remember, MY name is still attached to that.

In one case, a magazine told its freelancers they couldn't write for a publication not because the content was similar - it wasn't - but because its former publisher was now in charge of the new pub. That magazine lost a TON of writers, not to that new pub, but because of that restriction. They were lucky - a few writers I know were making noise about suing them for benefits since they were treating them as employees and dictating whom they could/could not work for. Talk about dragging your private squabbles out into the public.

In situations like this, how much professional courtesy have you provided clients? Where, in your mind, is the boundary between a conflict of interest and your career progression? And at what point do you allow past relationships to dictate future profits?

Monday, April 06, 2009

An Open Letter to Coffee Shop Dwellers

Dear Freelance Laptop Nation:

I saw you. Yes, I did. Right there in every coffee shop and in every free WiFi spot in town and all around the region. You were sitting there with me, vying for that one outlet to share among a dozen laptop users. You thought you had it figured out, didn't you? No client could see you, none knew you were working in your track pants, unwashed hair, and in that one case, sporting a major butt crack and looking like a chewed hairball. Your work is virtual and there are no cameras on you, you say? I know the idea is to be comfortable, but guess what? I'm about to steal your clients. Let me tell you how.

See, I showed up at the coffee shop dressed for work. My hair was neat (and combed - please, people), my clothes were coordinated, clean, and appropriate should I bump into a client. Unlike you, I went dressed to impress. I had my casual work clothes on - jeans, but nice dark denim, a shirt that didn't scream office, but did say put together and with nothing inappropriate hanging out. I had on heels. I had on makeup. And I showed up to work, minus headphones with wafts of music blaring out from my ears, for headphones make it impossible for potential clients to talk to you. I had a pile of business cards in my laptop case and I left one behind on the coffee table as I left. But while I was there, I did my best to avert my gaze, for your "day look" was torturing me. And if I couldn't bear it, how could a potential client? News flash - they couldn't. And they wouldn't. I wonder just how much business you may have lost because potential clients took you as seriously as you took your appearance? Hmmm...

When you take your laptop out, you're in the public. Did you forget that? Business people lunch where you suck up free WiFi. Corporate types talk about projects within earshot, but how are you to hear it if your iTunes are playing in your ears? See, that's how I'm stealing your clients. While you're there living the stereotype, I'm there scoping for possibilities while I get some actual work done. And if that client happens to walk in, which of us do you think will gain his/her attention - someone wearing sweatpants and sporting five-o'clock shadow at lunchtime, or the one who put on deodorant and presentable clothes?

Really, I'm okay with you hanging out wherever you like in your jammies. In fact, I encourage it. I could use the extra work right now, and you'll be helping me out immensely.


The working writer

Friday, April 03, 2009

Associating with the Right Crowd

Recently, I was mailed an "invitation" to join a women's business association. After a cursory look on the Internet to make sure they existed and appeared legitimate, I filled it out the postcard and sent it back. Then the fun began.

I got a call from the group's "Executive Vice President" who wanted to ask me a few more questions to see if I qualified. She asked a few things, seemed to care, then congratulated me. I had passed muster. I was pleased for exactly 30 seconds.

In her "welcome" speech, she told me the benefits of my new membership, including press releases, networking functions, etc. It was when she asked for my credit card number for membership fees that things got ugly. When I said, "I don't give my credit card information over the phone or to anyone I don't know" she got pushy. She kept insisting. I kept refusing. I told her plainly that I will NOT give it to her. Period. It was her insistence that ticked me off. The membership fee - $529 for a 5-year membership, thank you. Are you kidding me?

At first I had told her I'd consider sending a check once I did more research on her group. She insisted I send payment ASAP so my biography could go in their directory. Whatever. I don't fold to pressure, and frankly, pressure like that is a HUGE red flag. You're up to no good if you can't understand why someone won't share confidential info with you or why someone needs to determine that their money is going somewhere legitimate. Since then, I've been getting numerous calls PER DAY from this group to my work phone AND cell phone (part of the application process was finding out my contact info for the "listing").

I sent an email to them a few days ago explaining that my financial situation has changed (the IRS wants about $7K out of me) and I would no longer be considering membership. Obviously, this one was NOT for me. Research shows it was an organization to help women advance at the office. Uh, there's one of me. Unless the goldfish is pushier than he looks, I'm as high as I can go. (Note: The group does appear to provide the services explained to me, so I don't believe they aren't legitimate. They just aren't getting $529 out of me, thank you. The phone calls appear to have stopped.)

But it raises the question of viability and sensibility regarding what associations/organizations you should be considering joining. I'm a member of one freelance union, which is free, and one communications association, also free. In general, I don't consider free membership all that impressive unless the group offers something valuable, in which case we should be paying.

What groups do you belong to? How much would you consider paying for membership? What justifies that price? How much is too much?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Here Comes a Rant

Let me just say this: I've been patient. Really, for me, holding my opinion longer than a minute constitutes extreme patience. But I can't hold it any longer. I'm about to get ugly on you - and it's about the rates you'll accept for the work you do.

Most of you here are already savvy to what you should be charging, and receiving, for your time and talent. For you, I say thank you. And I'm proud of you - you've shown great respect for the industry and for your own worth.

But for those of you who will accept anything below McDonald's wages in some lame attempt to get clips, I say this: thank you for killing us in an already impossible economy. For you don't realize that every single time you even respond to one of those "Get free exposure!" or "An excellent, ground-floor opportunity!" posts, you're validating the existence of the scum balls who post these scams. And they're scams, people. Check out Kathy Kehrli's post for evidence of how freakin' bad it's getting out there. Two cents an article - and some fools are actually applying for that.

Look, if you want to give your work away, buy a domain, put up a template website and post your work for free. At least then you're not dragging the rest of us down into the crapper with you. If you value your efforts more than that, AMEN. All you need to do is use this formula to determine what you need to charge in order to make more than a gig at McDonald's. If that's too much work for you, rethink the career choice. This is a business. It's not for dabblers. If you don't realize the impact your choices are on our industry, please don't play along. Or hire a writing/editing/life coach - someone who can help you solidify your approach, your business plan, and your goals.

And if that's something you'd rather not do, I hear those paper hats are back in vogue.

Writers, to help out our newbie counterparts, what's the lowest amount you'll work for and why?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Denegration of Freelance Writing

Now I'm ticked. There are a few places in my online world where I think I'm safe from the crap offers, the low-balling freelance rates (and nonpaying posts), and writers competing to do a thankless job for exposure. Can I vomit now? It's just creeped in to my LinkedIn experience.

It was a post in the Answers section of the site, but wasn't a question to be answered - rather, a lousy job that paid nothing veiled as some ultimate opportunity to get recognition nationally. I will say there wasn't a mob of freelancers lining up to take this "job" that guaranteed exposure to millions. The bottom line of this "huge opportunity" was stated thus:

1. Become a JV partner and write articles for our publication(s) in exchange for massive branding and sales opportunity. Most of our JV writers have products or services they promote and are making excellent revenue from the exposure we provide for them.
2. Become a ‘paid’ freelance writer and get paid by article that is accepted. We do have several writers on board now on a JV basis so we’re only accepting the best-of-best finance writers for freelance work.

First off, this poster doesn't explain anywhere what the devil "JV" means, but I can only assume nothing good. Junior Varsity? Juicy Vendors? Jacked-up Vagabonds? What?

Of the five people who answered, two were obviously on to this poster and let him/her know that any jobs they do would cost this person real money. But a few actually said, "Yes, I'm interested." Uh, are you serious?

I expect more from people at LinkedIn. These are serious professionals, or so they portray themselves. They're beyond taking such offers or even answering to them in any positive way. Yet there were those few who suggested they'd be willing to talk.

Worse is that someone on LinkedIn had the audacity to post such crap. I answered, but to pose questions as to the payment and the poster's motives in posting a job ad in the Answers section.

Has our industry really gone this far down the toilet? Is it now more common to see this crap than to see legitimate work? Where do people get off thinking they require top payment for their services, but won't fork over a fair price for the work of others?
Words on the Page