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Friday, July 31, 2009

Are You an Enabler?

I have to thank Kathy Kehrli for this link to a post by Angela Hoy. Angela's a champion in our profession - she has a system in place to chase down deadbeat clients and turn up the heat, getting many of them to pay. For that, we should all be bowing down and taking turns kissing that woman's feet. She's telling us all flat out - don't enable these fly-by-night job posters by accepting their wages.

But do you all listen? Many of you practice your profession the right way - you put a value on your services and you determine - not some fool wanting your work for free - what you'll charge. But there are others out there (maybe even lurking among us?) who will take whatever comes for whatever price in some vain attempt to gain clips or some modicum of a career. Yea, that's not working for you, is it?

Since Rome wasn't built in a day (nor was Los Angeles, but I digress), we may need to take baby steps. I'll be gone two weeks. Here's the challenge to you - I want you to turn down one lousy job offer and let that job poster know A) your rates, and B) that the rates offered aren't acceptable. You don't have to beat them over the head. In fact, politely decline citing both reasons above. Stay professional. You'll find it's the one thing you have that they don't, besides your talent.

Here's the other part of your challenge - work just a little bit harder to find a client who pays you what you're worth. You don't have to secure that client (though that would give you bonus points and hey, a paycheck), but just contact clients outside your comfort zone. Screw on that confidence and ask for the job like you would one of those $5 an article rip-offs. You have the talent, dammit. It's time someone pays you what you're worth.

So that's it. Turn down one lousy offer and approach one or more paying clients who put actual value on your skills. You've got two weeks to do it. Ready? Go!

I'll see you all on the 17th. I've left you in good hands. The next two weeks you'll be reading guest posts from some of my favorite people. I've seen the posts. You're in for a treat. :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Monthly Assessment - July

It's a day early, but I may be too busy tomorrow to post my monthly review. July started out rocky - most people are on vacation, so no real work to speak of. I sat with little to do until the second full week of this month. I decided to head up to Ontario to see the folks - that's when the calls and emails poured in. So the latter half of this month has been gloriously busy. A little too busy as I'm about to head out for a planned two-week work/play jaunt, but I'll take it.

Queries -
The beginning of the month I sent out a number of them. I stayed away from magazines except for a few inquiries for trip-related articles. I targeted clients in the industry. Nothing new. Nothing. Some months you win, some you don't.

Job postings -
There were a few I'd responded to, but not many. The terms in these things are getting worse by the hour, so I did my best to ignore job boards. The only place I found valuable postings was Anne Wayman's list.

Existing clients -
Here's where things really picked up. I picked up five new project possibilities and scored two referrals. To date, I've worked on four of these. Plus I have my one ongoing client work. Neither of the referrals are signed yet, but we're still communicating.

Earnings -
Better, but not great. I'm within $1,500 of my monthly goal, and I'm way under last year's earnings. I expected it, but it makes it no more palatable.

Bottom line -
The additional marketing helped. And oddly, scheduling vacations really boosted the workload (they sense it, don't they?). August is already partially scheduled, which is great because two weeks of it belong to vacation. My bank account looks like a burned-out bomb shelter, but I'm earning. That's always good news.

How was your July?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vacation Prep

With vacation time drawing nearer, I spent the weekend planning, packing, and doing chores outside (and working). I pushed the lawn mower around Sunday and then made the stupid decision to wash and wax my car. I say stupid because it was 85 and insanely humid here. That wash/wax nearly put me in a hospital. Funny thing about flirting with heat stroke - it muddles your brain to the point where you're pressing forward and reason isn't entering into it. I knew I was overheated. I'd go inside for a few minutes, down a few glasses of ice water, then right back out as if I couldn't stop. Like I said, stupid.

After all that work and all that sweat and that near-catastrophic incident, I decided to relax my muscles in a jacuzzi bath. I did relax - until I broke the tub. There's this intake drain thing on the tub - the cover had long broken off and is sitting in a cabinet. I had hold of a washcloth and let go of it for the 2 seconds it took to reach over my shoulder and hit the off switch. Before I could there was this noise - muffled and not good. And my washcloth? Where? Oh no. There went relaxation.

I'm hoping the pump has a backwash or some reverse-flow switch. I suspect it does, but it's going to require my tearing the panel off the wall, crawling under the tub, and checking. Otherwise, a plumber. If any of you have one of these monstrosities, can you tell me how to get a washcloth out of a pump or out of the intake drain?

I have additional work coming in on an ongoing project and have already tapped a writer friend for the work. He knows the client and the client's industry and I've let the client know/asked for the go-ahead for his help on this phase of the project. One less thing.

However, I did get a note from another regular client indicating work that I simply have to put off until I return. Everyone else has booked a place in line. It's great being this popular, but not right before a trip.

In the past, vacations or time away meant I killed myself the week before making sure clients weren't stranded while I was away. The difference this time - I'm making apologies instead of trying so hard to please. I know my limits these days. In any given day, I can't go beyond 10 hours without suffering for it.

I'm human. I'm not a machine, nor am I an employee or servant. I'll do my best, but I'll state my boundaries and respect my clients' boundaries, as well. My priorities are to my health and well-being and not to a project with an arbitrary deadline that must be completed at 10 pm on Friday. I've had only one client drop me as a result of my being out of the office. He never said that was the reason, but his fussing about my impending time off was all too clear.

How about you? Have you ever lost work because of a vacation? No great loss, is it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things I Ponder

I'm totally overworked today (amen - I have work!), so I can't give you long, thoughtful ponderings on writing. I can, however, share with you the junk in my brain that keeps me up nights. Add your own to the list. Oh, and if you have answers, I'd love to hear them!

Why do banks have braille on their drive-up windows?

Why is phonetically not spelled phonetically?

Why is abbreviation such a long word?

Why is it I can remember address numbers, phone numbers from the last 40 years, but I can't do math? Numerically adept and mathematically deficient?

Who DID let the dogs out?

Thong underwear - why?

Why do we hermetically seal things like pens but package light bulbs in light cardboard?

Did anyone else notice the resemblance between Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz?

Why don't more people get Eddie Izzard?

What do you ponder?

Monday, July 27, 2009

In Your Defense

There's a reason I stopped ghostwriting books. Well, there are several reasons - clients wanting to pay in royalties (if at all); expecting me to also publicize, market, and sell the book; wanting endless revisions even with a contract that stated otherwise; and the posse coming in to trash all the work the client and I had done to that point, casting aspersions on my abilities.

The biggest was the last one. I cannot convince people, no matter how much they're paying me, that the advice of friends, colleagues, relatives, and non-writing sorts should be avoided. I will never understand why they hire writers and editors and then follow the advice of someone who has no experience with book writing or editing. Hence, I don't take on private, book-length ghostwriting projects any longer.

However, avoiding ghostwriting does not eliminate the posse effect. Even a simple editing job or a writing job can cast doubt on you, the writer. It takes just one friend or colleague to say, "This is all wrong" to ruin a perfectly good relationship with your client. I know. It's happened to me more than once.

In the past I would worry, fret, apologize, and kill myself to please the third party. Now, I say goodbye. If there is no clause in the contract allowing for third-party review of the project, there is no way I'm answering to another person at the tail end of a project.

But what if the client suddenly sees something he doesn't like? All you can do is understand from the outset that every sentence you type or edit will be under scrutiny. Every one. Be prepared with justifications for your choices. Because style manuals vary greatly, because clients want what shouldn't be, because editors have varied approaches, and because sometimes things do get missed, there will most likely be the need for some explanation. Sad, but true. In a current project, my husband and I were discussing the meaning of "biweekly" (and the hyphenation some use). He said every other week. I said every week. Merriam Webster online said both. Uh, okay... Just cite your source. In fact, do what I do - choose a style guide at the beginning and stick to it like glue. It's much easier to justify your choices if they're consistent.

And sometimes style is tossed out the window by the client, only to come back to bite you once a posse gets involved. In one editing job I'd taken on, I followed to the letter the client's wishes while voicing my concerns that the sentence structure he'd insisted on wasn't proper. And naturally, three days before I was to be paid, he kicked up dust about those very sentences because some "editor" on his side thought I was a hack. I simply forwarded my emails stating those concerns and added that I would think the same thing of my work had I not been following my client's express instructions.

Also, there may be a third party involved that you don't know about. If the concerns are coming out of the blue, answer the concerns with a question - what prompted the concern? Was there something in particular your client saw that didn't appeal? Would your client like to discuss the concerns in detail over the phone?

How far will you go in defense of your work? How soon do you push the panic button? What's your strategy for halting any doubts before they get implanted? How often have you had to defend your work?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Exhaustion and the Full Work Day

It's only 8 a.m. and I'm ready to drop back into bed. Didn't sleep much at all last night. Between the hot/cold spells, the aches and pains (I feel so OLD some days), the pre-vacation brain waves, and the coming change in seasons that I can just feel, I was up beyond midnight. Like clockwork, my eyes were open by 7:20. I hate my own punctuality sometimes.

Today is full, too. Finishing a proofreading of 200 more pages (and I will finish, even if I have to nap in intervals), and calling a client to discuss another small project. But I'm spent before I start. If it weren't for caffeine, you'd be reading yesterday's post.

You're not getting much out of me today, folks. My apologies. But let's have a little fun. Where was the craziest place you've ever fallen asleep? Where was/is the hardest? How do you rest when your mind is still awake? I'll start:

Fell asleep in a car in Friesing, Germany. Pronounced "FRY zing" but it was "FREE zing" outside. We were flying out of Munich the next morning to go home, but there was a convention in town. No room at ANY inn. He snored and was cozy. I was in flip flops and wide awake, frozen. My shoes? In the trunk. The keys? In his left pocket. Long night.

I cannot sleep on that flight from Philadelphia to London. The "reclining" seats US Airways choses to give you? Reclines possibly one inch, but no more. Either sleep sitting upright or just complain bitterly the next day. Guess which one I do? This trip, I booked a window seat. There's a small chance I'll get an hour or two of sleep. But I'm not counting on it.

I rest my mind by either meditating lying down (easier than you think) or by doing the corpse pose and relaxing every muscle slowly and consciously. Puts me right out.

You?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Stress and Interruption Train

Ouch. Once again this summer, my sinus infection is back. The minute my ear starts to hurt, I know. I should. It's happened three times (four now) since May. I'd ignore it and simply overdose on Mucinex, but it doesn't go away.

But I can't be sick. I'm too busy. How do you deal with any illness when you're overworked? Today I have a houseguest (just for the morning then he's gone) and I have two projects, one with a 5 pm deadline. No doctor's visit today.

Yesterday was a day of interruptions - just a few from the houseguest, but most from others living here (at one point I was helping someone measure for a kilt - swear to God). We had visitors coming at 5 and someone (me) had to cook. Since the visitors all have special diets, I had to make soup, but it had to be from scratch, including the broth that goes in it. Where did my writing day go?

I've already decided to work a little this weekend. Nothing serious, just some proofreading. I'm taking two weeks off in August, so I have to catch up before I run off again. I have three clients waiting in the wings to get something going and I guarantee you one of them will call next week wanting something done quickly. I'll do it, but only if the pay reflects "quickly." I'm okay with a two-day turnaround on small projects. I'm not okay with a one-day turnaround on large ones, and inevitably those requests do come in.

I've realized that the more stress or pressure I feel, the more interruptions I suffer through. So no more. I'll get it done when I get it done. If someone needs kilt measurements, I'll spend fifteen minutes with that and not worry about the time away. If a guest comes in and wants an airline ticket printed, I'll do it. I'll make it up somewhere, sometime, somehow. Stress has never solved anything for me, and I'd bet it's not solved anything for you, either. Why are we so eager to invite it in?

How do you regroup when it's obvious your day is out of your own control?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

But What About How Much You're Worth?

My favorite Avid Writer Kimberly Ben has a great post up this week about why some freelancers (not her, so don't give her grief) choose to work with content mills instead of traditional freelancing routes. The idea came to her after reading a discussion/debate on a forum where some writers were defending, even justifying their decision to stick with the $20-an-article work. Give it a read and come on back. We need to discuss. Go on. I'll wait....

Here were the main points Kim pulled from the discussion:

1. Writing for content mills is less stressful.
2. Don't have to spend time marketing for private clients.
3. Writers can put more focus on writing for themselves.
4. You can crank out several articles quickly.

As you may have seen, I commented. How could I not? These writers were justifying their reasons, but none of them were addressing the key concern I have with this - they are accepting a tiny fraction of what they are worth and they're working just as hard to get their $20 per as I am to get my $1 per word (maybe more). Why? If you read through the list of reasons above, one thing comes glaring out - this is a lazy way to work. It's all about no stress, no effort, no hard work, and no income beyond the passive type.

I saw a few comments in which the writers were upset that other writers (us non-content mill types) were calling them hacks or otherwise demeaning what they're doing. Sorry - you get no pity from me, folks. It's about valuing yourself as a professional. If the value you place on your talents and your hard work equals twenty bucks, I'm thinking the issue isn't how others view you, but how you view yourself. If you don't want to be called a hack or if you expect respect from others, try respecting your own talents first. That starts by turning down jobs that aren't paying you even minimum wage. If you're a regular reader here, you know how I connect the dots between the lousy wages others accept and the denigration of freelancing rates on the whole.

Let's face it - the Internet is loaded with passive income "opportunities." Content mills may be paying $20 per now, but the more content they get, the less they'll need that next article. Today's $20 may soon turn into $1. At what price do you, content mill writers, say enough is enough? At what price will you say I'm worth more? Why not do it now, huh? The clips you have may be many, but are they edited, are they worth sending to another potential client?

Oh wait - these writers say they're not interested in marketing. However, marketing is essential to the life of any business. Even content mill writers have to convince the mills (to some degree, though I'm pretty sure it's an easy sell) they are worthy of that twenty bucks.

I spend a whopping two hours a week on marketing, if that. Wow, tough work, huh? And my stress level may be somewhat higher, but it's not because I don't have enough money to cover my expenses. The argument that one can turn out articles faster falls flat with me. I've written any number of articles that pay 200 percent more in practically no time whatsoever. And time to write for myself? Yes, I schedule that because I put my own writing first. I focus on that, which makes the rest fall into place and makes Lori a much happier camper.

So writers - do you write for content mills? Would you do it exclusively? If you do, tell us about it. If you don't, tell content mill writers why.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Time Suckers

Life coach and friend Lisa Gates has a wonderful workshop for women called Craving Balance. In it, she shows us how to reorder our priorities - not carve out time for things we want to do, but how to shift our focus so what we want is front-and-center. Amen, sister. It was one of the most beneficial workshops I've ever taken.

Part of the workshop deals with saying no. I was way ahead of Lisa's course on this one as I was inundated with time suckers not long ago. I learned to say no. I had to. After a few summers of fending off constant requests on my time, I knew if I didn't say no to my family, my career would suffer. Just because I work from home does not mean I have time to take you to the mall, drop you at the train station, make an appointment with the plumber, make airline reservations, etc. I will do all those things for you - after hours and only if I don't have my own life planned instead. My car doesn't have a taxi meter (though I'm considering one for some "residual income"). I know some shorthand, but I'm not interested in learning how to schedule all your appointments.

A number of writers I know use virtual assistants to handle their business details. Has anyone used one to organize the family's requests? I'd pay. I'd gladly hand over $40 an hour to free up my own billable hours instead of taking yet another break in my day to explain why I work - hard - even though I'm sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt.

What request is the toughest for you to turn down? Mine would be a request for a ride to the hospital, though I'd be tempted to call an ambulance and keep typing.... (just kidding).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Want Work? Go Away.

I'm baaaaack! Miss me?

My never-fail system for pulling in tons of work - go away on vacation. While I was gone, two more projects hit my in box and a potential third one is looming. That's added to the ones that came in right before I left. Again, we all know that projects are not set in stone until the contracts are signed, but two are definites and another is a very strong possibility. And Scotland is two weeks away. Yikes.

Had a great trip. Caught a few notable fish (not huge - the fishing was way off this time), but I have plenty of stories about the ones that got away! I promise not to avail you of them. It was great seeing the parents and spending quality time with them. They went out of their way to entertain me. Unnecessary as I was going out of my way to entertain them. They spend months in Ontario with each other - company is relished.

It was a cold, windy, occasionally wet trip. We had a fire in the wood stove one night and I moved from the unheated cottage to the main one that night. Like a dummy, I forgot to pack socks. I did toss in the sweatshirt, which was worn during the day, too. The day before I left, the temperature went up to 25 (C) - 80 farenheit. Then it was time to leave.

The mosquitoes bit in places you wouldn't think they could find. I sprayed my jeans down (a must - they really are wicked), missed spraying the sides of my jeans, and now I'm littered with bites on my hips. I can't say what I called them when I woke up Saturday scratching.

Just as I expected, I was lying there at night listening to the loon in the bay and the chipmunks talking under the cottage and blam-o - another plot point in my book popped into my head. I worked out a major secondary storyline, making me even more excited to get back to it. I promised writing coach extraordinare and my chum Lisa Gates I'd have the book done by November. Mind you, her goal was to get me moving and I'm sure if it took me until December she'd never fuss, but I'm goal-oriented. I said it. I mean it. I do it.

So, how was your week? What's new with all of you? I missed you!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's Wednesday - Have You Marketed This Week?

Ah, caught you napping! Well, that's projection. You caught me napping. I'm hopeful that by the time you read this, I'll be sleeping in and being utterly lazy.

I did get another potential project late Friday, so I'm content to jump ship knowing I can let the marketing slide this week. And you? How's your workload? Have enough? If not, here are a few of my earlier posts on marketing. Maybe something will resonate with you.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Finding the Clients

Marketing 101: The Approach

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gone Fishing

Yes, I'm still gone (in more ways than one). Here's one of my favorite videos. What do you think of it?

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 10, 2009

So Long, Farewell, Au Weidersen, Goodbye....

Wouldn't you know it? I'm leaving tomorrow. I get a call around quitting time yesterday from an existing client - he has a project for me. Great! I'm happy to oblige, but it really must wait a week. There's the project I was hoping would be waiting when I return. Amen.

Spent a very long day at the computer yesterday, sitting down around 7:30 and getting up sometime after 5. I decompressed by making my smoked gouda risotto and whipping up a pitcher of sangria. About a glass and a half in, I was relaxed and laughing with the family. Then we spent the evening right in front of this monitor - until 11 - arranging our flight to Scotland. So today, I'm spent.

I won't be leaving behind a trail of posts to keep you guys company while I'm gone. There was too much to accomplish this week for that. If I get time today, I'll put something together. If not, I apologize. But I hope you'll come back on the 20th. I'll be here, hopefully refreshed, definitely filled with fish tales.

Meantime, I leave you with this video, which I hope will make you smile. Have a great weekend and I'll see you in a week!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I Can See the Exit...

After I'd alerted the parents to my impending visit, the work came piling in. I'm not saying one or two projects - try six. At once. All due - this week. Luckily a few of them took less time than I expected, though they were still required detailed work and some lengthy hours.

It's a good thing, too - you who read every day know there was a slump going on here that was working my last nerve. But amen, the marketing worked and things are looking up. I'll probably not hit my target this month either, but at this point I'm not expecting it.

I leave in a few short days. Today will be finishing up those projects and doing more marketing. I'd love to have work sitting here waiting when I get back. I'd take it with me, but there's no Internet connection (or cell phone service) in these woods. Amen. I'm forced to relax.

Mind you, we here are also planning our Scotland trip for three weeks from now. That means today and tomorrow are going to be crazy busy, what with laundry, car prep, Scotland planning, marketing, and hey, even some of that pile of work left to do. Plus my sick devotion to posting here every weekday. It's when I'm glad I was blessed with the organization gene, enhanced by training at the knee of the most organized list maker on the planet - my mother. It'll all happen. The question is will it all happen without a migraine at the end? I'm even prepared for that. Better living through chemical means.

What concerns me isn't getting out the door on time (I'm also cursed with obsessive punctuality). It's coming home to idle days. In past experience, work dries up after a rush, especially in the summer. I can't afford it to, so I'm hoping a few of those feelers and marketing pieces I put out today and tomorrow hit their mark. Not to mention two weeks in Scotland. Does anyone else notice each time there's a vacation, the checks come in after you get back?

What happens if work arrives while I'm gone? Not much. I have an away message. I've alerted the regulars to my temporary retreat. If it comes in, they wait until I return or they press on without me. Nothing I can do beyond that.

Or can I? I have kids here at home who can check my email and call me should something critical come in. But in this case, I'm going to say nada to that. The place I'm going is pristine in its solitude (and fishing - my gawd, the fishing!). I'd rather not have work invade there. In Scotland, I probably won't have time as we're traveling with other kids. The option includes asking trusted writer friends to check my email and respond (or take on) anything that comes in. I keep a finder's fee of 10 percent. The writer gets the added work and a nice check. It's a good deal for both.

Do you have something similar in place for your extended vacations? Have you ever had a writer cover for you while you were gone?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Technology and Your Brand

Thanks again to Bob Calandra for his insights and advice on how to create value and repeat business in a shaky economy. Again, if you want to pick up his book (and I highly recommend it), you can find it at Amazon.com.

One of the book's tips is "Add Technology to Your Brand." That begs the question - how much do you need? It's not enough to be email and Internet savvy. In my opinion, writers need to know at least one publishing program and should have a basic understanding of HTML tags. Trust me, the latter is easier to learn than the former, depending on your publishing software. But what about extras?

I have a job coming in this week that came through referral from a dear friend who's on vacation. She was explaining what the client expected and told me her usual method was to edit it on paper and fax it back because she didn't have PDF editing capabilities. When I said I could edit in the PDF, she said jokingly, "Don't steal my job!" Not that I could - she's the best editor I've come across. I'm flattered that she trusted me with the project.

I'm lucky to have a spouse who needs these things for his work. As a result, I'm loaded with extra applications. Dreamweaver? Sure. Access? Got it. Photoshop? Illustrator? Check and check. Mind you, I'm clueless as to how to use much of it - so far, no jobs have required these. But they're there should I need them. And I have both Quark XPress and MS Publisher, which are similar. Having worked on PageMaker, I know they operate the same, but with some significant differences in what you can/cannot do.

So what do you need? If you had a wish list of software you'd like to own, what would that include? What have you found most useful? What software, beyond Word, do you use most often? Any recommendations? Warnings?

And if you don't have a website, put one up. They're cheap, they're essential, and you don't have to be a web genius as many providers have templates. Or hey, hire a designer and give a fellow freelancer a job, huh?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Keeping Your Freelance Job

When good friend and former colleague Bob Calandra told me he was publishing his newest book How to Keep Your Job in a Tough Competitive Market (available at Amazon.com), my first thought was it's about time. That's for two reasons: 1) the topic is as timely as it's ever going to get, and 2) Bob and I commiserate regularly on the cyclical nature of our collective freelance existence. It's about time he established a firm foothold in the book world. He was one of the two most reliable, trustworthy, and prolific freelancers I worked with in my former magazine position.

As I read through his excellent book recently, I realized that while the tips work well for corporate America, quite a few of them are easily adapted by us freelance types. Bob graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the book, his take on freelancing, and how we can keep the gigs we have by using tips from his book.

How did the book idea come about?
The book idea came from my agent Ed Claflin. A friend introduced us in June 2007 when I was trying to sell Rehirement. The premise of the book was that, given economic conditions and how leveraged Americans are, most boomers would not be able to retire and still maintain their lifestyle. My agent liked the proposal, but much to our surprise publishers didn’t.

A year later, Ed called. An editor from F&W Media wanted to know if Ed had a client who could write a book about how to keep your job when everyone else was losing theirs (the original title of the book). Ed thought of me. To add weight to the book I asked Michael J. Kitson, a friend and highly successful Fortune 50 executive coach and consultant, to become co-author.

How can freelancers use these tips to improve their careers?
When I started writing the book I never envisioned it being used by anyone other than corporate workers. But the more interviews I conducted and the more Michael and I talked, the more clear it became that these tips were for everyone earning a living. The book ultimately is about creating a career plan and then executing it. Take the tip, Think Like a Chess Player. World class chess players don’t think one move at a time. They think four, five or six moves ahead of the game. They know where they ultimately want their pieces to end up. By thinking and planning far in advance, they can adjust to their opponent’s move and still reach their goals.

For freelance writers the tip’s message is to think through your career, not just tomorrow but five years from now. What is your goal? Where do you want to be five years hence? Why do you want to be there? How do you plan to get there, and what are you willing to do to attain your goal?

People should view the 101 tips like a cafeteria menu where they can pick and choose what they need to advance their careers. Just glancing over the TOC I identified 46 tips that freelancers can apply to their work. For instance:

-Build a Reputation as a Hard Worker
-Be a Low-Maintenance Employee
-Set High Standards for Yourself, and Then Exceed Them
-If You Make a Mistake, Own Up to it Immediately
-Dress for Success
-Blow Your Own Horn, But Never Too Loudly.
-Add Technology to Your Brand

As a freelancer yourself, what were some of the tips in the book that you've found most useful?
Of course, Think Like a Chess Player. As a freelancer, I always prided myself in having a reputation as a hard worker. Also, I always strived to be low maintenance, while setting and then exceeding the highest standards for myself. Those things, if done right, become what you are known for, or what we call in the book, your brand. Editors look for people they can give a job and forget about it. As a freelancer for People Magazine I got the tough assignments, my editor once told me, because she knew that I would deliver with no fuss or muss.

I also try to be civil to everyone, even interviewees in an adversarial interview. A couple of others I use are:

-Always Carry a Business Card
-Get Experience Elsewhere – what you learn working for free can wind up becoming a story or develop into a good source.
-Create a Business Network
-Know How the Company Views Itself
-Represent the Company (Client) with Style and Grace
-Inspect and Maintain Your Bridges
-Be Self-Assured But Not Arrogant

A few of the sections in the book talk about dealing with conflict. How can freelancers apply that advice to dealing with clients?
I would say always take the high road. After all, you are a freelancer. When it flows downhill, you are always going to be the one it hits. Freelancer equals expendable. So why lower yourself? But it is also why it is important to establish your brand as a class act. In fact, your brand should exemplify civility, if for no other reason than it is simply the right way to treat people. In a dispute, assume that the other person is driven by the same thing as you – that is doing the best job possible. By doing that you create a common ground and a foundation for that person to trust you, which changes the dynamics of the situation. Of course, it may not change that person’s point of view or the outcome, but it will solidify your reputation and brand as someone who treats others with respect and civility.

As a freelancer, you know the constant battle we fight to secure a fair wage. Any advice within or beyond the book for freelancers facing a tough economy?
I think the book has a few good tips for any economy, but especially a bad one. First and foremost is Blow Your Own Horn, But Never Too Loudly. Translated it means market yourself. Another important tip is Quantify Your Value. Show your client how working with you works for them. To do that you have to Take Care of Your Customer (Client), and Know Your Customer’s (Client’s) Customer so that you can deliver focused, pertinent information in your story.

Also, in a down economy, be willing to Defer Some Rewards. That doesn’t mean giving work away. Never give your talent away. But instead of your normal per-word-rate be willing to give a one-time discount. Or offer to throw in a free sidebar or include a shorter version of your story for use online. A freelancer also has to know When to Trust What Management (Client) Says and be as aware as possible of Trends and Changes in your client’s office. In bad economic times your network can help you, if not find work, then with support.

Oh, and one piece of advice that is always important in good or bad times – Take Control of Your Career.

Freelancers - how do you hang on to your jobs? How do you create value right now?

Any questions for Bob? Feel free to leave them here in the comments section!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Working for the Weekend

Now that I've planted that ear worm firmly...

Because things were slow, I decided to head off to spend some quality time with the parents, the husband, and the fish I'm about to catch (there's confidence for you!). And because I made that decision, the work came rolling in. I mean, where last week there was a drought, this week is a monsoon.

For that reason, I worked this weekend. I don't do that normally. In fact, I fence off my weekends, protect them, and enjoy every lazy minute of them. But if I want to play, I have to do double duty this week. And there won't be enough hours in the day - this I know already. And let's just put the cherry on top - I can't relax until things are done. As my mom used to say when we wanted to run off and play without doing the supper dishes, I'm the "get it done so you can sit down" kind of person. Thanks to Mom for that work ethic.

I didn't - wouldn't - work July 4th. But July 5th, I managed to get out 2 blog posts, some editing, and a press release. I know I have a client project from Hell returning today (no worries - it's a client of a client and there are no traces back to me, so no way to embarrass anyone). It's a revision that last time took entirely too many edits and too much input from a very demanding sort. I don't look forward to this. But knowing other stuff is hanging over my head - I wouldn't sleep at all if I didn't get a jump start on it. So I worked on a Sunday.

How about you? I know some of you work weekends or whenever you feel like it, not setting hours, but rolling with your clients' needs or making it up as you go. Do you work holiday weekends, too? For those of you who, like me, set hours and guard weekends, when do you make the exception?

By the way, pop on over to good friend Kirk Petersen's blog and wish him a happy first blogging anniversary! His blog is chock full of insight and good spirit.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Our Business Model is You're Wrong

Thanks to Sid Prince for sending me a link to a Wall Street Journal article that's a mirror image to my ongoing eFax problem. In the article, Jason Zweig relates his story about a defunct AOL account that had somehow incurred charges. When he received a call from a collection agency, Jason decided to call AOL. It went downhill from there. In an almost identical way, the company argued that he, not they, made the mistake/ordered the service/is in big trouble. Reading his story, I became frustrated all over again. And I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it.

What's upsetting me most is that this is becoming the new business model. Some companies - big ones like AOL even - are adopting a "customer is wrong even when we are" attitude. For some unknown reason, these companies are operating under the premise that squeezing unnecessary charges out of new customers, former customers, or existing customers is somehow going to help them reach their profit margins.

What's funny about this is we talk to each other. In fact, social networking is so ingrained in our psyches that we not only blog about it, we Twitter it, Facebook it, Link it In, and send our upset out in multiple ways to multiple thousands, who then pass the word down the consumer food chain. In both these examples, neither AOL or eFax will be getting business anytime soon from readers of Jason's publication or this blog. If someone posts the link to his blog or mine on Twitter, it's doubtful those readers will want to spend quality time with these merchants. So exactly where is this hard line with customers going to take them? Is that flushing I hear?

So, you guilty companies, hiring cheap help from another country to man your customer "service" lines and argue endlessly with your customers - how is that saving you money? Creating an unwelcome, unruly atmosphere around your products and, more to the point, your services is already starting to bite you in the backside. Who wants to deal with people who are building a reputation of bullying, hiding charges, and doing all they can to help their customers part with their money unnecessarily?

Readers - what are your horror stories?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring

So I took Devon's advice and decided I'd spend yesterday getting busy on one of my books (actually couldn't decide which one at first). When I opened the document and started typing, the emails started coming in. First the request from a regular client for more work. Cool. Easy job, quick cash, fast payment. A few minutes later, here came another email from the same client. He asked a question and asked for a price on a different project. Within three emails I had another job. Really cool. And the book editing contract I've been waiting for the last three weeks? There it was in the next email. Really, really cool.

I went over to my other email to "clean out" and see if anyone from any of my groups or Twitter got in touch. Wouldn't you know it? There was an email from a long-ago PR contact. Would I be interested in working with them on various corporate client projects? Would I? Darn right I would. Best is I'd befriended this particular contact ages ago and we remembered each other well. She'd moved to a new place and another PR person from her old place passed my name over to her - I'd befriended that person, as well. Amen. I love it when being genuine with someone is remembered! And at the end of the day, my girlfriend came over and shared a little wine, then handed me a project of hers. She's going on vacation for a week and needs someone to cover for one of her regular clients. What a nice way to end the work day!

It's because I decided to go on a vacation. Did you ever notice the minute you get your mind in that vacation mode and decide "Maybe next week is the week I'll get in the car and go", they sense it and hunt you down. Amen, too. I'd much rather take a vacation with some cash in my pocket!

But it's pretty tough to get back out of that vacation mindset. Still, if I really must get away, I'll look at every opportunity and work it out on the schedule. I've been idle for a short while. I'm itching for something productive to do. And one project I know I can take with me - and I won't mind at all. That's a first for me.

Still, not all of these projects will come through. They rarely do. Some of them will disappear before contracts or prices come about. I had a month of that last month. Three projects vanished in one day, and two looked like sealed deals. You just never know. That's why we keep marketing, isn't it?

Is your Murphy's Law identical? Do you have work pile up just before you head out the door for some R&R? Have you ever lost a gig because of your time off?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Branching Out

Even though some months are painful to review, I'm glad I do monthly assessments. It's so much easier to pull myself back on track monthly rather than trying to recoup tons of lost dollars and clients 8 months or so out.

So now to the recouping part. My usual methods have fallen flat with just a little success here and there. Obviously, we have that "R" word hanging over the world. I don't acknowledge it as I think it's poisonous to one's psyche and career, but the clients do. So I must adjust. After a private pep talk from Devon (thank you, hon), I decided to refocus on the fiction side. I've got the story written in my head and about 14K of it on paper. Time to go back to it. I still have three regular gigs - one that pays the majority of my current income, though it's about to become our slow season. I won't starve entirely. But this belt's pretty tight right now.

Devon said it; the minute I start focusing on my fiction, work will come. I opened the file yesterday to start writing and an email came in before I could put one thought down. One of the regulars wanted some more work done. Also, I'll be putting a sales letter together today offering a discounted rate to my regular clients. I know which clients need bigger discounts, so I'll try to accommodate where I can.

I know this slump is part of the cycle. It's also a reminder that nothing is guaranteed, that even the most aggressive marketing can net very little in the tough times, and that patience and perspective can get you through it.

Have you noticed work coming when you busy yourself elsewhere? Also, what is your most successful marketing approach?
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