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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monthly Assessment - December

The last assessment of 2009 - can you believe it? Here we are, 12 months from when we set those business goals for this year. So how did you do?

First, looking at the year as a whole, I was off my mark almost every month, but somehow managed to come within $10K of my annual goal. As much as I denied and ignored it, the economy did have a large impact on my earnings this year. The sounds of wallets slamming shut came somewhere around May and only now am I seeing clients returning as budgets loosen up a bit. I lost two clients to budget woes and subsequently half of my income potential, which required a change in game plans. Gone was any chance of magazine work. Enter instead blog work, client Web writing, and resume work.

Queries:
There were just a few queries going out to some very select prospects. Of those, I have three potential clients who have expressed interest and two who have signed contracts. One magazine gig came from it as I wasn't ready to give up on the trade magazines. But the rest came from referrals and Twitter. I'm now a big believer in the power of Twitter.

Job postings:
I looked, but like last month, there was nothing. I don't waste my time if the job posting isn't matching my skills or earnings requirements.

Existing clients:
Earnings from three existing clients have helped keep me afloat this month. One other existing client is sending a contract, which I expect either this week or next. I'm in contact with clients who had to say goodbye thanks to budget cuts. If their financial pictures improve, I'm right there in front of them.

Earnings:
This month I expected next-to-no earnings. I was surprised to land a magazine assignment and have more work with a regular client than expected. I'm still off my monthly goal by $3K, but I made more than expected for December.

Bottom line:
Since it's December, I was pleasantly surprised to earn anything. But I'd taken steps early in the year to secure ongoing work, which kept things financially sound going into the holidays and right through a rough economy.

I'll never again doubt the power of Twitter - I signed with a client who found me on Twitter. Another client has been in contact because of Twitter, and as soon as her workload clears, we're going to talk. That makes four clients from Twitter since I signed on in January, including a few month break where I didn't open the Tweet Deck at all.

Networking has netted more business than queries and blind emails, but I won't ignore queries or emails because they still work.

How was your December?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Your Invitation

Yesterday I invited you to commit to a monthly assessment for each month next year in an attempt to kick-start your career. I realize it was an unofficial invitation, so I'm here to remedy that. Here's your formal invite:

Who: You
What: Monthly Assessment of your earnings and career plans
Where: Right here
When: The last day of every month
How: Post a comment giving a snapshot of your activity for the month. You can include actual figures or percentages of your earnings - whatever you're comfortable with.
Why: To remain aware of how your career is progressing, and to gain valuable advice and support for your efforts.

R.S.V.P. here today. A simple yes or no is fine.

Will you join us?

FYI: Devon Ellington's Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions is an excellent blog to help define your career and keep it on track. Devon's been doing this for years and has perfected methods of setting goals and attaining them. She has a great post that describes the process. I suggest you read her entire blog, as well. Excellent stuff as only Devon can provide!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Forget Resolutions

I'm not a fan at all of resolutions. I think they're lies we tell ourselves in order to wash away our guilt from the previous year. We promise to be good. We promise to achieve X, Y, and Z. And if we don't? We'll be back next year at this same time, making promises up the wazoo again.

So here's what I'd recommend. Instead of spending this year making useless resolutions, make an earnings plan. Spend the time you'd waste wishing away those ten pounds actually doing something. Instead of empty promises and inertia, spend five or ten minutes with a calculator deciding how much you want to earn in 2010. Pick a number - any number. Yes, if you want to make $100K, choose it.

Got your number? Now divide that by 12. See that new number? That's how much you have to earn monthly in order to reach that $100K. By my calculations, that number is $8,333 and some change. That's how much you have to bill monthly. And yes, it's possible.

But funny thing about goals is that unless you're accountable to them, they're no more useful than resolutions. So here's what I want you to do. Once you figure out a monthly number you can live with, one that makes you giddy with delight but not dizzy with anxiety, tell someone about it. Tell a few someones about it. Find a way to be accountable for that monthly target. No cheating on this one - if you don't own up to what you did or didn't do, you're as good as toast.

I'll make it easy for you. All this past year I've posted my very own monthly accountability post right here. Go on, look. I'll wait. It worked very well to keep me on track and always looking to my monthly target. So I'm continuing that into 2010. And guess what? I'm inviting you to visit here at the end of every month to report your own progress. If you commit right now to telling the good and the bad of your month, I'll return the favor. You're in good company here. We've all had super months and some pretty lousy ones, so sharing is our way of supporting and giving the much-needed pat on the back.

So who's in? Let's start right now. What's your intended earnings goal for 2010? Let's commit it to writing, shall we? Let's not worry about how we're getting there. That will come in time. Right now we want to challenge ourselves and take hold of our earning potential.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Worthy Tip: Say Thank You

I haven't been around since the 19th, but I've kept these posts going in hopes of connecting with you who are still working through the holiday.

Since the holiday season is a reflective one, this week's worthy tip will be, too. It's a simple one - say thank you to your clients. While it's too late for the holiday card, it's not too late to send a New Year's card, wishing your clients prosperity and thanking them for their continued business. If you're inclined, you could add a one-time discounted rate offer, maybe attaching a deadline of two or three weeks out.

When was the last time you said thank you to your clients, excluding when you finish a project?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why I'm Not Famous

On Monday, I had a fantastic, insightful, girly conversation with chum and life coach extraordinaire Lisa Gates. Before I go further, I highly recommend you make quick over to her website and join her amazing new Life Balance Blueprint Clinic 2010. It will change your life, and your work, for the better. Seriously.

So Lisa and I were doing what we love doing best - getting into those esoteric, philosophical discussions about life and road blocks and all things that make us nuts and happy at the same time. I was gabbing on about some idea or another and she said, "You need to be famous." I laughed. She said, "Seriously, you have these terrific new twists and perspectives." I sloughed it off at the time, as we females tend to do when faced with compliments, but I couldn't shake it. Why did she think so? And more importantly, why wasn't I famous?

I read somewhere: If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right. We have a lot more control over our careers and our direction than we give ourselves credit for. So the obvious answer to Lisa's ponderance is this: I'm not famous because I've not tried to be.

Did you ever notice those friends or relatives who have lives that just suck? They're the ones who are always in the middle of another drama - financial, health, kids, family feuds, whatever. It seems each time they get over one hump an even bigger one awaits them. How much of that is actual bad luck and how much of that is negative energy drawing in the bad stuff?

I've always believed we create our own realities from our perceptions. I was married once to someone who was afraid of losing me. His perceptions led to his protective behavior, which led to tension and argument, which led to divorce and loss. Sure, there was more to it than that, but at the core, his reality played out because he bought into it.

So, do you want to be famous? Me too. For me, my fame would be building a community, building an expertise, building a lucrative, satisfying career from what I've learned and what I can teach. Okay, goal defined. Now, how am I getting there? For me, it's reaching out and starting online courses, maybe an e-book, and certainly some one-on-one teaching opportunities with new writers or writers wanting to improve their business techniques.

So what about you? What does famous look like to you? How are you getting there?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why I Won't Follow You on Twitter

Happy impending holiday to all who celebrate Christmas (and warm thoughts to all who don't). Just for fun, I thought I'd share some of the things that make me avoid you on Twitter. No, not you, but YOU, hiding there with that red face. Here's why I won't reciprocate your follow:

1. You tweet the same thing over and over. Once a week, fine. But if that once a week pitch you're sending out is the only tweet you send, that shows lack of respect to your fellow tweeple. And it's selfish.

2. You don't retweet others. It takes no time at all to hit that "retweet" button. Really. If you see something you like, that shows everyone that A) you actually read things on Twitter besides your own brilliance, and B) you seem to care about helping others get their messages out.

3. You send me an automated response. Oh gawd. How impersonal! Your note, saying in effect "Thanks for the follow! Come see me at my blog!" is basically saying "It's not about you, really. It's about how many people I can get to follow me in one day."

4. You send automated responses with nasty links. No, I don't want to take an IQ quiz to compare my brain power with yours. I don't know you and at this early stage in our relationship, I don't care. Frankly, any automated response gets my back up, but the ones with links to information collection sites or some other link that's useless to anyone beyond the sender are particularly heinous.

5. You've been around for about a day and haven't posted anything beyond "I'm here." Call me a skeptic, but I want to know you're a real person, not someone about to flood my TweetDeck with self promotion.

6. Your picture is, well, too revealing. If you're a porn site, say so. Don't put pictures of large assets and come-on tweet lines like "Ooo, you're going to looove this!" You'll be gone in a second, but it's just a waste of time linking to you then going back to block you.

Tweeple, what sets up the red flags for you?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Difference Between Content and Content Mills

Before you flog me for entering back into the content mill debate, know that I'm not. Nope. Told you, promised you, and I'm sticking with that. But one fallacy that's floating around must be addressed - the use of "Web content" and "content mill content" interchangably. If you do this, stop it right now.

There's a massive difference between the two. For instance, Web content I've written includes e-newsletters posted on a client site; website copy for an entire client site; weblog posts; online brochures; online white papers; and articles that were placed - you guessed it - online. Conversely, content mill content is housed in one place for one purpose - to populate a site and generate more keywords to increase the Google rankings of that site owner. This doesn't include e-newsletters, online brochures, website copy, or online white papers. Articles? Yes. The difference, however, is one has a very specific audience. The other, not.

Then we come to the issue of payment. At no time was I paid $5, $10, or even $20 for my Web content. I was paid hundreds and even thousands for my content. Big difference. And what the client ordered was very specific to an industry, an audience, or a marketing need (beyond driving up Google traffic).

Web content writing may encompass content mill writing, but it isn't by definition the same thing. No way.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the Season

Ah, Christmas and the New Year - a time for reflection, reminiscing, and getting screwed along the way. Huh? As the new year approaches, I've been inundated with "You've been accepted!" notices from associations and organizations I've never heard of. In one case, I know it all too well.

I suggest you hand-select your own association to join. Don't let them come to you. If you actively search for, research, and locate your own group, there's less chance of paying substantial amounts for little benefit.

Also, it's the time of year when the job offers come out of the walls. I've had about a dozen this last week, all from places promising "We need writers!" and "Work at your own pace!" Do yourself a favor - delete. If there's no clear indication who the client is, what the work entails, and if they know your name (big clue if it's addressed "Dear Writer"), it's not an offer that promises your rate on your terms.

What's been in your in box lately?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Separating Fact from Fiction

I love a good scare-tactic email, really I do. But they're only effective if your audience is somewhat dumber than you are. For example, I received an email last week pontificating on the healthcare debate - the email expressed grave concern because "Congress and the Prez" are exempt from what's written in the 28th Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United
States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives,
and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or
Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the
United States."

Frightening, right? Only... there is no 28th Amendment. We stopped amending at 27. Go on. Check. You'll see.

With the proliferation of false statements, bad reporting, and general falsehoods on the Internet, writers should not take anything on fact unless it comes from a credible source. Not that we do (and frankly if we do, we're not very good writers) When in doubt, check it out. Snopes.com is my favorite for locating the source and the status of rumors (True or False labels are clearly posted, along with a lot of research showing the genesis and variations on the themes).

It doesn't take a lot to identify advertorials or smell something fishy when someone's beating the "Aren't they special?" drum too loudly. There are a few blogs I read that I'm sure are products of paid endorsements. How do I feel about that? How would you feel about that?

Have you ever encountered an email, a Web article, or a blog post that made you say "Hey, wait a minute"? How did you resolve it?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Writing Freebie

I read with interest and a little more sarcastic laughter than I'd planned a post or two by people on other blogs basically scoffing and calling professionals who hold themselves to a higher earning standard hypocritical. At issue - the fact that we "bemoan" writing for too little, then post free weblogs. Oh, if only we could teach them something about marketing, eh?

Yes, this blog is free for you to read. I don't get paid for it. If I did, would you trust a word I say? If someone (say a site devoted to raising its own search results within Google) paid me to tell you about how to earn money as a freelancer, exactly how would my advice be of any use to you? Those who tisk-tisk writers with active weblogs are missing the entire point of a weblog - a place to market your ability to write, to build an audience, and to establish a viable online presence. If you write for the Web at all, you need these very skills.

It's also a chance to connect with clients, other writers, and a much wider audience. Keyword searches have brought readers here from as far away as Thailand and Kuala Lampur (seriously). I've also seen searches for keywords that have brought readers here who are looking for things like "insurance", "assessing writing projects", even "do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" There you are in Yuba City, in Bullhead City, in Singapore and Amman searching, finding, and making your acquaintance with yours truly.

Also, writing a free weblog is self-serving in another way - you can honestly say to your next blog client "As a matter of fact, I host my own blog. Here are my visitor stats." Nothing says "successful marketing tool" like a proven track record that was fun to build.

Mind you, I get a whopping $5 a month from Google AdSense, which no, isn't really worth it since I've yet to see an actual check. But that's not why I do it. Instead of busting my hump writing for strangers who are paying me peanuts so they can make scads of advertising revenue, I'm marketing for myself and leaving a tidy trail of bread crumbs for clients who want to know if I can relate to an audience or build a sustainable online presence. I've tied this blog to social networking tools like Entrecard, which drew in about eight visitors Wednesday alone. I tweet the occasional blog post, drawing in more readers. I've seen the Followers numbers go from around 48 to 106, so something's going right. What's most important - I'm establishing a specialty and a professional presence online for all to see.

I'm not saying everyone should rush out and put up a weblog. I'm saying if you find yourself wanting a new area of marketing, if you want to branch out and flex a creative muscle beyond writing emails to your friends, try it.

So bloggers, tell these scoffers why you blog for free. Tell them what they're missing, will you? And tell them why it's nowhere near the same as writing volumes of untargeted content.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If It's December, It Must Be June

Short and sweet today - I'm trying to get a holiday going here.

Diane Parkin is ahead of the rest of us, and I thank her for it. Did you ever get a great idea about a summer vacation, but can't market it because hey, it's summer already? Diane's posted some excellent prompts on her blog that remind us June is six months away - time to get busy.

This week, as I wrap up a small amount of work and concentrate a lot more time to marketing - more than 15 minutes :) - I'm going to remember Diane's reminders and send out those queries that require a longer lead time.

This is also the time to go over my marketing plan and business accomplishments for this past year and see where things worked and where they didn't. I urge you to do the same. I'm not one to go for "resolutions" at each new year, but rather an ongoing resolve to mind the details.

So what ideas have you been hanging on to in hopes of marketing them at the right time? Is now your right time?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who Wears What Pants?

With the Internet world still reeling from James Chartrand's recent confession, we're all left wondering exactly what gender has to do with anything. But it does, doesn't it? Whether you're a writer or a CEO, you're judged on many factors, gender being one of them.

Think about how many times you've encountered gender bias. I can think of a few. When I shopped for my car, I had a young salesperson showing me a car. He was helpful - a little too helpful. Maybe it was his inexperience talking, but he actually said to me "And look at the emblem. Isn't that pretty?"

Was he kidding? No. He was pointing out features he thought a female would want to see. You know me - I had to say it. "Yea, that's pretty, but what kind of torque does this deliver? What's the top RPM on this? How many horsepower can I expect?" It was a lesson I hope stuck with him.

In a few interviews I've conducted, I've had male interview subjects talk in very basic terms, overexplaining concepts to me. I've had to go high-level on them before they realize this is something I understand. Why? Isn't the fact that I'm contacting them on this subject indication that I, a girl, get it? As much as it infuriates, it saddens me.

I worked in an office where the male counterparts were paid infinitely more than the females doing the same work or higher-level work. I know this because a few of the guys boasted about their raises. Worse, one of the women in the office who was a staff writer with five years under her belt, found out the new male administrative assistant was making $5K more than she was. It was also $8K more than the previous female admin made.

While I contend that in a few cases, women simply don't expect or ask for what they're worth, there are plenty of cases where they're not offered the same amount to begin with. It's a real problem in corporate America, and one I thought wasn't too prevalent in this profession. However, stories like James's are eye-openers. And it doesn't take looking too far into my own experiences to find a number of instances of gender bias.

When have you experienced gender bias? And tell me about the biases that women heap on men, too. It happens. A lot. We're all guilty of it in one way or another.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Lost Art of Competence

Maybe it's my karma to end up with payment issues and all things monetary driving me up the wall at Christmas. Yesterday's installment was a credit card company telling me that yes, I did mail my payment in time, but I got a late fee anyway. Pour quoi? Apparently, I needed to pay the bill 7-10 days prior to the due date. Uh, huh? Where is that stated? I looked for what I would have expected: "Payment must reach us by..." Not there. I was fortunate to have the late fee removed, but that's an unacceptable practice. Either you have a due date by which you can mail it or you don't. Don't print a due date on the bill. Just tell me to have it postmarked by that date. But it's not even that - I can mail it on time, as I did, and still have it go into default. Now I have to guess the company's processing time? That's absurd.

Also, I had a payment issue with a client and the first check was replaced by a second. The problem? I assumed the client knew which check I was referring to. He did not. Oops. That was my mistake. So now I have to wait for payment (the client is out of the office for another week). Great.

I had a phone conference in the afternoon. I didn't wait. I'm too used to being stood up, so I went about my business. Good thing. That client stood me up for the last time. I'm no longer interested. I perform my side of things as expected by my clients. I expect the same from them. No compromise. I've learned to expect people to drop their end of things, which cuts me to the core.

Is it just me? Is the incompetence of others my personal cross to bear or are you experiencing it, too? How long would we last if we tacked on arbitrary late fees or forgot deadlines regularly? Would our clients be forgiving? We'd be lucky if we survived with our skin still attached.

What incompetence is ticking you off lately?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Taking the High Road

With a raging debate being rehashed over on dear friend Anne Wayman's site, I added my thoughts once more on the side of writers valuing their skills enough to demand more than $10-20 an article. The resistance by one poster in particular was so caustic I've decided no more. No more will I add my two cents. If you want to work for $10 an article, good luck to you. I'll not debate you or interact with you on that point. That's billable time wasted arguing simple math. No thanks. I'll just be over here making 150 times more per article.

The only reason I took up this banner in the first place was the obvious affects that online-based, low-paying gigs have on those of us with established, higher-paying career backgrounds. But after reading Peter Bowerman's excellent article on his blog last week regarding the question of the "state" of freelancing, I realized realities create themselves when we buy into them. He's right - it's too easy to fall into a victim role and use the impact of this, that, or another thing on the market as to why we're making too little.

Remember how I went on about not accepting the "recession" as an excuse? Well, I'm about to apply that to all content mills and gawd-awful gig offers. I will no longer look at those as my reason for getting lower-priced offers. No matter how true it may be, I won't acknowledge it. I'll simply ask for and expect my rate, outside influences be damned. The clients either pay for the value of what I offer or they don't. It really is that simple. Oh, it'll still tick me off royally, but it will end there. I've no time for that. I'd much rather be working.

If you write for a content mill, you're welcome here. In fact, you've always been welcome here. You're the folks I had in mind when I put together all those posts over the last few years about marketing and query writing and building a better business. I don't agree with your choice, but I'm going back to my old live-and-let-live stand. And I'll break my neck to help you make a better choice if you're willing. I won't hold it against you, but I won't sympathize if you're too busy writing 10 articles an hour to break loose and get better clients.

Deb Ng said something on one of the blog posts on Anne's site that made sense. This issue has managed to divide the writing community, and that's never a good thing. While each side will always hold very disparate opinions on this topic, I no longer care if writers make that choice. Nor do I care if they wallow in content mill purgatory for twenty years. If you can eke out a living that way, more power to you. I'll be busy making money my way, which works perfectly for me.

That doesn't mean I won't stop having the annual Writers Worth Day. If it helps one writer make smarter choices that improves the career, I've done more than I could hope for. But it does mean I will no longer justify my career to strangers, nor will I argue math problems with people who amend figures and dream up ridiculous scenarios to prove their way is the better way. If they are happy working that hard for that little, then keep on smiling.

Debates like this are pointless and tiresome. And because those I've encountered from the side of content mills (not all, but some very outspoken people) have taken the name-calling, snide-remark stance, I'm done. Professionals don't act like that, especially to each other. Which proves my point that these particularly nasty people aren't professionals, but I digress.

So I say let's let the wheat separate from the chaff, so to speak. Those who are strong enough and serious enough about their careers will survive no matter what path they take. I won't change my opinion, but I won't argue the same old same old ad nauseum. To those of you who disagree, who say we're jealous or clueless or whatever the argument-du-jour is, I say this: two articles still net me $3K-$5K. Why exactly would I be jealous? The time you've spent arguing with me could have been spent marketing for higher-paying work. You are welcome to disagree. You are not welcome to hang assumptions on my opinion. I'll be more than happy to tell you in detail, no guesswork involved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Worthy Tip: Give Yourself 15 Minutes

Oh, did I raise an eyebrow or two when I mentioned this week that I spend 15 minutes a day marketing! You don't believe it, do you? But it's true. I don't spend a ton of time marketing. My marketing is virtual and quick - therefore, it shouldn't take much time. Oh, not every marketing task I do is that short. Some are longer, some much shorter. How long does it take you to write an email to a client saying, "Just checking in to see how you're doing and what you're working on. Can I help in any way?" Yep. One minute.

Because I've written more queries than I could count over the last 15+ years, I know what to say when I get the idea, find the market, and put fingers to keyboard. I should. If I don't, there's something wrong with me. But if you're starting out, it's going to take you longer. First, you have to find an idea. That in itself could take some of you more than 15 minutes. And because you're new to it, that's fine.

But many of us don't market because we're under the impression that it's time taken away from the business of writing. Au contraire, mes amis! That's time you've just invested into your business.

So this week's assignment: Invest 15 minutes into some marketing activity. It could be looking for ideas, looking for homes for those ideas, learning how to write query letters (hint: click on the tabs to the left here for query letter help articles), writing an email query offering your services, or all of the above. Just do something that puts your name in front of a new or existing client. You can't get the job if you don't ask for it, right?

How long do you spend marketing each week?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Being the Project Gatekeeper

I'm about to advocate a little bit of hand-holding. All writers should own their own process in every project, but sometimes we have to perform beyond our own processes so our clients' business can thrive. Let me explain.

In the past, I've had clients who are hopelessly unorganized, terminally late, or too overworked to take charge of their own projects. It happens to the best of us. I'm a hyper-organized person. It's my nature to leap in and help. But if I took over certain aspects of a client's project, I run the risk of offending, overstepping my boundaries, and losing the client due to some unnecessary power struggle. So here's what I've done instead:

Give short, bulleted lists. For the client who kept losing project sections and misinterpreting my notes, I decided to go small and lean. I gave just the facts, separated out in bulleted form, and asked the client to verify that this is what we'd agreed to or had handled already. The result: The last two projects went much more smoothly and we finished in record time.

Take charge of communication channels. For the client who made appointments and then either forgot or became too busy, I decided to give him a call at the scheduled time instead. It worked on two levels: I was able to take one more thing off his list and I could determine in seconds if he was really around, saving myself lots of idle time as I waited for him to remember what he'd clearly forgotten. The result: I became a trusted vendor, someone who could relieve him of mundane details while helping him get his project going.

Provide daily or weekly updates. Especially with new clients, I've decided that communicating progress is essential. For one client, I set up weekly emails in which I gave him not only word count, but also updates on project sections completed and project sections yet to be done. The result: He could progress and he soon relaxed and learned to trust that I was on the job. It led to more work from him, too.

Find the decision maker and stick like glue to them. Too many projects go awry when it's unclear who the decision maker is. For corporate projects, it's rarely your contact person. In those cases, I've asked who is the final decision maker on all things and I've asked for a direct route to work out minor details. The result: This eliminated numerous hoops and revisions, leaving them with a stronger product and me with a time investment that made sense.

How do you serve as gatekeeper? What have you done to help your clients get the results they want?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Spinning Wheels Require a Slip Differential

Monday was exactly as busy as I expected it to be. I had a call to Belgium in the morning. Lovely person on the other end of the phone and hopefully the project I'm doing for him will net him the results he hopes for.

Two other calls. The first one missed the scheduled appointment (I'm still waiting). The second one called to tell me they'd be ten minutes late and ten minutes later, they called as promised. That is how you act professionally. Amen.

Someone asked the other day what constitutes fair pay? In her case, she was asking about an article for a magazine - 1,500 words for $200. In most cases, I'd say "Uh, no" but I can't advise her that for one or two reasons. I don't know what her hourly rate is and I don't know if it's a market she's been trying to break into.

So how do you choose? You determine first how much you need to make in order to turn a profit. Then you decide how long the assignment will take you to complete. If it's a blog post requiring very little research and no interviews, maybe. If it's a magazine article involving interviews and research, it may not be worth it. For me, it's not. For the next person, who knows?

Let's say she's wanting to work in the automotive industry. If this is an automotive magazine and she's tried with no luck elsewhere, it may be a great way to open a new avenue and build a reputation as a specialist. Just do yourself a favor - if you're not new in your career, limit yourself to how many low-paying articles you'll write in order to get those clips. Usually two or three are enough to establish you as someone who understands the industry. Then you can reach out to higher-paying publications with those clips.

It's always tough knowing how low you'll go. But if you've taken the time to establish an hourly rate, you'll know if it's worth it to you. Never sell yourself short just for the job, and please, don't take jobs that pay you pennies for what other clients are willing to pay acceptable wages for. And please - work for reputable sources that give you clips that employers want to see.

How do you decide if the job is worth it?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Marketing Myth

If I hear one more person say that it takes tons more time to market a higher-priced article than it does to funnel something through a content mill, this last nerve of mine will snap. Three times this week and once last week, people have actually told me that selling an article that pays, say, $1,500 is exponentially harder to market than an article paying, say, $10. To you who insist this is true: Are you serious?

Here's how I market - I contact a new company, give them my background, give them a proposed article idea and my approach (including ProfNet experts), and ask for the sale. In total, coming up with the idea, writing the query, and doing a quick ProfNet experts search to show I know whom to interview takes me a whopping 15 minutes. When I secured a lower-paying job (ten cents a word as opposed to $1 a word like I'm used to), I did the same amount of work. Same amount of time in marketing.

It's a BS excuse to say that marketing is such an incredible time sink that it's easier to simply camp out at a content mill site because you don't have to market. But you do have to go through revisions and rejections, don't you? Some of the content mill supporters here last month indicated that there's some sort of editorial oversight on one of the sites, including revisions. Considering the amount of money you make versus the time you put into it, how do you figure that making $1,500 an article is harder to market than it is to write (and revise) one that pays $10?

People who make such erroneous statements don't market. They couldn't. If they did, they'd realize how ridiculously untrue that is. Marketing is not hard - sticking with it is. For those of you unsure of what marketing is, it's contacting new and existing clients, introducing yourself (or saying hello), and asking for the job. It's not hours of torturous phone work and endless rejection. I contact people via email. One person or company a day. About 15 minutes per day. Sometimes less. Seriously.

If you're unwilling to put a little time into coming up with your own approach (note I said a little time - we're not talking about hours upon hours to make a plan), many writers, sales people, marketing people have already done the hard work for you and devised tried-and-true marketing methods. My own marketing plan was never written down. It was something that came to me while I was making dinner and doing laundry. And to be honest, the best marketing plan is ANY plan you practice consistently. If you spend an hour a week at it, like I do, you'll find out just how easy it is.

You can put more time into it, if you like. There are Google Alerts that can help you connect with a client (complete with an "I saw this and thought of you" note). You can send out postcards or brochures. You can send sales letters. Whatever you like. One method is not better than another, but trying nothing nets you nothing.

And to be honest, your business is only as good as the time and effort you put into it. At first you may put a little more energy into it before you see a payoff. But there's no way that I've ever spent so much time marketing that the higher-priced articles aren't worth my while. That's just crazy talk.

So no more excuses. No more sitting back in that comfy, low-paying job because marketing scares you or some fool has convinced you it's too difficult. If you put a few hours a week into your plan, you're going to see positive results. If you say you're too busy writing 5 to 10 articles in those few hours to market, you need it more than you think.

Have you heard this? Do you believe it?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sprinting Through the Week

It's tough to relax over the weekend when you know your day is going to start early and end late Monday, isn't it? That's my day today with three client calls and one project due. I'm exhausted thinking about it.

Worse, last week ended with rather rudely. Incompetence threatened to ruin my day. Not my incompetence, thank God, but the lack of attention to detail by at least three other parties. Without going into tons of detail, I would like to send thanks to those people or entities that threatened to harsh my mellow:

- If you put me on hold to help me fix a problem, how about remembering to come back? It was 35 minutes and three renditions of White Christmas later that I figured someone was on a lunch break. Funny, mine never came until 3 pm. And now I want to throw up every time I hear Bing Crosby. Thank you.

- If I put it in the mailbox with a stamp and a return address, I expect it to be delivered or returned. No compromise on that. Thanks to you, my payment never arrived (22 days late as of today, you bastards), I had to make a 25-mile round trip to pay the bill in person, and my credit now has a little black mark next to it. Thank you.

- If I tell you I don't work weekends, don't think that telling me "Oh, well just have it to me by Sunday at 4" is going to work. I don't work weekends. Period. And telling me to have it Monday morning by 9 am? Are you joking? Do you think I can't figure out that it means, oh hey, I have to work the weekend to meet that deadline? Thank you.

- If you tell me Option A and Option B are options and if you type the words "These are voluntary options - you may take them or not" (and I refrain from correcting you lousy grammar), you cannot threaten to fire me for not taking those options. They're options. If they are requirements, say so. Otherwise, you look like an unfeeling tyrant. Thank you.

- If you make a mistake and I have verified proof that it wasn't my mistake, you can insist all you want. It's still not my mistake. Sorry. And thank you.

Who's harshing you out these days?

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Raw Deals Just Keep on Coming....

There are days when it's all I can do to keep from lunging at someone...

I love when you guys send me links that either enlighten me or get my Irish up. This week, it's the Irish. Blog regular and chum Hugh McBride sent this link to an article that details a company's offer to pay - are you sitting down? - one-fifth of one cent per word for magazine articles.

Another chum and blog frequenter, Meryl Evans, sent this link to AOL's latest slap in the face in which story submitters (note I didn't say writers, for they invite anyone with a story idea to submit) get anywhere from "nothing up front and a share of ad revenue to more than $100 per story." Let's guess which one that will be, shall we? Since their goal is, according to this Gawker article, traffic whoring, I guess viable, reliable content isn't really necessary, is it? And while you may not think that's important, just wait until you need some information for your next article. Don't turn to the Web. In fact, where do you turn? Huh?

So I have to ask, and I ask this of those people who work for $5, $10, or $20 an article - how low is too low for you? Does this low-arsed rate unnerve you? If so, I have to say you have yourselves to blame for it. The only way ridiculously-low-paying rates can continue is if someone or a group of someones is crazy enough to take it. The farther down we force market rates, the less likely any of us can survive as freelancers.

I'm not here to beat you over the heads with this, but damn, people. Haven't we had enough of this yet?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Healthcare for Freelancers

I'll admit I balked at the suggestion by Anne Wayman that I investigate Demand Studio's new healthcare plan offering. I've all but closed the door on worrying about DS and those who choose to work there. But the idea of a healthcare package intrigued me. So I went digging.

First, it's not a typical insurance plan per se - it's a fixed-dollar benefit payment plan that offers limited coverage for "covered" medical expenses. And make no mistake, DS is not contributing to this at all (they say so in their footnotes). It's something you can buy on your own once you reach various quantity-based earnings thresholds (30 articles written a month, 200 edited, etc.).

It's pricey. Because you're not in a traditional employer-sponsored plan, your out-of-pocket costs are more than that $15 copay some of us are blessed with. The monthly premium cost, touted as "under $90" is actually $91.16. A minor point, but what are you getting for that premium?

You get discounted prices. You also get 4 doctor visits per year at a discounted rate - between $50-$75 per visit. You get one health screening - $100. You get up to 5 prescription per person per year - $5-15. No mention of what you do if you happen to need monthly prescriptions for an ongoing issue. You file your own claims with the company and you choose your doctor from a network (which I couldn't access for some reason). It covers hospital stays up to a maximum of $500-$1,000 per day for 30 days. It pays anywhere from 50% to 100% for operations, though the paperwork refers to some Schedule of Operations pricing guide on which this percentage is based.

Is it a great plan? No. It's a discount program and it helps, but it's not perfect. I don't think anyone would disagree with that.

Just for fun, I compared it to what we can get through eHealth Insurance. Typing in my own geographic and age info, I found plenty of options for traditional coverage (93 to be exact). The lowest premium was $103/month.

The best, a Blue Cross plan, costs $262 monthly with no annual deductible and a $20 copay for doctor visits. The prescription deductible - $250 for an individual, then you pay $15 for generic drugs.

The lowest priced, an Aetna plan, had an annual deductible of $7,500, then you paid a $30 copay per office visit. Not a great plan, but if you have chronic health issues, the deductible could easily be met. The most you'll pay annually out of pocket is $10K. If that sounds like a lot to you, it is. I don't have that lying around, either.

The bottom line - yes, DS does offer a discounted health services option. No, it's not a traditional coverage plan. Yes, there are other options that would cover much more. No, they're not going to cost $91 up front, but you have to consider how much out-of-pocket expense is required for all the plans. Don't choose based solely on premium price.

Also, the options that exist beyond DS are numerous. It's always going to be my opinion that working for less than you're worth - health care discounts or not - is never a good idea. I worry that a person in that desperate a situation to take a discount program and lock themselves into working for less than they can get elsewhere sells himself or herself short. It is indeed a free country and folks are allowed to do what they like. I would suggest taking on better paying clients so you can pay a little extra each month for more peace of mind.

What do you do for health coverage?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Worthy Tip - Look Elsewhere

I let the worthy-tip-giving exercise go lax while the vacation/holiday interrupted, but now that December's here and many of us are facing a slim month, it's time. Idle time is only idle if you do nothing. So let's do something, okay?

Here's this week's prompt to get your business growing: look somewhere else.

Some of the more successful client partnerships I've been part of started when I looked outside my usual comfort zone. I reached out to a pharmacy magazine - I'd never written for the industry, but I got the job. That led to the nursing magazine job as the company owned two publications. Now I have clips for the portfolio that expand my work possibilities.

So where can you look? Do you write about fashion? You could reach out to the trade magazines and write about the business side of say shoe sales. Or how about writing about apparel from a business perspective? Do you write about animals? Why not focus on one group, such as dog shows, and hit the trade scene? Do you write copy for corporates? You could turn that into press release and white paper writing for nearly any corporation or mid-sized business. If you're specific to say the financial industry, why not reach over into accounting or CPA areas?

What do you write about most? What do you love writing about? Tell me at least two areas you could cross over into. Got them? Now do it. Do it today. Ask for the job.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Victory at Any Hour is Sweeeet

Somewhere around 9:20 pm EST yesterday, I hit the final key. I checked the word count - 50,030. And with that, I'd finished - and won - the National Novel Writing Month contest. For the first time. Ever. Can I get a holla?

Today I'm stiff and exhausted because yesterday I had to find 10K words. I found them, but I don't recall what the last 3K even look like. Worse, my story ended itself around the 46K mark, but I needed that extra 4K to reach the minimum required. So I went to the middle and typed in some more description. And some more. And even more. My goal was to get that first draft down. It's down. I can rest a few days, then back to work editing and revising.

This is all you'll get from me today, peeps. I'm a little too tired to be much more coherent. But thanks first to Lisa Gates, coach extraordinaire, who egged me on and convinced me to set a deadline and for letting me tag her as my accountability partner. The minute I owed her an explanation either way, I got busy. Mucho love and gratitude, Lisa.

And to Devon for her "the universe is sending you a message" prompts when my workload dropped off and I needed the kick in the pants to get back to the manuscript. Hugs and eternal blessings. :)

So what goal have you reached lately? Who helped you get there?
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