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Friday, April 30, 2010

Monthly Assessment - April 2010

Maybe it was the dread leading up to April 15th, but this month seemed to drag for me. I was busy, but not with client work. We had company for ten days, then taxes in the middle of that visit. But the guests are gone (sadly) and the taxes are paid (thankfully).

This month's earnings were off the mark as a result of the distractions. Not greatly off, but I'm feeling it this week. I'll be glad to see some checks. Let's see what the month looked like, shall we?

Queries:
I managed a few, though my paper tally is hiding on this desk somewhere. I sent out three notes to clients. Scored on all but one. The one has me scratching my head - I'm included in a collective email, but my direct emails aren't answered. Not sure if that's the sign of a busy person or someone who's not interested. Either way, I'm not waiting. Business must move ahead.

Existing Clients:
My ongoing client's projects continue. A few things came in on their own this month. One was my favorite client's project, which was fun. Another was an editor coming to me with an article idea. And more work from a newer client that promises to keep me busy with ongoing projects. Yet another client contacted me on her annual project - one I've grown to really enjoy. That's work scheduled for July. It makes me feel good knowing I'll have something during the slow period.

New Clients:
Right now, no new clients this month. I've already stepped up efforts to get at least one more. That corporate client who contacted me last month hasn't been back in touch. Then again, it hasn't been three or four months. Corporate clients often shuffle work to and from the back burner. They'll get in touch in due time. Meanwhile, I'm working on other things.

Earnings:
Thanks to an interruption mid-month, I'm off my earnings target by $1,900. But that's okay - I had enough banked to pay all my tax bills and still have ice cream money left over.

Bottom Line:
I knew April would bring abbreviated earnings, but with the summer slow-down coming, I want to secure some new clients and maybe tap some existing clients to make sure the earnings goals are reached for May and beyond.

How was your April?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursdays and Deadlines

I have a deadline tomorrow. Technically it's a Saturday deadline, but I covet my weekends too much to spend them working. I'm here 8-5 every weekday. That should be enough.

So I wrote the article and sent it to the editor yesterday. There were a few glitches - one of the contacts, an association, has yet to go on record. The editor had a very specific list of folks she wanted for this article, this association being one of the named sources. Try as I might, four weeks passed and no one from this particular group has commented. Worse, I spent two weeks chasing down the PR contact who never answered two of my emails or calls. I went online and found another contact. She responded, but again, no interview, no quotes, no response beyond "Still waiting."

Instead of waiting, I wrote the story. If the quotes come in (I resorted to sending questions in hopes of some response), I'll incorporate them. I let the editor know that these people are not calling back so she's aware that I'm trying to comply with her requirements. She understood, but if I'm able to corner them long enough for even a sentence, it's going in that article. But they're not on my list of reliable sources, let me tell you.

Today is a client call to discuss a new project, then a search for the next article's sources and a little research. I'm hoping tomorrow can be a day off - after the car troubles and our fish being sick (how do you cure a lethargic goldfish? You don't), I'm in need of some time in a lawn chair with a good book.

What's on your agenda today?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Worthy Tip: Take No Prisoners

Maybe because I'm busy I have less patience, but I suspect it's more because I'm tired of shoddy service. I found myself being forceful with someone on the phone yesterday. On April 19, I transferred money to my daughter's account using POPMoney. (My bank has dropped the ability to send funds between that bank's accounts, which usually took three to four days for transfer.)

This was apparently a faster way for her to get her money. However, yesterday I was on the verge of screeching because she'd not yet received the money (eight days later - are you serious?) and no one seemed to know why or show concern that it took that long. Worse, I called my bank (three times) to procure the POPMoney support number because it's not listed on their website. Until yesterday, no one had it. But when I did get it, I went into Assertive Mode.

It took the man about 30 seconds to figure it out. I hope it's because he sensed my "take no prisoners" tone. It had to be something - she'd called them twice over the same issue with no result. The problem - I'd sent the transfer to an email that wasn't directly connected to her bank account. There's the glitch - why do none of the instructions mention that it must be an exact match? Nowhere. Worse, there was zero communication with either her or me letting someone know her money wasn't coming or why. Oh, they deducted it from my account fast enough - same day I sent it. I managed to get the money into her account once I verified her email, but I was stinging from the lack of help or communication. Remember, she'd called them and the bank several times, too. That's inexcusable.

I hung up and sent an email to my bank giving them exact reasons why their new system fails their customers. I won't use POPMoney again. It's a waste of time and causes too much stress.

And yet we sometimes accept the stress. Why? We as freelancers would never consider putting our clients this kind of treatment. Why then do we accept it from companies, clients, and people who rely on our business? God forbid we treat our clients like this - we'd be out of business in no time.

So here's your worthy tip of the week - take no prisoners. Assert your rights as a consumer, as a writer, as a human. Don't take their stock answer as the final word. Push further. Keep asserting yourself until you get the result you want. How does this translate to writing? If you're able to stand up for yourself as a consumer, you're more likely to do the same when your business or your earnings potential is at stake.

When was the last time you were frustrated by a business's lack of customer service? Did you assert yourself or did you accept their response and then figured it out on your own?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

In case you missed it, I've got a blog post up over at About Freelance Writing. Go on over and give Anne Wayman some link and comment love.

Quoting Tom Petty in the title, I would like to ask an open question - how many times in the past 12 months has someone contacted you with a project and then didn't return? How long have you waited and kept your calendar clear for The Project That Never Came?

Here's the thing - clients have different time frames. When a corporate client says "We'll be in touch!", I don't look for anything for the next three months. "Corporate time" is relative to the amount of pressure pushing down on the corporate contacts. If there's a bigger vice they're stuck in, that's the one getting the full attention. The individual client often thinks we're signing on with them because we love their project. While that's probably true, we're in business to earn money, not to dabble in other people's projects.

Also, let's face it - some of them think we wait around twiddling our thumbs waiting for their projects. The word "freelance" evokes a different visual for different people. Corporates may think "affordable and available" while smaller businesses may think "at my beck and call." I've had clients get upset because I had other clients. Reminding them that exclusivity will cost them either much more money or health benefits usually solves that issue. But it's pretty apparent that some clients think our time doesn't hold the same value as their time.

It's up to us to educate them. When they ask what our availability is, we have to tell them what our time frame is for the next few weeks. And if we think they're going to come back in a month expecting the same attention, we have to stress that in three weeks, the time may be filled with something else.

My worst experience with someone's lack of respect for my time - he was a corporate client who apparently overworked not just his staff but himself. Great, but I sent him a draft of his project and heard nothing for a month. Then he called two days before I went on vacation - a conference call - and outlined my weekly duties for the next week. I said, "I'll be out of the office next week - can we schedule something for the following week?"

Without missing a beat, he assumed (correctly), and said, "Again? Didn't you just have a vacation?"

How to answer that inappropriate question - "Is there something pressing that I can do for you in the next two days to keep things on track until I return to the office?" (Never defend your actions - clients have no right passing judgment on how you spend your time unless you've not finished their projects at the agreed-upon time.) In the end, I agreed to take a phone call mid-week. He never called, nor did his contacts. I waited fifteen minutes, then decided he wasn't worth it. He ended our association because I wasn't willing to drop my plans last minute to please him. Fine. People like that aren't worth keeping as clients. If they don't respect your time, they'll demand even more later.

So let me ask again - how many times in the last 12 months were you contacted about a project that has yet to show up? And how long did you keep your calendar open? The latter question - if you said you didn't wait, congratulations. You're a smart business person.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Irritation Amid Hilarity

I've beaten the content-mill drum pretty loudly. You've heard me suggest that someone getting paid ten bucks or less is not a writer. Thanks to Irreverent Freelancer Kathy Kehrli, I now have proof. She posted a link to an article that is, well, not an article, but a ridiculous string of nonsensical sentences.

An example:
"A duplicate editor digs in to a nitty dirty of creation sentences transparent as well as easy to understand."

Oh, the irony of the juxtaposition between that string of garble and the words "easy to understand"...

What's truly odd about the entire article is it's apparently trying to sell readers on the importance of editing (unless the "author" mucked the title up, too). Maybe it's a brilliant piece of marketing, but I doubt it. Similar articles by this particular poster (I'm sorry - I can't link the word "writer" to this) are just as garbled, just as confusing, and just as obvious someone needs a new electronic translator.

It's proof that ten-dollar articles deliver no more than $9.99 in content, if in fact someone was paid anything at all for this. A look at the "Privacy Policy", which is an absolute joke for reasons I'll outline in a minute, it's clear the site owner is the culprit. Ah, the scent of theft and bad marketing schemes....

Here's why the privacy policy is such a joke beyond the gawd-awful, senseless translation - these people are linking to legitimate business people without permission. I won't mention the name of one of the linkees, but I contacted her to let her know. She said she's since contacted the site owner and demanded removal, but since English isn't the culprit's first language, he's probably not going to know what she's saying.

And that irritates me. These people are operating beyond our reach and beyond comprehension. So what happens if you're the next person they link to? How do you halt the damage to your reputation?

I told the woman a cease-and-desist letter was in order, but again, that's assuming this person understands enough English and has enough morality to comply, neither of which would apply in this case, I'm betting. Maybe the best course of action is to contact the ISP and report the incident. From the Web extension, it appears this is someone operating out of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, somewhere between Australia and Sri Lanka. If I had the time, I'm up for a little visit to instill some whup-ass....

I know this may seem like a stretch, but there's little difference between this type of theft and plenty of content mill articles (note that I did not say all). If you're writing up to ten articles an hour, there's no way you're coming up with ten original articles. You're paraphrasing or rewriting someone else's work. In case you missed the memo, that's theft, too.

Do you know of any other instances as ridiculous as this? What's the worst case of bad writing/theft you've seen?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Random Friday Chit-chat

Happy Friday! After having ten days off, I was glad that this week was a nice, paced return to work. It kept me from stressing too much and allowed me to rest my foot, which is suffering a lovely dose of tendinitis. I blame kickboxing exercises on carpeted floors. I can almost pinpoint the very exercise that did it. The doctor said keep it still, iced, and elevated, but you try doing that with company. This week I've hauled out my daughter's old walking cast. Huge improvement - it's just the thing to keep the muscles from flexing too much.

And naturally, I just bought three pairs of shoes. Those who know me aren't shocked by this, but it's embarrassing - I have over fifty pairs now, and yes, I wear all of them. Except now, because of this foot. But I got my new Tom's Shoes, and I love them. Very comfortable, and I like that my pair of shoes resulted in some shoeless child getting a pair of shoes - he donates a pair for each pair purchased. That's shoe shopping I can get into! I put the link here because it's a program and a company I believe in. And damn if the shoes aren't terrific. I noticed a magazine or two promoting them, and I saw a department store or two selling them. What I like is they offer vegan styles - all manmade materials. And the packaging is recycled and recyclable - one tiny string of plastic for the sales tag, but the rest is paper and cloth. Finally - someone gets it.

I was happy to get an email from an existing client who always provides a large project. This year it's three months earlier than expected, but that's great. I'll have time to get it done without going nuts and without vacation interruptions. That makes three clients who have contacted me out of the blue this month. I'm doing something right, amen.

I'm chasing a car issue. The '03 Saab 9-3 has an intermittent starting issue. Starts great cold, but run it a mile or so, stop it, and try to restart and you risk the chance it won't comply. It's apparently a common problem for the car - the forums are loaded with people looking for the solution. I can tell you what doesn't work - new ignition relay switch, crankshaft position sensor, or ignition module. Replaced them all. I'm doubting highly it's the neutral safety switch as the "workaround" I was given didn't work. My mechanic has brought up some thoughts - a security system sensor fault or even interference from a cell phone (that's mentioned in the manual, in fact). Doesn't matter. I just know that if the car's warm, I need to keep it running or have the taxi number handy. They're quirky cars, but there's a solution. I'm determined to find it. Besides, it's a convertible. We're going to look good even broken down!

We came home from the movie theater two nights ago (Shutter Island - great movie) and as he was pulling my car into the garage, it started sounding, well, turbo-charged. Sort of an idle that went "woomwoomwoomwooom" instead of "putputputput." A little bit of vibration accompanied it. He turned the car off. I told him "Now turn it back on." Nothing. No clicks, no starting. I said "Buckle up." He did. Car started up. That's odd. Mind you, at the same time I opened the car door, got out, and closed it. Related? Who the heck knows? If it weren't happening to me, I'd almost think it was fun to figure this out.

Today, I'm hoping to wrap up interviews for an article, but basically I'm taking it easy.

How was your week?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Once Upon a Time....

I'm about to attempt the difficult - I'm going to try remembering my first days as a freelancer. It's going to be tough because unlike today's freelancer, I had no Internet (Say it isn't so!). Nope. I had a typewriter, then a word processor, a stack of sample magazines, and a library that was six miles away. And yet I built a freelance career. Not overnight, but I got my toehold in a time when freelancing was a bit more challenging.

I started at the local newspaper. Scared as hell, I answered an ad for correspondents. I was one of twenty hired that week, and I was one of three or four who remained. The pay was pretty abysmal, but the opportunity to build a reputable portfolio was big. That job led to another local newspaper gig, which led to calls at my home from people wanting me to write for them. From there, I managed an article for the regional magazine. Also, I volunteered to write a business proposal for the local Alzheimer's Association chapter. Then came my first sale to a national publication - a small literary mag that's still in circulation. It was fifty bucks (1991), but it was my first national byline. Oh, then there was the Pittsburgh Press Sunday Magazine Bad Writing Contest (1988), which I won. Irony defines my life, I tell you...

Thanks to both Sara and Caroline for bringing up the topic - how do beginners get established? For all of us, it happened differently, so take my advice as just one way to do it. There are a few things you can do to attract clients to your new business:

Work for local papers. Not sure how this translates into real-world, post-Internet publishing constraints, but if you have a local paper, there's a good chance they need correspondents (also called stringers). You'd do uber-exciting things like cover borough council meetings, attend school board meetings, or report on stop sign wars or Girl Scout events. Hey, it's not Cosmo or The New Yorker, but it's legitimate work. And it's a great way to circulate your name among local officials and community leaders as an available writer.

Attend local events. Not all Chamber of Commerce gatherings are worth the annual dues, but getting to know local business owners is a much faster way of building a portfolio. Attend community meetings (even if you're not a stringer), get to know festival organizers, show up at local trade shows, etc. Make sure to take business cards to every meeting, and shake hands with everyone. Listen, interact, present yourself as a freelance writer, and remember personal details for your next meeting. You'd be surprised how remembering to ask about that business owner's new location makes an impression.

Query regional publications. That means query more than just the local newspaper. Aim higher. Go for the city magazine, any regional trade magazine, and any other local publication (including visitor's bureaus and tourism groups). You never know who will need a writer or when.

Give away work to charity. Mind you, don't give it away to anyone willy-nilly. Choose a charity you believe in and offer to write business plans, proposals, brochures, campaign letters, etc. Aim higher than your church - try Alzheimer's Association chapters, food banks, political parties, or any group with a national reach that's operating locally. Church work is fine, but may not offer you the experience you need to impress the next client.

Ask for referrals and written recommendations. More important than your clips, you need written proof that you can please. Ask all clients for a brief recommendation (a few sentences on how they liked your work or your reliability). Ask them if they know of anyone who might need a writer. Build your client base from already happy customers.

Seek out national publications. There's no reason why you need to limit yourself to local clients only. Just understand that Glamour, Sports Illustrated, and The Economist aren't going to hire you without your having a strong writing portfolio in their editorial focus (news flash - I don't think they'd hire me, either). If you have a superb idea, go for it with the big guys, but only if you've done your homework and know for sure they A) accept a query from an unknown writer, B) accept freelance proposals at all, C) publish that sort of thing, or D) don't want a proven portfolio from an established writer. Instead, try those magazines you may not have heard of or read. Browse online magazine market listings and find a magazine that sparks your interest. Develop your idea based on their needs, then go for it.

Understand your market value. I add this because I don't want you to make the mistake of devaluing yourself and slipping into a content mill job. Your skills are marketable, real, and deserving of a fair rate. $10-20 an article is not fair. Hey, I made $50 for a commentary nearly 20 years ago!

Like I said, these are my suggestions and not the only way to do it. Writers, what other ways did you build your career in the beginning?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Favorites and Sure Things

Taking my own advice yesterday, I contacted an existing client. Very simple communication - I asked how he was and if he had any need for my help. Those few words scored me two upcoming projects. Amen. Going into the summer months, I'm happy to be bolstering the income potential.

As I read through the comments, I realized there are some things you do that I just can't bring myself to do. I've sent out brochures and postcards. Those netted one call in three years - and no work. I stopped doing that a while ago mainly because I'm not a fan of the follow-up call. I've done it, but I don't like it.

That doesn't mean I fail as a writer. It means, very simply, that calls aren't my forte. What I love doing is building an online and virtual presence. It's been a great way to meet new clients and secure new work. It's also been a great way to get referrals from other writers who now know me and trust me.

Another thing I love doing - emailing. I give good email. To me, a quick note is easy and often results in work. Even if it's a potential client, I feel more comfortable sending an email than getting on the phone.

What are your favorite ways to network/market? Do they work? There's the question - what may be your favorite way may not be the one that best suits you. Have you found that to be true?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Planning Ahead

I pretty much knew when I went on vacation last week that my monthly income would be adversely affected. I did the math - I'll be just under $2K off my monthly target.

Our goal as freelancers is to grow the business and - this to me is the important part - keep enough work in the pipeline to avoid idle time. I'm far from idle, but I could be doing more right now.

So back to my usual ways of finding work. Here's what I do:

Market when I'm busy. I have one significant deadline this month, but it's now that I'm trying to find more work. I don't wait until I finish - I try lining something up for when this project finishes or while that project is in the works.

Send out client "checking in" notes. They may need my help and I've not asked. I've learned not to expect clients to remember to call. I remind them I'm here if they need me.

Find a new magazine market. Despite all the gloom-and-doom tales, print publishing isn't dead. Magazines are still read and editors still have money for freelancers. I try to locate at least one new magazine a month for my ideas. So far, I've contacted two magazines and have gained two assignments from one of them. Not bad odds.

Look in new places. I haven't gone near Craig's List or any other market listing in ages (beyond Writer's Market, that is). Instead, I look at companies I interview for articles, contacts at various PR firms, and I get the word to anyone I have even a passing working relationship with what my specialties are. Last year, this helped me score two new ongoing clients that I'd not otherwise have landed.

Hit the social networking sites. I don't beg. I interact. I retweet, I send direct messages, I post on forums, and I extend my hand to those in the same specialty. Once in a while I'll post that I'm available, but my goal is to connect, not promote and turn people off (and too much self-promotion does exactly that).

Ask for recommendations or offer help. Occasionally someone will post news about a big new project or mention they're overwhelmed. I send a brief note offering my help. Again, I don't beg. I offer. Once. Writer friends will respond if they need me. I'll ask for a recommendation very rarely and only if the writer knows me well and knows my work. And only if that writer's job isn't jeopardized by my approaching their markets. I'm not out to steal anyone's jobs.

How do you plan ahead? What are your favorite ways to find more work?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Back to the Wall

I'm back - miss me?

Great week with the family members. We did a lot of day trips, one overnight trip, and plenty of restaurants, all filled with laughter, stories, and new memories.

I knew myself enough to plan some "me" time alone in front of the computer. But the weirdest thing happened - I wrote two poems in one of those hours I set aside. I don't write poetry normally. Not because I don't like to but because my writing is usually of the business variety.

But the minute my time was limited, I cranked out something unexpected. I'm now convinced that I work best under tight time frames. Sometimes, for me anyway, a little bit of stolen time is much more fruitful than an entire day.

How do you work best? Do longer deadlines work better for you than shorter ones? What conditions are right for you to delve into more creative areas?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taxed

Between lovely company and taxes, it's been a full vacation. I managed all the tax returns by yesterday, including payments for this year. Fortunately, January through the end of March were fantastic months earnings-wise. The money was there to pay everything with a little left over.

Even with company here, I took my time through the revisiting of the forms. By doing so, I saved myself $3,500 - I discovered deductions I didn't know I was eligible for. We'll see if the IRS agrees, but I think it's done right this time.

Here in PA we have the joy (insert sarcastic tone here) of paying federal, state, and local taxes. By the time I was finished with both last year's taxes and this year's estimated payments, I shelled out as much as I made in my best month this year. We make, they take.

I was pleased with my records this year, too. I managed to file every necessary paper except for one, which wasn't critical. I was able to locate what I'd paid with that one, so it wasn't too much of a deterrent. I'm getting better at this. Last year was my first year without an error. This year I hope to repeat that success.

Also, I've decided to put myself on a savings path. I don't save enough in my IRA. Both my companies allow for monthly deductions, so I'm signing up for those this week. Paying myself should be included in all this check-writing, shouldn't it?

So how was your tax day? Any surprises? I know Paula got a refund (you lucky devil). How did the rest of you do? Do you do it yourself, like Devon and me? Or do you pay someone?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things I Can't Stand (Part Two)

A late post, but blame it on April 15th filing deadlines..... Still on vacation, though it's feeling more like I'll need a rest afterward!

More things I can't stand. Feel free to add your own:

Estimated taxes. I don't mind paying them, but the entire estimated tax system is based on one thing - your best guess as to what you'll make this year. Seriously, there's no guidance for coming up with the base figure - that "Adjusted gross income you expect in 2010" number that's at the top of the damned worksheet. And if you get that wrong? You pay a penalty. Bite me, IRS.

The devaluation of writing skills. Okay, I can't let go of this one. Devon said it in the comments section last week, and yes, I'm getting to be like a bulldog with a bone on the topic. All those places and employers who think that writing can be, and should be, had for less than minimum wage - they too can bite me.

Slanted journalism. More than a few cases of emotional manipulation in writing/reporting have set me on edge. Writers should be striving to remain objective and remove emotion when reporting something that affects another person. I believe one should treat another as fairly as one expects to be treated - especially in the media. It's why I hate reality shows and the pseudo-news programs. I don't care how high up the food chain you are - you have a responsibility to your readers and any person in question to present things fairly and accurately and without assumptions. If you can't do that, hang it up now.

Waiters/waitresses that rush you. It was a Monday night. The restaurant had five other people in it. Yet the waiter kept cleaning off our table to the point where the remaining eater in our party was apologizing for taking so long to eat. That's lousy service no matter how stellar you are otherwise. Same thing on Tuesday night. Where's the fire, people?

Anything bugging you today? (Hugh, here's your chance - maybe today you're in the spirit!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hitting the High Note

Yesterday was about low prices. Today, the opposite - the best you've ever had.

What's the top price you've ever received? How does that figure out per-hour? Was the job harder?

I had one job that paid a phenomenal rate - $12K. It was a collaboration with a company whose big-name client was paying for a manual. They in turn decided to pay a writer/editor to coordinate everything. It was too easy - the project never finished. I was paid upfront, so I hung on to the cash in case they came back to it or they asked for a refund. They were satisfied that my time waiting (and the phone call conferences) were worth the price. I felt guilty. I didn't get to do much editing at all and almost no writing. But they insisted I keep the money. Who am I to argue?

What was the most you ever received for a job? Was it worth it? Did the workload offset the payment, or did you work insanely hard for it, thus justifying the price paid?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Low Will You Go?

Still on vacation, so just leaving vapor trails....

We talk endlessly about asserting our worth, realizing our skills are valuable, marketing to clients who value those skills, etc. That begs the question: What are you worth?

Maybe a better question is this: How cheaply will you work? What conditions have to be present in order for you to accept that price? What rate is too low?

I'll start: my lowest current rate is $50/hr. It's for a project that takes me probably an hour to complete - some days more, some days less. The rate is per-piece, but it's priced at $50/hr. It's small, but it's not taxing. In fact, it helps me keep up-to-date on the industry while earning some cash.

You? What's your lowest? How do you justify it? What low-paying job have you taken in the past that didn't work? Why?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Discussion: Favorite Client Attributes

Still on vaca and enjoying the company -

We do a lot of lamenting about client issues, so I want to turn this on its ear a bit. Consider your perfect client - they're out there - what would that client have that will keep you loyal?

I'll start. My favorite clients (I have the pleasure of working with plenty of good people):

- Understand how to work with a contractor
- Don't expect same-day turnaround
- Pay on time
- Are congenial and treat me with respect
- Have projects with at least a good idea where they're going with it
- Agree quickly to signing, and abiding by, contracts

What does your favorite client look like?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Things I Can't Stand (Part One)

I'm off today and all of next week, but I'll leave you this week with something fun to ponder, discuss, or disagree with.

I can't stand:

The use of "Google" or "texting" as verbs. People who use "Google" as a verb, as in "I Googled him" sound like they're choking on walnuts, for one thing. For another thing, companies can't be verbs. Also, "Googling" someone sounds like something your mother would rush you to confession for thinking about let alone doing. Just. Don't. And you can't "text" someone. You can send someone a text message. Text is a noun. Use it accordingly.

Entertainment programs posing as news shows. If you tell me one more time about Tiger Woods's indiscretions or Paris Hilton's new boyfriend, you're not a news show - you're a gossip show. Now if either of these celebrities shoot up a Wendy's and you report that, it's news (and no, I don't consider either of these people to be capable of anything so awful). If you're telling me the news amid your gossip, that's nice, but it doesn't equate you with a news show. It equates you with The View. Stop pretending.

That journalism programs rarely teach ethics anymore. If you sell an article to a magazine and collect a check, that's ethical. If you sell an article to a magazine that someone else paid you to write to promote their company AND you accept a check from the magazine, that's unethical. If you don't know why that is so, my point is made. It's called conflict of interest. If you have to, teach yourself journalistic ethics. And please, pass them on to your friends.

Reality shows. They're not reality. They're not even shows. They're attempts by networks to convince the public that these are entertaining snippets of the lives of "ordinary" people who are anything but ordinary - or entertaining, for the most part. They're ways of alowing media outlets to produce cheap television and cut out actors, writers, and all sorts of creative contributions. And worse - our kids are watching.

What's got the bee in your bonnet this week?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thursday Musings and Madness

I think I've accomplished more this week than any week in my career. I have tomorrow and all next week off, so I've had to herd the cats. So far, I've managed a pile of client captions, two interviews for an upcoming article, four more interviews for a newsletter, four more newsletter articles from those interviews, a press release, a larger article, and now blog posts for both this week and next. I'm probably forgetting something, but as long as it's been done, we're good. Oh, and the daily assignments from the ongoing client. Let's not even discuss marketing - I sent out one query to an existing client. As long as it hits the mark, I'm fine.

I've said it before and history proves the theory - if you want to get tons of work in, plan a vacation. I got a call from my favorite client on Monday asking for help. With an unusually long window (three days - for them, that's long), I was able to work them into the mix.

I have a little more to finish up today, then I have to don the apron (literally) and be Julia Child for nine. Thank God I love to cook. But fitting nine at a table for six will be interesting. Did I mention we'll be eating at 9 pm? And that I have somehow bruised or broken the ball of my right foot? And my car is in the shop? And my daughter will be home for her internship interview? And that we're stacking people in the basement for lack of any more sleeping space? And that I love all of it (except for the car/foot things)? If a meditation monk shows up too (as they've been known to do here), he'll be sleeping outside.

I'm praying that all the projects I'm working on go well today. I need a client to return the promotional piece today so I can turn this machine off and let it be for a week. Nothing is worse than having things hanging over your head when you're trying to entertain or relax.

I posted on Facebook a few days ago that I was striving for a time out. Another dear friend posted that it was ironic how we fought naps as a child yet longed for them when we're older. Please, send ME to MY room!

What are you working on today?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Disturbing Trend of the Day

Normally when I get crap in my email I just delete it. However, this particular email disturbed me on a few levels. Let me explain:

The offer:
They want to sponsor my weblog. This weblog. They want me to earn money, money, money through their sponsorship.

What's in it for me:
Money and higher traffic to this little blog.

What's in it for them:
Money from their sponsors because - and here's the part I hate - I would be publishing their articles and links, which they would blog about and drive traffic to my site.

Why I hate it:
Because it's lying to your blog community. Here you are posting per usual, only now you're posting content for which you're paid to post. And you're not telling your audience (or you are). Doesn't matter. In my book, this is a blog meant to build trust and community. It's not a place to whore out someone's product or service. If I promote something here it's because I've tried it and I love it, not because I've been paid to do so.

How it differs from being paid to write someone else's blog:
It's different because you're not mixing personal with business. I write three other blogs at the moment. All three of them are for different businesses. The theme - business and product-related. Never is there the sense that this is just a casual conversation among friends.

I looked at some of their sample articles. They give you one or two sentences and expect you to register to view the rest (not happening). Those sentences? "There are still other hot places on earth that you may want to visit aside from Europe or the Caribbean. An example of which is Bhutan." Let's not even mention the grammatical problems with that - let's go straight for the excitement level - zero. Relevance to this blog? Again, zero. Think Demand Studios, eHow.com, and any other content mill. Some writer somewhere is getting screwed payment-wise in order to line this company's pockets with money. Call me a prude, but I don't think promoting the exploitation of writers is something I'm willing to do in order to make strangers rich.

I won't tell you the name of the company - I refuse to promote them in any way. If they want to make money, let them find another way or someone else. Promises of money I'll probably never see won't sway me any more than promises of more traffic. I'm protective of my people. I smell a sour deal when I see one. The quickest way to kill morale is to take away trust and the bond that connects you. No thank you. I'll earn my money same as always - without screwing over my visitors.

Have you seen this offer? What disturbing offers have you received?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Convincing Them You Don't Suck

Ever have one of those clients who is with you all the way...until they show your editing or writing work to a friend, neighbor, pastor, or checkout clerk and suddenly you're that fool they're wasting money on? Having had my fair share of those in the past, I've amended my contracts to avoid it. If they ask for outside opinions and then come to me complaining or expecting changes per those opinions, we're done and they owe me in full.

Sounds harsh, but too much of my writing or editing work has met demise at the hands of a posse. If I didn't know my skills were worth it, I'd have no self-esteem left and I'd be working a drive-up window somewhere. I'm an educated, trained writer and editor. I'm not a lackey or, as a girlfriend once summed it up, a clerk/typist. Getting them to pay for the additional hassle is now contractually spelled out. Getting them to understand and not besmirch your good name is quite another thing.

If you're a writer, you understand that writing and editing styles are as varied as the human race. If you're not, you think your cousin Joe, who took a Journalism course in college, has all the answers. In fact, if you put a roomful of editors to the task of editing one document, you're going to get a roomful of different results. That's because some editors are line editors. Some are contextual. Some edit to justify their existence. Some are visionaries who see beyond this piece into the next six pieces from this piece's content. Some are nervous editors who agonize every syllable. Some just think every writer is a fool and they're the only ones who have a clue. And some are bad editors.

But your clients don't know that. They think "editor" is synonymous with perfection. So when Joe gets hold of the work you've just completed, he's thrilled because he gets to spout on about the serial comma being dead (or alive), gets to thump his chest because you started a sentence with a preposition, or you allowed a preposition to live at the end. Your client hears this person, who's obviously not an expert, going on and now has doubt about you. Mind you, the client isn't going to doubt Joe. Joe's a relative and Joe's arguments sound convincing.

I had one or a dozen such cases. In one, I had a revision sent back that included these little initials beside each change - all different. I couldn't understand what the client wanted. I asked. The client said, "Oh, those are my friends' initials..." (note the plural) "...they all gave their input and they think we need to take it in this direction instead..."

Here's how I handled it - by this time the clause was firmly planted in the contract. I was getting paid, but I was more concerned about the relationship and the negative comments other potential clients may receive. I took each instance in which a friend said "This is incorrect grammar!" or made a change per Grammar Check (I hate that program) and gave chapter-and-verse from the Chicago Manual of Style, explaining to the client that Grammar Check was a horrible program that introduced more troubles than it ever caught (and gave examples of it compared to Chicago). I went through each edit explaining why my way wasn't incorrect and why the friends' way was either incorrect or simply a style preference.

Maybe I should have let it go entirely, but I was fed up with well-meaning friends killing or severely damaging the relationship between my clients and me. I stepped up, explained my edits and explained why the friends' edits weren't necessary or were wrong. Then I thanked him for business, wished him well, and attached the invoice. He paid instantly, claimed no animosity, and went off to write and edit willy nilly with his friends. When I got a copy of his final project, I couldn't believe it. It was identical to the original he'd started with, only they'd added the neat little pull quotes and graphics I'd never had a chance to get to.

No great loss, but no loss of reputation, either. Even if I wasn't convincing him, I wasn't backing down in the face of four or five friends pointing the finger where it didn't need pointing.

So stand up for yourself. Don't accuse or blame, but do point out reasons why your way is perfectly acceptable. And let them know that editorial styles are quite different across the board. And no matter what, get paid. There's no way you should be stiffed because clients start trusting their non-professional friends over their paid, professional writer/editor.

When was the last time you had this situation? How did it start? What was the result?

Monday, April 05, 2010

How Perfect is Too Perfect?

Lorraine Thompson at MarketCopywriter Blog talked last week about perfection as a time sink. What I love about her post is that she's tapped into the most common fear we as freelancers have - not getting it right the first time. Her reminder is that the writing process is just the first step, that we need to get used to writing and letting go, and that the angst and overworking of it all is a sign of imperfection, not perfection. It's why I love Lorraine - she's hit it right on the head.

When I worked on staff I had to write three or four articles a month. I remember one month a colleague from the sister publication stopping in my doorway with a problem. He'd scored the cover story. He was wringing his hands and fretting about his first cover in four years. I won't say the fretting didn't contain a bit of showing off - it may have been the basis of the entire conversation - but he was clearly agitated and worried. He said to me "How do you do it? How do you write so many cover stories and not freak out?"

My answer: "I sit my arse down and write."

The point to him was I didn't work myself into a froth, I didn't worry it like a loose thread, and I sure as hell didn't stand in a doorway and waste time moaning about it. It was a job. It didn't matter to me where the story landed - I was paid to write. Fact is it was rare when I knew for sure the story would be on the cover. I didn't really care. Each job was my personal cover story - I jumped into them all like they were the neatest topic on the planet.

But my colleague represented a fair number of writers I've known. The guy who had my job before me at the magazine had an entire month to write one story. Sitting there amid a wealth of industry contacts and more talented editing than a person could wish for, he would stare at the monitor for hours, crafting (if they were lucky) one sentence a day. It was too painful for him to finalize the thought. He eventually gave it up because the pressure to do it perfectly was too much. But that pressure never came from the editors - it came from himself.

I thank a great editorial staff and a massive pile of work for my ability to separate from the words. I'm a first-draft-and-out-the-door writer. I don't dwell. I write it, spell check it, read it through once, then send it off. If I did anything more, I'd never be satisfied.

But there's the thing - it's not me I need to satisfy. It's the client. Same with you. The client will have changes sometimes just because the client can change something. Some clients accept your words verbatim, but that's rare. So why are you stressing over every syllable?

It's lack of trust, isn't it? You don't trust yourself to be as talented as you are. Someone somewhere may have chastised you for not getting it right when in fact there are so many factors that could contribute to that "not right" result that have nothing to do with your talent.

So when was the last time you had troubles letting go? How hard is it for you? What's your process for finalizing in your head the first draft?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Worthy Tip: Say No

Oh, that's the word we don't use enough, isn't it? We say yes to nearly every client who graces our email or jingles our phones. So why do we do that?

My theory - it's because we love acceptance, or, more likely, we hate rejection. If the client spells out the terms, even if we don't like them, we'll just suck it up and agree. A 3,000-word blog post for $25? Sure! Write your e-book for $1.50? Absolutely! Is rejection of that kind of work really that devastating to you? If you answered yes, start circulating your resume. This isn't the career for you.

So how do you push back? How do you assert your boundaries (you do have financial boundaries, don't you?) in the face of that rejection? You separate your self from the job.

That's right - I said self. The moment you internalize the job, you lose the objectivity required to make good business decisions. If you've ever accepted - and then continued - a project that was a lousy deal from the outset, you could probably use a crowbar shoved between your self-esteem and your career.

So this week, this month, this year - the next time you're offered something that doesn't come up to the level you want, need, or expect, say no. Counter the offer with what's acceptable to you. If the client walks away, that wasn't your client. If the client fusses royally, that definitely wasn't your client. Change your thinking - it's not rejection. It's acceptance by your client of your value and skills. If they can't accept that, you can't accept their work.

What have you said no to lately?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Monthly Assessment: March 2010

Before I get going, have you seen Google's news? It's hilarious and kudos to them for picking up on an ongoing story, and for the impeccable timing. What a great way to start a busy Thursday.

No fooling here, March was a mighty busy month. Another month of shooting past the monthly earnings target. I love it, but I know what's coming in April - tax bills, time off, and fewer clients in the pipeline.

Queries:
Sensing a drop in business (and proof that trusting my gut is the right thing to do), I started reaching out to clients. I didn't go overboard. In fact, I may have contacted half a dozen. The projects I'm working on now will keep me busy through the next week, so I had to look for future work, not "What do you need right now?" work. In one case, the client contacted me with an assignment, along with a raise in pay. I love that.

Existing clients:
I went from having five ongoing clients to three now. Not unexpected at all. Will it hurt? It's tough to say. The work I picked up right after could more than cover those jobs. Will either be back? Possibly, but I'm not sitting by the phone. That's always a mistake. We writers can't pay bills with a promise of future work.

New clients:
One, but it's a lucrative one. This job came as a result of ongoing work for a company affiliated with this particular client. I love that they like my work enough to refer me. Still some back-and-forth with a prospective client, whose contact is a long-time associate from my days on a magazine staff. It'll happen, but in corporate time, which everyone knows is about six months to a year after they contact you.

Earnings:
Another great month. I know next month won't be so great since I lost those two clients and I'll be taking a week off, but everything evens out like that in our world, doesn't it? The loss is about $1,100, but a new client will more than make up for that, as will the new assignment. But the marketing has to be increased or April and May will be thin.

Bottom line:
The mix of a little marketing with a lot of ongoing projects worked well. The additional projects showed up just as the older projects dried up. April will require a bit more marketing from me to keep things even keel coming into the summer months.

How was your March?
Words on the Page