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Monday, May 31, 2010

Monthly Assessment - May 2010

What I'm reading: Spartina by John Casey (it's slow going)
What's on the iPod: Moondance by Van Morrison


I hope you're not in front of your computers right now. I hope you're taking a nice holiday weekend to remember the sacrifices others made so we could have independence enough to define our careers and enjoy our lives. But if you're just surfing around, let's get to the business of our monthly assessment, shall we?

I don't need to tell you how glad I am to see May disappear. Hospitals, tests, chest pains, and lumpy thyroids mingled with dying lost loves and too much bad news. Just get June here now, okay?

Because of the depression that follows bad news and stupid aches and pains, I didn't get much done. I marketed very little, and those attempts were merely touching base with existing clients and former/current colleagues. So let's get the task of assessing a crappy month over with:

Queries:
Did I send one? I can't remember. I don't think so. I did some searching for new markets, but my head was so muddled I didn't form a coherent thought, so I backed off sending until I was thinking more clearly. I did send a note off to a local company found on Craig's List. The note back was telling - they were reminding me of their "small business" status and expecting me to bid accordingly. My bid? My usual price. I'm a small business, too. I can't afford to cut prices, nor can I afford to work with people who aren't prepared to pay decently for quality service. Buh-bye.

Existing clients:
Friday two big assignments came in. They were ones pitched months ago, but the approval process the editor has to go through delays everything down the line. Luckily, these will provide work and funds when I most need them.

I sent out links to my latest article to a few colleagues that are potential clients. I want to continue to show folks I'm still in their industry, still on top of the subjects, and still working freelance. I got a few nice conversations going around those topics, which to me is a bonus. Also, I had a call with a long-time colleague where we reconnected and it felt good. We've been in touch through each one's career transitions. He's someone I admire and respect and he's just a great person to talk with.

One client has things on hold for a week or so, but I suspect I'll be contacted next week for some small projects.

An ongoing client still funnels one project a day to me. I have a 60-hour window on them, which is just enough time to get ahead of them and plan for breaks in my work week. It's easy work, it pays decently, and I love the client.

Another ongoing client blog project is going very well. I really enjoy their business. Plus the work allows me to stay current on the industry.

Also, I contacted a client about a missing check and we talked about upcoming projects, so my summer may be a busy one.

New clients:
Let's say newish clients. A newer client project, which I think I rocked, provided a nice boost in the income. Given the sucky nature of this month's income, that was welcome. I have an ongoing relationship with them and I've been unofficially designated the PR/writer person, which is flattering.

Earnings:
Okay, it sucked this month, but I knew it would. You can't step away and deal with emotional issues without feeling it in the wallet. I honored my commitments, but I didn't take on much new stuff. Still, looking at the invoices, I'm $1,500 off my target. It felt worse than it actually was, I guess.

Bottom line:
Marketing must increase in June. I have to follow through on some definite maybes and get some new client work generated. I have big projects arriving in July, but until the contracts are here, we don't count them. So all I can do now to get work headed this way will benefit come tax payment time.

How was May for you?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Will Specializing Save Freelance Writers?

What I'm reading downstairs: Spartina by John Casey
What's on the iPod: Conductor by We Were Promised Jetpacks


If you haven't read Jenn Mattern's in-depth examination of Demand Studios, please take ten minutes to do so. She's done an excellent job laying things out for writers to take what they want from it. And she's gone beyond rates - just read it. It's worth it.

After this week's revelations that Demand Studio content was being picked up by two newspapers, I did what I do best - I whined to my husband about it. What transpired was a conversation that shed new light on freelancing and opportunity. All before 9 am, no less.

He said exactly what none of us want to say out loud - publishing is going the way of the LP, the eight track, and the Beta VCR (or any VCR for that matter). For someone who's been happy selling articles to publications, I didn't take it well, especially since I've been wearing the denial mask a little too tightly.

So what then for freelancers? Looking at my own business practices, I realized that I'm in good shape. What I do, as my husband pointed out, is too specialized to outsource on the cheap. (Little does he know, eh?) But in some cases, some of these client projects cannot be had for pennies. Can you think of anyone willing to proofread and reformat 300+ catalog pages for ten bucks? And who's writing that brochure that's going to draw in lots of members for the association for $20? Fact is we have a value to a dedicated, specific segment of the population. Demand Studios' clients - even newspapers - are not our clients anyway.

And maybe that in itself makes a strong case for writers finding a niche or a specialty. That doesn't mean we all have to run out and become experts in quantum mechanics or car repair, but having a concentration in web copy, marketing materials, or articles for specialized trade magazines or associations isn't going to hurt the income potential one bit.

I specialize in risk management, insurance, finance, and all things considered technical writing (CPA stuff, nursing topics, sales, you name it). It started in those first two areas, which were combined in my full-time gig. But it's amazing how easily you can transfer that same knowledge and approach to other technical areas.

Do you see the need to have a concentration? Do you have one already? I know at least one of you whose specialty is to not specialize, but I think even you specialize - just in several areas. I would say maybe specialization is too strong a commitment for the average freelance writer. Rather, find pockets of concentration that help you gain momentum and referral clients.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Are You Settling?

What's on the iPod: Peace Frog by The Doors
What I'm reading: Transparent Things by Nabokov (almost finished)

Thanks to Devon for sending me a link to this article about newspapers now outsourcing to Demand Studios. Read it and weep. Loudly.

While this news is disturbing and may indeed indicate a downward trend in publishing, what disturbed me more were the comments some folks were leaving. It was the helpless tone from some of those who worked for DS - "I can't get anything else" or "they don't even acknowledge my resume." And so they settle for crap because crap pays a small fraction of what these people are worth, but the crap pays.

I didn't bother to ask one person in particular if DS appeared on the resume that was being sent, but if it does, there's problem number one. I've been told, as have many writers here, that any mention of content mill work on a resume kicks your reputation in the teeth. But that's still not the bigger issue.

What I sensed from these desperate comments is this: someone is settling. Instead of taking a proactive career path in which there's a business marketing plan in place and in action, these people are doing the hunt-and-apply method, probably the most passive client search imaginable. And gawd, what that's doing to both their earnings and their egos.

Their egos aside, writers who apply for job listings are allowing outsiders to dictate their rates. Unless you're applying to those job listings that ask for your rate, you're about to be presented with what this person, who is now in control, has set aside for the project. Don't expect much. People in control, especially those used to hiring employees, don't understand negotiations with contractors. In fact, some of them don't understand that hiring a contractor is not the same as hiring an employee. Just wait until one of them tries to get you to give up 24/7 access.

If you expect to have a lucrative freelance career, you have to be in charge of it. You cannot let forces outside your business control your prices. They don't control your costs, so it makes no sense to let them tell you what you need to make in order to earn a decent living. The best way - you have to build a marketing plan. You have to find a way of approaching new and existing clients that works for you. You have to constantly work that plan. Working it once a month is going to result in serious earnings gaps. Make sure that every day includes some modicum of marketing or networking or both.

I was the same way. I used to think job boards were the best way to find work. Thank the $4-an-article gigs for setting me straight. After realizing too many people wanted something for nothing, I decided to start pushing my skills and convincing people I rocked. If they didn't think so, they weren't my client. Rejection hurts only if you take a business decision personally.

When did you realize that the passive approach wasn't working? How did things change for you after that?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nudging the Client

What I'm reading upstairs: Absalom! Absalom! by William Faulkner
What's playing on the iPod: Sometime Around Midnight by The Airborne Toxic Event
You?

Toddle on over to Anne Wayman's site for my latest post.

Sometimes when work is slow in coming - like now - I nudge clients. I send out emails. Nothing new there, except what I'm sending isn't exactly what you'd think to send. I've started to send articles I've written that echo something I've either seen in the news or seen in their publication. In my head, this is going to remind them I'm a good writer, and it may even show that this good idea they printed was something I've already thought of and maybe - a stretch here - they should entertain more queries from me? Okay, a stretch. But I like the idea of sharing links to my articles because it keeps the conversation going.

And that's what I want. I want to keep talking to them and with them. I want them to remember me when they need a writer, and to do that I have to build a relationship with them. I don't ask for work all the time. In fact, most times I don't. I just want to talk to them about something that affects their industry or their business. I enjoy that. It forces me to stay on top of the industry and stay aware to what's happening in their businesses. Those kinds of habits can only make me a better writer.

Here are some ideas for nudging your clients:

Send something you read that reminded you of them or their business. I know an editor who hikes. I could send him articles on the best hikes in his area or some challenging hike in another part of the world. It shows him I've taken the time to know him.

Send them one of your own. Why not? If it's relevant or if you're trying to establish a pattern of monthly email updates, this is a good way to start. It says, "Here's what I'm up to" and gives them something to discuss or think about.

Set up a quick call. Had a long-time colleague call me this week just to catch up. He's moved from one major company to another, and had the need to fill a full-time position. I couldn't help directly, but I passed on the info to someone who might be able to help. The result: He wanted to chat for fifteen minutes. Because of his schedule, it had to be arranged. We got ten minutes, but it was great catching up and hearing about his job. He also got to hear what I'm doing these days, which relates directly to his company's business.

Send new offers. One client in particular has been the focus of my campaign to get them to build a blog. The hints are clear, but infrequent. I don't want to pester, but I think they could get excellent mileage out of a blog. And hey, I know how to keep one going, do I not? Find something your clients are missing and convince them you can give it to them.

Generate killer queries. You know you've got a ton of ideas with no home. Take one, work it out on paper, then find a market and slant it toward that market. Sell something terrific to a new or existing client. Go on. It'll be good for you.

What do you do to nudge clients?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Lost Taught Me About Freelancing

What's on the iPod: Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison
What I'm reading upstairs (I have upstairs books and downstairs books): The Thich Naht Hahn Collection


Love it or hate it, Lost became a television phenomenon - a wild ride through suspended rationality and a lesson in faith over fact. When it ended on Sunday, reactions rippled like tidal waves across the Lost faithful (Losties?) and no matter who you are, you have an opinion. And that may be the bigger point to the show - it inspired philosophical, even practical thought and discussion. Try that, Bachelorette.

I was one of the addicted souls who didn't miss an episode (except for maybe that second season - what were they thinking?). I was immersed in the characters and quickly learned to love these actors for making me believe them as flawed humans. I was simultaneously sympathetic to and duped repeatedly by Ben, whose portrayal by Michael Emerson was just brilliant throughout that show. In fact, the transitions those characters made felt genuine and real. I believed.

Freelancing is a lot like Lost. Here's what six years of guessing and character study have taught me about freelancing:

Faith takes work. Jack thought John Locke believed too easily, but Locke set him straight - it's not easy to believe. That's how it is with your freelance career, especially at the beginning. You have to have faith that the foundation you lay now in networking and marketing will pay off later. Not all of it will, but sometimes the most unlikely connections bring the most lucrative opportunities.

Sometimes polar bears exist in weird places. Even on a tropical island, weird shit happens. Likewise, obstacles are going to get in your way when you least expect it. The idea is not to waste time figuring out what the obstacle is all about, but how you're going to circumvent it and move on.

Time travel hurts the brain. The characters didn't have time to study why they were warping to different eras. They couldn't look back or forward. They had to live in the moment. Freelancers can't dwell, either. That idiot who caused you to lose five months of your earnings potential three years ago is history. And the promise of huge dollars by any client in the future is about as weighty as the hot air surrounding it. If your contract isn't in place, it's not real. Live in the now.

Black and white is often just gray with an attitude. John Locke won over a lot of believers not by shouting from the rooftops and over-selling his point, but by exemplifying his convictions and living his choices outwardly. That's how freelancers should network and market - not by getting in everyone's faces and boasting uncontrollably, but by believing their own words and presenting themselves in that same measured light.

Change is hard, and often cathartic. Frankly, Jack was much more likable once he got off his high horse and stopped beating that same tired "science is the law" drum. Once he looked inside John Locke's faith and embraced it, he grew as a person. Be a Jack - move outside your career comfort zone and explore work possibilities or marketing methods you've never tried before.

Winning the lottery doesn't guarantee your success. Take it from Hurley - money in your pocket today isn't the security and success you can count on tomorrow. Hurley rejected the idea of money completing him - he saw it as a curse. The organic growth of your business should be built on attaining all your goals - not just pocketing the cash today. Build trust, relationships, and a solid reputation for honesty and integrity. The wealth will follow.

Humor heals. Sawyer had a nickname for everyone - StayPuft, Pillsbury, Jabba the Hut (all Hurley), Freckles (Kate), even calling John Locke Mister Clean at one point, saying "All that's missing is the earring and a mop." Hurley commented on Sawyer's new glasses: "Dude, looks like someone steamrolled Harry Potter." They used humor to escape from the seriousness of their situation. They played golf and pushed aside the guilt of just wanting to decompress. So should you. Laugh at your mistakes. Enjoy a friend's company. Don't take yourself so seriously.

What has Lost taught you about your freelance career?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Passive-aggressive Client

What I'm reading: Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
What's on the iPod: The Twist by Frightened Rabbit

Like that? I thought it might be fun to share what we're reading and listening to.

Spent a great Friday off with a writer friend I've known for a while, but never met. She and I hit it off beautifully and I suspect as we dig deeper we'll realize how many connections we have. For now, I'm enjoying knowing her. What a neat person!

One of the things we talked about was our clients and some of the challenges we have had. I didn't bring this one up, but I've had passive-aggressive clients. That's not fun. One in particular I think is still trying to torture me even though it's been years since I worked on that one project.

It may have been because I had to remind him to pay my invoice and had by then attached two late fees. He chastised me for not mailing it when we'd done everything to date in email. He claimed it went to his Spam folder. See, I'd believe that, but he obviously saw that last one.... sometimes when they tell you a fib, it's really easy to see through it.

He paid all but the late fees (naturally), and then he started sending me referrals. Great, right? I thought so, too. Then I met the clients. One was - how can I say it? Crazy. I did like him, but his project was so off-the-wall, much like his behavior, and I was pretty sure the help he needed was beyond my capacity. I know only basic first aid...

Another client was great, but he had a habit of over-sharing. I didn't care to know about his sexual orientation, nor his gender identity crisis. I'm okay with it, but it's not relevant to the project and it's certainly not appropriate small talk for our first conversation and only three minutes in. His project was also full of large holes - he was trying to prove to me that he'd been framed and targeted for murder, but the more he talked, the less I was convinced. The "facts" he was laying out simply didn't add up.

Still another had personal goals mixed in with professional goals and wanted me to fix both his life and his business. With a book. Buh-bye.

While it may be pure coincidence that my former client is sending these people my way and they're turning out to be bad fits for me, I'm doubtful. He's in a similar business to mine. He could easily take on two of those three clients as they fit his business model much more than mine.

What do you do when someone targets you for this kind of harassment? And maybe for me, harassment would be too strong a word. But we've had clients who tend to chastise, withhold payment forever, talk down to us, treat us like servants or worse - employees, etc. How do you overcome it?

You don't reward it. When one of my clients hit the panic button every three minutes and flooded my in box with several emails instead of one, I refused to answer until the emails slowed to a halt. Maybe that's passive-aggressive on my part, but I would rather read them all at once and respond in ONE email than put together a dozen emails with a dozen conversations going on at the same time. When this particular client sends me a referral, I call and ask questions. I allow ten minutes tops. After that I'll know if it's a fit or another attempt to get a dig in.

Do I think clients can hold grudges and punish? Oh yes. I had a boss like that once and it ended when I got a different job. Everyone saw it, too. A few of her managerial colleagues even approached her about why I was on her "list", to which she batted her eyelashes and feigned ignorance. So it makes sense that clients in our freelance realm can have similar tendencies.

Have you been punished by a client lately?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Stuff and Ponderings

It's been a rough week. Emotionally, anyway. Work hasn't exactly been front-and-center, but it's probably a good thing. I sat down yesterday afternoon with all intentions of putting together an article for one of my favorite magazines. Instead, I wrote a farewell note to a dying friend, one I haven't seen in years, but one who has been, and will remain, central in some of my sweetest memories.

Okay, so how do you work after you've struggled to put words like that onto paper? You just do. I wiped away tears, pushed aside thoughts, and moved forward. And surprisingly, I did get a bit done. I finished some blog posts and managed to go over a few of the taped interviews. Felt good to release the sadness, even for a few hours.

Was sent something interesting from a client of mine - Yahoo! is buying Associated Content. I'd love to believe it's because they're hoping to increase the quality of writing and the pay scale, but my gut tells me it's because they want cheap SEO content. Of course. Devalue the writing and the intelligence of the readership just a little more, why not? Everyone's doing it. Didn't their mother's ask them if everyone jumped off a cliff....?

For me, it's not another nail in the coffin of my career. Yahoo! isn't my client. My client is a smart business person who values all contributions to his or her business. This person doesn't look for cheap help - this person looks for the right help.

I had a client respond two weeks ago to my response to their ad. They wanted my price, but wanted to "remind" me (odd, since I didn't know this in the first place) that they are a small business with limited resources. Know what? So am I. I gave them my standard price without apology. If they want quality, they'll call.

Seriously, I get that not everyone has the budget to pay my rates. But if you have budget constraints, say so in your ad. Give a range. Do something beyond waiting for a thousand writers to contact you before you weed them out with a "limited funds" speech. That wastes my time and ticks me off.

I can't wait for May to be over. My earnings this month will be gutter level. But sometimes life interrupts. I think that's okay, right? More important things like friendships and memories and connections are calling.

How was your week?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Your Writing Script

Over on Anne Wayman's blog, Helen Kaiao Chang has a great post up about the writer as a salesperson. Helen outlines why we writers need a sales script, which has helped her increase her business significantly.

But what's in a sales script? Does that sound cold and repetitive? It's not. My script is this - carefully worded sentences that I ask the client that tell me what I need to know about the project and show the client I'm the person who needs to be hired.

Helen indicates her own script is something she's honed to a point where she can glean information that helps her come up with appropriate pricing while she understands the project's focus. Taking it just a little further, I try to show my experience in what I'm asking. For instance, suppose I have a client call and ask what my price is for a brochure. My questions would be something like this:

- Are you looking for a single page, a trifold, or something larger?
- Who is your audience/customer?
- What message are you wanting to send? Say it in your own words.
- What tone are you looking for - punchy, serious, authoritative, friendly, etc?
- How do you plan to use the brochure?
- What's your goal? Any deadlines on that goal?
- If you could say anything to your customer about your business, what would that be?
- Have you done any marketing pieces in the past? What's been the response?
- Are you looking for a piece that aligns with your business mission or vision?

Obviously generic questions based on a hypothetical, but these are questions that show more than a little experience to a new client. Also, they show your interest in their project, as well as giving you that information you need to do the job correctly.

That's my sales script. I don't go into how fabulous I am - I go into questions that show the client I know what I'm doing. I give a brief bio at the end of it just so they know who they're considering for hire, but I amend that bio to fit with their particular project. Using the example above, I would tell the client I've written brochures for XX companies in industries A, B, and C. I'd mention online brochures, newsletters, and news releases.

What's your sales script? Do you put enough thought into the questions so that you show your client your experience?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wearing the Wellies

As I extend out into new areas trying to expand the client base, I realize just how prevalent and how deep the crap jobs have become. This week seemed especially bad, probably because I had a temporary lapse in judgment and checked out Craig's List.

Here are some sample red flags from just one day:

"Creative Writer Wanted!! Send emails to igotitnowpayme@XXXX.com" - Something about that email address screams scam to me. You?

"I need a screenplay writer....little pay but we can talk about that." - No. No we can't. If you want a writer, you need to have adequate compensation for that writer's talents.

"Consumer Oriented Blog Owners Wanted. If you run a blog contact me - pay based on google pagerank, will pay by the month." - Are you serious? You want me, a blog owner, to contact you and probably hand over control of MY site to you, who takes the profits and pays me Google ad rates? This is my hand waving buh-bye.

"Legal Content Writer (and a huge list of requirements, including pixel sizes for the required photos for each article) Pay: $10 an article." - And who said lawyers were crooks? I'm thinking it's these people.

I think the only money to be had at any of these gigs is the tell-all investigation you could write as an undercover reporter. Otherwise, they're all a total waste of time.

What red flags are flying for you these days?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wheel Spinning

Sometimes you get those weeks where nothing is getting done, don't you? Yesterday it was a trip to the ER to make sure the chest pains weren't serious (they weren't - they seem to be acid reflux, amen). My man came from work to sit with me and showed about the same level of concern I did when, after being stuck by a needle, I went through the familiar routine of nearly passing out. The blood pressure dropped and the doctor was the only one in the room who was concerned. We both knew. Been there when the blood mobile folks have to apply ice to my neck and smelling salts to my nose.

Today it's a different doctor. Question: Can you have a sinus infection for a year? Answer: Yes. Yes you can. I'm now on to a specialist. I'm suspecting allergy-related because the two weeks in Scotland were symptom-free. Two days stateside and I was in misery again. Just thinkin'.

I have deadlines. Mind you, all but two are self-induced ones, but I have them nonetheless. This week is a mulligan for me, and it's only Tuesday. Once I get back this morning (hopefully this morning), I'll work my tail off to get ahead a little. Then let the week fall apart - I'll be ready! Or not ready. Either way.

I know Friday's taken up - I've been arranging my work so that I have those days off when I can. Having that extra day has made a huge difference in my psyche. I'm meeting a writer friend for lunch.

When you get distracted, when you feel like it's two steps forward and four back, how do you get through it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Disturbances

Thanks one and all for the participation and camaraderie that helped make the 3rd Annual Writers Worth Day a success! I've heard from a few writers who have said this day and our efforts have stopped them from taking content mill jobs or jobs beneath their value. In my eyes, that means we've reached our goal. Going forward, the goal is one more. One more writer, one more person believing in themselves.

The day nearly escaped me. I knew it was coming, but there was a funk hanging over me for some odd reason that kept me stationary. Not sure what that was - perhaps boredom with some of my current work, but I'm not so sure. Then as the day approached, I received devastating news. A person in my past, source of my first kiss and first full-blown "in love" feeling, is dying.

Pressing forward when you just don't want to is damn tough. So far I've cycled through intense sadness, guilt for smiling on a sunny day, fear that he's in pain, agony over what his father is going through, regrets for not having seen this family or this special man in decades. I'm far away, so visiting isn't a short drive, but the drive is in my near future. I can't not see these people. Small towns - we know everyone else and we're all connected. His sister posted the news on Facebook, and I've also been terrified to log on to Facebook for fear I see what I don't want to see.

I had to work through this. Plus, I had to get Writers Worth Day over with. And that's how it felt to me - just get through it, get it over with, get on to next week. Sorry - this is a joy on normal days, but not all days are normal, are they?

No matter how we keep it together most days, there are some days where you just can't. I took Friday off unannounced. I spent money on the daughter. I kept distracted until I could process the news and deal with it.

How do you deal with disturbances, big or small?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The 3rd Annual Writers Worth Day

It's here - Writers Worth Day, the one day a year we writers collaborate on increasing our expectations and our business savvy! This year came up on me unexpectedly, I'll admit. But it's never too late to celebrate the fact that you have a marketable set of skills and deserve to stand up for them.

Today let's reinforce our belief in our jobs as our businesses. Let's establish good business practices that include setting rates, setting work boundaries, and setting a standard of professionalism that echoes through to our client projects and communications. Feel free to share your experiences of when you last felt unappreciated by a client, when you felt valued by a client, and when you finally stood up for yourself as a legitimate business person deserving of respect and fair wages.

Today, spread the word. Make an effort to tell your blog community about expecting more. Help a writer on a forum or on Twitter make a better choice. Inspire another writer to build a better business practice. Tell your own stories in order to teach others through example - bad or good.

The goal of Writers Worth Day is to help one more writer improve their earnings and business potential. We are not in competition with each other - we are in negotiations with clients. Be the mentor or the friendly email that gives another writer the gumption to change a habit, ask for more, amend the marketing targets. And please, let me know right here in the comments section how you spread the word or helped another. Let's advocate the value of experienced writing talent.

Also, thanks to everyone for sending me your tips for the contest! It was a tight race, but I'm proud to announce the winner of the Peter Bowerman book of choice is.....

Lucinda Gunnin!

Lucinda really took the spirit of Writers Worth Day to heart. Her entry is below. Thank you for all your entries. I appreciate it!

"The two best tips I have for writers are combined from my atrocious experience freelancing for a local newspaper, an experience that taught me the hard way that just because an editor asks for something doesn't mean they will pay for it.

"When negotiating a freelancing contract, two important things need to be considered. Make sure that the job pays for your research time as well as your writing time. Sure, a gig that pays me $50 for an hour's writing sounds good, but if I spend three hours researching it, that's not a good wage at all. Bump it up to four hours of research and you're lucky to make $10 an hour -- not acceptable. Along those same lines, be sure to negotiate a kill fee into any assignment that you are given. In the negotiations of the kill fee, especially for time-sensitive materials, include a clause about how soon the kill fee kicks in and rights revert to you.

"My mistake was agreeing to write a series of articles for the local newspapers, an in-depth analysis with interviews to back it up, of the local school funding crisis. My contract offered good terms and paid on publication. I spent a day and produced a several piece package as described by the editor's request. She published one of the pieces and then told me they would hold on to the others for later use. They were never used and instead of $250 for my day's work, I got $75, the equivalent of Illinois' minimum wage for the hours I worked."


Lucinda gets it. And her advice is golden.

How are you celebrating your worth today?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Worthy Tip: Use Common Sense

Oh, we have common sense, but isn't it human nature to believe what we see because we need it to be true? We've all done it - fallen for a lousy offer because we let down our guard for one minute.

Truth is the lousy job postings out there are easy to spot. We've been subjected to so many of them, we can smell their stench from a distance. However, as we get wise, they get more devious. I've told you recently about the "offer" to sponsor my website so long as I use their copy on the site. Basically, they wanted me to hand over control of my weblog and bastardize my bandwidth so I could help them sell you something. Let me drop my professional guard for just a second - f*** that.

There are other offers, too. I can't tell you the number of requests I get from people I've never heard of or interacted with who want to guest post here. Worse, they want to guest post AND have me link back to their site, which so far have been nothing more than affiliate sites intent on driving up their traffic and hence their ad revenue. If you haven't bothered to post here or interact, I can tell you now I'm not inclined to believe your sudden interest in this little old blog and community.

Here's your advice for today: screw on the skepticism when faced with any offer that you haven't heard before or from someone you don't know. While it wouldn't really kill anyone to read a post by a stranger here, it's not my goal to muddy up the message with obvious salesy garbage. I'll leave you decide that one for yourselves, but just take those offers with the same grain of salt you do any offer that can't be explained without a pie chart and a mathematician.

What's been offered to you lately?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Worthy Tip: Don't Pay

Starting out is tough. You know you want to make a career of it, but you're not always sure where that first, or even fifth client will come from. And you're nervous. Either you've quit that job and must make it work or you're marking time and can't take the full leap until the workload outpaces your day job.

That's probably the biggest reason people turn to paid job listing sites. The more popular among them - eLance, Guru - require a fee for you to see the jobs. They also expect you to bid for the job, eLance holding its bidding process in full view of other bidders. Mind you, many of these sites have free listings for all, but you have to weed through tons of ones you're not able to apply for before finding them. At least for Guru, they remind you with a "Can't Apply" type notation on each one you pass by.

I fell for this once. I paid $74.99 for a three-month subscription to Guru. I had found one client on the free site that led to a number of smallish projects, but curiosity got to me. I paid in hopes of finding these premium listings the company touted.

Funny that word "premium." The job listings I suddenly had access to were, well, crap. If you were looking on Craig's List and found a job listing paying $10 an article - just like that times fifty. I was sure I was seeing the basic jobs, but a closer look revealed that no, that's what I got for my $74.99.

I wrote the company, complaining that there were too many of these jobs that were well beneath a professional writer's skill level. The response I expected was a promise to look into it. However, the response I received was basically this - We don't discriminate against listers (especially since we collect their fee like everyone else's) and there are enough writers applying that it can't be that much of an issue.

I canceled instantly.

This coming from me, someone who used to justify right here the validity of these sites. Yes, I did score two good clients from it, but one was on the free portion. The other never turned into the huge moneymaker it should have been.

So today's advice - don't pay for what should be free. Job listings shouldn't be your main focus for finding work, anyway. You should be much more pro-active, finding those clients you want to work with and convincing them they can't do without you. And any job that requires you to bid openly against other writers creates a feeding frenzy where the only winner is the schmuck who gets hours of your talent for a dollar.

How long did you belong to the paid/bidding sites? What was your experience?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Worthy Tip: Redefining Work

Four more days for you to send or post your worth-inducing advice and qualify for the Writers Worth Day contest - don't forget to either post your tip here or email it to me. Remember, it has to be a tip that inspires writers to improve their earnings potential, draw their professional boundaries, or in some way motivates them to work more professionally.

Today's worthy tip - redefine what is legitimate work. And maybe that's where the new and frustrated writers are going astray. The offers for $10 articles and articles paying .001 per word seem very much like writing jobs. But they're not - they're scams designed to part you with your time and talent. Instead of seeing these as work options, see them as scams. Just because the work is writing-related doesn't equate automatically to a "writing" project. Once a year the IRS asks me to add, subtract, multiply, and pull my hair out, but that doesn't make it an "accounting" job. More to the point, if I do it, I'm not an accountant - no, not even for those few, frustrating hours.

So for today, for this week, reassess every single project you consider. Don't waste any time on a posting that decreases your rate to abysmal levels. Choose the pay rate you expect and hold firm.

What should you say when you've applied for a job that turns out to be one of these scam offers? No thank you. While I'm all for telling these fools how ridiculous their offers are, and I have, but I've learned long ago that the time and frustration wasted on these people will never be recouped. Spend that time looking for legitimate work.

Writers, what are some of the "offers" you've found that are really scams meant to take advantage of your time and talent?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Writerly Tip: Know the Signs

Welcome to the first weekly celebration of Writers Worth Day! As promised, this will be a week of tips and advice to help you frame your career in a more positive light. I ask all of you to join in. In fact, this year's contest requires your interaction.

All week I'll be asking for your tips on how to improve the career, expect more, and work toward your earnings goals. Your ideas are needed, too. For every tip you put here in the comments section or send to me at lwbean AT gmail DOT com is an entry in the contest to win, on me, one of Peter Bowerman's Well-fed Writer books. How you win is simple - send me the tip that I publish on Friday, Writers Worth Day. I'll post the best that appears, and you get to choose from Amazon or Peter Bowerman's site the book you'd like. That includes e-books if we can work out how I'll pay for it and you get to download it. Prize limited to one book.

So send your tip as soon as you can. Deadline for entries is Thursday at 5 pm EDT.

Today's tip: know the signs. If you're new to answering blind ads on the Internet or offers that come into your email, knowing what to expect can save you untold amounts of wheel-spinning and aggravation. Here's how to decipher the offers and find those red flags that tell you it's not worthy of your talent:

Addressed to Writer. If they don't know your name, they don't know you and are sending to the entire planet of writers. That means they're not discerning enough to look carefully. That means also that they're not paying what professional writers require.

Bulk hiring. If they're looking for "writers" with a plural, again, they're not picky enough to demand quality writing for adequate pay. And yes, these thoughts are connected. Rarely does a client hire three or more writers simultaneously and pay a fighting wage - unless the fighting is amongst the writers trying to grab the measly amount allotted for the entire pack.

An easy job for the right person. They should just type "We expect this to be done perfectly in one pass and if there's one comma out of place you're not getting that $1 we promised!" Too many variables here. They can, and will, contend you're not the right person if you expect fair wages. The job is never easy. The pay is always abysmal.

Exclamation points. When was the last time you saw Wall Street execs place a job posting and include any exclamation point? Consider them red flags waving wildly. They're trying to make crap sound exciting. Thankfully most of these people haven't taken marketing courses.

We have a limited budget, therefore, bid accordingly. Two things wrong with this sentence. First, their budget limits are not your problem. Second, their budget limits do NOT influence your bid, nor should they be expecting it to. What about your budget? Do they care what you need to make in order to run a business? No? Then don't waste time with people who try this sideways attempt to lower your rate and get something for nothing.

Great job for students and stay-at-home moms. Grrrr.... how can you insult three segments of the population in one sentence? Post that under "writing gigs." It's akin to saying "Students, moms, and writers are all worth less than minimum wage and none take writing work seriously enough to expect a real job."

If you pass our editing/writing/proofing test... No. Even if you're a new writer, you should never agree to doing any work for free. In fact, answer these ads with "Here is my rate for the test." Fifty bucks gets them a sample of a few paragraphs, too, NOT a few chapters.

Since our new venture is a labor of love.... This sentence is always used as rationale for not paying you much, if anything. Let them love it all they want. Let them have the labor, too. Their lack of budget or paying for help is not your problem to solve. It's theirs.

Writers, what signs bug you most?

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Widget


For those of you planning to spread the word about the 3rd Annual Writers Worth Day, here's the widget. I can't embed any URLs thanks to my new hard drive minus PhotoShop. If any of you want to take a stab at it, I'd welcome that.

Post it anywhere you like. Link back to here. Let me know where it is so I can visit!

How Not to be a Networking Twit(terer)

A reminder - next week starts our official countdown to Writers Worth Day on May 14th. Mark your calendars! I promise tips, sage advice, and maybe even a prize. I'll get you a widget soon - I'm without my PhotoShop and I need to find out how to get a URL embedded.

I say here a lot that Twitter has become a really effective marketing and networking tool for me. I wish I could say the same for other people, who probably don't get the same results, and in some cases I can see exactly why. Just a reminder to Twitter peeps:

If you say it, show it. Ironic, but it seems all these people promising superb interactive marketing or coaching don't bother to retweet anyone else's tweets. And they think we don't notice that?

Repetition gets you dumped. I'm all for self-promotion, but if your only posts are repeats of the same stuff you've posted a dozen times prior, you're not in it for the connection.

Automated responses that want me to visit your site instantly will be met with my wave buh-bye. This is almost as annoying as tooting your own horn incessantly. Just. Don't. If you can't interact with others in a genuine way, stay the hell off Twitter.

You're allowed to be political - I'm allowed to unfollow you. Truth be told, people who beat a political drum constantly bore me no end (except those who blog or write about politics, in which case that's just their thing). But lacing your tweets with ridiculous charges about any political party makes me tired.

Twitter as a porn circulator? Really? Maybe I don't understand people who promote porn. Then again, I don't understand spammers or Nigerian kings needing my help.

To be retweeted, shorten the messages. If you're over that 140-character limit, I can't retweet you. I've tried. Don't tell me how to adjust my settings so that I can do it. Just say less, okay?

If you post ten things in two seconds, you're hogging and I'm leaving. Way to lose your message in the noise! Think about it - if you create that much residual noise, no one will hear anything you say. Brevity. Resist the urge to overshare.

What Twitter networking faux pas do you see most often?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Third Annual Writer's Worth Day

It's that time of year again - time to celebrate the value and skills you bring to your clients and the writing world. The Third Annual Writer's Worth Day is next week - May 14th. All next week we'll be celebrating by encouraging each other through worth-inducing tips, advice, and sharing of experiences. Please make sure to come by every day to get your dose of appreciation and acknowledgement!

I started this day out of sheer frustration. Too many people were posting too many jobs that were mere dollars - not per hour, either. Worse, writers were taking them. And they still are. So as long as I have breath in these lungs, I'll pound the drum for writers to stand up for themselves and say no to any job that is beneath them. (A hint - if it pays less than minimum wage, honey, it's beneath you.)

I'll have a new widget for you this week. Please put it on your website, your blog, on Facebook, wherever writers hang out. Help spread the word and raise awareness. If one more writer says no to unacceptable wages, it will have been worth it.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can help educate our peers. These are tips I suggested last year. Feel free to add your own:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll be holding a drawing in celebration of the day. Prize and details to be announced.

How do you hope to celebrate Writer's Worth Day?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Do You Have What It Takes?

We can talk all day about the feast-and-famine cycle, the unruly clients, the non-paying clients, and the aversion we have to marketing or billing. But at the root of it, we love what we do because it fits us. The cycle of freelancing is part of what we do just as our ability to work our own hours is.

But it's not going to fit everyone. If you're new to freelancing or thinking about getting into freelancing, at some point you need to ask yourself if it's right for you. No dreamy notions of coffee-shop workplaces and working with a laptop under a tree in a park - though that can happen, you'll not notice where you are or anything around you. You'll be busy working.

Know this -

Building a freelance career takes time. Very few freelancers drop out of their day job and into a freelance career that earns the same. It happens, but it took some careful planning or incredible luck in order for that to happen. Most freelancers start out small and sporadic. It's the most critical point in your freelance career - starting at zero. But everyone of the successful freelancers who visit here daily have done it. You can too, but...

It takes commitment to doing whatever it takes to build that career. That means learning where to find work, how to approach clients, how to market, when to market, and how to keep your own financial records. You have to be willing to read, research, study, ask questions, and jump in with both feet.

It takes a willingness to fail and learn. Yes, you'll fail at a few things. Setbacks happen. Clients find ways of not paying. You'll screw up projects. Where you'll learn is by taking those setbacks and finding ways to improve your skills and protect your interests.

It takes planning. If you're building a house, you're going to take enough time to make sure the plans are correct, the contractors are good ones, and the work is done properly. Same with your career. Put down a good foundation to build on. If you can define a goal and a path toward that goal, you're ahead of most freelancers. I would wager that the majority of those who can't get their careers off the ground are people who failed to plan. You can't show up and announce you're a writer and expect the world to embrace you. You have to set goals, map out approaches, amend them and tweak them until you get a path that works for you.

It takes patience. Don't expect to be earning six figures in your first year (unless you're a marketing guru, in which case call me). Expect to be building a client base and possibly an expertise area. Relax into the pace a bit at first, and when you get a modicum of comfort going, push yourself into new areas. You get to six figures not by resting on what you're good at but by going outside your comfort zone.

It takes savings. Unless you're able to rely on someone else's money to get you by, you'll need to be earning almost immediately. Though I will say this - desperation is a fantastic motivator. When I lost my job suddenly, I was working two days later at freelancing. I had rent to pay and two kids living at home. It's been eight years - I haven't looked back. Sure, you can bank some money before you make the leap, and I suggest you do, but if you're like most people, the money never seems to be there and you stay in that 9-to-5. That's fine, but it's also a sign this job may not fit you.

Writers, what were your circumstances starting out? How long was it before you were earning a decent annual wage? Did you plan? Do you plan now?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Mind the Gap

What's the toughest part of freelancing? Sometimes it's the work that doesn't arrive. We talked last week about not playing a waiting game with clients, but this is different. There are times when no matter what you attempt, you can't find clients or projects. So what then?

If you're a long-time freelancer, you're used to the bi-polar nature of the job. The fruitful times are great, but the fear of that dry spell is always lurking. For beginning freelancers, that's an all-too-real fear.

Those of us who are road-weary, so to speak, have been through the feast-famine cycle enough to have ways of surviving them. Here are some of the ones I employ/employed:

Don't spend. It's really tough to look at that windfall you just deposited and not want to buy something in celebration. Don't. Or limit yourself to a specific dollar amount. I reward myself after especially difficult projects, but I try to keep the reward within the context of the payout. It's why I have so many pairs of shoes - cheap, satisfying rewards.

Pay the bills first. Boring stuff, but necessary to save you that "Oh my gawd!" feeling later.

Temporary work. If you're lucky enough to live in a metro area, you may have access to temp agencies that hire creative talent. If not, temp agencies are usually looking for data entry clerks, typists, receptionists, and the like. No shame in earning a living, and you can drop in and out of the jobs as your freelancing job dictates. One word of caution - don't rely on them to the point where you're not marketing aggressively. Treat your freelance job as your only option and you'll be more committed to it.

Send out numerous queries to fast-paying pubs. Try online ones, but avoid like hell the content mills. They're not writing jobs - they're marketing tools making someone other than you a lot of money. The amount you have to write in order to make a decent hourly wage is suspect - who can do that without rewriting someone else's article (which is unethical and smacks strongly of plagiarism)? Stay with jobs that have reputable companies behind them. I write web copy for insurance brokerages, for online versions of print magazines, and for company blogs. Yes, they're marketing tools too, but they have a defined audience and need. The pay is often in line with your rate, too.

Ask writing friends if they have overflow work. I've done this and have brought on friends in need. It's a great way to keep working and earning while still saving time to market your own business.

How do you fill in the gaps?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sick Days and Work Piles

Busy morning already searching down an odd statistic that I remember reading and saving, but can't find (figures - I'm usually very careful to bookmark these things). I like being busy, but I'm fending off a cold on top of the recurrent sinus infection, so the world's a chemically-induced fog at the moment.

Spent a nice weekend alternately under the hood of the car and driving it with the roof down. I have no idea if we were able to fix anything, but we drove it to Connecticut and back with no problem. If so, the problem may have been a wire too close to a hot engine. If not, back to the drawing board.

I'm glad there's not much going on today - I need to rest. I hadn't had a cold in three years and now this is the second since December. I blame the weakened immune system thanks to this constant sinus infection. Off to a specialist.

Not much from me today. Just a question - if you were to take an online course in developing or growing your writing business, what areas would you like to see covered?
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