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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grammar and Your Client

What's on the iPod: Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

After having more than two client interactions get heated over grammar and sentence structure, I was itching to hire some mensa-level kid-geek to plant a virus in every Word Grammar Check function in the country. I loathe that program and all it's done to ruin good client-writer relationships.

In one case, I had to spend a good 20 minutes explaining and giving examples on why the things my client's Grammar Check caught were not errors as he was convinced they were. I proved my point, but I eventually lost the client (other factors, but I think this contributed).

In another case, I had a client rip me up in email because I used a preposition to start a sentence. Worse, the chewing out I received was nowhere near the level of sin I'd supposedly committed. My talents were questioned, my professionalism, my ability to string together sentences....that client disappeared, but I was the one initiating that. I won't be talked to like that no matter how right or wrong the client is (and she was dead wrong). Because someone holds a high educational degree doesn't mean they've had any English beyond the cursory levels required of their bachelor's degree. It showed. Her methods were old school. Everything I provided her was within current standards and accepted practices.

Still another couldn't understand why I used "said" instead of changing it up and using "replied" "contended" "explained" (in a press release). Never mind that any use of "replied" in a press release with a one-sided conversation is just wrong. After 12 edits, I had to ask gently if the client was over-thinking the release (two weeks to fix it? Was the news still relevant?).

I bring this up because I saw on Valerie's Planet Word blog a funny post about her client "approving" her copy after she passed muster with a grammar-check software application.

In that case, that client would be told in spades why I won't be put through any "system" that cannot possibly catch every single nuance in the language. And I would refuse to do any more work if it happens again, and especially if he starts into lengthy debates on projects because of the program's "grading" system. You either trust your writer or you write it yourself and let your stupid program be the judge. And good luck getting an application to understand your target audience and the correct tone for the message being delivered.

For some reason there are clients who cannot fully trust their contractors. Perhaps they've been burned by others or perhaps they just have deep-rooted trust issues that nothing will budge. Whatever the reasons, you as a freelancer need to understand that trust is something that's built, not forced by someone telling you how to do your job - and getting it wrong.

When was the last time grammar or sentence structure became an issue between you and your client? How did you handle it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Creative Break From, Well, Your Creativity

What's on the iPod: Where You are by Rascal Flatts

Before you think the heat's gotten to me, let me explain the title of this post. As I was sitting crafting poetry the other day - me, the person least likely to have time to write poetry - I couldn't help but wonder where the devil the urge came from. I love writing fiction, love writing business copy, can't get enough article writing, but poetry? I love reading it. Writing it was something I did in high school and once or twice for college courses. I guess I just left it behind.

Until recently, that is. It started when I had house guests in April, taxes were due, and I couldn't get to the computer to check email let alone work. I remember having a spare hour one morning, so I sat down to fulfill a request; a friend whose husband had passed didn't want a card from me - she wanted a poem. She remembered my high-school scratchings (my mother was showing some of my poems to anyone slow enough to be cornered).

So in that spare hour I sat down and wrote a poem for her, spoken to her husband, remembering the reasons why we as kids loved seeing him and his family. Then in that same hour, I wrote another one. Huh? Where did that come from? Since then, it's as though I'm pseudo-Emily Dickinson minus the macabre levels of depression.

Maybe it was the back-to-the-wall feeling that usually gets the creative juices stirred up, or maybe it's because the chum churned up in my life recently needs somewhere to rest. I'm finding huge relief in the creative process that gives me a little break from, well, my other creative process. How weird is that?

I think I know what's up. I'm writing the books because I want to make money on them someday. I'm writing articles, blogs, newsletters, press releases, white papers, etc. because I am making money on them. The poetry, so far, is the release valve. No pressure, no expectations. Just get it on paper and enjoy the hell out of creating something just for the sake of the creation.

And I think we all need that step away from the money train, so to speak. We look for things to do that don't have the usual pressure to get it done lest we starve or can't afford electricity. For me, right now, it's poetry.

What's it for you right now? How do you step back from professional creativity and find creativity just for you?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Putting the "Try" Back into Marketing

What's on the iPod: Poison Prince by Amy MacDonald
What I'm reading: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen


Hopefully as you read this, I'm reeling in record-breaking bass or pike. One can only hope. Per usual, here are some vapor trails of my existence....

The birthday is now a day old and I started celebrating/avoiding it Thursday of last week. It's a milestone year, and for some reason I've been clinging to the "9" part of my age like it's a life preserver and I'm a drowning woman. But getting older beats the alternative, right? We spent Thursday night in probably the most intimate concert setting you can imagine (maybe 100 people is a record store) listening to the awesome Enter the Haggis. The guys are talented, eclectic, and just damn nice people. I'm in the habit of describing them as Green Day with Bagpipes and Fiddles.

When I got home, my daughter had a gift waiting - new Tom's shoes. Cute and so freakin' comfortable. Men, forgive me for the lapse into female-only talk. Here's a link for you: men's Tom's.

I bumped into a fellow freelancer last week and exchanged work forecasts/experiences. She said things had dried up for her and it was tough. "No one's calling." I hated to tell her how good things were for me at the moment. I offered to see who I could connect her with and gave her my card.

What struck me were the obstacles she seemed to put in her path. She said too much personal stuff, which didn't seem to hit her directly (outside her house and orbit entirely), were consuming her time. In fact, she put them front-and-center to her job. The thing that really struck me was the phrase "No one's calling."

There's the problem. Passive marketing. Marketing is a noun, right? But the act of marketing - to market - is a verb. Too many times we freelancers look at marketing as a noun and not something requiring movement. They don't call. They don't see us. We're here where we've always been - what's wrong with them?

What's wrong is they're busy doing their day-to-day and while we do matter, we're not in their sights because we, and the hundred or so people they know just like us, haven't contacted them in months or maybe longer.

I know people who have contacts at some pretty impressive places. Yet some of these same people let months or years go by before sending notes. People move on, business models change, budgets tighten - any number of things can get in the way. If writers aren't staying in touch, they miss the changes, miss the opportunities, and don't get taken along when managers/editors go elsewhere.

What contact have you lost touch with lately? How much effort do you put into keeping relationships going?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Monthly Assessment: June 2010

What's on the iPod: Wasted Words by The Allman Brothers Band

Amen for June. I was glad to see the arse-end of May, and June proved to be much better all the way around. Emotional upheavals gone, biopsies out of the way, work issues vaporized, and checks actually arrived, amen. Here's the low-down:

Queries:
I did manage a few. And the few I managed turned into projects and ultimately, invoices. What's more, the work is done and the check is cashed. Amen.

I've noticed I'm able to be much more selective in querying. Maybe it's because I have nice relationships with a number of editors that I'm able to get solid work without a ton of effort. One or two queries for ongoing projects were never answered, but I have enough keeping me busy through August.

Existing clients:
Two ongoing projects continue to produce a combined $1,600-2,000 each month. Both projects are for good people, so I'm happy to continue with them.

A newer client has funneled much more work to me, and I'm loving it. It's great when you feel you can contribute to their cause, and also when they appreciate it.

Through that client, I reconnected with a friend/editor. He asked me to provide some article ideas. I love working with him. He's like a distant partner in crime. We've shared meals and conference meetings, plus we both held the same position at different times in one company. We get each other and I just think he's fun.

New clients:
None of those yet, but my concentration this month tended toward existing clients and building the newer client relationship.

Earnings:
Yes, I love June. At the moment I'm about $2,500 over my monthly target. That makes up for a crappy spring.

Bottom line:
July already has two client spaces filled along with the ongoing client work. With luck I'll be adding one, maybe two more magazine jobs to that. I'd love to have a July like this June. Normally, July is a "floater" month - no work, no money, no projects until August. I'm glad that's not the case this year, especially after the tax bill in April.

How did you do this month?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Selfish Networker

What I'm reading upstairs: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
What's on the iPod: Floating in the Forth by Frightened Rabbit


Twitter has become a really effective tool for more reasons than you realize. It connects us to our colleagues, introduces us to new ones, helps us find work, and helps us weed out the jerks.

Let me explain that last bit. Since joining Twitter, I've received countless followers who probably think I'm reciprocating. Many times I do. But plenty of times I don't because the followers show their true stripes. They tweet only about themselves and oftentimes the same thing endlessly. They're what I call Twitterers With Inclinations Toward Selfishness, or TWITS.

TWITS aren't networkers - their idea of social interaction is browbeating people into visiting their links and retweeting their advertisements. They use phrases like "core competencies" and "value proposition" to impress you with how much jargon they can collect. And they think you're there to be used, and that you like it.

How to spot TWITS:

1. They never ask how you are.
2. They expect you to help them make connections.
3. They never offer to, nor will they ever return the favor.
4. They don't make personal connections - you're a potential sale, not a person.
5. Retweet you? What? Are you crazy?
6. They fill up the Tweet space with a dozen messages in a row, often the same bloody tweet.
7. They talk about themselves exclusively.
8. They enjoy bragging about their number of followers (and dude, I unfollowed you instantly after that).
9. They post a link with some sensational headline - the link goes right to their affiliate sales website.

TWITS are not limited to Twitter. No no, they've existed long before 140-character messages. TWITS expect you to make their work easy for them - introduce them to your network, schmooze people in order to pave the way for them to shake hands and ask for immediate favors. They meet you and start pitching right after "hello" (or in some cases, in place of it). They think if you have knowledge, your duty is to share it. For free. Always.

How many TWITS do you know?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mad Dashes and Lists

What's on the iPod: Wannabe by The Spice Girls (stop laughing)
What I'm reading upstairs: Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin


I've been a bit quiet about it, but I'm actually about to go on vacation. The reason I've been quiet: the moment I announce it, all hell tends to break loose workwise. So I've been working extra hard to get projects done, started, or in progress before I drive off. Yesterday I spent the afternoon writing an article complete with sidebar, resource links, and source lists. I may be wrong, but I felt good about it when I'd finished. We'll see.

I'm also spending the next few days getting other ongoing projects sewn up and invoiced. And I'm getting interviews scheduled for the next article, due in August. The more I do now, the more I can relax when I close this door at the end of the week.

But what's vacation plans without a glitch? A client project I'd sent out last week to a publication prompted a call from the editor. I'm not sure what that's about, but whatever fixes or amendments are needed will sit until I get back.

Let's hope that's all that comes knocking this week. I don't have time. If you don't know this about me already, I'm a planner. I make lists and get giddy when I can check the big stuff off that list. I've been accused of being too punctual to parties and appointments. I can't be late. Physically, I just can't do it. Not even on purpose. I'd probably self-combust.

Normally I do announce my departures, but I have a full calendar of projects for July. Anything else will be new to me. Clients contacting me next week will get my out-of-the-office notice. Where I'll be there's no cell phone service let alone Internet. Amen. Disconnecting entirely is exactly what we all need once in a while.

Do you inform clients of your upcoming vacations? How much of a planner are you? What's your best method of preparing for time off?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Concessions

What's on the iPod: Run by Amy MacDonald
What I'm reading: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen

Had an interesting twist on a client project recently. I'd sent over an invoice for a quick-and-dirty project, but heard nothing on either the project or the invoice for a week. I sent a "Did you get this?" note, only to get back the following: "We did, but we didn't use your work and instead did the work internally because of tight schedules."

Normally, I'd be responding with something akin to "Isn't that just your tough luck? Pay up" (but in a more professional way). However, this is a long-time client whose never before questioned my work or my invoices. Also, the offer extended wasn't to forget entirely my payment due, but to roll it into the most current project. To that I say fine. But just this once.

Because the offer was extended along with the immediate refusal of payment, I accepted it. And because we have a long, happy history together, I went with it. But as I said, this time only. I'm all for giving a client a break, but I'm not all for starting a new habit of "Gee, I didn't really use this" refusals once the work's been delivered. They know that going forward, the bill is paid without discussion. If the work completed doesn't suit, I need to be told so within reasonable time limits so I can fix it.

Given the quick turnaround on this one, I understand the need to get it done yesterday. However, that ties my hands, as well. I cannot get the full scope of the project - the focus, intent, requirements, etc. - if I'm given less than 60 hours. That will change, as well. If there's a project in which I'm to be called in, I have to be given ample time with which to complete it, including full communication on what's expected.

In some cases, client concessions are possible. In this case, because of our history together, I was able to. However, when it becomes a habit that the writer's invoices become optional, it's time to insist on payment and rethink the relationship. Despite thinking this client is a terrific client, I won't hang on if this type of concession has set a precedent. And I won't be shy about informing them, either. They need to know why their contractors are unhappy as it will only improve their relationships going forward.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dressing for the Job

What's on the iPod: The Joker by Steve Miller Band

Dressing? For freelancing? Is she kidding? you must be thinking. Actually, I'm quite serious. Despite the fact that I sit at home with very occasional "remote" work days, I dress for my job.

That's not to say every day I put on a business suit, heels, and do my hair (read that never, except for the hair part, and that happens rarely before noon). That means I take time to put on clothes that make me feel polished or at least neat enough to get the job done. Thursday, it was pinstriped shorts, a dark grey t-shirt, ivory crocheted vest, and a neat necklace that goes to the navel. I was casual, but I felt pretty darned good.

I'm a big believer in how you look affecting how you feel and how you function. Wednesday of last week I had on a purple sleeveless top and a khaki pencil skirt. I got more done than the day before when I was in my shlumpy orange t-shirt and black shorts. Is it a coincidence? Maybe, but there's certainly a correlation between appearance and attitude, which is definitely connected to your performance.

I rarely get out of the house during the week (and yet I have a shoe wardrobe that's surpassed sinful levels), but it makes me feel better to know I'm dressing for me even if no one sees me, not to mention using some of those shoes. I can carry on that negotiation with a client knowing I feel presentable enough to myself to exude that confidence.

Sure, I have my slippers-and-yoga-pants days, which I love. It's that I have the flexibility to dress down that I love. But more importantly is that I don't say no to dressing for just myself. Nor should you.

Do you notice that dress affects your attitude? What's your favorite way to dress when you're working?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Stuff

What's on the iPod: After the Gold by Neil Young

If you get a chance, head over the About Freelance Writing, where I have a new post.

Yesterday I'd had enough of these four walls, which are now steaming thanks to a Southern exposure and 80 degrees. I grabbed the laptop and headed to the mall. Free WiFi aplenty - usually. I decided on Starbucks because I knew they had outlets. Can someone explain why places offer free WiFi and then give you one outlet to share among 12 people?

Once I got online to stay (15 minutes? Really?) I was able to get some editing done and finish reading my son's first book manuscript. But forget coming up with anything creative. See, there was this dude - I'm assuming the general manager of the area as he was definitely not the manager and not from that store - and that dude was disruptive. There he was in Starbucks, haven of uber-caffeine treats, and he was practically screaming every sentence and he was REALLY EXCITED about the NEW STORE LOCATION. It was hysterical. I was so tempted to walk up to him and say "Dude. Decaf. For gawd's sake, DECAF."

I will say I managed a poem. It was about my response to the over-caffeinated - hey, make lemonade out of the situation, right?

Today is another Friday off. My play date was postponed last week and I'm hoping she can make it out this week. If not, I'll find a quieter place to work on novel edits. And this weekend, I'm hoping to enjoy the hell out of every second, including, perhaps, a trip to the Jersey shore for some sand between the toes.

What's your weekend looking like?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Learning How to Ask

What's on the iPod: Something Good This Way Comes by Jakob Dylan

Yesterday was a really fruitful day. I managed to get one ongoing project done in the morning, conduct an interview, have lunch, rewrite an article, finish three blog posts, and get one more ongoing project done in the afternoon. And I was done by 4:30. I didn't feel rushed, but think the keyboard sparked a few times.

I saw a fun, frustrated post by Anne Wayman yesterday about how she's not everyone's mother. It made me laugh out loud, but I nodded in agreement quite a bit. It's about writers who ask questions that would take weeks to answer, if you could answer them at all.

Plenty of newbies will read that and think she and her commenters are a bunch of elitist brats who won't help a soul. And they'd be completely wrong. Anne has been my inspiration for helping others for years. She extends herself and shares what she knows with anyone needing help. What she's saying is if you need help, learn how to ask.

Her example is a great one - someone wanted a primer on blog post writing and pricing. Not "What do you charge and how long are the posts?" but "What's the average?" Worse, the asker had already agreed to do it for the client. Big mistake - that writer is now going into an assignment blind. And maybe more importantly, the writer shows no self-respect and honestly doesn't do much to convince me he/she knows what he/she is doing by signing up for a project without discussing the particulars. What is expected and what's being paid? Those are the first questions that need to come up. If the client doesn't know, it's up to you to set the parameters and negotiate it.

Occasionally I get questions from writers. I love it because most of the people who find me here know what they're asking. But every now and again I get the "How do I get started?" question. Do you know how impossible that one is to answer? After being asked so often, I developed a standard answer "Start by reading books on how to write in whatever genre you like and read writers' blogs for specific tips." But now I think I'll say "Sign up for my writing business development course."

Why? Because the question is lazy. The asker didn't bother to do even the most preliminary homework. Most of what you need to know about writing is plastered all over the Internet. If you're unsure about something specific, like how to locate the right person to send a query to, that's different. The question even sounds smart because the person asking has bothered to get to that point.

What's the worst question you've ever had? What's the worst question you've ever asked?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Building Respect

What I'm reading upstairs: Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
What's on the iPod: Halleluia by Rufus Wainwright


Lately my life has taken on some interesting issues - one of which is the seat-of-the-pants method by which others around me live their lives. While I'm a proponent of spontaneity, I am not willing to have my work or my own life altered or put on hold to support said spontaneity. Friend, relatives, even strangers have scheduled things that I'm expected to accommodate during my work days. I get messages akin to "We've scheduled someone to be at your home between 8 am and 5 pm." Or "I'll be back around 2." To which I say fine, but what's that mean to me?

It's meant to convey this - "You need to drop what you're doing and accommodate my schedule." However, I'm a working person. My office happens to be at home. I fill my hours with work, not errands. Friends may have time to just drop in, but rarely do I have time to drop what I'm doing to visit. Family may need errands, but I'm working. If they want to pay me for dry cleaning runs or time out of my day to run deposits to the bank, I'll work that into my schedule. But I won't drop what I'm doing because someone needs this NOW. In fact, I refuse most requests to spend my work days doing anything but working. If I take a break and can do it, I will. But if you need something at the store, best to work that into your schedule, not mine.

I'm stingy with my time for a reason - it quickly snowballs out of control. Doing favors is great. I love doing favors. However, I will not neglect my work time in order to do so. I will do favors anytime after my work day is over. Yes, I'm home. Yes, I have a car handy. But no, that doesn't equal "Lori's free and can drop whatever she's doing."

The only way to build respect for your business is to stand up for it and say no when the request is in direct conflict to your business meeting its goals. This stance has caused no end of friction and argument in my own household, but I'm immovable. I expect the same respect for my job as I give to them for their jobs. I'd no sooner ask anyone at a 9-to-5 to leave that work meeting to drop off a package at the post office than I'd ask them to rebuild a car engine on their lunch break. Yet there are way too many people waiting to wedge that errand crowbar between my work and my time.

We freelancers do have a more flexible schedule. However, that's not a license to abuse our time. In fact, we have less time because on top of the projects we're in the middle of, we have to search for more work. We have to do it all - billing, collection, marketing, networking, research, interviewing, transcribing, oh and hey, writing. I'd say someone should be running our errands for a change.

How do you handle requests/demands on your time that are not work-related?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why I'll Always Be a Girl

What I'm reading: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
What's on the iPod: Take It Easy by The Eagles


Last week I quipped that when invoices get argued, I entertain ideas of pulling a James Chartrand - in other words, adopting a male persona in order to get a little more respect. I wasn't totally serious. Sure, I've considered it, much the way people consider running away when the going gets tough. In other words, not seriously enough to be dangerous.

Some believe it's deceitful. Maybe so, but after hearing James's story and understanding from my own perspective how sometimes girls don't get a fair shake, I will never judge her for it, nor will I question her ability to understand her own needs. She's a colleague and her methods work for her. She's harmed no one (and if her confession made you feel betrayed, I have to ask why, given her explanation for it, you'd take her guarding her identity for financial reasons so personally). I will say this for the record - I'm a girl. I've always been a girl. I'll always be a girl. And I'm not going to let gender get in the way any longer.

To me, that's how you stop any gender bias in its tracks, or anything that threatens to impact your career. You adopt that kind of "gender may care" attitude. If it's not an issue to you and you're projecting that to your clients in the form of confidence and ability, it won't matter. I'd love to study James's situation to see if her attitude post-virtual-sex-change changed and maybe that was the difference or if it really was a bias of some sort. Either way, if I refuse to accept that as a fact in my own career; it no longer belongs in my reality.

I've been accused of being overly confident when most people would be cautious, so maybe that's why when I approach contract fee conversations, I state matter-of-factly what my rate is. I've noticed as I've gotten further into this career, I have less trepidation about putting my rate out there. I will tell you the first few years I could barely ask what the client paid let alone put my own rate up for what I was sure would be ridicule. There's the difference - the shift in attitude saved my career.

A few weeks ago there was a question on an invoice. I was sure it was going to be a "but we didn't budget for that" debate. But I thought no, they know my rate. No apologies. No explanations. I responded with the requested info and only the requested info. I heard nothing again. I won't say it wasn't a little nerve-wracking waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I didn't get any argument. Instead, I got a check.

Sure, I worried it behind the scenes, but the client saw my game face. I know what I delivered was worth what I charged because I did the work and gave them something that will benefit their business. When I responded with my short answer, I kept that in mind, not "Dammit, not another person wanting something for nothing!", which I admit was my knee-jerk reaction.

I think the real danger to us freelancers is accepting as fact any type of stereotypical behavior or biases. It's only reality if you believe it. The client plays the role of the villain - you play the role of the victim. Stop being a victim. Your clients aren't villains unless you give them permission to be.

It's like I've said about content mill writing - you get stuck and you think it's because these sites are killing your chances of finding decent clients. They're not - you're using it much the way people use writer's block (which is hogwash in my opinion) as an excuse to not press forward. These sites leave ripples in our client worlds occasionally, but they are not an influence on good clients who value wordsmithing. They're a bane that drives down the price temporarily. Luckily, I've been seeing the low-price, crap content bubble bursting lately. Amen.

What biases and behaviors have you overcome lately?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Long Weekends and Easing into Work

What's on the iPod: Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Hope you had as nice a weekend as I did. With Friday in my pocket as spare change, the weekend started early. I spent it doing things I wanted to do - driving with the top down, climbing a difficult trail in the park, enjoying anything not computer-related, and paying to get the oil changed in the car (I don't put that car on ramps when I'm alone at home). I had lunch with my daughter, who is enjoying thoroughly her internship at a publication. Then we vacated the house as the stepson ramped up for his party.

Saw an interesting movie - A Prophet, a French film about a man who's French and Muslim, and his struggles in a French prison trying to survive. It was good, but about 30 minutes too long - it felt a little labored in the middle. The lead actor - Tahar Rahim - was incredible.

Saturday was our fifth anniversary, so we spent it at Molly Maguire's watching (or trying to watch) the US/England soccer game, which was hard to watch with the closed-caption feature on - couldn't see the ball. So we headed home and watched it on our tv, which turned out to be the better choice. And yesterday we took a bike ride in Valley Forge, got caught in a pouring rain, and had a great time. We came home and I made mint juleps for the first time. And I learned that serving them in tumblers is, well, dangerous. Smaller glasses keep people upright.

Today is a busy one. First the ongoing project job, then a revision of an article for a client. We have interest from a publication, and I've worked with the editor in the past (and shared a number of meals and stories with him), so I think we can get it to where everyone is satisfied. Then I start another project as soon as I get word on one more interview request. I'm hoping to have everything completed before the end of the month.

How's your week shaping up?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Links and Fun Stuff

What's on the iPod: Yes I'm Cold by Chris Bathgate

If you get a chance, head over to About Freelance Writing for my latest blog post.

Today is my seventh consecutive Friday off (with, I confess, a few hours of work stolen here and there). Because summer months are usually slower, I've pre-planned my workloads to allow for some three-day weekends. It's been fantastic. I usually come back Monday feeling rested rather than rushed (don't we try to cram it all into two days off?). I recommend it. Today I'm meeting a high-school best pal in the city for lunch. We've not seen each other since graduation day - let's just say a long time ago.

Since I'm not working today, I thought I'd encourage your own sloth-like behavior. Here are some links that caught my attention this week.

Low-Balling -- It's Not Just for Freelancers Anymore - Hard to believe, but cheapskates exist in the corporate world, too.

Clients from Hell - Start at the top and read until your sides ache. Our design counterparts share their horror stories.

Why Your Resume Sucks - Since I write resumes, not much of this surprises me, but there were still some pretty hilarious stories in here.

Message for Those in Search of a Blueprint to Freelance Success - Every freelancer needs to hear this.

Emergency Planning for Freelance Writers - Maybe because I'm such a Yo Prinzel fan, but everything she writes makes me think "Yeah! What she said!" Great advice once again from the girl with the uber-cool name.

What links caught your eye? When was the last time you took a short work week?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ouch

What's on the iPod: Good Arms vs. Bad Arms by Frightened Rabbit

Yesterday was an abbreviated day, and thankfully I thought ahead and made sure I didn't have a ton of work to come home to. I had a biopsy of a thyroid. The actual needle part didn't hurt - it was the lump-in-the-throat feeling for the rest of the day that was the painful part. Well, that and stepping on the scale. I'll always feel pain with that.

But the hard part is over for now. Surgery was not just mentioned, but planned for just in case. I don't know if there was some manufactured sunshine being blown around, but no one registers a patient for surgery "just in case" it's needed. My lumpy thyroid appears to have a date with a surgical knife. Gulp.

I will say as he mentioned surgery, I got this look. He said, "Are you okay?" (I'd told him I was needle averse and tended to hit pavement without warning.) I was okay about the surgery, but I have this date to go fishing soon, and I'd just worked out when. There are record bass to be had and dammit, I need a vacation.

I have two articles due on the first of July and August respectively, so the plan is to get #1 done, then vacation, and come back to the interviews for #2. At least, that's the plan unless something else comes up.

Today is a client interview for a contributed article. I have much of what's needed on hand, so it's going to require a little refocusing and a few key quotes. That's probably a little more challenging than writing from scratch.

So as I ponder getting older and getting enough boat time in, tell me how you get that vacation planned out. What's your best time? Do you pre-plan or do you take off when the schedule lets up? What's your ideal vacation?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Worthy Tip: Time for a Promotion

On the iPod: Down with the Ship by Enter the Haggis

I don't know if anyone else noticed, but there's been an ongoing discussion/debate on a former post here. It started when I opened my clam trap about Demand Studios yet again (will I never learn?). What ensued was a great conversation and maybe even a changing of opinion on the part of one poster who works for Demand. I hope so. I think he's worth much more than he's giving himself credit for.

In commenting to him, I told him that to me, successful freelancing is constantly looking at the projects and clients at hand, assessing the value and the pay, and acting accordingly. For instance, I had a client not long ago whose pay rates were abysmal. I liked the company and the work, but I realized this wasn't going to wash any longer. All my other clients were paying three times what this company was paying. So I let them go.

Consider it a promotion. You've done the grunt work long enough and you're ready to move up the food chain. That starts by expecting more from yourself and seeking out better-paying clients. That's not to say you can't negotiate a better rate with existing clients. In fact, I'd suggest it. That client I fired came back - they now pay me three times what they used to, putting them right in line with a few other clients of mine.

Our office counterparts work a job for a short time, put the experience on the resume, then work toward promotion. Why shouldn't we?

So today, why not look at your current projects and clients. Are the projects interesting? Do they translate well on a resume or portfolio? Are they paying you enough? Why do you stay? Where else can you look for better quality work or better paying work?

When was the last time you gave yourself a promotion?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Setting Work Boundaries

On the iPod: Right in Time by Lucinda Williams

When I was a wee bairn first starting out in this writing profession, I'd take on any and all projects that happened my way. That seemed like the smart thing to do in order to get established. In reality, it was a hot mess stirred and shaken. Too often I'd end up working for peanuts, for nuts, and for clients whose projects or businesses were no match at all for what I did versus what they wanted.

It was probably that first book project where I decided I needed some boundaries. I let the client own the work process - in my opinion, a big no-no. In the end, the project wasn't completed by me and he and I came to verbal blows over it. Not good.

Since then I've been presented with any number of projects I could've taken and probably could have done quite well. Only I didn't. I turned down the offers. For one reason or another, the projects didn't fit me. Not that they weren't valid projects, but they weren't something I wanted to do for a variety of reasons.

I have an unwritten set of criteria that will make or break my participation in a client project. Now, realize the irony in that, for I'm about to write it down. That set of criteria includes:

- Projects that don't make sense or are just plain weird. I've heard a few that made me think every writer would run screaming from this challenge or that topic. I won't handle things that cannot be verified (attempted murder), nor will I handle projects meant to salvage relationships or home lives. That's insertion of the impossible into the contract. No thanks.

- Projects that require something odd of me up front. Before you ask, know that I'm not giving you my bank account numbers, credit card numbers, nor am I going to be your "value-added e-tailer" partner. I write. I don't fund nor buy into your ventures.

- Clients who bargain shop. The client heard the price, countered, and when I suggested a discounted rate based on ongoing work, he countered again. This is my business, not a flea market. I'll help clients find a way to afford me, but I won't give and give and give for people who have the money but can't seem to spend it.

- Clients who promise payment - some day. I've had too many "I'll pay you royalties on sales" offers from clients who think they're killer idea (which has usually been done to death) will sell. I don't burst bubbles, but I don't work for promises of future money. If doctors don't wait until we're better for payment, I'm not waiting until it sells.

- Clients who lie. Maybe lie is a strong word, but if the client's own marketing material is in direct conflict with their actual business practices or services, I can't in good conscience promote that. Same goes for clients who want me to embellish the truth. It's called lying. No amount of money can get me to compromise on that.

- Clients who don't click. I've had a few encounters with people who I just know I can't work well with. And despite them being nice people and my trying, I was right. I couldn't. So now I save myself the trouble. I trust my instincts and heed the internal red flags.

What are your boundaries?

Monday, June 07, 2010

When the Questions Come

What's on the iPod: Magnificent by U2
What I'm reading: Spartina by John Casey


Finally - a detox day that worked! The husband arranged for us to see the horseshoe crab breeding/red knot migration in Delaware Bay. It was a magnificent sight. I've never seen a live horseshoe crab, and certainly never saw one swimming. It's like an eyelid opening - their "legs" or gill things come up out of the water like eyelashes batting. Very cool. The red knots that come to feed on the millions of crab eggs fly from the southern tip of Argentina, feed, then head to the Artic. It was amazing to see.

We stayed in a gorgeous bed and breakfast, which situated just close enough to the birds and the shore. We spent Saturday morning looking at birds and the afternoon at Rehoboth Beach looking at people. Exactly what I needed to separate from May properly.

Today's going to be interesting. I have an article due in four weeks and I'm arranging interviews this week. And I'm pretty sure I'll be fielding questions on an invoice. I sensed in the question posed over the weekend there was some "Wait - how much?" going on. The project was tough, but I put the time and effort into it and the price I billed was actually a little lower than the time I'd spent. We'll see - maybe it was just clarification of what was included.

Thankfully an overdue invoice was paid over the weekend, as I suspected it would be. The client was always on time, so it surprised me to see it going over 60 days unpaid. I alerted him to it and he was swift to resolve it. Plus we got to reconnect and will hopefully be working together this summer.

Each time a client questions an invoice these days, which thankfully isn't often, I entertain ideas of pulling a James Chartrand. I can't tell you how many times even prior to James's revelation I wondered if it would be easier had I assumed a male persona. Psychologically, it does seem men are assumed to be worth their price while it seems also that women's value tends to be questioned more often. I hope that's not true, but I've seen a number of cases of it in my own work experience.

I'd like to take an informal poll. Men, how often do clients question either your work or your invoices? One in twenty? One in 100? Women, same question.

What are you working on this week?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Friday Ponderings

What's on the iPod: I Feel Lucky by Mary Chapin Carpenter
What I'm browsing through: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

It's been a week of detoxing from all the May-related crud, so bear with me as I separate from work for a few posts.

My reasons why books are better than Kindles:
- One more hour staring at a computer screen? Yea, no.
- When you drop a book, you don't have a small heart attack and mentally dial a computer repair expert - you just pick it up.
- What would I do with all these neat little bookmarks?
- Can I buy used Kindle books? Yes? No?
- The library shelves I've been dreaming of would look really weird with just one little Kindle on it.
- The pages just don't smell the same.

I've been making a conscious effort lately to arrange my weeks to have Fridays free. Mind you, when I'm swamped all bets are off, but for now I'm enjoying the longer weekends and feeling a bit more ready for Mondays. July, however, is looking very busy. Amen.

I'll admit that the last few months I've been feeling a bit adrift workwise. The work's been there, but my interest in it hasn't. That's the best sign that I needed to get away from it, even if it's just stealing a day or two once a week.

Just picked up two projects that I hope will be as much fun to get into as they sound. They're lucrative - $2K per 1,000-word piece. Again, it takes no math genius to understand how this is better than Demand rates, but I digress into unhappy areas....

Watched an Eddie Izzard DVD last weekend that is destined to be as quotable as all his others - Live from Wembley. It starts a little slow, but he quickly gets into his groove and it's filled with gems. Is there a transvestite alive funnier than he is? I don't think so.

What are you pondering these days?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Totally Random Thoughts

What I'm reading: The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson (fantastic)
What's on the iPod: Girls Lie Too by Terri Clark


Sometimes when I come to writing these posts, I have lots swirling around in the gray matter and can't land on one idea. Sometimes, yea, nothing. Today it's a swirling day.

Demand Studios
Per the Great Demand Studios Debate that continues to grip our profession, a writer friend and I were discussing how to describe it to a professor who asked about the company. He gave the professor the dirt on the promised hourly rate, the way writers actually get that rate, and the general misinformation and polarized feelings on both sides of the issue. And while we were discussing it, we got on the topic of those who stump for the company.

I say if you're writing for DS, that's your choice and your time. You're a writer who, in my opinion, has made a bad choice. If you stump for the company - accept payment for their ads or for your loyalty, that's also fine as long as you're upfront about it. But you're not a writer at that point - you're a sales person. Why? Because what you say about said company or any competitors is now tainted. You can no longer hold the same objectivity you once did. It's a disturbing trend I've seen on a few blogs. Only one I've read has had the courage to come out and say there was payment exchanged for the promotion of whatever company is being pushed. But you can smell it, can't you? You can read right into a sales pitch.

Mixing messages
I'm getting pretty annoyed at those who are using the word "Socialism" in the same context they'd use words like "Nazi" and "Communism". There are people who have made "liberal" a dirty word and are trying to make Socialism sound like a scourge on society. Socialism is not all bad. Capitalism is not all good. Liberals love Jesus, too. Get over yourselves. Move on.

Shooting the messenger
I frequent a forum on which recently there was a pretty decent debate going. However, it wasn't on the topic presented, but rather on what some people conceived as a huge waste of time another writer had put into presenting an in-depth review that could help thousands of writers make a better choice. I don't know why it set me off, but here was someone who donated time and energy to bringing some very useful information to the masses and suddenly the message was lost in "Doesn't this person have anything better to do?" and "...didn't get paid for this - what a waste!" The best part - none of these people know for certain if the writer was/wasn't paid for the effort. Some people just enjoy arguing and getting on the high horse.

Completely random questions
I may have just brushed off a potential client, but I got the strangest question on Twitter from a new follower. How do I do XYZ on a particular blogging platform? Since I didn't use that one, I couldn't help. But the question was so random, I wasn't sure what the devil the reason was behind it. I don't think I've professed to be any type of expert in blogging format, but did the person mean something else? I'll never know.

The best and brightest? Really?
Maybe I went to the wrong school or my parents were really strict with the moral code, but I thought that people were paid huge sums of money to do a good job running a company? If so, explain why BP hasn't fired all of its top brass and started its own internal investigation of how they were not prepared for the worst. I know they understand how to quantify risks and build disaster recovery plans, and frankly anyone with half a brain knows enough to expect the worst and plan for it. What's happening is inexcusable. I'm glad the government is planning criminal investigations into this mess. But I fail to have any sympathy for a CEO who says amid the worst oil spill in our history that killed eleven people and untold numbers of wildlife: "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I'd like my life back." Or this gem: "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." Tell that to your children when their ecosystem is destroyed.

What random thoughts are rattling around in your brain?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Creating Your Market

What I'm reading: Spartina by John Casey (it's getting good now)
What's on the iPod: Take it to the Limit by The Eagles


Talking with a writer chum yesterday was great. In a short conversation, we were both able to brainstorm some new ideas to recoup what we'd considered losses. In his case, there was a huge project that went south right before any payment was due. And he's now intent on making hay from the experience.

That's the beauty of what we do. There's a story even in the failure of a project to give us the results we'd hoped for. If you have a lousy experience with a client, that's a how-to article for a writer's magazine (lessons learned the hard way are often great stories that other writers can learn from). If your book doesn't sell because of bad publisher behavior, there's another story. If your career hits a snag, there's a book in how you survived in a tough economy as an unemployed writer. If you can conceive it, there's probably a market for it.

Careers have been made around lessons learned. If you've worked your way from writer to writing coach to instructor, you've created your own market based on the trip you've taken from freelancer to teacher. Every time you screwed up, got screwed over, or managed despite it all to reach your goal, you gained experience that's now marketable. For example, I once wrote an article on Getting Publications to Pay for Writer's Digest. That came from finding a way to get my invoices noticed.

What lessons have you or can you turn into saleable commodities?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Confident You

What I'm reading: Spartina by John Casey (still not sold on this one)
What's on the iPod: Summertime by Kenny Chesney

Ashley, this is for you. Last week you said this: "I think I'm just scared to fail. Maybe that's a good topic for another post -- how did you build confidence in yourself?"

You're right - it's an excellent topic. Building confidence is less about convincing yourself of your talents. You have that already. It's more about separating from your fears and presenting your business, not your self, to clients.

Separate your emotions from your work. This is a job. It's a business. It's not your ego on display waiting to be trampled. Start thinking of your writing as a service, as a business. It's creative, sure, but it's something someone ordered from you, much like you'd order a pizza or call in a plumber. They need your skills. Will you screw up? Hell yes. A few times at least. But is that personal failure? No. They're missteps that occur in any business. Shake it off and move on.

If separating the emotion still seems hard, think of your writing business as a child or a loved one. You'd protect a loved one like a lion protecting cubs. And again, it takes you outside yourself. You're now protecting something other than yourself. That business of yours needs protection. There will be clients who will challenge your price, your talents, and your ability to deliver. There are so many reasons why that happens that have nothing to do with your talent - they don't want to pay the bill, they're being pressured by bosses or rival business colleagues, they've changed their minds and don't want to admit it, or they simply cannot communicate effectively what they want.

Get the price you need in your head. Notice I didn't say the price you want. That's irrelevant. I want a million bucks, but it's the price I need that matters. So how do you figure out what you need? You do the math. Figure your expenses versus actual hours per week you'll work. Remember, not every hour of every day will be spent working. You have to market and hey, you have to eat. I don't know a freelancer who works a solid 40-hour-plus work week on a per-hour rate.

Once you realize just how much it takes for you to cover the expenses (don't forget your IRA and insurances) and make a profit, you'll realize how much you need to charge. Also, look at other freelancers - are what they're charging well above, well below, or in line with what you charge? Understanding how much you need to make a profit makes you less likely to undersell yourself.

Learn how to invoice. Anyone can send out a piece of paper with an amount due on it. You'll build more confidence as a business owner if you decide right now to send no more than three invoices before you take extreme measures. And you'll do this with every client, not just the ones who are suddenly overdue and not answering emails. Get in the habit now of billing regularly, knowing how much your late fee will be, and what you'll do if three months pass and they don't pay. (I posted this on About Freelance Writing.)

Aim higher. Anne Wayman said it best: If you raise your rates, the level of clientele improves significantly. If your rates right now are bargain-basement, you're going to spend much of your time arguing over nickels with cheapskates. Get the rates up there with the rest of the freelancing community. You'll see the arguments drop and the number of clients who appreciate your skills rise.

Understanding your writing as a business makes it easier to detach from the emotions and gain some confidence.

Writers, how did you find it in yourself to develop a business confidence?
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