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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monthly Assessment: September 2010

What I'm reading: Same stuff
What's on the iPod: Sometime Around Midnight by The Airborne Toxic Event

September was a somewhat abbreviated month thanks to surgery. Who knew that and an impending vacation would impact the workload so much? Oh hell, I did. It's happened before. And par for the course, I'll be heading off on vaca with no spare change. Invoices can't be used as cash.

So here's what's what for this past month:

Queries:
I sent out a few, but netted nothing yet. I sent them just recently, so it could still come to something.

Job postings:
I actually applied to one job posting. And I got exactly the response I expected - nada.

Existing clients:
My regular gig was slow this month. There wasn't much in the way of projects, so the income was sliced in half. Not great. Not now.

I did finish the massive project and yes, today is invoice day. That brings my total back up to something respectable. Amen.

I got out a magazine article, and the accompanying invoice.

Another existing client brought in two more smallish projects, which is good when things are tight.

And one more client project netted just a little more than usual. Amen again.

A long-time client is paying another invoice (not without a little reminding), so this month may be salvaged after all.

New clients:
I contacted two new clients and have yet to hear back from either. Until then, keep marketing.

Earnings:
Even though I sat here the last few days with just small things to do, I exceeded my monthly goal. That means I should think about increasing my monthly goal. That makes me happy.

The bottom line:
October will be short in earnings. I knew it and I'm bracing for it by marketing more now so that when I return, I'll be busy. Magazine work is going to sustain me somewhat, but I'm in the market for larger fish right now. I want to increase earnings starting now.

How did September treat you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Taking Advantage of Free Time

What I'm reading: The Pearl by John Steinbeck
What's on the iPod: She Hates Me by Puddle of Mudd


It feels good to feel good again. The tightness around my scar has eased up (thanks to Bag Balm and Neosporin), and I'm losing that bruise and bruised-chest feeling. When I met my Vietnamese student for tutoring yesterday, she was shocked at how well I looked. It's because I am well. Amen for that.

Not much happening workwise today. A few blog posts and lots of marketing going on. I'm trying to arrange things around the two-week break I'll have in October. If you miss work in October, Christmas is lean. I've always felt September had to be packed with work, too, for the same reason.

I won't be marketing all day and I've sworn I'll stay off Facebook as much as possible. That leaves me time with my books and my poetry. Little gifts of time - how often do we wish for those? I'll also spend some time later today battening down the hatches - the rain arrives tomorrow and is about to dump at least three inches on our thirsty yard. That means at least one inch will find its way down the window well, through the window, and into the basement. Why they built this house at the low point in the yard is beyond me. The foundation doesn't leak - the window does. Weird, but the window well fills up with water, then the water trickles through the window where it opens and closes. We've tried those bubble-type plastic things to no avail. Water seeps in from underneath. Time for an engineer and a better plan.

I'm also thinking about replacing my all-in-one printer. It's my second Canon, which I love, but I'm experiencing a problem where the ink just drains out of the cartridge and leaves a thick black line on the backside of the paper. I've done all the cleanings and checked the support site. The next step is replacing parts. Last time my Canon needed parts, the repair person said it was cheaper to buy a new one. I don't think the new one will be a Canon. As much as I love the way it operates, I can't keep replacing these things every three years. Though I will say the price is about as much as one round of ink, which is criminal, in my opinion. And all the printer manufacturers do it. Because they can. They know we have to have ink. Bastards.

I'm going to be chasing a couple of invoices today, as well. I know the one hasn't come because I've expected it for two months now. Time to tack on more late fees and get tough. Worse, it's the company that I've been with for years, the one that didn't pay when they didn't use the last project. I will not stand for that, nor will I work for anyone who doesn't value my time.

I should get some small edits back on the large project today. I'm excited because we're stress-free this year, all of us involved, and we're going to finish early. That means a nice check in October/November. I want to count that toward my September earnings total because the work was done then, but I won't invoice probably until next week. Today's edits will decide it.

That's it from here. How is your day shaping up?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rates (and Why I May Have Changed My Mind)

What I'm reading: The Pearl by John Steinbeck
What's on the iPod: Good Arms vs. Bad Arms by Frightened Rabbit


Amen for convalescing! I'm back this week in force, though the work is relatively scant. I can't sign up for much due to an upcoming vacation, but I can get stuff lined up and maybe start something larger (or finish something smaller).

Had a nice weekend. Saturday my plan was to read and do nothing. Plans were interrupted when he enticed me with a "Let's go to the beach" statement. I don't care if my neck were falling off - you dangle the beach in front of me and I'm already in the car with the roof down. Unfortunately, we spent an hour and a half stuck on that wretched expressway (and does anyone else note the irony of the word "express" in clogged traffic?). He suggested lunch at Reading Terminal Market, then back in the car headed toward Atlantic City.

We walked the beach a little and when I tired, he drove us over to Brigantine to what I call the "fishing beach" - trucks and fishing poles abound. I sat down as he put up his birding scope. One thing I did notice - a gorgeous red fox lounging in the dunes overlooking the flock of skimmers. He was stunning. We watched the sun go down and we headed back home. Sunday, I finished one book and started another.

I've been seeing lots of talk here and there about writers posting their rates on their websites. It's a position I didn't support for a long time, but now, I'm beginning to see the wisdom of it. Here's what posting your rates does:

It weeds out the client pack. This is the main reason I'm reconsidering my position. I get way too many client interactions that end when they see my rate. Better to send them to my site where they can view them and save us both some time.

It establishes a market value. But only if you do it right. Imagine advertising your hourly rate as $45 only to find other writers are charging $125. Are you a bargain or are you cheap? Hmmm.

It positions you as a serious professional. By this I mean potential clients are going to see you as someone who has earned that rate by building a career full of successes.

However, I'm totally against rates being posted for this reason:

Clients start counting hours. Tell them you charge $100 an hour and watch them watch the clock. Seriously, you'll get clients who say absurd things like "Just keep it to under two hours." This for a 15-page white paper.

How do you handle rates on your website? Do you list them? If so, do you list hourly or per project?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Redneck Guide to a Better Career

What I'm reading: The Skull Beneath the Skin by PD James (finished it!)
What's on the iPod: All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down by The Mavericks


Where I come from, people are familiar with the term "redneck" and yes, even in places where the people live simply, it's not considered a compliment. In my hometown, folks may not live to show off their material wealth, but they live and love strongly. They may be basic, but they're genuine, welcoming and, in my opinion, the best friends a person could ask for. Some may claim to be redneck, and if they do, I take that to mean redneck in the original sense of the word.

Back before the Scots - specifically the lowland Presbyterians - fled Scotland for Ulster, Ireland area, they supported the National Covenant and The Solemn League of the Covenant. Simply put, they wanted to keep their religion instead of being force to adopt the Church of England. Between 1631 and 1641, they signed their intentions on documents that told the British Crown that they wanted to remain Presbyterian. Some were so committed to it they signed their names in blood. And to publicly display their loyalty to a Presbyterian Scotland, they wore red pieces of cloth around their necks. Enter the term "redneck."

So these rednecks - how would they build a writing career? On their terms. You could learn a lot from a redneck.

Say what you mean. The original rednecks weren't shy about stating what it was they wanted and what they meant by it. The same goes for your career, whether you're speaking to a client or having an internal conversation. Say it like you mean it.

Mean what you say. You don't have to sign contracts in blood, but may sure whatever you agree to is what you meant to agree to. Also, don't just say it to get the job. "Sure, I'll work for fifty bucks!" You don't mean that. You mean "Sure, I'll work for fifty bucks per hour if you promise via contract to give me 10 more projects."

Commit fully. You want to have a writing career? Then put all the effort you can muster into it. Don't do hit-and-miss marketing, don't put mediocre effort into your writing, and don't quit every time you get a rejection.

Dissent when required. If those working conditions or contract terms don't suit, don't settle. Speak up, push back, and negotiate until you're just as satisfied with the terms as your client is.

Be fearless. It took more guts than most could manage to stand up to one's government. You won't have to fear death at the hands of a client (or if you do, you need to be rethinking your client marketing strategies), but you will be faced with unpleasant situations - clients won't like the product, can't behave like humans, or simply want to control everything. Stand up for your rights as a writer and a professional.

Display your loyalty to your craft. If you're a writer, say so. Get business cards, a website, and an online presence. Learn everything you can, then keep learning. No one writer or editor knows it all, so don't get smug and sit back saying "I do it this way" when another way may work even better for you. Continue to grow as a writer and your career will grow as a result.

How have you built your career on your terms? Anything specific come to mind?

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Me Day

For Kathy:

What I'm reading: The Skull Beneath the Skin by PD James (downstairs) and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (upstairs)
What's on the iPod: She's Mine by Brett Dennen

How strange is it that I'm calling today my "me" day, the day I do just for myself? This coming off a week of recuperating and doing pretty much nothing useful. But I need a space around me right now. So this morning I'm meeting my friend for tea and then I'm coming back to a good book and limited Internet.

The good news - test results showed nothing more heinous than an enlarged thyroid. No stitches, just these annoying tapes to hold me together lest I decide to imitate a human Pez dispenser. The scar is minimal given the stitches (there were only 13, not the 15 I thought - don't count under the influence of sedatives), but the bruise is huge. Pain - zero. Fatigue - still plenty. I can live with that.

One dinner date canceled because our intended guests had to fly back home, but we did manage to meet with another acquaintance who's in town on new business. And it's neat business - the service is called MyBestFit. The idea - you get into the booth, the scanner goes around you measuring, and a minute later, you have a printout of jeans that will fit your body best. If you've ever gone through the degrading hell and torture of finding a pair of jeans that fit and are flattering, you have to try this. I found out that one of my options included jeans found at JCPenney. I walked right over to the store and tried. Sure enough, I looked great in a pair of jeans I'd never have considered otherwise.

But we had a nice time getting to know this gal and hearing not just her business story, but her life story. She was someone my husband got to know on a Scottish forum, so the commonality is there to begin with.

I'm excited for a weekend of books and excuses to be lazy. I'm totally looking forward to it. My body still feels weak and unaccustomed to regular activity. That may continue until I get medication, or I may find that it's merely a side effect of surgery. Too soon to tell.

So my weekend is finishing The Skull Beneath the Skin and getting a good way through Rebecca. A note - don't try reading two mysteries at the same time. If it weren't for the difference in language and period, I'd be totally lost.

So what are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Minimal Life

I've figured out that until this body recovers, my life is a series of minimums. Minimum amounts of work, minimum movement, minimum excitement, minimum activity in general is the new order. Yesterday I managed one small project and two blog posts. Today, another small project and one more blog post. Then the stitches come out and biopsy results will be revealed. I'm expecting nothing more than clear sailing.

Also today, I'll be entertaining, but I'm going to ignore my need to dote on people. I have to. I simply don't have the energy yet. We have guests, who until last night were just meeting us for dinner. They're now spending the night. I love having overnight guests, but the timing has me worried. I know me. I can't not wait on them. But in this case, I plan to announce what I need - I need to sit down, I need help, I need to go to sleep when I'm tired. As they say on every flight, secure your own mask first before assisting others.

We'll be out at dinner tonight. It's close by, so no fatigue from any long drive. I'm looking forward to a weekend of nothing but sitting. Really. Two great books started and I want to finish one and get the other nearly read. Whatever the people in my orbit need will have to be done without my help. Selfish R Me right now. As it should be.

I will dig into some more genealogy this weekend. I found an interesting twist to my mother's side of the family. Since she was adopted, we've only recently come into the knowledge of all these people. She found a brother she didn't know she had and we're still getting acquainted as a family. He said he never knew his grandparents. It would seem to be true, for his and mom's mother's (Dorothy) death certificate revealed something jaw-dropping. Dorothy's mother's maiden name is there, but her father's surname is completely different than the one she grew up with. Cue the mysterious music. From my best guess - Dorothy's mom left this man before Dorothy was four, which accounts for why Dorothy grew up with a different last name than the one on her birth certificate.

Aside from chasing not two but three new family lines on that side, I'm still in the midst of locating and verifying each Gallagher to set foot in Butler County, PA. Historical records have Hugh Gallagher as the culprit who brought my ancestors into that region. I suspect I'm a direct descendant, but I want to make sure he didn't drag a few brothers to America with him. This is the only Irish line on my family tree that isn't yet directly linked back to Ireland. Hugh would be that link. But as they say, no one's family tree is as interesting as your own, so I won't bore you.

On another note, I've been having a bit of up-and-down emotionally concerning the death of the first boyfriend. I did expect some upset, but a month later? It's why I've always been keen on resolving things - you don't have to carry these types of burdens. Yesterday I broke out into spontaneous tears. Last night I woke up angry at him, and at myself. Note to self: too soon to drag out the high school yearbooks. Give it time.

As you can tell, I'm not working much, so I'm not writing about work. I apologize for the break, those of you who come here looking for help or commiseration. I'll be back in the thick of it Monday. Meantime, sit back, caffeinate up, and share what's going on in your life right now.

So, what's up?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Slow Going

Who'd have thought a minor surgery would have me reeling days later? Seriously, yesterday I had what I thought was a setback. I was absolutely drained of all energy. I was weak. I was aching in a way that you'd ache if you had a cold or flu. No fever (very slightly above normal). I had to lie down. I did. It didn't help. Tylenol helped. I don't think I'm infected anywhere (fever would be sky high), but I think I should get used to this state I'm in for a while. I see the doc tomorrow, so I'll be asking lots of questions.

I'm back to work today, albeit on an abbreviated schedule. Just two small projects this morning, then rest this afternoon. I cannot imagine how I'd feel if I was a regular employee. First off, you get about a week of sick pay. Second, not too easy to ease back into your schedule slowly. Third, commutes. Fourth, office illnesses. Fifth.... I will say the only benefit there is you're paid to convalesce, even if it's only a week. But then again, just try taking time off. You get so far behind it takes three times the effort to catch up, which drains you further. Oh, and then there are the office politics. Why is it there are always those people who seem to shun you after you've taken needed time off? They seem eager to keep you outside the political circle? Punishment? Imaginary? I'm just glad it's not my world any longer.

I did get some marketing done yesterday, albeit small amounts. I contacted two new potential clients, one a referral and one a, well, I can't say publication, but a content provider. Before you worry that Lori's taken too many pain killers and is headed for the mills, fear not. This is a European company that pays nearly a dollar a word for articles that it then sells to trade publications/websites. I don't care what they do with it as long as my check clears.

I'm building back up slowly. This is my pace. I have to listen to the body and do what I'm told for a change. It could be a good thing. If I slow down, I may be able to spot a better client or a better deal that otherwise would have been overlooked. I have the time to browse the Internet, consider options, and generate new ideas. I don't have to act on them all, but having that time is pretty sweet. Sometimes I get so locked in the faster pace that I don't devote the detailed attention to marketing that I should. And I've already experienced the return of creativity every time I slow down.

Have you experienced that? What kind of attention do you give your marketing efforts when you're busy? When you're slow?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Excuses for a Large Scar

It's funny how when one is convalescing, one can quickly adapt to the "sick" feeling as one tries to follow doctor's orders. Yesterday was lightheadedness, a little fatigue, and lots of "Maybe I should sit down and rest" feelings. But since that bloody phone rings every 20-30 minutes, it wasn't happening. I turned off most of the ringers, but the loudest one is the wall phone in the study and I couldn't get behind the printer to pull it out of the wall.

Good thing I didn't. He called at noon. How was I feeling? Did I want to get out of the house? The answer was a definite yes. Was I up for a baseball game? Huh? His coworker's mom wasn't using her tickets and was willing to sell them to us. I weighed the options quickly - baseball, possible fatigue, probable achy throat versus sitting in the "sick cage" one more minute. I opted to live a little.

Top down, we drove to pick up what turned out to be incredible tickets. I looked a sight - a neck scarf tied around my neck, holding my hair down and keeping my bandage covered up. It's not that horrible, but the scar from surgery is 15-16 stitches and resembles a grin that slid from my face onto my collar bone. I keep it covered, mainly so I don't gross myself out.

We parked a half mile from the park and walked a nice distance to the game - Phillies and Atlanta Braves. Ooo. Teams in the #1 and #2 spots. Our seats - six rows from the dirt off the first base line, just to the right of the dugout. They were oh-my-lord incredible. I slipped on my jacket (too busy stuffing down Cracker Jack to bother holding it).

Halfway through the game a vendor came by, looked at me apparently looking all bundled up and asked, "What are you going to do when winter comes?" I was tempted to say "Put on a bikini", but I realized how ridiculous I may have looked. I wasn't cold - just covering the bandage and too lazy to look after my jacket.

But I missed the chance, didn't I? Here's where I could have had a blast with my stitches and big bandage. I had the excuses ready, too.

Bar fight. I can give you the address where you can send condolences to the loser's family.

Swallowed a pretzel stick sideways. They also found my extra set of car keys and some loose change.

An injury on the set. I was Johnny Depp's stunt double in the latest Pirates incarnation. Got too close to the pirate with the hook...

Never swallow a sword when you have allergies. One sneeze later....

I guess bear wrestling isn't my thing after all.

It's where I keep my credit cards and car keys. Can't be too careful these days.

I'm telling you, those Macy's sales can be brutal.

Help me out. Got any more?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Upright

A big thank you and love to everyone who wished me well both publicly and privately on surgery. The power of positive thinking works - I had probably the smoothest recovery times imaginable. The day of surgery wasn't pleasant, but I needed just one round of painkillers and anti-naseau meds. By that evening, I was feeling better.

I had exceptional care - probably the best hospital in the region, in my opinion. While others flock to "the one" they think is most prestigious (and has snooty, expensive doctors), I had a private room and compassionate, patient, genuine care. I do have to wonder about the mindset of some of the staff, however. Using the 1-to-10 pain rating with 10 being awful, I told the nurse on duty I was at a 2, which meant in my mind I felt sore, but nowhere near the train wreck I'd felt like immediately after surgery. Her words, "Are you sure you don't want something? Don't suffer needlessly." At that point I was sitting up engaged in conversation, munching on crackers. I didn't even appear to be suffering. Maybe she thought I was being brave, or maybe I looked more hellish than I felt. I don't know.

I was home Saturday, feeling like doing something, but still off kilter a bit. Yesterday, much better, still wobbly. Today is another wobbly day, so I'm taking it easy until tomorrow. I'm thrilled the pain level is far below what I expected. Didn't bother to fill the prescription for pain meds. Why? It's a pain I'd liken to a bruised shin. The damned IV insertion point hurt more. And frankly, that part of my experience was the worst. The overly caffeinated nurse (and yes, part of that observation was envy - I hadn't had my tea) read on my chart about my aversion to needles. Instead of diverting my attention or taking my word for it that I was determined to talk myself out of the silly anxiety, she instead kept saying "Go to your place. The beach! Now this is just one of those flies about to bite you...." Just shut up, concentrate on your job, and let me deal with passing out. And let me say that it hurt all into that night and the next day. I've had IVs before - they don't hurt like that. Today I'm still feeling pain from it down on my wrist bone.

Apart from that little incident, everything else was smooth sailing. I have total faith in the doctor, who won me over when he'd performed beautiful work on my hubby's surgery a year ago. He didn't let me down, either. No raspy voice beyond a little swelling, and he checked in twice and has provided detailed expectations and instructions both before and after the surgery.

And apparently I say stupid stuff as I'm going under. I remember the anesthesiologist coming in and saying, "I'm giving you something to help you relax." I remember smiling at my husband, and then waking up in recovery. But they tell me I was quite chatty, making "woooo!" sounds and saying "This must be what it's like to be on drugs." And I'm told I said "I have a thing for morphine." Thank God I haven't led much of a checkered past. Lord knows what I'd have revealed.

Today it's books and a chair on the front porch. The weather is divine here and I don't get much license to take it easy. Tomorrow, hopefully, back to work. I will say one client note was about as caring as a shopping list - I didn't expect sympathy, but not to acknowledge at all the fact that I'd be out for five days or why seems cold. Worse, the note back was pointing out that I'd forgotten something. Right. May have to lose that one's number.

So what's new? How was your weekend? What's shaping up in your week ahead?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Vapor Trails

By the time you read this, I may be under sedation, which given the number of hassles I've had this month could be a blessing. Nothing like forced nap time for the busy freelancer, eh?

Since I'm not going to be around, I'm leaving you some dribs and drabs of fun, trivial things. Hey, it's Friday after all.

Sunday, September 19 is my brother's birthday. It's also International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Get yer aaaargh on. It's also National Butterscotch Pudding Day. Just be careful mixing the two holidays.

September 16 was National Play-Doh Day. But is it ever too late to celebrate Play-Doh? Roll a snake for me in green, please.

September is Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month. I know a number of people who needed to know this, but alas, too late now. It's also National Mind Mapping Month and National Rice Month.

October is National Spinach Lovers Month. Don't knock it until you've tried it. It's also National Positive Attitude Month, so screw on that optimism and grab a bag of spinach, people!

It's illegal to own, possess, or chew gum in Singapore. Take one look at the sidewalks downtown or under the desks in school. Makes perfect sense.

You can buy insurance coverage for your reincarnation. Some companies will insure you for your next life, including assurance that you'll be compensated should you not have as much money (or aren't able to earn). All you have to do to file a claim is A) remember who you were in that past life, and B) have opposable thumbs and the ability to understand human languages. If you come back as a cow, tough break. Oh, and pray the world's vegetarian by then.

Got any trivial stuff to share?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kicking Bad Habits

If I had back all the time I spent on Facebook, I'd probably get an extra week or two of my life back. It's my diversion. It's also my time sink. When I'm on deadline, it's my nemesis. And curses to the person who decided to tie Bejeweled Blitz to Facebook! There goes another good week of wasted time this year.

Yesterday was a nice day in that I finished the large project (so far - maybe there will be revisions) and completed a weekly project. I was able to get some things I wanted to do finished in the afternoon, which means my mother's side of the family now has connections to both Ireland and Germany (Ancestry.com is also a nemesis where deadlines are concerned).

But it's because of tomorrow's surgery that I have nothing to do today. It's pointless to start a project that I may have to drop for four or five days. Better to get some more queries out for the trip, and get some work lined up for mid/late October.

Either way, I still couldn't shake those bad habits. One email led to three. One check of Facebook became an hourly thing. Then there was the genealogy. Oh, and putting some clothes away. And surfing.

I think if you looked at your own daily habits, you'd find similar time sinks. Here are mine:

Email. I'm better at it because Windows 7 has that cool feature where the email window doesn't pop up expecting you to rid the screen of it. It fades in, fades out. Easier to ignore. But too often my attention is pulled away from work thanks to a note from a friend.

Facebook. Do I really need to check in there all the time? No. Once a day is enough. But it's like this candy bar dangling. I've removed all Facebook notifications for my email. That spares me some of the attraction.

Phone calls. I get a lot of calls a day and maybe one or two of them are from people I know. The rest is trash. I get a lot of hang-up calls, political calls, or those surveys from people with thick accents claiming their names are something like "John" asking mundane questions. Sometimes I just hang up, but a few weeks ago I told a "John" who spoke with a Hindi accent that my name was "Debi." When you're straight with me, I'll be straight with you. And I don't know you, so I owe you nothing. But these calls - at least ten a day - drive me nuts. They pull my attention away from work. And I look up whatever numbers appear on the caller ID. More time wasted.

Blogs. I've had to limit my surfing to down times. Otherwise I'd be gabbing away on your blog all day. I subscribe and read when I see you have something new. And I control myself and read once a day. Well, sometimes two. Except when it's three times. Or four.

This blog. I have to forget it's here and just make the habit of answering once or twice, not constantly. Will I? Probably not.

What bad habits get in the way of your productivity?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Consulting Fee

Don't hold your breath, but I think I finished the massive project du jour yesterday. I'll go over it once more today, but I've reviewed it four times now, applied Styles, created my TOC, and otherwise prepared it for PDF and delivery. Amen. But now.... nothing today. That's fine because after that, I need a break. A short break. Never can I get comfortable with a long rest - that's time not being paid.

Which brings me to something another writer and I were discussing in email - consulting fees. Do you charge for consulting? How and when would you? As we talked, I realized my own policy of giving free consultations may need some updating. I have charged for a consultation only once. I now see that as a mistake. Here's why.

Too many times clients will ask for the free consultation and nothing comes of it. That's fine if you've not driven to meet the client or put research into their particular product or industry. However, that's pretty rare. As I mentioned to the other writer, I've not had many onsite meetings (one a year at best), but that's no excuse. I should be working smarter.

Here's my game plan for all future consultations:

Free if you buy. I'm all for spotting a client a free hour if they're hiring. But I think they need to understand upfront that my fee is $XXX and I'll waive that if they hire me. Otherwise, I'll deliver the invoice either that day or that week.

Research and driving are part of the consultation fee. I had a potential client meeting a few years ago that soured me. I'd been referred by this client's colleague. I did a week's worth of research and outlining for what I understood their project to be. Five minutes in it was clear the client didn't want a writer, but an actuary to teach the writing course. All that time spent researching and outlining? Gone.

One hour free; the rest is billed hourly. A free consultation shouldn't be a free-for-all. I have met with clients whom I expected to have one hour with. Two to three hours later, I'm making my excuses and racing back home to a pile of deadlines. And not getting the gig. No more.

Do you charge for consultations? What's your practice?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lori and the Lost Cause

Yesterday was fruitful for a Monday, especially a Monday the day after a weekend in which I put yet another 500+ miles on the car. He helped drive, so maybe that's why neither of us felt drained when we got home.

I managed a huge portion of the large project du jour, plus a smaller one. I'm thrilled because surgery is this Friday and I have to get ten steps ahead before I'm able to drop things and recuperate.

I haven't had time to market (no excuses other than when the hell would I fit it all in?), so I've been following up with regular clients to see if they need anything small this week. There were a few potential clients I'd contacted that I won't be following up on. These are what I call the lost causes.

You know them. They contact you asking for help with writing, stars in their eyes, and nice little projects that could be fun. Or they have projects that are a tangled mess, or they have no idea what they need versus what they want. They're not going anywhere with those projects. Here's why:

They don't understand cost. You want HOW much for my Web writing? These people are often new to hiring freelancers, but that doesn't mean they can't be educated on what real writers charge. I had one of these recently - he went completely silent after I gave him my price. I didn't follow up. It was obvious after six rapid-fire emails that the silence meant he can't afford me.

They're solving too many problems at once. Same guy, same nice project, only he brought up trying to solve a personal issue along with getting his project off the ground. Maybe it wasn't my price that deterred him, but rather my advice that he separate personal and business. Imagine if I couldn't solve his personal problems with my work? He wouldn't be pleased with anything I did.

They want X, but outline Y. I had one client who was so sure she wanted a complete rundown of the state of workers compensation - in 750 words. No matter how I explained it, she would come back with "I don't care - we want THIS." So of course two revisions in she wasn't happy - who could be? Where narrowing the focus would work, she wasn't allowing it.

They don't know what they want. If you meet with a client who says "What can you do for me?" and isn't offering his/her idea of what their project is supposed to look like, you're going to have more luck nailing Jell-o to a wall.

They tell you how you'll be working. This is less of a lost cause and more of an attack of client insanity. I've had potential clients tell me when to work, how to work, what to be working on, when to be available for calls, how often I need to be checking in, and what they're paying me. Right. Next!

What are some of your lost causes?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me and My Shadow

I'm just back from western PA where I spent a weekend among the kilted. It never ceases to amaze me how heritage, hobby, or one commonality can bring people from such disparate backgrounds together under one banner. In this case, it was the MacBean banner (for him). I met a distant relative (a Leslie) who knows my family quite well. And the Highland Games themselves were wonderful. The setting - an amusement park in the Laurel Highlands - was perfect. After 50 years, the organizers have perfected a great time.

The Urban Muse Susan Johnston posed an intriguing question last week: How do you find freelance mentors? Much like folks in kilts hanging out with other folks in kilts, writers looking for guidance often find themselves connecting with one or more writers who offer not just advice, but guidance and moral support. Sometimes it's a conscious search, but more often it's accidental and unconscious.

What makes a good mentor?

Someone who listens. If you're posing questions of a writer on a blog or in email and you're getting no response, that's a dead end. Move on. Find someone who has time or inclination to help you. Not all writers are comfortable being a mentor or offering advice beyond the cursory blog fare.

Someone who has the expertise you're looking for. I was fortunate enough to have three or four writers in my life with varying backgrounds. Each one offered exceptional advice in their areas of expertise, which helped me avoid career mistakes and build a stronger career from the outset.

Someone who supports. A mentor should care. That's not to say they should be dropping everything each time you contact them - they have careers and lives, too. But someone who asks how you're doing, asks how the career is going and generally engages you beyond just answering your questions is a relationship you want to nurture.

Someone who isn't afraid to give criticism. Let me rephrase - someone who is willing to tell you what career mistakes you may be making and who will follow that with advice on how to fix those mistakes. That's not a license for someone to thrash you verbally or attack your character. And you have to be ready to take that criticism. If you're running to a mentor just to get positive reinforcement, you're missing the point.

What are the qualities you look for in a mentor? Do you have a mentor or mentors? What's the most valuable thing you've gotten out of a mentor/mentee relationship?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Know Thy Program

Yesterday was one of those maddening, frustrating days of fighting with my software just to get one little thing accomplished. At issue - formatting. I'm working on an insanely large document, formatting the entire mess into something worthy of publication. I was cruising along beautifully when suddenly, something just stopped working.

I'm making columns. In Word 2007, they're simple. I'm also working with Styles, which I've made for this particular document. I have a routine - I combine new document with one I'd formatted last year, accept or reject changes, then do whatever little formatting is left over (not much beyond these columns and a few subheads). Like I said, things were working great. Then suddenly, they weren't.

Maybe I was extra tired or maybe there was something wrong with my brain, but I couldn't for the life of me get my columns to format without the remaining text being thrown onto a separate page. I don't want it on a separate page. I want it to behave itself and do what it's told. Just make this a column and forget that exists for now.

I tried everything. I opened a new document, copied the content, pasted, then formatted the way I wanted it. When I pasted it all back into the original - huh? I said "Keep Source Formatting"! I did NOT say "Just screw this up too so we can watch her hair turn even grayer."

I removed all instances of previous section breaks. I added page breaks. Removed page breaks. Tried making just a small part of this into columns. Tried cussing. Tried crying. I even tried begging. Software is cold, man. Just cold.

Half an hour wasted on this one problem. I'd bypass that section and move on, but the remaining sections are doing the same thing so far. I checked help menus. Help isn't so helpful. If I had time to sit through three 50-minute tutorial videos, I wouldn't need to work. Where the hell is the quick, easy answer?

Then I got the brilliant idea to click on the section break. Up popped a margin, paper, and layout window. Great. Useless. Only... it wasn't. There was the answer. I simply changed the "Section start next page" to "Section start continuous." Aim it at the section. Click okay. Voila. Done.

Crisis averted, work resumed at a pace rapid, yet still accurate. I'm out of here this afternoon. We're heading to the Highland Games in the Laurel Highlands (perfect spot for it beyond Scotland itself). I shall surround myself with the kilted. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bypassing the Trap

First, I'd like to pass along my condolences to Devon Ellington, whose beloved cat Elsa passed on after a long, happy life. If you read Devon's blog, you've gotten to know Elsa and also know her health struggles of late. My prayers to you and to Elsa, Devon.

Carol Tice has a very interesting post up about her husband. Recently, she recommended he find work with Demand Studios. Now before you boil her in oil, know that Carol is not a fan of DS. She's been one of the more vocal writers against using DS and their ilk as sole sources of work. But in her husband's case, Carol believes this to be a decent choice. And in some cases, it could very well be.

However, I'm not sold. Yes, in the right set of circumstances, the quick-and-dirty work can be a temporary benefit. But I contend that anyone who is able to market should be able to find something better. Even one of the posters on Carol's thread found a job paying more than double what DS pays. Already her husband's prospects are looking better.

If you're starting out, my advice is to stay far away from content mills. These places are traps. You get used to fast turnarounds, quick payments, and low pay. Then you get locked into the cycle. You don't have time to look for higher paying work because you're doing the fast turnarounds for the quick payments that are still low paying.

A content mill is not a great place for beginners. I think it's a great place to get lost if you're a beginner. At the beginning of the career, you set your own career parameters. If you sell yourself short from the get-go, you'll struggle to move into higher paying markets. Instead, put that time into learning how to query, follow up, and market effectively. All these areas have been covered on this blog and others.

So would you ever recommend DS or a content mill to someone? Did you ever, whether cautiously or in a moment of desperation, consider it?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Game Plan

Did we really have a long weekend? It seems like yesterday I was thrust back into work. Like walking downhill only to stumble and roll out of control. That was yesterday. I saw it coming. We'd gone to a meditation retreat over the weekend. It was going too blissfully.

Still, I got a good deal of work done on the large project. Amen for document compare and combine features! They've saved me already a huge bulk of reformatting. I still have to go through the combined document and accept/reject changes, but I no longer have to set up styles and get Word to cooperate and stop giving me fits.

I had to turn down a smaller project. Well, not turn it down completely, but as I was explaining my parameters and time limitations to the editor, I realized squeezing it in wasn't going to work too well. I have maybe one weekend left before my trip and after my surgery in which to get any work done on the suggested project (don't even ask about my weekdays - they're booked). No way I'd leave an article until the weekend before I go away. I just can't. I love that they find me with work, and if I knew anyone who could take on the subject matter, I'd pass it on. It's pretty specialized, though, and I don't like subbing out articles. Too much at stake for everyone involved, and too easy to screw it up.

That said, October is going to be lean in terms of work. Two weeks off at a time when two weeks off may hurt financially, but I have to make it work (to quote Project Runway's Tim Gunn). I'll be paying taxes next week, which will strap me nice and tight. Wee. It's been a year like that. Every time I get ahead and get something in the account, out come the bills.

Maybe you've noticed it too, but every time you go on vacation, you come back to an empty desk. We spend so much time clearing things off the desk that we forget to line up our next few weeks of work for our return. I've been burned enough by that particular oversight - I'm searching now for things that can hold until I return. It's a month out, I know, but I want to get feelers out, then hit them hard the week before I get on the plane. Much of what I'm doing now are travel article queries - a little late, in my opinion, but still worth tossing into the mix. Also, I had a great idea for a longer piece on heritage searches. Get that formulated and find it a home, I say.

So how do you handle your pre-vacation workload? What's your post-vacation plan look like? Do you have one? Do you need one? Does anyone else think Paula needs to get up from the computer and get herself a vacation?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Hardest Word (But the Most Necessary)

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend! Back to the serious business for some. For the rest of us, we're serious about business 24/7, 365, with a few days off for good behavior.

Maybe it's because the calendar page turned over, but the first few days of September were a damn sight better than the whole of August. Last week ended well. No, it ended really well. There was madness, leftover grieving (that will be a while - we are a water sign), pre-surgery nonsense, and some general discord here and there, so I wasn't really expecting much other than a fast escape come Friday. But there were some bright spots, and one really unexpected one early on Friday.

You probably know about the issue I had recently regarding an unpaid invoice. I've referenced it enough to show that my irritation over it isn't going away. I'd sent an invoice to the same client (or so I'd thought), realized it never got sent, resent it, and went about my business. The client's contractor, someone I'd worked with in the past, called. The message said he wanted to talk about my invoicing and he said how "embarrassed" he was that it hadn't been paid. I wasn't sure how to take that. Did he mean the one I'd forgotten to send or was he being called in to give me a talking to about my invoice? See, occasionally he pays my invoices. Long story.

I connected with him Friday morning, not sure what to expect, bracing for the "They don't want to pay this." Instead, he said "I apologize."

The shocker? He's not involved directly in this invoicing dispute. In fact, it was a non-issue to the client (but a recurring concern in my mind) for a few months now. But he said "Ever since that email exchange, I've been bothered by how they responded."

So he bided his time, got his opportunity last week, and told them it's unacceptable to not pay an invoice of any contractor because they didn't use the end result. I'm now getting paid for both invoices.

He may have been protecting his own payment future to some extent, but that he championed my cause was just unbelievable. And it was very appreciated. I think I thanked him about six times. This is a problem that was months old. That he remembered and felt compelled to say something speaks to his integrity. He did two things right - he apologized and he showed incredible good will. And the first part - the apology - wasn't even his to make. But it went a long way toward mending my sour feelings toward this once-favored client.

For some reason, it's so hard for people to say they're sorry. I've worked with clients who have the toughest time uttering that word or even admitting fault. In one client's case, my own reputation has been tainted somewhat by the errors on the client side. In about three cases, I've had to ask for the client to correct a mistake made on the client side. In no instance did I receive an apology. And because it's happened repeatedly and has been a source of embarrassment, I won't be working with this client again. If I'd gotten even one apology, I might feel like I can work with this client. Without it, I feel like I'm wasting my time and risking my reputation for nothing.

If you screw up, own up. It's hard, but I'm telling you, it's so much easier to move beyond it if you suck it up and apologize. Instead, too many people get wound up in "Here's where I think you may have made the mistake" crap. Just look at it objectively. We all screw up. If you find yourself on the receiving end, point out the mistake nicely and let it go. If you're the one who screwed up, apologize and fix it.

When was the last time an apology fixed it for you? When was the last time you owed one? Did you give it? Did it help?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Friday Madness

I know it's supposed to be a day people traditionally blow off work - that last summer blowout before we get serious again. But I'm here, for a little while today, to get ahead of the work. That's either dedication or stupidity. It depends on your perspective.

Since I feel like working like you feel like working, I thought I'd share some of the madness that's been my week so far.

The recommendation letter that should be filed - circularly. It came in the mail yesterday from the company where my daughter interned. They were giving her a letter of recommendation. Only trouble is it was written so poorly, there's no way she can use that without it reflecting badly on her. See, they're a communications company - a publisher. How bad? One sentence: "....consistently met that were goals set for her." Right. Then there was the missing apostrophe in the phrase "this students work" and the errant period that just leaped off the page with nowhere to go. Mind you, I'm picky, but when I read it to her, she said, "How am I supposed to use that crap?" My sentiments exactly. And proof once more what a lousy company they are.

The switcheroo. I have the project schedule in front of me with everyone's duties on it. Yet when I asked about that one crucial part being completed by someone else, the answer was "Yea, I don't have that. You'll have to put that together on your side." And I waited three days for this. Tick tock, you're still on the clock.

The doctor's wife. Truly the bright spot in my week so far. I called to ask about traveling after surgery. She said the doc needed to know where and what I'd be doing. She heard Ireland and suddenly we were in a girlie conversation about Scotland, Ireland, and where and when she should convince her husband (the doc) to take her. She's talking just above a whisper so her coworkers wouldn't hear. And she swore me to secrecy - "Don't tell him. I don't want him feeling like I'm pushing him if I send patients after him about it." Hilarious. Then she screwed her professional demeanor back on quite reluctantly and said, "Yes, the doctor says as long as your activity level isn't strenuous, you're cleared."

The "Don't delete my messages!" complaint. Another funny moment. The client left a message. I saw the number on caller ID, deleted the message in order to call him right back. Alas, wrong number! I sent him an email. He replied "I'm crushed! LOL" I phoned him and explained that I was in the process of framing his latest email so that he knew how special a client he was to me. When both writer and client get giddy at the same time, it's a free-for-all.

The imprint on the window. Because our kitchen window is next to the bird feeder, we're used to the familiar WHUMP when a bird hits it. However, this bird left a lasting impression - literally. I looked out the window and saw on the glass the perfect imprint of a mourning dove, in flight, in full detail from wing tips to his beak as it thumped into the glass. The photo is below. (I know, clean my windows...)

What kind of madness have you dealt with this week?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bringing Out the N Word

I don't need a calendar to know what time of year it is. I'm busier than I've been in months, so it must be September. More to the point, it must be right before Labor Day.

Yesterday, I pushed through eight hours of writing to finish one deadline. Today will be no different. Everything is due Friday. It's not as though I haven't been working - it's that I haven't been able to figure out a way to stretch my days beyond 24 hours.

And as I implied before, it's no surprise. Something about the waning summer days gets clients thinking now is the time to jump. I suspect it has more to do with fiscal years and budgets than shorter days at the shore. I don't know, but every year it's like this for me.

I'm so busy that I turned down work yesterday. Even though it was a regular client and it seemed like an easy job, I said no. First, no job is ever "easy" when you're extremely busy. That's when it either A) goes all wrong and requires revision after revision, or B) turns into "We need this, too." And second, I know I'd not be able to fit it in. I worked from 7:30 yesterday to after 5 with a short break in there for a doctor visit.

On another project, I know full well someone expects me to be working through the holiday weekend. Get in line, honey. You're the third person I owe work to who has made that very request. And the answer is still no.

September is going to be utter madness. Work in the queue, vacations galore, and now a surgery plunked right in the middle (with, hopefully, a short recovery time). I'm standing at the doctor's office yesterday looking at the calendar and trying to schedule around all these other things. Finally, the perfect week opened up. Amen. Ireland in October may not be off. But surgery is the only thing going right now that I can't say no to.

But why say no to other work? Why say no to working weekends? Because I know my limits. I cannot pull off the same quality of work if I'm rushing through it all. I know this because I tried it once. The results were embarrassing. As it is, I'm going through extra read-throughs on this stuff to make sure I've done what I'm paid to do correctly. Yes, it takes a little extra time, but I'd much rather delay delivery by a few hours than hand them disjointed copy.

How do you know your limits? How often have you had to say no?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Monthly Assessment: August 2010

Maybe it's because it's been a month of emotional hell on earth, but this month didn't seem to fly by as the last several have. I was sure busy enough. Perhaps it was juggling that work - I don't know. Either way, I feel like I've lived two months in the span of one.

I'm glad I do these little reveals every month. It makes me realize just how busy (or how idle) I was. This month - busy. I'm staring at a few unpaid invoices and some mounting frustration because the larger one is from a client that has already rejected one invoice because they didn't use the material. That's not going to happen again - I guarantee it. It's paid or I'm filing a case in small claims court. Ironically, their products are ones that are often purchased and not used, so I do intend to bring that up as I push that invoice one final time.

This is how the rest of the month has gone:

Queries:
I sent five. From that, I scored two assignments. That, on top of other projects, kept me busy. I've worked for both publications before and I like the work, the subject, and the editors very much.

I did get that note from Redbook inviting me to submit more ideas, so it was a pretty good month for queries. Magazine work isn't dead, folks. We've just stopped trying.

Job postings:
None. And no, I didn't miss them.

Existing clients:
Three clients with ongoing projects - two regular and one semi-regular - has kept me quite busy.

And in came the long-time client project: the big one. I finished the first stage of the project in good time, and am awaiting info so I can get going on the second stage.

Another client came back just a few days ago with two small projects. The work is exceeding the pay, so I don't think this will be something I hang on to much longer.

New clients:
One out-of-the-blue referral put me in front of a new client, whom I hope to be working with soon.

Earnings:
Topped my monthly target. I'm sure I'm forgetting an invoice or two, but I exceeded what I set as my earnings goal. And I didn't feel like I was killing myself in order to do that.

Bottom line:
Magazine queries are still working. The key is to study the publication, hit them with a great idea, and make sure there's enough research in there to show I know what I'm doing.

Also, big projects are going to help stave off any famine I experience when we take vacation time away.

How did August treat you?
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