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Monday, January 31, 2011

Monthly Assessment: January 2011

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin (Yay, Diane!)
What's on the iPod: Where You Are by Rascal Flatts


Wonderful weekend full of activity. After spending Friday's lunchtime digging out the mailbox, I finished up an article and roughed in another. Friday night was spent with our monk, whose company is always welcome. He's family. He blends into the flow of the house and he brings good vibes. What's not to like?

Saturday I cooked like mad because Saturday night was yet another Burns Supper. This one was at a friend's house. We've done two this year. Last year we fit in three. We're slipping a bit. But any excuse to "kilt up" is a good one. I wore my "girl kilt" made by the local shop, USA Kilts. It's pleated, tartan, and is styled like a man's kilt. But that's where it ends. I was able to get it made to above the knee, and I absolutely love it.

Sunday was spent with the meditation group. We meditated our way into blissfulness and ate like vegetarian pigs afterward. The true definition of bliss. Then I spent the afternoon fending off a migraine, which meant I missed my friend's birthday celebration. I plan to make it up to her.

Today I'll be finishing one more article because it's the end of the month. I want those invoices out and the checks back sooner rather than later.

Because it's the end of the month, it's time to assess how things went. It started slower than I expected. My one regular client had an upswing in work orders, so I was busy out of the gate. For a while, not much more came in. But I was happy to see some of my earlier marketing paying off. Here's the snapshot:

Queries:
In total, I sent five. Two resulted in immediate projects - one of them included these two articles. The other is a new-to-me client and I'm eager to work with them. One of the queries that received no response was from a referral. I suspected the client was looking for very specific experience. I had it, but was bound by nondisclosure agreements and couldn't provide samples. I would have enjoyed that project very much.

Another query came at the client's request. I hadn't heard from this one in a while, so I was surprised to hear from them. The project seemed interesting, but had some pretty tight deadlines and requirements that made it pretty hard to meet those deadlines. I tested the deadline and gave my price. One or the other of those criteria killed the deal, for I've not heard back and the deadline is today. Sorry not to work with that client again.

Job postings:
I looked some, but as usual, the pay rates were way too low and many of the postings had ridiculously long or rigid requirements. I passed. And I didn't waste more than 10 minutes all month on these.

Referrals:
So far, neither one of the referrals I received a month ago have come to fruition. I received bad news on one - their company is going through acquisition, so the work may not be there any longer. Too bad, but I'll keep in touch should their needs change.

Existing clients:
One client is keeping the project funneled to me every day. Another client has me doing minimal work monthly, but I still have my foot in the door. However, the referral from that client had me working like crazy this month. I completed close to ten projects, which kept me busy and happy.

New clients:
I scored one just last week, and another potentially huge opportunity came in late Friday. The former is a magazine and as I said above, I'm looking forward to working with them. Their audience extends into an area I've written all around, but for publications outside their industry. The latter would involve working with a phenomenal writer and friend who highly recommends the company she's referring me to. And the work could be ongoing. Amen.

Earnings:
I hit last month's goal. It's about time, but let me point out that I've increased my monthly target starting this month, so I'm off the new target by 16 percent. Close, but not enough.

Bottom line:
I saw a lot of the marketing I conducted hit the mark. That's the difference between targeting your clients and stabbing in the dark. I knew whose business needs matched what I could deliver, and I asked for the work. I wanted to pull in a few of those referrals, but it wasn't meant to be. Also, I have contracts in negotiation now that could boost the income dramatically. More on that when I'm able.

The potential new client could boost the income beyond what I'm targeting for February. Amen again. I'll still market because what's here today could disappear tomorrow. A day without marketing is like a day without work because hey, it is.

How was your January? Any surprises?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Worthy Tip: Take This Job, Not That One

What's on the iPod: Laundry Room by The Avett Brothers

There's one good thing about shoveling snow - it's great cardio and muscle work. I've found if you have enough Aleve, you can pretty much shovel your way from one side of town to the other. Not that I want to or intend to - ever - but those anti-inflammatories are worth the price.

We got our monk home. He flew in early yesterday, then took a train to the station ten minutes from our house. The train was an hour late (who cleans the tracks and how, I wonder?), but he arrived just as I started my shoveling down the driveway. He loved seeing the snow (not much of that in Haiti where he's stationed or Bali where he's from). I have to agree - it really is breathtaking. And if you're shoveling it, it's definitely breathtaking, but in a different way.

So let's revisit ways in which you can improve your earnings. Let's start with this ad, which I found on Craig's List:

PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE POSTING BEFORE REPLYING, SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY! IF THE PARAMETERS OF THIS POSTING DO NOT INTEREST YOU, PLEASE DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR MINE BY REPLYING. Article writing company is looking to add one or two contract writers for steady work. You will be writing for an article marketing company. In general, articles are very easy to write and should not take you very long. You can expect to write anywhere from 10-25 articles a day, depending upon your speed and experiences. Minimum pay for articles is $.01 per word. You MUST reside in the United States and New Jersey and Pennsylvania writers will be given preference. You must also be able to provide proof of residency in the United States along with signing off on a waiver that it is your responsibility to report taxes and also that all articles are property of company once they are completed. This is a 1099 position. If interested, please reply and a sample work order will be sent out for completion. It is imperative that you follow the work orders instructions completely or you will not be considered for the position.

This is a great opportunity for a student that is looking for extra work or a stay-at-home mom who is looking to earn some extra cash during down times. Please realize that this is a deadline based business and if you miss a deadline for your articles, you will no longer receive work. Articles are not hard to write, if you can follow direction and have good command of the English language, you should be able to do this. However, if you cannot type at least 60+ words a minute, I would suggest that you do not reply as you will not be able to write the articles quick enough to make it worth your while. Writers receive work orders in the morning every Monday through Friday to be returned by 10:00pm that night.


For the newbies, let me go over the myriad of things wrong with this particular posting. First, anyone who has to put a capped disclaimer at the top is trying to ward of tons of complaints. Red flag #1, for why would any writer complain unless the job sucks?

Second, any time an ad states something as insulting as "...articles are very easy to write and should not take you very long" deserves a number of complaints. The assumption - writing is easy and you have no right bitching if it takes you longer because hey, we think it's easy. Think about it - if it's that easy, why are they asking for help? Because it's not. Unless they expect you to plagiarize, in which case they're even bigger fools. Red flag #2.

Third, a proof of residency requirement? For a writing job? That means it's going to be paying so low (and it is) that it will attract foreigners. Red flag #3.

Fourth, the signing of a waiver stating you know it's a 1099-based contractor job? Someone here is covering their arses unnecessarily. In all my years freelancing, I've never been asked to sign such a thing - only send over the standard W9 form. Control freaks? Red flag #4.

Fifth, there's that comparison. "A great opportunity for students and stay-at-home moms." And you wonder why I tell you to stop equating your mommy status with your job? Because wingnuts like this now think all writers are bored mommies with nothing better to do than jump through hoops. Also, lumping students and moms in the same category as professional writers in reprehensible and insulting. Red flag #5.

Sixth, the abysmal grammar in this entire ad has me wondering who exactly is in charge of deciding what articles are acceptable? Based on what? Certainly not personal knowledge of proper sentence structure and grammar. Red flag #6.

Seventh, there are way too many "musts" and too many negative comments to people these clowns don't even know. Respect must be there at the outset. Clearly, it isn't. Why? Because these people aren't paying a respectable wage, so they're attracting writer wanna-bes and the clueless masses. Red flag #7.

And a penny a word for articles? HUGE red flag #8.

Instead, look for ads that don't insult you before you meet them. Try something like this:


GRIT is a nationally distributed bi-monthly magazine with a circulation of approximately 150,000 through subscriptions and newsstand distribution. GRIT celebrates the intergenerational bonds among those who live on the land with spirit and style – a legacy of self-sufficiency, audacious ingenuity and pragmatic problem solving that gave this country its backbone and continues to shape its unique character....

Articles are assigned; no editorial calendar is published... GRIT purchases shared rights, which grants the publisher the right to publish or republish the work in any form in any country, at any time. The author agrees not to publish the work in any other media for a period ending one year after the date of the issue in which the work initially appears. After this period, the author retains the right to republish the work in any form in any country at any time, as well.

Features
GRIT publishes feature-length articles on topics of interest to those living in rural areas, on farms or ranches, or those interested in the rural lifestyle. Articles will be from 800 to 1,500 words.... Departments and columns are generally 500 to 1,500 words. GRIT Gazette items are 350 to 700 words. Read more.

(My note: GRIT pays 35 cents/word for features and department articles.)


Even 35 cents a word is low, but if you're trying to dig your way out of the $4-an-article rut, it's an exponential improvement. Let's do the math - consider you're able to write two articles an hour for the first client at a penny a word. Let's just make it easy and assume the articles total 700 words. That's $7. Seven bucks.

Now let's write the same amount for GRIT. Let's assume you'll be doing some research, so you may spend two hours on this one article. Because you're getting 35 cents a word, your check will be for $245. Mind you, at that rate you can take three hours - hell, even four hours - to write the story. In fact, you'd have to write 35 articles for the first client in order to make that kind of money. And if you were able to write 35 articles in four hours, I'd say they're not going to be top-quality articles. Just a hunch.

What job do you have right now that you could improve on? What was the worst job you had and how did you replace it?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Knee Deep

What's on the iPod: EZ by Pete Yorn

Did I really say I loved snow? I did. Wow. Good thing, because today I'm staring down a long driveway with a ten-inch deep layer that needs to be moved. Maybe I'll just stay in. Maybe I'll hope for an early spring, starting today.

I got enough exercise yesterday shoveling the five or so heavy, wet inches off the same driveway around one in the afternoon. I knew it was going to come back, that white stuff, but the prospect of moving fifteen inches - maybe even the icy layer that came down in between - just didn't appeal. Not that ten inches is all that much better. So I shoveled so everyone could get back home later.

Husband had to pick up a meditation monk in the middle of it. At the airport. We kept an eye on the flight status. Let me just say this - the airports and airlines could do worlds better in keeping the public informed. He drove down the expressway at 15 mph, taking over an hour to get there (usually a 30-minute ride at best), waited for an hour and a half, only to find that the flight never arrived. The whole time the board in the airport and on both the airport and airline sites was saying "Delayed." Only when he asked an employee did he find out the flight wasn't going to arrive.

Adding to the mystery, the monk called to say he was waiting at the airport. He'd borrowed someone's phone. When I called back, a woman answered. He indeed did land - in Raleigh/Durham. That's not exactly close to Philadelphia. And he'd slept during the flight, so he'd missed any announcements that the plane was being diverted.

I called the airport and had them page him, which worked. He was surprised to find out he wasn't in Philly, but he's resourceful enough to know what to do. He called someone from our meditation group who lives there, and found a place to sleep and a meal. And he let me know this at 11:30 last night, which was about the time my husband made it back home. That's one monk who will be glad to get back to Haiti.

I'm due outside to lend a hand (or a shovel), so today's is a brief post. But I wanted you all to enjoy what I'm seeing. And lucky you, you can do so without having to move it or feel the chill.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Doing it Better

What's on the iPod: Rockstar by Nickelback

Good day yesterday. I managed a project, research on another project, a dental appointment, closure on yet another project, and tutoring my Vietnamese student last night. She had to take a test to measure her progress, so I had an hour of uninterrupted reading time in the library. I chose Steve Martin's Shopgirl, and managed about six chapters. I'm captivated. His writing never fails to impress me. I can't wait to go back and read more next week. Yes, I know I can check it out and take it home, but you should see the stack of books I'm neglecting. In my head, if it stays at the library, I'm not really reading it, therefore I can feel less guilty about not reading all these others.

This morning, the snow that was supposed to be rain is coming down, though we're promised the heavy stuff is coming later - maybe an inch or two an hour. I love snow. The shoveling isn't something I love, but being outdoors as I shovel makes it okay.

Good discussion yesterday about Google's decision to target, somehow, the webspam that clogs their search results. It's a good discussion because it now lets us focus on the more important part - helping writers who will soon be out in the cold find work.

If you've visited here before and haven't found anything useful, you've not been paying attention. Here are a few posts to get you up and marketing:

Marketing 101: Finding Clients

Marketing 101: The Approach

Reinventing the Writing Career

Doing Nothing Wrong

So if you're just off a content farm stint, if you're new to freelancing, or if you're having some issue that has your career stalled, ask. If you're too shy to ask, click on any of those tags at the left to find the answer, or use the search bar at the top of this page. What lack of information is keeping you from progressing?

Writers, how do you kick-start your career when things slow down? What methods work best for you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Content Farms: Is the End Near?

What's on the iPod: Statesboro Blues by The Allman Brothers

Yesterday was slow, but I got more accomplished than I thought. I managed everything on the to-do list, plus I had some time to work on personal projects and a little marketing. A day without marketing is like a day without work.

Has Google figured out that crap content is, well, crap? It would seem so. Eileen Coale sent me this link to an article on how Google is attempting to decrease the number of search results that include content farm content, which according to Google's spam killing team, is "pure webspam." As if we needed to be told. Give the article a read.

What I found interesting was the effect this move is having on legitimate news services. And they're voicing their complaints because their business model is to gather news from various sources and redistribute. Under Google's anti-spam campaign, they stand to lose ranking right alongside the content farms. The interesting part (for me at least) - their voices are added to the growing list of those who are unhappy about content farms and their products.

I don't think too many would argue that the majority of content farm output is garbage. If you're writing for a mill and you disagree, I'm afraid you'll have a tough time proving it to anyone at this point. While I'm sure there are good, even fantastic writers working for content farms, there are just as many mediocre writers or writer wanna-bes who don't think to, or know to, question what it is they're expected to do. These are not writing jobs. Please don't think they are, despite any company's claim to the contrary.

More to the point, I question the impact of the decision to write for these places on a writer's business and reputation. I know a few high-level writers who choose to work for them. They call it pocket change. I call it a waste of valuable time and talent.

Writers at any stage of their careers who work for these places are not only getting paid abysmally for work that isn't exactly noteworthy (do you honestly think that article on how to brush a yak is a good published clip?) - they're also in danger of damaging their reputations. Beginning writers especially need to understand the difference between legitimate work and serfdom. A litmus test for you - if it pays you under minimum wage per article, it's not worth it. And don't tell me you can write six articles an hour and make a whole $30 doing so. Try that for eight hours a day, five days a week. We'll see how long that lasts.

Instead, actively seek work. That means stop trolling job listings and feeding off the chum of these virtual sweat shops. Decide now who your next client will be. Research the client's business, competitors, and needs. Then go ask for the job. It takes about as much time to do that as it does to write those six articles. The difference is you'll be paid a fair wage because you're going to ask for and expect no less.

Writers, what do you think of the article? When was the last time you took a job you weren't proud of? How did you move beyond it?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekend Recovery

What's on the iPod: Cinderella Man by Eminem

It's cold in the east, even by western Pennsylvania standards. I looked at the thermometer - 4 degrees. Plus there's a little wind. Ouch. Welcome to January. I'm used to it after years of living west of Harrisburg, but for this area, it's unusual.

I usually have nice weekends, but this one was special. Living 300 miles from the hometown is sometimes tough when you realize the distance is more than just physical. Few people understand me (and I them) like the hometown crowd. So it was especially fun when a few of those high school friends, now living on this side of the state, answered the call to get together here in town. We brought spouses and what was supposed to be just a few hours turned into a few more. It was our first try at it, so there were three of us of the expected eight, but things do get in the way. That one friend came three hours north for it was special.

And if you know me, you know yesterday was a fantastic day, as well. The colors prevailed, the boys are headed to Arlington, and I'm giddy once more. The Jets played fiercely to their credit, but luck was on our side and my Steelers are going to meet the Packers in two Sundays. What fun!

Today, I have one interview for an article, a smallish project, and a contract to negotiate. Tomorrow was supposed to be a dentist, but yet another snow storm is expected, so who knows? I'm okay traveling in it, but I'm not okay with others who don't know how to drive in it traveling in it all around me. Having learned to drive in this kind of weather, I learned early what to do and not do on a snowy road. Too many people in this area aren't used to it, which means the BMWs without front wheel drive are getting stuck and people in SUVs will still go 75 on your tail when the road conditions dictate 45 and lots of space.

So what's new with you? How was the weekend? How is your week looking?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stupid Clauses and Clients Who Push Them

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

It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you feel lots of tight deadlines coming down on you. By noon yesterday, I'd completed three projects and started on a fourth. I spent the afternoon going over contracts and yes, marketing. Just because things are in the works doesn't mean anything's sure until signed. Keep on looking.

A writer friend and I were commiserating about various aspects of our lives, personal and professional, when she mentioned turning down an assignment because of the contract clauses. When she shared them with me, I agreed. The clients were attempting to enforce ridiculous parameters on her, and in one case, they expected her to assume their business risks.

Thankfully, she's a veteran writer who doesn't let anyone walk on her. A few clauses into the contract and she knew it was a raw deal. Here's one of those clauses:

Contractor may not voluntarily terminate its services under this Agreement before the end of the assignment without the consent of Client.

Are you kidding? So basically, if the job sucks, these people aren't paying, etc., they're going to chain you to the project until it's completed? Not possible, frankly. You as a contractor are free to terminate any services at any time. This clause indicates to me that maybe someone lifted a boilerplate "contractor" contract off the Internet. However, what may be true for a remodeling company is not true for a writer.

Another interesting clause:

INSURANCE
Contractor will at all times while performing work under this Agreement, maintain at its expense Comprehensive General Liability (GL) insurance coverage with limits of not less than $100,000, Errors and Omissions insurance, Workers Compensation coverage, Professional Liability insurance, and Automobile Liability insurance.

If Contractor fails to maintain insurance coverage, Contractor assumes all risk of loss for any accidents, claims, damages and losses and Contractor covenants not to sue the Company or Client as a result of such claims, damages and losses.


Mind you, I'm a proponent of all freelancers carrying some sort of insurance to protect against a-hole behavior of the select few clients who feel the need to act badly. However, this clause is worded in such a way that the Contractor is basically agreeing to, in my opinion, implied responsibility for the business's screw-ups. It doesn't say it directly, but if something goes wrong, the client is going to wave this paper in front of the contractor and pass the buck.

And honestly? Workers compensation insurance? For a freelance writer? This is a company that still thinks of its outsourced help as employees. Yes, they could be sued should someone get a serious paper cut that becomes infected and causes an arm to drop off, or get maimed on the way to Staples to get ink to print out the project (maybe that's why they included the need for auto insurance, too), but for the most part companies are protected by the independent status of said contractors. And frankly, the agreement need only say (in my totally un-legal-like opinion) "Contractor is not an employee of Company and Company assumes no workers compensation liabilities of said Contractor..." blah blah. Again, I'm not an attorney, but it seems easier (and smarter) to say what you ain't gettin' versus what you require someone to buy who may not be able to buy it in the first place.

Rather than debate the legalities of such clauses or the sanity of those who state them, I'd much rather point out that stuff like this in a contract is something we writers need to be aware of. More client contracts are adding clauses that either bind us to ridiculous terms or pass all risk exposure to us. Suppose your client wants you to write a textbook from materials he supplies? And suppose the materials are full of erroneous information? And suppose that information causes someone to fail his SATs? And suppose he sues the company? No, he'd be suing you, because by signing that contract, you've agreed to take all the blame for anything you produce, even if the fool on the other side of the contract was the cause of the problem.

I'd think this was an isolated incident, but it's not. HarperCollins has started including into its contracts with authors a "morals clause" that basically controls how its authors act in public.

PUBLISHER’S RIGHTS OF TERMINATION
If (i) Publisher determines that any of the representations of Author set forth in Section 6(a) is false, or (ii) Author breaches the covenants set forth in Sections I(f), I(g), 2(c), or 2(d), or (iii) Author commits a breach of any covenant contained in the Special Provisions section of Part I above for which Publisher is given a right of termination, or (iv) Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales, Publisher may terminate this Agreement and, in addition to Publisher’s other legal remedies. Author will promptly repay the portion of the Advance previously paid to Author, or, if such breach occurred following publication of the Work, Author will promptly repay the portion of the Advance which has not yet been recouped by Publisher.


So, if I curse out a guy who cuts in front of me and he happens to put the video on YouTube, I've broken the contract?

A few decades ago I had a contract where the publication bought my article, but I missed the wording and it cost me dearly. They had agreed to buy a sidebar, not my full article. The contract I signed said "Company agrees to purchase a minimum of 500 words..." I had no recourse. I'd signed it. Despite their agreement in email to buy only a small portion, they paid me for an article they'd printed verbatim - all 2,000 words. My bad indeed. Sure they were scum not to respond to any of my letters asking, then demanding restitution, but I was foolish for not reading more closely. One word cost me about $800.

How closely do you read your contracts? What have you seen lately that's questionable? Ever been burned by a contract clause?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Overeaters Anonymous, Here I Come

What's on the iPod: Better Together by Jack Johnson

Remember my sitting idle in November and December? Remember my wondering where all the clients were? I wasn't worried - well, yes, I guess I was. I figured they'd be back, but I was eager to see them back sooner rather than later.

Well, in true feast/famine, cyclical nature, the clients have returned. In droves. Two projects came in back-to-back in email. Both projects are the kind that the clients need yesterday, and neither of the projects are small. I'm giving deference to one because there was some preliminary planning, but basically if I can swing them both, I'm doing it.

That's on top of two other projects that came in last week. Plus a few projects coming in from another client. And the ongoing daily projects from yet another client. And the large project I'm developing, plus the other large one I'm working on.....

If this all hadn't come directly on the heels of the famine, I'd not be so giddy and anxious at the same time. I love having so much work. I hate that it's all due now. I love the notion of money rolling in at tax time. I hate that I'll probably be dead or feeling close to it by then.

I'm being quite careful not to say yes to all this yet. The temptation as a writer is to take what comes when it comes and wear myself out, but I've learned that too many plates spinning means that something could fall for lack of attention. I'm not willing to sacrifice quality or my professionalism just because I think I can do it.

So when the feast brings more than you can eat, what do you do? Here are some things I've done/am doing in order to keep my sanity:

Price accordingly. Some of the "need it ASAP" requests are getting priced higher. Why? Because I may have to turn down another client's projects to devote time to these ones. It may knock me out of their league or pricing structure, in which case I can relax a little.

Refer. In one case, the client is a referral from another writer, so I don't want to pass the project on yet again. However, some of the other client work I may be able to refer if the price doesn't fit or if the timelines are fixed.

Push back on deadlines. Sometimes the deadlines are all in their heads. When I have someone wanting something yesterday, I will almost always push back, especially if the timeline given seems too challenging. I'll also ask if there's a reason for such a tight deadline - is there a person somewhere waiting for this? Would a delay tie up someone else's deadline? As the person expected to jump through that particular hoop, I need to understand just how fixed the deadline is.

Prioritize. I'm one of those people who can't take on six things at once without some idea what needs to be done first. You shouldn't be, either. For example, two projects I know will need ASAP treatment. One has a 10-day deadline and the other a four-week one (it's a huge project). The ones in between have three-week deadlines or three-day deadlines, and are small enough I can work them in among the larger projects. I'll schedule the work to be done days in advance so I know when I sit down what's on the agenda that day, that minute.

How do you deal with a feast?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Building the Online Presence

What's on the iPod: Soul & Skin by The Clarks

Yesterday was fun. Yes, fun. I had a little work to clear up (and I swear I'll clear it up soon), and then I got on the phone with Lisa Gates, coach extraordinaire and west coast soul mate, to chat each other up and hash out some business ideas. Some exciting stuff is coming, and I can't wait to tell you all about it. But for now, we plan.

I was over at Dr. Freelance, Jake Poinier's blog where he answers a reader's question about casting a wider net in terms of finding work. While he was talking about how this person could get the word out about their newly added services, it got me wondering about how the existing marketing materials looked in terms of the work already being promoted.

And for me, it begged the question - how to build an online portfolio (or any marketing material) that lists a myriad of projects you're capable of handling without it looking schizophrenic? Here's how I've managed it:

A separate page for each expertise. Because I write and edit, I have three pages - Writing, Editing, and Corporate Communications. I could easily break these down into Business Writing, Copy editing, Proofreading, etc. I could even break it down by specialty - insurance, risk management, healthcare, finance. I chose not to. I'd rather keep it simple. Also, I chose not to add ghostwriting books to my list of skills. I love it, but I've had a few rough situations that make me want to avoid it for a while.

An online resume. Call it a portfolio, bio, synopsis, whatever. The idea is you're showing your clients what you've done and for whom you've done it. At the very least you should have a short bio and a page of ...

Samples. A separate page for samples is best. If you have many areas in which you work, you may want to consider grouping the samples under separate headers. Stick with chronological where you can - most clients will click on the first few links. Better that they see the newest stuff.

Contact information. I'm not a fan of the "fill in the box" form. I want people to know how to reach me, even if it means the spam I get is going to increase. I don't go as far as putting my street address on the site, but I give a phone number. Sometimes people just want to call and connect. Also, some clients want someone local. Having even a region on the website allows me to connect with local clients and weed out those who need a writer closer to them.

As you add skills and new areas to your repertoire, you should remember to amend your website and marketing copy to include - even highlight - these new areas. They can't know you do it if you don't tell them.

So what's on your website or brochure?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

What's on the iPod: Through Smoke by Needtobreathe

It's funny how as the birthday of one Robert Burns draws near, I'm finding myself quoting his To a Mouse. If the best laid schemes indeed "Gang aft agley", that was yesterday. Try as I might, I couldn't get beyond one project, which quickly morphed into three. I'm paid to turn them around quickly, so they did have to take priority. That meant the article revisions sat untouched, as did the marketing ideas going out. I never thought three little projects would take all day. Yet there you go.

That means all those plans for today are now pushed back until tomorrow. I want to hit it hard today and get these projects out the door so I can A) invoice, and B) move on. I was thinking of starting down the Schedule C road, but that won't happen today. Amen. Taxes give me pause, grief, agita, stress, and any other miserable feelings or thoughts you can imagine. I think it's because I've lost faith in the IRS since his debacle with them deciding he owes them money, them sending him the same amount he'd paid two weeks later, then demanding it right back; and my own encounter with them making mathematical errors. Nothing doing, people - that's my job.

So now on to new marketing plans. I did very well with last year's plan, but I want a raise, and I'd be thrilled to find new clients who value my skills as much as my current clients do. So I'm going to test my marketing scheme - targeting conference exhibitors and their PR firms - to try capturing some of the wealth of material copy writing that exists.

It made me think of other areas in which I'm not looking that could be lucrative. Here are a few:

1. Conference attendees. Mind you, not individuals, but the companies that send their employees to conferences. They're already finding value in the information and are willing to spend money to gain more information.

2. Conference speakers. I've heard their speeches and sat through their sessions. There is plenty of room for improvement, and I'm quite willing to help. Plus, I have the writing expertise and understanding in their fields in order to get the right message out.

3. Printers. I work with one printer now, but how nice would it be to partner with a few more and capture some of their referrals for writing work? If any new clients work with particular printers, I'm quite willing to introduce myself and suggest such a partnership.

4. Associations. Someone is putting on the conference, and many times it's an association. They're usually planned by a small group of people (one very large one I attend has one person running the entire conference planning). Why not offer to help someone who's already stretched beyond capacity?

5. Industry Magazines. They all want to cover the large conferences and events, but often can't afford to send a staffer. I'm able to pay my way (tax deductible) and write on whatever angle is necessary.

Think about the prospecting you're doing right now. Are you approaching these markets/clients to capture as much business as you can, or are you targeting one small corner of it?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday, Monday

What's on the iPod: Untitled by Eminem

Happy MLK Day. Honor the man who effected change via peaceful methods. Remember the past in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

The weekend was busy and wonderful. We traveled back home to western PA for my daughter's graduation party. The trip was blessedly dry - no snow falling - and the views were stunning. The snow covered the state end-to-end, and everything looked fresh and new under the whiteness.

Daughter and I had to pick up some food at the local grocery just before the party. I'd forgotten what it was like, but was quickly reminded. See, Saturday was also Football Day, no less a holiday than any pre-determined federal holiday. We walked into the store to see a moving sea of black and gold. The store was packed with pre-game shoppers and to the person they were wearing the colors. Having lived in a different region for so long, I'd forgotten that fevered mindset that overcomes the fan base. There was a playoff game here last week - it almost escaped notice. I still don't know the final score because it made the news for a second or three, not weeks.

The party was a success. We were mingling two families that hadn't seen each other since a divorce ensued, so the expectations were all over the map. But there was hugging, kindness, and reminiscing. It made for a beautiful day for my daughter, whose goal for years has been to get her family to come together, overcome the past, and honor someone - anyone - without animosity. She got her wish. Amen.

That's not why we raced to get out of the hall. The game was the reason. The entire time the party was going on, we had the tv going for pre-game shows. We were cleaned up and back at my parents' house for the first quarter. And my siblings had made it home with their kids, so my mom decided there was a reason for Christmas presents. Imagine unwrapping while all eyes were glued on the television - I saw what I got and what others received after the fact. At least my brother waited until halftime to head home - we were able to say goodbye like humans instead of drones.

The outcome now in the history books, we sat up until 12:30 talking and laughing. It was a much-needed reconnect with sister and mother. Then yesterday we fit in some sledding before packing our wet behinds into the car and heading back home. The re-entry from one culture to another (yes, there's a difference) is always shocking and I'm usually rambling from room-to-room here trying to find what it is that's missing that will make me feel whole. I can't. I'd left it 300 miles to the west. So I usually end up in the bath, soaking away the miles.

Back to work today. Much to do - an article revision to finish, a few articles to research, and a smallish project. The marketing will be hit hard today. I came up with some ideas on the ride home, so I'm excited to get the queries out.

What's your week looking like?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest Post: Reason to Write

Just a quick side note: I'm guest posting over on Steph Auteri's blog today. Hop on over for a visit!

Writerly Misconceptions

What's on the iPod: Peaceful, Easy Feeling by the Eagles

Great day yesterday. I managed to get a ton of project work done on top of organizing a graduation party for my youngest. I can take one area of my life being stressed, but not two at the same time. But I've made enough progress everywhere to be content.

I scored two assignments from a semi-regular client, so I contacted the interview sources to get things rolling there. I did a bit of marketing and I hope to have a few more projects within a week.

I had some time to poke around the blogs and forums, too. And I'm seeing a lot of writers spouting advice and blanket statements that simply aren't true. Not from my chair, anyway. See if you agree:

1. Trade magazines always pay less. Nonsense. Some of the highest-paid gigs I've had were trade pubs. If you go into negotiations thinking this, you're already handicapping yourself. It's true some pubs don't have the large freelance budgets of other pubs, but isn't that equally true of the consumer pub market?

2. Writers don't need resumes. Writers need to show their experience and career progression just like any other professional. Your resume isn't going to look like the resume of say an operations manager or accountant, but it's still going to show your areas of expertise, your specialties (if any), the publications/clients that have used your services, and how long you've been working in the field.

3. Starting with content mills is the best place for newbies to get clips. Sure, if you plan to stay there. Think of these cheapo jobs as black holes - they suck you in and, unless you're able to defy gravity and dig your way out, you're going to be there a long time. Plus those clips - including that one about how to pull ticks off your dog - are going to look amateurish to your next clients, who may be looking for someone to do a high-level expose on say the meat packing industry. Guess who they probably won't hire?

4. Charging hourly is always a bad idea. Yes and no. We've hashed this one out before, but it bears repeating. I charge hourly. However, I've stopped telling my clients that I'm doing so (and thanks to those of you who convinced me to stop quoting hourly across the board). Instead, I calculate how many hours a project will take and quote a flat rate. For one or two clients, I do charge hourly, but only after I've worked with them a bit and determine if they're nickel counters.

What misconceptions are you hearing these days?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Freelance Nevers

What's on the iPod: Better Life by Keith Urban

Wow. The last few days I went from running in place (and all around) to a dead stop. Amen. I can take a lot of work at once, but I can't take multiple interruptions that make it tough to get a single thing done. Such was my Tuesday and the first part of yesterday. I got the hair done (amen - I'm human again!), and came home to a resume in which the client was fluffed up because I failed to show his leadership qualities.

Sometimes I think they believe we read minds because nowhere in the info he'd given me was there a single mention of a project he'd led, a team he'd managed, or anything remotely resembling leadership. Two rounds of emails and a dozen pointed questions later, he coughed up the much-needed info.

This on top of my usual daily project deadline, plus two more articles for another client meant I didn't get up from this chair until somewhere after 5:30. Then it was my turn to cook.

Yesterday I fared a little better, but I kept being pulled aside for various things, which meant my marketing was shot before it began and I didn't get the start I wanted on a new project. Today is a new day, thankfully.

I was thinking about the ways in which we shoot ourselves in the foot (beyond the uncontrollable interruptions), and I've come up with a list of things we should avoid lest we handicap our own attempts to grow our businesses.

1. Never compete on price. If you think you can outbid someone and win the project that way, A) you've lost it in the long run (who needs a cheap writer? Not someone who needs a good writer), and B) you need to be dragged away from bidding sites altogether. Set your price as though you mean to do business like a grownup, not like a desperate writer wanna-be.

2. Never compromise your standards to win the job. The fastest path to resentment and job dissatisfaction is to take on a project that doesn't agree with your morals, your standards, your pay rate, or any other part of your business or personal beliefs. Be true to yourself and let that - and your gut - guide you.

3. Never think you know it all. I've been doing this job for years, yet I'm still learning. I would no more tell you there is only ONE way to do this job than I'd tell you my feet are on fire (because they're not). If you start presenting your expertise in absolute terms or make bold statement you can't back up, you're on the fast track to discrediting yourself and killing your reputation. (And yes, I see the irony of my listing this in a list of absolutes.)

4. Never make it up or embellish. If you don't know, say so. If you haven't done it, don't pretend you have. If you expect to remain a trusted writing source, never lie to your clients or mask your experience.

5. Never miss your deadline. I mean never. If you've contracted to get it done by March 9th, it had better be in that client's hands on or before March 9th. If you need an extension, ask for it the second you realize you need it (and it had better not be the day of or the day before). If you become unreliable, you also become unemployable.

6. Never underestimate your own value. You have mad skills. You're offering a service that many clients are seeking. Just because you love your work doesn't mean you must forgo fair payment for that work. My mechanic loves working on cars, but he's not going to replace a transmission for $5.

What freelance nevers can you add to the list?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worthy Tip: This Job, Not That Job

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's on the iPod: After the Gold by Neil Young


Before I forget, I have a post up over at About Freelance Writing. Give it a look.

The snow has come. I felt it the day before. You can just tell. The air is more static and heavy, and the birds start flocking in droves to the feeder. There's a stillness about and a gray pale that just announces a big hit. Last night, it fell like powdered sugar from a sieve. We'll see if it shovels as beautifully.

Daughter flies back today, though there's still a chance her flight may not take off and she'll be stranded - in Disney World. There are worse fates.

I'm not one to get worked up over snowstorms (except getting excited that we're having one), so I didn't run out yesterday to get food or anything. Let's face it - it's a rare day that we're stuck in the house more than 24 hours. If you don't have enough food before a storm starts, you need to get more creative in your cooking and use up some of that stuff sitting around in your cupboards.

Instead, I went for a haircut. My daughter's graduation party is this weekend and I'm looking a little ragged. So I traipsed off before the big storm to get gussied up. We do have our priorities.

Before the new year, I'd started a little something I call Take This Job, Not That Job. I give total credit to Men's Health editor David Zinczenko for the inspiration culled from his Eat This Not That series. It's such a good idea, I wanted to see how it applied to freelancing.

Quite well, it seems. Too many writers are getting stuck in the "It's all I can find!" mindset. No, a $5 assignment is not all you can find, and it takes very little effort to find something that pays infinitely better.

The goal here isn't to say the jobs found are the only way to go. It's to show you that if you take the same requirements and do your own searching, you're going to improve your income.

So let's start with something I found on Craig's List:

Video Game Blog Writer

I'm looking for someone who can help with my blog about online games. Currently I have about 300 daily readers but am looking to kick it to the next level. I can only offer minimum wage, but it's a lot better than other min-wage jobs and would be great experience for anyone interested in internet-marketing or the gaming industry. The schedule is flexible, about 10 hours per week, and all of the work should be done at home via email communication, with occasional meetings near (location listed).

The ideal candidate should have an interest in internet-marketing and the gaming industry, and posses strong written-communication skills. The job involves:

Spend a few minutes a day playing browser-based online strategy games such as Travian, Ikariam, etc. This is important to build a good understanding of what we're writing about and to be able to speak intelligently about these games.

Write one or two articles per week, specifically reviews of different games and extended "play-throughs" of games. Please refer to these examples:
(URLs omitted)

Contact and build relationships with game developers to add interviews and other exclusives to the blog.

Learn about and implement viral marketing. Develop contests, forum posts, and other creative methods to drive traffic to the site. Contact larger sites such as BBGsite and MMOhut to integrate our articles with their sites.

So to sum it up. 10 hours a week of flexible schedule. Play computer games and get involved with the industry. Earn a bit of money.

Interested candidates should send a brief cover letter describing, amongst other things, your experience with video games and why you'd be great for this job, as well as a short writing sample.

Compensation: $8 / hour


Wow. a long list there, isn't it? So basically, you're paid to write, market, and handle this guys publicity. For 8 bucks an hour. That's a lot of work for minimum wage, don't you think?

Try this instead:

"VIEWONLINE

Looking for intelligent, discerning reviews of games, movies, television programs, music, and any other product or service that would appeal to an audience of mostly males between the ages of 18 and 40... Reviews should be under 1,200 words and free of 'technical jargon.'

No opinion or editorial pieces. No reviews of inappropriate products or services, such as pornographic material or devices. We will not accept reviews of games, movies, television programs, or music that glorify indecent sexual acts or promote gang violence or some other inappropriate topic.

Length: 800-1,200 words

Pays $80-120"

Wow. Eighty bucks for presumably an 800-word review? If you can write that in one hour, you've just increased your income 100 times. Not only that, you don't have to market, pimp out the company on other blogs, or be anyone's publicity wonk.

Looking both job listings up took me the same amount of time, so the notion that finding better-paying work is harder doesn't wash here.

What job do you have currently that might translate into a better-paying one?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest Post: The Magalog Market

What's on the iPod: Darlin' Do Not Fear by Brett Dennen

When Copywriting Queen (my term for her) Eileen Coale said something in a comment here about magalogs, little did she know she wasn't escaping with just a mere comment. I asked for more - and like the pro she is, she delivered. Thank you, Eileen, for the following post and for sharing your wisdom!

Feel free to ask Eileen questions!

Writing magalogs: tap into your inner drama queen
By Eileen Coale


Perhaps you’ve never heard the term “magalog” before, but chances are you’ve seen one. The term is a hybridization of “magazine” and “catalog.” These full-color glossy publications look like a magazine, but they’re actually sales pieces in disguise. You’ll find them most often in the alternative health and financial newsletter industries, but in theory they can be used to sell almost anything. Most are B2C (e.g., dietary supplements, financial newsletter subscriptions); some are B2B (e.g., seminars, software).

A magalog is one of the most coveted assignments a direct response copywriter can get. That’s partly because the pay is so high ($5,000-$25,000 and up per magalog), and partly because they’re just so darned much fun to write.

While marketers are always looking for fresh freelance talent to write magalogs, winning an assignment is tough. Effective magalogs require a specific architecture, and it’s not something most newbies can pick up right off the bat. Seasoned pros can turn out a short to medium length magalog in as little as three weeks, but few like to work at that pace. The best magalog writers in the country are booked months, even years, in advance. Magalog clients would rather forego the effort altogether than settle on a writer they don’t have confidence can deliver. That’s because magalogs are expensive. Copy, design, printing, lists, and mailing costs add up to a capital-intensive marketing effort. Response rates are calculated to one-tenth of a percent. Many marketers take a loss on an initial magalog mailing and count on making it up with lifetime customer value.

Magalogs are all about story. In the case of B2C magalogs, the more dramatic the story, the better. The magalog formula is simple, but it’s not easy to execute: dramatize a problem, offer the reader the solution, and tell a compelling story to tie it all together. Developing the right cover concept – a combination of headline and imagery – is crucial, because it’s what compels the prospect to open up the magalog and read it. There’s plenty of space to tell your story and build your case. Magalogs are, at a bare minimum, 12 pages. Most are 16-24 pages, and some are even longer. Most magalogs ask for the sale and provide multiple ways to order. A small minority are used not to generate orders, but to generate leads instead.

The best magalogs are a combination of useful information that the reader can apply right away and a tantalizing promise of what they can expect if they order the product. Sidebars, callout boxes, charts, quizzes, diagrams, testimonials, and photos keep the prospect engaged. Magalogs should be full of fascinating stories, fun factoids, and useful information. The best magalogs hang around on coffee tables and in bathrooms for months.

My colleague and friend, Mike Klassen, is a magalog designer with whom I’ve collaborated on a number of projects. Mike offers a wealth of free information about magalogs at his website. Among those resources, you’ll find a podcast interview here (Episode 5) with yours truly, where we talk about magalog writing. If you’d like a PDF copy of a magalog I collaborated on with Mike, contact me through my website at eileencoale.com.

Eileen Coale is a direct response copywriter specializing in copy for natural health, libertarian issues, sustainable living, and the preparedness and survival industry. She can be reached through her websites at www.eileencoale.com and www.thenaturalhealthcopywriter.com. You can follow eileen on twitter at http://twitter.com/eileencoale.

Writers, have you done magalog work? What clients do you work with currently could you sell the idea to?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Endings, Beginnings, and Other Stuff

What's on the iPod: Summer Nights by Rascal Flatts

I'm hating Blogger at the moment. I just typed out a nice long post, clicked Publish, and watched it disappear into oblivion.

For the first time in nearly a month, I am alone in the house. First his daughter/boyfriend combo arrived, then his vacation, then my daughter/boyfriend combo, then his son arrived back home from Brazil, then most recently our favorite meditation monk came to stay. The girls left Sunday of last week and Thursday respectively, the son is back to work, and the husband just left to take the monk to the train station. It's just me and the fish again. And Mister Squeakers. (I'm hamster-sitting while my daughter is in Orlando.) As much as I love everyone's company, I am blissfully alone and the house is settling into quiet again.

I worked the entire time they were all here. Mind you, the latter part of December wasn't busy, but January came with a pile of projects, including two from one client and one from another that are due today. I have one more from the first client, and possibly some press release edits arriving from them today.

The Christmas tree is in the corner awaiting recycling. We took the decorations off yesterday, but neither of us had the heart to take it out. It's beautiful and the needles are still tight to the branches. I put away the rest of the decorations save for the lights outside, which are under snow. They'll wait until a warmer day - it's 21 here right now - when I can actually see the extension cords and get to the bush lights.

It will be interesting to see how much work I get done today. For some odd reason, I tend to get much more accomplished when I'm pressed for time. Anyone else have the same experience?

So what's on your desk this week?

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Big Question

What's on the iPod: Magnificent by U2

Yesterday was a small part work and a large part distraction. After her 24-hour bout with the flu, daughter woke up and packed for her Disney trip. I dropped her and her boyfriend at the airport, then headed straight for 30th Street Station to pick up the stepson, back from his Brazil visit. I'd say my life was interesting, but only vicariously so.

Got one smallish project out and started in on a few queries. However, he's home all week, so I was eventually drawn to the stenciling project in the bedroom. We're painting a Swedish poem around the top border of the room. His godfather was a Swedish poet, but his poems are a little dark. So he found a beautiful substitute. I can't wait to see this done.

I was glad to see some new commenters here in the last few weeks. I love when newcomers ask questions. The most prevalent one is how does one transition from low-paying jobs to something more lucrative?

And it's a great question. Let me answer it first by telling you where not to look.

Bidding sites. A repository of willing clients looking for writers to complete projects. Who wouldn't want that? Only these places, with all their polish and promise, quickly turn into time sinks and wastes of honest dollars. Because the site owners typically will not weed out the paying customers (the job listers), you're wading through the same mounds of garbage littering free sites like Craig's List just to locate one potential gem. As for paying for the privilege of getting better leads, guess what? You still have to wade through the $4/article offers. I know. I paid my membership, then cancelled when I realized there was no gate keeping.

Content farms. It may seem like good sense to work for a place that has plenty of work available and will provide you with published clips. However, you're grossly underpaid for your troubles, you're often expected to submit to revisions, and the clips are worthless to other clients, who have long since tired of badly written or edited clips.

Job boards. I love a good job board, so this could also be considered a good place to look. Yet there are only a few really good ones I know of (one is Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing) that actually have good jobs listed. That's not to say you won't have luck with them - you will. The ratio of good jobs to bad is worlds higher than the paid job sites. Why I don't like them is because applying for work is the passive approach, and it's potentially harmful to your career. You're now letting someone else dictate your fee (unless they're willing to negotiate, which most aren't). And you're applying and taking what comes instead of researching and choosing your own clients.

So where do you look? Start with what you know.

Magazines. Both online and print magazines are in need of content. If the 2010 Writer's Market is any indication, there are more magazine possibilities available to you than you can wade through in one year. Find a magazine that interests you, study it, then hit them with a great idea. This suggestion works for content "farmers" as it allows you to increase exponentially your rate while writing better copy for legitimate editors.

Local events. I've mentioned it before, and it bears repeating. Chamber of Commerce meetings, local business gatherings, networking events, etc. - all should be on your current to-do list. Tell everyone you know you're a writer. Listen to them describe their businesses. Then go home and draw up a plan to sell them your writing services. Case in point - in talking with my daughter's college professor last week, I mentioned I was a writer/editor. She's now interested in talking further about a project she's developing.

Printers, advertising firms, marketing firms. Get local if you can, but don't be afraid to expand into different regions. I work with a printer two states away. I also have worked with two local marketing firms. Send them a letter of introduction and ask to help them.

Social networking sites. Forums, Twitter, LinkedIn, even Facebook can be client sources. I've mentioned my availability on both Twitter and LinkedIn and was hired within a few days. Don't be a pest about it, but mention casually that you have some time coming up and you're available to work on XX or YY project.

Targeted queries or mailers. Haven't you wanted to work for that company or client for a long time? Then let them know you exist. Send them a letter of introduction, a brochure, postcard, email, whatever. And follow up in a week by phone. They can't hire you if they don't know about you.

Writers, where do you find better-paying work?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Getting Back or Looking Back?

What's on the iPod: Keeping Warm by We Were Promised Jetpacks

I love the wisdom of the writing community. This little gem came from Chaos in the Country's Nikki, who said about her career: " In not wanting to look back, I realize that I do need to get back."

This from someone who found herself burned out a bit on the writing career because she wasn't doing what she loved, but rather just doing the job. Who wouldn't burn out on that?

She's insightful. She understands there's a difference between getting back to where she was and looking back. Looking back is holding you back from advancing into something real. Getting back is finding your center of balance, that place that makes you feel fulfilled and happy.

So are which are you doing? Are you looking back at the past, at successes (and failures) long gone? Do you get how harmful that is to your career? Let's say you love ghostwriting and want to make it your specialty. Suppose your first client is an ego maniac and has to have full control right down to how you edit. He introduces errors. You remove them. He loses files. You double your efforts recreating them. Every day is another issue and he's blaming you. At one point he says "You're a lousy editor and I don't like your writing!" He breaks the contract. After a legal tussle, you get your payment, but you swear off ghostwriting. It's just too much hassle.

Fast forward a few years. You're now more sure of yourself and you can recognize that those past issues were more client-related than a matter of your skill level. Yet you still won't take on a ghostwriting project. He's broken you. And you have allowed his opinion to taint your own opinion of your abilities. You can do the job. You just can't work with someone like that again.

Using that same example, let's assume things ended exactly the same way. But instead of swearing off ghostwriting, you decide to revisit the whole scenario a few months out after the emotional upheaval wears off. You examine what you could have done, and you revisit your own reactions to see where you may have gone wrong. You loved the work. You just weren't fond of the client or his super-large ego.

In this case, you realize your own skills, and you understand that personalities weren't meshing. What you didn't do was internalize that bad experience to the point where you limit yourself. You still live with the lessons learned, but you stop looking over your shoulder and letting that voice say "you can't do it."

Nikki was talking more about finding those things in her life that made her happy and made her love her work, but there are other ways - this example included - in which we allow looking backward to affect our happiness.

Nikki also said "Sometimes you have to start over if you want to go farther than where you are right now."

Amen, sister.

So what's causing you to look back? And where do you need to get back to?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

When the Rules Change

What's on the iPod: Just Another Girl by Pete Yorn

Interesting day yesterday. I had a conference call with my clients to clear up some projet inconsistencies, which went very well. I had just hung up the phone when an email came in on a project bid. The prospective client asked for an IM chat. After a little futzing with the IM program (I use it so infrequently that I have to reacquaint myself every time), we got down to chatting.

The project is straightforward and the requirements were pretty minor. The price seemed acceptable, though just slightly lower than ideal. I was okay with it. Per usual, I sent my follow-up email restating what we'd discussed and doing a cut-and-paste of everything, including the price. That's where it got interesting.

The rate changed. Not a minor change, either. It went from just barely acceptable to are-you-freakin'-kidding-me low. Why the sudden change? No idea and frankly I didn't waste time asking, but I'm very glad I sent that follow-up email. I thanked the client and told him the rate was now out of my usual range.

Frankly, even if the rate was still in my ballpark, any sudden changes like that would throw up a red flag for me. I'm willing to negotiate. I'm not willing to have three different prices (yes, there were three now) quoted, with me wondering exactly what the job pays. If it's not intentionally so, it's still deceptive. No thanks.

At the early stages of this negotiation, I was able to combat the rapid changes and walk away. But what happens if this goes on while you're right in the middle of completing the project?

Contracts. If you have a contract, it voids the contract, which means you're owed the face value of said contract, and you're released from further obligation until the clients come up with a new contract for you.

If you have no contract, shame on you and pity that, for you're out both the money and the job. And if you continue without the contract and try to meet these new terms, shame on you twice and no pity given, for you've just entered the morphing-project vortex. This won't be the first change, and I can almost bet you won't see a dime owed you, if in fact that project ever ends.

What saves you when the rules change? When was the last time they did?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Seven Deadly Freelance Sins

What's on the iPod: Viva la Vida by Coldplay

I'm fighting something. Not sure if it's a cold, a flu, or some other ailment. Whatever it is, it has me tired by noon, my voice is feeling strained, and I'm congested. Here I thought it was all the loud singing I was doing on New Year's Eve.

Nevertheless, I have to work today. I have a phone interview this morning, then some work on a number of articles, plus some more marketing. Also, I'd love to squeeze in work on one of my upcoming projects.

I was thinking of all the things that can get in the way of our doing our jobs properly, and I kept coming back to one very large conclusion - we are our biggest obstacle. The things we do in a day that practically scream "Don't do business with me" are surprisingly common. Here are the worst, in my opinion.

1. You don't market. If you think the work will fall into your lap, welcome to your new career as a short-order cook, retail salesperson, or gas station attendant. There's no way you'll survive in freelancing on word of mouth, referrals, or your cousin's neighbor's brother-in-law who happens to need a resume.

2. You market yourself too much. Conversely, while we should be marketing ourselves, if your blog posts, comments, or tweets consist solely of "Look! Look at ME!" type info, your target audience is going to assume you're a blowhard and look the other way. No one likes a self-promotional jerk. Link to someone else for a change, why dontcha?

3. You don't do the job as stated. You agreed to write a primer on the South American tree frog, but you gave them a sidebar of information on the South American rain forest. And you don't see this as a problem?

4. You quit. Nothing says "I'm a rank amateur" more than someone who quits midway through a project - and does so consistently. Worse is the writer who quits and doesn't inform the client of this little fact. Even worse is the writer who complains about every topic assigned. Say "That's too hard!" often enough and the client/editor will figure working with you is more hassle than it's worth.

5. You don't ask for a decent wage. I know for those starting out, it seems like a great idea to take any job that comes along. But know this - those low-paying jobs lead to referrals for even more low-paying jobs and people soon expect something for next-to-nothing out of you. Start with a respectable fee and don't compromise just to get a check.

6. You don't follow up on invoices. If they owe it, ask for it. Keep asking until that check appears. Don't be afraid to upset or anger your clients by asking for money. If they're avoiding paying you, that's a client you wouldn't miss if you lost them anyway. Get the check and forget their contact info.

7. You won't take advice. It will always amaze me when writers ask for help, then argue why the solutions won't work (even when they probably will). If you don't want to hear it, stop asking.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. What sins have you seen committed?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Countering Bad News

What I'm reading: Gilian the Dreamer by Neil Munro
What's on the iPod: Restless Days by The Clarks


My daughter received an interesting call last night. One of her professors - one of her favorites, in fact - called to ask a favor. It seems a student of hers has lodged a complaint about her to the dean and she was scheduled to defend herself today. The request: would it be possible to send her a copy of the letter I'd written to the dean months prior? I was on it.

This is a professor who drove five hours just to meet with my kid at her internship. This professor, in discovering that the internship promised was not the one being received, took it upon herself to chastise the company and threaten to blacklist them should they not comply with the internship requirements they themselves had written down for my kid. Those alone are actions beyond what many internship professors would bother to perform.

Yet she didn't stop there. She called or emailed my kid every week, checking on her progress, asking what she was doing daily, and making sure the duties matched the requirements originally stated. I can't swear to it, but I'm betting when the marketing started to slip back into telemarketing, there were a few calls made to managers.

I sent a letter back in late August to the department dean. He should know who his best professors are. Oddly, this professor never heard about the letter until my daughter mentioned it to her. The dean, being busy or unconcerned or both, didn't mention it to the professor.

Isn't that how it goes? Good news may travel fast, but bad news sticks like tar under feathers. I was happy to give this professor some ballast in her discussions with the dean, but I wonder why so many times the only attention paid is to the bad things?

It's human nature. If we don't have to fix it, it's "Thanks!" and we move on. But bad news is something that must be dealt with, handled, and the unhappy parties have to be placated. One bad word has more impact than a slew of good words.

As freelancers, we don't have the luxury too often of defending ourselves to unhappy clients. For us, waving a pile of letters and referrals from satisfied customers means nothing to that one person who's upset because things don't look or feel as they should. Like students and professors, clients and writers aren't always going to match.

For that, we need a process.

Take away emotion. Don't fuss and stomp because someone didn't love your work, and certainly don't do contortionist moves in order to please. Back up, remove your knee-jerk emotional response, and ask questions. What's not working? How far from the client's vision is the project result? And ask the client directly - how can I make this better for you?

Complaints don't have to spell the end of our relationships with unhappy clients. Complaints can uncover problems in our communication style, writing style, collaborative style.

So when you get bad news from a client, how do you handle it?
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