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Monday, February 28, 2011

Monthly Assessment: February 2011

What's on the iPod: The Runaway by The Clarks

I have a post up over at Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing. Go on over and give her some comment love.

How was the weekend? We spent Saturday cleaning the basement and hauling stuff away. Finally, we can walk down there again. We'd had a minor, unexpected flood a few months back (leaking kitchen water pipe) and we'd had to scramble to move things and dry them out/vacuum up the water. Stuff was everywhere.

Now things are all back in their proper places and the kids have found things they no longer want, amen. Three dinettes were just too much, as were the several bookcases and three desks (two are now history).

So, it's the end of the month. Time to look back at the progress and reassess the direction and the goals. You can join me or you can comment or just read along. It's my attempt to remain accountable to others, which has been a huge help in staying with my goals. Try it if you like - no judgments here. Especially when you see some of my own results.

So let's see what February looked like:

I sent out a number of smallish queries, mostly related to referrals. One two weeks ago resulted in immediate, ongoing work that's netted me almost $1K. In two weeks, involving two hours a week. I can handle that. I didn't hit the queries too hard this month because I was busy developing a project about to be announced.

Job postings:
Didn't even look. Didn't miss the search, either.

The one referral mentioned above was an immediate yes, which turned into another referral and another immediate yes. It's the second month in a row in which I've had referrals, which means I'm managing something right.

Existing clients:
My two regular clients kept me busy. A third client is still waiting to decide on their website revamp, so I'm in a holding pattern. I have two article ideas out to other semi-regular magazine clients, but no word yet.

New clients:
Still trying to finish up that article that the newest magazine client assigned. The interviews are done. The article lead is written, and the subheads are decided. Fill in the blanks. I've been very busy with other things, which is great because March should be amazing, but it's frustrating in that I can't get this thing done. I'll be pulling some late nights this week.

I'm still off my target by about 22 percent, but I have things in the works that should shoot me past my goal for March. Fingers crossed.

Bottom line:
I spent a lot of time on a large project, which did cut into the invoices this month, but once it launches I expect a steady, lucrative stream of income from it. The little marketing I managed was spot on and netted instant work. The referrals were great - free marketing done by others! Who doesn't love that?

I could have improved by sending out more queries. I have the ideas, but I've not devoted time to getting them circulating. I had hoped for a few things that didn't materialize, so that impacted the income a bit.

How was your February? What has been the theme for you this month? What's working? What isn't?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Bread Crumbs

What I'm reading: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
What's on the iPod: Something Good by The Airborne Toxic Event

Wow. Never say out loud how organized you are and how you're going to finish your project. The minute I typed those words yesterday, I watched my day go from centered to scattered. Projects came rolling in, one that threatens to make my head explode. I may have found an acceptable work-around, but I have to get the green light from the client first.

First thing that went wonky - I wrote my post yesterday, hit "Publish" and forgot about it. Only when I checked back in at 1 pm did I realize I hadn't published it. I had to wrong post date. Ugh.

Today is rounding up all these new projects and, hopefully, getting that article in shape. This is why I need longer lead times on these - stuff gets in the way. I could spend a few hours this weekend finishing it, but I hoard weekends. If I start, I'll set a pattern. I'm too suggestible that way.

So just some random stuff today:

My friend/client Dan sent over this link, which had me rolling. Let's all adopt the word "churnalism" to describe content farm products. Please. I love it!

Diane Parkin has a superb post up outlining her process for selecting and securing gigs. It's brilliant. If you've ever doubted it was possible to build a writing career by choosing your own clients, you'll think differently after reading how she does it.

This is one Content Farm you need to be reading. This informative post on how to dance is so quotable. And it sounds so familiar....

Whenever I think I have it bad, I just head over to Clients from Hell. This particular story was hysterical, but they're all hilarious client interactions.

Anne Wayman gives you just a few reasons why you're not getting client responses. And yes, writers do all these things, sometime simultaneously.

What have you seen this week?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Maximizing the Impact

What I'm reading: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
What's on the iPod: Unbelievable by Diamond Rio

I managed to finish my large project edits yesterday, four blog posts for another client, and an edit of yet another client's project. Productive and lucrative day. I don't normally track my daily earnings (it's too nerve-wracking), but I did extremely well for one day.

The youngest is home and is settled back in. She's going to spend today working through all the job listings and links I'd sent her (and a few of you did - thank you again). Her hope is to have something in a few months. She's driven and determined. I'm in awe watching how focused she is.

Today I hope to get my article finished and get some more in the pipeline. I've been back and forth with a few editors on ideas, but we've not landed on anything yet (they get busy, I get busy). With some persistence, I should get something set today or tomorrow.

I just started writing in an area that's near and dear to me - auto issues. If you don't know me well, you don't know my secret grease-monkey life, my wanna-be mechanic status. Thanks to a new client, I'm able to indulge. Moreover, I'm able to promote it. The client wants tweets, mentions, and links. I'm only too happy to oblige.

Some writers might see the tweeting, etc. as an added chore attached to the fee paid. I don't. I see it as a mutual promotion. I get to link to my blogs, my work, and they get added exposure.

Of course that means I have to start that blog I've been thinking about, but it's a chance to build yet another specialty and learn what I've been dying to learn while getting paid to do so.

A few more ways to maximize the impact of our work on our careers:

Tweeting. Why not tweet your latest article? Why not help that client promote its business through your work? You both benefit. Yet I don't see too many writers doing this. Then again, there are a few who over-promote to the point of turning off their audience. Keep it in moderation.

Blog comments. I've been known to find experts through blog comments. I stick with LinkedIn, but if you're brave and know how to vet an interview subject, you could find them on nearly any blog or forum. Why not be that expert?

Guest posts on related blogs. Introduce yourself to a new audience through specialized blogs. They're great for two reasons: bringing your name in front of the very readership you're hoping to capture, and they're instant clips for the new clients.

Google Alerts to your favorites. If you're working with clients editors in the same area, it wouldn't be against protocol to send them a Google Alert on your latest article (if it relates to their business or publication).

How do you maximize your career impact?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding Good in the Bad

What's on the iPod: Awake the Soul by Mumford & Sons

Yesterday was a gift. Not that all days aren't gifts, but this one was the gift of time. I had a large project I needed to put some polish to, and I was able to get through much of it yesterday. I was thankful to have the time, too. I think having an open day allowed me to really focus on that one thing.

Had a note from client/friend and marketing guru Dan who has a terrific blog on marketing. He sent over this link about the Huffington Post/AOL agreement that's been burning up the Internet. What's brilliant about this spin is exactly what many of us have been saying - where have all those filled with righteous indignation been?

As I mentioned last week, I thought the outrage should have come at the outset of this business model. The first time any of the writers were told there would be no pay, that was the time for outrage. Now? It's just beating a drum in the wilderness, for no one is around to hear it - or care.

Writers want recognition. They want repayment for all those freebies. They want to skewer the powers that be for not paying them. Too little too late, folks. The time to collect was at the time of contract, not long after the fact. There's no bargaining power if you're holding none of the cards.

However, there's some good to come of this. If seeing someone make $315 million off the sweat of servants without even a nod to those who helped make them who they are (and who are they - really?) causes this much outrage, there's hope for freelance writers. Maybe this experience will cause one or more of them to think twice about giving away their work. Maybe they'll realize the market value of what they've been doing for nothing. Maybe they'll expect a decent price for their work and hold firm until they get it.

And how many HuffPo-like businesses are out there right now? Sure, they pay, but are they paying what you're worth or are they dictating how much you'll earn (a pittance) while raking in plenty off your content? If one of those content farms or aggregate sites showed you their balance sheets and the figures were astronomical compared to what you were being paid, would you be outraged? If so, why not be a little outraged at the offer in front of you today? Why wait?

Writers, what choices did you make early in your career that you regret? What were some of your better decisions?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dude, Where's My Check?

What I'm reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
What's on the iPod: Almost Famous by Eminem

I wished for, and got, a slow day yesterday. It was nice to relax and settle in on a Monday. There were a few projects I could have done, but I concentrated instead on the article that's due in about three weeks. I made good progress getting it framed in. Now it's a matter of putting in quotes and handing it in with the invoice.

I had some time to get some poetry written, and I managed a short visit with a girlfriend who was donating items for two friends in need. Then back home to put a few more lines down on the article.

I was looking at the bank statement and it looks like my non-foreign check mailed from a foreign client finally cleared. Let's hope so. I'd hate to have to go in and make a scene. Nothing I hate more than counting on funds to be deposited only to have them mess it up because they don't slow down long enough to read the "Funds in US dollars" notation on it.

All this check chasing reminded me of the times in the early days of the career when the chasing took the form of clients who didn't pay. I'm happy to say that's not happened in ages. I think I know why, too. Here are steps I've taken that have resulted in invoices being paid promptly.

Increase the pay rate. It's funny how raising the rates brings in clients who aren't willing to waste time arguing or avoiding invoices. The minute I targeted clients at a higher rate, the problems dissipated.

Adopt a payment process. Every invoice now has a "Please pay within 15 days of receipt" notice on it. They'll avoid it or forget about it if the due date is too open-ended. Just my experience. It's also been my experience that sending a notice of litigation on the third (and final) invoice has never failed to secure payment.

Secure ongoing work. It's just one more reason why I love ongoing project work from the same sources. If they're organized enough to need regular work, chances are they're organized enough to send regular payment. Not always the case. But it helps to work with clients that spell out the payment terms in the agreement. Currently, I work for two clients who do just that. And I can predict to the day when the check is coming.

Get it in writing. I like working with people who aren't afraid to commit to paying me within a certain time frame. That includes magazines. If it's not stated in the contract, I ask for it in the contract. None of that "pay upon publication" stuff. I handed an article in to a magazine back in 1996. I'm still waiting for word.

Choose clients wisely. Newbies, notice I said "choose." Don't take whatever client comes your way. As much as you're needing them for work, they're needing you for services. It's okay to turn them down if you get a bad vibe, if they're dodgy on the payment terms, etc.

How have you guaranteed (or vastly improved) your payment arriving?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekend Recoveries

What I'm reading: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
What's on the iPod: Keep Yourself Warm by Frightened Rabbit

You know it's been a good weekend when you come back to work to recover fully from it. We spent the weekend at the Scottish Irish Music Festival - literally. We showed up at the convention center sometime around 11:30 Saturday and came home for food and sleep. The bands were amazing, and the variety of music was just right.

Saturday we walked into a dark, packed hall. High winds weren't the cause, though they should have been. An accident, a transformer, and three hours of darkness - I doubt the cause. The winds were up to 50 mph.

Still, the show went on. Amid vendors with emergency lights or flashlights, bands took to stages and sang without instruments in some cases, without any microphones in all cases. Blessedly, the power came on by 12:45 and we were back in business.

There were Gaelic lessons, whiskey tastings, dance lessons, and of course, the booths. I managed to find a gorgeous hand-painted leather journal. Maybe just buying it was inspiration - I have three poems in mind that I'll work out and record in it.

We hung out at the kilter's tent (USA Kilts) and chatted with friends and the owners quite a bit, then finished off our weekend at Molly Maguires. We'd missed what they affectionately call "St. Practice Day" at one of the pubs (amen - a little too kitschy for me), but any time you walk into this place, you get a conversation or a good time (usually both).

Today lots of work. I picked up new clients last week and I have plenty to keep me out of trouble. I have a kid moving home this week to commence her job search on this side of the state, so I want to get a lot out of the way so I can spend some time with her the day she arrives. By the way, if you know of a good starter position for a newly minted Comm Media major, she's willing to relocate for the right offer. Her concentration is on video editing and marketing - real marketing, not sales.

I'm hoping for a slow day, but expecting anything but that. That's fine. It beats endless idleness and the nervousness that goes with it.

How was your weekend? What's your week looking like?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Things That Make My Head Explode

What I'm reading: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
What's on the iPod: I Feel Lucky by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Busy day again yesterday. I think I'm just going to paste that as my disclaimer at the top of every post. God willing, it will always be true. I got up and running on a new ongoing project and was immediately given even more work from the same client.

No chance of touching my article. My favorite bank (really, I do like them normally) once more screwed up a check deposit from a foreign source. Even though it clearly states on the check that the funds are in US dollars, they returned it, which sent my account into a serious case of willies (okay, maybe that was me). Back to the bank to waste 20 more minutes of an already dwindling work day. Super. I got lunch somewhere around 2:30, I think. I can't remember eating, though the soup can is on the counter.

I was watching tv trying to relax when I saw something that unnerved me. Really unnerved me. Know those little promotional pop-ups at the bottom of the screen advertising another show on that channel? This one caught my attention:

Next: Left at the Alter

Really? Someone abandoned you at the tailor's? How awful!

If this were the only typo recently, I'd be less likely to impale myself on my bottle of Wite-Out. Alas, not so.

Directions in a recent purchase:

"Place the XXX in it's compartment."

Reading a book on Irish fairies (don't judge me) - the word "mist" became "milst."

Everywhere I look, typos. I can understand it in blog posts - they're immediate and have no editorial oversight. But please, people. In print? Okay, self-published works are also excluded because I've seen some of the heinous things those places do to authors' books in the name of "editing."

I nearly lost my mind when I saw what I thought was a typo on the cover of Time a few weeks back. It said something about that Tiger Mom and "perhaps she's onto something."

Where I come from, "onto" indicates location. However, a quick scan of Merriam Webster cooled my jets - "onto" is now acceptable for "in or into a state of awareness about." So Time avoids my scathing letter. For now. But I owe them plenty thanks to my short-lived subscription. If I can't get past page four without circling about five typos, someone is asleep on the job. And yes, I'm anal enough to circle typos.

What things are making your head go boom lately?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Market Value and You

What I'm reading: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
What's on the iPod: Fell by Scott Blasey

Yesterday was a day of new beginnings. Okay, they were small beginnings, but I managed to get some stuff lined up that will make March rock financially. Amen. I'm doing better this month, but the checks aren't arriving fast enough. Isn't that always the way?

I have yet to get to my article assignment. Though I have a few weeks to go, I like to have things squared away sooner on the new assignments. Gives editors time to ponder and make changes without racing to beat the deadline. Or gives them time to ignore it until the deadline and then race to make changes, which is the usual experience.

Had to deal with a banking issue. I never like hearing the words "Your account is past due" especially when it's a business credit card. Worse, I'd paid it. But the bank, which will remain nameless, has managed to foul up the "easy" automated payment system to the point where I thought I was paying the correct bill, but was paying an account with no balance. Super. How did that happen when I chose the correct account? Beats me, but no one's hearing that I was careful and that the problem may not have been on my side. From now on, they get checks. I'm done trying to work out the problems with their "easy" system.

Thanks to Yolander Prinzel for sending over this link about the sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for a cool $315 million as reported by the National Writers Union. Mind you, the NWU is calling for an organized revolt of sorts against such places and practices.

My question: Why now? Why not when these places were already grossly underpaying its writers, if they were paying them at all? It's been years that content farms have been throwing crumbs at their writing masses, placating them with false accolades about how "valued" and "journalistic" they are. Where were the strong reactions from associations then?

There seems to be a reactive response from associations and the influential crowd in our profession that doesn't sit well with me. First, how can you organize - or unionize - freelancers? Second, how effective will said organizing be if there are still writers out there willing to work for nothing or next to it? Not that the NWU doesn't do its best to alleviate the issues by raising awareness, but I would much rather see a more unified attempt at educating writers as to their value.

If you're a writer who has written for Huffington Post and you're wondering where your share of the $315M is, consider this your alarm clock. Time to wake up and realize your writing has market value. I've been preaching it, as have untold numbers of professional writers. Selling your work for peanuts or giving it away is just stupid.

News flash: You aren't simply a writer. You are a business owner. As such, you need to take care of that business. That includes setting your rates in line with your overall financial picture. What you earn pays your bills, your insurance, your retirement, your taxes, and if your lucky and have some left over, your savings account. To undervalue your business's value is to undermine your career.

Writers, what do you think of the news?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Easing Up on the Brakes

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: Restless Days by The Clarks

Yesterday was nuts. The amount of work I finished by 3 pm was astounding. I was spent, but I had a handle on what had gone from a relatively easy workload to a massive, need-it-yesterday pile in a mere two hours. The culprits (blessed though they are) - a regular client, who'd said the projects were dwindling, then gave me four due in two days' time; a referral client who, once contracted, needs two projects by Friday. Let's not mention the ongoing development of one project and the article that must be done soon. Yoy.

A few days back I had an email conversation with a new writer. She outlined to me exactly the problem we all had starting out - she knows each process in querying, interviewing, writing, and invoicing for article projects. Her problem - knitting it all together. The biggest issue seems to be gaining the confidence to approach editors with ideas.

Welcome to the club. When I sent out that first pitch, I was terrified. I was sure they'd think I was an idiot, and I was even more convinced that my idea was weak and not worth considering. I can't remember how I approached the editor, but the idea was rejected. I was crushed. But I bought a book on how to write query letters and tried again. I kept getting those rejections, but somewhere in the process I gained a little confidence (very little). Eventually, an idea sold.

So how do you gain that confidence to reach into areas new to you? I'm not talking just your first article query, but your first client letter of introduction, your first mailer, your first brochure, your first website - hell, even your first business card. Where do you get the courage to stick your neck out?

Understand your value. See how much others in your profession are earning. Look at the ideas being bought or the gigs your colleagues are securing. If they can do it, why not you?

Ease up on yourself. The more you see of the works of other paid writers, the more you'll realize that writing doesn't have to be pitch perfect in order to be valuable. As I told the new writer, not every article is going to be a shining example of journalistic excellence. It's going to match the tone, focus, and audience of the buyer. And your buyer - your editor - may have a style that includes some flaws or grammatical imperfections. If you can please the editor, you've won the majority of the battle. While we should all strive for journalistic perfection, we should understand that it's not always possible. Learn and grow as you go.

Keep trying. I remember a writer saying that a friend lamented not getting any assignments from one marketing method. The complaint - "I sent out over 100 letters with no response!" The writer's answer - "Funny, I sent out over 500 letters and got one response that's netted months of ongoing work." Perseverance is the key to success.

Separate each task. If the idea of pitching and calling and writing is daunting to you, then do just one thing at a time. Pitch. Then call a week later. Then write. If you think of each thing as a separate step, it's much more palatable than to think of it as this must-do process that can't be altered or thought of as anything but an entire entity.

Detach. Write that query. Agonize over it all you like as you're doing it. Then send it out and forget about it. Call that client, ask for the job, accept the answer and move on. Nothing in business should be taken personally. If you internalize rejection or resistance, you'll see your career die out before you get it going.

Writers, how do you approach that new, scary business area? What works for you when overcoming fear or hesitation?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shooting Your Own Foot

What's on the iPod: Girls Lie Too by Terri Clark

Last week was a bit of a marathon. I managed a lot of little things that add up to big projects. Two big projects will provide ongoing revenue streams. Plus I worked on article interviews. This week I get to put the story together, which will be fun. And I'm putting together two larger projects that could be ongoing.

A while ago I was listening to a friend relay how a job interview went. Since I've been on a ton of interviews and have studied how to conduct yourself, I gave him some tips. I told him above all else, keep it positive. So imagine my surprise when he said he'd confided in the hiring manager just how a coworker had stabbed him in the back.

I don't know about you, but I don't want that kind of talk from someone interviewing for a management role. Managers need to be above that - or at least appear to be above that during the interview. My friend had a rocky time at his last job, and he made the mistake of sharing that. The only way he could fix it is by then following up with how he handled the situation himself. But he didn't. And no, he didn't get the job. Instead, he managed to find a lateral position in another company.

We are the managers, owners, and employees of our businesses. We have to keep up a professional demeanor, even when - no especially when - clients are being extremely difficult. If you slip into blame, you lose your credibility.

Surefire ways of shooting your own foot:

Engaging in verbal warfare. If you win the argument, you still lose. In fact, I don't know any time when arguing, name-calling, or shouting at someone nets you what you want unless you're five and you have indulgent parents.

Being negative. The client just called you at 5:30 pm on a Friday. The project, he says, needs to be done by Monday. If you tell him he's out of his mind, he'll also be out of your orbit. Forever. Instead, explain that your weekend is already spoken for, but you're happy to help him the following week. If he can't be pleased, that's one thing. If you've treated him like an idiot (even rightly so), you're the one who's left the bad impression.

Talking smack about other clients. It's tempting, isn't it? You've established a close relationship with a client, and in the interest of sharing, she tells you what a pain a particular client of hers is. Don't do it. Don't tell your related bad-client story. The minute something goes wrong on the project and you have to assert your boundaries, she's going to remember how you bad-mouthed another client. You'll brand yourself as difficult even if you're not.

Not taking things seriously enough. I'm one to approach my clients, friends, and family in a friendly, easygoing manner. However, if my client complains that something isn't right, my tone changes to concern and brainstorming for a remedy. If I said, "Oh, no problem. I can fix that in seconds" - even if it's true - your client will think you're not committed enough to the project. Make sure your demeanor matches the situation. If your client is flipping angry or upset, don't make light.

Appearing anything but professional. That means no emailed dirty jokes, no curse words, no whining, and certainly no complaining. I remember one PR person who was so nice - then she sent me a racy joke. Worse, I didn't know she was female at first (one of those names that could go either way). It tarnished her image instantly, and I've not gone back to her when I've needed expert interviews.

How have you seen people acting unprofessionally?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Post: Confessions of an Ex-mill Writer

What's on the iPod: Cinderella Man by Eminem

A week or so ago, I was reading through the comments when something our own Wendy Johnson's comment about writing for mills. She said, " I wish I could say that I never did it. On the other hand, though, it taught me some valuable lessons."

That's when I knew Wendy had something to teach all of us. She graciously agreed to tell us her story about working for content farms and how/why she broke free. Wendy, yours is more of a success story than you realize. We all could benefit from your ability to reinvent yourself.

Confessions of an Ex-Mill Writer

by Wendy Johnson

We've all probably done some things in our careers that we're not really proud of. I know I have. The decisions I made 5 years ago to get into this business were not the best ones, but the journey I took didn't turn out so bad. So, what gives? Why would Lori want me to bore you with my story?

She asked me to share whatever I had to say about my mill days and getting beyond it. Here's the thing, though. I'm not a successful writer, at least in the sense that most people picture one to be. I'm just your average Joe freelancer stumbling my way up the ladder. I'm in no position to be offering advice to anyone, for the most part.

So, instead of giving advice, I thought I would just share a small part of my story. You can decide if there's anything worth taking out of it or not. If not, well, I hope you, at least, enjoy the read.

Stepping off the dock
My first writing job was a content farm owned by a writer. A keyword-stuffing, teeth grinding, hair pulling job. I had to write 30-50 articles a week, using assigned keyword phrases, all for the rate of $4 a pop. Yes, I admit that I looked at the money end of it when I took on the job¬$120-200 a week. It sounds great until you realize the work put into it.

I could barely make the 30 article requirement. My nerves were shot, trying to meet those deadlines. A few months at this job and it only got worse. I quit in the middle of trying to write a 63 keyword-phrase article that was impossible to do (if you wanted it to make sense anyway).

I used some of those mill articles for clips and pitched everywhere I could. I could only land the $5 gigs. It wasn’t what I wanted, so I kept trying for higher-paying opportunities. I was rejected. Majorly. I was told my samples were horrible, my writing was bad and I just didn’t have the right mindset for the job. Looking back, I have to agree with them. My samples weren’t about quality, which is what they needed. Frankly, if I were looking to hire a writer, I wouldn’t have hired me either. At least, not at that point.

Then, I got involved in the WAHM community. Huge mistake, on my part, but also a long story. I lost some of those gigs and I didn’t even care. I even lost most of my spark to write. My nerves never completely recovered from my mill days. I could no longer handle too tight of a deadline, which was a handicap for me and still is, really.

Then along comes a two-bit person from Craigslist. His offer of two-buck articles and his telling me that I should be glad for it, since I got to work from home, changed everything. I had taken enough and decided I was getting out. Not out of writing, just out of all these bad situations.

Starting over
I walked away from the internet and went locally. I claimed no writing experience. I found a business that needed a writer, so I pitched my services. They needed to see samples, but I wasn't going to use the crap I had written before. Not knowing what else to do, I wrote some up and printed them out.
I took a risk, but I figured, why not? What's the worst that could happen? They'd say No? As if I hadn't heard that word many times before. In my case, it paid off. They hired me for a $45 per newsletter article gig (far cry from the $4 start). It took awhile, but I got more clients and the rate slowly went up from there. Now, I get about $75 for an article, depending on what's needed.

Success or Not
So, that's my experience. Notice you didn't read a rags to riches story, nor were you slammed with overnight success claims. I don't have trophy fish hanging all over my house, nor am I the greatest paid freelance writer around. But that's okay, because I'll keep trying and taking risks.

The one positive thing I have to say about my mill experience is that it toughened me up a bit. I've been rejected, cussed at and criticized for my writing. I don't let it bother me too much. Why? Because I don't think that any of that is worse than my keyword-stuffing days. Come on, can I get an amen on that?

My journey has been riddled with mistakes and has taken a lot longer than some. I don't know everything and I probably will never claim to. Am I offering advice to others? No. Just telling my story. Take whatever you want out of it.

I'm still pretty proud of what I have accomplished, so far, in my career. Does that make me a successful writer or not? As far as the rate factor, I would say not, but when it comes to determination, that’s a different story.

What about the rest of you? Do you consider yourself a success?

Wendy S. Johnson is a Freelance Writer who specializes in writing motivational material for Employee Mentoring programs of small businesses and corporations. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found next to the coffee pot or following her fishing pole. She just started a blog as therapy to help on those maddening work days. You can see it at Motivating Madness

Friday, February 11, 2011

Worthy Tip: This Job, Not That Job

What's on the iPod: Love the Way You Lie by Eminem (with Rihanna)

Odd day yesterday. I managed a small, complex project and got some brainstorming for a larger project started. At lunchtime I dashed out hoping to find a coat. I have a friend in my meditation group who's having a rough time and she doesn't have a winter coat. In this weather, that's unacceptable. Unfortunately, the one she hoped for was gone, so I'm going to dash out today and try finding a suitable alternative.

I hosted my writer's group, too. I was wanting to get some writing done before, but I had to fall back on some work in progress again. I had time. I simply frittered it away.

To continue the This Job, Not That Job, I found this job listing on Craig's List:

Music Blogger: Is music your life? Can you not go anywhere without your Ipod? Do you know everything there is to know about what new albums are out and which concert is a must see? What new bands are up and coming and which ones we should be looking out for? Then you are the one we are looking for!

We have an entertainment blog set up and we need someone who is knowledgeable in all facets of the music world to write for our blog. The is an UNPAID position but if you like to write and have a love for music then this could be a great starting point for future writing positions. So if this interests you and you would like to know more, contact the email address above. We would love to hear from you!

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time someone offered me a great starting point to my career, I'd have more money that this job is offering. Can I just tell you one more time - you are a professional. Professionals don't work for free (unless our mothers are asking and even then, we hesitate). We work for respectable fees. We also work for people who know how to capitalize "iPod" correctly and how to use proper hyphenation.

Instead of giving your talent away to strangers, try working for clients who offer something better:

enRoute, Air Canada’s inflight magazine, is a Canadian travel lifestyle magazine with an international reach. Each month, we explore what’s going on in the world through the people, places and ideas that move us. We aim to highlight that space where Canada and the world intersect through smart writing and superior photography and illustration. With this mandate in mind, enRoute showcases the best of our country – and the world – for its highly educated readership .... We are a source of relevant, entertaining and thought-provoking information for an on-the-go, global reader. We are interested in everything from wine to design and popular science to pop music .... Our base rate is Cdn$1/word; payment is upon acceptance, within 30 days of invoice.

Wow. And to think you were about to give all those words away. Who knew they were worth that much? Well, everyone knew. This is a job, not a hobby. If you want to write about music for free, set up your own music blog. At least then you're writing for someone you like (yourself) and you're establishing an expertise and a ready source of clips for any potential client.

What job do you have currently that you think you can improve on? What jobs did you have that you improved on? How did you do that?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writer, Help Thyself

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: Valley of Tomorrow by Needtobreathe

Yesterday was a busy day. I had three interviews for an article plus a small project to finish up in between all the calls. I managed to get some research cobbled together for the calls, so I'm happy where the focus of the upcoming article is going. Also, I ruminated and planned with a fellow writer on a new project. Things are gelling nicely.

I read my way around the blogs and saw tons of advice and tips for getting more work. Peter Bowerman practically laid a gold mine in our laps with his post about a lucrative, untapped market. Jenn Mattern talked about choosing blogs to follow based on your own goals. One of Jenn's regulars - Chris Bibey - gave a short-and-sweet primer on networking in person. Anne Wayman went into how to write a query letter. She goes so far as to post - regularly - some vetted job listings. And my own blog post on Anne's site gives you an easy alternative to content farm work. Add to all this a huge number of courses, coaches, how-to books, and paid mentors just waiting to help you find your way.

So now the big question, writer - are you going to do the work?

It's not for lack of information - free information - and step-by-step guidance or mentoring. It's for lack of action, commitment, or interest that writing careers founder. The tools are there. You can hire all the coaches you want, take all the courses you desire, but if you're not willing to put fingers to keyboard, none of it will matter.

Some facts about your writing career:

1. It's not up to us to make it work for you. I love helping you. So does every writer who answers your questions, lends you a hand, or offers you a referral. However, none of us are in charge of your career. You are. None of us have any investment in your success beyond wanting it for you. That's all on you.

2. Inertia nets inertia. If you sit idle waiting for clients to find you, you'll be in that same holding pattern for eons. If you think you'll mark time in a content farm until you're "discovered", you'll be in that same content farm for eternity. No one "discovers" you unless you give them a map and a trail of bread crumbs.

3. Your marketing and work processes are up to you. We can tell you all day what we're doing to gain business and increase earnings. But what works for me isn't always going to fit your style. I can tell you all day how great it is for me to work for trade publications. If you're not interested, it won't work for you. Find your own niche and your own way of doing things.

4. There is no cookie-cutter template for success. See my last point. There is no guarantee that what I do to gain clients will net you the same result. You may not have the same personality I do, or you may be better at cold calling than I am. Use your own strengths to define your own path to success.

Writers, what advice has always worked for you? What advice never did?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Spreading the Wings

What's on the iPod: 25 to Life by Eminem

Crazy day yesterday. Had some research to do and a small project to handle, but mostly I spent the day going over contracts and arranging interviews for an article. Today starts what I call my Marathon Interview Week - four in two days. It doesn't sound like much until I get to unravel it all next week.

I spent some time discussing a collaboration with some fellow writers, and I'm excited. We're going to do something local, which could be ongoing should it be successful. Plus I signed a contract that has yet another ongoing project about to begin. March is going to be so much fun.

It's going to be refreshing doing something beyond the day-to-day writing. I'd mentioned before feeling some change coming, partly because I wanted change, but mostly because I need new challenges. These two projects will do it, as will a third project that's almost ready for prime time. I'll fill you in when I can.

Last week's post I had on About Freelance Writing was rewarding - not for me (well, just a little) but for some of the commenters. One guy in particular made my day. He followed the advice and in minutes found enough writing avenues to explore, meaning he could soon leave content farm work behind. Amen. Alleluia.

It is that simple. Figure out where you're stuck and get yourself unstuck. He knew he didn't want to be writing for those places anymore. It took a virtual kick in the pants to get him to look elsewhere.

Because the post focused on breaking free of content farms, I gave general advice on how to find magazine writing work. The advice applies across all areas of your career. Tired of writing blog posts for clients? Pitch to write their press releases or white papers. Can't stand the thought of one more article assignment? Contact clients directly to work on internal communications pieces. Try these things to find new work possibilities:

1. Career Builder/Monster sites. Sure, go ahead and look for freelance jobs, but the search you need to be conducting is on the companies themselves. Get a feel for which ones hire writers and editors. These are people who have an ongoing need. These are the next recipients of your letter of introduction.

2. Search engines. Search engines are great for finding companies in your particular area of interest. Want to write for the shoe manufacturing industry? Type in "shoe manufacturers" or "shoe associations" into the search engine. Look for both association directories and individual companies/contacts.

3. Friends. Ask your writer friends - or even your lunch friends - what they're doing these days. Sometimes the best idea for expanding your business is right in front of you. Don't steal, but take a few pointers from your writer friends (and ask if your "regular" friends work where they're hiring writers).

4. Brainstorm. Have you always wanted to coach? Are you sitting on short stories that could be circulating among magazine editors? Isn't it time to finish that book? Just because it's not work that will result in immediate paychecks doesn't mean you shouldn't be investing in what makes you happy. Dream it up, plan it out, and go live it.

How do you expand your business? Where do you look when you want new challenges?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Putting Your Professional Foot Down

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: One by U2

Yesterday was a day of coordinating interviews and contracts. The only writing I did consisted of a complaint letter. Here's what happened:

Daughter was called for an interview with a company seven states away. She asked for a phone interview. Nothing doing - must be done on site. She then asked for reassurance that the job was a marketing position and not sales (she was burned the day before by someone offering "marketing" but delivering "sales"). The hiring manager assured her there were "no sales" involved. She booked a flight, hotel, and car (she's a fresh graduate with no cash).

She interviewed with the company president, who started telling her about the "sales" position. She corrected him, showing him the advertisement, which clearly stated "Marketing manager." He said something akin to "Everyone starts out in sales, then they are moved within three months to management." He spoke of commission and a salary that wasn't exactly guaranteed (she may or may not make $12 an hour). Then he told her to shadow an employee for an hour.

I would have walked out right there and told him where to put his shadowing. However, she's new to job searching, so she decided to stick it out. That's when things went from bad to downright awful. It would seem the employee was more interested in touching her shoulder, repeating how pretty she was, and calling her freckles "sexy." She got in her car and cried back to the hotel.

Let's just say that Tiger Mom getting all the press has nothing on my reaction. The company has now been sent a strongly worded letter demanding restitution for the travel expenses and cluing them in on the sexual harassment they're allowing to happen on their watch. The BBB in that area and the Attorney General's office have been CC'd. No one messes with my kid and gets away with it.

If that were your kid, your wife, your sister, or your mom, wouldn't you do the same? That's exactly the energy and mindset you need in order to protect your own business. We're really good at protecting our loved ones, but we don't count ourselves among those loved ones, do we?

What situations would make you push back or say no? Here are mine:

The fee changes. If the client promises a decent rate that changes at contract time, I'm gone. You should be, too. That's dishonest and it's the sign of a person not willing to value you.

The job changes. Much like in my daughter's situation, if the job turns out to be not as advertised, I walk away. Be it intentional or not (and you'll be able to tell), it's a terrible way to start a business relationship.

It gets personal. Guilt trips, name calling, verbal warfare, or any interaction designed to railroad me into acquiescing to whatever point they're trying to make is a deal breaker.

It feels wrong. Sometimes everything lines up, but something just feels off. I have learned to trust my instincts. I've never been disappointed.

The demands are unreasonable. I will do my utmost for my clients. I will not, however, kill myself to please - i.e. 24/7 access via three modes of communication, instant turnaround on projects, any type of real-time monitoring of my work day, or endless revisions without additional compensation. I know my limits and I assert them.

When do you put your foot down? Have you ever needed to, but didn't? How did you learn from that?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Ups and Downs

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: Laundry Room by The Avett Brothers

There is no joy in Mudville.... Funny how to the losers, it's just a game (we keep telling ourselves), but to the winners, what a game! Congratulations to Packers fans everywhere. A well-deserved, hard-fought win.

Had a nice weekend otherwise. The 90th birthday party was great fun, and it was nice seeing his mother having such a wonderful time. It was nice also to get to know a few of the cousins/spouses that I'd not met before.

We hung around until Saturday and got to see more family and more of Cambridge. Friday night we went out for dinner - Upstairs on the Square has a third-floor restaurant called Soiree. We thought it was lovely and the food was special. As we sat down the waiter (and all his waiter companions) seemed very excited. Turns out it was because Jay Leno, in town for his Hasty Pudding award, was coming to dinner. He walked by and sat down at a table not ten feet away. I was a bit jealous - he had a small room with a fireplace. We couldn't have been farther from the fireplace on our half of the room. In Cambridge in February, heat matters.

Found a nice second-hand store - Second Time Around, which is a chain. I picked up a few dresses and then headed over to The Coop to pick up some books. We like to scout the course books to see what Harvard students are expected to read. Many of the books in the English and Comp Lit courses were ones I already had, but I managed a few new titles in a cultural studies area.

We drove home late Saturday in the rain. Luckily, there was no icing, and the trip was two hours shorter than our trip to Boston. The George Washington Bridge makes or breaks an otherwise easy ride.

Today, lots of work. I had an assignment come in late Friday, so I'm working on two articles simultaneously and my regular client projects, as well. Plus this may be the week I start getting work from another client who has ongoing need.

How was your weekend? What's on your agenda this week?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Shipping Up to Boston

What's on the iPod: Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys

By the time you read this, I'll have been in Boston and will be heading back. His mom's 90th birthday party was yesterday and we were all gathering post-storm in Boston to celebrate.

Because it's Friday and I have a BIG weekend ahead (football anyone?), I thought I'd leave you with something fun.

First, the commercial that became a classic:

Now, the modern version:

Have a great weekend - Go Steelers!!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What's in Your Freelance Basket?

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: The Electric Boogie by Marcia Griffiths (Oh, yes I did!)

Nice day yesterday. I managed one small project, then had the rest of the day to plan out an article, including lining up interviews and scaring up some experts. The experts part was easy - I'd read a study that I used to formulate the query (one expert!). I did a quick search for the same topic - another expert! And I used the study facts to start my query. It's why I say a query letter can take ten minutes to write.

A few posts ago I mentioned that giving the bulk of your work to one client and having too many one-and-done clients isn't the smartest way to work. It shouldn't seem shocking because if you think about it, it's true. But when do we stop to think about the obvious?

I remember a company I'd interviewed years ago for an article. The company was on the rise and was fast becoming a force in the workers compensation industry. They were all through the news - announcements, penning articles, being quoted, etc. Then one day out of nowhere, the announcement they never thought they'd make - they were closing their doors immediately. What? How could this successful company be failing?

Simple - they put nearly half their business with one customer. In a cost-cutting move, that one customer decided to move that part of their business in-house. The up-and-coming company with so much promise could no longer afford to operate. At all.

Are you doing that? Are you working with one or two clients and thinking you've got it made? From personal experience, I can tell you you're in for a large, unwelcome surprise. That sure thing? It doesn't exist in the freelance world.

A few years ago I was working steadily for two terrific publications, and was being paid great fees by both. Within two weeks of each other, they suddenly ran out of funds for the year. What once gave me 1/3 my monthly income was gone. Gulp.

I'd have been in big trouble if I hadn't been marketing. I quickly filled that space with a few other clients. Also, I had five regular clients at that time. Losing two regular clients hurt, but it didn't sink me. It just made me work harder to find other work.

What won't work in this situation is to replace ongoing work with a one-time project. While it's great to get projects in, you're now going to work harder because when that project ends, you have to search yet again. The idea is to find clients who need ongoing help. Then supplement with the one-time or irregular projects.

It's foolish to think you don't need to keep building your career once you've found steady gigs. I equate steady gigs with building a multimillion dollar home on a fault line - you're great as long as nothing moves. But eventually, something is going to shift.

Look at your current projects. Do you have enough ongoing work? How many clients do you work with regularly? How many do you work with occasionally or one time? How can you improve that?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Yes Virginia, You Can Over-promote

What I'm reading: Night Crawler by Diane Parkin
What's on the iPod: No Good with Faces by Jack Johnson

Nice slow day yesterday. Slow in the sense that I had time to breathe a little and think as I arranged interviews for a new project. I took some time to read a little industry news and tweets from other writers, and I managed a guest blog post for Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing. Go give her some love.

I had time too to read through emails more carefully. It's funny what you notice when you have time to pay attention to details. This one email subscription - from a self-proclaimed marketing guru - has netted me 14 emails in two weeks. From the same person. Who has that much to say?

Apparently, this guy does. Not only is he emailing, he's commenting on blogs and tweeting up a storm. In every case, he shifts the attention to himself and his blog. Every. Single. Time. His tweets consist of self-promotional slaps on the back, such as "Just scored another gig! That makes twelve this week! I ROCK!" (paraphrased)

There's only so much you need to know, right? Then why don't some people get that promoting one's services is great, but over-promoting is not only possible, but downright contradictory to one's goal?

After seeing the plethora of emails, I unsubscribed. After seeing that the last 20 or more tweets were entirely "me" related, I unfollowed. If this guy's goal was to get my attention, he did. And I didn't like what I saw.

So that begs the question: How much promotion is too much promotion? My own basic rules for promoting:

1. If you're not talking with other people, just to them, you're doing it wrong. Who wants to hear about you all day? When was the last time you asked someone how they were? And did you hear the answer? When you're tweeting or blogging or posting, think about impressing you as a listener, not impressing your listeners with you, you, you.

2. If every communication is about you or your business, people will see that as selfish. And it is selfish. It's also a lousy way to promote anything. Who wants to listen to you banging out the same "I'm so great!" message every few minutes or days?

3. If your communication is relaying information about you, you've lost our interest. The idea is to show others how you can benefit them. It's not a "Look at me!" fest.

4. Changing the subject to you every time will result in no one listening anymore. Ask the guy whose emails and tweets I'm no longer subjected to. Then again, don't ask. He hasn't noticed and won't notice I'm gone.

5. If you don't leave them wanting more, they'll want you to leave them. Many of the email subscriptions I've dropped are the result of too many irrelevant/useless messages and nothing that makes me want to click on those links.

6. If everything you say is all about you, no one is going to care. We all want to hear how friends and colleagues are doing. Yet none of us want to have one-sided conversations with people who haven't asked or simply don't care enough to bother asking how we are.

What are some of the sins of over-promotion you've seen?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Five Stupid Freelance Moves

What I'm reading: A History of Irish Fairies by Carolyn White
What's on the iPod: True Believer by The Clarks

A number of years ago today, I looked for the first time into eyes that altered my world forever. A stranger then, he melted me when he latched onto my pinkie with his little hand. He became instantly my tiny little companion and I was blessed to be able to watch him grow into a respectful (except when he's calling me Oldie Locks), compassionate young man. Happy birthday to my first born, who has grown into a person I'm proud to know. Too bad he doesn't read my blog - he'll have to wait until my card arrives to read that. :)

Yesterday was fruitful. Despite still warding off a potential migraine that threatened me all Sunday, I was able to get plenty done. I finished a same-day project, turned out the second of two articles due, talked with an editor, reviewed a contract, talked with a client about another contract, and started gathering interviews and info for another article. All before 3 pm. Preparations for February are under way, and the month is looking mighty good at the outset.

The chat with the editor went as expected. She'd called to give me a status update on her magazine. Sadly, the publication she works for is now under Chapter 11 reorganization, and her call was to tell me my invoice may not see any action. I expected it despite assurances in the media and elsewhere. It's one time I'm thankful for a lower-paying gig. The hit is much less painful than it could have been.

I saw a post over on Susan Johnston's Urban Muse blog last week that's worth a read and a pondering. Susan outlines the emerging practice of job boards allowing you to view listings for free, but requiring payment for you to apply. Instead, she devised her own work-around and scored the gig. I love the creativity among our ranks!

It got me thinking about the stupid things people will do because they don't consider either the other alternatives or the impact their choices will have on their careers/earnings. Here are some etched-in-stone truths about freelancing:

1. Working for $5 an article is just dumb. It will never be easier and more business savvy to work for chicken scratch than to build a lucrative business based on your respecting your own worth and expecting no less from your clients. Period.

2. Paying to apply for work is equally dumb. Unless you're buying a reputable market listings book (Writer's Market, for instance), never pay anyone to gain access to either the listing or the ability to apply for job listings. Ever.

3. Pretending to have experience you don't have is really dumb. Don't you think the client will find out you're not an expert in Klingon the minute you turn in that first assignment? Never lie about your experience.

4. Thinking one client will sustain your career is just madness. And what happens when that client runs out of money, changes management, shifts focus, or just gets bored with the projects? Never toss all your business into one basket.

5. Focusing on one-time projects is creating more work than you think. Isn't it easier to build relationships with clients who have several projects, not just one? Don't focus all your energy on finding clients whose projects have a short shelf life. Mix it up.

There are plenty more, but these are some of the most frequent sins among freelancers.

What moves have you seen that are less than genius?
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