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Friday, July 29, 2011

Things That Make My Head Explode

It was a good work day yesterday. I stuck to my plan, which was to concentrate on my larger project in the morning and get some new queries out in the afternoon. I received an assignment from a magazine I hadn't contacted, so that was a nice bonus. I like when they have topics and sources. It makes the job a little easier, and it helps me understand better what topics they're gravitating toward.

I got a chance to visit writing chum Bob Calandra's new blog, Words Count, where he tackles the Rupert Murdoch debacle with panache and candor. Give him some comment love.

Today I have a conversation with a new client - one I met at the conference in May. I'm glad to see my time spent at the conference finally gaining ground, but it's that time of year. For whatever reason, clients don't seem to spend time on projects during the summer months. I have a feeling August is going to bring in a lot more work.

It's Friday, I've had a fractured work week (self-inflicted in many cases) and I felt like I spent the entire week wading through tar to the finish line. I'm making the most of today, then I'm enjoying the weekend.

But why not leave you with some of the things that make my head explode? Feel free to join in with your own peeves.

Educated people using "then" when they mean "than." I cringe when I see it, and I see it a lot. Just to straighten out the guilty parties, "then" indicates time passage; "than" indicates a comparison.

"I washed my car, then it rained." Time sequence.
"My head hurts more than my feet." Comparison.

Blog posts that shout about nothing. Explain to me this new format of using six different fonts of different sizes, colors, and thicknesses to punctuate your point. If your point is strong, you don't need the gimmicks. I was reading a blog in another area (design, ironically), and my eye was assaulted by varying fonts, which switched from Arial 16 point in bold orange to what looked like Garamond 10 point regular, then on to Times Roman 12 point bolded in blue. Worse, I got through it only to find out the woman's point could have been summed up in two paragraphs, not ten. I feel cheated when I read through a lengthy post promising me the secret to increasing my business, alluding to it, teasing me with statements like "Until I realized this KEY TO BUSINESS SUCCESS, I was struggling" only to be let down when the big buildup ends in a duh statement like "market like crazy."

Marketing gurus who know nothing about marketing. Know why marketing works? Because you're communicating with your potential client. You're giving them benefits of working with you, but you're also giving them space to tell you what they need. If Twitter is any indication, there are a lot of self-proclaimed gurus who need to clam up and interact instead of push.

Promising much, delivering little. I joined a paid site not long ago that promised a ton of resources and advice for the writer at all career levels. Yet the organization of the site is so confusing, it's tough to tell what I paid for. I have to keep referring to the membership page to understand what I plunked down cash for. That's bad design. Worse, the value that was promised appears to be nonexistent for someone with any type of career already established. Disappointing to say the least.

What has you reaching for the pain killers?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Job, Not That Job

Yesterday was another day where I spun my wheels and got very little done. I managed to get one query out before the daughter came home and took me to lunch. Too much time at the mall later, I insisted we come home. I'm not buying anything, and I can't window shop when all I see is article ideas sitting untyped and unsent.

I feel the free time I have in front of me is a gift, and I'm intent on digging in today with no interruptions and no way anyone is pulling me away from my personal projects. That's it. I've spoken. We'll see how long that lasts.

It's time once more for the This Job, Not That Job portion of our program. Because summer is a time of scarcity, we may be tempted to lower our standards or reduce ourselves to taking what we shouldn't. So let's practice our vetting skills right here.

Here's a Craig's List entry that I found particularly amusing:

Article Writer of Night Club Bands

XXXXX.XXX will soon be putting out a monthly Magazine. Currently our Bread & Butter seems to be hard Rock & Roll, heavy metal, style Bands. We have no idea if this trend will continue and if not what is in store for us next. We are looking for someone who loves the life, the music, the crowds, and the complete concept and can put this all into a publication that is going to be interesting to others.

There is one major down side to what we have to offer the person that we bring on board. That is the pay. You see, each of us has our own reason for doing what we are doing and the pay isn't it. We have been in business less than a Month and the interest in us is there, in a big way, but the funds for expansion haven't kept up with the need. Therefore, if you take this one you'll need to do so under the same understanding that all of us have and that is, "Put your Heart into it and as the funds become available they will be shared with all".

If you think you can and want to take on this responsibility and grow with us then please, pick any band you wish, and send us 50 to 100 words as if it were the start of an article you would be doing for us. We already have the first two Bands picked out but, if you have a favorite you can have the third month to feature them.


Wow. It's a new twist on the same old theme, isn't it? It's a more verbose way of saying "Buy into our labor of love and take on our pains for us!" Nothing doing.

While the lack of pay is a major "down side" I have a few more reasons why this is a lousy deal. First, if you're putting together a magazine, wouldn't you start with understanding proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure? Wouldn't you already know that capitalizing words randomly doesn't work, even in marketing circles?

Second, why would this be listed as a job posting necessarily? It's not. It's volunteer work. It's also saying you the writer are now in charge of the content. Period. Oh, they know what they want and you can bet you're going to have to do their bidding, but why subject yourself to what will probably be constant field trips, unreimbursed drinks and cover charges, and lousy editorial oversight for nothing?

Third, did anyone else notice the tone in the first paragraph? It reads to me like they don't know what their focus should be. Who wants to go along for a ride off a cliff? Really?

Relix Magazine

Published 8 times annually. Needs articles focusing on new/independent bands, classic rock, music alternatives such as roots, improvisational music, psychedelia, and jambands, and lifestyles. Live reviews, new artist profiles, etc.

Pays variable rates.


No, I couldn't locate a set rate, but this is a legitimate publication with a large following. The rate could be well worth the time it takes to submit a query. It's also paying something and not requiring you to become the entire editorial department. Worth further investigation.

I'd like to try something new here. If you've come across a good offer or listing that doesn't quite fit you, why not paste it in the comments here? Maybe it will fit someone else better. Give a little, take a little.

What lousy offers have you passed up this month?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Calling in Reinforcement

Yesterday proved to be a difficult day to get anything done. I had a dentist appointment in the morning - there went three hours. I got home and the phone rang. Normally, I don't take personal calls in the middle of the work day, but I hadn't heard from my sister in a few weeks and it was almost lunchtime.

There went two more hours.

I managed a small project in the afternoon, but I felt drowsy almost to the point of dopey. I had taken one Tylenol PM the night before, which normally doesn't affect me that badly. Wow. I was sitting at this monitor at 5 pm trying to shake out the cobwebs.

I did get calls in to the doctor to check on test results (I'm normal), and I got some routine stuff scheduled ('tis the season for checkups and physicals), so I managed at least that. Plus I talked with a new client (conference contact) and we'll be talking this week about some of their more pressing projects. And I inquired about a temp job. The recruiter got in touch yesterday and I brushed her off. Then it niggled at me all night. Curious. But looking at it, it's not for me. I don't want to add a 60-mile, round-trip commute to my life again. And I'd DIE if I had to put on dress pants again.

I had a question posed by blog reader/lurker Sheri, who asked about using collection agencies to recover delinquent bills from clients. I've not used them myself. I use the small-claims litigation threat, which has been successful for me every time. Sheri used it too, but her client has gone completely silent.

So I reached out to other writers and to relatives. I have a sister who worked in collections while earning her law degree. Here's why you may want to consider collections instead of small claims filings:

It's relatively inexpensive. Most collections agencies will ask for 25 percent of what they collect. If they collect nothing, you pay nothing.

It's more of a stigma for clients. Mention a lawsuit and you might get an eye roll or the threat of a counter suit. Mention a collections agency and it conjures up visions of nonstop calls and pestering for funds, plus embarrassment should anyone find out.

They know how to extract payment. It's what they do. They know the legalities of collection and the key phrases that get clients to pay up.

It takes you out of the equation. Sheri brought this up as a reason to use them, and I agree. Anything that allows you to distance yourself from a client who isn't paying is a good thing. While my sister said you'd probably lose the client, I reminded her that any client who doesn't pay me isn't one I want to keep. If you send someone else to do the dirty work, you can continue conducting business as usual, minus the delinquent.

Do you use a collections agency? Have you ever had to use some form of litigation or collection on a client? How did it work for you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Killing Your Image - Internet Style

Yesterday was a good day. I finished a small project within an hour in the morning, tweaked another one, and got some really focused queries out the door. I'm excited because I know the queries are spot on. The only thing left is to hope the editors are buying. I managed to get a personal project finished, and I'm going to be spending the next few weeks revising. Really excited about this one.

What I'm not excited about is how often I'm seeing new Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn followers beating their own drum to death. I'm not talking about a few extra tweets about their latest product, service, or special. I'm talking about several tweets identical to each other or ten tweets in a row that promote, tout, push, or praise that follower's business services, savvy, or moxie. Ironically, a lot of the guilty ones are self-proclaimed marketing "gurus."

The ironic part isn't that they're calling themselves gurus, either. It's that they think they're that good at marketing.

Here's what I know about marketing:

Brevity gets more attention. A few well-placed messages attract more attention than a string of twenty messages all saying the same thing. It's a little like a kid asking repeatedly for ice cream. You don't give it to him because you want to. You give it to him to shut him up. Unfortunately, potential clients can easily lose your Twitter connection and shut you up much easier.

Demands don't fly. I myself stopped following a few people who would practically beg for either followers or retweets on Twitter. One was practically screaming for retweets so he could hit some milestone number of followers. If your customers don't buy into your dream, you're going to look foolish.

Marketing is a two-way street. What most self-appointed gurus fail to realize is that marketing isn't just delivering a message repeatedly. That's a monologue. Marketing is interacting with your potential clients, including spreading their good news. If they don't retweet, if it's all about them, don't follow.

You have to earn the A list. I predict the next round of phrases-turned-cliches will include the following: A list, guru, Top anything, Social Media Expert. If you have to resort to self-titling, you're desperate. If you have to belong to a list in order to belong, you're missing the point of marketing. Marketing is about bringing value to your clients, not yourself. Let your clients' praises do the talking.

What marketing mistakes have you seen lately? In what ways are people damaging their own images?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Monday





Friday's temp
(Reading from the thermometer sitting outside - in the shade)

Busy weekend. We spent much of it in the basement, the temperatures being just part of the reason. Actually, I guess you could say it was the entire reason. We were trying to get more AC to flow upstairs into the northern-facing rooms. Oddly, they're the hottest in summer and the coldest in winter.

When they built this house, they did some very odd things. In one corner of the kitchen, the floor in summer is ice cold. I happened to be standing there over the weekend and decided to investigate. Floors just don't get that cold normally, even ceramic.

So who puts together ductwork and leaves a 1/4-inch gap between ducts? Not even connected. Worse, we found several areas where the air was blowing right into the basement. Ducts put together backwards (seams reversed so the forced air was just being forced out into the basement), gaps, no tape....

Because of my addiction to home improvement shows, I came up with the solution (well, somoene else did and I passed it on). We spent six hours downstairs with tape and in some cases, insulation. When we finished and walked upstairs, the difference was noticeable. My daughter's room is now 75 just like the thermostat says downstairs. Not 80.

When we started, I came out of the basement and had to go outside to warm up - I was frozen. Mind you, it was 96 outside. When we finished, we both felt a bit sweaty. Good sign - now the air is going where it should, not where it oughtn't.

Today, not so much manual labor for me. I have a small project this morning, part of a larger one this afternoon, and perhaps a few side projects after my marketing. I'm about to head off on a camping trip in Maine, so you know the work is about to come streaming in. God, I hope. I'd love to have something to come home to.

How was your weekend? What's on the desktop today?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Coming to a Journalistic Head

Done!

It took all day, but I finished my article. I wanted to make this one as good as I could - there were some conflicting study results and I wanted to present all the evidence clearly and with no implications as to whose study was correct. It seemed like a quiet little topic, but it turned pretty technical pretty quickly. Got the juices going, but it wore me out mentally. I had writer's group last night and I threw something together that I'm sure wasn't terribly coherent.

Remember a while back when I came across a content aggregator who was basically stealing my blog posts (and others)? He gave me a rough time despite my simply repeating what I wanted - him to remove my stuff from his site to avoid litigation. He fussed and called names, pretended to be some expert in plagiarism, and eventually acquiesced when I wouldn't argue back. His name indicated what kind of work he was into - Pariah.

Imagine if his name were Huffington.

Thanks to client/chum Dan Ditzler for sending over this article on what HuffPo writers did to AdAge.com's news feed. Aggregation has taken on a new meaning. Please read it, paying attention to the response by HuffPo.

To summarize, Ad Age's Simon Dumenco wrote a post that went out on the aggregator sites, but when it hit the HuffPo page, it stuck. Seems the "writers" over at HuffPo have been in the habit of rewriting their "aggregate" summaries. There was no need to click on Ad Age's link for more information. Dumenco then tells his side of things, calling the editors and writers at HuffPo "grade-school pathetic" in their behavior. He also comes up with what is the line of the month for me, addressing Ms. Huffington: "If you really want to rescue your legacy, get in touch with your inner fifth-grader -- and tell her to grow the hell up already."

It underlines what scares me most about aggregate sites, content farms, and freelance content thieves - that they're setting the precedent that theft of content is the new business model.

I worked on a blog job not long ago. I had to put together two blog post a week (short ones) on a particular topic. Because it was my bread-and-butter topic, I could talk off the top of my head and make good blog posts that were accurate and relevant. I had another blog channel to write for where I wasn't as familiar with the content. For that, I did research. Research consisted of reading at least three articles on the same topic, then writing my story from my own perspective, checking what I was putting out as facts, but using my words, my voice. Never did I copy, revise, rewrite, or even attempt to use someone else's work as my own. Each blog post took about an hour or so of my time.

That's why I get in a froth when I hear content mill writers say they write five, eight, ten articles an hour. They're not writing. They're stringing together keywords and, I'm going to bet on this, using someone else's articles to do so. I've seen some glaring similarities between articles that cropped up in my own research (and were promptly dismissed as credible sources). Some articles I came across were identical to the last one I read. It got to a point where one couldn't tell the original from the copy. And that is the real crime, for someone owns that content.

Will the furor that continues to surround Huffington Post bring about the changes that are desperately needed in the digital realm? If so, fantastic. If not, we need to police our own copy. Here's how:

Set up Alerts. Type your name into Google Alerts. Look for any instance where someone is lifting your content (more than the average "aggregate" summary), using it outright, or somehow making money off your content or name without your permission.

Check Copyscape. Type in your URL. What shows up? If it's anything more than Technorati updates or links from other blogs, pursue it.

Make it tougher to copy your work. I know bloggers who have a snippet of their posts visible, then require log in to view the rest. While it's cumbersome as hell, it's a good solution if you've been a theft victim more than once. Alternately, you could make each post a PDF, but that becomes tiresome for everyone - you and your readers.

Set up a copyright notice. It's no guarantee that anyone will pay attention, but it does show you're serious about chasing down the scofflaws. I'd make it a blanket notice at the top or bottom of your blog. Some people put copyright symbols on each post. I'd rather not.

Use a hard-to-copy font. There's a reason black backgrounds and white font work - try copying and pasting that without a little bit of work.

Go after the thieves vigorously. The minute you see it, tell them to stop it. Copy an attorney, your accountant, a friend, someone. Make sure you leave an e-paper trail to prove you've warned this person off your content. There may be times when you're unsure whether it's infringement. If it's not a direct link to you and if it's content that seems out of touch with the site it's on, say something.

How do you protect your content? How often have you seen your content appear elsewhere?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pitch Perfect

Great work day yesterday. I managed to get a good chunk of work done on my article. If my day hadn't been interrupted by an appointment, I would have finished it. Today, for sure.

I worked a little later than usual - 6 pm - because of the interruption. I spent an hour trying to locate a home for my latest article idea. I narrowed it down to three possibilities and went for the one that paid the best. Why not? If the idea fits and I can slant it to their particular style, why not get paid top dollar for it? The other two markets could work with a little tweaking of the slant. And if all else fails, I can make it a regional story that could fit at least three different regional pubs.

As I walked through some of the writer's guidelines, I noticed some that seemed to fit given their titles, but on closer inspection clearly weren't going to work. Had I not looked, I'd have wasted time and effort. Not that my pitch will be accepted, but I've increased the chances by doing the homework.

How do you go about pitching ideas? I ask myself these questions:

Do they publish this kind of idea? Browse the online magazine or head to the library or bookstore (are any bookstores still open?) to see what content appears.

No, really - do they publish this kind of idea? Don't kid yourself. If you think it's a killer idea and they'll love it despite the fact it doesn't fit, you'll be disappointed.

What do I need to do to fit their style? Who is their audience? What do they read most? Luckily for us, most magazines have a "most read" and "most commented" section of their online version. What stands out? How does my idea fit with that theme?

Are they going to be okay with an electronic submission? I've done paper queries, but they take up a ton of time (and paper). If there's a publication that allows for email queries, I'm going to pitch to that one first.

Whose voice do they want? What kinds of experts are they going to need to see in the story? Or is this a story that's from a personal perspective only?

What samples do I have that can convince them I'm the one for the job? Because my own samples are from business and trade mostly, I choose ones that have a more conversational tone for consumer mag pitches. Choose ones that have strong hooks and showcase your best writing.

What process do you use to make sure your pitches are near perfect?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Avoiding Ethical Dilemmas

Nice, busy day yesterday. I managed through a small project in the morning, a large section of an even larger project, then spent the afternoon putting together a press release. I did a bit of research for my article, and today I'm ready to write it.

That in itself is an event. I have this weird process. I start with the lead paragraph almost always (sometimes I'll have the title in there first). Then I write fairly sequentially, with the occasional mix up of the paragraphs to make it all transition well. But that's not the weird part.

It's how I behave when I'm writing. I'll write like a mad person, ideas flying onto the page, and mid-thought I'll jump up from the chair and head to the kitchen for something to snack on or drink. Nervous energy - I have to channel it elsewhere or I'll drive myself nuts. Well, more nuts.

In fact, I just did it again.

I was in conversation with a writer friend the other day and the recent Rupert Murdoch allegations came up. If you're unfamiliar with it, read up on it here. If any of it turns out to be true, it will be one of the most bizarre, disgusting displays of driving the news I've ever seen.

It brought up the issue of ethics in journalism, which of course led us directly down the path of content farms and the lax way in which copy is vetted. And I'm sorry - you can argue all day you're not technically a journalist, but if you put fingers to keyboard and earn money for writing, you're expected to follow the same code of ethics as any trained journalist. Sadly, some of those trained journalists are behaving more like trained animals (really, read the Murdoch story and allegations), but I digress...

It's made me think we need to consider adding an ethics course to the requirements of all college degrees - not just journalism. If you write anything at all, you need to understand what's acceptable behavior and what isn't. Your company needs you to understand that. You as a company owner need to understand that.

So here's what I learned in J school:

Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable. If you didn't write it, cite it. If you didn't cite it and didn't write it, you're plagiarizing and you may even be violating copyright laws (very likely).

Leading the story is wrong. It happens. Writers need to please editors or editors need to please business managers and publishers. They suggest a juicy story and want it written on that angle. But what if the story isn't there? Actually, the lack of the story could be the real story. I've had that happen a few times. The story the editor wanted me to chase turned out to be something different. I was lucky in that she was the type of editor who believed the story should reveal itself to us, not the other way around. But ethically speaking, if you alter facts or omit information in order to present the story you or someone above you wants to present, congratulations. You've just compromised your integrity.

Stealing information is wrong. Be it tapping someone's phone and email or eavesdropping on a private conversation, you've once more wiped out tons of credibility and integrity by acting like a hack and a thief. Get the information you need via legal channels.

Rewriting someone else's work is both plagiarism and copyright infringement. Here's where content farms will see their own demise occur. Too often I've seen evidence of the same stories being not just rewritten, but lifted verbatim. All for five bucks an article? Now you've added stupidity to your list of crimes. If you did not write it originally, it is not yours to use, even if it's on the Internet, where you may think everything is yours for the taking (no, everything is not).

Taking another person's story idea and scooping them - not cool. I've had friends tell me killer novel ideas that I know they'll never write. And no, ideas are not copyrightable. But if I take those ideas and write them myself, without their permission, I'm behaving unethically. It's not theft in the legal sense, but it's theft in a moral sense. This is one of those ethical boundaries I see crossed a lot. I see bloggers especially taking ideas (even my own at times) and adopting them as their own creations.

What ethical boundaries do you maintain? Has anyone ever crossed them where you're concerned?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Terseness on the Edge of Town

Yesterday was nice and busy. I got in a large chunk of an annual project, and I made decent headway on it. It's a huge document, and the client is hoping to have things proofed and formatted by August 15th. I hope that's possible. In the past, things have taken much longer (it's really big).

I talked a bit on the phone with writing chum and now new blogger Bob Calandra, whose blog, Words Count, is in its initial stages of life. Go give Bob some comment love and bookmark his site. He has a ton of experience and an enviable background. We're going to learn from him.

I had an interesting email from a contractor. I say interesting in that does-he-sound-upset-or-am-I-imagining-it way. We had contacted a local business about some outside work recently. We got busy, tax bills came in, and we never followed up. It happens.

I'll give the contractor credit - he followed up. However, I have to wonder about his style. The note was thus: "Lori - Several weeks ago I contacted you with several samples of our work. I'm contacting you to see if you're ready to move forward with our assistance. Please let me know."

I think what bothered me is more the short sentence at the end and no "thank you" or "sincerely" - just an email signature. Maybe it was that sentence hanging there alone, or maybe it was the use of "several" twice, which looks, well, severe. Maybe it was the terse "Lori" and not "Hi Lori" or even "Hello Mrs. Bean." Or maybe I need to lighten up. Whatever the case, it left an odd feeling. I felt chastised a little.

While I'm sure that wasn't his intent, it does punctuate the reasons why we have to proofread our own communications. Some of the things I look out for when I go over my notes:

Negative language. I myself tend to stay away from negative words or thoughts, like "You didn't contact me" or "You didn't respond." Better to say "I haven't heard - is there more info you need to help make the decision?"

Absolutes. I don't like using "never" or even "always" as they can be confrontational and seem like I'm stuck in a routine.

Short sentences. They just sound like you're upset. "Let me know" sounds better if you couple it with "Let me know if there are any questions I can answer for you."

Blaming intonations. My contractor friend here used "several" twice, which sounds like A) I've dropped the ball (I have, but what potential client wants to hear that?), B) he's pointing the finger at me, and C) he's wasted time filling my request in the first place. Again, I doubt very much that was his intention, but that's the way it read to these overworked eyes.

No hint of formality. This is a letter to a potential client - at least say hello. With no greeting or closing, I'm left feeling like I've ticked him off because I didn't respond right away. In my own communications, I'd much rather opt for informal "Hi" and "Thanks" than nothing at all. Again, the abruptness of the note can leave your reader feeling a little defensive.

There are times when anger or impatience does creep into our communications, albeit subconsciously. If you doubt your message isn't cordial enough, have someone read it through for you before you send it. We writers, of all people, should be able to communicate the appropriate message using language that shows a partnership with the clients, not combativeness.

When was the last time you received communication that was less than stellar? What was the intended message? What message actually came across? Have you ever sent a message that wasn't your best piece of writing?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Post: Now What?

Remember that little Twitter tweetup Anne Wayman and I hosted a few weeks back? Turns out there are more great ideas coming from those 140-character conversations than I ever expected.

Today's post is no exception. Andrea Altenburg, technical writer extraordinaire, has provided a superb primer for writers new to the profession. She's graciously agreed to share it here with us. You can find Andrea at her blog, More Specifically.

What to Do Now That You Are a Freelancer

By Andrea Altenburg


You have sat in your corporate job dreaming of what it would be like to work as a freelancer. You want to set your own hours, pick only the greatest projects to work on, and work in your pajamas. After much thought and dreaming, you have finally decided that freelancing is the life you want. Whether jumping into full time freelancing or dipping a toe in with moonlighting, the first question is, “Now what?”

Once you have officially declared yourself a freelancing professional, you have to do more than sit at home and wait for projects to come rolling in. Marketing yourself is a skill you must learn to get anywhere as a freelancer, as this task takes up more of your time than working on projects – at least as a startup. Every freelancer develops his or her own method for advertisement a freelance business. Here is a list of projects to start advertising your business.

Create a Portfolio
In this century, it is wise to have an online portfolio. Include a section to describe how you got to be great at your craft. Also include project samples that put your skills in the best light. Definitely include a way for a potential client can get in touch with you when they decide you are the best person for the job and want to hire you.

Create a Freelancing Resume
A freelancing resume is slightly different from a traditional resume. A freelance resume might look more like an advertising flyer and includes a web address to your online portfolio and any contract projects you have worked on in the past and still includes a list of skills and proficiencies.

Have a Professional Twitter Account
Learn how valuable twitter is for a freelancer. Make sure this account is separate from any personal account you might have. Use keywords in the bio to describe your business and include a link to your online portfolio. Start to follow other professionals in your field so you can gain tips from them. Follow businesses who are your potential clients. Start conversations and use every opportunity to get business.

Network
Contact your area’s Chamber of Commerce and be sure to attend events they hold. These are specifically put on for networking professionals to meet up and discuss new business. Also, make sure you tell all of your friends and family what you do and the types of business you serve. Include all of your social groups as well. You never know who will lead someone to you.

Be sure you use every opportunity as a way to get your name out. Always be on the lookout to see how you can help someone achieve their goals through your skills and service. Do not be someone with a sales pitch to try to sell them on you. Instead, be a friend and be someone they can trust with their business.

Get Testimonials
A testimonial can be anyone from your job, recent writing assignments, or references. Ask anyone you have worked with professionally to write a sentence or two regarding your work ethic and be sure to ask permission to use their quote on your resume and website. Having other people vouch for your proficiencies is an excellent way for someone new to freelancing get a foot in the door.

Andrea has been a technical writer and copy editor since 2003. She works full time writing online and print help manuals for a software company. She is in the processing of working less corporate and more freelance.

What did you do when you first started out that helped you build a business?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beautiful Day

Forgive me now - I'm working on about 5 1/2 hours of sleep. If I ramble more than usual it's because I've nodded off mid-sentence. The U2 concert last night, in a word, was magnificent. Truly. Only one other time have I left a concert feeling deeply moved, and that was Santana, whom you might expect it from. But wow. What a night.

The boys and their music didn't disappoint, and the whole place vibrated with this connection to everyone around us. It's pretty amazing stuff to be able to evoke that kind of emotion from 64K+, and at first I thought it was just me thinking that way. But as we were leaving, the buzz was still going. Everyone walked calmly amid a massive wall of people. Trust me - in this area, that's an astounding accomplishment to see people cooperating and not taking the "me first" attitude.

One really cool highlight - as the band finished Pride (In the Name of Love), the crowd kept going. We sang what I call the "oh oh o o" part long after they'd put down their instruments. Then we quieted down, taking it up again to sing Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela.

We were in the car by midnight and home by 2.

As a result, I won't be posting anything remotely coherent today. I'm glad now that I worked ahead and got my projects done that were due today. If anything else comes in, it's better that it waits until Monday.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Working With PR

Busy day again, amen. I finished a large project (just a section - more on the way), and got some smaller stuff accomplished. I worked on a personal project, then it was off to the pool to relax. Finally. I feel like I've been running through my week. It's going to get worse before it gets better - I'm off at 3 today, heading to the U2 concert downtown. History suggests I need to leave hours before just to get there on time. Plus parking. Oy.

I had a question from our own Ashley Festa about working with PR folks per yesterday's post. Her question was this: how does one reach out to PR people and what do you do with them once you've gotten their attention?

Here's how I do it:

Ask during follow-up. When I'm thanking them or asking for additional info, I'll usually slip in a "By the way" comment asking who else they work with or what industries their clients are in.

Invite the news. While I have their attention, I ask PR folks to put me on their mailing lists. Releases are great sources of information and story ideas.

But if you get ideas from releases, won't those ideas be the same as other writers' ideas if we're all getting the same releases? In a word, no.

Look deeper. The press release may not be newsworthy. Most of them aren't, actually. But the gems are there. What about that company's industry, products, or services could create a new story? Here's an example: Say you get a release about a company offering the technology behind online music streaming. You could make that a story on the rapid increase of the streaming music industry. You could also make it a story on what devices work best for streaming music. Or you could take it one step further and go into how many devices per household and the effects (positive or negative) of instant music, movies, etc. on today’s families.

See if it's a trend. If one company's announcing it as revolutionary, don't take their word for it. See if others are doing the same - or not. Is there an angle there? That could be your story.

Look for the unanswered question. What does all this mean to this reader, that industry, or the general public? How can they benefit from it, be affected by it, or be harmed by it? Do they need to know about it? Is there something unsaid but implied? Is there an underlying message? What is that?

Not all press releases are going to be idea generators, but the good ones can hold valuable story ideas. If you're lucky, you might come across a PR person or firm that sends out little new blasts that are actually story prompts. I don't use these verbatim (okay, once I did), but they can be great ways to generate your queries.

Have you used press releases as sources of story ideas? What other unlikely sources do you use?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finding Work Through Prompts

Check out Wade Finnegan's Quality Writing blog: he's interviewed yours truly. Thanks, Wade!

Yesterday was nuts. I spent the morning on a large project, then headed off to get some medical tests done. A communications foul-up had me taking a different test than the one I'd scheduled. It also meant my quick 45-minute trip turned into 2 hours and then some. So much for the work day.

But I did get a press release done by just after 5 pm. Another client - one of my favorites - sent a note and we chatted about the state of things economically and workwise. It was good to know the current issues finding clients isn't just mine, though it's not terribly comforting knowing we're all suffering.

I heard back from some interview subjects, so I hope to have the magazine article wrapped up by next week. I love the topics I get from this particular editor (even though this one was my idea), and he's just super to work with.

I've been checking out Google+, too. I've not put much time into learning it because, thankfully, I've been busy with projects, but it may prove to be a contender with both Facebook and Twitter. I like it better than LinkedIn already because the communication is instant and not reserved for specified groups. As I said to my brother-in-law, it's like Facebook without the games (though he tells me they're on the way).

Thanks again to Anne Maclachlan for sharing her story here yesterday. I love that a prompt got her going in an entirely new realm. I was sitting there thinking "Too bad we don't have that type of thing for nonfiction writing."

Oh, but we do.

Google Alerts. Have a favorite read every day? Set up a Google Alert. Read. Enjoy the ideas that are laced all through those articles. Look for questions not answered or questions that come out of what you read.

Blogs and forums. What - you don't think I come here every day knowing what to say, do you? When I get stuck for ideas, I scan the Internet and see what people are talking about. I don't use their ideas verbatim - that's just wrong, in my book - but I'll sometimes use their posts as jumping-off points for a continuation of the conversation. When I do that, I link to them and give full credit. Hey, it's only right and fair.

News programs. I like Morning Joe. I like everyone around that table, and I love that there's criticism of both political parties in an intelligent, reasoned manner. But even that gets boring, so I channel surf - HGTV, Style, NatGeo (love Dog Whisperer, and I don't have a dog).... Every one of those shows provides an opportunity for nonfiction topics. Just listen and ask that unasked question or answer the one that isn't being talked about.

E-newsletters and news alerts. If you subscribe to industry newsletters or news alerts, you'll be surprised how many great ideas are in those pages.

PR people. Whenever I work with a PR rep in getting a source interview, I go one step further and ask them what industries they represent. Then I invite their press releases and news items. I've had no end of success pitching ideas that PR folks have sent my way. Some have even written summaries of their source's latest topics of interest, which are like little bullets in your article gun.

Magazines. Remember those? Pick one up and read the articles. Back in the day before computers were in every home (yes, that was actually how we lived), writers would get their ideas, sources, and part of their research from magazine articles. Why not now?

What prompts do you have that help you formulate ideas? Are they conscious or unconscious? Have you ever used a fiction prompt as the basis of a nonfiction idea you've pitched?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guest Post: Following Your Muse

I love when random conversations evolve into a learning experience. Such was the case last week when Anne Wayman and I hosted our second Twitter tweetup (#writingsquared if you want to read). Anne Maclachlan joined the conversation, and she said something that intrigued me. In an email conversation afterward, she told me she was "an accidental horror fiction writer."

You know I'm not able to let that go. So I invited Anne to tell her story about how her muse - and her passion - found her. It's a great lesson in how to grab hold and let your passion come to light.

Confessions of an Accidental Horror Fiction Writer

By Anne Maclachlan

Like most kids, I grew up with a healthy enjoyment of spooky sleepover stories and campy black-and-white critterfests. Though my mom drew the line when I requested a pet werewolf, these tormented puppies have always remained close to my heart.

I write lifestyles features, though. As my bio says, I have tackled subjects ranging from street kids to spas, and I specialize in maritime issues. My English as a second language textbook, "Life Goes Wrong for Harvey," has just been released on Kindle by my publisher, JAG.

Horror? Horrors!

So how did this happen? Why did I end up with a guest post on Wicked Writers, a short story published in Pill Hill Press's "The Bitter End ~ Tales of Nautical Terror," requests from student filmmakers to produce screenplays for their horror flicks, and a developing snarl-a-minute werewolf novella?

Well, here's why.

Obviously, the current thirst for fictional blood in lupine, vampirical or zombie form - Seth Grahame-Smith's brilliant Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone? - is behind some of it.

In my case, it is all about being a writer taking a leap into the unknown. For several years, I'd played around with flash fiction for my own amusement, presenting it at writers' conferences before anyone even knew what it was. "I don't even know how to critique that," said one workshop leader, gently. But what I called "verbal photographs" drew the attention of filmmakers, not for money's sake, but because they got it. From there, I was introduced as an observer to the world of 48-hour film competitions, and that led me to explore New York City Midnight Madness. As fortune would have it, they were offering a brand new type of 48-hour competition: flash fiction. One thousand words, to include an assigned word, genre and location, and to be completed in 48 hours. I jumped right in.

Pacing as I awaited my specifics, I begged the Muses, "Not sci-fi and not horror, please ... " and at 9 p.m. PST, midnight EST, I was emailed "word: ruler; location: police station; genre: sci-fi," and the accompanying phrase, "Good luck!" With that, my short story "The Light Chasers" came to be. It was - and still is despite tweaks - a bit quirky and tricky to follow if you aren't into science, but it did well enough to get me into the semi-finals, with a new assignment.

Same pacing, same pleas to the same Muses; the assignment arrived. "Word: piggy bank; location: moving van; genre: horror." I logged in to the NYCMM live chat to commiserate with other equally shocked writers, and wondered if writing about being assigned this genre would qualify as a horror piece. They laughed, or at least their avatars did.

What followed was one of the most successful pieces I have ever written, in terms of acclaim. I called it "The Last Hunter," and it was of course a werewolf story. It did well enough to send me to the finals - "Attic; butcher knife; romantic comedy" - and was the beginning of my little fan club, the Wolf Circle. Who knew? Everyone kept asking for more, and I sent out other stories with the same character to my readers, and soon I had a good start on a novella. It might even be longer, but I like short, punchy, action-filled pages.

By this point, I had the confidence to write short fiction for public reading. I knew I could write maritime-themed stories. On a whim, I typed "maritime flash fiction" into Google one evening, and nearly dropped my coffee cup when a call for submissions to Pill Hill Press appeared. It was the only item on the page. Upon closer inspection, I found the genre: horror; and the deadline was in two days. "Of course," I laughed, picking up my coffee and walking away from my computer - and an idea hit me. I hesitated for only a moment; I've written horror now, I can do this. Right? Walk the plank, woman, do it! I wrote "The Thing in the Crosstrees," ran it past a couple of readers, and submitted it. A week or so later I received an email from Pill Hill's editor, Jessy Marie Roberts, with a contract and a letter of acceptance.

Dang.

Each of these adventures has given birth to another. "Crosstrees" led to a speaking engagement on a writers panel at the San Diego Maritime Museum. This year I am branching out to learn 48-hour competitive scriptwriting, and of course the film teams have asked me to write horror. There's no money in it, but there wasn't when I was entertaining myself with "Tales From the Streetlamp," either. It's about stretching, pushing, facing the scariest demon any writer can encounter: the one with the twisted face who says, "Oh, I can't really do that kind of thing."

Blast that demon. Go out there and stake your writing claim.

When was the last time you overcame that voice that says "I can't"?

What was the result?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Invoicing and Butt Kicking

I was reading a post over on Anne Wayman's site on preparing invoices. One of the commenters posed the predicament of collection. He wondered aloud (and then said what he'd do) how one goes about collecting. While I love his response: "...kick his butt" it has some impractical applications in the real world. Figuratively, though, he's right on the money.

I then thought about the last time I had to worm payment out of a client. Maybe a year and a half? I can't remember. Whenever that was, it was late, but not so late that I was considering litigation. I did have a small issue a month or so ago, but a reminder and a follow-up took care of it quickly. Why do some writers have a tougher time collecting than others? Here's what may be going on:

The writer is too nice. If your electric company approached your late bill in the following way, you'd not take it seriously: "We noticed you haven't paid our bill yet. Can you give us an estimate on when you might be able to do that?" Toughen up, writers. If it's late, remind them. If it's really late, remind them strongly with a nod to your preferred collection method.

The writer's rate is too low. Not that this is doesn't happen at a higher rate, but the majority of my issues came when I was charging much less than I am now. If your clients are hassling you about payment, raise your rates. You'll lose problem clients (they're problems if they don't pay on time), and you'll attract a more serious clientele.

There's no contract in place. You know you still do it. You work without a contract because someone seemed nice or the work seemed simple or you were referred.... You know it, I know it - working without a contract is working without a safety net. If you're hired by someone in email and you'd rather not do the contract (hey, it's your funeral), then send an email that states clearly the terms as you understand them and don't start any work until that client responds in agreement. For small jobs, that may be enough. The point is establish an agreement between you and your client.

The client never intended to pay you. You've done everything right, yet the check never arrives. There are clients who have absolutely no intention of paying you, or they figure if they outlast you, you'll forget about it. Crazy. I had that happen once. When the payment was 60 days late, I sent my final invoice. The response was the oddest to date: the client called and instead of discussing my invoice, he tried to talk me into joining his affiliate program. Huh? Worse, he thought I'd love to spend $500 to do so, which wouldn't have even touched the amount he still owed me. I hung up and re-sent the final invoice giving him ten days to pay before I filed in court. He paid on day ten.

How often do you have clients hassling you for pay? Are there repeat offenders in your client lists? How does that affect how often you work for them? Have you raised your rates and seen the issue dissipate?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Better Client Contact

It rained yesterday. Just a short rain - less than an hour - but I was thrilled to see it. I can't remember the last real rain we had. Wait - yes I do. End of May. Wow. Really?

I spent the morning on a tricky client project. Usually they're easy, but this one had little focus, which meant I had to create the focus. Worse, it's a resume, which means the client's objective may or may not be what she's looking for. I asked. The answer was "I'm not sure."

I did a bit of work in lining up some interviews for the article I'm writing. I've found a good method of vetting those sources that are what I call on-the-fence experts, meaning they may have relevant info, but sound like they may not fit the subject. I sent over questions to one particular source. Turns out he answered just a few of my questions in email, but his answers to those questions were solid. I don't think his experience fits exactly with what I'm hoping for, but he gave me some good quotes that may be worth revisiting later.

I was thinking about marketing and how in the last eight years I've seen my own marketing methods take shape, change, and morph to fit the moment or circumstance. I realize there are plenty of writers who send out endless amounts of queries, LOIs, emails, or brochures with little to no response. If that sounds like you, maybe people aren’t buying what you’re selling, but maybe they’re not buying what you’re selling because of the approach.

Here are some ways I've improved my own marketing approach:

Know Thy Client. It takes just a few minutes to visit your prospective client’s website, read how they describe their business, and look at what communications methods they use/don’t use/don’t use well.

Focus on Them. In your introductory note or conversation, use that newly-culled knowledge to bring the focus onto your client. In fact, the main focus of your conversation or note should be on the client’s needs, concerns, or business. Tell them about your background, but bring it back to them quickly.

Sell the Sizzle. It’s okay to say “I’m a veteran writer with over 10 years of experience.” But it’s just okay. Wouldn’t it be better to say “I have helped clients increase communications project effectiveness by bringing clarity and focus to their messaging”? Give clients more than just a list of your accomplishments –list the benefits they get by working with you.

Anticipate the Obvious. Getting a client on the phone or in person is a great chance to prove yourself. But are you ready? Clients will always ask A) what you charge, B) if you’ve done X or Y that relates to their business, and C) if you have samples. Know your rates for each project (or per hour, whichever you prefer), keep a list of projects handy, and go to any in-person meeting armed with a portfolio they can take home or be sent.

How have you improved the response rate on your own marketing efforts? Have you looked at what's working and what's not? Where do you think you have room for improvement?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Time Management for the Unorganized

Ah, timing is everything. I asked Anne Wayman to do another Twitter tweetup yesterday only to find out seconds before that I'd chosen the very time our President was tweeting. Nuts. I don't know why I thought he was tweeting at 11:30. That time was stuck in my head. Oh well. Thanks to those of you who came out to tweet - we had a nice conversation! If you missed us, we'll be doing it again on July 21st or somewhere thereabouts. Look for our tweets (#writingsquared).

Disjointed day yesterday. I had a minor medical "thing" to deal with that interrupted the morning. I've been having troubles getting any appointment when I call, so when they said "Be here at 11" I dropped everything. Unfortunately, that meant I was late for my interview with Wade Finnegan, whose interview with me will be on his blog shortly. Sorry again, Wade. Normally, I'm ridiculously punctual.

I had to check in with a client on a project. Sometimes the variations in meaning are slight (especially in email) and it's easy to misunderstand. I was waiting for word back on my price quote and project parameters. I was hoping they weren't waiting for me to hand them back clean copy. Rather important to know what they mean by "Looking forward to hearing back from you!" when they send me a file.

On the Twitter chat yesterday, we talked a bit about finding time in your day to market. One writer said he's more of the binge-and-break variety. Aren't we all? Then there are appointments, phone calls, Facebook, actual work...

Time management sucks if you aren't able to, well, manage your time. But to survive in freelancing, you should be able to find a few minutes in your day to market. Every day. I can't say that enough. Here are some ways to fit marketing into your already busy day:

Make an appointment to market. That's right. Block time off on your calendar (make it a recurring event if you're using Outlook). When is your best time - mornings before you get going? Just before/after lunch? Late afternoon? Midnight? Schedule it. Set up electronic reminders to keep you on track.

Cut out one Facebook game. Or Twitter check or email check... whatever your addiction is. Your Farmville crops will wilt (and maybe die), but look at how much time you devote to tending fake crops. I dropped Farm Town two years ago when I realized I was fretting about going on vacation and my virtual corn dying. That's just nuts.

Email friends on your break times. It's SO easy to get sucked into lengthy email conversations. I do all the time. But if you haven't marketed today, you should just hang back and respond after you've sent out a few queries.

Leave yourself a sticky note. Every day, right before you turn off that monitor, write out a sticky note (real or virtual) and leave it on the monitor so it's the first thing you see the next morning. You can even do one better - jot down suggestions on whom you can contact. You're not exactly creating space to market, but you're creating a mindset to market, which in turn will demand space from your day.

Make marketing fun. If you insist on keeping your Twitter habit, use it to get some contact in with potential clients. Let them know what you're working on, and occasionally put word out that you're available for work. If you don't tweet, use forums on LinkedIn or other sites to reach new clients.

What's your marketing schedule look like? How do you make time for marketing every day? Do you? If not, how often do you market?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Learning to Trust Your Gut

If you're around at 2 pm ET/11 am PT today, meet up with Anne Wayman and me for the #writingsquared tweetup! Bring questions and advice - all are welcome.

Interesting day yesterday. Got a small project done, managed to stay awake long enough to get an estimate back to a client on a big project, and lined up some interviews for an article. I had a chance also to review an offer that, on first blush, made me think "No way."

On the second pass, my reaction was even stronger. On the third pass, I was glad I hesitated.

Knowing when to trust your gut is, in my opinion, one of the best business tools we writers can have. When you're new to writing, it's easy to get burned. Once you're sporting the singe marks a bit, you learn to back away from the flames, even if you can't see them. The memory is enough to make you step carefully.

Here's the offer:

Hello,
We are looking for writers for our jewelry auction website. You will need to create short (20 --25 word) write ups of daily auctions. We will pay $1.00/word to startup, then increase if it goes well. You MUST be interested in jewelry to take up the job.
Due to payment issues, we can only take writers that are based in the USA for now. Please
send an email to jessica.smith916@Gmail.com to apply if you fit the
criteria.
Thank You,
Jessica Smith


Sounded okay, but not great. $1 a word got my attention, but didn't convince me this was a real company. Still, I figured there was no harm in responding, so I did. Here's the response that came back:

Ok thanks for replying to my ad this is what I need you to do and following directions is very important to me so please understand

Click on this link (taken out to avoid giving them any free publicity)
(this is the website I will need you to write about)

REGISTER ON THE FIRST PAGE

This is very important it only takes 30 seconds to do enter your name and email address
Once you have registered on the site take a look around the site at the different jewelry there is
Get an idea of a piece you think you can right a good article about, email me back with the piece of jewelry
you would like to write about and tell me why I should hire you for this job rather than someone else.

Now one of the main things I'm looking for is someone that knows how to follow directions, with that being said do exactly what I said in this email and you have a great chance to be working with me on lots of projects.

Thank You
Jessica Smith


If you've been around a while, you probably got the same feeling I did. Here's why I figured this to be a scam offer:

Lack of direct contact. "Ok thanks" - really? Not calling me by name made me close the email immediately. Curiosity made me go back a few hours later.

Lousy punctuation. Unless you're ee cummings and paid to get away with it, use a period. Use proper sentence structure in general and you'll have a better chance of convincing me you're legitimate.

Signing up just to be considered. Why exactly is that a requirement? Whose contact information are you trying to gather and why? This is not a job offer if you're expecting me to supply you with ways you can pester me later.

The demeaning demands. Yes, I've had writers not follow directions, but if I spend all my time telling them that they'd better follow directions, I'm wasting my time and that of more dedicated writers. If you're saying it in your ad, you're not acting very professional yourself.

The empty promise. "...you have a great chance to be working with me on lots of projects." Right.

I looked yesterday at the link. Sure enough, it's gone. The message is "You have clicked on an Expired or Corrupt Link" and then there's a redirect that tosses you instantly into some survey page. Not sure what their angle is, but there's clearly an angle here. And I'm very glad I didn't waste more time on this nonsense.

Have you had a situation in which your gut told you no? Did you listen? If you didn't, how did it turn out? If you did, were you proven right?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Celebration and Recovery

How was your holiday weekend? How was the 4th or Canada Day for you? To paraphrase Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, the time of my life was had this weekend. It started Friday with time alone with the husband. Saturday was the farmer's market in the morning and the pool in the afternoon. Sunday was a ride in the convertible and time spent outdoors. It was just too glorious to stay inside.

To top it off, we headed to the city yesterday for the 4th of July celebrations. We started at Independence Hall, where we were able to get seats for the Sons of the Revolution ceremony, which featured the reverend from Valley Forge Chapel - our church (more his than mine). We were treated with a men and boys choir that was just phenomenal. The colors of the revolution (state flags along with flags like Daniel Morgan's rifle company) were marched out with a bagpiper leading them. The ceremonial tapping of the Liberty Bell at 2 pm and we were sufficiently moved. Nothing makes you feel patriotic more than understanding just what these people were attempting - treason if they failed, liberty if they succeeded.

We hung out around the city, catching miniature performances everywhere, from militias being formed by tourists (and their first mustering in was entertaining) to street musicians. July 4th is the only day the city doesn't enforce its policy on no feet in the fountains. Love Park was loaded with people and the water was great, especially after we'd walked all day. We spied a Starbucks across the street and went in. We were the last customers, and as such, the barista gave us his last tickets - we had VIP seats for the concert in front of the Art Museum.

And what a treat that was! The Roots, a local band, were the reason we went, and they were fantastic per usual. Then there was Sara Barielles, Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers), Estelle, DJ Jazzy Jeff (what a talent!), Eddie Levert (Ojays) and a surprise guest group - Boyz II Men. Just when we thought we couldn't get any better, out comes Earth, Wind and Fire. Then the fireworks, which were as they should be in a place where the country took shape. We're doing this again next year. Definitely.

Up late today as a result. Despite our fears, we didn't hit much traffic at all coming home. We were in our beds by one this morning. So today, no one is getting much out of me.

I do have work (amen), and I picked up a project Friday just as I was shutting down the computer. It's an annual client, not exactly sustaining for very long, but it's welcome right now. I have to get back in touch with a potential client later today (after my nap might be best), and I have a small project to finish this morning. After that, I'm coasting. Marketing may happen (should happen), but if it doesn't I'm not going to punish myself too badly.

How about you? How was your holiday? What's in store for you this week?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Worthy Tip: Take This Job, Not That Job

Rabbit! And happy Friday to you.

Good day yesterday - well, before the bad news anyway. I managed to coordinate my upcoming article interviews, work on a personal project, then clean and shop for the writers' group (I hosted). It has been gloriously sunny, dry, and cooler (79-80) here the last two days, so I found excuses to get outside.

I came back in, checked the email, and saw that my ongoing project work - one of my mainstays at the moment - is gone. The company reorganized and closed up that division. Big gulp and back to marketing like a fool today. Not that I haven't been, but I think it's time to bust out some new marketing tactics.

In that vein, it's time again for This Job, Not That Job, our semi-regular look at how you can find better than what you think you have to choose from. In our Webinar, Anne and I fielded a few questions on where to find the work. The pat answer is "Do a Google search" and yes, that's good advice. But it doesn't help if you don't know what to look for. So you head right back to surfing the ads and job listing sites, where you come across swill like what I've included below. But in the same time it took me to find the first gig, I managed to find a second gig that paid infinitely better.

So let's start with the swill.

SEO Article Writer Wanted (work from home)

Our team at XXXX Communication is currently searching for content writers experienced with SEO on an independent contractor basis to work from home. Writers will be writing articles relating to the categories within the XXXX Communications network. They will be required to implement keywords generated by our staff, utilize search engine optimization techniques, and do research for each article category.

Writers will be assigned articles and receive $8 per every 250-300 word assignment.

Requirements:
• Strong writing and grammatical skills
• Ability to research assigned topics
• Knowledge of search engines and how they work.
• If interested, please reply to this posting with "Content Writer - Your Name" in the subject. Attach your resume. All applicants that we are actively considering will then be asked to write a sample article following our company's specifications. Writers will not be paid for this sample article.


Please bear with me while I point out the obvious.

Flaw #1 - "Work from home" in the title. That usually means "That's your perk, so don't expect much more."

Flaw #2 - They don't know how to spell their own name (is it "Communication" or "Communications"?).

Flaw #3 - $8 per 250- to 300-word assignment. You're not serious. You are? Wow, because you go on to say you require:

Flaw #4 - tons of skills for a lousy eight bucks. And then you turn the knife when you say:

Flaw #5 - "Writers will not be paid for this sample article." Then you'll be writing those suckers yourselves, for smart writers don't supply you with all the content you need by giving you a freebie. It's also a huge red flag indicating the "samples" are what you're after, not the writers.

So many insults in one ad! But you don't have to work for people like this. In fact, up until yesterday I wrote very similar articles for $100 per. Sure beats eight bucks.

Try something like this instead:

Cyberguide is for the entire family, and is filled with practical information to help make the Internet experience enjoyable, safe, and rewarding. It is a value-centered magazine that also offers our readers advice and insights into issues--ranging from legal, to financial, to the aesthetic--as they relate to the World Wide Web. Despite the 'how-to' nature of the magazine's subject matter, we want lively writing that can include personal anectdotes and telling details, not an A-to-Z account of using the computer.

Length: 250-2,500 words.
Pays $50-500 for assigned articles. Pays $25-250 for unsolicited articles.


You've increased significantly your payment, the strength of your published clip, and yes, your workload. But would you rather work for someone expecting a freebie and who probably isn't hiring or paying anyone eight bucks, or would you rather work a little more and get a bit more bang and buck?

What job do you have right now that you could improve on? What are you seeing out there and how can you find better? What are your favorite methods of finding gigs?
Words on the Page