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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monthly Assessment: August 2011

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Is it really the last day of August? I could tell without a calendar, for the summer clothes I'm forced to wear because of the heat just don't feel right any longer. It happens every year. No matter how hard I try to fight it, my body and mind are telling me to wear jeans and shirts with sleeves.

The end of the month means the end of the earning period, and that means it's time to tell all. This month, I have a bit more enthusiasm about the process because this was one terrific month. In terms of work assignments, I surpassed my monthly income target by 66 percent. In terms of actual invoices I could send out (work not all completed), I'm definitely at my target. That means my September will have a great start.

Here's how it breaks down:

Queries:
I sent six, five of which were follow-up queries. Only one response at all, which annoys me. If I took the time to do the homework and write the query, the editors should at least send a yea or nay. Nothing? That's unacceptable. And that's why I'm shopping those ideas elsewhere. I won't wait in silence.

Job postings:Zero. I didn't bother. It took my trying again last month to realize what a dead end those job postings are sometimes.

Existing clients:
Here's where I made my killing. I had not one, but six clients come to me this month for projects. I managed to get four projects done before one of those same clients tossed me another set of smaller projects.

I saw the return of a colleague in my in box, someone I hadn't spoken with in years, but someone whom I've worked well with in the past. His project was fun, and it was fast. He loved the results and I loved the chance to please him.

The two regular clients are still here, as is the larger project client whose work should wrap up sometime in mid-September, which gives me some time to get more work secured for September/October.

New clients:
I'm in contact with a conference attendee who is eager to speak to me in a week or so. Beyond that, new clients aren't streaming in. Yet.

Earnings:
Where July was dry, August was a flood. Funny, the weather was the same. My earnings are right where I wanted them to be, plus had I had one more day in the month, I'd have invoiced even more. But I'm happy to spread it out between the months. As long as the check clears, it doesn't matter when it was billed. Unless it's late in being paid. Then it matters. A lot.

Bottom line:
Summer is over in the minds of the clients, for the work came streaming in. I was able to get some magazine work via the queries, but I had magazines come to me with specific assignments, too. That feels good.

I don't see tons on my calendar for September, so I'm going to be continuing the marketing, but switching things up to see if there's more of a response in another area of focus. I'm considering one more conference, but I have to think about how it will impact the finances and what payoff I can realistically expect. Smaller businesses should be part of the focus, but not the majority of it. If this conference has larger players attending, I may consider it.

How did you do this month?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are You Management Material?

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Yesterday was one of my busiest days yet. I got two interviews down for two of the six articles I'm writing this week. It was not the day to crawl out of bed feeling like I hadn't slept in weeks. Too much hurricane prep and stress for nothing. Being up until midnight mopping up leaks and dashing to the basement with each tornado warning (we were at Tor Con 6, Paula) was just too much.

But I got the interviews done, another scheduled, and I'm writing like a fiend today. Plus the large project client came back with apologies for delays and promises of something moving soon. Not too much of a concern - I have a huge chunk of the project already finished (wasn't waiting for them), and I've informed them I'll be stepping away for a vacation soon.

And Anne and I are still working hard on our big project.

I have no idea where the energy to do all this is coming from, but I'd better find some.

It's going to take some time management, but also a little people management to get this all done. In my opinion, you can't be a freelancer if you're not management material. Why? Because....

You need to make difficult decisions. You may have to decide for the clients their best course of action. In fact, that's part of the job most days. They may not like it, either. In that case...

You need to be a negotiator. Not everyone will be on board with your ideas or direction. Sometimes they won't even be on board with your pay rate. You need skills that allow you to secure the cooperation of those involved.

You need to get tough. Unpaid invoices, scattered clients, or clients who pitch fits all need someone who has the ability to be assertive and firm when necessary.

You need to be able to fire someone. To say "It's not working out" is a tough thing to those used to just writing and keeping some semblance of peace. But clients don't work out all the time, and you have to know you're able to end the relationship as amicably as possible.

What makes you management material?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Of Mondays, Workloads, and False Alarms

Many thanks to our own Dr. Freelance, Jake Poinier, for reviewing my ebook, The Worthy Writer's Guide to Building a Better Business. I appreciate it, Jake! Read Jake's review (dare I say Jake's Take?) on the Dr. Freelance blog.


Wow, that was an overrated storm. Irene came into town, blew her worst, and managed to knock over my basil and zinnias. All else, thankfully, was spared. As you can see, I'm online. The power outage we expected came after the storm and lasted about three hours. The sun was blazing by 5 pm. Amen.

As storms go, we've seen worse. We drove around yesterday assessing the damage. Again, not much. Flooding was worse last year during heavy rains, so the road closures were minimal and short-lived. Where we live becomes an island whenever there is heavy rain. Of all five points of exit, we have possibly one exit route, but only if the water doesn't rush down the other side of that mountain and pool. If that happens, we're not going anywhere without a boat.

Irene found new holes in our foundation, so as I was thinking the tornado warnings were the last of it, we found leaks that would have flooded everything had it not been for our sump pump and buckets. Again, we've had worse. Luckily, we found it all before my teak dresser was destroyed.

Today I start the first of six projects due this week. Well, they're due in two weeks, but I intend to be in Ontario. No word at all from the large project lead, and I'm going to make a phone call. I need to inform them that their intended deadline - Wednesday - cannot happen now. No fault of mine, but I want to smooth things a bit so that they don't hold any false impressions of how large a workload this really is. Plus I need to tell them that I will be taking time off - time I'd planned around their original schedule. There's only so much I can do.

I'm getting excited about the work handed to me last week, and I'm eager to see the this month's earnings totals. I have a ballpark in my head, and it's mighty good.

How are all of you? Is everyone safe and busy?

Goodnight Irene

If you're seeing this post, I'm offline. I'm writing this Friday afternoon, when the forecasts are all predicting Irene is blowing into town for a whirlwind visit (so to speak). There's a chance I'll be offline due to power outages - we get them during small thunderstorms, so I don't expect miracles here.

So in my absence, please check out the link to the left. Anne Wayman and I are working hard on something that I hope you'll fall in love with, and we're about ready to announce. If you sign up, we'll notify you (we won't bug you, I promise).

Check out a few of my favorite blogs, too:

Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing
Cathy Miller's
Dan Ditzler's Newton Ideas
Devon Ellington's Ink In My Coffee
Dr. Freelance Jake Poinier
Jenn Mattern's All Freelance Writing (though Jenn could be offline, as well)
Julie McElroy's Inspired to Write
Steph Auteri's Freelancedom
Susan Johnston's Urban Muse

Friday, August 26, 2011

Open Thread: Your Extremes

Off early this morning to have a play date with a writer friend, then back to brace for Irene.

So let's end the week with a fun exercise.

What's the most you've ever earned on one project? You can give percentages or XXXXs, if you'd rather.

What's the least you've earned?

What was the experience like with your highest-paying client?

Your lowest-paying client?

Is there any correlation between what you've earned with each of those clients and how nice the experience was?


Happy Friday! To everyone on the east coast, prayers and good vibes to you as Irene visits. May she decide to skip the party altogether.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dealing with Inaccuracies

How was yesterday for you? I remember a little of mine. I was anesthetized for a portion of it. I had a routine test - colonoscopy - and the nap comes with it. You know you've been working hard when you lie on that table and are eager for the anesthesia. A nice nap later, that test is done for the next ten years and we move on to the rest of the physical.

Before the screening, I managed a small project in the morning and worked with Anne on our latest project. I'm getting excited about that project, too. She and I have come up with some ideas and features that fill our own wish list. To me, that's the way you build something valuable - make something you'd want to be part of, too.

We're bracing for Irene now. I see a bit of nonchalance, which surprises me. Yes, we're inland. The ocean is an hour and a half away by car. But my introduction to this area was Floyd, where the winds and flood closed roads everywhere and did major damage despite it being a watered-down version of what he was on the coast. I'm taking it seriously - mostly because I'm a Weather Channel junkie, but mostly because preparedness is in my genes.

I was thinking about all the clients I'd had in the past whose grammar, punctuation, or personal style got in the way of progress. A few were lambasting me for "several" inaccuracies, when in fact I'd forgotten things like a period at the end of a sentence. In other words, small stuff you'd see on occasion anyway. Not long ago a client got very upset (and called names) because he saw "so many errors" in my copy. When I read it, I realized he was rephrasing my stuff - marking his territory - and he'd botched it so badly I couldn't make any sense of it. I didn't address his outburst at all. Instead, I corrected his copy, sent it back telling him I'd corrected HIS copy, and told him it should read better. I got an apology, but the damage was done. No one calls me names - especially when I've not done anything to earn that type of treatment. It was my last day with that client.

Another client situation a while back was one in which the client introduced changes, but those changes were riddled with grammatical errors. I went about fixing them, but the client became very upset because, as he put it, I was ruining his style. Mind you, I'm not one to strip away a client's voice, so I stopped and listened. Turns out in the end I was right.

The client's issue was a misuse of punctuation, one which he felt was totally him. So what do you do when your client's grammar and punctuation get in the way of progress?

Appreciate. What I didn't do, but should have, was acknowledge this client's attempt to adopt a personal style. He wanted to be a writer. As much as that may grind the gears of real writers, we should encourage the attempt. He wanted someone to say "I like that you're taking this seriously."

Lead by example. Once you appreciate, you have his attention. Starting with a compliment always opens a door, in my experience. If your client is addicted to misplaced semicolons, introduce him to the period. Show him how his prose has much more impact by reading to him his version against his "new" style (not yours - don't make it a you vs. me situation).

Explain the difference and the impact. I had a client once who was addicted to the ellipsis. He used it to emphasize every point. Trouble is the ellipsis denotes an incomplete thought. Not a great choice for someone wanting to drive the point home. Instead, he could have used the em dash, a semicolon, colon, or broken it up into two sentences. If I'd been able to explain to the client how that impact was watered down by those three hesitant dots, he may have heard me. (this was before I knew anything about defusing a bad situation.)

Back off. Sometimes they want what they want and you can talk until you're blue. Let it go. It's not your product. It's not your image either, though there is a chance you could be impacted should someone find out you're the editor/writer. Just make sure your objections are duly noted in writing and that the client understands his changes will remain against your professional advice.

Walk away. If it gets contentious over something so trivial, walk away if you're able. Any client who would argue vehemently with you over changes you're suggesting that will make him look better isn't a client who will react well when real issues crop up.

How do you deal with client inaccuracies?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Knowing When to Switch

Very weird day yesterday. Sitting here at nearly 2 pm, the house started to shake. At first I wondered why the stepson was running through the house. Then it continued, and I realized the blinds on the windows were moving. Not my first earthquake tremor, but certainly the strongest.

Continued the marketing. If you've been at this for any length of time, you're probably already seeing patterns within and among your clients. For example, when they call with projects and when they don't varies. You may also see the difference in your own success rate (if you're tracking it). Magazines want copy pretty much throughout the summer, whereas corporate clients lay off big projects until vacation season ends.

So how do you know when to switch your marketing?

Let history repeat itself. If it's happened in the past, assume it will happen again. For instance, I know from my own experience that my clients don't start big projects in June or July. So I have to start early enough to get those assignments so that money (and work) are there in the lean months.

Review past projects. When were the larger projects rolling in? Is it because someone finally approved the budget or that the fiscal year had just begun? Try to understand the patterns that are motivating your clients and time your marketing accordingly.

Note the busy times. You know those times when you're working on six things at once? There's a reason for it. Someone has either a budget or an influx of work that the staff can't handle.

Define the client. Who's hiring you? What commonalities do they share? Is it an industry-specific anomaly or does it seem to be spread across all business? What clients hire during your slow periods? Target them two months in advance.

Do you switch up your marketing? If so, how do you know when?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Job, Not That Job

Late start today. The daughter starts her new job, so I got up in time to wish her luck. That doesn't mean I came running to the computer. It means I was able to relax over a cup of tea.

Did some work for a client yesterday - two clients, actually - and sent out two more invoices. I see work dwindling, so I've been picking up the marketing pretty hard again. Today will be mostly marketing and working on personal projects.

Today's This Job, Not That Job is interesting because the job that you shouldn't take isn't all that bad. Unlike most jobs that appear in the "before" side of these posts, it's actually a legitimate offer.

In fact, I had a little trouble finding a "lousy" job today (hence the reason I'm posting late). Either I hit Craig's List on a good day or things are looking up. Time will tell.

So let's look at the okay-but-not-great job first:

We operate a real estate blog in the city that focuses on how new development interacts with surrounding neighborhoods and communities. We're currently looking for freelance writers to help us increase our footprint and improve the quality and quantity of our content. Writers must be available to write at least two posts per week, must be able to snap photos to support content, and must live in the area.

If interested, please email a writing sample that discusses a specific real estate development topic in the city. Some examples of what we're looking for: a new building being built, a new park, a renovation of an existing building, or a new business opening up. Minimum 200 words. If photos help your story, please feel free to include. We're looking primarily for outstanding content, but we urge applicants to use their own unique writing voice. Please don't feel constrained by formal writing rules- our readership is looking for relevant content written with an interesting style, not boilerplate news reporting.


I hesitate to call this a "bad" job because on first blush, it seems fine. The word count is low, the freedom to be yourself is there, and they're paying. The only caveat I can see is the pay. It's pretty low. Depending on what topics you'd have to take on, it could be an easy way to make fifty bucks a week or a time waster. It's the question mark that makes me suggest you pass.

Instead, try something a little more meaty.

Chicago Magazine

We need expose, humor, personal experience think pieces, profiles, spot news, and historical articles. No news or articles about events outside the city or profiles on people who no longer live in the city.

Most articles are 200-6,000 words in length, and pay $100-3,000 and up.


That's $100 for 200 words. You've just quadrupled your money.

Maybe this post is a good reminder to those hanging on to good clients who simply don't pay enough. It's okay to walk away from good folks if the job doesn't fit. It's not personal. It's simply you making a sound business decision that protects your earnings.

What clients are you still clinging to?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Weekends, Movie Oddities, and Mondays

How was your weekend? Mine was actually refreshing. We spent Saturday morning at a house sale that netted us some amazing, beautiful things at real bargain prices. We piled two chairs, gorgeous window coverings, crystal glasses, and some plates into the convertible and sped home to meet my friend, who'd come to show us her photos of her latest Scotland trip. What I loved is she was in some places we'd just been a few years ago. So nice to reminisce.

Yesterday we dashed back to the house sale, picked up one more of the window coverings (they really are great), out for coffee/tea at the local coffeehouse, then back home. We both got about 25 minutes of lawn mowing and gardening in before the heavy rains hit. So back inside to find something else to do. We had the drapery panels stretched out in the foyer and we were measuring and cutting as the heaviest storms came rolling in. It knocked out our power, and our ability to see what we were doing, so we read on the Nook a little (it has a light). An hour or two later, the lights were back, so we went back to cutting, pinning, and sewing. Then we headed off to the movies.

Let me just say I like experimental themes and treatments, but as I was sitting through The Tree of Life, I was wondering if that 20 minutes or so of the birth of the world, which has nothing to do with the loose story told in fractured snippets, was a modern take on Fantasia. I see where they were going with it, but they lost nearly everyone in the theater. When the credits rolled, I whispered "Thank God" but the entire theater seemed to echo with incredulous laughter and comments. It won an award, but really? I'm not seeing why. It's two hours I won't get back, that's all I know.

Despite that, I feel like we accomplished a lot and didn't avoid fun at the cost of getting everything done. Today I have to coordinate a photo shoot and get some basic info back on an article, then get some more of the larger project going. I'm a bit concerned that the delay on this project will cut into my trip to Ontario, but I'm going to schedule it anyway. I'm making sure it's after our due date should they get it to me. However, I'm not going to sweat it if they bring it to me and I'm out of the country. I will warn them of my impending absence. The rest is in their hands.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

Weird Days and Fridays

Wow. Two articles done this week. I'm beginning to feel a bit robotic in my output. Not a bad thing - yet. I'd hate to keep up this pace. As it was, I finished the article at 5:30. And I got up from the computer wanting to exercise outside, but at 88 degrees and about that amount of humidity, the best I could do was yoga and some aerobics by the television. Better than nothing.

I have just two more projects due this month and yes, they're both stalled. Worse, I have my Ontario getaway planned and I can't nail down a date until the clients get back to me. If I hear nothing today, I'm sending out a note stating my lack of availability. If they know, they can't say it was a shock to them.

That means today will be spent on two small projects and tons of marketing. Marketing first - I want to go into September with some purpose.

Yesterday wasn't just productive - it was weird. It must have been in the air, for it seemed like everything I touched or attempted had some weird vibe to it. Not just yesterday, either. It's been happening a lot lately.

You know it's going to be a weird day when:

You nearly put the wrong end of your recorder headphones into your ear. I caught myself in time, but I wonder if the digital recorder would have then translated everything into print? Or reversed my thoughts onto the machine?

You realize a client's business model is based on erroneous information. It was my lead to one particular project. The client had told me what his business motto was - in another language - and said it was the basis for his entire operation. Only trouble was when I checked it out, I found out the meaning is nowhere near what he thinks it is. There goes that lead. And no, I didn't/wouldn't tell him. There's a chance he misspoke when he talked to me.

Your client has an attack of brutal honesty. I find it refreshing when a client tells me exactly what the story is without trying to put a political spin on it. The one resume client told the truth - he was promised a raise and the cheap bastards didn't give it (his words). I can work with that! Part of my job is to get the entire story so I can help tell a better one.

Your technology actually works. I finally launched my new website yesterday (LoriWidmer.com). At first, I couldn't remove my old template. Then I thought to change the file names around. Voila! I fixed it without one call to tech support.

What's weird in your world these days?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Simultaneous Submissions

It's been a good week of work. I spent yesterday morning out of the office (shuttle service for a routine test - his this time, not mine). Despite that, I was able to get back to the desk around eleven and get a small project done.

I spent the afternoon doing something few of us remember to do (or bother to do, as the case may be) - I followed up. I had sent out a number of queries last month, some of them with topical subjects. I need to know if they're being rejected so I can send them elsewhere. Mind you, one of the queries was in fact a simultaneous submission. I love to comply when editors say they don't want to see something being floated around to other pubs, but that means they have to be diligent enough to follow through on their end and give me a definite answer.

I can count on one hand the times this year that's actually happened.

For that reason, I'm okay with simultaneous submissions. Here's why I think it's a okay for freelancers to send multiples of one idea:

The idea is going to be framed differently. If you're doing your job right, no two magazines will receive the same idea. Similar, yes. But the focus is going to be different because no two magazines are alike.

The magazine wait time is infinite. Even with snail mail, I've gone months without word (and in a few cases, I'm waiting on ones mailed years ago, including my follow-up postcard reminders). Unless you know that editorial staff is quick with responses, don't feel compelled to play by arbitrary rules that could harm your chances elsewhere.

Topics go out of vogue. I had some ideas circulating that were perfect for Halloween. I sent them early enough according to the guidelines (two months ago), but no response from any of the editors. Time wasted and opportunities missed thanks to overworked editors who don't follow their own protocol.

You have to eat. It's becoming increasingly apparent that editors are too busy to respond to all queries. Good enough reason for you to submit that idea around to a few folks at the same time (tweaked to fit each style, of course). It takes time - billable time - for you to put those queries together, and you're running a business. If that editor's business process doesn't mesh with your own, you have a choice. Either use their process and be at their mercy or adopt your own and take control of your business and earnings.

The chances of two magazines wanting the same thing are rare. Really rare. It's never happened to me. Ever. Send it out. If you're one of the lucky ones getting the assignment from two magazines, make sure the articles are different enough in scope and focus so as not to ruffle feathers. For instance, if you propose an article on the dangers of commercial lawn care, you can present that as an overview story and then refocus the second one on specific products and how they affect plants, animals, and humans.

What about you? Do you send the same general idea to more than one editor at a time? Have you ever sold the same idea at the same time to two different places? If so, how did you handle it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Freelance Budgeting Tricks

Another good day yesterday. I got started on the large project. I'm not waiting for them - some of the content will not change, and I can almost guess which portions. It's huge, I'm running low on free time, and I have other projects I have to get going on. I'll compare documents later to make sure I didn't miss any changes.

I had to head out early for a doctor's appointment, which seemed kind of pointless because they then scheduled a routine test after five minutes of talk and blood-pressure taking. I'd say it's normal, but his test is tomorrow and he didn't have to go through this preliminary junk.

Luckily, I was back by 8:30, but I could not get going again. Maybe it was because I was up at 6:30. Maybe it's my thyroid medicine isn't strong enough anymore, or maybe it was a morning started without my tea. I was just dragging. So I opted not to start the next article (amen for a longer lead time) and focus instead on the large project, which is mostly formatting. Doesn't tax the brain.

I took the daughter to get some clothes for her new job. It would have been easy to drop $200 or more in just the shoe store. Instead, I limited her to one pair (and me to none - ack!) and focused instead on getting her some work clothes that she can mix and match. We got her a dress, skirt, pants, and four shirts. She's good for at least a week or more and I'm out just $150 for the entire lot.

Wade asked a really good question yesterday - are there any freelance budgeting tricks to help get over those slow periods? I have a few. Some are tongue-in-cheek, some are serious. I think you know the first one I'm going to suggest:

Market every day. The slow periods are much easier to take if you've done the marketing and secured the work. Sure, you may sit idle for a week or so, but you can spend that time marketing and working on those projects you've been wanting to get to.

Don't spend anything. My slow summer (brought on by marketing in the wrong places - duh me) was made a bit easier by not spending. I paid the bills, but not a shoe was purchased, nor did I go to the mall for any reason other than to accompany someone else. The wallet stayed closed. If you're smart, you'll pretend like every day is famine day. And if you're able to do that, tell me how. I've yet to learn this one myself.

Do your shopping for Christmas now. Not kidding. If you have the cash right now, get those gifts while you can.

Plan for a famine. You may have tons of checks rolling in now, but maybe next month things will dry up. Put some of your mad money in your savings account. Earmark it for your next month's bills. If you think of it that way, you're less likely to spend.

Buy store brand. Laugh it up, but I won't buy a name-brand cereal without a really good coupon anymore. Who wants to pay $5.50 a box for Cheerios when the store brand costs $2.39? That's a serious difference in price. As long as they taste similar, I don't care.

Take up couponing. I did it once upon a time, when there was no Internet and we "refunders" found each other via newsletters and magazines. If you have a few spare hours in your week, go for it. If not....

Eat generic. Who cares if your mac and cheese says "Kraft" or not? Well, I do, but that's because I'm judging you. But you're not going to see inside my cabinet, so there.

Pretend you're busy. Maybe this goes along with envisioning yourself busy, but if you pretend to yourself you're wheeling, dealing, and creating a future revenue stream, it may actually happen. Tell that growling stomach to shut up long enough for you to get some client calls in.

Splurge in small doses. When we were in the shoe store, I could have bought several pairs for myself (I do so need them!), plus a number of handbags. But I bought nothing. Instead, I went to CVS and splurged on nail polish and manicure stuff. It cost a lot less than what I would have dropped at the shoe store, and it satisfied my craving for something new. And my nails look fabulous.

Writers, how do you budget for the lean times? Give me your best.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Holiday Shopping

Running early this morning - I try to schedule doctor's appointments for as early as I can get them. Today, it's for 7:30. Amen. I can be back and working by 9:00.

Yesterday was great. I handed in the second of the three articles due this month, and the check arrived already for the one I filed on Thursday. I still have another article due in September, plus the large project to finish by the 31st. I'm wallowing in busy - yes, wallowing, wading, rolling, and relishing in it. I love having work. Work means checks will arrive in the near future. Amen.

Yet one more project came in yesterday, too. I received an email from a long-time colleague, one whom I'd worked with in the past. He's in another country and needed a project ASAP. I was able to push some things aside and get it done. He's one of those people you love having in your orbit, so I'm always eager to help when I can.

That's the good news. The bonus - I've already surpassed my monthly target for August and it's only mid-month. The calendar may not say so, but summer is over in the minds of corporate America.

So with August half over, I'm looking at the holidays. Not Labor Day - Christmas. We all know what it's like to hit the lull just before Christmas and New Year's. Every year, I start planning right about now. If you plan ahead, you can avoid the "I can't buy a thing" feeling or that "Damn, I have to charge it" situation.

Here's my game plan for the next few weeks and months:

Send out seasonal queries now. In truth you should have done it a month ago, but it's not too late for some magazines. Get the ideas out ASAP.

Line up work through September. September work equals October/early November checks. Hit the marketing hard now and double your workload if you can. You can rest in December.

Send out magazine ideas in September and October. Companies may slow down from Thanksgiving through New Year's, but magazines always need copy. Set up a calendar reminder to get them out somewhere around late September or early October.

Shop early. I've already picked out a few gifts and as soon as this month's checks come, I'm buying them.

Schedule projects for the slower period. If you have a client who's been waffling on that book project or blog, put together your proposal to start work on it in late November/early December. Or time it in October, if the client balks at the timing. The point is to get some earning in prior to the holiday so that after January 1st, you'll have some money coming in (remember taxes are due January 15th).

What I've been doing is looking for clients with ongoing needs; projects that have been budgeted for throughout the year are ideal. I've teamed with resume companies, corporate blog owners, and marketing firms to provide press release writing and editing. Those are the kinds of projects that aren't going away any time soon.

How do you bolster the income during the holidays? What types of clients have been good sources of steady work?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Marathons

She's employed!

Daughter has finally found a good starting point for her new career. She's working in a familiar industry - insurance - and she's getting in at a great starting rate. Amen, alleluia! Good for her!

Ironically, it's a company I met with briefly at the conference a few months back. Since then I've been trying to get a response - any response - from the marketing manager. I met her for a minute as she was dashing off, and I haven't managed even a "Nice meeting you, too" response. Three attempts and I back away and try another method. This time, snail mail.

She found it via a temp agency, so I'm glad to report that not all temp agencies are requiring years of experience from their applicants. She had run across one I tend to favor, but they specialize in creatives, so it wasn't too much of a shock for them to expect at least two years of work history.

So, how was the weekend? Who would have thought a rainy weekend would be a blessing? We've been so dry, I welcome the "ruined" weekend. In fact, it gave me time to repot some herbs and get some reading in. The grass is turning green again, but there are spots that have to be re-seeded - large spots. Much of the backyard, in fact. We had a tree service in early in the summer to get a large tree out, and because there was no rain for a month and a half after the trucks drove over the yard, the grass died.

Friday I managed to finish the second of my three articles due in two weeks. It's proof positive that if you need to get something done immediately, you can if you put your mind to it. I amazed myself. I didn't think I had it in me, but there you go. Pre-planning helped immensely, as did conducting interviews before vacation. I wouldn't want to work like that all the time, but it's oddly comforting to know I can if I have to.

That leaves plenty of time today to start the second phase of the large project. Because it's so well organized this year, I expect to breeze through it in half the time required. Good thing - I accepted about $1K less for the work in order to keep the client. That meant I had to find a way to work smarter, which helps. It will still be less money for me in the long run, but I made it clear it was a one-time discount. See Friday's post for why.

Today I hope to get some work done on a third article not due until September, but I want to get it framed in and make sure I have enough info from the interview. It's a company profile, so there's one interview. They were great to supply me with pre-written answers to my questions, but I prefer to get a feel for their personalities and beliefs from hearing them.

Husband and I are starting our own private book club. We're taking turns reading aloud Dickens's Little Dorrit. He's using the Nook and I'm happy reading from the print version. It's a great way to learn something new about the author. He gives me his opinion on the time period and language, and I give him my opinion on how Dickens used repetition to create mood. It's been fun so far.

On top of that, I'm reading three other books (yes, four at a time - I'm clearly ADD). I make them different enough in plot and structure that I can keep the plots straight. Upstairs, I'm reading The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu, downstairs I'm reading Light in August by Faulkner, and on the Nook I'm reading Assumption of Right by our own Annabelle Aiden (aka Devon). I wanted to read them all, so I decided to give it a shot. So far, all three are great reads, with Annabelle's being the most fun.

So I'm about to dig in to another article, then maybe get some blog posts done for a client before the larger project comes back into my hands. And I hope to get some work done on a personal project and a collaboration. Fingers crossed I have enough hours.

How was the weekend? What are you up to this week?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Great (or not so great) Compromise

I wish every work day went as smoothly as yesterday. I sat down in the morning and in two hours, I had a finished article. One down, two more to go (well, three if you count the new one due in September).

I credit my pre-planning. Knowing the time crunch, I did all my interviews for three different articles last week before I left. Also, I started two of the articles - one I managed 600 words of before I left (it was a 1,200-word story). I'd also left myself a note pasted to my written interview notes - which interview went with what article. Since I'd conducted nine interviews in five days, that was sort of essential. So when I opened the first file yesterday, all I had to do was locate the interview recording and find the appropriate quotes. Let's hope article number two goes just as well today. I did get almost 500 words of that one down, but it's a bit longer (2,200 words) and a little more technical.

I had enough time for a trip to the salon to fix a hair tragedy (never try coloring your hair at home if it's long and you have no idea what you're doing - I'm just saying) and talk to a writer chum. We discussed our various projects in the works, and the topic of payment came up, as it always tends to do. He was relating an instance where he accepted a lower rate from a client that was struggling with budget issues. I get it because I too did something similar last month.

Sometimes, you just have to in order to preserve the relationship. And if it's a relationship worth preserving, you want to. In his case, it was a newer client that had paid him a sizable amount on the past projects. In my case, it was a magazine that was running low on funds. In both cases, there was what I think was embarrassment from both clients over the financial aspect of the relationship. As a result, there were long gaps between projects.

That's where we can help. I don't think writers should generally lower rates just because a client isn't calling. Far from it, in fact. I think if price is the reason they're not calling, they simply can't afford you.

So when is it okay to lower your rates?

When it's a long-time client. I have had a number of cases where clients have budgeted so much for a project only to have odd circumstances blow the budget to smithereens. Because I valued the relationship, I agreed to the original rate. Sure it was more work for the same pay, but by being flexible, I gained trust and loyalty. I still work with two clients I gave breaks like that to years ago.

When they've earned your trust. If you needed a crowbar in the past to extract payment from them, they haven't bothered to build a trust relationship with you. How are you to know if they intend to ever go back to that original rate? You don't. Tread carefully.

When the reduced rate still works for you. I've gone from $1 a word to 75 cents a word. Why? Because the work was light enough and word count was enough that I could still earn something decent. However, if you're facing a client who has just dropped the rate from $1 a word to 50 cents a word or less, that's probably too little to justify, especially if it's a technical project or something that requires a number of interviews or edits.

When you're okay with the consequences of saying no. I don't mean you're okay with going without a project - I mean you're okay with the client maybe moving on to another writer and not looking back. By no means should you feel obligated to maintain the relationship at great financial cost to you, but do consider that this long-time client may not come back later or may not understand your reluctance to do them a favor.

When do you find it possible to compromise and negotiate with clients?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Smooth Landing

It's great to be back. I hope I left enough to entertain you until I returned. I knew before I left I hadn't done a post for yesterday, but I was exhausted, out of time, and just out of ideas.

I've found a way to overcome that "I need a vacation to recover from the vacation" feeling. I came back a day earlier than planned, and I didn't go back to work until today. I puttered. I read a magazine, did some shopping, read some blogs, and just relaxed. For some reason, doing that mid-week seemed easier than coming home on a Friday and going back on a Monday. Go figure.

Acadia is gorgeous. Probably the nicest state park on the east coast (that I've seen). I like that the park grew from land donations by residents who wanted to preserve the wilderness. As a result, there are these great towns mixed in all through the park area, which is huge. Bar Harbor being the most famous, but I think I liked the lazy qualities of Southwest Harbor just a little more.

We had two superb days for camping. Too bad we were slated for three days. The rain came down in torrents on Sunday, which had us all thinking that going back to Portland was a much better option than mopping up tent leaks. So we headed back to step-daughter's house, where we had a nice meal and a fun time.

I'm in love with Portland. It's like Asheville, only not quite so quirky. My kind of people - environmentally conscious, healthy, into organic foods and living, and interesting. The shopping was great, too. I bought a straw cloche hat that I'm sure I won't wear much, but I couldn't resist it. Also, I found some tea in a great tea cafe, so I'm able to support my three-cup-a-day habit.

We came home a day early - not really sure why. Miscommunication, I think. No matter: the traffic in New York would have been about the same - horrific. Two-hour wait at the George Washington Bridge. Let me just say this: if two lanes are closed due to an accident (and WHY didn't the cops sitting there move them to the shoulder?), people have to merge. Tell that to one native, who saw us stick our arm out the window, indicate we were merging in front of her, then wait until he was almost completely in front of her to lay on the horn, then take the time to pull beside us and shout some obscenity. Whatever. Don't be so damned selfish and thoughtless, let someone merge without a fight, and you can channel that anger into doing some good, I say.

What took us seven and a half hours going up took us nine and a half coming home. Not great. I loathe that bridge. Only once in my life have I gone across it that it's been moving, and that was the beginning of this trip. Next time I'm taking the Tappan Zee Bridge route. Longer, but ultimately much faster.

I came back to more work, which is a huge blessing. Naturally, it's due the same time the rest of the pile is due, so my planned jaunt to Ontario to see the folks is now either delayed or canceled depending on how fast I can work. There go the weekends. I want these things done well and on time, so I'm happy to sacrifice the weekends in order to get what they need and get what I want. We'll see if it actually works out that way.

So it's been a week. How are you? What's new?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Blog Goodies

Sometimes a great post is just a great post.

These are no exception. I bookmark when I can those posts that make me talk or listen up. My intent is to share them. If only I remembered to.

Well, now I have. Here are some great posts from the writing community:

How Do You Know if a Weblog Pays?

Seven Scariest Words in the Freelance World

Hacker's Guide to Finding a Job

Twitter Business Writing Tips

Social Media Turned Me into the Wizard of Oz Scarecrow

What are your favorite posts these days? What have you read that has you thinking?

I'll be back in person in a few more days.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Guest Post Redux

Still off enjoying campgrounds, bugs, and hiking.

Looking back over the posts of the last year or so, I noticed a lot of great advice - from you. Here is just a small sampling of guest posts that have graced this blog. Feel free to leave comments on this post or on those posts (the difference is they'll be seen faster on this post):

The Letter of Introduction

Confessions of an Ex-Mill Writer

Life Lessons from Project Runway

Create Your Own Home Writing Retreat

Put Your Own Writing First

Friday, August 05, 2011

More Head-exploding Things

Hop on over to Get Paid to Write Online and read my guest post.

I'm still on vacation, hopefully with a cozy camping spot, but I wanted to share some of my more intriguing finds this past week.

Here are some more things that make my head explode:

Rules that make no sense whatsoever. It came from daughter's bank, to which she requested a student loan deferment. The note read: "We have reviewed your application for FINANCIAL HARDSHIP forbearance. However, we are unable to grant your request for the reasons listed below:

" - The required payment for subsequent forbearance not made. Please remit $993.20 and request the forbearance again."

Um, if it's a financial hardship request, wouldn't it stand to reason that there isn't $993.20 to spare?

Empty promises. I'm not one who gets excited when a client who had to be pestered for payment comes back with apologies and promises of much more work. So repeating the apology and handing me "tons" of work isn't going to fly, I'm afraid. As much as I'd love to believe there's been some change in behavior, I need to see evidence. And since I'm not one to work for free or the threat of free, I'm going to expect payment upfront, which to me is not a problem. I've proven my trust. The client hasn't. Therefore, my rules are the ones I'm willing to follow.

Wanting everything for bargain rates. There are a few contacts I've made over the past few months that I've scratched off my marketing lists. These are companies or clients who were happy to talk about how I can help, but were so concerned about the cost that price or allusion to it was the third word in nearly ever sentence. I understand budgets. I get that sometimes it's tough to spend money during a tight economy. And yes, I'm willing to help you afford me. However, I'm not willing to give you all my ideas and let you do them in-house. So please stop asking.

Using words that aren't words. I don't mind words you've made up, like once I heard a foreign woman say she was "enthusiasmic" - and I loved it, because it just fits, doesn't it? And I've been known to use "persniferous" to mean someone who's perturbed and annoying at the same time. No, not those words. I'm talking about words like "supposably" instead of "supposedly." Yes, I agree that "supposably" makes more sense, but it's not a word. Nor is the phrase "a whole nother" a real phrase. It's "another" or "an entirely different." Nother? What the heck is a "nother?"

What things are making you go "boom"?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Monthly Assessment: July 2011

Thought I forgot about the monthly assessment, didn't you? Well, I did. And because it wasn't the best month for me, I was tempted to ignore it completely. However, if I'm not accountable to you, then I can't better myself. Same goes for you.

Today I'm off for a week of camping and relaxing (I'll be gone by the time you read this). Amen. I ran a figurative marathon in order to make this happen, what with all the work coming in at once. But we don't grumble about work - we rejoice in it.

That statement alone should tell you how my July went. It made me a little nauseous to go back and add it all up, but in the interest of transparency and professional growth, I took that particular bullet for you. Here's the damage:

Queries:
Eight magazine queries and eight letters of introduction/follow-ups this month. In fact, this made up the bulk of my "paper" marketing this month. Of these attempts, I scored one assignment and nothing more.

Job postings:
I went there. For the first time in ages, I responded to a few ads - two. One was a scam that was apparent almost instantly. The other was legit, but no answer. Again, I contend these are not the best places to find work.

Existing clients:
Here's where I cleaned up. Not one, but three existing clients got in touch. All three had projects due the end of this month. One wanted immediate work, but I held off, partly because I know my limits, but also because payment was very slow in coming last time. I had an assignment I scored last month that I invoiced for this month, so that's a good thing.

Also, my regular client has had some projects for me, though not nearly as many as I'm used to or she's hoping for. Another semi-regular client handed me two projects, so that was a nice bonus.

Then there's the ongoing project, the one that has to be done - you guessed it - by the end of this month. The final days of my summer are already planned for right here.

New clients:
None yet. I have one I'm in talks with, but our timing has been off this past week, so it may have to wait until this month.

Earnings:
Don't get me started. Though I worked a lot during the last three weeks of the month, it's still half of my target amount. Not great at all, in my opinion. However, the groundwork is laid and I'm looking at a much stronger August earnings amount - over my target. Amen. Just in time for taxes.

Bottom line:
Switching up the marketing mix to mostly magazines during the summer months seems to be working much better than trying to get companies to get a project going when they're all in vacation mode. Not a surprise, but I'm glad to report it's the second time this has happened for me. Definitely something to work into the marketing plan going forward.

I'm continuing the daily marketing because it's working. I'm finding more ideas from potential clients for articles - meaning their business models, the things that make me want to work with them, are pretty cool ideas for articles. I've capitalized on this twice now this month.

I'm also working on some projects - one with Anne - which will help with some residual income. They're neat projects that help me earn while helping others do the same. Pretty cool projects.

That's my report. How was your earnings and work in July?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Insanity Via Craig's List

It's nuts around here today. I have a ton of stuff to get done before I head off to Maine tomorrow. Five interviews between 11 and 4:30, car in for an oil change (who has time?), and negotiations on yet another job that came in on Friday.

Thanks to Wendy Johnson for sending over this ad, which she and I delighted in ripping apart privately. It's just too good not to share with all of you.

Anonymous Writer (and Others) on the Verge of Suicide (National)

NATIONAL SEARCH FOR WRITER (OR ANYONE ABLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN WRITING)who is at the end of their rope and contemplating killing themselves - for real.

If your story is genuine, you could be part of a very special project by best-selling nonfiction author.

This opportunity is not for someone who is looking for it to be a conventional paycheck or immediate compensation. You will need another job for that. However, the rewards can be very worthwhile in the long run in more ways than one.

You will not be required to reveal your identity, however you must convince and verify that your circumstances are real and that you have come to the realization that ending your life is an option for you.

You will not come into direct contact here with any doctors, psychologists, counselors, life coaches or experts in suicide prevention. You are encouraged to seek professional help elsewhere to save your life. You will not be required to meet anyone in person.

To apply, please (1) introduce yourself by reply e-mail (gender, age, city of residence, profession, first name or pseudonym), and (2) go to the web address below to share your true story that lead you to the point of seriously contemplating suicide:

www.XXXXXXX.wordpress.com

We will match your e-mail with your posting and you will be contacted with additional information about this project.

Compensation will come contingent on the project moving forward and based on a portion of potential grant or other project monies. This is an invitation for you to express your deepest feelings and share your experiences and thoughts ... to be heard and acknowledged anonymously. Again, this is for someone who wants to be involved in something unique, positive, and rewarding beyond the possibility of monetary payment. (If you need a GUARANTEE of payment from this, please do not reply.)

APPLY NOW
Reply to e-mail in this ad and post comment at:

www.XXXXXXX.wordpress.com

You will be contacted.


Thank you for your sharing and trust.

________________

PERSONAL NOTE / CLARIFICATION:

I want to express that I am aware this ad - especially the headline - is extreme, blunt, harsh, and can be offensive to some. I didn't know any other way to express what this is and who I am looking for than to be direct and honest ... and use the word "Suicide." Let me be clear that this project is for a good cause, is sensitive, and comes from a good place with wonderful intentions. I have a history of doing impactful and inspirational projects. I believe it will touch many people in a positive and powerful way, and, hopefully save lives. If it generates revenues, those who participate will benefit in this way too. The Project was sparked by the loss of my childhood friend who killed himself - it is my way of hopefully helping others in his name. Thank you.
• Compensation: Payment Contingent on Project XXXXX XXXXX (Portion of Grant or Other Monies)
• Telecommuting is ok.
• Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
• Please, no phone calls about this job!
• Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.


I feel like I need to gargle after reading this. Or wash off several times. Or both. It's probably one of the most disgusting things I've ever witnessed. Here's what bothers me about it.

The author's approach. If you're a nationally published author, you're not a good one. Why on earth would you circumvent suicide prevention experts, who could probably help you find some personal input that doesn't do further damage to the person who is suffering? Why set someone on the brink up for further rejection?

The coldness of it. Sure, there was a clarification, but it read like a disclaimer on a credit card notice. I think this line in the ad told the real story about this person: "You are encouraged to seek professional help elsewhere to save your life." Nothing says "I don't care" more than getting what you can out of someone and then letting them know all those emotions you've just dredged up aren't your problem.

The promise that can't be delivered. The ad says "... the rewards can be very worthwhile in the long run in more ways than one." Really? In what ways? Or are you thinking their spilling their guts to you is going to improve their outlook? Or that your book, IF it's ever published, will be THE tool they need to get beyond their suicidal thoughts?

The pay. This is not a real job by any definition. So don't frame it as such. And don't worry - if you live through the experience, we'll pay you a stipend. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Common Sense and the New Freelancer

Super day yesterday. I managed to get nearly 500 words down on a 1,500-word article and I've yet to touch the interviews. It's going well, amen. I scheduled a few more interviews - three for today - and I hope to have most of these articles at least roughed in by the time I shut this thing down on Wednesday afternoon. Vacation starts Thursday and I can't relax if work is on my mind (like you, Jake).

In our discussion yesterday, Cathy Miller said something quite profound: "... until you believe in your own worth, you will remain mired in chasing the too small buck."

As she says, it's that "ah-ha" moment when you realize undercharging is doing you in.

Here's what I see happening (and I've been guilty of this myself) - writers take on clients who are paying under what that writer needs to make in order to survive, the client either nitpicks to death the results or stalls payment for months (or both). What do writers in these situations do? The ones new to freelancing worry about asking for what's owed them for fear of losing the relationship.

That's a relationship that needs to be lost. Any client who doesn't respect your time, skill, or professional position isn't one worth keeping. But for some reason, there's a disconnect between the writer and common sense. It's fear. Fear of not eating.

How to overcome that fear and trepidation?

Know that you won't starve. I know what you're thinking. I thought it once, too. You can't give up that client because it's money to be made sitting right in front of you. This is a client who gives you work and who has agreed to pay you. Why cut bait on this client? Because you're still not getting paid. Any client can give you work. The one you want to keep is the one who coughs up your fee without argument or threats involved.

Know that there will be other clients. Part of your fear of losing that client isn't the fear that nothing better will come along - it's the fear that nothing else will come along. However, that's nonsense. This is not the only client out there who will work with you. You may not have located anyone else yet, but a little more time spent marketing and a lot less spent chasing a deadbeat and you'll realize a lot more clients out there who will pay on time and are great to work with.

Know that you're banking on a big question mark. Perhaps she paid you this time in three months with a lot of prodding from you. You assume that she sees your persistence as a good thing, that she's been sufficiently embarrassed, and that next time will be easier. Ever have one of those dogs that just can't be trained? You try and try to get them to stay off the sofa, but the minute you stop hounding them, they jump up and stretch out with no shame? Some clients can be like that. If you're not constantly reminding them, hounding them, or threatening them for payment, they're not going to remember. How do you know your non-paying client is like this? You don't. And there's the whole problem.

Know that you have no relationship worth keeping. I can't stress this enough: If your client is underpaying, refusing to pay, avoiding payment, or accusing you of handing over a bad product at the same time you're handing a final invoice with litigation notice, you have a client not worth keeping. Period. Relationships have to work for you, too. If the client is getting all the perks and you're getting all the stress, ask yourself why exactly you need that in your life.

Writers, how did you overcome your fear? What helped you realize your worth?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Things That Make Us Stronger

Can I just say how predictable some facets of our profession are? I sat nearly idle the last two months. Luckily the projects I had paid enough, but I spent a ton of time on marketing and personal projects. The second I realize our vacation plans are firming up, in come not one, but three projects.

All appeared in my in box on Friday. All due in four weeks. Sounds do-able, but I'm losing a week, then I'm losing another at the end of the month (a visit to the parents). The visit to the folks may be put off another week - two article deadlines are for that very week. I can get it done, but only if the large project I've been working on either gets A) stalled, or B) finished early.

My call with the client on Friday couldn't happen, so she'll be rescheduling this week. I have three days to get two articles started, get at least two interviews down, and get a client call in. The third is a profile piece, so that's usually a one-and-done interview and some background research. Whew. 'Tis the season. The moment the calendar page flips to August, it gets nuts around here. And I'm loving every minute of it.

I was thinking over the weekend about how much I've learned over the years. There have been a lot of good lessons, but honestly? The bad lessons have taught me as much, if not more, about how to run a business effectively.

Isn't it true for all of us? We've been through it all, have the war wounds to prove it, and each lesson learned becomes one more step to becoming a better business person.

I'm not saying we have to subject ourselves to rotten treatment just for the experience and knowledge gained. Avoidance is a better plan. But there have been things that have happened in my career, and in yours, that have made us stronger each time one of us shares that. Here are things we've lived through that make us better business owners:

Client conflicts. It's never pleasant to face an angry or upset client. Yet these are learning experiences. You learn how to handle it, how to triage it (is it a real problem, a small problem, a big problem, or a pseudo-problem designed to avoid payment?), and how to change your processes or clients going forward.

Nonpayment. Have it happen once, you panic. Have it happen twice, you chase it down. Have it happen a third time and you build a collection system and learn to use contracts to protect your time investment. And you learn to aim higher up the food chain - clients who pay too little are often bargain shoppers who will argue the bill.

Taking on bad projects. Nothing teaches you your own personal boundaries better than taking on stuff that you regret - and possibly resent. I myself learned limits the hard way, and it only took a few times to get the idea firmly planted - I can say no any time I like.

Jumping through hoops. Those clients who can't seem to separate you the contractor from their employees? They're teaching you to set boundaries, too. For any client who expects you to be video monitored, available almost instantly (one client of mine wanted me available from 6 am to 9 pm seven days a week - guess how that ended), working holiday weekends, or spending your vacation on their projects cements in your mind the idea of you as a business owner, not a business lackey.

Project creep. It's natural for some clients to assume they can treat you just like an employee, piling on more and more work for one set rate. Have it happen one time and you learn how to ask for a new agreement for each new project parameter shoved in front of you.

What has happened to you that has made you stronger? Can you think of a specific instance where you came out of a lousy situation with a better plan of attack?
Words on the Page