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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monthly Assessment: January 2012

Yesterday was busy, but not as much as I'd expected. I had two phone calls vaporize before they happened. That was probably a good thing because we bought a bed for the guest room and ordering it over the phone meant a week and a half delay. Driving to the store, piling it in the cart, paying for it, and wheeling it over to the delivery desk meant we got it the same day. Guess what I chose. And guess what didn't arrive the same day. I'm done with delivery people charging to do what they want instead of what I expect.

I managed a few small client articles in the afternoon, but my rhythm was shot to hell. Today is packed with appointments, so I'm back at it full force. Amen.

Today is also invoice day. I'm happy because I have invoices sent and paid already - how often does that happen? Rarely. So let's see what this month looks like and where things need to change:

I cheated - I sent one out in December that resulted in two article assignments (not the idea I'd sent, either). I sent out or followed up on a total of 20 letters of introduction, so hopefully I'll see some responses soon.

Job listings:
I think I'm just going to stop listing this one at all. I never scour job listings anymore unless it's for the This Job, Not That Job post as an example of what not to do.

Existing clients:
This is where I cleaned up. I had four clients come around with work. One client is a steady gig now, and I'm handling a number of their projects on a regular basis. That job is growing and I'm loving it. I'm trying to maintain a balance, though. One client providing most of your work and income is dangerous. I don't see this one drying up, but I don't take chances.

New clients:
I have one potential client I've put a proposal together for, and we're going to talk next week. I have had a few inquiries, but nothing has transpired yet.

I'm slightly under my target, but I'm confident February will bring in more. I'm about to negotiate a rate for a new batch of client projects, so I suspect I'll be over my monthly goal next month.

Bottom line:
As much as I love working with this new client, I have to be more prudent with my time management. Too often I've been dropping everything and getting the projects done as they come in. It's the wrong way - I need to schedule it, track it, and bill for it instantly so as not to lose track.

Marketing will continue, maybe picked up a bit since the conference I attend is just over two months away. I have to get cracking so I can line up appointments and lunch meetings.

How did you fare in January?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lace Up the Running Shoes

Some weekends just outshine others, don't they? This past weekend was as good as they get. It started a little later on Friday - I was busy answering a distant relative's ancestry request, which I love, but took some time. I was a little toasted thanks to a lot of creative work and computer time this past week.

Saturday was cleaning. I spent a little time vacuuming, washing down furniture and fixtures in the bedroom, and doing a little laundry. Then we spent the evening kilted - a friend's Robert Burns Supper kept us happily occupied into the early Sunday morning hours.

Yesterday we spent planning. We're replacing some interior doors with Mission-style glass doors, so that snowballed into a new bed for the guest room, planning out the redo of the master bath, and planning our library and foyer projects. All of this is just creative thinking - except for the doors and the bed, we're not interested in splurging on the other stuff just yet. Our furnace is sounding like a well drilling rig at the moment, and I'm sure the small fix last week was temporary. You can only limp it along for so many years, and as the furnace guy said, this thing was obsolete 15 years ago. Besides, you can't ask much more than the 23 years it's been grinding away.

We came home from Ikea, got dressed, and headed into town. We had amazing seats at the local theater for Steve Earle's concert. It was more than I'd hoped for. He was alone, but he filled that space with sound and emotion. What a talent. He's one of those rare musicians whose also a political musician, so some of his songs were direct hits to various political leaders and situations. Fantastic performance, very intimate space, and a great way to end a damned nice weekend.

Today I'm already in sprint mode. A phone call this morning topped off by at least four projects to be done this week (or sooner, as it usually is). Two are in the works already and the other two are about to be. I can't wait to bill. I want to see that the work I'm putting into all this is paying off.

How was your weekend? How is your workload this week?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Things That Make My Head Explode Part Seven

Super excited - I just published my book, Marketing 365, on Smashwords! It was a lot of work, but I think I've pulled together some useful advice and strategies for you. Think of them as tip-a-day advice that you can apply right away. To snag your copy, head over to Smashwords.

Also, please visit me over at Sharon Hurley Hall's blog, Get Paid to Write Online, where I'm guest posting today.

What a waste of a day yesterday. It started with a dentist appointment, where I got good news. However, it went downhill after that. I came home knowing I had to fix two issues - an email problem and an antivirus problem. That's where it all unraveled.

And that's why I need a Things That Make My Head Explode post.

Clueless Internet providers. First, I called email support. My email service (through a client, not my own) had stopped working Wednesday. I wanted help getting it going again. Fine, but gee, she said, I can't help you because our server is down. Really? You? An ISP? Down? She gave me a case ID and told me to call back. Their servers were the problem. A few hours later, it was all back. Devon, it's your personal "favorite." I see what you mean - they live up to that lousy reputation.

Oversell and pushy people. Avast Internet Security stopped working. Errors all over the place, so I got on the phone. This time, I had to call through a company called iYogi. I'm thinking it's named that because it's the antithesis of a zen experience. This one took at least an hour. First I talked to Naveen (everyone's name gets written down), who walked me through what I thought was a ten-minute diagnosis. No, that was his sales pitch. See, Naveen took control of my desktop, ran a few scans, then showed me how many terrible, corrupt files I had on my computer and how desperately I needed his company to clean up my registry. Worse, he said it would cost $300 at Best Buy (his quote, though he doesn't work there?) to get it all cleaned. Or... he could help me out by offering a cleaning for $399. Wow, and that's $399 for three years of monthly jerking with my computer files remotely. Not only that, he was showing me these "critical" problems that were in my Temp folder. Really. How stupid do you think I am? Yet the hard sell continued. If you've never dealt with Indians selling you something, know that they're extremely pushy and enjoy challenging your common sense. Luckily I know plenty of Indians, so my monotone "No thank you" was repeated until he went away.

Not trusting the customer. When Naveen was done with me, he passed me on to Ajay. Ajay was my "chat" buddy, and he proceeded to take over the desktop and actually fix what I'd called for. However, as I watched, I realized the only fix needed was to uninstall/reinstall the program. And why couldn't I do that? Oh wait - because they didn't tell me that's what I needed until they were already controlling the desktop. Whatever. I had the furnace guy at the door and didn't have time to watch, so he's probably installed lord-knows-what on this. See, I don't trust them, either.

National Geographic. What did they do wrong? They have a website devoted to green living (called Green Living). Guess who's writing it for them? Our "best" friends at Demand Media. Time to boycott.

24-hour days. Not that they're too long. They're entirely too short. I've felt like I'm being yanked through a keyhole at 75 mph - and I'm wearing heavy boots. I could use about four more hours a day right now. If I weren't organized, I'd be in a real state.

But hey, the dentist appointment went really well. So there's that.

What's making your head go boom?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Résumé Debate

Yet another busy day yesterday. I tweaked an article, interviewed for another one, organized a few more details for another client, and started a template for an ongoing project. And I marketed. Always that.

I did have time to hit the forums and the blogs. I'm seeing this prevailing theme among writers - "You don't need a résumé." I've heard it four times this week, and it's only Thursday. Some writers state the case for why résumés don't matter anymore.

Too bad it's not true.

Okay, so when they say "résumé" they're referring to that chronological, dry nightmare of writing that makes no sense to any client's eye. That's not the only kind of résumé there is. There are several ways to put together a résumé that shows your talent, your successes, and highlights those skills that make you the perfect fit for their project.

Call it what you will - CV, portfolio, whatever - just don't think you can go without it entirely. There will always be a client out there who wants to see what you've done.

Let's start with what a résumé is:

According to Wikipedia - A résumé "is a document used by individuals to present their background and skillsets."

So taking that literally, your website is your résumé as much as any traditional resume. So is your brochure, if you've added your project successes to it.

But I'm a freelance writer, you say. Those things are for "employees." Why do I need one?

Because you want to show your clients a snapshot of your background. Without it, you've got nothing.

So if you're still with me and still think you want to put a résumé together, let's see how writers can do it.

A traditional "print" freelance résumés should be set up so that the skills you have are highlighted first, followed by a list of project successes that relate to your client's business area. For example, my résumé starts with a short summary of my career. This one is for technical writing:

Experienced, skilled specialist with proven results in both media and corporate communications venues. Trusted developer of media collateral and technical documents that advance client goals. Technical writing specialist widely published in risk management and commercial insurance areas.

Next, list your areas of expertise. Like this:

Insurance • Risk Management • Healthcare Management • Human Resources
Customer Relationship Management • Internet Security • Business • Finance
Technology • Security • Educational Writing • Real Estate • Energy • Life Settlements

Next comes your professional experience. Depending on the client, your list can change. For instance, when I'm reaching out to magazine clients, I start with a list of magazines where I've published. When working with Web clients, the list of Web projects goes first. And the same with corporate clients.

I typically list my education and additional training, mostly because I paid through the nose for it, but also because my degree is relevant to what I do. If I had a degree in say Archaeology, I wouldn't list it unless I'm pitching to do some writing in that field.

That's it.

Setting it up for the Web is a little different. I recommend a page dedicated to listing your services, such as ad writing or press releases, and then another page with specific projects (and links where you can).

On both the résumé and the Web portfolio, feel free to list any client kudos you've received (with their permission, of course). These are also great to add to your brochures and marketing copy.

How do you show clients your background? What has worked for you? Do you call it a résumé or something else?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Your Unknown Compromises

Yesterday was full-tilt writing and coordinating for eight hours (with an hour off for lunch). What I accomplished -well, it seems minor for the amount of time I spent on everything, but let's just say I have many ducks in a neatly ordered row right now. It's a good place to be in if you're insane about organizing as I am. I couldn't face today knowing things were helter skelter as I sat down. Once I'm down, let it all explode, but don't make me think about it all night.

I'm busier than I've been in a long time. Part of that is the marketing I've done, but another part of it is I'm to a point now where I know what I won't compromise on. Negotiate, yes. Compromise, no.

It's a trap a lot of us writers fall into. Here are some ways you may be compromising without realizing it:

You accept what's beneath you. This one is ridiculously easy to spot and to cure. If you know what you need to earn per hour to survive, you accept nothing below it without good reason and better negotiation. If you don't know what you need, find out. Do the math and settle on your hourly rate. Then stick to it.

You agree to what doesn't fit. If it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, feels like a fish, and swims like a fish, you're probably looking at a fish. Still, you don't trust your gut and walk away from bad projects or clients that don't match your style. The result: Struggles, too much work for the pay, resentment, clash.

You wish for it, but don't try for it. It's like that person I heard saying "I aspire to write." He was wishing for it. Instead, he should have been doing it. The only way to get what you wish for is to build a plan of attack and go for it.

You say "I can't" when in fact, you can. When was the last time you said, "I'd love to write press releases/white papers/articles(etc), but..." Simple fix - remove the "but." None of us start out knowing exactly how to write whatever it is we're writing. We learn it by trial-and-error, research, courses, or shadowing. Apply some action and discipline and the "buts" will disappear from your vocabulary.

What compromises were once part of your life? How have you removed them?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Double-Duty Marketing

Good enough day yesterday. For some reason, I couldn't focus until sometime after lunch, but I did manage to get some client work done and some marketing completed. Today, reviewing the article and out the door with it. I'm pleased with it on first blush, so we'll see.

I've been reading about the blogosphere various opinions on marketing. Michelle Rafter has a neat post up about cutting costs from your business (a good read). Her first point made me pause - twice. She says "Do as little marketing as possible."

Once I quelled my initial reaction, which was to say "I disagree" I realized she's on to something. So now I have to agree because it's something I do, too. Here's what I mean:

Michelle says to market smartly by securing markets within your specialty - she has a handful she writes for regularly. And she's right. That's the smart way to do it.

Even if you don't specialize, you will write for magazines whose editors will get to know you. Or you'll write for clients who really like your results. Those should be the foundation of your marketing strategy. That's not to say you shouldn't market at all (and I don't believe Michelle says that at all). It means you should do as the sales people have always done - put the most effort into current clients and extend your marketing into other areas from there.

There are other ways to market that make it easier for you to increase your earnings with minimal effort. Here are a few:

Send multiple ideas. I have done this a few times. Most recently I sent two ideas to an editor. She responded with two more ideas. Four assignments in one note - pretty good odds.

Dangle a carrot. When talking with a current client, mention other projects, such as blogs, newsletters, etc. that you're doing for other clients. Sometimes just the suggestion that they could have similar projects is enough to get one more project from them.

Remind them of your background. If they hire you for profile pieces, remind them that you've published exposes, investigative pieces, how-to articles, etc. I had a colleague tell me he was surprised to learn I did marketing and communications writing. As he put it, "I didn't know you did anything beyond journalism."

Ask. I've had several projects come from a simple email stating "How are you? Are you working on anything where I might be able to help?"

How do you increase the impact of your marketing efforts?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow, Fog, and Kilts

Thanks to everyone who signed up for the newsletter! Those who registered before midnight on January 21 have been listed in order of their signup time, and I've used a random number generator to choose the winner. And the winner of the $20 Amazon card is.....

Suzan Kelley!

Congrats, Suzan! Drop me a note on which email you'd like me to use to send your prize to you!

The weekend started early - Friday around 6 we were kilted and on our way to the first of what will be several Robert Burns Suppers. This one was at a local brewery, and there were kilt contests for men and women (husband came in third, as did I), a band, bagpipes, and yes, even haggis.

Saturday was a little quieter, and I managed to get some wood in before the snow, so we had a fire in the fireplace as the snow came down. I did make it out to get some tea - I was completely out and there's no living with me if I'm not caffeinated. By noon the roads were cleaner, so we headed to New Jersey for our meditation group.

Yesterday was the search for the real cup of tea (my local grocery did not have any decent substitutes), so we headed to the Indian grocery. I stocked up. No way I want to run out again, and now I have enough to get me through until July. I stopped by Barnes & Noble, got a chai (of course) and then husband took me out for brunch. We then visited an open house just to see the decorating, then home again (across the street, literally) to plan the library and other projects. A hockey win later, and it was a good weekend.

Today I'm finishing an article project, scheduling interviews for another article, working on yet another client project, and marketing. I sent a proposal out to a client a week ago, and it's time to follow up to see if he has questions. It's also foggy out and about to go from yesterday's high of 27 to 51.

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

Worthy Advice: Show Your Stuff

Just two more days to score your chance at some free Amazon swag: Sign up to receive my occasional newsletter and you're entered to win a $20 Amazon card! Make sure you're all signed up by Saturday, January 21st (that's tomorrow) before midnight. If you sign up January 22nd, you still get the newsletter, but you miss out on the card drawing. I don't spam, nor do I pester.

Nice day yesterday. I got a little client work done throughout the day, and I managed to devote the rest of the day to both book projects. The fiction work is starting to sing. I'm taking my time with it, thinking through each word and making sure the phrases are exactly how I want to present the story. So far, I'm pleased with how it's going. The story is coming out the way I'd hoped.

I was talking with one of my client contacts yesterday when I realized he didn't know how well-versed I was in his industry. Not entirely odd as he's a contact and not a client, but I took the opportunity to let him know I understood the topic he was speaking of, and I sent him a link to an article I'd written on that very topic. That opened up a nice conversation, which left him feeling maybe a little more confident that I could take his report and actually make sense of it. I showed him my stuff. How often do you do that?

Chances are you're working with clients right now who aren't completely aware of your skills beyond what you're doing for them. I scored more work with an editor last year when I told her that I'd written on other topics, then I pitched those ideas. She loved them and assigned four articles I wouldn't have gotten had I not spoken up. So yes, I know you've got something you're not sharing, too.

How to tell them, though? Here are some ideas:

Offer it up. Look at their business or their article needs. Then pitch to them. Don't wait for them to realize you're the renowned writer of ink cartridge technology - send them pitches and your clips showing it.

Ask for more. Sometimes they're giving you newsletter work when you could be solving their press release problems, as well. Ask them if they have any need for the skill you're currently not using. That means researching their site and business a bit, but you should be doing that anyway.

Send your portfolio. Get back in touch with your clients by thanking them for the previous projects, and by sending them your CV, resume, portfolio (whatever you want to call it). In your note, call out the skills you think they'd benefit from.

Tweet it. Maybe your client isn't advertising that he's looking for someone to write white papers, so how can you know to tell him? Try tweeting current or past projects - "Working on a white paper project this week" coupled with hash tags that speak to their industry (#inktechnology, for example) can get those tweets right in front of them when they need you most.

Market that skill. Maybe it's time you rolled out a postcard or brochure targeting those white paper skills. Send it to current and prospective clients. Don't think they already know if they've already hired you. Remind them with paper.

How do you show your stuff?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Worthy Stuff: This Job, Not That Job

Two things - first, don't forget to sign up for my occasional newsletter. One of you who signs up before January 21st at midnight will win a $20 Amazon gift card! And I don't spam, so there's that.

Also, I have an informal poll on the left side of this blog. Just for fun, I thought I'd add that feature. Feel free to take part, and if you have suggestions for questions to ask, drop me a note!

Had a good day yesterday. I finished all my interviews for Article #1 and had time to field a client call and get some work done on two books. Plus I got some LOIs out to some companies. I noticed it's also time to follow up with a few more, so that will be today's job.

Then I made dinner. Kung Pao Sliders, miso soup, and lo mein. We were stuffed.

It's time once again for our This Job, Not That Job, where I compare seemingly similar gigs side by side and we tear apart the imposter.

Here's a job that's pretty typical of a smelly, slimy little attempt to get work for nothing:

Writers for a Global Travel Destination Guide
I am looking for multiple writers that are interested in getting some travel writing experience. This is a great opportunity.The articles are short. You can do just one and get the byline for it, or do one per week and be able to put on your resume that you are an associate editor for the site. Bylines are given for all articles.Please let me know if you are interested.

Compensation: bylines and resume experience.

Oh, where to begin? How about the "multiple writers" wording, since that's listed first? It should be your first red flag, for any client looking for "multiple" anything and not offering "multiple" assignments isn't serious about finding a professional writer.

Here's another fun phrase: "This is a great opportunity." That's probably true, but it's not great for anyone but the person getting all the free writing. Red flag #2.

Ooo, did you see the third red flag? " able to put on your resume that you are an associate editor for the site." Right. That and a slice of bread will get you, er, a slice of bread. While this may sound appealing to new writers, know that if that site isn't impeccably edited or even marketed with any sense of business savvy, you're going to look like the same kind of rank amateur that this job poster obviously is.

You get a byline. Be still my freaking heart. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that line, I would make more money than this clown intends to ever fork over. Bylines attached to worthless sites are just that. Worthless.

Instead, try something like this:

Monthly travel-related newsletter focusing on travel values.
Pays $150 maximum for 100-1,500 words.

Seriously, it's not a ton of money, but it's not free. My suggestion would be to aim much higher up the food chain, but if you're starting out, this is a legitimate market.

Do you know of better markets than this one? Share it here.

What bad stuff have you seen lately?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Superbly Idiotic Marketing

Win something already! Sign up for my occasional newsletter (usually once or twice a month), you're entered to win a $20 Amazon gift card! Just click right on over there at the left where it says Want More? Everyone registered by Saturday, January 21 before midnight is entered for the drawing. The newsletter gives you updates on the blog, plus links to other resources and blogs.

Doing something new. I'm trying out a weekly poll. Weigh in over there on the top left.

We've spent a lot of time here talking about how to market effectively, how to use networking and establishing friendships to grow your business. We've even touched on how not to market, or at least what missteps could have you losing interest in your own marketing. But the idiotic things? We've talked about them, but we've not really talked about them.

What are some of the supremely stupid marketing things you can do (or cannot do) that can turn off a client like a faucet?

Tell them they're doing it wrong. They may be doing just that and you may be 100-percent correct, but who wants to hear that they're mucking it up? Instead, tell them how what they're doing currently can be enhanced, or how you've helped similar clients increase their results.

Talk about you, you, you all the time. Clients want to work with people who understand them and their needs. If your song is solely about you and your fabulous skills, congratulations. You've just proven nothing to them other than you have a large ego. Instead, tell them how your skills can benefit them. Instead of tweeting "I'm the best marketer on the planet!" (which incidentally proves you're not), tweet "I just helped my clients increase their sales by 15 percent!" Even though you're still prattling on a bit about yourself, you're focusing more on the clients' results.

Show them you don't know them. If you've ever received an offer for Viagra or laser hair removal and you're not the gender it's intended for, you know how quickly those offers turn you off. The same goes for offers you send to your clients that don't speak to anything they do. If you're sending out brochures detailing your marketing savvy and you're sending it to people who have no need for marketing, you've proven two points: A) you're not that savvy, and B) you don't know them at all. Instead, make sure every person who receives your communication has a need for it. Saves you both aggravation.

Shout at them. Seriously, remove the exclamation points. You're not Crazy Dave's Auto Emporium - you're a professional who's trying to develop a professional image. If you go overboard with capitalization, bold letters, wacky color changes, or exclamation points, you're going to look like you've taken the advice of a kindergartner on how to put together an appealing marketing piece. Instead, get to the point and keep the graphics tasteful and relevant.

Take the word "no" badly. Not everyone will trip over themselves to work with you, even if you approach them correctly. If you start getting defensive, upset, or pushy, you've just guaranteed this client won't ever buy from you. Here's how you respond to "no": "Thank you."

Drop your price instantly. It's bad marketing, for sure, if you start out by saying something like "I charge $100 an hour, but that's negotiable." It says "I don't take myself seriously enough to stick to my own price. Nor should you." Say your price like you mean it, and don't offer discounts. Instead, offer payment options that help them afford you.

What screams "bad marketing" to you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When Nuts Fall From Their Trees

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I don't know what it was yesterday, but by 2:30 I could not stay awake. I wanted to hit the sofa for a few hours, but instead I laced on the sneakers and took to the basement. Exercised it away to some extent, but something is just off. I have some sort of respiratory thing going on that's sapping my energy and making my lung feel sore (if that's possible), so off to the doctor sometime this week.

I got some work done yesterday, but not the amount of writing I intended to do. Today I have some interviews, then I get to concentrate solely on the novel. Unless something else pushes its way in....However, I'm making the novel the first thing I do today, so if it's going to break loose, it better do so before 7:30 am.

I heard from a writer not long ago who was working a ghostwriting project with a few other writers. The project was decent, however the end result was one of the most bizarre client meltdowns I've ever read through.

It seems the client had hired different writers for different aspects of the project. That may be fine, but when the book hit the online market, someone posted a lousy review. If I were the project owner, I think my first thought would have been there were too many writers involved.

If only this project owner thought that normally.

Instead, the writer shared with me what amounted to reams of email pages - a virtual tirade about how this "author" was now ferreting out the culprit using his own method of detective work. If anyone balked at his request to volunteer to help find the person responsible (and one he was certain was someone he'd hired), he targeted them as suspects. One person in particular became the sole source of this guy's tirade, right down to his tearing apart the writer's credentials in a group email. His sin - telling the guy he's crazy for expecting him to waste time on unpaid, weird pursuits.

Most clients are great people with good work ethics and business skills. However, not all clients are cut out to be clients. Some are better left untouched.

How do deal with a client such as the one described above:

Keep all conversations short, to the point, and neutral. In cases where clients have started the meltdown before my eyes, I got the best outcomes by just restating the purpose, removing the emotional language, and not addressing directly the inflammatory or odd language at all. In one case, someone read an article of mine from three years ago and went on to send me seven successive emails over a three-hour period lashing out at me because my article - about background screenings - apparently caused him to remember he was fired because of a background check. In that case, I didn't respond at all. I couldn't say anything that would appease him because A) I didn't know him from anything, B) he'd already decided I was guilty by association, C) he wouldn't care that the article, in a client newsletter, wasn't even my idea, and D) I couldn't tell if he'd turn violent or not.

Refuse to play. In the case of the client who went on the tirade and involved all the other writers, my writer friend did the right thing. She stayed out of it. She responded to him, but let it drop from there without confrontation or questioning. Smart. Engaging someone like that keeps the flames shooting high and often ignites other battles.

Turn down future work. Hint: telling this guy "I can't work for you because you're crazy" isn't the best way to walk away. Try this instead: "I'm booked solid for the next four months. Thank you for thinking of me." Or simply "I can't, but thank you."

Take action if you need to. In the case of the writer being blasted to other writers, I'd say let it go. It's a limited audience, and most of the other writers know the guy's reputation. However, if the client takes it to the Web, it's time to call a lawyer. Supposition is one thing. Direct confrontation is also acceptable. However, moving any of that to a public venue is potentially damaging to that writer's reputation and grounds for legal action.

Have you had encounters with oddities such as these? How did you handle them?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Slower, Steadier...

My guest post is still up over at Peter Bowerman's Well-Fed Writer blog. Give Peter some comment love, please.

FYI - For those interested in a fantastic group coaching experience - Peter Bowerman has just a few spaces left in his February group, starting February 8. It's a great way for you to get Peter's superb advice for a fraction of his hourly rate. Sign up here. He's getting great feedback. Check out the testimonials...

There's something about a clean closet that just feels complete. Somewhere in my head on Saturday morning, I got this urge to clean the closet in the laundry room. I'd put some paper towels in there and had to shove to get the door to close. Not good. So I started. That clean closet morphed into the kitchen closet. I stopped there. I was starting to pile things everywhere, so I loaded up a box and took it to Goodwill. Other closets will wait until other days.

But something about January makes me want to clean house, rearrange, redecorate. Mind you, the Christmas decorations still sit in a pile in the foyer waiting to go back to the basement, but baby steps. I did my usual Saturday routine - dust the living room and library, Swiffer the wood floors in the library and dining room (for some reason, I forgot the study), then head out somewhere to get tea. Back home, I grab a book and get some quality reading time in (after all the HGTV shows, of course). This weekend I finished another John Steinbeck - To a God Unknown - and looked over his technique a bit. In that one, the plot was a bit weak in spots, but it was one of his first books. I loved that he was brave with his idea and chased it.

Yesterday was finishing the book, then off to Molly Maguire's for some Irish music. The weather here is right now 19 degrees, so I've broken out the coat, hat, and gloves. Time to take the cold weather a bit more seriously. I usually don't button my coat until it hits 20. Today, definitely.

Today I have a client call, a report due, then to work on first the novel, then edits to my marketing book. I have a few interviews to line up for articles, and of course more marketing. I have to get back to a potential client on a proposal I'd sent him last week. I may give him a few more days as he has to pass it up the food chain.

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

What's Your Price?

It's been a good week. Coming off a really rough re-entry (lots of work the two days after I got back), I was able to step back this week, rearrange the schedule, and buy myself a little wiggle room to readjust. I begged off the project offer I mentioned yesterday. Yes, I could have taken it if the client would come up in price (not sure he wouldn't have), but I'd have been sick within a week from stress. Limits are sometimes necessary. Today I'm getting some ideas out to a new client in hopes of helping him get more press in a new area of concentration.

Except for those times when clients either dictate your rates (which means you walk away) or have set rates (magazines), you're going to be asked what your fee is. Show of hands - how many choke and don't know exactly what to say? How many balk because if you're too high, the client may disappear? I used to be like that, too. Then I learned that the clients who don't pay what I'm worth aren't my clients.

So, how do you answer that question? It isn't always easy to know what a project will cost. So here are some suggestions on what to say:

I charge $XXX an hour. Just say it. Own it, too. Don't say it as though you're expecting that nun with the ruler to slam down across your knuckles. Say it as though you're already earning it and have no troubles continuing to do so. If you've done your homework, you've determined what hourly rate will cover your bills and give you the profit you're aiming for.

May I ask what your budget is? It's as fair a question as what your rates are, yet how many of us shrink away from it? Don't. If you're to build a partnership with this client, you both have to be upfront about what you can and cannot accept in terms of cost and fees. Neither of you are buying a used car - no need to be dodgy or vague.

Can you send me more project information? Suppose the client says she wants a "smallish" e-book edited. You have it in your head it's no more than 50-80 small pages. However, once the contract is signed you realize she's talking about a 400-page, single-spaced tome with 8-point font. And she expects you to double check every quote and fact, of which there are hundreds. Get as much information on the project as you can before quoting the price.

Here's my price based on XX number of hours. It's okay to give an estimate that may not be an exact representation of the final cost. That's why it's called an estimate. If you think it will take 25 hours to complete, but you're not sure, say so. Mention your flat fee at that point along with your hourly rate for any work over that estimate.

How do you answer the "What's your price?" question?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

When Losing is a Good Thing

Thanks once again to Peter Bowerman for hosting me on the Well-Fed Writer blog. Please hop on over and give Peter some comment love.

Sometimes I like to go back to offers I've received, re-examine them, and review my decision to either take them or turn them down. Sometimes the decision is easy - sometimes not so much.

A recent offer was for book editing - 100 pages (e-book size), due in two weeks, price just under $1K. Easy one. First, I charge a LOT more than $8 a page to edit. Second, I charge more for rush jobs (and that qualifies). If I'd not been extremely busy, I'd have countered with a more realistic price. But only once - if we can't come to an agreement quickly, it's not going to work for either of us.

Plus I'm not one to enjoy giving immediate discounts to brand-new clients. It sets a dangerous precedent. Here's the impression you leave:

That you're going to be flexible every time on price. It's a lesson I learned the hard way. I had a client who paid bargain rates for a one-page website rewrite. It was a simple job, so I lowered the price. His mother came to me a few months later for a larger job - but expected the exact same price. My reputation for being "cheap" attracted yet another cheap client.

That you don't value your own work. It is the message you're sending when you let a new client talk you down to a fee that isn't within your comfort zone. It's saying "You can pretty much tell me what I'm earning because I'm hungry for work right now."

That the client can get bargains at your expense. And the client really doesn't care if you're sacrificing too much. When have you ever heard a client say "You know, I don't think this price is fair to you, so let me increase it"?

That your clients can dictate your rate for you. Never allow anyone besides you to determine what you earn. Never. If you can't live on $30 an hour, don't let someone tell you that's all you're going to earn. Better to go without a lousy-paying gig than to settle for something that nets you little and sets you down a path of settling for whatever comes along.

How often do you turn down offers that don't fit? Why or why not? What gets in your way?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When It's Over

I have you humming that Sugar Ray song, don't I?

Hop on over to Peter Bowerman's Well-Fed Writer Blog - I have a guest post up. Thanks, Peter!

Good day yesterday. I managed to get some interviews lined up for an article, worked on things for the Five Buck Forum, then chatted with a new client on some strategies for going forward. Today, a little more of the same. I have a bit of work to do this morning, then lunch with a friend and a call with the forum members in the afternoon.

I had a conversation with a writer whose current client situation was unraveling despite her best efforts to the contrary. It seems no matter what she did, the client wasn't happy. The client had voided the contract by pulling in a posse on edits, but she wanted to maintain goodwill, so she offered a courtesy edit for him.

That was a month ago. Her client has since taken the role of Silent Bob. Silent Bob hasn't answered any of her emails, nor has he responded to her offer of free editing that was clearly meant as a peace offering. So what should she do?

Send him the invoice. She was holding off invoicing until she was sure he was happy. My advice - he's never going to be happy. He broke the contract. He owes you money whether he agrees to free editing or not.

Put a limit on the free offer. She didn't have to offer him anything, but she's a good sort who wants to satisfy her client. However, the offer comes with an expiration date. Since a month has passed, I say it's time to tell the client his freebie is about to expire. Nothing moves them like knowing they're about to lose something valuable. I suggested this because I don't want to see him coming back to her in three months (after she's sent the final invoice) expecting a complete rewrite for free.

Be diligent with invoice collection. His silence, from my own experience, has me thinking he's going to do his darnedest to argue his way out of paying our writer. I suggested the three-invoice process, which ends with the notice of litigation attached to the final invoice. It's at this point my writer friend can thank herself for having a good contract in place. Well done, and well timed.

Remove emotion. She feels badly that things ended in such a state of upheaval. While it's upsetting to end things with clients who aren't happy, there are some clients who don't know how to work with contractors. This is one of those clients. If our writer removes her emotional responses to his silence or harsh words (which are coming if he's anything like every other client who uses silence to get what he wants), she'll find that the only thing that counts is the business transaction. If he's not happy, he's had ample opportunity to tell her so. If he argues she's incompetent, it's like arguing the horse it too docile to win after the race is over. She's neither incompetent nor responsible for his emotions.

How do you handle clients who go silent at invoice time?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Concentrated Marketing

My best ideas come from you. This week proves that to be true thanks to our own Wade Finnegan, who was wondering out loud how to figure out his niche or if he even wants one. He has one of the best lines of the month: "2012 will be the year this takes off, I just need to find a pair of wings." Wade, this one is for you. And not to be too corny, but let's hope this proves to be the wind beneath those newly minted wings.

So to Wade's question, which was how to concentrate his marketing to reflect a niche. It could be you find out you don't really want or need a niche. I know plenty of writers (myself included) who work in all types of areas and business concentrations. If that's the case, maybe instead of reflecting a niche, you could be reflecting an overall plan of attack for your marketing. If so, skip these first two points and join back in on the third point.

Brainstorm. Write it down. Start with paper, pen, and this question: "What do I like to write about or what would I like to write about more?" No holding back. This is the fun part where anything goes. If you want to write true confessions, list it. If you want to write short stories and poetry, list it. If you want to write humor based on your family, more power to you. No judgments on yourself as you list, please. Just write and let yourself dream it up.

Read your list. Now that you have your list, go back over it. What sticks out? What was the first thing you wrote? Is it really the first thing you wanted to write, or did you hold back a little at first? Find that one thing on your list that really resonates. Got it? Let's move on.

Brainstorm again. For those of you who are generalizing, this is the step where you can jump in. Where can you sell writing based on that niche or topic? What are the top markets in that area? For generalists, what markets are your Valhalla or holy grail markets? List those. Think outside the box a bit - what markets that may not be in that particular area will still accept that kind of topic or work? For example, you're hoping to write more white papers for businesses in a particular field. However, nearly every business area could use a good case study or white paper. Where else could you sell those services?

Hone the list. Not everyone on the list will be right for what you're offering. Some will be obvious choices, but those you're not sure about require a little research. Spend time on their websites, particularly in the Newsroom and About Us sections. Could they use what you're offering? If so, put them on your short list.

Plan your marketing. Now decide at least two ways to approach your newly located clients. While you're planning, make sure you're also planning follow-up communication. No way should these communications be of the one-and-done variety. These are your new contacts, part of your new process of marketing.

It's not necessary to get more complicated than that. It is necessary, however, to be consistent in not just marketing, but in revisiting your plan to locate more client possibilities. This isn't a process you should do once a year, but maybe once a month. Whatever fits into your schedule and your current work situation is best.

How do you concentrate your marketing?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Settling In

I get to stay home. Finally. Last week proved to be the roughest re-entry into work ever. I got off the plane at 8:30 pm Wednesday, was sitting here fighting off the two-hour time difference Thursday morning while writing a client article and arranging interviews for other projects, then was tied up in client meetings in New Jersey all day Friday before driving five hours to the parents' house in western PA. It feels good to be out of the car and out from under that schedule.

I was glad to come home to what appears to be a ton of work. I'm not surprised - it is January, after all. One of the queries I sent out turned into a two-article assignment (I love when that happens) based on the editor's ideas. The beauty of it is I'm being paid upfront for one article so they can use up their 2011 budget. I am so okay with that. Plus a newer client has just put me on board with yet another project, so I'm pleased to drop a lower-paying client, which has to happen this week. I simply cannot keep up with everything.

The weekend was lovely - great driving weather both days and since I'd spent six hours in the car in New Jersey trying to get out of that state (I loathe driving in some areas of NJ), my husband and daughter offered to drive on Friday night. We arrived at Mom's and Dad's house late - bedtime - and then spent a nice weekend opening Christmas presents with my brother and his family, then went out for dinner. I got to see some family friends I've not seen in at least a decade, and we laughed and talked into the evening. It was so nice.

We came home to see the football game and yes, I'm officially in mourning. Hey, they could have won if they'd had their whole roster healthy and if the defense had stepped it up a notch. Alas. So, congrats to Broncos fans and the team. My jersey goes back in the drawer until August.

Today is a blessedly slower day (at least I think it is). I have some coordinating of marketing pieces for a project, some interviews to schedule, and some supplies to buy at the store. Someone - and neither of them are talking - ran my ink supply out while I was gone and didn't bother to replace it. I was steaming because I had to print out some stuff for those client meetings and didn't know my ink was gone until an hour before I had to leave. Yes, even at their ages, it happens. I've mentioned before my office equipment is off limits. Time to password protect it all until they move out.

How was your weekend? Did you notice an upswing in work since January 1?

Friday, January 06, 2012

What Nature Has Taught Me About Business

I have a guest article up over at About's Freelance Writing site. Thanks, Allena!

I had a shaky re-entry yesterday, first with clearing up an invoice problem that apparently never existed (long, boring story involving incompetence somewhere else), then with a quick turn-around on a new client project, which I hope is what they're looking for. Hard to tell, as I've not met them personally and I have just a few lines of instruction on what it is they're looking for. Fingers crossed. It's tough to create targeted content on that and a few hours of sleep, but I tried.

I have a client meeting this morning, so I'm out the door again.Then we're driving back to see my family - there's another 10 hours of travel on a tired body. But it will be great to see everyone.

As I lazed around on the patios and sitting rooms at B&Bs and in-laws' homes, I had a chance to figure out a few key things learned from the great outdoors. Maybe it was the sun, the dehydration, or even the time change, but this is what I think Nature has taught me:

Slow down. Not all business or connections made happen in rapid-fire fashion. Some of the more enjoyable times in my life have netted me close relationships and equally close business partnerships.

Let go. Spending time without adequate Internet connection has made me realize that business is important to survival, but it's in letting go of the stress that real creativity begins. Once again, poems came pouring out of me absent the stresses of clients and payments.

Be alert to obstacles or danger. I heeded the warnings about rattlesnakes and javelinas (big angry piglike mammals), and realized that even the most innocuous setting can change rapidly if I'm not looking a little farther down the path. Eyes ahead helped in more than one case, and assessing the path before walking ahead saved a few turned ankles.

Plunge in. At the start of our hike through a canyon, I tried crossing the cold stream with my shoes off to keep them dry. Then I realized the entire trip was going to be in and out of the water. The shoe went back on and I forged ahead. The trip was much sweeter and my feet were spared the dancing around sharp thorns and rocks. Same for the career - taking the same chances has taken me to some great places.

Not all birds are identical. His quest to see every LBJ (little brown job) in the southwest was frustrating to this non-birder (I had my meltdown on the third or fourth day), but once my patience was intact, I saw some pretty incredible birds, like a huge flock of sandhill cranes, some harrier hawks, hummingbirds galore, and all sorts of odd little birds I've never seen before. Not all projects are the same, either - nor should they be treated so.

The people matter most. My best memories of this vacation were intertwined with the people along the way. In one case, the trip was made thanks to the company we shared. If we had just shown up, slept in, muttered hellos over breakfast and went on, we'd have missed knowing some seriously cool and incredible people.

What does Nature teach you?

Thursday, January 05, 2012


Finally, I return. How were the holidays for you?

Because too much information is already floating around the Internet, I kept a low profile on our being away for two weeks. We went to Phoenix and spent a wonderful Christmas with his family, then we spent a week touring the desert south of Tucson. At one point, we were six miles from Mexico. It was easy to tell - the border patrol force outnumbered the people we saw five-to-one. They were pleasant, but everywhere.

In fact, I was shocked at just how nice everyone in Phoenix really is. I heard "arguments" between clerks and customers that ended with apologies for the stress - from both participants. Everyone engaged, smiled, and treated us with respect and plenty of interaction. I've heard of this magical land before, where people perform their jobs or meet you on the street with a greeting and a big smile. It's true - it exists.

We spent a few nights in Aravaipa Canyon, which provided a gorgeous albeit wet hike through the canyon. The trails aren't really trails, so we had to hike in and around the stream. After my feet numbed to my hips (the water was cold), we just took to walking in the water the entire time. It was a good hike - we guessed close to 8 miles - and it took us about 6 hours.

The real treat there, beyond the hike, was where we stayed. Across the Creek at Aravaipa Farms turned out to be more memorable than the rest of the trip. The proprietor, Carol Steele, a well-known chef in Phoenix, gathers people to her table like moths to a flame. Because the place is so remote, we had three meals at the B&B. Breakfast is yours to pull out of your mini fridge in your room, which is a "casita" built in an old barn building. Lunch is a picnic basket brought to your door, but dinner is the real treat. Carol cooks up a fabulous meal and all the guests gather round to enjoy the food and the wine. Her penchant for talking politics makes for some spirited discussions, but on our last night there, we were treated with a rendition of O Holy Night by singer Alice Tatum, a Phoenix legend and a long-time friend of Carol's. Also on hand was Ted, who was a quiet, convivial man. Turns out Ted is Ted Nuttall, a renowned watercolor artist who invited us to see his works in progress at his casita.

From there we headed down to Bisbee, where our first encounter with the locals was to pick up a hitchhiker. Turns out he's the self-proclaimed "town hermit" and in an odd twist, needed to get to the library to check his email. Ironic that a hermit would be so communicative, but Bisbee turned out to be that quirky from every direction. We spent New Year's Eve in Bisbee, which was supposed to be a huge deal according to the other B&B guests who had come there for years. However, someone forgot to tell the town - or maybe they did and the entire town decided to be contradictory. Little was going on, so to avoid the cold and eventual disappointment, we headed home after a late dinner at a great vegan restaurant and were in bed when the fireworks went off.

After Bisbee came a little B&B west of Tucson that was the most interesting. The entire house had been built of strawbales and covered in stucco. The owner, an organized, thoughtful woman who worked at the desert museum, had designed it and assisted in the building of it. It's won awards for the most eco-friendly B&B in Arizona.

Along the way, we saw great sights, visited parks that had some snow in them, watched birds (I reached my bird saturation point somewhere before the last B&B), and experienced some beautiful walks and attractions. We returned to his mom's house spent and ready to come home. Then I saw the weather report. Bye-bye mid-70s. Hello mid-20s.

Now back to work. I checked email just a few times and I saw a client has rejected my invoice, so I'm jumping in with both feet today to get that sorted. Nothing like an empty bank account to get the blood pumping again.

How were your holidays?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Seeing Patterns

Still away from the computer, but I did want to talk a little about the monthly assessments. By now you who have shared your progress each month have done something besides just giving yourself a snapshot of what you've done that month. In every monthly post right here, you've created a picture of your entire year. It's all here. Just open up another window, click over "monthly assessments" there on the left menu, and you'll see:

Things that worked. Remember those times it was going right for you? What was working? Why do you think it worked? Who was your client?

Things that didn't work. Those frustrating clients you chased and acquiesced to - remember them? What about those relationships or those communications fell flat for you? For the clients? What approach were you using and has it worked with other clients? If not, it may be time to retire it.

Your marketing frequency. This is a biggie. Look at how often you've said you sent out queries, called clients, sent emails, etc. Now look ahead a month. Are you seeing any correlation between the frequency of your marketing and the increase in business a month or two later?

Your excuses. How many excuses did you make for not marketing, not reassessing your approach, not earning enough money? How many appear in your previous comments? Did you say anything like "My marketing was light because I had company/a cold/a sick child/a sick dog/a class/a trip to take"? We all have valid reasons for not getting to marketing or communicating with clients. How many of them are valid for you? Really?

Clients you've lost touch with. Some clients have one-and-done projects because we fail to follow up. That client you were talking about in March - have you reached out since then to see if they need anything else?

What else are you seeing on your monthly assessments? What seem to be the biggest obstacles for you?

Monday, January 02, 2012

Worthiness: Your Musts

Happy New Year! I'm still on hiatus, but I wasn't going to leave without scheduling a few posts. Hopefully, this one and others will serve as a good start to 2012.

We're about five and a half months out from Writers Worth Week, but it's never too soon to build value and worth into our work practices. Let's start with what we must do. You know me - I'm not one to believe in absolutes. Anyone who tells me I must do something is usually saying it from a personal perspective - you must outline your novel, you must call clients on the phone, you must have a blog.... nonsense. I can't outline novels. For me, it kills the story. For others, it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Likewise calling clients. Some of us love it, some of us would rather be dipped in boiling water. And frankly, not everyone has something to say worth blogging about.

That said, there are some absolutes that belong in your business. Don't worry - once you see them, you'll understand:

You must market. In real estate training, I'd learned "If you don't list, you don't last." Same thing with a freelance career in writing - you have to market. Just showing up at the computer every day isn't enough. The clients have to know you're there, and have to know what you have to offer.

You must understand your market value. Oh, you could run a business without knowing what your skills are worth, but you're guaranteed to be taken advantage of if you do. If other writers are securing work for $100 an hour and you're charging $25 an hour, you'll get work, but you'll attract clients who will expect gold for Kmart prices. Top-notch clients won't take you seriously, and you'll be stuck trying to wrestle payment from deadbeats.

You must stop apologizing for running a business. If the words "I'm sorry" have ever escaped your lips when communicating with a client - unless you've screwed something up and you're apologizing for that - you need to grow a backbone. Never apologize for chasing payment, disagreeing with a client's opinion, contacting a client, or for asserting your contract terms or business boundaries.

You must chase overdue invoices. Invoices get misplaced, forgotten, even ignored by clients wanting to avoid the bill. You have to be prepared to chase the payment down, accept no excuses, and put some legal muscle behind your collections process.

You must protect your rights. Contracts are essential - so is the ability to enforce and restate contract terms when clients push the boundaries. No one will look out for your business except you. Be your best guardian. Protect it like you would a member of your family.

You must challenge yourself. Twelve years ago I had no idea what risk management was, nor could I tell you with any coherency anything about workers compensation. Today those subjects are my biggest moneymakers. Take chances with your career. Learn new things. Invest in education. Study on your own. Expand what you already do and know and watch the possibilities open up.

What items are on your must list?
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