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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monthly Assessment: February 2012

Happy Leap Day! It feels good to have one extra day in the year, especially with a full workload. What are you doing for Leap Day?

I'm currently pumped up with antibiotics and eager to get back to feeling 100 percent. Lingering infections are just a pain in the neck (and back and arms and skin...), and I couldn't work my best. What should have taken me just a few short hours has dragged out for days because I just didn't feel like doing anything.

But I still managed. My queries hit their marks, my clients called me instead of the other way round, and errant projects cropped up that are turning into ongoing projects. Here's what happened for me this month. Please, feel free to play along with your own assessment. That's the whole point!

Queries
Believe it or not, a query I'd sent three months ago netted two assignments this month. Strange, but true! It's an editor I've been working with quite often, and I really enjoy the subjects. Another query sent a month ago came back with a counter-query, and that turned into a check that showed up yesterday. Editors are finding out I'm flexible and I enjoy the topics enough to talk shop with them. Must remember to do that with newer editors.

LOIs
I decided to replace my "Job listings" subhead with this. I never look at lists anymore.

With the trade show coming up in six weeks, I sent out 27 letters of introduction and got one immediate response. I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to send out more. Not that I'm complaining!

Existing clients
This is where I cleaned house. Five clients came to me (including the magazine editors), which netted all my earnings this month. I was able to get an invoice out to a client on a months-long stalled project, so that's finally billed. Another client sent a large project, then several smaller ones. She was happy with the results and promised as much future work as she could muster.

New clients
I'm working with one new client via another client (I'm a subcontractor), and I'm in talks with yet another client on some ongoing project work. I'm hoping to get some pre-trade-show work done to bolster the income. My car's engine light is on and inspection is due. Naturally. At tax time.

Referrals
It's not really a referral, but I helped out a friend last week. Due to ongoing matters he's dealing with, I may be picking up more of his assignments. A lousy way to receive work, but I look at it as a way to help a chum. And I've no intention of not paying him some referral fee.

Earnings
Oh my. I had no idea until I looked just now - I surpassed the target earnings. That's the second time in three months. I'm glad for it. Like I said, the engine light is on in the car, and I know my temperature sensor is bad. Time to give "Saabie" some loving care.

Bottom line
From this chair, the recession has been over since December when I'm normally dormant. Clients are seemingly flush with money, or perhaps they're just tired of not finishing ages-old projects. Either way, call me. I've been able to not only justify my raise, but maintain it without any trouble. The marketing will continue, as will the tapping into current clients for additional projects.

What was your month like?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Very Limited Offer

Even feeling like I'd been pushed through a sieve, I managed to get a good deal finished yesterday. I drafted a client newsletter, got an article to a point where I need only drop in one more quote, and wrote the first draft of the 31 Days to Trade Magazine Profits webinar. I still feel like walking blah, but at least I'm still walking (there's that Susie Sunshine attitude!). Doctor this morning, then hopefully home with some powerful meds.

A writing friend was extended an offer to work for a local organization on a number of projects. The dilemma? They were paying, as she put it, 55 percent under her current rate. The carrot they dangled - they framed it as "guaranteed work" and expected at least 15-20 hours out of her every week. Wisely, she opted to turn it down.

It's easy to look at a local organization - a big one - and say "Gee, am I passing up a great chance?" But here's why I advised her to walk away:

It's not all that great. They're going into a working relationship with her already not respecting that her time is money. This is a place that's already saying the real-life equivalent of "You'll get great exposure and we'll give you more work!" Who wants more work from people who don't respect the value of what they're getting?

It's what they're really saying that matters. Their "offer" of "guaranteed" work? That's really saying "We promise to underpay you as long as you put up with it!" Who needs that?

It's going to snowball. This is a group that is probably not used to working with freelancers (a college). That half-time work? How long before that becomes a lot more for the same price? And how long before they start treating this writer like an employee? In my opinion, it started the minute they dictated her rate to her.

It won't lead anywhere. I know this writer has worked with colleges in the past. She doesn't need one more clip. Taking this job wouldn't enhance her career as much as it would impede her chances of finding better-paying work.

Her counter-offer wouldn't fly. She had a great strategy - to offer them XX hours of work for the sum total of that weekly fee (what I'd suggested as an option). However, these are people who think in employer terms. They want to be in charge, and her offer is going to be scoffed. Plus, see above. The work will inevitably snowball.

I would walk away, and I'd do so after telling them what professional writers really charge. Wish them well and know that they're about to exploit some poor undergrad/grad student to do the work for nearly nothing.

How many local companies have given you similar questionable offers? How do you handle your response to them?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday, Monday....

Head on over to John Soare's Productive Writers blog for his interview with me and a review of my e-book, Marketing 365. Thanks, John! You're one of my absolute favorites, too. :)

For once, I'm rather glad the weekend is over. I spent much of yesterday fighting off an excruciating headache. It's amazing how closely connected inflamed sinuses and migraine pain are. Luckily Advil and an ice pack handled it and I was able to get on with my day.

Once I was upright again, we went to brunch, then headed to The Home Depot. I can't be trusted in those places. All the paint, countertops, appliances, tiles, and doors cause me to remodel the house in my brain. By the time he'd found his spray paint, I'd retiled the kitchen, switched out the countertops, picked patio doors, found new trim for the bedroom baseboards, decided on wood floors in our carpeted bedroom, chose a paint color for the library, and wondered aloud if we should be putting another patio door in the kitchen where our windows are. He pulled me out of there as I said "Ooo! New windows!"

Saturday I did a little cooking as we were hosting a meditation group that afternoon. We decided to have some fun with them. As they arrived, we said, "Oh no, we meant medication group. Do you prefer Paxil or Zoloft?"

Once we stopped being bad comedians, we had a lovely meditation. I was feeling mentally drained after the tough week, so I wasn't too chatty, nor was I terribly attentive during our post-meditation discussions. The meditation was wonderful, though. It brought back the balance I'd lost all week.

I took some time off last week to visit one Jenn Mattern, whose company is best enjoyed with feet propped up and tea in hand. We had a terrific time chatting and plotting world domination (her Twitter post). It reminds me how important friends and "coworkers" are in this business. With people like Jenn and Devon, it always feels like a partners-in-crime scenario in the best possible way.

Today is a full day with articles to be finished, interviews still taking place, and proposals to be put together. I have to give a quick bid today on a project that will need to be done soon, so that's the priority. I have two client calls, as well. Wow. That's one full Monday! Glad the headache was yesterday, though it still lingers today.

I was able to give a friend a much-needed hand on a big project. I hope it works out. I'd hate to be the cause of his not securing ongoing work. He's physically and mentally unable to handle one more thing right now, so I put my heart into it. Now I feel like my fingers are crossed harder than his may be.

So on to the work today, which starts in about 30 minutes with phone call number one. I'm working with a client and each team meeting call, I have to give a report. Frankly, I'm so spent from the weekend and last week's workload, I'm not focused enough to give a coherent one, so I have to get some notes down in the next few minutes. Then the article comes back out for final touches before I start in on the second one.

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends

Today is going to be nutso busy. I got an call from a friend in crisis, who needs backup on a project ASAP, plus I have a meeting that will take up most of the day (and one I'm looking forward to in order to escape the madness). I feel like I'm earning a vacation the hard way, but I'm only too happy to help a friend and meet with another. Besides, weekends are meant for rest, not Fridays.

Being able to help someone out during a rough period reminds me of how much help I've received from friends. It also makes me grateful to see these friends back and blogging:

CatalystBlogger: I missed you, Jen Williamson, but I've been following along on Facebook to your year of travel and adventure. What a story! So glad you're back among fellow writers.

Avid Writer: Your break was smaller, Kim Ben, but you were no less missed for it. I'm glad your short hiatus was ended with some phenomenal posts.

Everything these ladies write is worth noting, so just visit their blogs and soak in the wisdom.

Other posts that caught my attention this week:

How to Deal with Customer Complaints Sharon Hurley Hall provides the platform (and an excellent platform it is) and Dan Smith gives us a great post on getting it right.

The Conversation on Getting Started: Jen Williamson takes The Question one step further. See why I missed her?

Irregardless is Not a Word: Thank you, Julie McElroy, for saying what we've all been grinding our teeth about.

Which leads me to this cartoon, courtesy of my daughter, who knows me well:




Happy Friday, everyone. What links are you loving this week?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are You Partner-Worthy?

Pretty good day yesterday. I worked through another section of my article, lined up a few more interviews, had a conference call, and handled a few small client items. I got some marketing in, but not as much as I'd have liked.

The conference call was with dear chum Anne Wayman and another writer who's proposed an idea that could really boost our collective income stream. It might require a partnership, and that is probably the only thing making us all step carefully.

Partnerships are tricky. I've had plenty and I've been very fortunate every time. Devon Ellington and I partnered on a webinar (and I'm eager to do it again), and it was great fun. Anne and I started with a webinar, and we just clicked. It's all in how you choose.

If you're considering teaming up with another writer, designer, or any business person to increase your workflow, ask yourself this:

What's in it for everyone? Partnerships have to be mutually beneficial. What are you getting from it, and what will your partner require?

What are your motives? If your goal is to ride the coattails of your popular partner without really contributing anything, is that fair to your partner? Be honest with yourself, and with your partner. If the collaboration strongly benefits you but not him or her so much, bring it up. Find a way to brainstorm a solution now so that resentments don't build.

Can you share? That means can you share the profits, the workload, the kudos, and even the blame?

Are you married to your ideas? If so, go solo. No one can collaborate with a one-note who has to have the final word.

How will you divide up the work? Some are strong in design, others are strong in marketing. What do each of you have that will complement the other? Are both of you okay with a slight unevenness at times so long as the workload evens out in the long run?

How much do you intend to invest in the partnership? Every partnership requires time investments, but some may require monetary ones, too. How much are you both willing to contribute?

How will you resolve creative (or other) differences? In Anne's and my case, we call for outside help. It's rare when we don't see things the same way, but it does happen. That's when we bow to the opinion of a third party.

How will you work the finances? Currently, we're set up under a separate Paypal account for our About Writing Squared stuff, but it's getting to a point where someone (namely me) will be hit with tax bills thanks to Paypal's new policy of sending info to the IRS. That's why we're changing to a different payment system and setting up a joint partnership account at an online bank.

What do you really want from the partnership? How will working with this person enhance your business?

Have you partnered with anyone professionally? What, to you, makes a good partner?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Posse Clause

Yesterday was one of those one step forward, two steps back days. I had the entire day to write, or so I thought. However, phone calls, emails, and various oddities kept cropping up. I did get some work done on an article, but I felt like I was being dragged through the day backwards and without a pen.

There's an interesting debate going on over at the Five Buck Forum. A writer friend is using one of my contracts, and the discussion popped up around the "third party" clause. This is the clause in question:

Third Parties. This agreement is made between the Client and the Contractor and all decisions and discussions of the project described herein will be exclusive of any third party not expressly named herein. Any review or input of a third party directly or indirectly in the writing process by the Client without the written consent of both the Client and the Contractor prior to the start of the project will void this agreement and all fees contained in this agreement will be due the Contractor in full and immediately. The Contractor and Client can then opt to enter into a new agreement at an additional, agreed-upon fee, to include said third party(ies).

So basically, you can't bring in a posse at the eleventh hour and expect me to rewrite the entire project (for the same fee) based on their ideas. Why it went into my contracts --

  • It's unfair for clients to expect you to start over again when you've budgeted and priced for XX hours that's now turned into YY hours.


  • It helps you keep control of the stated project goals and phases without adding things to please Fred or Lucy, whom you've never talked to.


  • It allows clients to name their third parties at the outset, which allows you to rework the fee and timeline accordingly.


  • It avoids the "I need to make my friends happy" or the "My friends think you suck" scenario.


  • It also avoids the "I'm not paying you when I have them to do it for free" scenario.


  • Some of the writers think this clause is limiting to the writer. It's not. I don't run entire projects past other writers. Why? Because I'm paid to do the job. Also, I wouldn't ask a friend to review a whole project without paying them.

    Also, the language is clear - these parameters apply only to the client, not to the writer. And there's always the option of the writer agreeing in writing to a third party.

    I've had this contract in place for about five projects. In three of those projects, the clients decided to show it to someone else.

    The Design Stars. In one case, I'd finished the entire project and we were reviewing for accuracy. He sent back a document littered with corrections, huge sections removed, and these cryptic initials all through it. The initials turned out to be those of his friends, and he was keeping them all straight. They also had lots of advice for me -- "There's nothing eye-catching in the design." No kidding, since I'm not a designer and we were still editing. The contract was void and he ended up publishing exactly the document he'd first provided (with the same errors in them) and his friends got "fancy" and gave him pull quotes.

    The Pseudo-Expert. We'd made it to the final edits on the book manuscript. It was all sewn up. Until she said, "I ran it by this guy Joe because he's written a book. He thinks we need to refocus the entire thing. Oh, and he wants us to write this book instead..." Joe's claim to fame was a how-to book in an entirely different genre. This client's project was a book on female empowerment. Not exactly something "Joe" is an expert in. I warned her about Joe's involvement and the contract being void if he continues. She tried sneaking his changes by me. Buh-bye and pay up.

    The Fee Avoider. Yet another late-stage posse entry, this client used his "in-house editors" as a reason why the project was now "full of mistakes." His note to me was telling - he'd had his "editors" (which made me wonder....why hire me exactly?) go over the book and they think I didn't know what I was doing. So I spent a long weekend ripping that manuscript apart. The result - he fired me because he said I killed the "sprit" of his story. That was the entire problem with the project - he didn't accept any of my edits, then fussed up a storm when his "editors" found the problems that he'd allowed to stay because of his "sprit." He paid with a huge argument, but the posse clause saved me from someone who wasn't intending to pay at all.

    Would you use this clause in your contracts? Why or why not?

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    When There's No More Demand...

    Yesterday was blessedly slower than most of last week. I managed to get two interviews done, review a client proposal, and work on a side project. Appointments on my very full calendar vaporized. I was somewhat glad for it, though each postponed appointment does have to be rescheduled. Another day.

    Good friend and writing chum Kathy Kehrli, whose Screw You! blog is one of my favorites despite her not being able to blog for a while, sent over this link in a email titled "Something to make you smile." She knows me well, for I'm still grinning days later. The news: it would seem that Demand Media, purveyor of regurgitated schlock and the gatekeeper of writing purgatory, is in trouble.

    Having gone public last year, Demand stock went from an initial price of $17 a share up to $25. The price as of 2 pm Monday - $7.76. This after widely published announcements on Friday of the stock "soaring" in Friday trading.

    Why is Demand not, well, in demand? Well, supply and, er, demand. Google readjusted the way it ranks web page results last February, a month after Demand went public. To quote the San Diego Union-Tribune:

    "The revisions were designed to weed out low-quality content - a description that Google decided applied to some of the rudimentary articles written by thousands of Demand Media freelancers. The content appears on Demand Media's own websites, including eHow.com and Livestrong.com, as well as a long list of other publishers."

    Yes, they said it. Low-quality content. That would be the same content Demand has been touting proudly as "...high quality articles and videos..." Until Demand comes up with content that's of the quality Google expects, they will continue to lose page rank.

    Will Demand fail? I'm not psychic, but I do think any time you base your business model on undervaluing the end product (and those creating it), you're going to lose some customer love along the way. To build a business model that so undervalues it that a third party won't let you play with the big boys - that smells to me like trouble for the "media" company.

    Here are my reasons why I think content farms aren't long for this world:

    The writing is mediocre at best. Worse, I've often seen articles "written" for these sites that are mirror images of something found on a reputable site. I did a search last week on diverticulosis treatment. The articles from the "content" sites were shadows of those found on MayoClinic.com and WebMD.com. That's not journalism, nor is it helpful.

    The focus is on making money. For themselves. Sure, they tell clients on their sites that they can build a media presence and provide them with this "quality" content. However, the real focus seems to be on how many people they can underpay to write articles they can charge clients a lot more for.

    Writers are wising up. It warms my heart to hear writers say "I used to write for them" or "I wanted to, but I read something warning me off." The first one shows a writer who's realized a mistake, corrected it, and will spread the word to other writers just starting out. The latter is someone who got intervention before being sucked into the $5-article pit.

    Readers don't really need that much crap. How to Cook Yak articles (oh yes, they did) aren't exactly in high demand. Nor is one more article on how to wash your car, how to make an envelope, how to pass a drug test, or how to make cantaloupe balls. Also, readers expect the writing to have something new to offer, or at least be written coherently.

    Too many copyright laws are being ignored. I know more than one case of outright plagiarism, and I'm sure that's just scratching the surface. If the people in charge of vetting articles aren't, stolen content is going to get published. As was the case with an acquaintance's print book, sometimes the content being lifted includes large sections that are broken up into several "articles" that the "author" then gets five bucks per for. If nothing else, articles are being "reworked", which means someone's original content is being rephrased with relatively no work required of the "new author." It's still theft no matter what ribbon you wrap it in.

    Have you ever worked for a content mill? If so, how did you break free?

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Putting "Free"dom In Freelance

    Thanks to chum Cathy Miller for reviewing Marketing 365 over on her Simply Stated Business blog! I appreciate the review!

    How was the weekend? Mine was a mixture of lethargy and laziness - in general, pretty darned good. We had his office party on Saturday where I had the chance to really chat up some of his coworkers and their spouses. A really nice time. Yesterday, some errands, a little thinking about doing some painting in the bedroom, but a lot of avoiding it. We did get out to Washington Memorial Chapel in the park for a program on music in the time of George Washington. Nice, but a little to "precious" as he put it with too much theater interspersed with too little music. We crept out in the middle.

    This week I have two articles to finish, more marketing to conduct, and I meeting at a client location tomorrow. I also have a play date with Jenn Mattern, and I intend to go no matter what writing emergency arises. I don't mind emergency work, but there are times when it's okay for me to be unavailable.

    We touched on it briefly last week. How free are our freelance careers? Sure, we have flexibility in clients, projects, and hours, but are we somehow out of balance? At the beginning of my full-time freelance career, I remember working when the work was there and just puttering about when it wasn't. Those of you who have been doing this a while can guess where that led - eleventh-hour panic when I realized there were no checks coming in and no work lined up for the next month. I had to resort to temp agency work on one occasion. That's when I adopted my "market when you're busy" approach.

    However, that scare can lead to an even scarier situation - having more work than you have hours in a week. That's happened to me, but I'm pretty adamant about not working weekends, so only on rare occasion would I put in time on a Saturday and only if the project deadline were ridiculously short. So how do we balance?

    That depends on your goals. My goals are free weekends with no computer. I'd much rather be spending time with the husband than with an article interview or an editing job. If you prefer working all evening and keeping your days free, or taking Mondays off, etc., what will you need to get there? No matter what your goals, start here:

    Learn to schedule. I nearly typed "learn to juggle" because that's what you have to do to guard that time off. Start with deadlines. Prioritize from there, and make sure that other phases of your projects - like interviews and client calls - are worked into that priority list. For example, when I get an article assignment, I send out the interview requests the same day. I may be working on other things, but it takes just five minutes to answer an interview subject and get the interview on the calendar.

    Think like you're out. If you're used to weekends off, it seems to be easier to associate that time with no work. However, if you've decided Mondays and Tuesdays are your days, it's very easy to answer those client emails when you're supposed to be relaxing. Put up an "away" message if you must and definitely let all clients you're working with know you take those days off. It wouldn't hurt to let them know it's because you work on weekends when the interruptions are minimal. It sounds efficient.

    Don't chain yourself to the work space. This is one of my biggest problems. I'll sit here from 8 to 5 every day even when I'm not working. If you've done the work, done the marketing, and really have nothing left to do, it's okay to walk away from the computer. Really. You're not a paid employee and no one is watching you and judging. You work hard. Give yourself a break (note to self: heed your own advice).

    If you must, block the time off. As much as I don't like the "orderly" nature of it, I do schedule time off, even if it's in just my head. Normally, I keep quiet about my whereabouts, especially on a Friday. It's not uncommon for clients to disappear on Fridays, too. However, if I'm taking off a Tuesday, I'm apt to mention it, but only to those clients I'm working with currently.

    Give yourself permission to relax. You are the biggest obstacle to getting free time into your schedule. If you're working too hard, maybe it's time to raise those rates? Still, even at higher prices, your skills are in demand. It's okay to say "My time is already booked that day, but I can get to it the next day."

    How do you put the "free"dom back in freelance?

    Friday, February 17, 2012

    Giving Voice to the Voiceless

    Hop on over to Newton Ideas for a review of my Marketing 365 ebook.

    Yesterday was upheaval much of the day. I was still feeling under the weather thanks to an intestinal infection, so I was intent on taking it slow. Unfortunately, too many things conspired to keep that from happening. I was chipping away at a project that didn't require a lot of concentration, but I kept eyeing my bed. I managed to lie down for about five minutes before the world intruded, but it was a glorious five minutes.

    Recently I was working on a project for a client in which the author was clearly not a writer. His prose did have points, but there was a lot of conjecture, personal opinion, and personal beliefs professed, none of which had anything to do with the subject. What the best editors try to do is to enhance a piece without altering the voice of the author. But that voice? Suppose it's not there, or worse, it's so strong it borders being offensive? Here's how I manage to help those without a clear voice find theirs amid the noise:

    Pull out the factual stuff. By "pull out" I mean highlight it and save it. This is where the story's credibility is. In my author's case, he'd already presented the facts. I would have said it differently, but I'm not the author. Where it was grammatically correct to do so, I let his words stand.

    Removed conjecture. Statements like "I believe" or "there's a ton of research so it must be true" don't belong. Anyone who's been around research knows that you can pretty much prove anything given enough money and attention. If it's not factual, it doesn't stay.

    Kill the personal opinion. I didn't remove the "Here's what I recommend" language, because it wasn't forcing an opinion. It was sharing a recommendation, which can be ignored. This is someone with some authority on the subject, so recommendations are useful. What was cut were the "You have to do it this way" statements.

    Tone down beliefs. It's great to hold strong personal beliefs on politics, religion, music, etc. It's not great to profess your beliefs - which may not coincide with every reader's opinion - as part of a topic having nothing to do with that particular belief. It would be like giving a speech on lawn care and quoting Bible passages to prove your point. Or like writing a how-to manual on pedicures and peppering it with Republican policy. If it doesn't relate, it's reframed. For instance, mentioning spiritual wellbeing is okay in an article on mental health, but it's not okay to say that good mental health must include going to Bible study and Sunday services.

    Keep it relevant. To help authors appear more authoritative, remove the jokes, puns, and anecdotes that don't relate. In one case years ago, I had a client who mentioned his golf score on his resume. Another wanted everyone to read about her divorce proceedings in an article about eating for better health. If you're applying for a golfing instructor position, the score is absolutely relevant. If your divorce has nothing to do with your reduction of red meat, keep it to yourself.

    Have you ever worked with clients who need you to define their voices for them? Corporations? Individuals? How do you align your words with their voices?

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    Agreeable Disagreements

    Yesterday was a wad of busy wrapped inside a shell of chaos. I got plenty accomplished, but there's plenty more awaiting. I'm busy working on an emergency project today, plus I'm fighting off an infection that may require a doctor's visit. I have no time for that, so it may wait until tomorrow.

    I've been noticing an odd phenomenon occurring among people who are of opposing viewpoints. There's a sense of grind-you-to-dust vehemency in their responses to things they believe in or are against. The Internet and all the instant media communication seems to have made disagreements escalate into arguments and arguments escalate into attacks. Probably because we're separated by screens and bandwidth, we're saying a lot more than we should, and we're nasty about it.

    Over the years, I've been disinclined to talk to certain people about various topics because it's just an invitation for a challenge, a debate, and eventually some name-calling on the part of the challenger. It's middle-school behavior repackaged in adults, and it doesn't deserve my time.

    However, people can indeed have discussions and opposing opinions without belittling, shouting, or name-calling. Honest. In fact, a dear friend and I couldn't come to an agreement last week, but neither of us shouted or did anything other than think "Okay, now what?"

    Here are ways to avoid a disagreeable situation with clients and colleagues:

    Remove emotion. Hear the message, not the tone or the acidic qualities. What's he saying? He doesn't like that draft not because "you clearly didn't listen to what I was asking for" but because "it doesn't clearly define who our audience is, nor what our purpose is." The former you can't and shouldn't address; the latter is all that matters.

    Validate the opposing opinion. We all want to be heard. If you automatically say "You're wrong" without acknowledging the opinion beyond that, expect a fight. Instead, find that nugget of truth and call attention to it. "Yes, you have a point about the proliferation of rock stars who are former drug addicts. I think that's well documented, so you're correct." Then you can tell your side of the story - why all rock stars are not former drug addicts. You're now more likely to be heard.

    Get a mediator. In the case of my friend's and my stalemate, I asked a trusted colleague for her opinion. She gave us a super alternative that combined both our ideas, and we were relieved and could move forward.

    Know the motivation. Name-calling and demeaning language is deflection. Someone who resorts to those types of behaviors is usually insecure. Insecure people belittle others in order to feel important. That's something not worth responding to or even thinking twice about.

    If the person you're disagreeing with has a valid reason for doing so, it will show in the conversation. Stop. Think about your position and why you hold it. Consider the opposing opinion and what validity there is. Can there be a compromise?

    Refuse to engage. In some cases when someone is shouting and calling names, let them do what they will. The less you say, the larger the reflection is on the one making the charges. Understand that who you are is not defined by one person's outburst or accusation.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Worth-inducing Wednesday

    Nice day yesterday. It was slower - not at a standstill, but slow enough I could take my time getting back from lunch. I'm working on articles, messaging, and a potential editing gig.

    I'm also working on what may be a flu. I'm aching and my skin hurts. No fever, but there's definitely something going on.

    With Writers Worth Week a mere three months away, I decided to it's time to haul out the exercises specific to making better choices that earn you more cash. It goes without saying that the webinar Anne and I are putting together will help (that was my shameless plug for the day), but there are plenty of ways to change your habits and increase your earnings.

    This one comes from my e-book Marketing 365:

    Strategy #52. Slow down and listen.

    If you want that sale, stop selling. Take a breath and listen to the ideas and client suggestions that are all around you. Sometimes they’re hidden in emailed conversation, sometimes in face-to-face chats or on the phone. Suppose your client said he was a big blog reader, yet he himself didn’t have one. There’s your chance to suggest one.

    Tune in to listening to what’s being said, not on what you will say next. Use the information they’re giving you to create new selling features. Clients will tell you exactly what they need – in fact, they probably already have.

    Let me just add to this strategy a little -- clients respond best when you ask them questions about their business and respond as though you're already thinking it through for them. "So if you had to prioritize, what would be the most important thing you'd like to accomplish?" is a good question to start with.

    Also, I've had great success by listening, taking notes, then asking "How can I help you best?" That makes them feel you're on board already, and it's showing your interest in working with them the way they want to be worked with.

    How do you show clients you're listening?

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Things I Love About Freelancing

    Happy Valentine's Day! You're all my valentines this year. No better people in the world to share a virtual hug with.

    I finished a large article project, one that seemed to be getting longer instead of shorter as I wrote. I started on two others, and I got some marketing in before heading over to Facebook for the first time in a week.

    Valentine's Day plans - bowling. I'm not one to enjoy feeling like he or I should be shoved into dressing up, going out to eat, and have to shop for trinkets just because Hallmark says we should. So we started going bowling or out to play pool. It's such a great alternative, in my opinion. We go out to eat often anyway, and we profess our feelings every other day of the year. I'd rather spend that time doing the opposite (Rebellious? Moi?) and having fun.

    So on this day of forced togetherness and over-priced meals, don't concentrate on being forced to perform totally non-random acts of "love" like seals begging for sardines. Concentrate instead on those things in your life that are bringing you joy. That may be a mate, a friend, or hey, even a freelance career (love that segue?).

    Here are the reasons why I love my job. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comments:

    I love my hours. They're mine to control, to hoard, to work through or to fake my way through. I set them, I use them or abuse them to my own liking.

    I love the boss. Unlike the last one who didn't respect me as a team member, I think this current boss will work out. Sure, she's a bit mouthy some days, but she can be tamed with tea or chocolate (I would even accept chocolate-flavored tea). So I try to show her respect by honoring my boundaries.

    I love my clients. Okay, not all clients get the virtual hug, but so many clients are great to work with and they value my work enough to pay my invoice on time.

    I love being able to say no. Oh, you love it, too. You love being at that point in your career where you can turn down work that doesn't suit you. Go on - enjoy it.

    I love the look on people's faces when I say "I'm a writer." Isn't that the best feeling? They ask what you do and you smile and say it....and their eyes light up and they say "Wow! What do you write?" Okay, that's where I lose most of them, for who wants to hear "Oh, I write about exciting things like insurance and risk management articles!" but at least I have them for those few seconds.

    I love working in polka-dot socks. Today it's actually a pair of hiking socks (it's kind of cold in here right now), but I like not having to put on shoes. I dress up to some extent - clean clothes in case a delivery shows up - but I'm rarely wearing shoes unless I'm walking out the door.

    I love being creative. Yes, I know I write technical articles much of the time, but if you think it's not creative, you couldn't be more wrong. As I told a customs agent at the airport when he asked me if I did creative writing, it's all creative.

    I love earning a great living. If you'd told me nine years ago when I got into this full time that I'd be making more than the job I'd just been dumped from, I'd have had two thoughts - 1) no kidding since I'm grossly underpaid already, and 2) I'd have to see it to believe it. Well, I'm seeing it. And I'm a believer.

    What do you love about your freelance career?

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Guest Post: Your Freelancer Lifecycle

    Many thanks to good chum Jake Poinier (Dr. Freelance) for providing this example of blog post excellence. I had the distinct pleasure of sharing thoughts with Jake over some Starbucks swill back in December. He's as congenial, professional, and downright fun to be around as he comes across.

    About three weeks ago, Jake intrigued me with mention of a Freelancer Life Cycle (his trademark). I asked him to put his thoughts down and share with us. I love the idea of unconcious compentence, mainly because it's true. Leave it to Jake to give us a forehead-slapping "Ah ha!" moment.

    The Freelancer Lifecycle

    by Jake Poinier

    A few weeks ago, Lori posted on Double-duty Marketing--ways to market that make it easier for freelancers to increase their earnings with minimal effort. I commented that "marketing is inextricably linked to where you are in the Freelancer Life Cycle"...and today, she asked me to guest post on what exactly I meant by that!

    I've always embraced the concept of reaching the level of unconscious competence. There's more detail at that link, but briefly stated, it means moving from the point where you don't know what you don't know to understanding it so well that it's second nature. For the sake of applying it to freelancers, let's name some specific stages.


    1. Clueless. Starting out, we may be excellent writers...but often don't have the first clue about things like negotiating or marketing ourselves. You may not have a decent portfolio or know where to focus. That can result in "I'll take anything" syndrome, which is hazardous to morale and bank accounts alike. (I have no empirical evidence to prove it, but reckon this is the biggest cause of freelancers who boomerang back into a corporate job.)


    2. Business First. Now, you're starting to understand that you don't always have to say yes, and that you're a businessperson first, creative genius second. Pricing becomes easier, and you start to raise your rates. You begin to recognize the warning signs of clients from hell.


    3. Selective. This stage is a relief, and your mom probably isn't worried about you anymore. By now, you have a solid portfolio, maybe focused in one topic, or maybe scattered all over the joint. (That's me.) You're still having to hunt down a lot of your work, but the key is that you've identified the jobs that are profitable.


    4. Referral Heaven. You're spending the bulk of your time doing work rather than finding it. Confidence in your business acumen is on a par with your writing talent. You have tight relationships with a few graphic designers, editors, and other freelancers. And perhaps most important: If work slows down for some reason, you don't freak out--you just crank up the marketing machine a notch or two.


    Where are you in your freelancer life cycle, and how long did it take to get there?

    Jake Poinier blogs regularly as Dr. Freelance and runs an Phoenix-based editorial services firm, Boomvang Creative Group.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Removing Doubt

    Did you ever have one of those two-steps-forward, one-step-back days? Try four in a row. Yesterday proved to be as interrupted as the rest of this week. I finished a large project, but another one is due and every time I went near it, another must-do-now thing got in the way. I'm okay at juggling multiples, but for how long?

    Today is article day. I don't care if the house lights itself on fire - I'll type with the flames licking at my heels. My deadline is next week, but I have two more projects just handed to me (well, four actually) and I have to get those started and one out the door this afternoon.

    Yesterday, Wade Finnegan brought up what is probably the most common issue writers face: self-doubt. He said he still hears that voice - the one that says "Am I really worth that price?" Wade, so do I.

    Even the most hard-core of us have been cruising along in a fantastic career when suddenly the doubt appears. It comes up like bad tacos, too, leaving a sour taste and a nasty stomach. And from my own perspective, it's rare that it's valid.

    I had some pretty good years without doubts. Then not a year and a half ago, I worked with someone who questioned my every syllable so much that I began to think I was fooling myself. Here this person was going over every sentence but four in a huge article, and finding fault. Lots of fault.

    Luckily that feeling cleared itself up when the person in question pulled some really stupid moves that made me realize the problem wasn't necessarily on my side. But if I hadn't been around for as long as I had, I might not have seen the signs.

    So when you or someone else is parroting "not worthy" in your ear, how to you stop it?

    Look at your successes. You've had some, even if you're brand new to writing. Someone somewhere liked your work enough to compliment you. When you get notes praising your work, save them. I have a "Kudos" file I keep in my email for those times when I'm feeling like a useless piece of human flesh.

    Know that you're not pleasing everyone. At the same time this person was making me feel lousy, I received one of the best compliments from an editor, who said he thought my last article was excellent.

    Don't overlook hidden agendas. That compliment from the editor was when I realized the client who was giving me trouble may be doing so for some other reason than any lack of skill. There was an insecurity there, or there wouldn't have been as many edits and rounds of edits as we ended up suffering through.

    Understand why it gets to you. Clearly we freelancers are borderline codependents, wanting to please every client and tripping over ourselves for that repeat business. That sets us up for not being able to handle the "You're not all that" talk from unsatisfied clients. So what if the most difficult man you've ever worked with said you're really not that good at your job? We cannot control what others think, but we can control how we perceive our own talents and business skills. Does what he says upset you because you think he's right or because you jumped through hoops wasting tons of time and he still didn't like it?

    Validate yourself. Part of that does include looking over old thank-you notes and kudos, but it also includes mingling with your writer friends online or in person. Hang out with other writers. Share war stories, vent and brainstorm solutions, or just ask a trusted friend for some advice. Get that support group working for you when you need it most.

    How do you remove doubts, either self-imposed or client-related?

    Thursday, February 09, 2012

    A "Sorry" State

    I had what I thought was plenty of time yesterday to get two projects completed or close to it. Alas, the best laid plans...

    Another client project with an even tighter deadline came rolling in, so I had to drop things with longer deadlines to sort it out. Turns out the project ended up being delayed by the client, so the initial urgency disappeared as quickly as it came, but not before a few hours were chewed up.

    Fellow writer and friend Kimberly Ben has a great post up over on Avid Writer about Dealing With Difficult Clients. In it, she tells writers to stop apologizing endlessly for the same issue. Give it a read - a good reminder of how to handle demanding souls.

    Maybe it's our nature as writers or maybe it's something our mothers taught us about manners, but we tend to do a lot of apologizing. In personal settings, that's a good practice. In business, however, maybe not so much.

    That's not to say you shouldn't apologize if you make a mistake. It means you shouldn't spend all of your time saying "I'm sorry" as a preface to everything else. Here's when you should say you're sorry:

    When you forget it, botch it, or lose it.

    Here are the times you should retrain yourself not to apologize:

    When stating your rate. It's never okay to say something like "I'm sorry, but my rate is double that." Cut out the first three words of that sentence and start over.

    When defending your rate. Which would you not argue: "I'm sorry, but I get that rate because I have the skills and experience to back it up." or "I get that rate because I have the skills and experience to back it up."?

    When your client flips out. I've had a handful of clients go a little berserk due to either misunderstandings or personal issues of their own. To say "I'm sorry" when someone has just accused you of being a lousy writer, a liar, a cheat, or anything at all is to give them more fuel - they now believe you have something to be sorry about. In one case, a client gave me a verbal lashing because I wasn't able to rewrite an article and do three interviews within his ridiculous two-hour time limit. When he started snapping about how unprofessional my work was, my response wasn't "I'm sorry, but you didn't give me enough time." Instead, I said, "That's because the time constraints were such that I couldn't complete the job with my usual quality."

    When you're not really sorry. If you know you're not at fault, don't accept blame. Simply say something akin to you're not happy with the situation either and that you have a few suggestions to get things back on track. If the client has made it impossible for you to do your job correctly, the apology shouldn't be coming from you. However, don't demand one of the client. It doesn't matter as you won't be working with that one again.

    When do you resist the urge to apologize?

    Wednesday, February 08, 2012

    Random Smells

    I had a productive work day yesterday. Since all of Monday's fires were out, I was able to concentrate on two projects instead of the twelve I was juggling the day before. When I say twelve, I don't mean twelve clients. I mean twelve separate things that were either part of a larger piece or one entire project. Most were newsletter pieces, but there were plenty of other must-have-it-today things that weren't. So yesterday I was able to put time into an article that's due and a proofing job that's also due. Plus I talked over a few new projects with a few editors. One in particular appeals -if it works out, I'll get some travel in.

    Had an interesting email from a complete stranger yesterday. He called himself a researcher and ghostwriter, then he complimented me on my superb blog. Only trouble was it wasn't my blog he listed. While I agree with his calling that other blog superb, he'd already lost me before he'd pitched a single thing. Some researcher. But oh, it gets better....

    He's about to publish a book in April. His birthday month, he says. It's a self-help book and he wants me to contribute because "I feel your inputs would be of great value to my ebook." Spelling aside, he adds that this book will show writers how "to sell yourself as an writer/author with specific focus on freelance websites such as elance." And this gem: "As a token of appreciation, I will include copy marketing your services and directing to your website in the book."

    Clearly he does not read this blog.

    Appreciation isn't going to pay my dentist bill, nor is it going to land me another job. Neither will copy inside an unknown book by an author who's already making grammatical mistakes. That kind of appreciation I'd rather do without, thanks.

    And Elance? How much would you bet that the "freelance websites" he's not mentioning include some of our more notorious content farms?

    Even more interesting was the Google results on this guy my friend forwarded, which turned up the following: He "speed dates, plays the guitar, has Microsoft's Silverlight installed but 'I have no clue wat it does,' says his birthday is in November, not April, and his hobbies are 'Tweeting BSs and being happy.'"

    Not quite sure why someone would lie about the birthday, but it's yet another red flag in a Flag Day parade. And here it is only February.

    Delete.

    Maybe it's time to repeat my BS Litmus Test parameters:

    The Project - Is it something I believe in? Can I get excited about it? Is it worth taking on as described?

    The Payment - Has the client asked "What's your rate?" or said "Here's what we're paying you"? If it's the former, he's in. If it's the latter, it could be a deal-breaker.

    The Payoff - Is the payoff equally distributed between client and writer? If not, why not?

    The Goals - Does the client have a handle on what he/she wants? Can I get the client's goal down to one or two sentences? Does it make sense? When I repeat it back, does the client agree?

    The Communication - Does it take a week to understand what this client wants? Can the client answer my pointed questions in a way that I get what he's trying to do?

    The People Involved - Can I get a verbal, and then a written confirmation of the involved parties and what their roles are? Is there a sense that this person will drag in a pile of people in the middle of the project that I'll be expected to answer to?

    Obviously, the "offer" that came to my in box wasn't worth considering or draining thought time with beyond giving me post fodder. But there are those projects - and you've been faced with them, too - that are gray around the edges and lack any clear signs of goodness or badness.

    What's on your BS test?

    Tuesday, February 07, 2012

    The Encore Juggling Act

    Some days are like turbo-charged freight trains. That was my day yesterday. Before noon, I'd handled eleven things on my to-do list and scheduled two more for that afternoon. I had a client call, three email updates, four newsletter articles, a press release, a huge file to coordinate and send, and a proofing project to start. At least five of those had to be done before noon.

    That's when my lists come in handy. Thanks to my sick obsession with deadlines and my need for lists, I didn't forget anything.

    After the list is made, it's just put the head down and plow forward.

    Today isn't going to be much better. I have a huge project to get done in a week, a client meeting to schedule and then find time for, an article to start (and finish), and marketing. So how do you get it all done and not drop anything in the process? Here's what works for me:

    Lists. Oh, I love a good list. I love knowing what I'm doing, what I should be doing, what I'm not doing, and what I've done already. Mine are on paper and sometimes they make it onto Outlook if it's far enough out.

    Prioritized lists. Even better. For me, this is usually quickly written bullet points with numbers beside them - #1 for the first thing, #2 for the second....

    Updates. I send a few clients weekly updates on my progress or my activities. This helps me organize what I've done and what I should be doing. It also helps them see where their money is being spent. I usually list what I've completed and what I'm planning for that week.

    Multitasking. During the conference call, I was able to jot down my list, organize my thoughts in an email update, and answer one email with a short, one-sentence response. I still heard everything that was discussed because I kept my focus on what they were saying. I just managed to take use pregnant pauses as times to jot quickly or to type.

    Ignore phones and Internet. Easy one. I turn off the ringer (I can still hear it ringing in the kitchen) and turn off my email if I can. I don't go near my usual blog or website haunts until the must-dos are out of the way.

    Say no to interruptions. Both young people were home yesterday, but I warned them off any conversations or "Hey, got a minute?" stuff until after 5 pm. If you're not paying, I'm not able to help you until after hours, even if you're related.

    How do you get through a large to-do list effectively?

    Monday, February 06, 2012

    When Looks Matter

    Great weekend again. Too short, of course, but we packed a lot into two and a half days. First the stepdaughter's birthday party Friday night, which was a lot of fun. Then we spent Saturday going in different directions as he was tied up with her wedding planning and I was busy trying to sort out a closet in the basement. Sunday we got outside, driving to a local fish hatchery where we saw no fish, but a dog on the property made friends with me while he (husband, not dog - thanks, Allena!) peered through a birding scope. Then off to Molly Maguire's for Irish music, which was fantastic yesterday.

    I watched the Super Bowl, but on Tivo and mostly for ads, which were meh. Too much hype and expectation makes it obvious the advertisers are eventually going to have troubles living up to those expectations.

    I'm touching base with a potential client today, who received a proposal of mine a few weeks ago. He wants to talk about specifics and get something in the planning stages. He'd asked for my proposal three weeks ago and I gave him something that got his attention - a formal proposal.

    A formal proposal is a great way to increase the level of your business and the impression you leave with clients. It's not hard - in fact, Word has a template or two to help you. It's much more serious to hand a client a four-eight page game plan with pricing than to send an email stating "I'll charge you $XXX an hour for articles, press releases, blog posts..." Here's why I use a formal proposal:

    It shows the scope of the work. It's great to show your clients exactly what you and that client discussed. It also gives the client time to change and amend before any contracts are signed.

    It shows additional work you can provide. No more "You do press releases? I didn't know or I wouldn't have hired someone else" conversations. It also gives them some new ideas on how to get their message out. Sometimes clients don't consider a project because they're not sure how to go about it.

    It makes you look good. If you take it seriously enough to map it out, your clients and prospective clients will notice. When they refer you, you'll be that "organized" and "professional" writer.

    It allows you to compete with the big boys. Imagine your client is deciding between a marketing firm and you. You appeal because your price is probably lower (less overhead), and you're able to take projects as they come, not requiring huge commitment of time and money. What's going to help them decide to go with you? That proposal that makes you a serious contender, not "just" a freelancer.

    It brings your price up. The more tools you can use to position yourself as a serious business owner, the more value you bring to your business and your career. That translates into a competitive rate.

    From my experience, formal proposals don't work with every client. There are some situations when you can sense that the client is price shopping or not quite serious enough about hiring someone for you to justify putting the extra time into it. But for clients who are ready to buy, it could be one more factor that tips the scales in your favor.

    Do you use formal proposals? If so, do you prepare them for every client? What is your typical proposal process like?

    Friday, February 03, 2012

    Friday Fun and Frolick

    Let's just say I've worked myself sick this week (and have the nasal congestion to prove it), so I think today's a good day to slow it down a little. I have some projects to complete, but I'm waiting on a few return calls, so things are stalled until that happens. I fully intend to meet a good friend for lunch today and talk about writing, relationships, and just plain girl stuff.

    So instead of what makes my head explode (besides a blowing a stuffy nose), I think it's time to look around the Internet for some stuff to discuss or be entertained by.

    One reason why some clients may not pay you:
    Paidlancer? I love Clients from Hell anyway, but this one resonated. It could be why some of us aren't seeing those overdue checks.

    Pathetic excuse for a human award:
    Man adopts girlfriend. That's not a typo. He adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend. Why? Was she sick? Was it an act of charity? Hardly. The attorneys allege he was trying to protect his assets (he's quite wealthy). See, he's up on charging of vehicular homicide for killing a young man while driving drunk.

    Cool phrases if you're Snoop Dogg:
    Top Ten Things that Sound Cool When Said by Snoop Dogg. I especially love #1.

    Love of the week:

    Going Bigger with Nothing. Carrie Link shows us it's okay to just sit on your keister. And I love her for it.

    What Fridays should be for:














    What's making you smile or talk today?

    Thursday, February 02, 2012

    My Business, Your Business

    Yesterday was a bit of a blur. I was here, but I wasn't here. I'm working like mad to finish up two rather large projects by tomorrow, so my day was end-to-end work. It felt good. I'll be done in time, but I'm one who would rather get done early and have some wiggle room than put it off until my back's to the wall and something goes wrong.

    I will say that a surprisingly short turnaround time on one project (the biggest one, naturally) had me kicking it into hyper-speed. I'd had the project in my hands maybe three days and was chipping away at it. The added pressure forced me to think faster. The result - my thoughts somehow became clearer. Weird how that happens.

    Today is more of the same, though I'm well ahead of the work at this point. I'm about to get another large project in, so the more I do now, the less I stress later.

    Did I mention I'm sporting a cold?

    I did have a spare minute or two to discuss rates and things with another freelancer. Where she lives, the cost of living makes it possible to live really well on $30K a year. If I tried that where I live, I'd be eating the cardboard my generic macaroni would come in. Our cost of living is ridiculously high (in my small-town opinion), so $30K wouldn't begin to cover what I need.

    In a separate conversation with another writer, I realized my truth about needing a résumé isn't her truth. She doesn't use one and doesn't need to. I do. If I didn't have one, I wouldn't be able to land the corporate crowd I target. Her clients aren't asking.

    I say all this to illustrate a point - what's true for me may not be true for you. Before you say "Duh", hear me out. I'm about to hit you with one more obvious statement - businesses are different. No one rule applies to everyone.

    Okay, say it in unison - "Duh."

    It is obvious, but how many of your so-called experts disagree? Plenty. The Internet is choking with advice that fits one person, but frankly stinks for another person. Yet if they're calling themselves experts, the crowds will follow blindly.

    So I suggest this. The next time anyone says "You must do this" (including me), measure the advice against these parameters:

    Has this been my truth? I can tell you all day you need a résumé, but if no one has asked you for one, is that really what you need? Likewise if someone says you have to have an accountant, an agent, a land line, a blog, etc. If you don't see a real need for it, it's not for you.

    How would this change my business for the better? Would having a blog bring in more business, or are the clients you're trying to attract more of the offline sort? What about a website? Frankly, I think every writer should have a website, but I'm not every writer. If you can convince me you're working like mad without one, I'll let that one go.

    Would the impact of doing this help or harm me? If you took a week to put together a stellar brochure and paid a thousand to print it, is that an investment that will pay off? If you score one gig, probably. But if you don't, you've wasted your time and money. Weigh every factor involved - who do you send to? How much can you earn in one gig from one new client? Does that justify the time and cost? Will having a blog help you find new clients, or will your strong opinions or lackluster posts make you look unapproachable or incompetent?

    Do I trust the messenger? It's tough to know if you've just discovered this messenger that the advice is given without hidden intent or with any type of authority. If you came across Joe Shmoe's site and he was going on about how every writer must take a copywriting course to increase income, how do you know Joe isn't selling courses? Likewise if someone decides they're now an expert. Where did that expertise come from? Is it actual expertise or an embellished background? Do some research. Know whom it is you're following before you take any advice verbatim.

    How do you measure what's right for your business?

    Wednesday, February 01, 2012

    Putting the Customer Back into Customer Service

    Happy birthday to my oldest! He's a handsome, good soul, and the source of his mother's pride.

    It never fails. When you can least deal with it, something is going to need to be dealt with. That goes for work and now mattress delivery.

    I paid for it - the delivery. I scheduled it. I waited. No mattress. Since the delivery was to be between 5 -9 pm, I decided that it wasn't coming when 9:15 rolled around. So I opted to call the store in the morning.

    No need. They called me. I can't even begin to explain the amount of confusion the man on the phone was experiencing. He had a mattress set in his office with my name on it, yet he had a delivery confirmation from his delivery company saying my husband signed for it. And here I was saying it had never arrived.

    Apparently this guy isn't very good at triage because he couldn't see that the facts were what he should have been paying attention to. Clearly, the mattress wasn't delivered (it was sitting in front of him). Clearly, the customer is wondering where the hell it is. Clearly, the delivery people screwed up. End of story, right? Oh, ye of too much faith....

    He actually asked me why I hadn't called the store to ask where it was. Um, because you're not open yet (he called at 9:20- they open at 10). And because the chances of getting someone at that service desk at 9:30 pm is nearly impossible. So he decided he had to call the delivery company and talk to them.

    Two hours later, we get a call back. The delivery company is still insisting it was delivered, but by now the store personnel aren't buying that story. They rescheduled delivery for last night. And they gave us direct extension numbers so we could easily check with the store to make sure it's been picked up for delivery. It arrived yesterday at five, one full day after it was promised.

    I tell you all this not to bore you, but to point out how a little customer service can go a long way. The gent at the store was cordial - confused, but cordial. And when we got the call back, it was obvious they were rooting for us, not for their delivery company. Since I'm writing an article about outsourced services at the moment (how ironic), it stands out to me just how quickly things can deteriorate for customers when the companies they buy from don't/can't manage their suppliers.

    As writers, we're lucky. We have a shorter line going from us to our customers. However, we can still screw it up if we're not paying attention. Here's how to please your customers and show you care:

    Put customers first. Always. If you've ever had to stand in line and be ignored while sales clerks carry on conversations with coworkers or you lodge a complaint and they try telling you how it's your fault, you know that even a smidgen of concern from a business can go a long way. Conduct your business dealings with one thought - how it will impact your customer and how you can make and keep them happy.

    Don't promise if you can't deliver. The mistake this company made was promising same-day delivery. Here I sit two days later... If you think there's a chance you'll miss that deadline, say so as soon as you can.

    Answer them. Don't avoid problems by letting them go to voice mail. Call them back, reply to their emails, and let them know they matter.

    Fix it. Even the best situations come with issues. Instead of wasting time defending yourself or trying to affix blame to someone or something, apologize. Then fix it.

    Do unto others. Put yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were the one with the concern or upset, how would you like it to be handled?

    How do you make customers happy? When was the last time you had a bad customer experience? When was the last time you had a good one?
    Words on the Page