Monday, April 30, 2012
How was your weekend?
I finished last week feeling rather proud of myself. I worked on not one, but four client projects Friday alone. One is a client article, so that work is just beginning, but I did a little research and studied the company's previous newsletters to make sure I would present it as they're expecting it.
I received also an offer. Of employment. It came from a conference contact I'd made at last year's conference. And it came out of the blue. I was shocked. I spent the weekend mulling it over, too. The universe has sent a total of three offers this month. I'm starting to think there's a message there.
While I get that they want a full-time contract person, I think I can handle the job without a 40-hour-per-week commitment. I have so much other work I've cultivated that I can't give them 40 hours a week if I wanted. What I do have to give them are the very hours they need me. I'm about to propose to them why that's more cost-effective for them.
It's that time again. Time to examine the hows and whys of the career and marketing. Let's just say it was a slow month. Too much of it was spent ramping up for the conference, but given the immediate results already, I'm not going to hang my head in shame over it. In fact, I'm going to love reporting May's activity.
But for now, we're still in April. So here's the deal:
I sent a few to magazines, but not many, and none have netted anything yet. I knew it would be nuts pre- and post-show.
Just a handful -- maybe six. I'd sent so many in March that by the time April got here, my dance card was full.
I reached out to one client whose project is due to come in. I got the timing, so I know what my next few weeks will look like.
This was my best category this month. Post-show I've heard from five clients wanting either immediate projects or proposals/further conversations about upcoming projects. Plus I got a note from the contact I'd made at the previous conference.
None this month.
Slim, but it's what I expected. The companies and publications I work with were busy getting ready for the conference, which is the biggest one in the industry. My usual article ideas are still sitting on the desks of two editors.
I'm below half my target this month. Since I did so well the first three months of the year, I'm not worried at all. I had a lot saved that my IRA ate, but I've no immediate expenses to handle.
There was no way to hit the marketing as hard as I did and get work in prior to the show. I wouldn't change a thing because the long-term payoff promises to help me exceed my monthly goal for a number of months to come.
What about you? What did your efforts net this month?
Friday, April 27, 2012
What's on the iPod: Summer Sun by Jukebox the Ghost
Good day yesterday. I conducted one interview, one client marketing materials critique and follow-up discussion, and pounded out a customer case study. I love being busy. LOVE it. Today, I'm continuing with the case studies, putting together a proposal for some new client projects, and starting an article for another new client. The conference has netted three new clients in as many days. It was a good business decision!
Yesterday's comments about overcoming the Catch 22 (the no experience/ no opportunities without experience dilemma) were fantastic. It made me think that perhaps new writers --and those longing to leave content-mill work behind -- would like to see some of the what-to-do-first items when launching (or relaunching) the career. Some of the things I wish I'd have known at the beginning or would have done would be these:
Accept that you're now a business owner. If you're a writer working for yourself, you're also a business. Every negotiation, project decision, and client communication should go first through the business filter -- Is this good for my business? Conversely, none of those decisions should go through an emotional filter -- What if my rate's too high? What if they don't like me? I'd say the only emotional filter should be the one that decides if the project or client business practices pass muster with your own moral code.
Make your own samples. Cathy said it. I've said it. Devon's said it. Hell, anyone in the career for any length of time has said it. Don't work for free, don't work for "exposure" (that's not happening), and don't work for peanuts. Work for free for yourself. Create sample brochures, newsletters, articles, etc. Put them on your site. Use them as samples to get you the better-paying stuff.
Figure out your hourly rate. I've posted how a few times, as has Jenn Mattern on All Freelance Writing. If you know what you need to make and what you want to make beyond that need, you'll come to your hourly rate. Without it, you should even think of conducting business. Seriously.
Never work without a contract. Ever. The contract protects you from deadbeat clients, scope creep, and miscommunication that could double your work. Every job should have a contract. Period.
Expect to market. That's the part many of us didn't get at first, but it's essential to business survival. You should be reaching out to potential clients every day. Don't let that concept scare you; reaching out by email, Twitter, LinkedIn, phone, and Facebook all count. Get in front of potential clients and chat them up. Send a letter of introduction convincing them, as Devon often puts it, that they can't live without you. Spend a few minutes every day (more in the beginning -- it will take up most of your time at first) researching client companies and finding out where your ideal clients hang out.
Know what you want to do. Sounds simple, but if you don't have even a basic idea of the direction you'd like to take -- press releases, articles, resumes, newsletters -- you're going to be approaching your marketing in the same way you'd throw darts at a dartboard while spinning in circles. It's going to be too random for anything to stick. Pick something that interests you: a few article ideas, copy writing gigs, proofreading jobs, etc. Then go out and research clients who would need whatever it is you're selling.
Grow a business backbone. This is something I wish I'd had at the beginning. The sooner you learn to stand up for your business, your rates, and yourself, the sooner you'll gain the confidence it takes to handle the most difficult clients.
Embrace your own worth. Your work has value. Your skills aren't shared by everyone, which makes you, the writer, a commodity. Don't settle for less than your hourly rate without a fair negotiation and having the client give something too, like an upfront payment or an agreement for more than one project.
Writers, what do you wish you'd known at the beginning?
Thursday, April 26, 2012
What's on the iPod: Bittersweet by Feist
Yesterday was an interesting mix of marketing, communications gone awry, and paying out what I don't have. A few marketing notes back to conference attendees confused the recipients. Can't go into detail, but let's just say in one case, my attempt to repeat back a humorous exchange failed when the client forgot he'd even said it. Daughter's car needed fixing. She's working as a waitress, so when the $1,600 bill came in, I was tapped to help. Had I not just paid taxes...
Anyway, Daughter came home from yet one more interview in which she was told she needed experience before she'd be hired. What steams me about this particular interview -- it was with a temp agency specializing in placing college grads into entry-level positions. Someone somewhere sucks at sticking to the company's core focus. Clearly, the person telling her this has no real clue what the job market is like for college grads. Shameful, if you ask me, since it's their entire business model.
There she is in a Catch 22. She can't advance in any career because she can't find anyone who will hire her and give her experience. Yet she's over-qualified (or so she's been told) for positions that could get her in the door. This from the internship company she worked with -- he said he was doing her a favor because she was too smart and talented for the receptionist job (he's right-- she's smart, talented and driven). My daughter is probably wondering why she spent so much money to get a piece of paper that's proving to be the biggest barrier to her career. She wants to prove herself at something, yet no one will give her the opportunity. Unless, of course, she wants to be in sales. There's no shortage of low-paying sales jobs.
Sounds a bit like freelancing, doesn't it? When we're first starting out, we can't find decent work. Clients who would pay what we're worth won't because they're not seeing the beefy portfolio to back it up. The jobs open to us seem to be nothing but content mills, free-exposure gigs, and work that pays less than you'd tip a waitress. In other words, garbage.
So how do any of us overcome the Catch 22 career rut?
Build samples. Please don't take this to mean "Work for free" or "Take to the content mills." No way you should do either. I know some people say it's fine to work for free. I say if the person you're working for makes money off your work, so should you. The exception -- nonprofits, and only those you choose to volunteer your skills toward.
Instead, you should be creating samples to put on your own website. Clients want to see how you'd write that press release, brochure, article, etc. That's the only free writing I advocate -- writing for yourself in order to advance your career.
Find a friend. In my daughter's case, she has a mother who's asking around and trying to help her find someone who can give her a leg up.This company she'd just interviewed with was one of those contacts. This may still work out for my daughter (this was the company manager who condescended to her, not the recruiter). Meanwhile, she's still reaching out to anyone who will listen.
For you, ask within your circle of friends and family, and also within your writing community. Where are some good starting points? Who has had luck with what starter opportunities? Who needs someone to collaborate on a project so you can get a clip?
Find alternative ways to get the experience. My daughter has just become my intern (a paid one). I'll have her work with me and for me to help her build her resume. There are more ways to skin a cat, I say. If it's experience they think she needs, she'll get it right here at home. Plus I have marketing friends she can shadow for a day or two to answer any more questions.
For you, try blogging or guest posting for some of the blogs you frequent. Please, make sure they are ones you frequent -- if you're not a regular or even semi-regular, you've no right to ask to speak to the blogger's audience. You don't know it.
How about creating and posting an e-newsletter? Or start your own blog on your topic area? Use social media tools to get the word out (but don't be obnoxious about it). Grow it organically and use the content as proof you can write.
Those starter opportunities. My daughter has been offered countless internships -- unpaid, of course. Instead, she chose to muck it out at the restaurant and stick to her plan to find a decent-paying entry-level job with a company smart enough to hire a bright young woman. I applaud her choice, because I think the unpaid internship has become the real-world version of our infamous "free exposure" gig. Companies have figured out how to get free labor, and I think it's slimy. However, I digress...
For you, you don't need to take the slimy free-exposure gigs, either. Here are some great places to start -- local newspapers, regional magazines, resume companies, local charities (if you're okay with donating some time in exchange for the clip, but do check to see if they're willing to pay), overflow work from writers you know who are busy... the list goes on. No matter where you are, there's someone needing help who can pay a decent rate for it.
Writers, how did you overcome the Catch 22?
New writers, what seems to be your biggest obstacle right now?
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
What's on the iPod: Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford & Sons
That's more like it -- I spent yesterday actually getting out some portfolios to my conference contacts. The morning was nuts; we had a meditation monk staying over and the check-engine light on his car was flashing like mad. Luckily, it was a $70 issue caused by squirrels (would you believe walnut shells in the spark plug compartment?) and not an expensive transmission issue. That took most of my morning, as I had to get breakfast on the table, take him and his car to the mechanic, answer emails, prepare lunch, then take him back. But all was well by 1 pm and I was able to get back to mailing out portfolios.
With the portfolios, I'm doing things slightly differently. I created an electronic portfolio (nothing more than a PowerPoint slide show with clickable links) and sent it rather than killing trees and creating more waste with the portfolio booklets I usually use. And I have my first client thanks to the show -- we're talking specifics today.
I was thinking back to my first courses in journalism. We're taught how to put together the news story (who/what/when/where/how/why), how to interview sources, how to stick to certain journalistic ethics.... but there are some things that J school doesn't teach you:
Someone somewhere is going to want to bend the rules. I've had people ask me to rewrite existing content (not mine or theirs) to create "new" content. I've been asked to write term papers, write articles that featured clients (and not tell the editors? Are you nuts?), lift copyrighted images, or blatantly blast competitors by name. None of which I will ever agree to. I've heard "But it's not journalism -- it's marketing." It's still wrong. They will ask -- you already know your answer.
Sometimes being right is still wrong. File this under "the customer is always right even when he's not." Sometimes you can do the job exactly as discussed only to find it's not acceptable. I remember a client once telling me exactly what she wanted. I delivered it to the letter. Nope, not right. So we discussed it on the phone and again I delivered what she asked for. Apparently, two strikes and you're out for she didn't like it and didn't want to try again. I was her fourth writer. The problem wasn't necessarily that I was wrong, but that perhaps she didn't know what she wanted.
Not everyone thinks you're worth being paid properly. That's true in a full-time job too, but no more true than at the freelance level. Most of your clients, if you choose wisely, will appreciate your skill and will compensate you fairly for it. However, there are still those "employers" who think paying you with ad revenue or giving you free exposure is all you deserve.
There's opportunity in every contact. I learned about interviewing sources. What I learned later was that those sources could be, for any writer, a great contact for future stories or future work. So far in my shortish freelance career, I have worked with no fewer than a dozen interview subjects who became clients (some are still clients seven years later). I can't tell you how many interview subjects gave me countless ideas for more articles. Treat every person you talk to as a colleague and a business friend.
What are some things you've learned along the way that no school could have taught you?
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
What a day. I couldn't have done any more that had nothing to do with marketing or contacting conference people if I'd intended to. I had a few minor client emergencies, a few interviews, and an impromptu meeting that completely threw me off kilter. It wasn't until 3 pm before I got to responding to conference people.
I was talking with another freelancer, who was asking about following the advice of others. I'm an advocate for listening, but heeding your own internal voice. However, I've seen writers -- some of them quite successful on the surface -- start to sink. In a few cases, I'd be willing to bet that sudden decline is because as these writers were following the best advice they thought they could find, they were ignoring something major -- themselves.
Not sure if you're losing yourself? If any of these examples fit, the answer could be yes.
Follow blindly. I've had other writers preach to me (and to their other friends) that you have to market a certain way, blog a certain way, mimic the "experts" to a tee, etc. That works at first, but guess what? What works for Fred may not work for Wilma. Maybe that's what Robbie Burns meant about best laid plans.
Forget your own personality. As you're busy following that super-special expert, are you remembering to tailor that message to fit your style, not hers? If you expect your audience to find one ounce of sincerity in your message, you need to tweak that message to reflect who you are.
Rely on gimmicks. I've stopped reading blogs that have those screaming headlines, empty promises, failure to deliver on the promised message, etc. Why? Because the content wasn't really content -- it was just shouting and fancy fonts. Stop listening to someone else's idea of what makes a great blog post. Just write from your heart. And God help you if you're using that same tactic to attract clients.
Over-promotion. I've seen plenty of people get this one wrong. Some are friends who have no idea I started -- or stopped -- following. If you send me more than one message a week that's attempting to part me from my money, I'm done listening. My freelancer friend said in one case, she was hit with five messages in 24 hours. Why? Because she'd signed up for a webinar. I had to laugh -- I'd read the same marketing piece that said people have to be told time and again about the webinar. No. No, they really don't. I don't need one more signup that badly that I'll risk offending everyone else.
How do you see writers losing themselves?
Monday, April 23, 2012
Do all Mondays come with little surprises that need more brain power than humans are capable of at the start of the week? Logging in here today proved interesting. Blogger, where this blog is hosted, now has a completely new format and is no longer compatible with my browser of choice: IE8. Don't say I need to upgrade to IE9 as it's not compatible with plenty of websites. I'm not a fan of Google Chrome. However, Google is now forcing me to use it in order to access my blog. Or I can upgrade to one I hate or use Firefox, which is okay but not great.
Time for me to evolve, I guess.
The weekend was meh. I got into the garden Saturday and struggled to get the weeds out. It hadn't rained in close to two months, so the ground was hard, cracked, and impossible to dig through. It's bad when the onion grass dies! I had to rescue my daughter, too. Her beloved Jetta developed a mechanical "head cold" and started coughing as she drove home from work. It's something minor, the mechanic assured us, so she should have it back today. Neither of us can complain about its performance -- at 207K miles, it's been fantastic. I can count on one hand the number of repairs I've put in it since it was new. She can do better. She's owned it three years and put just $90 into a new coil pack that we changed out ourselves. Volkswagens can be great little cars.
Then there was hockey. Friday was a great game, but yesterday's game was sluggish. The teams were worn out and frankly, the ice didn't look "fast." My team lost, which didn't exactly thrill me, but I'd have been less depressed had it been a good game to watch. It was just plain boring. However, congratulations to Flyers fans -- well fought series otherwise, and a great series to watch and be part of.
Then the rain came. Oh, did the rain come! It started Saturday night with a heavy downpour that blew in for about 30 minutes, then disappeared. However, that was the precursor. Yesterday was an all-day rain, the one we've been needing. Right now it's overcast and in the 40s, but hopefully more rain will come tonight. I'd be quite happy with a four-day rain as some areas around me are getting (it's a Nor'easter), but we're expected to see sun maybe today and certainly tomorrow. This again could be worse -- my parents, who live on the other side of PA, are expecting 6 to 12 inches of snow. Having grown up there, I know that April is unpredictable in general. Never trust that first warm day to last!
Today's to-do list includes finishing up and sending out my portfolio to conference contacts. I've decided to go electronic this year. However, I intend to send written thank-you notes accompanied by my business card and a brochure. I want to send them something they can hold physically. Handwritten notes leave a good impression.
So how many points of contact to make with potential clients? Here are my points:
Initial email. The introduction letter goes out this way. I send it this way because it's less formal for me. I can get a little more personal, slightly casual (but never overly so), and talk to clients instead of present to them.
Follow-up email. If they've responded or not, I will follow up. Usually I give them a month before trying again. If they respond, I try to get something scheduled as soon as possible.
Initial meeting. Sometimes in person, most often on the phone, I'll talk with them. Even putting a voice to a name helps sometimes.
Next follow-up email. That quick thank-you note often includes the things we've talked about, along with mention of any additional materials or clips they've requested. If I can't attach them, I'll mail them.
The mailed thank-you note. I just like to add this for the personal touch. It's also going to accompany any materials I'm sending.
Still another follow-up email. If I've mailed it, I've made an excuse to follow up on it. "Did you receive the materials? Do you have any questions?"
I can't end the points of contact list here because the list doesn't really end. Once I've established contact or built a rapport, I'll check in regularly. I like to wait about 6 to 8 weeks before checking back. There are clients I know who have said, "Check back after January" or "Give us a call in about three weeks." Those I put on my calendar right away.
How many points of contact do you have with your clients and potential clients? What's worked for you?
Friday, April 20, 2012
Wow. I can't believe it's two days later and I'm still exhausted. The show involved a lot of walking. My one journalist friend said his pedometer logged over 15,000 steps on Monday. I know I walked as much. No wonder I lost three pounds! Hey, if I don't get any work, I could always market the Conference Diet.
I know I fell asleep on the sofa Wednesday around 4:30. I just couldn't stay awake. Too many early mornings and late nights.
Things that happened at the conference:
At a party, some stranger walked up to a group of us, then asked me if I played hockey. He then assumed what I can only describe as the "Hulk Hogan" stance to mimic my physique. I refrained from saying, "Yea, you don't talk to girls much, do you, Ace?" Instead, I changed the subject entirely. I thought I looked good. Apparently, the dress I was wearing made me look like a defensive lineman. Or the guy is just lousy at small talk. Really, really lousy.
I received a stuffed beaver at the last party I attended. Uh, yes. It's cute, but do you really want to tell someone what it is when they ask you? No. You really don't.
At that same party, I was given a notepad of scratch paper. When I got it home, I realized it was made of recycled moose poo. I kid you not. I love recycling, and it is Earth Day on Sunday, but will the paper be, er, lumpy?
PooPoo Paper. Seriously.
I proudly displayed my "hockey" toes. While I didn't point them out lest I get an ass-kicking from locals (who are decidedly ungracious about their loyalties), I didn't hide them in shoes, either.
Taxi drivers in Philadelphia are just as nuts and taxi drivers in Manhattan. I'm just saying.
I learned that chai tea does not make a good precursor to a client meeting. I think I may have talked my teeth out of my mouth (and maybe even the client's teeth out of her own).
I scored so many notepads, pens, and lip balms that I won't have to buy any this year. At all.
And chocolate. Scored lots of free chocolate.
And recyclable grocery bags.
At one booth, I got a free professional portrait. Luckily, it was the day I was wearing my suit. It's not bad. I'll have the daughter PhotoShop it to take give my face a bit more color. For some reason, I looked very pale.
I did not win any of the gazillion iPads being raffled off. Nor did I lose sleep because of it.
Today, I'm continuing the quest to get thank-yous out the door. And I have to clean up the floor around this desk. My husband was doing taxes while I was gone and I just tossed it all in piles so he could find it more easily. The taxes are done. Alas, the piles remain.
The weekend is supposed to be wet, then wet and cold. I'm not complaining as the spring has been entirely too dry. Still, there go my plans to weed and clean up. Perhaps a little today.
So, given all of the above, how would you respond to the linebacker-esque comment?
How would you respond if you were holding a stuffed beaver and someone inquired as to its identity?
Have you ever used PooPoo Paper?
Thursday, April 19, 2012
I'm back. I'm exhausted, but I'm back. The conference was terrific, and the recession to my mind is a distant memory. That's because as I was busy meeting people, they were asking me to help them with their writing and marketing. That was a huge difference from last year's conference, where I'd say hello and get warm greetings, but weak responses when it came to any type of collaboration. Still, even that conference was worth it. I made key contacts and had many more familiar faces to visit this year.
It didn't hurt that the cover story on the Society's magazine (the ones putting on the event) was mine. It didn't hurt that the topic was so new and fresh that the emails are still coming in from people thrilled to read it. The topic wasn't my idea, but I'm grateful they gave it to me. It didn't hurt at all that everyone at the conference got a backpack full of goodies, and that issue was in that bag. It didn't hurt that I had another story in that same issue. The editors have taken to calling me their "fourth editor" -- I'd love to work with them all the time. Great group of people.
I've also made some discoveries about conferences and how Murphy's Law plays into it.
Suits equal 87 degrees. I had all my meetings lined up for Monday. I bought the suit, which of course had a thin lining, and I had the comfort shoes on. It was the only day all week in which the temperature soared to 87 or above and with the first humidity we've had in two months. This point was punctuated by the broken AC on the train back home. I was sauteed by the time I reached my car.
The walk to registration extends in direct relation to how high your heels are. I made the mistake of thinking that this year's conference setup would be identical to the one that was here in 2005. That year, registration was at the front of the hall. This year as I walked in, a man passing me said, "It's about a mile and a half back that way." I laughed until halfway through my trek when I realized he wasn't kidding.
Comfort shoes are an oxymoron. True, they're older Naturalizers that I've successfully trekked Manhattan in without issue. I suppose they were past their expiration date -- I came home Monday with blisters on my big toe. That meant Tuesday was Casual Day, for nothing goes with flat sandals but my white summer dress.
Dressing for hot weather means it's now cold again. It's what I get for being too tired to check the weather report again. I went to the train station yesterday in a short-sleeved suit jacket, a skirt, and a pair of open-toed shoes. It was about 52 degrees on the platform. And the train was late.
If you pack extra comfort shoes, you won't need them. They were in my bag on Tuesday. No problems. I decided not to take them yesterday. Yep, the feet started hurting.
No one cares what you're wearing on your feet at a conference. The women were verbally coveting my flats and the men weren't even paying attention. Be comfortable.
Thinking you know where you're going means you're going to go the wrong way. The convention center has identical exits with mediocre signage. I'm from the area and couldn't get my bearings a few times.
Cocktail parties where you think you're going to network are going to have the loudest music. I'm embarrassed to say I met two lovely women whom I couldn't hear the entire time I sat with them. They were talking, but who knows what they were shouting? The singer was so loud and the music was blaring. The best cocktail party was the one without music. I actually met people and enjoyed the conversations instead of straining to hear.
Such a great conference, though. I'll be sharing a bit more of the happenings tomorrow. For today, I'm recovering from all the walking (the good news is I lost three pounds in three days), and I'm getting out some snail-mail thank-you notes.
How is your week going?
Have you attended conferences before? If not, what would you like to know about them?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
I'm writing this pre-conference, but I intend today to be my last day at the conference. I have one client meeting and today's the day I want to attend a few sessions and get some press events in. As of Sunday when I've written this post, the weather all week is to be in the mid to high 80s, except for today, which may reach a more manageable 65 degrees. Naturally I bought a black suit that I plan to wear Monday (the 87-degree day). After that, dresses and skirts.
Tomorrow will be spent preparing follow-up mailings. Everyone with whom I'm meeting will get my portfolio mailed to them, along with a brochure and another business card. Also, I intend either phone or email follow-up after that. The more points of contact, the better.
Because I'm spent on conference planning, I want to leave you with some superb posts from around the blogosphere. Give these fine folks some comment love:
Customer Service DIY: Cathy Miller laments what we've all experienced. Great post!
8 Things I Learned Analyzing My Yearly Freelance Writing Expenses: Michelle Rafter opens her eyes -- and ours -- to unexpected finds on the income tax forms.
Job Rejection Fail: Dr. Freelance Jake Poinier finds himself the unwitting subject of an unflattering email circulated by a client.
Social Media the Write Way: Urban Muse Susan Johnston's guest post by Kaity Nakagoshi shows how to use -- not abuse -- social media.
What's catching your eye this week? Share some links.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I'm still at the conference. Today I'll be dropping by booths and attending press events and educational sessions. A full day topped off with a hospitality suite in the evening. I've invited a PR chum along so she has somewhere to go and so we can bond over cocktails and finger food.
I was thinking back to the incident last week in which the new writer responded to a wealth of advice from experienced writers so flippantly. It's quite okay to be nervous, lack some confidence, even be afraid. It's not okay to slough off well-meaning advice with a "I'm not sure I'm going this route anyway" type of comment. This particular poster had a passion lying elsewhere. That's fine. I'm all for following your passion....so why are you looking to be a writer exactly?
The advice given would fit his/her particular path. It all applies. Build your presence, learn your market, don't accept less than you deserve, don't believe that unpaid and underpaid work is all you can get, etc. This one may be young -- I'm guessing fresh out of college. However, you're never too young to grow a backbone, and no matter what profession you're in, you need one.
So how do you build a backbone and show your professional chops?
Take the leap. The hardest leap you'll ever make is that first one. It's new territory for you. However, plenty before you have charted it and left trails all over blogs, books, courses, and coaching sessions. You're not alone. Before leaping, learn what it takes to make a more successful jump.
Once you jump, commit. Freelancing isn't finger painting -- if you're in it to dabble and not really put effort into it, don't bother. But once you've decided to give it a go, give it your full effort and attention. Your career will eventually thank you for it.
Accept your own reality. I can tell you all day how rosy the world of freelancing is (not that I would), or someone else could tell you how horrific it is and how there's no money in it. The truth -- your truth -- lies somewhere between those two points. It's yours to create and build. Decide what it is and accept no less.
Turn your passion outward. You love this job, so why are you taking content mill gigs? Because you've disconnected from your passion. You're in survival mode (and ironically, the content mills give you little chance of survival). Get in active business mode -- learn what you love doing, get those jobs, and get busy loving what you do. Don't take any gig that won't make you happy to go to the computer every day. And if you end up with one of those jobs, do your best to replace it as quickly as possible.
What has gone into the creation of your backbone?
Monday, April 16, 2012
Conference time for me! Make no mistake -- I've prepared for this for months. The contacts were made through research and reaching out via email. The appointments were made in the last few weeks. The RSVPs for the various functions were made last week, and the brochure was finalized and printed (LOVE FexEx - same-day service!). Now is the time to meet, greet, and make valued connections.
This year is different -- the conference organizers have announced a last-minute policy whereby anyone attending or exhibiting cannot solicit or conduct business anywhere in the area of the hall or the conference hotels. Uh, right. The idea is to keep people from doing business without buying booth space, and also to keep people from stealing potential customers right out from under the exhibitors at their own booths. However, the language in the policy is so poorly written, it could mean that meeting with a potential client at their request could be a violation.
The exhibitors are certainly there to conduct business, so I'm concerned for them. Not so much for me. I have appointments. They've invited me to stop by and talk shop. I've had to amend my plan to introduce myself and pass out brochures to others, though. Now I will say hello, mention my background, and give them a business card in exchange for theirs. I don't see a problem with that. If they ask for more information, I'll give them a brochure, but not until they ask. I may think it's a ridiculous policy, but I'll follow it to the letter.
I'm also going to get fodder for my new risk management blog. I've had both a blog and a newsletter in the past, and I just can't stay away from it. Time to feed the passion, I guess. So there will be press events and sessions to attend.
I won't be around for a few days, so I've left you some thoughts and posts to ponder. I'll still be checking in, so keep the conversation going!
What do you love most about your job?
Friday, April 13, 2012
Another slow-ish day yesterday. I liked it because I was able to get some personal writing done early before concentrating on client work and marketing. I'm eager to see people at the conference (starting Sunday night, oh my!), and I'll be happy to get back to a more normal schedule. Most of my clients and potential clients are hard at it getting ready for the show, so I've sat more idle than I'm used to. I had one project disappear, but there will be more in its place, says the client. Three more in the wings, and I guarantee they'll show up at the same time.
So on to what's been cropping up this week that I could surely live without.
I was talking with another freelancer, who related a disturbing story. Another writer contacted him with an offer -- would you like to write my web content and I'll split the profits evenly with you?
Sounds okay, right? However, the content is housed on Examiner.com, notorious for paying ridiculously low rates. As I said to the writer when he shared his story, half of crap is more crap -- the only math equation in which less adds up to more.
Then came the promise -- it doesn't pay much now, but it sure could later. Right. As we know, that would be the answer always, like saying "I'll get to that tomorrow." Tomorrow is always one day out. So it will be with that fortune promised.
Here's what really bugs me about this offer. It's not the low pay (though that does cause me to burn a bit). It's not the empty promises. No. It's that a fellow writer was making this pathetic offer. The writer in question isn't saying to my writer friend, "You do the work and just kick back about 10 percent to me in a finder's fee." No, this is a writer who isn't lifting a finger, yet is keeping half. Again, half of crap....
My writer friend said he was shocked because the writer making this offer was one he respected and thought had a good business practice. He's now rethinking it. Strike one is the writer works for Examiner. Strike two is the writer isn't thinking twice about exploiting others for financial gain.
I frequent a number of forums in various professional (and more casual) settings. In one case, I was trying to help someone who asked a rather specific question on getting started in freelancing. Specific is good -- I can address that. However, the conversation quickly snowballed into more of a tell-me-where-to-look hand-holding session that wasn't what I signed up for.
We all have questions. I love helping, and I love answering when I can. What I don't love is spinning my wheels for someone who isn't interested in putting the effort into the job. Odd that yesterday's post talked about listening to advice given, because shortly after that post went live, I was dealing with someone who was saying "Please help me!" and exhaling with "But I'm not sure it's what I want to do."
That would be the sound of my hair being pulled out in bunches. Very frustrating to offer so much help and then get the "Well, I'm not sure I'm all that interested" in response.
On another forum, I keep running into someone I'll refer to as the self-promoter. I don't know this writer beyond the few posts I've seen. Each one I see, I flag as spam. That's because the poster is answering the question by promoting the organization she makes money from, and she's not disclosing that fact. I can count several comments that include a "get this book" or "join this group" message, all of which she benefits from, albeit not all directly. I cannot trust someone who won't follow the basic rules of conduct becoming a journalist -- disclose all. If you don't, you're lying to your audience.
What's making your head explode this week?
Thursday, April 12, 2012
I want to thank Sharon Hurley Hall for today's post on her blog. Sharon reviews my ebook, Marketing 365. Thank you, Sharon! Please give her some comment love.
I think I'm ready. The brochures are printed, the wardrobe is sorted, and the shoes are lined up. Conference time next week. I picked up the brochures, shopped for a suit, and then did a bit of marketing. I got my personal writing in first, so I felt like I'd done something just for me. That always starts the day out well.
Anne and I worked on a joint project, then I talked with my daughter about her starting her own business (photography). If you've not heard, the unemployment rate for those ages 18-24 is a stinging 16 percent. Jen Williamson wrote a brilliant post about this on her CatalystBlogger blog. With two un-/under-employed in our house, it's a living reality.
In talking with daughter, I was struck by how money-conscious she is. True she's been paying her way for a while -- 3 years of school (she finished early with a major, minor and .01 off a cum laude -- proud mama here!) and still handling all her bills on a part-time waitressing salary. But when I said she needed a website, she reacted to the price. "You paid $24 for your blog. I can't afford that."
That's a roadblock. Sure, she's got a tight budget, but I showed her that $24 stretched out over 12 months was just a $2 monthly investment in her career. There were other roadblocks, but this one was the most manageable from my chair.
We do this too, you know. We find reasons -- excuses -- for not marketing, expanding beyond the familiar, doing the bookkeeping (that was my big hurdle), actively engaging clients... you name it. So this is a reminder of how to knock down roadblocks and get into a more lucrative earnings potential:
Spend on your career/business. It's a business. Businesses take some maintenance. Maintenance is money. Look at each outlay of funds from these filters -- must haves, could be useful, want more than need. My daughter's example -- she needs a website. She also needs business cards. A better camera could be useful, but the one she has is sufficient for now. The laser printer that most print shops can't afford? No, not necessary.
Plan -- it makes all the difference. Right now, she's getting gigs from friends and coworkers. But once those are over, what then? Planning where she wants to be financially and client-wise will help her then formulate a plan for getting there. Same goes for you. What are your financial and professional goals?
Get active -- the passive approach begets passive results. If you think searching for work on the job boards is the only way to get clients, you're missing out on huge income potential. You're also limiting yourself to that small circle of clients who bother to put up the lousy offers, and to those writers who are fighting to underbid you. Who else knows you're a writer? Get active and get vocal -- tell everyone, including all your contacts on social media outlets.
Don't be wed to your own ideas. I remember thinking a free blog was fine, and it was. Then someone anonymously blasted me on someone else's blog for having a freebie. While it was indeed the chicken-shit way of telling me, I took heed. If that was staining my credibility, I was going to spend to fix it. It's fixed. Same with your ideas -- you love that website interface despite five people telling you it's bland, impossible to navigate, or just plain boring. Know that others have good ideas, too. It's okay to listen and heed whatever advice fits.
Listen to the answer. I can't tell you how many people ask the same question. I can tell you that from my experience, only a handful of those people actually act on the answers. I don't have all the answers, nor does any other writer. But if the advice fits, try it. Chances are you won't fail. Not trying means you've failed by default.
Be persistent. Don't come back in a few weeks bemoaning "It doesn't work!" Of course it didn't -- you have to be consistent and determined. Keep at it. Like they say in hockey, the more you shoot at the net the higher the likelihood that you'll score (or maybe I just say that).
What roadblocks did you knock down and how?
What current roadblocks are still dogging you?
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
I spent yesterday perfecting a brochure (which I'm sure I'll hate the minute it's printed), working on client sales sheets, and brainstorming both article and blog ideas. It's been slow and I'm getting tired of waiting for projects that should have been here last week. My money's on all this work coming in Friday because I'm off part of next week because of the conference.
I asked a few weeks ago what makes up the freelance mindset. Your answers were great -- so much so that I've decided they each deserve their own post. This one comes from Jake Poinier, writer, Dr. Freelance, and damn nice guy, who said that a great freelance mindset includes empathy.
Clients make mistakes, too. I have never copped a self-righteous attitude with a client when they make a mistake, nor would I even if they deserved it. I may have partied in the background, but they're going to get understanding and a "happens to the best of us" from me in person. I've had clients go ballistic on me for "huge" mistakes I've made that never quite surfaced, and those same clients have often made some real, substantial mistakes. When they flub it, apply the Golden Rule generously.
Full-time jobs are hard and stressful. They don't get back to us right away. It's because most clients are doing the jobs of at least three of their former coworkers on top of their own. They're not going to remember to get that project to you, turn around those revisions quickly, or remember to get the invoice to accounting. Instead of waiting, why not take charge of the project (as much as the client will allow)? Set the deadlines, send gentle reminders, schedule phone calls at the outset so you can keep everyone on task, and hey, send that invoice to accounting yourself. Just call your client to make sure the invoice meets his/her approval first.
Lesser writers bail. I had it happen more than once, and I was grateful for writers I knew I could depend on in a pinch. Be that writer. Offer yourself as a pinch hitter when you turn in that first project. That may mean you have to crank out an article or project in less than 48 hours, but you'll become that go-to writer whom that client will just automatically assign the work to.
Businesses all have the same struggles. As Jake said, "You need to be able to put yourself in the client's shoes, whether an editor, owner of a small business, or manager at a huge one." You get the struggles because you're often going through similar ones. Relating your own experiences can make the client feel less solitary perhaps.
When have you had to empathize with a client?
How was that received?
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Head over to the Productive Writers blog to see John Soares' interview with Anne Wayman and yours truly. Thanks, John!
Bit of a blur yesterday in terms of getting work done or anything remotely associated with marketing. I did have contact with three potential clients -- the helpful kind of contact. I'll be meeting these people at the conference, so I'm happy to be of some help to them.
Today's tasks include some product summaries and a bit more waiting for word on not one, but three different projects. Possibly four, but I'm sure of three. While I'm at it, I thought I'd make good use of the spare time on personal projects.
Good use of time: John Soares said last week that it was one of the attributes of a freelance mindset. So what does that take exactly?
Discipline. Hands off the Facebook games and the Angry Birds! If you find yourself distracted more oftehn than you're working, you could use some self-imposed discipline. Pretend you have a loud, angry boss looming over your shoulder, or turn off your Internet connection and simply work on your projects without constant email or surfing interruptions.
Regular work hours. Don't get excited. I don't mean you have to work 9-to-5 hours (unless you want to). I mean good time management includes a regular routine. If you love working Wednesday through Saturday, go for it. Are evenings better for you? Again, your choice. Just know that regular helps keep you aligned with all those deadlines. Know also that your time is yours to command. If you're able to work well on a more sporadic schedule, it's your call. If you're just starting out, try designating how many hours per day you'll devote to your business.
Organization. I'm the queen of punctuality, and sometimes that translates into organizing my work days. But organizing is tough -- you have to know how much time you need for each job, and you need to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Try writing down your to-do list on paper, then prioritize it by what has to happen first. Keep yourself on track with daily to-do lists you prepare the night before or the week before.
Flexibility. Projects don't come in at regular intervals, nor do clients patiently wait their turn while you finish projects in front of theirs. Learn to expect the unexpected, and leave enough space in your day so you can tackle those quick-turnaround projects that have to be done yesterday.
Selfishness. Yes, I'm promoting selfishness -- you have to guard your work time selfishly. That means your sister's calls go to voice mail and you can't lunch with a friend just because she has a day off. Say no more often, especially when you know you should.
What is part of your time management practice?
Monday, April 09, 2012
Did you have a wonderful weekend? If I were to paint a picture of the perfect Easter weekend, we had it. Sunny, warmish, everything was green and in bloom, and we were compelled to take two walks on Sunday because of it. First, we strolled by the river in Valley Forge Park where the bluebells are in full glory. Just blankets of blooms greet you and lead you for miles down the path. Then we headed west of town to an area where the Waldorf school is, and walked through the woods among the trumpet lilies and spring beauties.
The walk brought home more than nice memories -- I was watching tv and out of the corner of my eye saw something moving on my hair. Turned out to be a wood tick, a big one. That was enough to send us all to the showers to scrub away whatever might be taking up residence. We'd sprayed our legs for deer ticks, but didn't do the same for the rest of our bodies. Plus we had to wash off the poison ivy. Lovely.
Last week we talked a bit about the things that get my gears to grinding. A reminder to you business owners (and if you're a freelancer, you're a business owner) of what isn't okay:
It's never okay to work for chump change. Call it an arrogant statement, or call it a wake-up call. Those who do the former will always be content to be underpaid for their efforts. Those who do the latter will begin to treat themselves with the respect they deserve. Think back to the link sent by Meryl Evans last week -- Do you really need a dollar that badly?
It's never okay to compromise your standards. They promote animal testing. You're a member of PETA. Even if they're paying you obscene amounts of money, is it really worth it to you personally? Never be afraid to turn down work that doesn't align with your own beliefs.
It's never okay to allow someone to define your rates. It's your business. Why are you allowing that client to tell you your rates are too high? I had a potential client once respond to my rate by saying "Ooo, we'll need you to lower your rates." I resisted the urge to tell him what to do with his suggestion. Instead, I said, "Perhaps you need to increase yours to accommodate mine." Funny how the same thing coming from me didn't sit well with him.
It's never okay to allow anyone to compromise your boundaries. That means no one tells you how to work (only what to work on), how to bill, where to work, when to work, with whom you can/cannot work, etc. Nor should any client attempt to own your writing process. You are the project gatekeeper on the writing/editing side. You determine how you'll complete the work.
It's never okay to undervalue yourself. I don't care if you've been writing a week or 589 weeks -- you have skills that others are willing to pay for. Sure, you won't make as much at the beginning of your career as you will somewhere five years out. Still, that doesn't mean you should give away your work, nor undercharge for it. Several tools exist to help you determine your rate and determine what the industry norm is. Use them. Ask other writers for advice.
What things are never okay with you?
Friday, April 06, 2012
A mindful Good Friday and Passover to you all. May whatever your celebration is be blessed and filled with love.
Though I made an effort to avoid it when possible, I didn't give up complaining for Lent. Good thing, for there was plenty going on this week that would have had me in a coma from lack of oxygen as I held my breath. For the most part things have been going along quite well, but this week there seems to be a spate of, well, stupid occurrences that have me on simmer.
Here are a few of the things getting under my skin:
People who give you tidbits of information, then go silent. I had this happen a number of times. I sent out a note to someone asking for an interview. The response: "That's handled by someone else." My follow-up note asking whom I should be contacting was met with complete silence. Seriously? Worse, this was a company senior exec ignoring the chance at free publicity. Next!
Randomly stated policies that throw a wrench in everything. In one case, an "Oh, by the way" note from one particular event coordinator group mentioned this new policy, which basically negates any reason for me to have spent the money to attend their event. Luckily, I'm able to work around it successfully, but they will be getting told in spades whenever this event is behind me.
"Personal" Twitter notes that aren't. Twitter tweeps, many of you are guilty of the automatic DM. One of you tried to make it sound like you appreciated my follow, but if you're not using my first name, I don't think you really mean it.
Nonexistent customer service. I had a problem with an anti-virus installation. It took an hour to get past the ultra-thick sales/browbeating portion of the call to the actual help desk person, who solved it by uninstalling/reinstalling. Thanks for wasting my billable hours.
The worst job "offer" ever. Thanks to Meryl Evans for this one, which reads like a really bad recurring nightmare:
I need a writer who can write at least 5 articles everyday from Monday to Saturday. I am going to select multiple writers for this project. I will pay $1 per 500 projects. I will increase the rate per article once I find the right fit and award more projects to the same writer in the future. There is never ending work.
Please be prepared to write a short sample of 200 words if you want to get selected.
Bid only $30 for this project of 30 articles.
That's not a truncated message. This person couldn't be bothered to finish the ad. Perhaps she's also being paid $1 for 500 projects?
The slew of fools who shouted "Pick me!" in the bidding section. A dollar, people. Seriously? I shake my head in disbelief.
What are your peeves this week?
Thursday, April 05, 2012
I love when you inspire posts, and today is no different. Last week we talked about traits of a successful freelancer. Damaria Senne, author, blogger, and wonderful human being, said for her, a freelancer needs flexibility - "A willingness to try new things and to abandon what you thought would be good ideas if they don't strengthen your business."
There's so much wisdom in that one sentence.
Willingness to try new things. It's the "what the hell" attitude I love so much. You don't grow if you don't go for it. I have a great specialty that pays me well, and it's all because 12 years ago I had a "what the hell" moment and tried out for a job I was sure I wasn't going to get (I did) and one I was sure I'd suck at (I didn't).
Willingness to abandon what you though would be good ideas. The best part of this sentence, in my opinion. You've seen those restaurant makeover shows where it's obvious the current owners are there only out of some sense of duty or allegiance to the former owners. They thought it would be a good idea to continue the business, let it run itself. But it wasn't such a hot idea, for no one knew what they were doing, nor did they put any effort into keeping the business going.
The same goes for your ideas that don't quite do anything. I remember taking a business course where the instructor said if you try and it's not working, it's okay to close up shop or decide to abandon the idea or the business. He said that was called not a failure, but a good business decision.
Flexibility can also mean the ability to learn on the fly, adapt to sudden changes, and accept client changes or directional shifts quickly and without disruption. Imagine how your work life would be if you had a nervous fit every time a client wanted an edit or decided to abandon or delay a project.
How has flexibility benefited you?
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
What a treat! Cathy Miller of Simply Stated Business has offered up today's post, which is a great look at the writer's attitude turned around. Thank you, Cathy, for such a neat post!
Danger Ahead: Do As I Say Not As I Do
By Cathy MillerThere is a belief that the traits we dislike in others are traits we possess as well. It may be the reason we find it so easy to spot them in others.
The do as I say, not as I do philosophy may be an accepted parenting mantra (raise your hand if your parents ever said that to you) but, it's not a great approach in business. Yet, I would bet we all fall prey to it on occasion. Hey, we're human - it's okay.
If you can spot the danger signs of this philosophy, you can nip it in the bud before it sabotages your freelance writing business.
Do As I Say Deadline - Written deadlines are great tools for keeping a project on track. They ensure everyone is on the same page and they set expectations before the start of the assignment.
Not As I Do - Sure the unexpected happens. But, if you as a freelance writer consistently miss deadlines, how can you criticize a client who does the same?
Do As I Say Passion - Passion is a wonderful motivator. When you believe in your abilities or your writing assignment, it shows. Your clients appreciate and pay for your experience, but your passion is what inspires them to keep coming back for more.
Not As I Do - When that passion turns into preaching, you are setting yourself up for a fall. Did you ever wonder why it is you cannot write a post about typos without falling victim to one or two? I like to think it's God's great equalizer. A holier than thou attitude will leave you at the altar of rejection. Can I have an Amen?
Do As I Say Professionalism - A simple explanation of professionalism is respect - respect for each other's time, opinions, and work.
Not As I Do - So you hate when your client is late for a scheduled call. And you really hate when they won't listen to you or they talk over you in meetings. Are you sure the pot is not calling the kettle black? Do you always ask your client if they have the time to discuss the assignment? Do you always listen with an open mind and a closed mouth? If your client feels respected, chances are they will respect you right back.
Sometimes when you see traits you dislike in clients, those traits reflect back in your own mirror. Look for these danger signs because I say so, not because I do. Wait, was that right? My mirror is a bit fogged.
What traits have you caught?
Cathy Miller has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal blog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer's Second Life.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
What's on the iPod: Baby's Got Sauce by G Love and Special Sauce
Somewhat slow day yesterday. I talked in the morning with two clients -- one a potential client of mine, the other an ongoing client for my ongoing client (confused yet?). I may have a gig with the first and definitely have some work to do for the second.
I spent my spare time learning a new technology. I'm not one to know much about the technology that's available to me, so I thought it was time I changed that. In fact, I've been using technology that I really like.
This week, it's conferencing. Here's what Anne and I use for the About Writing Squared conferences:
AnyMeeting. Why I love this interface: the host can simply open a PowerPoint presentation -- or any document -- and share it with the viewers. Other features:
- Record function
- Chat window
- Phone dial-in for conferencing
What I like about this instead of programs such as Free Screen Sharing: I can view the chat window and the activity behind the scenes. What I don't like: I can't interact or it automatically pauses the screen-sharing function.
The recording feature is especially nice. However, listeners from other countries can't access it via any toll-free number, so that means I have to record it myself and upload that recording to Dropbox, where Anne grabs it and puts it on the About Writing Squared site. A minor hassle, and a work-around we can live with.
Have you used screen-sharing or conferencing software? What's your favorite?
Monday, April 02, 2012
What's on the iPod: Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles
April. Really? I'm still getting used to 2012. If you must know, I'm still getting used to the 20-- part instead of 19--.
It was a slightly slower month mainly because I focused on marketing for the conference. I turned down one assignment thinking I wouldn't have time for it. In the end, I wouldn't have. The client's "need it by" date was actually her "I'll have it ready for you to look at" date. With April being busy, I fully expect my time to be gobbled up. There are a lot of projects about to be handed to me, and I know the conference will breed more. There's already preliminary talk about what clients need.
So, let's see how things went this month.
Just two sent this month. I didn't net assignments right off, but I do expect to complete one in June (waiting for legislative changes).
Here's where things got a little nuts. Thanks to the conference this month, I sent out 73 intro notes. Seems like a lot, but I was shooting for 100. Still, it was obvious potential clients are ready to spend -- I had to stop sending notes because my calendar filled up quickly. I haven't had that happen since.... well, since never. Glad to see things picking up.
I rattled the cages of three existing clients, but to no avail. They're all headed the same place I am in a few weeks, so their concentration isn't on projects, but last-minute preparations. I did a few projects for an ongoing client, so that kept me busy enough to feel useful.
Nothing concrete here, but plenty of inquiries. I had two from my website (one ran away after hearing the price), and all those LOIs netted the interest of twelve companies, which I will meet in a few weeks. One is calling today to get a project going.
I had two referral gigs this month. One turned out to be one of the nicest clients I've worked with in a while. Not that my clients aren't all nice, but this was someone who paid instantly and was very congenial to work with. The other was just as nice and I was glad to make them both happy.
I'm close. I'm just a few hundred off what I normally bring in, and I keep thinking I've forgotten something -- an invoice. No matter. Money will be in the bank, amen. Tax time is looming.
I may be slightly off my target this month, but I know I've laid a great foundation for April and May and probably well into the summer. The strategic approach to this conference should pay off (it's already paying off), and I'm hoping to have some time to enjoy myself. Three days could net me most of my income for the next year, so I'm definitely going to be prepared for this conference.
How was March for you? Any surprises?