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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bending Rules and Delivering Service

Wasn't that a great Writers Worth celebration? I still have some posts, but I'm not around to get them up for you, so we'll wait until I return.

I'm still out of the office, but I couldn't leave you without something to read, now could I? Thanks to my shoe-shopping habit, I had plenty of fodder for this post. Don't worry -- when I return I intend to give you a roundup of all the great Writers Worth posts. I may even add my own two cents. :)

I was in one of my favorite stores a few weeks ago (buying shoes, naturally). I approached the clerk to check out and asked about the promotional bag they were giving away with a $30 purchase. The clerk said, "Sure! Do you have your coupon?"

I said that no, I'd forgotten it.

She said, "Well, we do need the coupon because we're tracking just how many people come in with them and how many bags we give versus how many are requested."

I was fine with that. I then asked if I could come back with the coupon and my receipt in order to get the bag.

She said, "No, you'd have to bring back the purchases and we'd have to ring them up as a return, then re-ring them up as purchases."

That's where my favorite store lost me. Red tape and rules that made no sense to me. Returning and re-ringing shoes just for a free tote bag? While it may make sense on paper, customers have no idea why you're making them jump through hoops. And frankly, stores shouldn't be making them do so.

How often has this happened to you - you ask a clerk a question or make a request, and they answer in "store speak" - "You'll need a querk for that"; "Did you fill out a Q-86 requisition order first?"
or; "I'd have to mark that as a poly-woozit purchase."

No, they're not real words. But neither are the words you often get from people who are parroting company acronyms, jargon, or code words. Employees, maybe not understanding the rules fully themselves, are repeating them verbatim to customers who probably don't care one damn about the company's internal processes or technical reasons why they can't have what they want. Like I said already, it makes sense on paper, but that doesn't mean your customers are going to understand. They're certainly not going to like it.

My daughter likes to quote chapter-and-verse of the restaurant hostess handbook, which says customers are to be seated in a rotation fashion. The reasoning -- wait staff then have a balanced workload, instead of a waiter running his legs off to serve 10 tables while his counterpart has just three tables.

On paper, it makes sense.

But if I walk into a restaurant and they seat me next to the bar where the television is blaring and the customers are yelling over it, I'm not going to want to stay there if I'm there to have a conversation. Also, I may have a bad back and can't sit in a hard chair, thus preferring a booth. While the hostesses/hosts may think it's rude of a customer, customers think it's equally rude to be told "No, because I have to seat you here because I have to follow rotation policy."

Where's the customer in all this? We're told that it's "policy" that we have to fall in line and follow company policy even when it inconveniences the customer because hey, Judy here was trained to do it this way, not that way. One salesperson made the mistake of dictating to my husband that he "can't" buy a Stickley sofa from a store in New Jersey because our local store was the only authorized one for our area. That's just bloody stupid, and my husband told him the day he allows someone like him to dictate where he can shop is the day he stops shopping in his store.  Obviously, the man meant that no one else in our area was an authorized dealer and that the New Jersey store couldn't openly solicit his business. Trouble in translation there, eh?

We writers have rules, too. We have boundaries around our invoicing, around our time, around our fees, and even around our time off. We've worked hard to define those boundaries, so it's very easy to turn into a Cyborg-spewing tyrant when clients have emergency projects requiring quick turnaround or even (gasp!) weekend work. While I'd never tell you how to run your own business, I will say that flexibility even in the most inflexible of requests can sometimes leave a great impression with your clients. Sometimes. Always beware the client looking for someone to order around like a minion.

So how can you protect your boundaries and serve your client's interests?

Suggest different payment options.  This can solve both the invoicing and the "I can't afford you" dilemmas. If your client is late with a payment, don't immediately head to small claims court or collections. Write first offering a payment schedule (including the late fees). They may not take you up on it, but if they do, you've turned nonpayment into payment. If they can't afford your fee up front, you can secure the gig through the payment plan option, and you may find yourself a steadfast client. Mind you, if they say "Ooo, you're going to have to lower those fees" like one client did to me, that's an indication that someone has a convoluted opinion of who's calling the shots in your business. That's a client to walk away from.

Remove the rush fee. You weren't really doing anything and didn't have any pressing deadlines, but the client wanted the project in a day. So you're really going to charge them a rush fee even though you're not inconvenienced by it? It's okay to say "You're in luck! I have the spare time, so I can waive the usual rush fee for you." You've just reinforced your boundaries while at the same time giving the client an unexpected break. They'll remember and appreciate it.

Give up a few hours on a weekend. I've done it once last year, but it's because I knew the job would lead to more work, and it certainly did. I spent about five hours in one weekend on the project, and the client met her deadline. That turned into four more assignments within two weeks. If you didn't have plans anyway, consider how doing a one-time favor can pay off.

Not every client request has to be honored, but the ones you can honor can make a huge impact on your reputation and your customer relationships.The key is knowing which clients will take advantage of that one-time generosity and expect it every time. Those clients should be treated as time or money leeches and not afforded the same generosity as someone who genuinely needs your help.

In what ways have you bent the rules for select clients? Did it pay off or did it backfire?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writers Worth Three: Hobbyists Need Not Apply

Three weeks of Writers Worth posts -- can you believe it? Thanks to everyone who posted and those whose posts are in transit. You have helped make this a fantastic movement of learning and sharing and encouragement (and butt kicking -- can't forget that!). May what you've written and commented inspire another writer to change bad habits.

I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Vancouver, inches from losing my electronic connection for a week and looking forward to it. The trouble with bringing electronics on a getaway -- you never really get away. But it was necessary this week as projects and invoices had to be sorted.

I'm also here because Samar Owais delivered on her promise to guest post, and I knew you wouldn't want to miss this. Samar is someone I've been acquainted with for a while, but whose presence on the Five Buck Forum has been inspiring to say the least. She's prepared a fantastic beginners' course on getting a freelance business off the ground, and it's offered in self-paced form over on About Writing Squared. That's my shameless plug.

Samar, thank you for the post! It's a strong reminder that this is a business. Amen, sister.

How to Stop Treating Your Freelance Writing Business Like a Hobby


By Samar Owais

Four years ago when I started freelancing, I thought I’d hit pay dirt. I’d be paid to write on topics that interest me? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, what I’d hit was a content mill.

While I eventually left content mills behind and moved on to actual clients, the damage was done.

I had no confidence as a writer and because I believed my writing wasn’t good enough, I charged accordingly. In short, I undervalued myself.

After working for rates that were higher than content mills but still low enough to keep me in the red, I had a bit of an epiphany.

None of my client had ever complained about my work. In fact, quite a few of them had me on a retainer. More than that, no one had demanded their money back!

That’s when it hit me.

I’m a writer.


I’m a bloody good writer!


And my freelance writing isn’t a hobby – it’s a business!

These three simple truths still hit me every day.

If you’re a freelance writer struggling with rates, if you have trouble valuing your work, if you’re stuck writing for deadbeat clients – it’s time to do yourself a favour and believe.

You’re a writer

That’s right.

You’re a writer. A professional one at that!

Ask yourself this: If you weren’t a freelance writer and instead had a kick ass job that you loved, would you still write?

If you answered yes, then you’re a writer.

Stephen King nailed the sentiment recently in an interview with Neil Gaiman. “They pay me absurd amounts of money,” he observes, “For something that I would do for free.” (You can read the entire interview here)

You’re a bloody good writer

You use words to help your clients reach their goals. Because of your writing they sound professional, personable and trust worthy. That makes you a bloody good writer.

More importantly, if you have clients who are happy and satisfied with your work then that’s all the proof you need.

It’s high time you start believing.

Your freelance writing isn’t a hobby – it’s a business

This is the crux of it all. This is the key to valuing your work. You’re not doing anyone a favour by writing for them. Nor is anyone doing you a favour by giving you work.

You’re a bloody good writer which is why they come to you. Charge accordingly. You’re running a business after all!

Don’t know what to charge? Forget the going rates for the kind of writing you do. Simply figure out the amount you need to make to stay afloat.

Next, figure out how many clients you’ll need that will keep the work at a manageable level and let you earn enough to stay in business.

Put these two on and X and Y scale and find your happy medium.

Then go find those clients and slowly raise your rates to start making a profit.

Samar Owais is a freelance blogger and ebook writer. She offers rock-solid tips for freelance writing success on her blog The Writing Base and is passionate about helping freelancers break free from low paying content mills.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Writers Worth Three: The Three T's


What's this? A third  week of Writers Worth? Darn skippy! It's thanks to all of you that we can continue helping our own improve how they handle business and how they view their own value. So thank you to everyone whose posts are appearing here and everyone whose comments add to the experience.

Let me tell you a little something about Wade Finnegan. Wade is one of those people you meet in the stratosphere who's instantly friendly, immediately supportive, and entirely genuine. You can't help but like Wade. He makes you look good while he's really the one who's to be applauded. I credit a fairly large part of my new readership to Wade's efforts. He's the first one to promote my blog posts, anyone's blog posts, and he's generous of his time and talent in the comments.

And he says I inspire him. Wade, you've no idea how much you inspire me. 

Wade takes on today's topic: defining worthiness in three simple steps.

The Three T’s of Worthiness
by Wade Finnegan

Talent- The ability to manipulate words that informs, persuades, or entertains an audience is a real talent. Taking ideas and turning them into useful and readable documents is a job worth significant compensation. Anytime someone suggests that writing is easy, hand him or her your laptop and say go for it! Chances are they won’t get very far.

Thought- Writing is thinking. The true work in writing is not visible to the naked eye. Writing causes stress on the brain, the most powerful organ in your body, and leaves you feeling exhausted when finished. The whole writing process is based upon a labor of the mind. So if anyone ever suggests that writing isn’t “real” work, have him or her crank out 1200 words in an hour, and tell them they will be judged on the quality. Your thoughts are a commodity worthy of an income.

Tact- Words possess unlimited power. They need to be treated with the decisiveness and delicacy of a bomb technician. Writers deliver their message with a subtle refinement, and truly manipulate words into meaning. A writer is a great observer of humanity and understands how clear communication is an essential ingredient to the human condition. The next time someone states, “Everyone is a writer.” have them describe an ocean to a person who has never seen one, or inspire somebody to make a life change. When they are at a loss, remind them this is why you make the big bucks.

Being a professional means being treated as such. I wouldn’t go to a massage therapist or a barber and not expect to pay them for their service. They are professionals that provide a service that I cannot do on my own. I provide a service that most people can’t complete on their own. This is why I deserve fair compensation and feel no remorse in asking to be paid.

Wade Finnegan is a freelance writer based in Oregon City, Oregon. He takes pride in beating deadlines and exceeding his clients and editors expectations. He has expertise in outdoor recreation and education, but writes on a wide array of subjects. You can follow him on twitter @qualitywriting or find him posting on Google+.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Writers Worth Two: Are You A Flasher?

Even though I'm writing this before I head out, I know by now we'll be in the car driving toward the Canadian Rockies. The plan is to stay in Jasper, AB for a few days, then down near Banff and Lake Louise before hightailing it back to Seattle for our flight home. I promise to bore you with the sights and tales when I return.

What a great two weeks it has been! And what a great way to round out this week's posts - Devon Ellington takes on the "exposure" scenario in one of the funniest ways possible. If you don't know Devon, you've not been paying attention. She's one of the most prolific writers I know, holding what seems like a gazillion pen names and working in more genres than I have shoes, and I have a lot of shoes. She makes hard work look easy, but this woman devotes a ton of time to her craft, and it shows.

Thank you, Devon. The celebration would not have been complete without your words of wisdom! I appreciate your friendship and support. Big virtual hugs. :)

You’re Not a Flasher, Are You?
By Devon Ellington
  
Before you wonder why I asked you about your personal life, think a moment:  How often have you been offered “exposure” in lieu of money for your writing?

Cultures leave unwanted babies out  in the wild for exposure, and it’s not because they treasure them. 

Flashers need exposure.  Film needs exposure. We need cash, the same way the plumber and the doctor and the accountant need it.  “Exposure” doesn’t pay the bills.  Nor does “pay per click after 500 clicks”.  You expect me to put my time and effort into writing a good piece?  I need to know what you’re paying.  Up front.  Not maybe-someday, depending on the leg work I do to drive traffic to YOUR site.  This is my business, not my hobby.  This is how I pay the bills.  If you’re not going to participate in a fair exchange for time and skill spent, I will work with someone who will. 

No one is going to respect your worth until you do.  If you believe that you are only worth $1 an article instead of $1 word, no one else has the reason to believe you are worth more, either.  This is not a business that rewards false modesty.  If you’ve bothered to learn the craft and added that special magic called “talent” - -you’re worth a living wage.

Everyone thinks they can write.  How many people have you met who claim they’d write a book “if they had the time”?  Some of them might start one, someday.  Then, lo and behold, when they discover there’s actually work involved, they stop.  Most people think “anyone” can write a newsletter or a brochure.  Then why aren’t they writing the materials for their own business, if it’s so easy.  Time?  If it “only takes a few minutes”, they can forego a few minutes of Angry Birds and do it.  But they don’t -- because they can’t.  No matter how they justify it to themselves, it’s not about time.  It’s about skill.

Well-written materials connect the consumer to the business.  The writing makes the consumer feel he matters -- matters beyond simply opening his wallet, but that his needs and his interests matter to the business.  If I have a choice between a business that knows my name and greets me with a smile when I come in, and one where the employee is far too busy on his cell phone to bother with me, which do you think I will patronize?  The one that makes me feel welcome.

Good writing makes the reader feel welcome.

It’s a skill.  It deserves fair compensation.  Not mere exposure.

 Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction.  Her romantic suspense novel ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT (as Annabel Aidan) was named   a “hot book for cold Cape Cod nights”.  HEX BREAKER will release shortly from Solstice Publishing.  Her plays are produced in New York, London, Edinburgh, and Australia.  She’s published over 200 articles and short stories in a variety of publications, and writes newsletters, event scripts, press releases, speeches, and more for business clients all over the world.  She teaches writing to individuals, groups, and businesses throughout the country, both online and in person.  Visit her website www.devonellingtonwork.com and her blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee:  http://devonellington.wordpress.com.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Writers Worth Two: Freelance Writer's Dictionary

Welcome to Day Nine of the Fifth Writers Worth movement! Today's our last day in Vancouver, and my last chance to check in, assuming I'm able to wrestle the laptop from my husband (he may need it for the conference) and secure decent WiFi.

Know what the best part of asking you to share your thoughts on what worth means to you and your business? It's knowing that people like Cathy Miller will come up with something fantastic to share. Cathy is what I call quiet genius -- she's unassuming in her personality, yet her words are packed with wisdom and been-there-done-that experience. She's one of my favorite people I've never met, and I'm thrilled to have her guest posting. You will be, too. Her posts are always worth remembering.

She's done it again. Cathy's post is one we need to print out and nail to our walls above the work space.

Thank you, Cathy. Love!

The Freelance Writer's Dictionary Worth Reading


By Cathy Miller

You may have freelanced for years. Or felt pushed there when you could not find work. Or you could have slammed the phone down on a room full of executives and quit your day job on the spot.

Yes, that last crazed scenario describes my entrance into freelancing. I wasn't particularly proud of the loss of control, but it did signal that I waited too long to start my freelance writing business. Why do we do that? Why do we put our dreams on hold?

We let others define what makes us worthwhile. I know I did.

· I charged less than my writing was worth

· I did work from my corporate days I did not like

· I got talked into exchanging work for referrals (that never happened)

Why would a reasonably intelligent, professional writer sell herself short like that? Because we think we are not worthy to follow our dreams. We need to be more practical. Well, how practical is it to let others define what we should and should not do?

It's time we created our own freelance writers' dictionary.


Worth it From A to Z
  • A - Attitude - Adopt the attitude that you are worth it - however you define that.
  • B - Bold - Be bold and believe in yourself – two Bs for the price of one.
  • C - Confidence - Confidence in your writing and your business is your calling card to success.
  • D - Deserving - You are deserving of praise.
  • E - Escape - Escape the limits you put on yourself.
  • F - Freedom - You have the freedom to go after your dream and make it real.
  • G - Gift - Your writing is a gift - be thankful.
  • H - Honorable - Your profession is an honorable one where you belong.
  • I - Inspiring - You have the power to inspire and influence others.
  • J - Justified - Your belief in yourself is justified.
  • K - Knowledge - The knowledge you share is priceless.
  • L - Limitless - You have limitless opportunities to shape your future.
  • M - Merit - Belief in yourself has enormous merits.
  • N - Noteworthy - Believe what you have to say is noteworthy.
  • O - Open - Open yourself to the possibilities.
  • P - Praiseworthy - When you feel worthy, praise will follow.
  • Q - Quiet - Quiet the doubt and use the silence for bigger dreams.
  • R - Reflections - Reflections are the building blocks of creativity.
  • S - Sacred - Self-worth is a sacred right.
  • T - Trust - Trust in yourself and others will do the same.
  • U - Ultimate - Success is the ultimate reward for believing in yourself.
  • V-Vision – Open your eyes to the vision of your success.
  • W - Worthy - Tape the word worthy to your dreams and awaken your soul.
  • X - Xanadu - Create your own Xanadu of success.
  • Y - You - You are the builder of dreams - make it happen.
  • Z - Zeal - Finish each day with zeal for who you are.
The author of this quote is unknown, but it nails the sentiment.


"If you really put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price."


Write your own destiny.

================
Cathy has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal bog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer's Second Life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writers Worth Two: What You Don't Deserve

I'm still in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. I'm still hit-and-miss with the WiFi, I imagine (writing this ahead of time), but the Writers Worth continues on in earnest!

Another day, another fantastic post! Again, many thanks to all who contributed their thoughts and experiences. You've helped writers in ways you couldn't possibly imagine.

Today's arse-kicking comes from Peter Bowerman, the Well-Fed Writer guru and coach whose every word I'd follow if I were you (and I do sort of resemble you all, don't I?). And an arse-kicking it is! Peter felt a bit hesitant when he sent it over, thinking it was too blunt. In my mind, there's no such thing as too blunt when you're telling someone something they need to hear in order to better their career. I love what Peter's said here; it's common sense applied liberally. No matter which side of the low-paying fence you're on, he has a wake-up call for you.


Thank you, Peter. I love what you've written. Amazing insight.

Why Writers Don’t “Deserve” to Make More than $5 to $10 an Article…
By Peter Bowerman

Question: Do you consider yourself to be a smart shopper? When buying something big or small – flat-screen TV or a loaf of bread – do you try to get the best price (i.e., watching the sales in the case of the TV or clipping a coupon for the bread)? If you’re like most people, of course you do, right? Okay, file that away for a moment…

Over the past few years, I’ve seen any number of articles and blog posts attacking people who posted ridiculously low-paying writing gigs on online job sites. Yet, as I read these pieces, and the ensuing comments, I’ve been a bit troubled – and perplexed – by the stance taken by some. No, these pathetically low-paying job listings aren’t a positive thing, but they don’t happen in a vacuum. The target of the anger and frustration (i.e., those listing these sorry offers) was the wrong one.

One commenter (Mike) hit the nail on the head when he said, “If you don’t like the terms, then don’t apply – simple. You see these ads over and over for one reason and one reason only – they work. I don’t like them either, but I simply ignore them. No amount of complaining is going to stop them.” But alas, his voice of reason has been all but buried under a mountain of righteous, if misplaced, indignation. How dare they? How can a writer make a living? Who do they think they are?

It all smacks of victimhood. In blaming the job posters themselves, who are highly unlikely to change their tune any time soon (and we’ll get to why in a moment), you give up control of your financial future and put it in their hands. Imploring them to change their evil ways assumes writers play no part in this unfolding drama. Wrong.

Say you were looking for writers to crank out some writing (whether for a content mill or even any one-off project someone needs to have written). And say you didn’t know what to offer said writers. What next? You’d go to some job sites and see, 1) what your fellow posters were offering, and 2) more importantly, what writers were accepting. And when you see listings offering $5 or 10 an article and a long scrolling list of writers responding with various and sundry versions of “Me! Pick Me! I’ll do it for that! I’ll do it for less!” well, you’ve got your answer.

If that same poster went to a bunch of sites, and found nothing but writers saying, in essence, “I won’t write your 500-word, keyword-rich article for anything less than $250,” again, he’d know the going rate. And in that case, think he’d dare post a job offering $5 or $10 for that same article? Not bloody likely. The cyber-hills would echo with laughter.

Of course, that $250 response is a fantasy; it’ll never happen on job sites like these. When supply (writers) outstrips demand (jobs), the reality of competition driving rates down to nothing is as predictable as the sunrise. Econ 101.

But, let’s use the argument many make: that this is even driving down rates respectable entities are willing to pay. Maybe, but here’s what’ll happen. All excited that now they can get the writing that used to cost them a LOT more done for peanuts, they hire some of these writers. And soon discover they can’t cut it. If you pay a bargain-basement writer, and then have to hire another writer to redo what they couldn’t do, it’s no bargain.

One comment read: “This vile writing segment gives professional writing a bad name.” Why should it give professional writing a bad name? Does McDonald's give the Four Seasons (or substitute any top-tier restaurant here) a bad name? Does the No-Tell Motel give Marriott a bad name? Within many industries, there are different levels of practitioners, serving different client segments and for different rates. If it’s not your segment and not where you make your money, then what do you care what they do?

So, let me address a writer outraged by the folks placing these listings. I realize there are more issues than just price, but that seems to be the biggie, so I’ll focus on that. So, you believe you deserve to be paid more than $5-10 an article, right? Okay, fine. Question: Why do you think that? As I see it, and correct me if I’m wrong, there are only two possible answers to this question and only one with real-world validity:

1) Writers deserve to be paid a fair wage, and $5 - $10 isn’t a fair wage.

2) I deserve to be paid more because my skills are worth more than $5 or $10 an article.

#1? Sorry to say, but no writer deserves to be paid any more than the going market rate for a particular skill set, and that rate is determined by a back-and-forth process between buyers and sellers over time. Pretty much like anything else that’s bought and sold on the open market – anywhere, any time, any place.

And the key here is “a particular skill set.” Which leads to #2: that your skills are worth more than $5 or $10 an article. Well, in the case of those running content mills, they only need a certain level of writing – and no better. And guess what? Thousands upon thousands of writers have the skills to write at that modest level.

Translation? That level of writing has been “commoditized.” Think gasoline. Or milk. Or sirloin steak in the supermarket. There’s so much supply, and so little difference between one brand or another, so assuming it’s not some special variety (organic milk, grass-fed beef, etc.), prices will all be about the same. Same with this level of writing. 

That being the case, if those job listers have literally hundreds of writers lining up to bid on their projects at those rates, then why on earth would they need to pay any more than that? They don’t. And they won’t.

And please don’t say, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” That sounds really nice, and warm and fuzzy and all, but you don’t really believe that. Not if you indeed agreed earlier that you were a smart shopper. With rare exceptions, you won’t pay any more for something you want than you have to, and will often take time to ferret out a lower price on a particular item. Why should you expect different behavior from these job listers?

Here’s a serviceable analogy: McDonald's, again. Okay, so McDonald’s pays burger-flippers, say, eight bucks an hour. And given the relatively low complexity of that task, there are tons of folks out there who can do an admirable job at it. Now, clearly hypothetically, let’s say a world-class chef strolls into McD’s one day and says, “I’d a like a job flipping burgers, but given my formidable culinary skills, I deserve to make $80 an hour, not eight.”

To which, the hiring manager at McD’s is likely to reply: “Well, Chef Pascal or Luigi, I’m sure your skills are amazing, but the fact is, I only need $8/hour-burger-flipping skills. I’m happy to have you – geez, times must be tough, huh? – and I’m really sorry about this, but I can only pay you eight an hour.”

Same thing here. Content mill operators don’t need anything more than $5-10/article-writing skills. So, if you think you’re a world-class chef of writing, or at least a mid-talent short-order cook of writing, then stop applying at the McD’s of writing outlets, and instead go where the work pays far better, so your skills will, deservedly, be rewarded commensurately (like the commercial field, for starters).

And as many have accurately pointed out in their comments, those higher paying gigs are almost never advertised or posted online. You have to dig them out, which is why they pay far better. And those freelancers making the highest wages out there are usually those with a special skill or niche. In another words, there are far fewer writers out there with comparable skills. Just like our world-class chef.

If you decide not to bother seeking out better work (and it’s tough to retool your business, no question), thanks to inertia, uncertainty about next steps, or, let’s say it, laziness, that’s perfectly okay. But then stop complaining that these evil job listers won’t recognize and appropriately reward your stellar wordsmithing skills – skills which, like that McD’s hiring manager, they’re happy to have (heck, why not?) but don’t need, and hence, will be unwilling to pay for.

Oh, and as for other crazy conditions some of these listers ask for (e.g., free samples, on on-call 24/7, etc.) can you blame them? Given that writers, in droves, have already established their willingness – heck, eagerness – to be abused financially, it’s only natural to assume they’ll happily prostrate themselves again and again.

Not, that’s not exactly enlightened behavior on their part, but they’re simply reacting to the prevailing reality. In other words, in this scenario – no one abuses you. You allow yourself to be abused. And frankly, the sooner you realize and internalize that, the sooner you’ll be making the money you feel you truly “deserve” to make.

Yes, I know there’s been “rate fallout” in better-paying segments of writing, but I hear daily from writers having great years, some their best ever, and getting rates well above $100 an hour (and even more getting $75+). Not trying to be snarky, but if you want to believe the whole industry is in the toilet, it’s your right to do so, but it’s not the truth.

Adjusting my helmet, and settling into my freshly dug bunker, I await the inevitable “incoming”… ;)          


*******************

Love to write, but hate to starve? Check out the free report “Why Commercial Writing?” at http://www.wellfedwriter.com/, home of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles by Peter Bowerman, on lucrative ($50-125/hour) commercial freelancing. He chronicled his self-publishing success (a full-time living since 2001) in the award-winning 2007 release, The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. http://www.wellfedsp.com/. A popular speaker on writing and publishing, he is a professional coach for commercial freelancing and self-publishing ventures. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Writers Worth Two: Confidence


Yes, it's another day of Writers Worth celebration! Thanks again to all who contributed. To those of us reading, we appreciate the words of wisdom. And if you're new to the blog, you're seeing some great stuff from some impressive people.

I'm still lurking, but not for much longer. We'll be in the wilds of the Rockies by Friday, and completely disconnected (I hope). Nothing says "vacation" like a technology-free week!

Today Kimberly Ben, our Avid Writer blogger, shows us not only that we have confidence inside us, but how to show that to the client world. Kim is someone whose blog has morphed into this amazing gem of a place filled with fantastic advice and great insight. And that I think she's one of the nicest people on the planet is gravy. You'll love her. I do! And bookmark her site. You'll be glad you did.

Kim, thank you. Teaching confidence is tough, but if anyone can, you can!


Flexing Your Confidence Muscle
by Kimberly Ben

Having the guts to try your hand at earning a living as a freelance writer doesn’t mean you come automatically equipped with confidence in your ability. Some writers can command respect as highly qualified professionals from the gate, while the rest of us awkwardly fumble our way through those first client interactions and projects. We second guess our skill, qualifications, rates and whether or not we can really hold our own against so many other freelancers out there competing for the same jobs.

With confidence, you believe in your ability to provide clients with the best value, service and solutions. Thankfully confidence is something you can work on and build over time.  Here are some suggestions to help speed the process along:

1.       Get a Few Jobs Under Your Belt
One of the best ways to overcome nervousness, doubts about your writing skills and the ability to make a living as a freelancer, is to secure a few projects. The first step can be the toughest, so successfully completing writing projects can motivate you to keep going.

2.       Focus Your Business On What You Already Know
One of the best ways to set yourself apart from the competition is to focus on a specific niche or specialty. For example, someone with an extensive career background as a paralegal has instant credibility as a legal writer that writers who classify themselves as generalists may not have. They understand legal terminology, culture, etc. The same   goes for an IT specialist looking to break into writing technical manuals

3.       Keep Learning
Knowledge is power. Books/ebooks, blogs, websites, free and paid courses and webinars are just a few ways to stay on top of emerging trends in freelancing and specialized niches/industries. There are several free resources available, but understand that you’ll need to continuously hone your craft to remain competitive. Think of continuing education as an investment.

4.      Charge What Your Work Is Worth
Rates can be a source of contention among writers, but it’s so important to charge what you’re worth. First, when you set your rates too low, you spend more time   working hard to earn what you need. Also, charging very low rates can cause a potential client may question the quality of services you provide.

5.       Network with Other Freelancers
When you work for yourself, it’s important to have a network of support you can turn to for encouragement, professional feedback, mentoring/guidance and general camaraderie. You can begin building valuable relationships with other writers by commenting regularly on their blogs, interacting on writer and professional association forums and social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+). You can get to know writers who have already established themselves as successful freelance writers and gain valuable direction from those relationships.

6.       Work on Projects and with Clients You Like
Happy freelance writers make a habit of working with clients on projects they enjoy. It keeps them passionate about what they do, and ensures that they produce a top notch project. Some freelance writers feel like they absolutely must take on any and every project that comes their way. This is a mistake because working on projects you don’t enjoy can le ad to unnecessary stress and anxiety. When you enjoy what you do, your confidence grows naturally.

7.       Ask for Testimonials
Compliments can work wonders to affirm your ability to build a successful freelance business and increase confidence. When you complete a project, ask the client for feedback. If it’s positive, request a testimonial.  Keep a list of client testimonials handy for pending marketing collateral and for whenever you’re having a bad day and doubt starts creeping in. It really helps to read all the nice things clients have to say about your work.

Kimberly Ben is a versatile freelance writer with over 10 years’ experience in business communications and B2B content marketing strategies. She blogs about her own freelance writing misadventures journey at Avid Writer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Writers Worth Two: Finding Niches

Welcome to Week Two of Writers Worth, er.... Weeks!


I'm not here. If I'm online, I'm lurking from a WiFi spot in Vancouver. That doesn't mean the fun has to stop.  I know you'll make each guest poster feel welcome and engage them in conversation. And thank you in advance.

Thanks also to Allena Tapia of About's Freelance Writing. Allena has been a source of information and of friendship for some time. I'm grateful that she answered the call for guest posts because her advice is spot on! If you've ever said, "But what do I write about? I don't have any experience!" listen up. You're about to have that question answered.

Thank you, Allena!


Boost Your Worth By Finding Your Niche
by Allena Tapia

When I teach classes about freelance writing at my local community college, I tell my students that every single one of them has a niche. And, without fail, I always have a student stay after to argue the point:

"But I'm just a secretary."

"But I've been a mother and housewife for the last ten years."

"But I just graduated from college."

And, despite the fact that I'm anticipating an ice cold Strongbow at home, I always manage to muster the patience from deep down inside of me to walk these students through their life decisions, extracurricular activities, and interests. Without fail, we always find something that 

1) Elicits great passion from the student, or
2) They know an awful lot about.

And I'm willing to do this and go there for one reason, and one reason only: I believe your niche is your secret to writing success.

So, my Writer's Worth Week advice is to mine that niche! Find it, name it, and mine the heck out of it. And I say this for several reasons:

1) Writing can be soul-crushing, both when you start out, and at odd times along the way (example: burn out). Writing within your expertise tempers this a bit.
2) There are a whole lotta people out there who can string sentences together. You need something more than that.
3) Research is a time-killer, and often contributes to the low wages of newbies. Working within your niche saves time, and drives up your hourly rate.

Finding your niche is as easy as walking yourself through your employment, hobbies, and hot-button issues. What do you write about when you're not paid to write? What do you read? What news stories are you sharing on Facebook or Google+? What do you do at your day job? 

I was once a secretary who answered phones for my state department of agriculture. I would tell people how many feet deep that had to bury their dead horse (not kidding), and how often their chickens should be tested for pullorum (it's a disease). Being able to interpret verbose state laws garnered me work with a crop pesticide company in my first year of freelance writing. 

I once counseled a student who has worked at the JC Penney jewelry counter since she was 17. She wanted to edit and proofread, but insisted she had no experience to even begin selling herself. When I walked her through her job duties, she mentioned the fact that she has to match the manifests and packing slips on over 500 diamonds per week. This was the exact kind of detail work that landed her a job proofreading a 20,000 line Excel spreadsheet for a tech manufacturer later that year.

Now, if you follow me at all, either at About.com (http://www.freelancewrite.about.com), Twitter (@allenat), or via my personal blog (http://www.gardenwallpublications.com/blog), you know that I no longer write about chicken diseases or dead horses. Naming and marketing your niche doesn't  limit you at all! It's simply a stepping stone to a better wage. It's one of the first steps in establishing your true worth as a writer.

How about you? What's your niche? Have a funny niche story to share? Leave it in the comments below. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Writers Worth Week: Deciding Your Own Worth

It's been a great week of sharing worth and inspiring others. Don't forget there's more next week!

Today's post comes from someone I've admired and watched for some time. I was fortunate enough to connect to Sharon Hurley Hall via Google+. In fact, I'd say becoming friends with Sharon was the best benefit I've ever received from Google+. Her blog is outstanding, as those of you who read it well know.

I'm thrilled to have today's post come from Sharon, who talks about how she learned to accept her worth long before she started freelancing.



What are You Worth? You Decide!
by Sharon Hurley Hall


Before you can accept your worth as a writer, you first have to accept your worth as a person. That's something only you can decide. I learned that the hard way while going through one of the toughest periods of my life - confronting racism when I was far away from home.

In my very early 20s I spent a year living in the South of France and for the first time I came face to face with people who made judgments about me based on something I had no control over - the color of my skin. Some were subtle about it; others were obvious.

I won't go into detail on all the many experiences of that year, but suffice it to say it was tough. In deciding how I was going to deal with the issue I could have turned the hatred back on the haters. But I didn't. Instead, I chose to shine a light on the ignorance and dispel some of the misconceptions.

I could also have allowed the haters' view of me to define how I saw myself. But I didn't. Even back then I knew my own value as a pretty decent human being - and I wasn't prepared to let anyone convince me otherwise, even if they didn't agree.

The thing is, you don't have to believe about yourself what others believe about you. You're better than that.

A Writer with Attitude
Bringing it back to the writing life, that attitude has carried through.
  • When I decided to go freelance, there were both supporters and detractors. I basked in the support and ignored the detractors - I knew that I could make a success of what I was doing.
  • When I got my first gig for a paltry sum, I never NEVER thought that all I was worth was 1c a word. I gave the same value that I give all my clients. They soon learned to value me as well, and that was reflected in earnings.
  • When clients disagreed with my approach, I explained where I was coming from and why what I was doing made sense.
  • When people looked at my photo online and made a snap decision that I wasn't the right person for them, I said 'their loss' and moved on.
Beyond Rejection
At no time did I allow rejection or ignorance to define my opinion of myself.
So my lesson is: it's not only about where you are now, it's about having a plan for where you are going. It's about knowing that you have the writing ability. It's about trading up whenever you can till you get to where you are comfy. And it's about continuing to do this throughout your life while remaining happy with what you have achieved so far.

Sharon Hurley Hall has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. She is passionate about helping other writers succeed through her Get Paid to Write Online blog.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Writers Worth Week: More Than You Realize


I love it when a writer takes a personal experience and turns it into a teaching moment. Paula Hendrickson,
whose comments and interactions with others have endeared her to the writing community, shows us through her own frustration how she defines her own worth even as she's being challenged on that thought. Paula, I hope by the time this hits the bandwidth you will have cleared up the mess and the client will be a distant memory in the making.

Many thanks for your words of wisdom, Paula. I appreciate it!

Writers Are Worth More Than We Realize
By Paula Hendrickson

What’s wrong with this picture: It’s May, and a slow-paying client still owes me for work I did in February and another client won’t pay for my April work until late May, yet I have to pay the local handyman for his labor the same day he does it, and the guy who mows my lawn expects to be paid by the time he’s packed his mower back into his truck.

What do the handyman and lawn guy know that professional writers don’t know?

They know what they’re worth.

Think about it. How many other professions routinely wait two, three or more months to be paid for their services?

Sure, some clients pay 2-4 weeks after invoice, but too many clients try to stretch payments out. When I agreed to work for the slow-payer, I understood his terms weren’t what I was used to. Most magazines pay a within a month of acceptance, some pay immediately upon publication. This guy stipulated 30 days after publication. (He tried to make it sound like a good deal by saying he paid whichever was more - the assigned rate or based on the published word count.) His terms break down to about 60 days after acceptance. Fine. Whatever. That’s okay as long as I know when I’ll be paid.

Apparently the slow payer can’t count.  It is now 40 days after publication and I’m still unpaid. He’s pulled this before, so I wasn’t surprised. I sent a polite note, saying I assumed payment was already on its way, and asking him to confirm that the check has been mailed so we can avoid the whole Past Due Notice and requisite late fee.  He hasn’t bothered to reply (or even acknowledge the invoice I sent him a month ago). I’m done being polite.

As professionals, we can’t afford to be polite when it comes to collecting outstanding invoices. Whether you charge $50 or $5,000 per article, if a client fails to fulfill his or her contractual obligations – and in the case of the slow payer, meet his own terms – in a timely manner, it’s up to us to demand payment.

Be cordial but firm.  Something that’s worked for me is offering to set up a payment plan. The client may take offense, but if they’re not paying their bills on time, do they really expect you to believe their business is doing well?

If that fails, politely remind them of the terms they agreed to and give them a week to pay up. If the week passes with no payment, send a Past Due Notice clearly stating a late fee will be assessed if the invoice isn’t paid immediately. In full.

On rare occasions, they’ll still stall. No matter what excuses they offer – illness in the family, their own clients haven’t paid them, slow ad sales – make it clear that their cash flow issues are not your problem; you’re not in business to subsidize their company. Set a deadline and make it clear you will resort to alternate means of collection if necessary. Let them wonder if that means you’re turning things over to a collection agency, an attorney, or your burly uncle with his very hungry Rottweiler.

When clients realize you’re not a pushover, they should move you up on their priority list.  

While some clients really are short of cash, the dirty little secret is some of the slowest payers have the funds to pay you, but stashed them in a 90-day CD or  another account to earn a little interest before paying their debts. If you make it clear it could cost more for them to delay payment than they’ll make with a short-term investment, you’ve increased your odds of being paid on time.

Writing is just a small part of our job. Setting rates and negotiating terms help determine our worth, but holding clients responsible for meeting their obligations is how we reinforce our true value. If we all insist on being paid a fair amount in a timely manner, sooner or later writers will be recognized as the valued professionals we are.

What are some successful methods you've used to collect outstanding invoices?

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to several national consumer and trade publications, ranging from EMMY MAGAZINE and VARIETY to AMERICAN BUNGALOW and PRODUCE BUSINESS, and blogs about her creative endeavors at www.createfromscratch.wordpress.com 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writers Worth Week: When the Safety Net is Gone


Today's guest post is from a reluctant poster. Nancy Oliver reached out to me through LinkedIn not long ago, and we formed an instant, decadent email friendship. She's proven herself to be someone with incredible wit, hilarious insight, and the uncanny ability to spot phony marketing in lightning speed. 

She came to me with her story of working with Demand as an editor. It was clear from the first note that Nancy was too talented to have lasted with them for very long (and she's long gone from DS). She found the courage to leave behind her sole source of recessionary income at a time when she could least afford to. It wasn't until this post that I realized the full extent of Nancy's courage --and talent. 

Nancy, thank you for overcoming your reluctance and sharing this incredible story.

When the Safety Net is Gone

by Nancy Oliver

In 1994, I started my freelance life – writing and editing – with a built-in safety net, my husband. We were a silly, mid-life pairing. When we married, he was 46; I was 36. He was tall and thin; I was short and thin. I was trapped in a well-paying but-oh-so-boring technical writing job and worked many hours “on the side,” cramming words into novels and short stories. The tech writing money was so delicious, though, I felt I could never leave it behind.

My husband loved my writing as much as he loved me. He was the best beta reader I’ve ever had. On our honeymoon, he began to whisper those magic words to me. “You can be your own boss. Write your novel. You can do it! You know your characters need you more than …”

I was too scared to consider it. Didn’t I need the structure that going to an office provided? Didn’t I need that instant feedback when my computer documentation was approved with no changes? Didn’t I need that fabulous paycheck?

After about a year of waffling, I caved, but my sense of impending failure was great. My plan was to take a few technical writing jobs and work on my fiction as much as I could. I was in my late-30s, an experienced writer and editor. Unfortunately, I was still gullible.

My first freelance project was to work with Sandra, an engineer who had scored a contract with a major computer company to provide documentation. We agreed on a written contract, and we were off. But Sandra, although much respected by her client, was not respectful of her subs. She would tell me she couldn’t afford to pay me because she hadn’t been paid. She would tell me her electricity had been cut off because she couldn’t afford to pay both her electricity and me, and that she had chosen to pay me. She would tell me that her children were eating peanut butter sandwiches because she had chosen to pay me. She would tell me her furniture had been repossessed because she had chosen to pay me. It was endless. I swear she spent most of her days coming up with new reasons to make me feel guilty.

But Sandra seemed to have forgotten that we were living in a small university town.

Beth, a friend of mine, was a volunteer in my husband’s department. Beth also happened to be Sandra’s neighbor, although the two women didn’t know each other. Beth saw lights on in Sandra’s house at night. Beth saw Domino’s make deliveries. Beth saw the new leather furniture being delivered. Beth saw two late-model BMWs in the driveway at the end of every work day.

Lesson #1: You might have a contract, but people might still try to take advantage of you.

For a few years, I was able to get paid work without this level of hassle. The most reliable, stress-free work came when I would work directly with the client, not subbing. Being located where there were so many universities was also a help.

The fiction, on the other hand, went pitifully. My characters struggled on the page. My plots flopped. Nothing seemed to be working right. I was disgusted with the way things were going. My husband would ask: “Why are the novels not pouring out of those fingers? You can do it!” I meditated. I prayed. I decided that maybe it was the fact that I was spending so much time in the technical writing world that all my creative juices had been killed or, at the very least, mortally wounded.

Lesson #2: A writer (or an editor) needs time to be creative as well as time to be regimented.

With that in mind, I decided to finish my current jobs and then devote myself full-time to my fiction. I filled journal after journal. No fiction, mind you. Just thousands of words about this ongoing inner struggle I had. Why were these characters so stuck inside my head? Why were these plots not bouncing along? Nothing seemed to be working. I couldn’t get to the root, but I always had the comfort of my safety net.

The safety net’s voice was ever in my ear, encouraging me. “It’s just because you have all this time now; you drove yourself so hard for so long.” Well, that was true. And he always added, “You can do it.”

Lesson #3: Cut yourself some slack.

Just as quickly as he had dropped into my life, he dropped out of it. In fact, he just dropped dead – right in front of me. We were doing a minor home repair. He turned around, took three steps to me, and asked, “Did you say 7 3/4?” And that was it. He dropped down like his bones had been lifted straight out of his clothes. His first heart attack at 54 was his last. We had just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary five days earlier. My sweet-talking safety net was gone.

After the memorial service, I began to stay in bed most of the day. After the first three weeks, our weimaraner stopped standing sentry at the front door, waiting for her preferred owner to come home. I cried so much I lost my voice. I lost 15 pounds. I thought to myself: “Can I go on? Can I?”

Lesson #4: You need a plan when the safety net gives out.

I won’t lie. It was six months before I could smile again. I was in a perpetual state of feeling like I was holding my breath. One midnight, as I lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling, it occurred to me that I was going to get bed sores if I didn’t stop spending so much time in the “horizontal hold” position, as my husband used to call it.

I opened the nightstand drawer and pulled out a journal. I hadn’t written anything since Ed’s death because now all my words were stuck in the ether, not just the fiction-related ones. I started making a list -- a list of five things I would make myself do every day. Number 1 on that list was “Get out of bed.”

Lesson #5: Even small steps count big when you’re low.

At first, I second-guessed myself endlessly. Did I want to take that 20-hour a week communications job? Did I want to get back into the world of office politics? The answer to both was “No.” But I did it. Sometimes, just getting out into the world is better than spinning endlessly in your own, alone.

After two years, I was ready to return to freelancing. It was slow going, at first. I would get a migraine or a nervous stomach before I met with clients. I found, though, that one client happily recommended me to another. Word-of-mouth referrals became gold in the bank. I took writing classes and workshops and kept expanding my repertoire of skills. I became flexible and daring. I would actually cold call people and ask if they needed a brochure put together or a proofreader for their newsletter.

It’s been 10 years now since Ed died. I’m still freelancing. When the economy went belly-up a few years back, several clients tightened their belts so much I was squeezed right out, and I had to work at one of the content mills for a while. My self-esteem took a nosedive. I didn’t know if I could take it – the humiliation of working so many hours for so little money. I never stopped trying to find new clients, even when I was at the content mill. I was working 12-hour days, but I was still trying to make a new job contact every single day. But I did it. I had a mortgage to feed. The economy began to improve and so did my list of clients who were willing to pay what a professional writer and editor should be making. One day, I was feeling particularly morose about working so hard and earning so little. I went to the bookshelf and absent-mindedly picked up a novel that I had been reading when my husband died. My bookmarker? A little sticky note with only four words on it, written by my husband. “You can DO IT!” I took it out and taped it to the wall near my computer monitor. I doubled up my daily efforts and had my first client post-content mill in about four weeks.

Sometimes, a new safety net just needs a little boost to get off the ground. 



Nancy Oliver is a writer, editor, and public speaker in North Carolina where she spends a lot of time in Wi-Fi cafes. When she's not asking complete strangers if they've considered working to improve the SEO content of their LinkedIn profiles, she's renovating her family home place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writers Worth Week: Why Your Per Word Rate Isn't All That


Day two of Writers Worth Week, and you're in for a treat. Urban Muse Susan Johnston is someone I remember "meeting" at the start of her career (and pretty close to the start of my own freelancing career). Here was someone who was going to rock the writing world. And rock it she has. Susan has a phenomenal blog, a book I highly recommend (LinkedIn and Lovin' It), and speaks at various industry conferences. Plus she's just so darned nice. 

Here, Susan's tackled the topic of the per-word rate. She's changed my thinking - I bet she changes yours, too.

Why Your Per Word Rate Matters Less Than You Think
By Susan Johnston

Ask most writers and they'll tell you they'd rather earn $1.50 per word than $.50 per word. After all, the latter is three times as much money, right?

Not necessarily.

Time is money so you also need to factor in the time and hassle it takes to complete the assignment, not just how much you're earning per word. Although most publications pay by the word instead of by the hour, it's a good idea to estimate the amount of work involved and make sure the assignment is actually worth your time.

Say you were assigned an 800-word feature article for a national magazine that pays $1.50 per word. That's $1,200, which sounds like a tidy sum of money. But if your editor asks you to interview two "real people" sources and two experts, you'll easily spend several hours (if not days) finding "real people" who meet her criteria and cajoling them to talk.   

Once you've completed the interviews and written the article, let's say your editor drops one of your sources because the source refuses to sign the photo release form or maybe the art director doesn't find the source very photogenic. Then you spend several more hours finding and interviewing a new source. By now, you've easily sunk 20 hours into the assignment.

After you file a revision, your editor sends the article to her boss, who chimes in with a dozen questions that require you to re-interview one of the real people and both experts. Another two days playing phone tag and revising your article so the article is (finally) accepted and you can submit your invoice.

But wait! Two months later, you still haven't gotten paid, so you send a follow-up email, which goes ignored. The next week, you call accounts payable and they ask you to resend your invoice.

Five months after starting the assignment, you receive a check for $1,200, but you realize you've easily spent two full weeks reporting and writing, then re-porting and rewriting your article, not to mention the time you spent begging to be paid. At roughly 40 hours a week x 2, that's 80 hours. Divide $1,200 by 80 hours and you've earned a measly $15 per hour, which is even less after taxes.

But what if you accepted a different assignment at $.50 per word? Perhaps a trade magazine offers you $400 for an 800-word article that requires three experts (all provided by your editor so there are no approval issues and no "real people" to wrangle). If you schedule the three interviews in an afternoon, you could spend an hour brainstorming questions and reading background information (you've covered the topic before so you just need a quick refresher, not a crash course), then a half hour on the phone with each source.

The next day, you spend two hours writing the article and a half hour proofreading and verifying the stats you included. Your editor emails you back right away with a few minor questions and zaps your invoice over to accounts payable. A few weeks later, you get paid via direct deposit. All told, you've spent a little over five hours on the assignment, which equates to between $75 and $80 an hour. Even if it took a little longer, you'd still earn a lot more money per hour than the other example and you'd keep your schedule open so that you could accept other projects, too.

Now, you may have non-monetary reasons for accepting Assignment A (prestige, the personal satisfaction of seeing your byline in a magazine your mother-in-law reads). But if you consistently under-value your time, then you're stunting your earning potential.

A few years into freelancing, I decided that I'd rather work with low-maintenance clients and earn a decent hourly rate than kill myself trying to please big-name clients and earning close to minimum wage. The handful of high-prestige, low-paying assignments I do tackle are balanced out by assignments for publications with a lower headache factor and higher pay.

Need help figuring out how much you should be earning per hour? Katherine Lewis of CurrentMom has an excellent post on calculating your freelance rate and the Editorial Freelancers Association lists common editorial rates.

Susan Johnston blogs at The Urban Muse and Ebyline. Her articles have appeared in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, DailyCandy.com, US News & World Report, and many other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @UrbanMuseWriter

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Stuff

What's on the iPod: I Felt Like Jesus by Chuck Prophet


No work today. Instead, I'll be on my way to Portland, Maine for the stepdaughter's college graduation. Very much looking forward to it. She's worked so hard to get to this point, and she's already seeing a payoff. She is the only one of three college graduates in the family who is graduating with a great job already in hand. Amen!

I was handed yet another project yesterday -- the annual Big One. Super that they need it by June 1. Not super that I won't be here. We're off to Vancouver next weekend, and while I do intend to work the first week, the second week will be spent in the Rockies and very much disconnected. Still, the client promised to work around my schedule, so I'm hoping to get at least an extra week on the deadline.

Since it's Friday and we should all be dancing, I'll leave you with this video. The song is one of my favorites, but the kid dancing is just the epitome of free expression. Stick around for the one-handed handstand.



Happy weekend, everyone. And Happy Mother's Day to all moms, even those whose children are of the four-legged variety.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Importance of Contracts

What's on the iPod: You Ain't Goin' Nowhere by Counting Crows


Another busy one yesterday. I started a new client project almost at the same time the contract came in. I was eager to get going on this one as it's a new client I located at the conference.

I waited for the contract. Not that I don't trust the client - I don't trust that the "limmerance" phase we're in now where we're on the same page and happy and smitten with expectations. Things can go wrong. Projects can go south too quickly for all sorts of reasons. I could have had that project half done, but I've learned not to move without a signature. It's that important.

You've worked without one at least once, haven't you? We all have. It happens that you just start in on a project and forget that all-important piece of paper. In my early days, I sure did. And it bit me hard too many times. Here are some examples of why you shouldn't lift a finger without protection:

Avoidance. Think some clients don't try to avoid payment? Tell me if this has ever happened to you - you do the work, send the invoice, then wait. You follow up with another invoice a month later. Nothing. A third invoice goes out. Nothing. You mention you're thinking of turning to a collection agency or you escalate the problem some other way. It's then that you hear from them, and it comes like so: "We were very unhappy with your work and we aren't paying." Often they won't even say they aren't paying; they'll just hit you with a litany of problems you've injected into their world. They're avoiding payment, for they had three months to complain, yet they waited until you pushed. Contracts avoid the uncertainty of whether you'll ever get payment. You will. Legally.

Friends and other experts. The client decided to let his friends edit his work - you know, that work you just spent a week or so editing. Now their fingerprints are smudging your copy and muddying his message. Does he care? No, because they're his friends and he trusts them! And now they have him doubting your abilities. He wants to fire you. If you have no contract, you don't have much chance of collecting. However, if you have a contract and you're fired, he owes you per the terms of the agreement. And a court will back you up on it.

Sudden money woes. It's amazing how many clients become hard up for cash the minute you're in the middle of or have just finished a project. Large bills do hit companies, but if it happens at the frequency with which writers are reporting, I'm afraid for corporate America. At any rate, their money problems are as much concern to you as yours are to them. The contract locks them in to paying you.

The "trust me" client. I'll admit he was a rarity, but there he was, saying he didn't work with contracts because they were "fussy." This was as he was rounding down the words-per-document he'd pay me for, as he put it. And saying he'd pay for "the content I use." So if I wrote a 2,000-word story and he paid me for 200 words? He refused the contract and I refused his business. That was one loss I've never regretted. As our priest used to say, Trust in God, but ladies, take your purses with you when you leave the pew."

The "I really wanted this project" switch. You think you're writing a brochure and a newsletter because hey, that's what he said he wanted. But now your client is saying "No, I really wanted you to update the website, too. I did tell you!" A contract spells out what he really told you and makes sure he's not adding to the list without properly compensating you.

Fee switcheroo. "No, I didn't agree to pay that - you told me it was this!" Don't ever put yourself in a position for someone to deny ever knowing what you are charging. Spell it out in writing and get a signature from the client. Even an emailed confirmation of your terms is better than nothing.

What have contracts helped you avoid?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Client Lessons: What the Dog Whisperer Has Taught Me



What's on the iPod: Somebody That I Used to Know by Walk Off the Earth

Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the fly. Yesterday, I played the part of the fly as a few of my project drafts hit the windshield with definitive splats. In one case, it was a matter of changing up a few things and we were back on the road. In another, it was more a case of too many hands on a project and not enough input from the decision maker. I suspect the modification will be better because now I know from the decision maker what is expected. That's a huge help.

My husband remarked that my reaction this time was rather neutral. Actually, he said "Why aren't you flipping out like you usually do?"

Because stuff happens.

Maybe I had a little too much of the Cesar de Mayo Dog Whisperer marathon Saturday, but I was feeling all calm and assertive when the separate client notes came in. Or maybe that was exhausted and spent from planning a vacation. I'd like to think Cesar Millan's training of dog owners is rubbing off on me (I don't own a dog after losing my life dog years ago). But his lessons aren't just for dog owners. They're great lessons we can apply to every human interaction we have, especially in business. Here's what Cesar has taught me:

Remain calm and assertive. Freaking out never got anyone anywhere other than that quick trip to Stress Town. Instead, breathe. Pull those shoulders back, stick the chin up, and smile as you attempt to solve the problem or talk with your clients. Emit the energy you want your clients to react to. It's amazing how your attitude can influence the outcome of your communications.

Be the pack leader. You could cower in a corner or get nervous every time a client gets upset or has a problem. Or you can take charge of an unruly situation with confidence, and of course with that calm/assertive attitude. Guess which one leaves a better impression?

Let it go once it's over. Cesar says dogs live in the now, not in the past. Oh, to be like that! Why not? You can't move forward, as Cesar says, if you're still living in the past. If your client corrected you on something you don't feel is a mistake or something that clearly is, fix it to their liking and move on. It no longer exists.

Create balance. If you have a client who's a huge fan of drama or fits of hysteria, find ways to temper that reaction. In one case, I figured out that giving the client very specific information and only what she needed to hear worked best. Because she skimmed emails instead of reading them through, she'd react with panic thinking I'd missed something. I started using bulleted lists -- the panic attacks disappeared. Find out what it takes to create balance with your client, and apply it liberally.

What Dog Whisperer or other behavioral training advice applies to your interactions with clients?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Five Things Hockey Teaches You About Marketing

What's on the iPod: Strange Girl by The Airborne Toxic Event


For a Monday, it was pretty busy yesterday. I had a list waiting from a client, and I managed all but one item, which isn't back from the client's client yet. I'm hoping to wrap that up today. I'm also in a holding pattern: a new client hasn't returned the contract yet. When they do, I can begin. Until then, I market for other clients.

As I watched my beloved Penguins fold like a house of cards a few weeks back, I didn't consider then how much hockey can teach us about marketing. Turns out there's plenty about the sport that can be used to improve marketing. For example:

The more pucks shot on the net, the higher the likelihood of a goal. This one is rather obvious. If you market consistently, your odds of securing clients and projects increase. You can send out one note a day or a dozen in a week -- it's that you repeat your efforts the following week and the week after that and so on that makes the difference.

The more you practice, the better you become. Wayne Gretzky didn't become a superb hockey player because he was born with the ability to play. He had to work at it. If you market every day, you develop and refine your message.

Home ice advantage is a real advantage. You just play better in your own comfort zone. Likewise your writing -- your strength lies in trusting your own skills and allowing yourself to propose projects and meet prospective clients as an equal. If you trust in your own abilities, you can face your client with more confidence.

Penalties are real disadvantages. Not that you'd body slam a client or hit them with a high stick, but you can fail to follow through on marketing -- not following up, letting too much time pass between communications, forgetting to present your best pitch, etc. And just imagine how much you've been penalized by inertia.

The Stanley Cup is heavy to lift, but no one ever complains. Sure, marketing is going to be challenging, and it may even cause you to take risks you wouldn't normally take. But the prize -- whether it be opening up a new area of specialization or securing that article assignment from the magazine of your dreams, etc.-- is so worth it.

What else can hockey -- or any sport -- teach you about your marketing?

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