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Friday, August 31, 2012

Monthly Assessment: August 2012

What's on the iPod: Smoke and Mirrors by Gotye

Slowly, I'm checking things off my list. See, I'm about to head out of town for eight days, and I want to have everything sorted before I go. Some projects must be done by then, so today is completing that process as we're about to head into a long weekend.

The good news is a stalled project is starting up again, and no set timeline, so I can disappear next week without it affecting them. And I got a call from someone I'd met at the conference this year. And I was hired for work. I was smart and scheduled it after I return so that I'm not racing to get something else out the door before I get on that plane.

What a month. I was off the first week, busy for three days last week, and the work seemed at times overwhelming. But I survived.

In a month that is usually as quiet as a graveyard, I surpassed my earnings target by the 10th. Wild. Absolutely wild month.

I thought I'd sit back and actually relax a little. However, relaxing just wasn't in the cards. Here's how things went:

I had no time to send one. I'm happy that the work is coming in without my having to work at it, but I'm worried. Things are great now - what about next month? New goal: send out at least five queries a month.

I feel like I've let all my marketing slide. Didn't even follow up on LOIs I'd sent a few months ago. Next new goal: follow up. Today.

Existing clients:
Here is where the bulk of my work came from this month. Thanks to four clients, I blew past my earnings goal. Like last month, four clients kept me hopping. A client with a large project has stalled, but I suspect he'll be back at the start of September. Also, I just scored an article gig this week, so I have a few things going in September.

New clients:
I worked with a new client this month - one that hired me a month ago, but just got around to the project, which is now in finished draft form. It goes out to them today.

I hesitate to call it a referral, but a client did get in touch at the beginning of the month regarding a project. He'd found me via my website. Nothing has come of it, and I suspect it's because my Skype skills aren't up to snuff, nor was our conversation via Skype even intelligible. I want to follow up with him today.

Like last month, this month was stellar. I just guaranteed a good Christmas for my kids, and a damn good chance my taxes will be up to snuff in April (always thinking ahead). I surpassed the earnings goal by 30 percent. That makes me happy.

The Bottom Line:
That conference paid off big time, and continues to. Even though one or two of the contacts there have turned into one-time gigs, I'm still working steadily and earning. I'm thinking about adding another conference in November to boost earnings even more.

But I don't like that I'm not marketing as much. It's time to dust off the spreadsheet and get back to marketing again like I'm starving - because hey, tomorrow I could be.

How was your month? Are you seeing more work this year than last? What's working? What isn't?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Importance of Confirmation

What's on the iPod: Love the Way You Lie by Rihanna and Eminem

Great day yesterday - I put the finishing touches on the web project, got an interview done, and put out my query for the article interviews. Also, I edited a client project that I was happy to have time for. Life is good when the ducks are in a row.

I received a call from that last client because she hadn't heard from me. At first, I panicked internally - what had I forgotten? Did I miss something? But instead, she'd sent a project out on Sunday and again yesterday. To date, I haven't yet received her emails.

She knew to call because, as she said, I always confirm getting something. This time I didn't, so she knew something was hinky. It saved her deadline and my reputation -- I was able to get the project to her the same day, and she didn't miss her publication date.

If you're not in the habit of confirming each time a client sends you a project, do so. Here are reasons why that's important:

Incomplete projects. Had I not been in the habit of confirming, my client would not have thought to call, and her project wouldn't have been completed. That makes me look bad, even if I had nothing to do with the  missing project.

Lost opportunities. Just try not confirming a magazine story - when you turn it in in six weeks, that editor may tell you to get lost. If you don't say "Yes" to the terms and the assignment, the editor will think you're not interested and move on to the next writer.

No legal backup. If you didn't confirm that project and your client decides not to pay you, he could argue it's because he didn't think you were interested. And you know what? He may have a point - a legal one. If you confirm, you lock him in to the terms of the agreement, especially payment.

Lost reputation. It just looks flaky if you don't bother responding to your clients. You could get a reputation for not being reliable, and that alone could kill your relationships.

How has confirming your assignments saved your hide? Was there ever a time when you didn't confirm and it bit you?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Giving Good Phone

What's on the iPod: Incomplete and Insecure by The Avett Brothers

I'm a little behind in what I'm trying to get done this week. The website revisions are turning into more of a rewrite than I'd wanted, but I won't keep copy that doesn't sing, so they're getting a bonus, like it or not. I have article interviews to line up and I have no earthly idea when I'll have five minutes to conduct any interviews since I'm outta here for eight days starting next Wednesday. Plus the newsletter has to be finished, and I've yet to conduct an interview (today, I swear) and review a proposal. Again, today.

Anne asked about how to run a good phone meeting. A phone meeting is a lot like running a phone interview, but with a little more chaos inserted. But it can be done well. Here's what I see as things you have to consider:

Your purpose. Why are you talking? What are you talking about? Who's going to do the talking? Who's making sure things don't go off track? If you're just having a phone meeting because you can and think you should, save everyone's time and don't.

Talking points. The two calls I attended this week worked well for this reason -- there was a clearly written, shared agenda. Everyone at the meetings simply ran down the lists and we ended when we'd discussed each point.

Decisions to be made. No need for follow-up on most of the line items mentioned above as we made decisions as we went. We knew going in what decisions had to be made. That gave everyone a chance to think about it, suggest things, bring up options.

A clear end time. Don't you hate that 30-minute call that runs 45 minutes to an hour? I've been known to excuse myself when that happens, especially if it's a situation where I'm not being paid (first consultation). Watch the clock.

Derailment prevention. There are times when I've been stuck on the phone with "talkers." These are people who start to address the main point, but then veer off quickly into one or more unrelated areas. These additional conversations waste time and detract from the main point, which may be forgotten if someone doesn't intervene. It's okay to interrupt (yes, talk right over them or you'll never get a word in) and ask to go back to the main point. Just do so nicely, and acknowledge that the points brought up should be discussed at another time (and ask the person to email the points around to everyone -- makes them feel heard and gets the points out for next time).

How many phone calls have you had to participate in (not counting webinars)? What do you see as the biggest problem with phone calls? How can you help solve that?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Four Ways to Find Your Business Voice

What's on the iPod: I'm Shakin' by Jack White

Yesterday wasn't as productive as I'd hoped. Too many phone conferences. I would love to bottle the time wasted in phoned meetings. While the ones I was part of yesterday were productive (and well run), most are a huge waste of time. I've actually worked with clients who've said at the end of the phone call "Let's schedule another call to discuss" when I thought the call netted an actual game plan. That's what I get for being optimistic.

As I was juggling client requests amid a visit from our Aussies, I realized the only way I was able to keep from freaking out was A) experience, B) lack of sleep and patience, and C) having a strong business voice. That combination allowed me to say no, I can't instead of agreeing to do something I had little time for.

Finding that voice - ah, that's the tough part. You have to start with confidence, but that's not always ingrained in you from the start, is it? There's that trepidation, that fear of a misstep, that terrifying realization that you actually have a business and people are starting to call.

That's when you need to kick that voice into action. Here are a few things to try to gain your voice:

Know what you want. You want your weekends off, right? Or you're about to take that holiday weekend off, aren't you? Know exactly what you require to remain a happy, productive writer with a business that's perceived as viable and professional.

Know what you won't accept. You won't work that Labor Day weekend without a higher fee attached, will you? Nor will you work for half what you normally charge. You'll not accept any working conditions or demands that interfere with current client work or your own needs. Those parameters are the beginnings of these things called boundaries. Decide right now what it is that will be unacceptable to you. Write it down if you have to.

Know how you'll handle the tough stuff. But didn't that new client just ask you to give up a weekend? First, a new client should never make such strict demands on your time (that's not your client -- that's a problem waiting to attach itself to you). Second, didn't you just decide you weren't working weekends unless it's a dire emergency? To date, I've not seen one person die of comma overload or prepositional fever. In other words, there are very few real writing emergencies -- only clients who have bad planning skills. So how will you respond to those tough situations? Practice your response now. Write it down. Memorize it. Repeat it until it no longer makes your heart race to say it to a client.

Stick with it. There's no sense in developing a business voice if you're going to cave every time you use it.  Set your boundaries, assert yourself, and don't back down without a superior reason that makes sense to your own schedule and needs.

How do you establish and maintain a business voice? What else goes into it for you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Down Under Up Above

What's on the iPod: Super Bass by Nicki Manaj

No, that's not adverb/preposition overload. We had our Aussies over for a four-day visit. We'd met them and instantly clicked at the clan gathering in Inverness (Scotland) three years ago, and when they mentioned they were thinking of planning a trip to the US, we were quick to invite them to visit. They accepted and we prepared for what turned out to be a great time.

First, we met them at the airport and headed right to one of our favorite pubs, Belgian Cafe. Say what you will about food in NYC being fantastic (and for the most part it is) - Philadelphia can hold its own, too. This place is no exception. The food is great and the beers (hundreds of them) are a treat. Our friends enjoyed it and we ate like kings.

The next day we were off to Manhattan. Carol wanted nothing more than to sample an "American" pizza in Manhattan. We obliged. It wasn't bad pizza, either. Then we went off to the 9/11 Memorial, which I'd been wanting to visit, for a more somber, reflective time. Then off through Battery Park to the Staten Island Ferry (free), where they got great photos of the old girl in the harbor (you know her) and Ellis Island. Then back to Manhattan for a trip up the Empire State Building (ridiculous what they charge!), and down to the gift shop next door so they could find souvenirs for back home. Then it was dinner at St. Andrew's Pub. I keep finding more favorites on the whiskey list every time we visit. Then a quick view of Times Square before heading home.

The next day we were exhausted, so we toured our town, got a few errands in, took a short walk, and had lunch at Molly Maguire's. Then we visited Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department. Eric is a fireman in Queensland region, and he wanted badly to connect to other firemen, if only to swap t-shirts. He'd carried a few from home to exchange with locals here. And the VFVFD did not disappoint. He came out loaded down with not one, but four shirts to take home. We just happened to show up when a friend was in the hall, so that didn't hurt. But the guys were thrilled to meet him and to swap stories. And it made Eric happy to find some commonality.

We went home and relaxed. I got the idea to do so with some of our own whiskies, and Eric offered up some he had just purchased in Scotland. That got everyone nice and warm! We had a great time laughing and telling stories over the only dinner I cooked the entire visit (and didn't cook the broccoli enough, dammit!).

Saturday we canoed the Brandywine Creek - a lovely, 2 1/2 hour trip that netted us many spotted fish, various birds, and one bald eagle. We came home tired, but happy to be outside.

Our Australian friends are now in Arizona finishing up their first trip to the US, and I'm wandering around like I'd lost an arm. They're more than just visitors and clan members (MacBean/McBain) - they're now family. I miss them like hell and wish we lived closer. True good friends are tough to find.

And I'm exhausted. I didn't do much cooking at all while they were here (planned to, but it never transpired), but making sure they had a great time took a toll for some reason. I hit the bed like a pile of lead every night.

Yesterday the plan was to read and watch bad tv. However, daughter interrupted with a shopping trip. (And she's doing worlds better. Thank you everyone for prayers and good thoughts as she struggled with anxiety. She's got therapy to get through and meds to get regulated, but she's improved dramatically.) Also, my husband interrupted with help on a mower repair. I did get a chance to relax in the evening.

However, no rest for the wicked. Today I'm full tilt on a new website project (due in a week), a newsletter to get sorted, and I have a few loose ends invoice-wise to tie up (plus a few more projects to get going). It could get ugly, but I intend to charge forward. I'm away again next week (but will be working some of it), so I have to get a head start.

How are you? How was your weekend?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Clients Can't Do

What's on the iPod: Spun by Grouplove

The Aussies are here! I'm writing this ahead of time because I expect to be either on my way to Manhattan or to the mountains and some hiking today.

I was thinking about the conversation around client expectations during projects or contract negotiations. Any client relationship is one of give-and-take on both sides, as it should be, but there are those rare situations in which the clients do all the giving and you sit there taking it. Time to stop that, don't you think?

Here are a few things clients can't do (or shouldn't be allowed to do) when it comes to you:

Act like your employer. The rare few clients I've had who have questioned my hours or expected me to perform on cue surprised me. One client busted on me about taking a vacation - mind you, I'd waited two months to hear back from him (and I'm sure some of that included his own vacation), but I was supposed to drop everything and accommodate his schedule. When he said, "Didn't you just have a vacation?" I was done with him. I hadn't even said I'd be out for vacation - he assumed. Another client expected me to call their customers and interview them. It was framed as "optional" for us writers, but in a private moment, the manager let it slip that they were "firing" people who wouldn't do it. I left shortly thereafter. I don't work for dictators.

Dictate your hours. There's only one thing expected of you that you'd better deliver -- the finished project on time. What you don't have to do is work weekends because your client can't be bothered to plan better. In one case, I had a client (had being the key word here) who every year would ask if I was going away for Labor Day, or drop some other thinly veiled hint that she wanted me to work the long weekend. While I get that she had her hands tied on her side of the project, I wasn't about to spend my last long weekend on a project that is notoriously months late every single year. Those three days wouldn't have mattered to the end result one iota.

Miss deadlines. Actually, they can do this. You can't control whether they'll keep up their end. You can, however, make sure that doesn't mean you're running to catch up. Each time they miss a deadline, inform them that your own deadline has been adjusted to allow you enough time to do the job right. And if it applies, revise the project timeline and send the new one to your clients. It's a visual reminder of why they need to meet deadlines, too.

Expect you to drop everything. I have had a few clients whose needs come up quickly and can't wait. That's understandable. What doesn't work is when a client comes to you with a project and wants it done NOW, even if you're in the middle of another client's project. Your choice -- tell them when you can get to it realistically, or charge them double for the pleasure of your full, immediate attention. Chances are slim they'll need it that immediately once they hear the new price.

Tell you what to charge. This one has me shaking my head every time it happens, and it happens a lot. Some clients are under the mistaken impression that they're paying X, so that's what you'll be charging. I had one client react to my fee by saying "Ooo, you're going to have to lower that fee." I responded something like "You're going to have to come up in what you expect to pay." That's not their business to tell you what you can and cannot charge. It's like going in to your doctor and saying "Ooo, not happy with that copay. You need to cut that down a few dollars." Where would that get you?

Not pay. Someone mentioned this week that some so-called "expert" writer said that writers should never chase an invoice because it's unprofessional. Absolutely not true - what's unprofessional is a client who avoids paying. Yes, you can and should chase an unpaid invoice. Otherwise, why are you in business? To give your work away for free? No way. Put together your payment-chasing process and follow it to the letter.

What else can't clients do when it comes to working with you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Get in Line

What's on the iPod: Ten Thousand Words by The Avett Brothers

It's quite a coincidence that this song comes up on my iPod right about the time I'm nuts with work. Yesterday was no exception. I worked on four projects, some at the same time, and fielded a phone call on yet another project. I'm running out of hours, brain cells, and steam. At least I can manage to do that all at the same time.

A client returned with a stalled project late last week. It made me nervous. Things happen in bunches. Sure enough, another client returned yesterday with their own stalled project. And I'm trying like hell to finish a third project, plus put the finishing touches on a fourth project before delving into either of these new(ish) projects.

And did I mention our Australian guests arrive today? So you won't see me around much after noon. I'll be back on Monday (or sooner if I can catch a free minute to post).

So I'm about to adopt a new philosophy - and maybe a new pricing structure because obviously I'm charging too little if I'm this busy. The philosophy:

Get in line.

See, I really, really, really want to please clients the moment they show up. Realistically, however, this can't happen every time. In fact lately, it can't happen much at all. I have a backlog of work and I'm not going to miss something because someone else wanted to squeeze ahead in line -- or jump the queue, as they say.

Get in line.

The newest older project (that's just weird to say) has to wait. It has to. The other clients have very firm deadlines or were here much sooner and got my time booked already. Then there are the few new projects from an existing client that may require my traveling. I'm not sure yet how I feel about that, but I'm willing to listen. If I can manage my workload along with travel, then yes. If not?

Get in line.

I could get used to saying that. I need to. Too often freelancers hungry for the paycheck (or just eager to please) overextend. That becomes a problem when the work is coming in and the time required to finish them is more than occurs in any week. Mistakes come first, then frustration, then stress, then burnout. I've gone through all these phases - sometimes in the same damn day - because I've overextended. Now I have to practice my mantra.

Get in line.

Obviously I'd never say that out loud to a client; that's just rude. However, it's not rude to say you're busy and can't get to it right now. Right now my dance card for September is quite full. I'm hoping to get a day off sometime around September 20th. But I wouldn't count on it. That's a problem. I'm foregoing my own sanity for clients' needs. Can't do that. Instead, I can do this:

Get in line.

I considered for a minute having a writer friend help out. However, the projects I have are with clients I've worked with for a while. I'd have too much explaining and not enough cohesion in the projects (some are ongoing), and that's not fair to the client. So the majority of the clients need me to keep the voice right. The rest may be handed to a trusted friend whose writing style I trust. I have to look at the projects, talk with the clients, and arrange for a helping hand where possible. The rest I'll handle. That is, I'll handle what I can. The rest?

Get in line.

I'm not afraid of losing clients by reinforcing my boundaries. I'm afraid of losing them by doing a slapdash hash job of the projects in front of me. I won't compromise quality because someone at the back of the line is pushing to get to the front.

Get in line. And stay there.

Have you had to schedule client work before? How have your clients responded? What would you do differently next time?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Five Things That Could Be Killing Your Business

What's on the iPod: Right in Time by Lucinda Williams

I had a productive day yesterday despite a bit of a headache lingering. I finished eight projects for a client and got some preliminary work on another project. Then out of the blue, the big-assed project showed up once again, after much delay. Naturally. As I'm about to take some days off and finish up other projects. But these things can't always be helped. I'll do what I can because this is a client I really enjoy working with.

We'd had a lovely break this weekend -- we attended the Philadelphia Folk Festival and paid big moola to see Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle. One of the performers - Wanda Jackson - had been delayed because of traffic. Knowing the area, I'm not surprised. She arrived much too late for her set, and we were there until nearly ten, so I can't say if she ever appeared. It was disappointing for her fans, I'm sure.

The apologies were made as soon as it was clear Ms. Jackson couldn't arrive. That's about all one can do in that case. And I'm sure in general, Ms. Jackson is a punctual person. Yet we as freelancers have many more options for pleasing - and yes, for pissing off - clients. Here are some of your habits that may be killing your business:

Deadlines seen as optional. I hired someone once to write a short article for me (500 words). A week after it was due, I finally contacted her. Her response: "Yea, it was too hard, so I just decided not to." Which meant I had to, and fast. She was never hired (or heard from) again. Deadlines aren't optional. Clients need information at certain times for good reason. If you can't make the deadline, tell them as soon as possible.

Lack of follow-up. How do you know your client is happy? Are you sure your client gave you the job, or did you think the outline written in email was your project despite your not responding? Never assume. Always follow up.

Not knowing what you've agreed to. I've heard from writers who say "I'm not sure what they mean by this" but they'd already signed the contract. If you don't know, ask well before you sign. Know what you're signing, and know what your clients expect of you.

Lack of communication. Clients are funny - they actually expect you to interact with them at some point during a project. If you decide now that you'll contact your client once a week with an update, you'll be rewarded with happier clients who see you as someone on top of the project, not someone they have to continue chasing for answers.

Not getting that invoice paid. If you let that invoice go unpaid and don't bother to chase it, guess what? You're not getting paid. It's your money - fight for it.

What mistakes do you see freelancers make that could harm their businesses?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Therapeutic Weekends

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

"Thanks for making me go, Mom."

Music to my ears, for I drove daughter to work on Friday as she sobbed, apologized, and sobbed some more all the way. Just like the kid on the first day of kindergarten, she was fine when she went through the door, too. Amen.

Sometimes a shift in gears, and in focus, is exactly what's needed. Daughter and I both had that as she spent the weekend with her boyfriend and I spent the weekend cleaning. Our Australian guests are about to arrive, and I was putting the final polish on their room, plus checking off a rather large to-do list.

Also, I played the part of gopher as husband and stepson started putting drywall on the garage ceiling. I had to go for the drywall lifter - they told him it would fit in any car. Sure. If your car is a truck. I had to protect my leather seats with a dropcloth, put the roof down, and drive home slowly. But this surprises me none.

See, our house should be renamed the Snowball Effect House, for everything we do tends to feed into at least three more projects. The garage doors are coming this week. However, he wanted to get the ceiling finished so the installers would be installing on a hard surface rather than just the joists and insulation. And it saves us from taking the door hangers down later to do the job, then mucking up a good installation.

This all started when he inherited his dad's Jaguar. When they delivered it from Phoenix, we drove it exactly one block (it was nearly out of gas) and put it in the garage. He was going over it to see if there was anything cracked or broken. There was. a subframe rod was dangling -- someone somewhere hooked a tow chain to it and ripped it right out of place. The engine is a V12 that weighs a ton itself, and that subframe was helping keep it off the highway and in the car. So he was going to fix it.

We tore it apart and he labeled every piece, took photos, and put everything on his Excel spreadsheet. Then he realized we needed more power to the garage. That meant running a 220 line to accommodate the AC/heater and the air compressor (which we're going to sell -- anyone need a never-used 750 hp air compressor?). While doing so, we also insulated the place. Why heat it if you're not airtight? The drywall on the walls went up, but the ceiling has been put off for a while.

Then the garage doors got to the point of no return. Naturally, we started talking about it in June, but waited until company was coming and then moved on it. No matter. It's getting done and company doesn't need to care about it at all, nor do we need to be here when they install.

So now we're up to finishing what needs to be done so he can get the car back together. And I think we're at the tail end of this snowball effect. Maybe. I just noticed that when they built the house, they left a huge gap in the garage attic where the house and roof meet. All sorts of cold air and critters can (and do) get into the house there. One more thing.

Then again, I mentioned the bags of lawn fertilizers, seeds, etc. still sitting in the garage. He said, "We can put that down. But we have to mow first. After we fix the mower."

It's starting to snow again.

But the diversion was good. She was off relaxing and I was here releasing some pent-up energy. She went off to work on her own today and I'm about to delve into a ton of work myself (once this headache subsides). I've a ton of projects due tomorrow, so the phone is going off and the emails will be answered twice today. Then I have one more project to restart after a long delay, and then company on Wednesday. I'll be glad for the short break.

How was your weekend?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Guest Post: Why You Can't Find Higher Paying Work

Amen for friends. As I was busy dealing with my daughter's illness, a note came in from Samar Owais. She and I had talked about her writing a guest post for a while, and there it was when I needed it most. Thank you, Samar. Your timing is excellent.

I swear I didn't ask Samar to promote my ebooks or newsletter and was surprised to see it. Thanks, Samar. I'm glad you liked both ebooks. And I'm so happy you have provides such great advice to this blog's readers. Give her some comment and Twitter love, guys.

5 Reasons You Can't Find Higher Paying Writing Gigs
By Samar Owais

For many freelancers, finding higher paying writing gigs is a dream. One, that is unlikely to come true any time soon simply because they go about it all wrong.

If you’re a freelance writer who is struggling to find higher paying writing gigs, it might be because:

      1.   You undervalue yourself
Undervaluing themselves is an epidemic among freelancers. If it weren’t, there would be a need for Writers Worth Week here at Words on a Page.

Undervaluing myself was one of the biggest reasons I was unable to land higher paying gigs for a long time. I wouldn’t apply to jobs that came from bigger companies thinking I didn’t have enough experience.

Instead I kept going to the same kind of companies and clients that were hiring me. As a result, I kept getting the same low pay.

If that sounds like you, please download the free ebook Lori gives away in her newsletter and read every word of it.

You need to value yourself as a freelance writer before clients can begin to value you.
      2.   You don’t spread the word
Do you only look for work when you lose a client or need to make more money? If yes, then you’re only setting yourself up for low-paying work. If you need to make money or replace a client fast, you won’t be looking for higher paying clients. You’ll be looking for work that would compensate the amount you’d be losing.

You’ll probably end up accepting the first writing gig that pays as much as you need to make.
Make it a habit to routinely spread word about your freelancing. Spend 15 minutes a day marketing your business if you want to be in a position to find higher paying gigs. Here are a few things you can do:

Social Media: Use social media to spread the word about your freelance business. Select any three social networks and edit your profile so that it clearly states you’re a freelancer. Include your website, blog and email to begin with and regularly update your status on them.

Send out regular updates: Email monthly updates to your personal, professional and social networks about your work. You can either divide them in three groups of personal, professional and social or send them all one big newsletter-ish email with updates happening in your business.

Contact prospective clients – I hate cold calling so I will be the last person to tell you to do that—although it does work. Try email prospecting instead. Email an introduction to your prospective clients and ask them if they work with freelancers. List your experience, and relevant links and let the prospect take it from theme. Do this regularly because you won’t always get a positive response – or a response at all.
For more ideas, pick up Lori excellent marketing book: Marketing 365: Daily Strategies for Entrepreneurs and Small Business. You’re guaranteed to find a few ideas that you can start implementing today.
      3.   You’re looking in the wrong places
If you’re trolling job boards, bidding sites and forums for high paying writing gigs, you’ll never find them. They’re hot bed for the kind of low-paying work you’re getting now.

Start by searching for companies in your niche. Contact them, introduce yourself and offer your writing services to them. Do this often enough and someone’s sure to hire you.

Here’s what freelancers don’t realize. Every company needs writers to write their marketing copy. So don’t shy away from contacting companies. More often than not, they’ll be glad to hear from you even if they don’t have work for you.
     4.   You’re not looking at all
Are you writing for a few regular clients and hoping new ones will come knocking on your door? While it’s been known to happen, it simply doesn’t happen often enough to sustain a business.

If you’re not looking because you don’t know how to, the tips above will give you a good start.

Here’s another tip I like to give: Pick up your local classifieds and search for ads by companies that list their web addresses. Research them, contact them and offer them your writing services. How’s that for a starting point?
      5.   You don’t believe you’ll get better rates
For the longest time, I didn’t believe there were better paying jobs out there. Or if there were, they all went to rock star freelancers who were well connected.

I had trouble finding low-paying work, who would pay me the big bucks to write for them?

It was one of the stupidest things I have ever let myself believe. If you value your work and are confident of your abilities, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be paid more. Unless of course, you’re crappy to work with, miss deadlines, and turn in sub standard work.

At the end of the day, the question really is: How badly do you want higher paying writing jobs? And do your actions reflect that level of want?

Author Bio: Samar (pronounced summer) Owais is a freelance writer and blogger who offers rock solid tips for freelance writing success at The Writing Base. She’s passionate about traveling, her kid and helping freelancers break free from low paying writing gigs and earn more through her ecourse.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


It's going to be a long day. I don't have a ton of work, and maybe that's for the best right now. My youngest is going through some pretty crippling anxiety, and I'm loathe to help her.

It's different when it's physical. You get to a doctor, you get a diagnosis, meds, and hopefully things will sort without too many return trips. When it's mental, it's excruciating to watch and even more difficult to help. I've my theories on why now she'd have such a strong attack, but theories don't help her feel better.

We went to a therapist last night, one who nailed the diagnosis and who has potential to get her over this particular bout of anxiety/depression. This morning, however, things are clearly worse and no amount of talk will soothe her. Talk can't do it all. Meds must help.

She's found a job she loves, yet she can't eat. She can't sleep. She can't function outside the 9-to-5 she's pretended her way through, and now she's unable to even make it to work today. She's added one more fear to her growing list -- fear of losing a job that fits like a glove. See, it's only her third day there.

She's begging for a hospital. She wants, in her own words, the emotions to stop controlling her. She's cried for three days. In what should be her happiest times, she can't crack a smile. She wants it to be like a physical cure -- someone does something that turns off that switch and allows the light back in. I'm terrified that a trip to a hospital will end in her being admitted and held for way too long. But I'm not sure it isn't the right solution. I can't be sure -- I've little experience in this side of health.

I share this because I've always been open with you and this is, right now, a big influence in my mood and my life. I can't paint on a smile and move on this time, nor should I. If she were physically ill I wouldn't try -- I won't when the illness moves inward. Plus as she showers and tries to bring herself back down to earth mentally, I'm letting a few tears escape in private. We'll get her over it. We've done so before, when she was 12 and couldn't get out of bed because of the depression. When she was so anxious about two jobs she hated (sales jobs masked as reception jobs) that she threw up before, during, and after work.

As she becomes an adult, she's facing the pressure of landing in the world and not knowing if it will support her. I get it. She hasn't yet, but in time she will gain that confidence. It's just excruciating to watch my vibrant, confident kid have the ground shift under her.

I have decisions to make (with the therapist, of course) and mothering to do. And I have a client call this afternoon that may not happen. It's a healthcare client, so I feel safe in explaining the reason.

Today is not a post about writing. It's one about life and the things we face that, once conquered, give us strength and confidence to face even tougher things. Then again, maybe it's about writing, too. Even in careers, don't we face shit we never dreamed we'd have to deal with, and don't we come up upright despite our fears that we'll fall and never get back up?

This will make her stronger once she's overcome it. I'll be stronger too, because I'll have experience in how to deal with it should it arise again.

Yea, I guess that's exactly what it's like to be a freelancer. Live. Learn. Grow from it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Webinar Wednesday

What's on the iPod: The Rifle's Spiral by The Shins

Busy morning, slower afternoon. I finished some revisions on a product flyer, revised some of the content at the About Writing Squared home page, and conducted an interview for a newsletter piece. By then it was 11  am. Good thing - personal errands had me tied up in the afternoon.

Today I have some newsletter work for a client, then probably some revisions on the white paper, and definitely some follow-up with another client. I don't expect a busy day, but then again I haven't expected that for a while and have gotten just that.

Time once again for my semi-regular, almost-frequent list of webinars that have caught my eye. The first two are via About Writing Squared, and I do have a financial stake in them. Still, I think both are going to be terrific. I've seen the content.

The others sound just as good, and may give you something you've been looking for.

Here are this week's top picks:

How to Break Free From Low-Paying Writing Gigs (and Earn More) - I love Samar Owais, and I had the privilege of seeing this course before she started promoting it. It's comprehensive, and it's loaded with everything you need to earn more and build a stronger business. If you've been waiting for the right course, this is it.

Learn to Use Google+ in a Hurry Webinar for Writers and Creatives - Wade Finnegan promises to show us how to get the most out of Google+ (and I do get a portion of the profits from this -- full disclosure). If Hangouts and weeding through the noise are mysteries to you, sign up for this one.

Get 3 Queries Written and Submitted in 4 Weeks Webinar: What a great way to learn how to capture an editor's attention! Anne Wayman walks you through this one.

How to Market and Promote Your Books Using Facebook and Twitter: If you have a book, you have to promote it. This looks pretty comprehensive, and is presented by a former WD publisher.

Zero Marketing Budget Workshop: I love Udemy's course selections. This one intrigued me.

What webinars are you/have you attended?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How To Sabotage Your Image

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

A busy day yesterday, but I finished drafts of both the white paper and release. Now on to revisions on a previous project before continuing on with yet another project. Things aren't so quiet around here as I thought they'd be this week. And yes, that's actually good. I get too nervous when things quiet down.

I was discussing a situation with a writer friend in which she had asked a question on a professional forum and was inundated with answers that, well, somewhat addressed the question. See, bringing up what to charge on a writer's forum is like asking a narcissist how he's doing. It should be a simple answer, but it quickly becomes complicated and oh, so long on details.

One particular response caught hers and my attention. It was from a writer -- and you know the type --who said basically that freelancing is dead and there's no money to be made in it. He must have missed the woman halfway down the same thread bragging about making $250 a blog post (and yes, she should brag about that).

What started as a simple "What is the standard rate" question turned into a situation where each poster revealed a little bit about their own work processes and personalities -- and not all of those revelations were good ones.

You have to ask yourself at what point are your comments on a blog or a forum going to be detrimental. At least I would ask myself that. See, I've been hired by companies based on comments I've made. I'm not alone in considering what those words out there for all eternity could mean later on.

Is it self-sabotage to speak what you think is a truth without checking to see if you're perhaps mistaken? I think it is. Yes, I've managed to stick my own foot in it a few times, too. I'm sure we all have. Still, there are plenty of ways to sabotage your image without trying too hard:

Charge too little (and admit to it publicly). If you charge too little, you get a reputation. People talk, and it's usually "Hey, hire him! He's cheap!" If you say "I can do that project for $100!" and it's a six-hour time commitment, who's going to take you seriously when you raise your rates to $100 per hour? And if you're out there bemoaning the state of the industry when everyone around you is clearly making more, how does that make you look? Uninformed at the very least.

Badmouth clients online. I remember one writer (and luckily it was only one) who wrote a lengthy post about how awful it was to work with her client -- and she named the client. This was a client I'd referred to her, so how did that look on me? I wasn't thrilled and told her so. She removed the post, but the damage may have been done, for she never worked for them again. I don't think potential clients found her outing of this particular client very appealing, either. If you can't say it to their faces, don't say it at all.

Look cheap. That website you made for free may look good to you, but how does it compare to those of higher-priced writers who seem to capture more business (and more money)? Don't think you're a designer if you're not -- either use a template (and there are plenty that make you look good, this blog included) or hire a pro to design your site. Also, invest in your career. Buy those brochures and business cards. Dole them out generously. Make it look like you have money to spend on your business, and soon you will.

Be seen not following directions. This one is my pet peeve du jour. I have seen jobs mentioned on forums, clearly stating "send an email for more information." The pile-on of seemingly blind or illiterate writers who respond with both their fees and their email addresses (hello, spam!) astounds me every time. These are people who brag about being "professionals" and who often preach how to run a business. Really? Does that include ignoring the simplest of requests from the client?

Being inappropriate. It's probably not a good idea to include your clips from that adult website as samples. And I don't think they'd like to hear your racist or sexist joke (neither would I). Seriously. Use your head when interacting in any way. If you can't talk to your grandmother in that way, don't talk that way to clients. And if you can talk to your grandmother that way, try getting a job that doesn't allow you to interact with humans.

How have you seen people sabotaging themselves?

Monday, August 13, 2012

First, Second, and Third Impressions

What's on the iPod: Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2

What a great weekend. It was hot and humid (that's not the great part), but the stepdaughter is visiting, so we had a nice time. We went out for margaritas and dinner (in that order) Friday, then for tea/coffee on Saturday, then yesterday we went shopping. In between all that I managed to run errands and actually get to the garden! I transplanted some black-eyed susans because we finally got enough rain to dig the ground without a struggle. The garden is looking happy again, and the goldfinches are back and hanging from every seeded flower we own.

Today I have a white paper and a press release to finish. I stalled on Friday -- completely out of energy and brain cells. Today I'll chew six pieces of mint gum if it will keep me alert enough to put this draft together (peppermint gives you a bit of a mental boost). I also have a lunch date, and luckily the client call scheduled for the same time was canceled. These folks are coming from out of town and had their plans made already.

I'm feeling a bit unsettled about a particular client and how we communicate. She's a go-getter, which I love. She's also very vocal and not averse to giving you a dressing-down if she thinks you need it. I was a recipient to one of those, and while she may have seen things that justified it in her mind, I don't intend to accept another one with the same dignity (she's a client of a client). It does seem, however, that there are entirely too many projects going on at once and as a result, we're (client and me) missing a few steps. That should be understandable given the sheer volume of things we're working on.

However, the most recent notes from her are starting to make me uneasy. She was reminding me of something I didn't finish. The reason -- I'm waiting for feedback from other people and they're not moving within her time frame. I'm frustrated too, but it's my job to get them moving.

What concerns me is the impression this is leaving on the client's client about me. I'm not one to miss deadlines. I'm not someone who leaves things unfinished. I'm on the ball. Yet I suspect she thinks the polar opposite of that right now. And if it's her reminders of my duties that she's viewing, she'd be right.

When I met her, I liked her instantly. I think the feeling was mutual. I think because we met (and embraced) after talking via phone and email that she's been more patient than she may have been with others in the past (I've heard stories). But now her second, and even third impression of me is starting to be clouded by what she thinks is my dropping the ball on a number of occasions. Fact is there are times when you simply cannot get people to respond, and I won't pester people who don't answer three calls or emails. That doesn't make them any happier about helping. So here we are -- stuck in a holding pattern, and watching my reputation circle the drain.

I hope all isn't lost in the reputation department. Here's how I've communicated with her in the past, which may help alleviate those subsequent impressions:

Bulleted emails. Any time I sense a client getting annoyed, upset, tense, or pushy, I give them an email (before they ask for it) with the things-done and things-to-do outlined in bullet form. For some, that works wonders to make them feel they're getting the attention they deserve.

Random communication. It may not be about the project at all, but often I'll send a "Did you see this?" type of note with a relevant link. Clients want to know I'm thinking about them. It's attention they're paying for.

Foresee and respond. There are times I can see what's coming, and it scores big brownie points to bring it up first and either suggest approaches or show some progress toward solving it.

Have another conversation. The problem with this particular client is the number of projects and people on the account. It's so easy to miss important deadlines (or know that there is one) when you're not having a one-on-one. While I don't think my client would appreciate my doing so, I'd love to have a phone conversation or a face-to-face to get a better sense of where this client's priorities lie. I won't defend myself -- that's always wasted energy, in my opinion -- but I will say that I need a clearer set of parameters and expectations. I can't please if I don't have all the details, including deadlines.

Have you ever made a bad impression? How did you turn it around? If you weren't able to fix it, how would you do so in the future?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Work/Life Balance

What's on the iPod: Enter Sandman by Metallica

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Maybe I just work better with my back to the wall. I say this because yesterday was one disjointed thing after another, but I actually made great progress on two related projects. I hope to finish them today and start a third. I'm also talking with a prospective client and later with Anne to get some planning done for the Five Buck Forum.

I headed off for a much-needed haircut with "the works." I was able to schedule around it -- the client call at 10:30, work up until then, the call to my friend after, and somewhere in there, a quick lunch. I was stretched three different directions (well, four -- eating is important, too), but I schedule the snot out of everything, so I was able to build some cushion time into my day. Today is better -- just a few things, and hopefully the afternoon will be free. My garden looks abandoned.

Freelancers come to this career thinking it's "free!" Free time, free to do whatever we want, free to work and free to sit down and read a book. All true. However, you're also free to slack off and not get a damned thing done, free to earn less because you're busy playing, free to lose clients for lack of attention or marketing. Freelancing is work, plain and simple. But it's up to you how much work and when. Make no mistake -- no one but you and your goals should be dictating your work hours or work days. 

So how do you create your best work/life balance? Here's how I manage:

Schedule it. I'd be lost without a good schedule.The first thing to go on my schedule is my day(s) off. No way I'm foregoing that for work. Free time is a priority.

Organize it. I have a virtual sticky note I create at the end of the day with the next day's jobs lined up. If I want to take Friday off, I work extra on Wednesday and Thursday. I know before I walk away from the computer what the next day should look like (there are always surprises, though).

Balance it. I have two projects due in a few weeks. I have to interview people for the projects, but just because I got the assignments Tuesday doesn't mean I have to complete them this week. I arranged the interviews for later next week when I know I'm not already booked. I want to have it done now, but that's just not possible if I want time to decompress.

Reorganize it. Yesterday's hair appointment conflicted with the phone call. Which would you reschedule? Damn right -- hair comes first (especially if you'd seen the unruly mess I was trying to comb through). The client call was created with just an arbitrary time, so I knew it was easy to move. It worked out better because I had more time to devote to the call.

How's your work/life balance right now? What steps are you/have you taken to get more free time or relaxation?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Enter Confidence

What's on the iPod: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper

New blog look - what do you think?

Three days back and work is piling up again. I started a small project yesterday that will accompany a larger one. I think I have the bones of these two down so that I can get a draft out quickly. Then a new client contacted me to arrange a conversation. I'm feeling like eight hours aren't enough any longer.

Interesting feedback on yesterday's post about mistakes beginners (and not-so-beginners) make. The overwhelming majority felt that most career issues stemmed from lack of confidence. It's one thing to say you're a writer - it's wholly another to actually have the confidence to get the gigs.

I remember a few of my first jobs. I was afraid to ask what they paid (and too green to know that I should have been telling them what I charge), afraid I couldn't get the job done, afraid to approach anyone new and ask them to consider me for the job. Those fears in anyone can cripple a career and basically bury your chances before you even get started. Obviously, I've learned how to be confident enough (and mouthy enough) to stand up for myself and my business. But it didn't happen overnight.

So how do you build confidence? It's not tough, but it does take a little work.Try one or more of these things:

Plan for it. Success, that is. Plan your success like you'd plan a party or a project. What's your goal? What steps do you need to take in order to achieve that goal? Who will you be interacting with and how? What's in it for them? What do you need in order to make this "success project" financially viable?

Take baby steps. You want to learn the trade magazine market or how to write resumes or even how to score copywriting gigs with corporate clients. Whatever the goal, don't start automatically at the top (unless you're confident, in which case this post is clearly not for you). Start at a more manageable level, like with a magazine that has a lower circulation or by targeting mid-sized companies instead of global ones. Hook up with a resume company that will train you how to put together better resumes. Take those smaller steps that will allow you to learn as you go. Confidence comes from gathering the skills and the experience.

Recognize your current accomplishments. Isn't it true that we notice our faults first? What experiences do you have already that make you a better writer? How have you pleased a client or completed a task that you're especially proud of? How can you take those skills and apply them to another client with similar or better results?

Meet people. I'll admit writing in the risk management world was mighty daunting until I met and befriended a number of people in the industry. It's funny how just a few acquaintances can help you screw up your courage and make you feel a legitimate part of your own career. Friends, colleagues, expert sources, clients -- each one can become part of your work network and can help you gain confidence by interacting with them.

Stick your neck out. Sometimes you just have to dive in. Grab hold of a new project and allow yourself to admit that even if you fail at it, it's better than avoiding it and the experience. I've tried tons of new things. I've failed at maybe three over the last fifteen years. Those are pretty good odds. And those failures were more of a lack of clarity between my clients and me. Not every project will be successful, and that's okay. You learn from the mistakes, too.

Stop measuring against others. I remember having to talk a writer friend off a ledge more than once when she compared her ideas to those of another writer who she was competing with professionally. I kept saying "So what if she does that? You're all about this." Her focus was so much on trying to outpace this writer that she missed something very obvious -- she had skills that surpassed her competition's skills, and her ideas were unique and much more marketable. She nearly ditched what is now a successful venture because she was so busy trying to compare herself to the other writer. When the light bulb went on, she shined like nobody's business.

Writers, how and when did you find your confidence? What helped? How long did it take?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Rookie Mistakes

What's on the iPod: Payphone by Maroon 5
Sunset in Ontario

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What a wild day yesterday turned out to be. I expected a small amount of work. Instead, I had four projects I had to start or finish. I did finish a first draft on a project, so progress was made. More of the same madness today, though hopefully not scattered among so many projects.

I was talking with another writer who couldn't understand why some writers get stuck in what she dubbed "starving artist" mode. She had seen a few writers in a "professional" forum bemoaning the lack of opportunity in freelancing, and in one case, saying the work it would take to "make it" in freelancing would equate to long days of thankless work. Another writer was stating that "nothing" is what businesses would pay for professional blogging. We both had the same reaction:

Someone doesn't know how to build a business.

Generalizations kind of piss me off. Yes, some writers may not be making any money at blogging. And there are probably no opportunities for a handful of writers. But is that the entire state of the profession? Hell no. That's a disconnect between the writer and any sense of reality among the masses.

Take the blogging example. I know a few writers -- myself included -- who make at least $100 an hour to blog. I've written blogs for less, and it's usually because back when I was doing so, I was going about it all wrong. In one case, I'd found the gig on Craig's List. Big mistake there -- never let someone else dictate what you charge. So I was doing niche blog posts for $25 each --crappy pay for specialty writing.

Then there's the "You can't make money at this without killing yourself" crowd. Maybe this one gets me even more because it's clear these are people who are doing one or more things wrong. So if I were to guess, I'd say:

They aren't marketing consistently. Hey, I'm giving them the benefit of assuming they're marketing at all, but I suspect those who fuss about not making a decent living are marketing in a more hit-and-miss fashion than with any direction or plan.

They're searching passively. You know there are more than a few writers who think marketing is looking on all the job boards.When you compete with thousands of writers, you lose in two ways --you don't get to shine and you don't call the shots on your own hourly rate.

They don't know what they're worth. If you knew you could be making $100 an hour, would you really take that gig that's paying $100 for two days of writing? Of course not. Nor should you. Do the math and figure your own hourly rate, not the one the client is dictating to you.

They lack confidence. "How do I raise my rates? I'll lose my clients!" Typical question when someone figures out the pay isn't measuring up to their needs. If you lose a low-paying client because you're finally charging what you're worth, what have you lost exactly?

They like to whine. I have beaten my head against the desk a few times over people who ask for help then throw one brick wall after another in front of any suggestion that brings them out of their comfort zone. Some people really enjoy self-sabotage and all the attention that playing the victim brings. I'll try once -- if I see a brick wall, I'm done. And so are they, for that career isn't going anywhere. And something tells me they're perfectly fine with that.

Writers, how did you break out of your "beginner" mode and start earning? What do you think are essential criteria for making it in freelancing?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


What's on the iPod: Super Bass by Nicki Minaj

It's wonderful to be back home. Those few days away felt like a million light years, and I feel like finally I've spent some of my summer outdoors. I've been way too busy and haven't had time to go to the shore at all, let alone get into the garden (too hot and dry). Spending mornings and evenings in the boat on a crystal-clear river with my dad and one very hungry mosquito (could have done without that critter) reset my balance.

I went north to escape heat. Nothing doing -- it was so hot Saturday that the humidity had it feeling like 110 according to the weather report. I sat in the river -- literally -- and drank iced water just to feel human. Luckily Sunday was a day of heavy rain. They badly needed it, and I looked forward to a day of nothing but games, DVDs and gabbing. It was much cooler that evening when we went out on the boat.

Now for the fish tales. I've no pictures of any of my catches. I had taken my cell phone thinking I'd use it. Only thing was my dad can't see the buttons well enough to work it and I wasn't interested in messing with the passcode and then the program and the lighting.... just better to have witnesses. :) My first catch was a 26-inch northern pike. Nice size, but they have to be 36 inches or better, I believe, in order to keep them. If in fact I would keep them, which I do not. I simply harass them, drag them out of the water, measure them, then put them back.

The bass, which were not striking at all the entire time my parents have been north, started hitting the moment we switched to worms on hooks. I caught plenty of big ones -- one measured at 16 inches and had to weigh five pounds if he was an ounce -- as did my daughter and my dad. A few hit the lures, but the chaos created by the worms may have lured them closer.

Once we started getting the fish, things were decidedly better. I caught two pike, both the same size, and missed a third (I saw her, though). There was a point where I was helping my daughter get a fish off her line and my lure was just dangling in the water. Then the splash -- a sizable fish had gone after it.

We had lots of laughs and played many long rounds of Uno and Phase 10 before watching Band of Brothers. Then home yesterday.

Though that ride home, not my favorite. It was two hours longer thanks to single-lane construction on the highway in PA. I found my way to a familiar place via a detour, which probably cut our time traveling down by yet another hour.

Back to work today. There were a few client requests waiting in email, so I'll be busy today and probably tomorrow. But it appears to be a slower re-entry this time, which is welcome after the long drive.

How are you all?

Monday, August 06, 2012

What Fishing Has Taught Me About Business

What's on the iPod: Eight hours of everything we can listen to.

We're on our way home today. I'm sure I'm still on the "I don't want to leave" high, but it's about a minute after I get through customs that I start feeling the workload creeping up. I know I have work to get to tomorrow, so I'll be jumping right back into it. Maybe not at 8 am like usual, but there will be work. One client is going to send a project, probably while I'm gone, and if I didn't manage to get the article done on the 31st, I'll be finishing that up tomorrow.

Today, it's the ride home down through the Thousand Islands and New York, back into Pennsylvania and home. I love most of the ride -- nice scenery and the roads aren't too crowded. It's when I get back into PA and onto the northern turnpike extension that things can get too busy. But that's closer to home, and I have several detours should that happen.

I will avail you of my fishing exploits tomorrow. Today, I'm going to tell you what I've learned about business via the bass and northern pike:

Different fish take different bait. What works for a sunfish isn't necessarily the best thing for a muskellunge. You may catch a big one on a worm, but it's more likely they'll go after a lure that looks like a bigger snack. The same with your marketing - sometimes it's easy to attract a certain kind of client with your marketing. And sometimes it takes a redirect of your message to attract a higher-paying client.

Fish are habitual. Try catching a huge fish at say two in the afternoon. It can be done, but it's more likely you'll catch one if you fish when and where they're feeding. The same goes for clients. If you want to "catch" more business you have to know when and where your clients are; and what it is they want. Rare is the client who changes his or her business model to accommodate outsiders, so learn their habits and find ways to appeal to them.

Little fish stay in the shallows. And sometimes they get gobbled up by bigger fish not afraid to go shallow and deep. If you want a business that grows with its customers, find customers who are positioning themselves to grow, not just stagnate on the sidelines.

Know when to cut bait. Sometimes, the fish wins. You snag on a rock, a log, or the fish is big enough to break a pole or a line (please God, let that happen!). Sometimes that battle just isn't worth winning or that lure worth saving. The same goes for business -- sometimes the client issues are easily fixed and sometimes it's just not worth it.

Do you fish? Why not? It's relaxing and fun. Get busy!

What has your favorite hobby taught you about business?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Writing 365: Simplify

What's on the iPod: Right. We're having fun!

Still on a mini-vacation and hopefully having a great time (I suspect so).

Because it's Friday and because I'm not here, I decided to share one of the marketing strategies from my Marketing 365 book. Thanks to everyone who bought it (got my first check on Monday!), and to everyone who reviewed it and loved it. Well, even if you reviewed it and didn't love it, thank you. I appreciate the effort.

This strategy comes as I'm hopefully relaxed and bumming around in my fishing clothes.

Strategy #102. Simplify.

Review your marketing materials to make sure you’re stating the following clearly:
- Your product or services
- How it works (or the process you use to deliver your services)
- How you can benefit your clients
- How to get in touch
Do your materials say these things simply and up front? If it’s too complicated to understand, they won’t buy. 

How do you simplify your marketing, either materials or efforts? What seems to work best for you?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Injecting Objectivity

What's on the iPod: Nothing! I've gone fishing instead. :)

I'm north right now, hopefully catching large fish instead of inventing stories about ones that got away.

Before I left, I interviewed company risk people for an article on odd risks. One in particular was a woman from the NRA. She shared some incredible stories and told me some of the things she personally has had happen to her as a result of simply being employed by a group that is, to say the least, controversial.

What was obvious was that she deals daily with differing opinions, passionate stances on both sides of the Second Amendment, and that these risks are part-and-parcel of her risk management plan. Since I'm on the fence most of the time regarding gun control (I see both sides quite clearly and have chosen not to make a decision), I was able to interview her without getting either gung ho or caustic. I simply had a conversation with a nice person.

Being objective is a great skill for any writer to learn or hone. While you may have a strong reaction to other people's beliefs, that gets you only so far when getting the story. Some of the morning "news" show celebrities (I can't refer to them as journalists, I'm sorry) lose me the minute they cop a tone, an attitude, or inject their own opinion into a news story. No. Wrong. It's news. It's not commentary. If you feel compelled to comment, take "news" out of your description and title and compete with Ellen Degeneres, who is infinitely more watchable.

But suppose you're given the opportunity to write a story on the flip side of your own beliefs? Could you do it? Would you? Or would you pass up the chance to hear from the horse's mouth why they think or act the way they do?

Consider this scenario: you have the chance to interview pedophiles who find themselves attracted to children (technically not pedophiles because they've not done more than fantasize about children). You're repulsed by the idea that someone would even consider such an act. But what makes these people tick? Is there a pattern of behavior or some similar trigger that may have sent them in that direction? Are there reasons or thought processes that allow them to rationalize the behavior?

Would you take the job or would you turn it down because of your beliefs?

I took the job.

Years ago, I talked via email with three pedophiles (or "children lovers" as they like to be called). What I got was a fascinating group of conversations with people whose habits disgust me, but who were honest and respectful of my stance without my having to state it. I was honest and respectful right back because my beliefs being forced on them wouldn't make an ounce of difference, just as their beliefs weren't going to sway me. Instead, I let them talk and I asked tough, frank questions. I got a great story out of it, and I hoped it would open the doors to more conversation. Did it? No. The magazine that bought it went out of business almost immediately after buying it.

It didn't kill me to talk with them. It didn't enhance their "cause" so to speak to let them talk, either. I learned something, as maybe they did, too. I hope.

That's not saying you have to take every job that presents itself, especially if it's something you just cannot for the life of you do objectively. But opening yourself to hearing an opposing opinion builds versatility in your listening skills. I've had to sit through plenty of interviews with people whose ideals are mirror opposites of mine. I kept my opinions to myself because I wasn't writing about me -- I was presenting an idea.

So if you're presented with an opportunity and you need to find your objectivity, try this:

Put your emotions aside. Just because you are a contributor to Green Peace doesn't mean you shouldn't hear the flip side to the oil pipeline debate. Or you own Apple products and you've just scored a gig to interview Bill Gates. And vegans still wear leather shoes, so don't think interviewing a restaurant owner who lists meat on the menu makes you hypocritical. It shows you're open minded.

Strive for balance. There are shades of truth in both sides of any issue. Sure, you may be right as rain and evidence may back you up 100 percent, but someone came to their own truth for different reasons, and that truth may also be right for different reasons. Look for those gray areas, for that's where your commonality lies. Example: look at the core of both Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party. At the core: both groups want change, and neither group wants this country to fail.

Take up your flag before and after. Sure, maintain your opinion and display it as passionately as you care to. Just don't contact a source who opposes that opinion just for the chance to browbeat them and give them a piece of your mind. It's the wrong venue for it. At interview time, your job should be to tie on that objectivity hat that suspends your opinion and allows someone to fully explain his/her opinion.

What do you think? Would you take up/have you taken up controversial issues that oppose your own ideals? If not, why not? Would you present them objectively or would you put your own opinion in the piece?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Technology Fail

What's on the iPod: Brain Damage by Pink Floyd


Daughter and I will be driving north right after her dental appointment today. It will be so nice to see the parents, and to see the "neighbors" at the other cottages along the river. They become part of your heart, and  another reason why a place becomes so special.

While I'm gone, I'll be disconnected. It's my favorite time of year -- that time when Internets and cell phone service disappear and when I remember what it's like to slow down mentally. It takes just one trip out on the boat to switch gears, and I intend to do just that. I had a wonderful, relaxing time in Vancouver and Alberta, but the work that followed was plentiful and the schedule intense. Time for a mini-break.

I was thinking about all the technology I use in a day. No, I won't bore you with the list. But I organize nearly everything on a calendar, in a Google Doc, or on a cell phone. It's amazing, and maybe a little worrisome. Technology is not perfect, and things fail. Power goes out. Servers crash. Hard drives fry. Phones get lost or broken. Even the cloud, which is supposed to be secure and stable, could experience a crash --the servers holding all that stuff have to reside somewhere, and there isn't a place on earth that's immune from problems.

Maybe that's why when someone suggests new technology to streamline my life, I tend to take a step back. I'm all for making my work and my life easier, but I wonder at what point does the technology become the job? When does the transition from useful tool to time-sucking aberration happen? And do we have a saturation point for technology?

I say this because there was a point in my quest to learn the top social media tools and work management technology that I stepped back and realized I wasn't making my life easier --I was simply transferring my stress to the cloud. Here are my latest stress-inducers:

Google Docs. I love them for sharing and for storing must-have communications. In one case, Anne and I had too many emails between us as we built the Five Buck Forum and planned marketing and upcoming webinars. I made a Google Doc and listed all the things we were losing in emails. There. Done. Easy to find, right?

Then that one document turned quickly into six documents. I couldn't find this, she couldn't find that. We'd merely transferred our madness to Google. What we needed was organization, not one more document.

Google+. I wanted to love it. I hopped on board when there were a handful of people and the conversations were easy to track. Now, I can't say I go there much at all because I've not taken the time to figure out how to filter what I want to see from what doesn't apply. There's a lot of noise. I've stopped following back just anyone and have stuck with people I've heard of or whose business correlates with what I do. However, there's an upcoming webinar on Google+ that I intend to take. I see the value in it, and using it correctly is the key.

Smart phones. It took forever for me to succumb to the smart phone, but when I did, I fell in love. And I created some bad habits. I did spend too much time in the Canadian Rockies checking emails that didn't need to be checked (though I did score a ton of work that way). I'm easily distracted by "Let's look it up!" responses. I'm glad my husband, who is anti-cellphone, says "No, let's not" every time or my habit would be worse. Fact is I don't need to know who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1987 (Sean Connery for The Untouchables), nor do I need to know how birds mate or what's considered the cleanest beach in the country (Huntington Beach, Calif.) or why it never rains in Southern California like the song suggests (because it would ruin the song if it did). I didn't care enough before the smart phone to look it up -- why start now?

It all boils down to sensible use. In all cases, I'm guilty of either not using the technology in the most efficient way or of not learning it well enough to have it make a difference. That is definitely a fail on my part.

How has technology failed you, or vice versa?
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