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Friday, September 28, 2012

Things That Make My Head Explode

Welcome to Friday! After having spent the last two weeks in full-on, all-out writing mode, I'm kicking back a little. I have a lunch date with a friend, then two phone calls. Beyond that, the day is nice and easy.

Time for a little venting of those things that make the head thump. This time, it's one item that warrants the bulk of the discussion. Jenn Mattern of All Freelance Writing (a phenomenal site you should be haunting regularly) uncovered a pretty heinous little practice going on at a site that will remain nameless (only because we don't want to drive any more traffic their way, right?). Jenn names them, and she gives her impressions here.

This place for WRITERs, this BAY of opportunity, has a contest running. They promise $1,000 to some lucky writer who enters the contest. You simply fill out the registration form, write an article on the topic of your choice, and press the Submit URL button. The front page instructions then say "Once your article is published on the blog, send us the link to your post."

And there's the rub: YOU have to find a blog on which to house your post.

Here also is the rest of the "contest rules." They make you register just to get to this point (I wonder if they have another Regina Ursula Scammy- ruscammy - listed?). 


  1. Examine the guest post list and each guest blog’s requirements
  2. Contact the bloggers, whose blogs you are thinking about posting on. Make sure you got the right post requirements and make sure the blogger doesn’t mind you posting on their blog. You must also agree on the date of the post. The date has to be within the [9.24.12 - 10.23.12] time frame. Let the blogger know that the link included in the post will lead to (the website).

The list of "rules" goes on - there are three phases to this contest, each one requiring you to jump through a few more hoops to qualify.The general gist of it is the more you post, the more points you earn. And they've listed places for you to post --without telling the blog owners. They're listed by point value: basic, premium, and elite. And yes, the bloggers are expected to include links back to this place.

First, let's point out the obvious: no one is winning that money. Or at least it's no one who isn't known by (or is) the contest organizer. 

Second, now they have your name and email address (you had to register to get to this point). Prepare to be bombarded by crap!

Third, the idea that writers should compete to get an invisible, barely attainable prize and include links to this stupid site is exploitative at best. That writers would even consider it shows 1) desperation and 2) a lazy attitude. You're only motivation is money, and not exactly a solid promise of anything real. They give you a list of blog owners to pester the hell out of, and you'll just go right on and do what they say. If you do, stick to a day job, for you're clearly locked in employer/employee mentality.

Fourth, the site itself seeks writers (and pays them very poorly) to write essays for students. So basically, you get to help some slacker cheat his or her way to a degree. Why not write those same papers for your own degree?

Fifth, the exclamation points. I have very few absolutes I live by, but this is a biggie: NEVER (yes, I'm using that word) trust someone who insists on exclamation overload. Exclamations are a lame way of covering up a crap offer.

I could go on. In fact, I just may. But I want your thoughts first -- If you like, go to the website, and use my login: freedom17 AT hotmail DOT com and use the password ruscammy2. Read through it if you can stomach it. 

What smells are you noticing?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Accepting No Less

What's on the iPod: Naked Kids by Grouplove

What a change! Yesterday was quiet, almost relaxing. I've finally caught up with all the work for the client project, and we're moving on to another, much smaller project tomorrow. I was able to get a smaller project in (and done) and put some polish on an upcoming webinar announcement.

I was reading around some forums yesterday (LinkedIn mostly), and noticed a theme. Writers were talking a good game, but in more than a few cases, the evidence was there: they were accepting less than they were worth.

This pains me to see. Many of these writers have great profiles and what I would consider to be killer credentials - ones that would demand a higher rate from the smart clients who hire them. Yet there they were, all nervous about putting a strong rate out there.

Maybe it's a small workload or a little uncertainty about what their actual value is in the market. I don't know why it exists, but I know it doesn't have to. Here are areas of your career in which you should not compromise:

Payment. No mamby-pambying about your rate; the price you set is the price you'll get. None of this letting the client talk you down below your minimum-acceptable threshold (and especially if this is a new client - they have to prove themselves first). You set your rates - not your clients.

Types of work you'll do. If it goes against your morals, your beliefs, or it's just plain boring to you, say no. I turned down work recently despite the client pushing like crazy to get me to do it (and that was also part of the reason I refused). No means no, and you don't have to give any reason beyond "No thank you." And don't apologize - no "I'm sorry, but" statements. It is what it is.

The treatment you'll endure. For me, a client relationship ends the minute things get even remotely hinky. I've ended relationships when the client 1) argues already agreed-upon rates, 2) said anything abusive or unprofessional, 3) didn't paid, 4) changed the scope of the work and expects it at the same price, 5) lied, 6) was incompetent to the point where it affected my work, 7) caused undue stress, 8) refused to sign a contract, etc. Draw and hold firm your boundaries.

Whom it is you'll work with. If you don't like working with people who are scattered, prone to caustic remarks, or who show signs that they're not exactly funded, you can say no. And you should. Any situation in which your gut is telling you to walk away is one you should avoid at all costs.

Independent status. Unless you get a W-2 and benefits, you're free to work for whomever you like whenever you like. No client should tell you how and when to work beyond what they expect and when they expect delivery. That means no video monitoring, no 12-hour IM availability, no after-hours or weekend calls when you're not in the office, and no demanding any type of onsite or online presence at the client's discretion. You are a business owner, and business owners don't jump through anyone's hoops. Period.

What are examples of times you've accepted less in your career? What did  you learn from it?
In what other areas should writers not compromise?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Five Ways to Set Better Goals

What's on the iPod: All At Once by The Airborne Toxic Event

Exhale......

Hear that? That's the sound of a huge chunk of my work being completed. Amen. More is expected by the end of the week, but for now, I can breathe again.

Time again for me to revisit my monthly earnings goal. Not long ago I raised my monthly expectations, so to speak. It worked - since then, I've surpassed my goal more often than not, which makes me think it's time to raise those expectations again.

Maybe it's the part of freelancing that we writers overlook too often. For me, it's essential. I have to know what it is I plan to earn. Without it, I'm spitting into the wind.

I suspect it's the same for you, too. For me, I figure annually, monthly, and hourly. By now I know what I want to make hourly. The practice becomes easier for me because all that's left is figuring out how much each month I intend to bring in.

Everyone has her own version of goal setting, but here's mine. You can use it verbatim or modify it to suit you.

1. Decide how much money you want to earn. Seriously. Get a number in your head. Write it down. Don't be shy - this is a goal, even if it's a six-figure goal.

2. Figure out how much per hour you need to make in order to reach that goal. Like I said, I plan also how much per month I need to earn, but that's up to you. Just decide over the course of the next 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days what your billing rate needs to be so that you can reach that goal without killing yourself in the process.

3. Set monthly benchmarks. This is easier for me because I don't have time to watch my earnings spreadsheet every week. And for me, checking in weekly is just too much fussing. I set a monthly goal, which makes it easy to run through the invoices to see if I've reached it. Most of us know what we've earned in a month. We should.

4. Amend client connections to help meet those benchmarks. If you're consistently missing your earnings goals, think about where your work has come from and how often you're marketing. Are you looking in the same old places? Are you expanding into new areas or looking for clients in different industries or at new publications? And marketing -- are you remembering to market every day and follow up every week?

5. Search for more (and better) revenue sources. Start with existing clients. It's okay to raise your rates once in a while, you know. If you charge them $50 an hour and everyone else is charging $100 an hour, what, are you crazy? Raise your rates! Yes, you may lose a client or two, but I've found that higher rates doesn't just scare off the low-price shoppers - it brings in the serious buyers.

How do you set goals that really work for you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Giving Good Blog

What's on the iPod: The Graveyard Near the House by The Airborne Toxic Event

Good day yesterday. I managed another article, two interviews, three revisions, and a conference call. The pace has slowed, amen, but I still have things to tick off the list, so back to it this morning.

I was thinking about what goes into making a good blog. Not that I have the magic formula, but I've noticed some trends. One trend has me a bit disturbed -- bloggers who don't mind using guest posters to drive traffic, but won't allow them to advertise on their blogs.

I'd heard of one interaction in particular where the guest poster was denied any support from the blogger he'd just helped out with a guest post. The reason: he didn't have as many or more followers than the blogger in question. I guess that blogger didn't think about how his own request would be viewed by bigger fish in the same pond. And let's not talk about how this relatively unknown blogger has lumped himself in there with the big fish. Large, uninformed egos do exist.

So for me, the practice of vetting who you associate with is too strange to understand. See, the people you deny today? They may outpace you someday and look at how you've insulted them. Way to mar your own reputation.

But there are ways to run your blog, and yes, you can vet, you can put yourself on a pedestal, or you can ignore everyone who posts. Totally up to you. But if you're intent on building a solid community and support system (these are your coworkers -- do you really want to be that one bad seed who's always stepping on people to get ahead?), try concentrating your efforts on things like this:

Share information. Don't you hate bloggers who present their information as though it is something they thought up themselves? We all learn from each other. Admit to it, and pass along information that's worked for you. Invite others to share in kind. Isn't it true we grow at all stages of our careers? You're never too brilliant to be learning. If you think so, you'll soon be that same level of self-deemed brilliance -- and alone.

Dictate not. The worst bloggers, to me, are the ones who say "You must..." Any sentence that starts with an order is worth ignoring. No one must do anything other than what works for him or her.

Open a vein. How much different would this blog be if I didn't share bits of my life with you? Maybe a better read for you, but I doubt I'd have the close friendships I've been blessed with in all of you. Let your personality out. It's not about "wowing" your "audience." For me, it's about being honest and being myself. Your choice.

Don't rewrite. Ever. I wish I could count on just one hand the number of times my own posts have been "rewritten" by at least one of the self-titled "big" bloggers. For those of you who skipped that ethics course in college --- rewriting someone else's work is most definitely theft. And it's trashy behavior. Guess who that reflects on? Be careful -- your clients are watching, and watch them jump ship the minute they begin to doubt where you're sourcing your information. Instead, say something like "I saw this on John's blog" and then extend the conversation. You've just given a nod to John, who will be more inclined to reciprocate when appropriate, and you've shown your ability to be a class act instead of a low-life thief. Plus you've shown your ego isn't the center of your decision-making process.

Build friendships. I really don't know how some bloggers can keep followers when they barely interact or worse, interact only with those they think will somehow benefit their own careers. Like I said, the person you snub today could well be the person whose career soars beyond your own tomorrow. But don't build friendships with that in mind -- build them because you want real friends. No one wants a phony friend.

How do you give good blog? What are examples of bad blog behavior you've seen?


Monday, September 24, 2012

Of Audubon and Alba

What's on the iPod: Caledonia by Amy MacDonald

Have you ever been so mentally exhausted that when you lie down to sleep, it doesn't come? That was much of my weekend. Friday night I was just spent, but could not sleep. After a restless night, I spent Saturday in a bit of a daze. I accomplished much more than I thought I did, but I wasn't fully aware.

Husband was home Friday with a stomach flu that lasted most of Saturday and part of Sunday. He's better - shaky, but better - and may attempt work today. But I did a little caretaking to make sure he didn't relapse. He's been healthy all his life and he wasn't familiar with how to eat when one is that sick. Fortunately for him, I've been down that road too many times to forget how to eat (and how not to eat).

So Saturday was errands. Laundry first, then I headed off to get a pedicure (rough week calls for a little pampering). Then on to the grocery store to pick up the week's order and get food for him that he could digest easily.

And I actually finished my William Faulkner book - The Wild Palms (a.k.a. If I Forget Thee Jerusalem, which is the title he wanted in the first place). It was a satisfying read. Two stories in one: one about a convict and how he handles unexpected freedom and interaction with a woman; and the other a story of an illicit love affair that involves a married woman, a doctor in training, an abortion and all sorts of drama). The two stories have nothing to do with each other beyond the common theme of male/female interactions and soul redemptions that are all internal. If you've not read Faulkner before, start somewhere else. This requires patience -- even more so for me, for as I turned each page, they fell out of the book. So much for used paperbacks.

Thanks to the neighbor's cat (whom I shall always call Carl though his name is Louie), I have two spots of poison ivy on my upper leg where he jumped and made himself at home. That made sleeping Saturday night nearly impossible. I would wake up itching like mad and unable to scratch or even relieve it. Carl's on my list, and not the good one.

He was feeling well enough yesterday to head off to Audubon (yes, that Audubon) for a plant walk. We're fortunate to be five minutes by car from the Audubon Nature Center in Mill Grove (where John J. first lived), and even more fortunate that the man who coauthored the book Plants of Pennsylvania was leading the walk. My botanist husband was in Latin heaven -- there were so many species and families being bandied about that he was deeply satisfied. I liked it, too. Lots to see in just one walk. On our way out, we stopped to see the owls in the pens, and to chat with the landscape architect, who was taking photos of her work. She'd gone entirely native plants, which just suits the place so perfectly.

Then we spent the evening in the company of Tannahill Weavers, a traditional Scottish music band. They were fantastic. I was enamored with the fact that one of their past members is Dougie MacLean, who wrote Caledonia, one of my favorite Celtic songs.

Today I have a good deal of work, but the pace is slowing, amen. I'm about to head into the last two interviews for the client magazine, and I have three articles to put together before that. Plus, another client call, a conversation with a potential client, and three revisions to other articles.

So what are you doing this week? How was the weekend?

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's That Smell?

What's on the iPod: That Smell by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Who says music can't inspire a blog post? I heard this song as I was about to put some thoughts down. It reminded me that I've seen some pretty smelly stuff lately. But more on that later.

Yesterday was fruitful. I may have salvaged my weekend by working pedal-to-the-metal, full tilt for four days. Today I have one interview, possibly two (or three if a contact gets back to me), and two small articles to finish before starting in on the larger one, which is already mapped out in my head and partially mapped out on paper. There will be two more interviews next week, but the bulk of the work is done. Dare I dream about relaxing?

I'm finally catching up with the emails that came in over vacation. In the pile were a few from strangers, but what was unusual were the requests from these strangers for me to help them. Why would I help a stranger, you ask? Great question - why would I? More to the point, why should I when these strangers are making requests out of the blue and usually to the tune of my changing my entire blogging (or working) process just to accommodate them?

Here's some of the stench that hit the in box:

Dear Ma'am, help me write my book. Respectful to use Ma'am? Maybe, but why not use my name? Or tell me who you are? Because this one wanted me to tell her "beautiful story" but couldn't be bothered to include a name, I think I'll pass. You may indeed have a legitimate need, but I have instincts I must listen to. Those instincts are saying to delete the message and move on.

We want to form a relationship with you. There were plenty of things wrong with this request. Again, I have a name. It's clearly displayed at the top of every page on my website. And this person contacted me about this blog through my website, so he had to search to figure out where to reach me.

Second was the request - "Our goal is to provide high quality content that can naturally attract traffic and links. This way we both win!"

Not sure how I'd win exactly, given that I have no idea if this person has the ability to attract anything but skepticism. And "naturally" doesn't compute if you need to contact people blindly. You're not convincing me.

Worst of all was this line: "Our writers can construct a carefully researched guest article for your site." No freaking way. This one doesn't read this blog or he'd know how vehemently opposed I am to underpaid writers doing "keyword" work for putzes who keep the bulk of any profit they make.

Lastly, the site he was promoting was an online education site. Not exactly a fit, is it?

I think the second email is the more troubling for me, and should be one we try to avoid in general. Anyone who owns a blog gets these "offers" to help with guest posts. Here's the thing about guest posts:

1. You should not ask to guest post with one exception: it's a friend and you're hoping to promote your project or help out someone in need.

2. If you don't know the person who owns the blog, you shouldn't be trying to get face time somewhere you've not been before.

Once I let a guest post through that was from someone I didn't know. It turned out okay, but I'd not repeat it. The post was fine, but didn't really address the things writers need to know. The writer did manage to keep hyperlinks out of the mix, amen, or it would have died before it made it to the site.

What kinds of requests are you seeing in email these days?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Price and the Client

What's on the iPod: Beautiful Day by U2

Another busy one yesterday, and I'm expecting it to repeat today. I did manage to move one of the interviews to email, which frees up a lot of time and helps both the interviewee and me get the story straight the first time. Also, I kept chasing that same tail -- interview subjects for my magazine article. I've had next-to-no luck getting anyone to A) understand exactly what I want, and B) respond. I did manage two interviews, but I'm not happy. I can't really get into the meat of it if I'm not getting the right feedback.

I had five minutes (only just) to chat quickly with a fellow writer via email. She's put out quite a number of proposals lately, but no client has bitten. In fact, she was expressing disgust at how clients go silent after much contact once the price is out there.

So what's going on? Could be any number of things, but you're not going to know if you're not doing some legwork. Here are a few things to try when the clients go silent on your price:

Check in via email. Only when I know we don't mesh will I not follow up on a client communication. If you think all things are in alignment and you got a good vibe from the client, send a note asking if there were questions or concerns.

Call. Sometimes they go silent and you can't get an answer to email. Don't assume - call. I know some of you don't enjoy using the phone, but sometimes that little call can clear up the mystery. They had to drop the project or they're kicking it back to management for a final approval. You won't know unless you check back in.

Re-examine the level of client you're dealing with. If you're high enough up the food chain. you're not going to get the price push-back as often as you may right now. If the clients are consistently balking at the price, you need to find a different client base that is better able and more willing to accept a more professional rate. It could be that you're offering too high a value to too low a budget range.

Accept that this is not your client. Sometimes your price just doesn't fit their budget. That's okay. If you're unable/unwilling to come down a little and they're unable/unwilling to come up a little, walk away.

How do you get a better return on your proposals?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Drive

What's on the iPod: All at Once by The Airborne Toxic Event

This pace shall be the end of me if it continues. Yesterday I had two more interviews, two more articles to write, and more coordination of interviews for the magazine piece. Today, four interviews for four different stories. Tomorrow, more of the same.

I'll be glad to see September 27th come. That's a day that, so far, has nothing on the schedule. Until then, plowing through.

I was thinking about what Devon said the other day about one of the essential freelance attributes - drive. It's true. Without that feeling in your gut that makes you not walk, but charge to the computer every day to do the job, I don't see how any writer can survive long at it. It's passion turned outward. The trick is finding that same passion when the work is for a client and not on your novel.

How do you find that passion?

Get curious. Curiosity is a must for any freelancer. It's how you find the way to write about any topic the client wants or needs and make it compelling. If you're writing about auto insurance versus car rental insurance, you can find one thing (more than likely more than one thing) that's interesting about the topic that excites or intrigues you (okay, excite may be stretching it). Did you know that rental insurance, in most cases, is unnecessary? Did you know that if your auto insurance limits are low, you could be stuck with a rather large portion of the bill should your loss with a rental car exceed that insurance? See? There's always something to get curious about.

Take a stake in it. In all client jobs, you have to be part of the outcome. Meaning this - you should feel part of the job enough to strive for a super outcome every time. Sweat the details right alongside your client. It makes for a better product in the end.

Insert pride. If you take no pride in your work, it will show.Make it your point of pride to get the job done right and on time. Treat that project as if it were your own. Put the same effort (or more) into your clients' projects as you would your own.

How do you find the passion that drives you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If You Say You're Not a Scammer, Does That Make it True?

What's on the iPod: Hospital by Counting Crows

Yesterday was a sprint for which I felt seriously out of shape. I knew I'd be busy when I returned from California, but I didn't realize just how busy. By noon I'd finished a blog post, sat in on a team conference call, reviewed one set of client edits, interviewed someone for an article, and reviewed a second set of client edits. Lunch was a blur.

I was able too to get through my pile of emails. Since synching my phone to my email account, I've been able to review emails while I'm out of the office, but there were a few that had to be reread and responded to. One in particular won't be getting my response. It's a note that's been circulating among the freelancers I know.

It started out kind of spammy. "Hi, I've been visiting your site often to get valuable information."

That could be true...IF my blog were linked to my site. It's not. My site? It's my resume and portfolio, not informational.

Then came the "I need your help" request. And that's where the person lost me.

This may or may not be a legitimate need, and a legitimate situation in which someone needs help, but to ask a complete stranger for help is a bit odd. To ask for money in lieu of help -- beyond odd and right into scam.

Here's why this person won't get my direct response:

No interaction. "Hi" is not my name. You don't know me and didn't bother to take the time to learn my name. Go away.

Asking for favors. My friends rarely ask for favors. When they do, I leap to help them. When someone I've never met or heard of asks, I won't help. That's leech-like behavior and I'm not promoting it. If you had asked me how to find work or where you might find clients that pay more, I'd be helping you out because you're intent on building a career, not looking for a handout.

Expecting instant trust. You don't care enough about building a relationship first before you ask -- I don't care what your story is. You haven't earned trust or shown any reason for me to care.

Name dropping. This one made the mistake of naming two people who have backed this particular person's fundraising efforts -- one of whom I'm quite close to. The "backed by" statement was way out of line. The one "backer" quoted said "Yea, I don't know who the devil it is."

"I'm not a scammer or anything." No? Then why are you behaving like one?

The story on the person's website may be true. There may be a divorce and a dire financial situation. However, I have friends who have been through separation/divorce (and so have I), and I know there are any number of ways in which the left-behind spouse can get money, or hey, a job. And again, I don't know you, so how do you expect me to believe your story is real?

This may be a legitimate person with a real problem, but the way it's being handled, it's not building any confidence that the story is true. I have seen the name around before, but I'm not convinced in the tale's accuracy. I will give advice - not money. That's all you should be asking for anyway.

How do you identify legitimate versus a scam? When do you help and how?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Five Freelance Career Essentials

What's on the iPod: Us and Them by Pink Floyd

"I'm doing it."

That was the answer I gave last week to someone who'd asked me what my dream job would be. He was young - my daughter's age - and he's a freshly minted graduate. So the question was natural given that filter. He's still searching for that one thing that captures his imagination and his passion.

And I was able to say I'd found my one thing. How lucky is that?

Well, luck did play into it, but so did a ton of hard work and training.

Those of us who have been busting our humps at it for more than a few years often get the question: How can I have a career in freelancing? A career in freelancing is yours right now. Just start.

What isn't yours right now is success. That, my friend, takes effort. Here are just a few of what I think are essentials for you to be successful at that dream job:

Business savvy. If you think you have to come to the job with it, you'd be wrong. I had relatively no business sense beyond knowing to contact clients. But it develops over time and by reading, researching, and even by adopting other successful writers' habits. You'll need to know how to market your services, pay your taxes, build business plans, make business decisions, and mind the financial details.

Skill. Yes, you can start with just rudimentary skills, but you'll soon be overwhelmed if you're thinking those basics will hold you forever. Always be improving what you know and learning new things. Even 12 years later, I'm still learning. That said, you don't have to be pitch perfect every time. You simply have to be good enough to get the job done. Strive for perfection, but let the project go at good enough or you'll drive yourself nuts.

A broader focus. Don't go into your career thinking the one thing you write about today must be your focus the rest of your life. And don't think you even need a focus. Specialization is great if you know what you want to specialize in, but it's not required. And the focus you have today may not fit in a year or even a few months. Allow your career to morph and follow those passions and interests.

Flexibility. Client stuff comes up. People have upsets. Projects go awry. You need to be flexible enough (and professional enough) to handle the missteps, the changed plans (and know how to work that into contracts so you're not doubling your efforts), and the delays with grace and tact.

A strong resolve. Look, if you're going to crumble and wail at the first sign of a project revision or an angry client, give it up now. You have to be committed to this job and to your own efforts. If the first tough assignment has you thinking you'd rather be a barista, then by all means save yourself and your clients the trouble of unfinished projects. This is your job, your career choice.You have to want this, hunger for this enough to fight for it and wade through the crud that none of us like wading through, but that those of us who wouldn't trade this job for anything else wade through anyway.

So are you ready to start?

Writers, what essentials did you need when you started? 
How did that list change as you gained experience?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Enter Madness

What's on the iPod: Enter Sandman by Metallica

Today I have hit the ground running. We returned last night late - 8:30 is late when you're just off an airplane - and this morning I've had three cups of chai and one phone call. I have three more calls today, three articles due from that, and ten more interviews next week (with ten corresponding articles). Plus I have a magazine article to get interviews for (no luck finding people via ProfNet, so now it's time to pester them via phone), and I have a blog post and that really large project to get going. Oh, and revisions on a case study.

Hell yes, I'm busy.

No weekend for me, and I'm not complaining. I just had eight days to relax (somewhat -- I did work a little). Time to honor my commitments and get the job done. Jet lag is making this infinitely more ...interesting, shall we say?

But the time away was great. I'm in love with Santa Cruz. So is he. It's now on our list of places to maybe live someday. And the wedding on the cliffs overlooking the ocean - spectacular. Spending time with family was equally wonderful.

The weather was an odd mix of fog, chill, heat, and sun. I loved it all, especially the chill. I'd packed for much colder weather. But the day of the wedding was sunny and in the 70s. Just perfect.

I hope you're all well! What's new? What did I miss while I was out?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tablet or Laptop?

On our way home today!

I was reading Sharon Hurley Hall's latest article, Is It Time to Swap Your Dell PC for a Tablet?, and I'll admit -- she's got me thinking. I thought I wanted a laptop because I like to see the screen. But I really love the idea of a lighter, more portable form of computing.

Sure, her article talks about desktop PCs, and that's one area I won't change. I love my screen, my keyboard, my desk, and my space. What I can't do is downsize the font and the screen too much. I won't be able to function.

But I applied the info in the article to my latest need - a new laptop. I have a laptop I rarely use, partly because it's slow, but mostly because I don't like the keyboards or the screens. And they're heavy. I don't want to lug office equipment around. It has to be light.

So now I'm thinking maybe a tablet with a keyboard. It's certainly portable. Light? Sure. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Oh, yes.

But ten-inch screens? Am I ready for that?

What's your take on it? Which would you choose? Why? 

How much work outside your usual work space do you do?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lists - Yours and Theirs

We're flying home tomorrow. I'll bore you with stories, I'm sure. But I'm about to re-enter the workload. And as I'm writing this, prior to our trip, I'm certain I'll forget something.

I tried to get it all done before we left, but plans got in the way. Not mine, mind you. Theirs. Everyone who has ever worked from home knows what's coming when there are two or more people in the house: those requests.

Last week was no exception. One here is without a car, the other without a license, and another working hours not conducive to appointments and shopping. But hey, I'm free, right?

Wrong.

The day before we left I had to:

  • Meet someone at the train.
  • Run to the bank (for myself).
  • Run to get supplies at the hardware store (mentioned to me AFTER the bank trip).
  • Rent a car for the trip (I volunteered - sometimes it's just easier).
  • Help plan our post-wedding trip (can't we just wing it? Please?).
  • Field a phone call from a relative.
  • Help someone find a missing book.
  • Work.
That last one seemed low on everyone's priority list but mine. So I did what any savvy freelancer should do:

I said no to a few things.

They think it's my being mean, selfish, whatever. I know it's my being protective of the little time I have to work in a day. The minute they get home, my work day is done. I don't care if I'm not finished. The interruptions, noise, new dynamics in the house make it hard, if not impossible, to get anything done. I have to refuse requests for a few reasons:

To establish precedent. You think you can say no to them after you've already hauled them around town for three weeks? Go on, try it. Let me know how that works. Instead, accept with a huge caveat: "Just this once during my work day" or just say no from the start. You have to set boundaries if you expect them to respect your space.

To protect my time. I work typical weekday hours so I can spend time with them when they're home. If they want to see me, they have to let me have my work time. Period.

To curb resentment. I do get resentful when the requests come in during a work day. I admit to it, and I voice it openly. If they think twice about asking, good. I've made my point and avoided any need to please at my own expense. Sure, they get upset. They also get over it. I've often pointed to any one of them and said, "How about you pick me up during your work day?" That gets the point across, too, because one request is fine, but five requests later, it's not so fine anymore. For anyone.

How do you protect your time?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Do Good Tuesday

This day never passes without some reflection and intense sadness. Only last month did I first visit the 9/11 Memorial, and I wish it had been alone and not with our visitors. While I loved taking them there, it was just too solemn a place to "visit." I'll go again by myself.

So maybe instead of trying to forget those feelings that seem still fresh as yesterday I'll share with you ways in which we freelancers can do some good in the world. Here are ways to give back:

Tutoring. Do it for free when you can. I teach English to a Vietnamese woman. You can teach someone new to the country how to speak, or you can teach a kid struggling in school how to write effectively. Give of yourself a little and the rewards to all will multiply.

Purchasing wisely. Yes, I'm a shoe addict, but that doesn't mean I can't do good while I feed my habit. I buy a lot of Toms shoes for two reasons - first, I love their shoes; second, I love their One For One program. I buy a pair, they donate a pair to someone without shoes. And the packaging is almost 100% recyclable. It's a win-win.

Time. Part of our meditation practice includes service to others. One of the projects we're trying to put together is scheduled visits to a local nursing home. Just to say hello, to read to someone, to visit, to get to know them and give them something to look forward to. 

Recycling. There are days I feel like Mother Earth and days I feel like I'm battling the entire universe to keep one plastic bag out of the landfills. But if everyone would make a conscious effort to put that container back into use instead of into a dump, the difference would be huge. Start by choosing products whose packaging is not excessive and is easily recycled. Then challenge yourself to get more in that recycling bin every week than you get in the trash bin.

Composting. Sure you can. No matter where you live, there's always a way and a need for composting. They make cute sink-top compost bins and big-assed, outdoor ones. And if you have plants, compost is a super idea.

How do you do right for the world?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learn 'em Up Monday

What I'm reading: The Wild Palms by William Faulkner

By now the wedding festivities are over and we're on our own for a few days of reconnecting and enjoying our time together. I hope I'm not worrying work issues. Work will always be there -- no sense wasting time consumed by it.

Time to go back to school. My poetry class from Coursera starts today. Though I'll have to attend as I get the time this week, I'm excited to have found that link. A writer friend in the city sent the link, and I can't stop thanking him. Great stuff for free.

There are other courses, workshops, and webinars that are happening that can help us get a leg up on our work or businesses. Here are this week's standouts:

Dangerous Minds and Dead Bodies. Via Writer's Digest, this one caught my eye because of who's presenting. Cyril Wecht, a noted coroner (hails from the Pittsburgh area) and Katherine Ramsland who's researched and written on the history of forensics. It's $4.99 for the on-demand video. And the title is just perfect.

International Freelancers Day. I attended this one last year, and it was a slam dunk. Fantastic information last year by some of the top writers in the industry. This year, the lineup seems a bit thinner and maybe not so expert? But I'll give Ed the support. It's on September 21st, and it's free if you sign up now. Thank you, Ed Gandia. Great event!

Reporters Without Editors. A neat-sounding webinar on how to edit your own writing. Deadline for signups is today, so check it out ASAP.

8 Money-saving Tax Questions: Answered! Join Anne and me along with our special guest, Julian Block, for an hour-long webinar that answers those tax questions freelancers need to know! We don't have the link up yet, but keep checking the About Writing Squared site for our announcement.

What webinars are you attending or presenting? Leave a link!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Numbness on the Edge of Friday

What I'm reading: The Wild Palms by William Faulkner

Still in Santa Cruz, and about to attend a beach bonfire and rehearsal dinner. I may be connected, but hopefully not too much. I did tell clients I'd be around some yesterday and today. After that, our plans are very loose.

Since it's Friday on the first official "fall" work week (it's not fall for a few more weeks, but that's being technical), things are bound to be more down-to-business serious. So who doesn't want to be a little numb after all that work? This is a current favorite:




What are watching/listening to? Please share a link!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Backfires

What I'm listening to: the sound of laughter and family

I'm in Santa Cruz and sharing time with my in-laws, who are just great people and great fun. I'm probably trying to get a little work done between 6 am and noon, but that's because I didn't plan the trip and he assumed I could take off without much problem. We both messed up there.

I heard from a writer friend who's thinking it's clearly time to make her leap. See, she wrote a guest post not long ago. In it, she mentioned a coworker who wasn't so easy to work with. Lo and behold, didn't a coworker read it, assume it was about her, and complain to management? Not that there was anything all that heinous said, but it was embarrassing for the writer and it's soured an already difficult situation. Ugh.

To her, the post backfired in that it didn't solve the problem, but only made things worse. To me, it's a huge waving flag -- your career is over here, not over there! And it's opportunity.

I too had something I said backfire once -- a lot of somethings I said, and it cost me my job. I let frustration out to coworkers instead of heading right to the source and having a one-on-one, and allowing it to get a little ugly. Instead, ugly happened as they walked me out of the building. But what happened after they closed the doors behind me, well, that was just what I needed.

I learned that freelance career I'd been pining over was staring me in the face. It was there waiting for me to take hold. While we sit in secure jobs we don't like wishing for a career that lets us define the path, it's right there. We're mere inches from the start of something wild, slightly neurotic, partially manic, and completely wonderful. Yet we let that security get in the way.

So how do we find ourselves self-employed and happy as hell despite the hell itself?

Backfires.

Missteps.

Opportunities screaming in our faces.

Lack of options.

So the question I pose to you: How did you get your start in freelancing? What sent you down that path? What worked? What didn't? How did you find your way?

Also, what in your life backfired and ended up being your blessing in disguise?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Value

What I'm reading: The Wild Palms by William Faulkner

I'm leaving on a jet plane....

I'm heading out today and won't be back for eight days. Wedding with family, and then some time off to ourselves, something we haven't had much of since May. I hate leaving work behind, but it's for a good cause -- the personal life. Personal lived always comes first, or at least should.

So while I'm gone, I'll leave some things to chat about. First question for you:

What value do you bring to your clients?

Maybe you have a value statement, or maybe you know exactly what you give to clients that no one else can. For instance, you may be a mechanic who's a good writer. Your value is firsthand knowledge of the auto repair industry. Or you could be an HR rep and your value is knowing the hot-button issues that companies face every day.

What is your value? Do you have a value statement? Do you have a slogan? What does/would it say about your business?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Hustle Here and a Bustle There

What's on the iPod: Lonely Boy by The Black Keys

Rain. Lots and lots of rain. And then some more. That was our weekend. And it was good.

Having had an unusually dry July and a somewhat wetter August near the end, the heavy rain that washed over this long weekend was a welcome sight. We're finally mowing grass again, everything is green, and only a few perennials bit the dust in the heat and drought - unfortunately, the lupine was the first victim, followed by a newer poppy.

It felt like a busy weekend even though I didn't work through it. I was tempted to because we're heading out tomorrow for eight days and I know of only two days where I'll have access. I just was hired by a local company to provide them with some blog posts, but that has to be put on hold until I return. Plus I have the big project -- stalled twice -- that's waiting for me. The client is very accommodating about my schedule since I've been waiting since April. In general, he's just a terrific client.

Instead of barbecues, which we don't normally do (there's a limited audience for grilled tofu kebobs), we had an actual date night Friday. As we were walking to the restaurant, we came across a used book store. You know me. I walked out with four books, which I took right back to the car. One was a huge book called The Great Shame, about the Irish migration. It was written by Thomas Keneally, who wrote something else about a guy named Schindler...

We went to Monk's Cafe for dinner, then saw a terrific movie -Beasts of the Southern Wild. If Quvenzhan√© Wallis does not get an Oscar nomination, I'd be shocked. She's eight years old. She starred in and cemented that movie, which was well done all the way around. Fantastic.

But please, can we just tell directors that the shaky-camera effect is just overdone? I'm tired of listening to a movie because I'd hurl if I watched the screen. Either give us Dramamine warnings or stick with still shots.

Saturday was my errand day. I didn't go to the farmer's market because we're not going to be home to eat it all and the kids won't need that much. Instead, I went to Macy's. I needed an extra set of sheets, and they had a set advertised for $29.99. That's where things became interesting. I couldn't find them in the store. Neither could two of the clerks, who decided if I liked the set I was holding (priced at $49.99) it was now $29.99. I didn't take them because the color wasn't right, but that's good customer service. Solve it by making sure the customer walks away happy. Amen, Macy's.

Back home I had a few things to do -- clothing prep for the trip, which will include a wedding, a bonfire, a rehearsal dinner, and hiking. I'm taking tops that will do two jobs -- casual and hiking (hiking, amen, is coming at the end of the trip). Also, I went outside to mow, realized we had no gas for the mower, then got caught up in weeding. You gardeners know how it goes -- you pull one weed, which quickly turns into an hour and six piles of weeds.

Then I went out to get the pedicure and shop for dinner. Saw my English student, Hang, whom I've not seen in months. We stopped meeting because of the holidays and travel. It was a nice reunion and we gabbed like we always had. Her English has improved immensely over time, and she's now commanding the language. That felt good knowing I'd helped.

Sunday was a blur of rain. We didn't do much, though I did head to the mall to get the one thing missing from my clothing -- a bracelet-length white sweater. The wedding we're attending is on the cliffs overlooking the beach, and I hear it can be a bit nippy. Found what I wanted in minutes, then back home to finish packing.

Also spent some time on Ancestry.com. I'm chasing a particular line of the family - the Latchaws - who married the Leslies who married the Gallaghers who married the Widmers. If I have it right, and I think I may, I've found the first one who landed in America. One thing I did find beyond Ancestry -- the graves of George and Rebecca (Rebekah) Ferguson Leslie. They are in a cemetery we used to pass all the time. A good weekend for "digging."

Today it's a huge marathon to get phone calls, writing, and scheduling in before I walk out the door tomorrow. I don't expect to have it all sorted, but I have to at least have a game plan in place for when I come back. I'll have to hit the ground running almost immediately.

How was your holiday weekend?
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