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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Riding the Writing Excuse Train

What I'm listening to: Bloodstream by Ed Sheeran

Lots of work at my door right now, and naturally, I'm about to head out of the country for a week. As I've always said, if you want work, just plan a vacation.

I'm not so busy that I haven't been able to interact on forums and LinkedIn groups. It was on one particular thread that I noticed it. The writer had made reference to needing to do something to bring in more money, to move herself in a new direction.

Per usual, the advice was there. Have you tried this? Why not reach into that area? Good advice from a number of successful writers. I would have been happy to receive such support.

I won't say the writer wasn't grateful -- she was. She thanked everyone for their input. It's what she did next that tells me she's not moving anywhere but possibly backward.

She started making excuses.

Part of her excuse-making did stem from a bit of venting/whining. We all go through that, right? But the larger part -- the important part -- was that she wasn't showing any desire to take the advice and try it out. Looked more like she'd rather fuss about what's broken than actually doing anything to reverse the trend.

It's the Excuse Train, and she'd bought a one-way ticket.

I get it; we writers all have periods where work isn't there and where clients seem to evaporate like water on a sidewalk in August. It's not that we don't go through the exact same things. It's how we respond that separate us.

Peter Bowerman has an excellent post on his blog about pushing beyond our comfort zones. Rather than repeat his advice, just visit and give him some comment love.

What Peter says is true -- you have to go to where it's uncomfortable or unfamiliar before you'll take your business to the next level.

So if your business is stagnant or floundering, what could be the cause? Here are a few to ponder:

Inertia. Isn't it just easier to say "Freelancing is dead!" rather than proving that statement false? It's not as much work to declare something like that than to market your ass off or make contact at trade shows or networking events. The success of your writing business is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

Stagnancy. Really, read Peter's post. It's a great reminder that we're never done growing as writers. Even the cushiest of writing careers go stale. Think of your business as a plant. If you don't water, it's going to wither and die.

Fear of failure. If you've ever thought or said "I can't" when thinking of moving into a new area, fear is the reason. If you've ever said "I'd love to, but..." remove the "but." Then do what you said you'd love to do.

Lack of talent. Not everyone who calls himself a writer can actually write. In a recent conversation, a client told me "You'd be surprised how many writers we've seen who deliver stuff full of typos and grammar mistakes." Sadly, no I wouldn't. I've seen writers who call themselves gurus and mentors who can't string together a coherent thought. If you don't take your craft seriously, how can you expect clients to?

Not thinking creatively. It always astounds me when writers don't think far enough beyond their current borders. So you're writing for the landscaping industry. You feel you're stuck in that industry, but you're not. Think about what industries support that one -- how about power tools, manual tools, associations, seed companies, plant producers, patio, deck, mulch.....you name it. Stop thinking so narrowly. Go to a trade show or even a home show if you have to. You'll be shocked to see just how far-reaching that one industry can be.

Your attitude toward the work. Deadlines still mean something. So do your client's requirements, the project parameters, and the contract you signed. If you went silent or got too loud with a client, you've just lost one more connection, one more recommendation, one more potential referral and repeat customer.

Arrogance.  Honestly, I've seen writers who think because they were once somebody (somehow or other) or they have enough experience to finally be somebody, they needn't try. "I want them to come to me!" Alas, it's a big planet and it's really easy to overlook one person, no matter how talented they think they are.

Writers, what have you seen that gets in the way of success?

13 comments:

Eileen said...

One of the biggest reasons I see for a freelance business to flounder (and almost exclusively in women) is a lack of confidence. It may not be politically correct to say this, but I’ve observed that men freelancers tend to quote higher prices with the unexamined assumption that they’re worth it (even if they aren’t). They also are more fearless when it comes to moving into new markets and taking their business to the next level. Women freelancers, however, for a bazillion cultural reasons, have a tendency to lack a comparable sense of self-worth … and it shows. So sometimes they/we use every excuse in the book, when really we're just afraid. (I count myself among them; this is something I’ve had to work at.) There are several antidotes to this, in no particular order. 1. Get a mentor 2. Feel the fear and do it anyway 3. Stop looking for excuses to fail and look for ways to succeed 4. And definitely move out of your comfort zone.

I have been mentoring a freelancer for several years now, and she has come a long way in terms of skill since she began. She’s really, really good, and has a natural instinct for business. But she was stuck in a rut with a client that had her on a treadmill, scrambling to keep up with a large, ill-defined workload for a weekly pittance. She knew she was worth more than that, but fear and lack of confidence kept her on the treadmill. That and the fact that she really really really needed the money, and was unwilling to risk losing what little business she had in order to get better quality clients. But practically the minute (okay, the same week) that she snapped and jumped off the treadmill, she landed several top quality new clients that have her working far less hours for far more money. Lesson learned: she may feel the fear again, but from now on, she’ll move forward anyway.

It’s no secret that I’ve been in a slump all summer, after losing two long-term, big ticket retainer clients who took the work in-house. But using your post as a checklist, I can see that I’m NOT getting in my own way. There may be a little room for improvement in terms of thinking creatively about markets, but otherwise, I’m doing what I’m supposed too … and I have every confidence that at some point soon, business will explode. My success is entirely within my own hands; if “the market” has slowed down, there’s still a way to bring in clients, and I’ll figure it out.

Cathy Miller said...

Excellent post, Lori. There are times I think we all fall into making excuses rather than doing something different. When I catch myself doing that I want to deliver a slap on my silly head.

At this stage of my career, it is easy to stall. I try to examine what really is at the core of it. Stepping outside my comfort zone is usually the answer. The trick is in the doing.

Anne Wayman said...

Eileen, you're absolutely right imo, at least here in the USA... and once we reach some sort of maturity I believe self-confidence is mostly a matter of habit... and choice... (feel a blog post coming on).

Yeah, like Cathy says being willing to step, push, jump, creep outside whatever comfort zone I think I have ;)

Lori, where are you going? And I love that train!

Jake Poinier said...

Good stuff, as always, LW. I've been freelancing long enough that I've seen more than my share of up, down, and sideways markets and industries, so I have to chuckle at "freelancing is dead," or its corollary, "there aren't as many high-paying freelance jobs anymore." Pffft.

For example, I remember the fear that the glut of writers from shuttered magazines and newspapers was going to cause all sorts of problems with prices and competition for projects. If that has happened, I'm not seeing it. Same with the supposed onslaught of the Millennials.

The fear of growing stagnant was one of the reasons I wrote my books last year--way outside of my comfort zone. But lo and behold, becoming an author is part of the reason I've got 2 speaking engagements this year and 1 in March 2015, and that has done a great deal for reenergizing my mindset.

Have a great trip!

Paula said...

Right now the thing getting in my way is procrastination. But the other day I figured out why I procrastinate, especially during weeks like this when I have a family event to organize and prepare for on top of my regular workload: I'm procrastinating because I know I work best under pressure. The cleaning will get done. The cooking will get done. The yard work will get done. I will fit interviews and articles around it. I always get things done. Knowing I have all that ahead of me makes me appreciate quite before the storm. Once the momentum starts I'll keep going.

To piggyback on another part of your post, Lori, I have a strange relationship with the word "excuses."

I've had chronic foot and skin problems since childhood. The ones involving skin issues or minor surgeries were obvious, but the more painful structural and nerve problems weren't diagnosed until much later. So my childhood was spent asking people to slow down, or complaining about how much my feet hurt. When I was little, my older siblings said I was making excuses so Dad would carry me. Or they said it was in my head. I wasn't making excuses. I was in pain.

I also have hyper-sensitive skin. Contact with lots of common items can cause reactions that take weeks, sometimes months, to clear up. When I say I can't do dishes at your house without rubber gloves, it's not an excuse. Or if my sister and I are out for lunch and there's fresh lemon or lime to squeeze on food or in tea, I have to ask her to do it for me because I don't carry disposable gloves with me. (I inherited my fussy skin from my Grandma - when we went to her house she'd leave tomato slicing and dish washing to the rest of us because she knew her triggers, too.)

That's why today I try to distinguish between a real reason for not doing something and an excuse. At first it can be hard to see the difference between the two, but go to a neighborhood meeting and you'll see people who'd rather complain about a problem and blame it on outside factors than coming up with ideas on how to solve the problem. They're making excuses, and they're usually the first to accuse other people — including the police officers and city officials — of making excuses for why they haven't already fixed problems they weren't even aware of before the meeting! That's a reason, not an excuse. Point that out to one of the gripers and they'll say, "Stop making excuses for them." Love the irony.

Those people would never make it as freelancers!

Lori Widmer said...

Eileen, your response should be printed out and posted on walls wherever there are freelancers. Best advice ever, and I see exactly what you're seeing. Also, I see another side of it -- companies, run by men and women, don't take female freelancers seriously. Why? I suspect because we've created our value in their eyes, and it's based on our own trepidation.

Great stuff. Thank you.

Cathy, the trick really is in the doing, isn't it? I have a friend who plans all day, every day. Her life is about to change, must change, she keeps saying. I've been hearing that for 14 years now.

Jake, I remember that same fear. I didn't share it nor see it because not every journalist can, or wants to, transition into corporate writing or trade writing. Plus this job takes discipline and a ton of work. Not everyone is cut out for that.

Anne, I love that train, too. :) We're headed to southern England for a week. He went to school there when he was a wee bairn, and he wants to revisit the memories.

Paula, super life lesson! Thanks for sharing it. It's true -- there's a real difference between excuses and true reasons.

Gabriella F. said...

Lori, I swear you wrote this with me in mind given our conversation recently over the client who wanted some skills I didn't have.

When you're right, you're right. If the client wants to hire me, I'm going to take the job--though my comfort zone is soooooo cozy!

Thanks for the push.

Eileen said...

Lori, I can't say that I've experienced prejudice from companies against me as a female freelancer. But I did have someone tell me early on, a relative who works with executives as a consultant, that nobody would take me seriously if I wasn't charging at least $50/hour or the equivalent - and this was back in 2001. It was some of the most valuable advice I ever got.

@Paula, I hear you about "excuses." I have a chronic health issue which, while not debilitating, requires me to manage my energy and stress very carefully. That's one of the biggest advantages to freelancing: I control the schedule and just about everything else. So "I'm too tired to focus" is not an excuse, it's a signal that I need to manage my needs better and maybe even take a nap. Can't imagine working a 9-5 job.

@Gabriella, if another professional (client) thinks you're good enough, choose to believe him/her!

Lori Widmer said...

Gabriella, I swear this thing was written days before that conversation! But it does sort of mirror that, huh? No, this was a LinkedIn Group discussion that triggered this.

Eileen, I've seen it directly and indirectly. I remember one interview subject talking down the conversation to so basic a level a kid could understand. The minute I brought out a few acronyms, he relaxed and started talking shop. In other cases, I've had clients argue the snot out of my rate, but pay the male designer or male writer his rate without question. Sadly, I saw it at the magazine where I worked. Women got offered $300-400 an article. Men were offered $800-1,200 an article. No difference in what they were writing about, either.

It sucks, but there are still people out there who think and act like this.

Lori Widmer said...

And I love the advice you got early on. It's true $50 an hour doesn't sound like a professional when stacked against someone charging $125-150 an hour for the same work.

Paula said...

What? Did that magazine publisher not think some freelancers might know each other and compare rates?

One of my first regular clients was a national business magazine published here in town. Only after I got to know an assistant editor who quit after 10 months (and who is now one of my best friends) did I learn they paid local writers far less than writers from out of town, regardless of their level of experience.

Next time anyone balks about my hourly rate, I'll try this: "I feel a professional plumber is well worth the $75 per hour they charge, don't you? They provide a good value for that price. As I do for the rate I charge. But plumbing is a science - all plumbers know how plumbing systems work and they all use the same basic tools and materials. Writing is a skill, even an art, that gets better with time, making experienced writers exponentially more valuable than beginners. Supply and demand is part of the price, too: There are a lot more plumbers in the phone book than professional writers.

Paula said...

What? Did that magazine publisher not think some freelancers might know each other and compare rates?

One of my first regular clients was a national business magazine published here in town. Only after I got to know an assistant editor who quit after 10 months (and who is now one of my best friends) did I learn they paid local writers far less than writers from out of town, regardless of their level of experience.

Next time anyone balks about my hourly rate, I'll try this: "I feel a professional plumber is well worth the $75 per hour they charge, don't you? They provide a good value for that price. As I do for the rate I charge. But plumbing is a science - all plumbers know how plumbing systems work and they all use the same basic tools and materials. Writing is a skill, even an art, that gets better with time, making experienced writers exponentially more valuable than beginners. Supply and demand is part of the price, too: There are a lot more plumbers in the phone book than professional writers.

Lori Widmer said...

Paula, it's so strange how some clients, magazines included just don't understand how to treat good contractors. They do think we don't talk. And shame on the one that pays local writers less! I can almost hear them justifying it by comparing cost-of-living indices or something equally irrelevant.

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