Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Beauty of Guidelines

 

Whether you’re pitching an article or submitting a novel query or pitching a script, the guidelines of any particular publisher are important.

Following them properly are vital to success at landing a contract.

I’ve taught entire workshops on interpreting guidelines and following them.

Having worked on both sides of the editorial table, I sympathize with both editors who are frustrated by writers who don’t follow guidelines, and writers who are frustrated by the guidelines.

It’s important to remember that the guidelines and how the writer follows them are the first test to see if the writer and the publisher are a good fit.

The editor wants to know:
–can the writer demonstrate basic reading comprehension and follow instructions;
–can the writer understand and fulfill the requirements of being part of this organization;
–can the writer demonstrate fluency in grammar, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, understand the purpose of a hook, and distill the necessary information into a single page;
–can the writer demonstrate an intelligence and a flexibility that proves the individual is easy to work with and doesn’t need constant babysitting.

Guidelines are not there to make the writer’s life miserable. They exist to streamline the process for the editor/publication and weed out those who are more trouble than they’re worth.

I took a wonderful workshop, way back in film school, about pitching screenplays. A good portion of it was about developing a logline. A logline is a single sentence (not complex, compound, or run-on) that encapsulates the screenplay while enchanting the listener.

The workshop leader, who worked in acquisitions and development for a major studio, stated that if the writer could not distill the screenplay down into that one simple logline, the writer didn’t know the piece well enough, it needed another draft, and was not ready to pitch.

I remember that every time I prepare a pitch or a query. There are times when I decide not to pitch or query something because I obviously need more time with it, and I can’t distill it down to the basics while making it enticing.

The elevator pitch is more like a paragraph, but the logline is a good test of whether or not something is ready to go out.

On the flip side of guidelines, when I see demanding guidelines that take me so far out of standard manuscript format that I should be on staff for the publication and paid to reformat, it gives me pause. There’s a reason standard manuscript format uses the word “standard.”

I draft in standard manuscript format because it is far easier to format OUT of it than into it, should that be necessary (to create one-paragraph summaries, excerpts for media kits and interviews, etc). And, people, the default in Word is NOT standard manuscript format. It will mess you up. Set the document to standard manuscript format when you start the first words of your manuscript, and it will serve you well.

If you don’t know what “standard manuscript format” is — LOOK IT UP. Don’t expect others to do your research for you. The information is out there. Put in some effort to learn your craft.

Back from that little tangent.

When guidelines are overly complicated, or when there’s an edge of nastiness to them, I step back. I do more research. It’s a hint that perhaps we are not a good fit.

When I see something in the guidelines that I disagree with, with which I’m not willing to suck it up and do it,  I take a deep breath and move on.

I don’t email them to ask for an exception or to argue with them. They have the right to set whatever guidelines that work for them.

I have the right not to submit.

That’s the beauty of the guidelines. They give BOTH sides of the equation necessary information.

As a writer, if the guidelines don’t work for you, DON’T SUBMIT. Keep doing your research, and find a publication/publisher that’s a better match.

Submitting anyway, because you think you’re such a brilliant writer that they’ll make an exception for you will only cause frustration for both of you. You’ll be upset because you’ll get a rejection. If you don’t follow guidelines, chances are it will be rejected unread. They will be frustrated because you wasted their time and proved you’re not a professional.

If you ARE that brilliant, a different publication, where you’re comfortable with and have followed the guidelines, will contract you. If you ARE that brilliant, word will get around, and publications will wind up coming to you.

When you’re simply Very Good, you work a little harder to find the right fit, and don’t bother with publications that are the wrong fit.

Which you can often tell from the guidelines.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Vision

 

A few weeks ago, we talked about the vision statement for a personal strategic plan. I mentioned how I feel the vision statement and the mission statement should be integrated for a personal plan, and how I’m not a big fan of either. And how my vision for my own work is a little different from that of what I do with clients.

But I’ve been working on my personal vision/mission statement.

I’ve come up with this:

My work grows from project to project, in both art and craft. Each project builds on the previous project, grows, and deepens. The worlds expand, the characters deepen, the personal becomes universal, and the universal becomes personal. I hope my work expands and deepens others’ understanding of the world, as other artists have expanded and deepened mine.

For my clients, I expand and engage their audience with a message that reflects the heart, soul, and integrity of the client.

What is your vision and/or mission for your work?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fast On Your Feet– Dealing with Change

One of the reasons I like freelancing is that I like variety. I learned early on, when I had temp jobs back in high school, that I wouldn’t last long in Cubicle World. We weren’t suited to each other.

On the flips side of it, when a client changes the parameters of a project, laughing it off as, “You’ll never get bored here; everything is different” — that is often a red flag.

Which is why your contract and/or Letter of Agreement is so important.

So how do you balance that, and how do you keep enough variety in your life with short-term one-offs, while still having the stability of steady income, without falling a rut?

Damned if I know.

Bet you expected a different answer, didn’t you?

But I’m figuring it out. It’s probably different for me than for many others, but maybe something in my journey will resonate. If I can save someone else pain, frustration, and time, good for all of us.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed two important tools:

Listening
I keep going back to that, don’t I? But listening is important. That’s how you create, that’s how you figure out what’s under the actual words, and which words you need to craft the message. Both your own message and the client’s.

Listen to the client.

Listen to yourself. Not just what you say to the client and how you say it, but how does it feel?

I recently withdrew from consideration from a project that attracted me because I liked the organization, and the money/security aspect was seductive. However, listening, really listening to them in the meeting, and then to my own instincts, let me know we were not the right fit. They needed someone with different skills than I have. They were willing to train me, but those weren’t skills and job elements that would have made me happy. What had attracted me to the job in the first place turned out to be a small portion of the job. We weren’t what the other partner needed.

Because it IS a partnership, when it works well.

I listened to them.

Even more importantly, I listened to my own instincts.

We parted on good terms.

Which is better than taking the job, proving I wasn’t happy, and leaving on bad terms.

“No” is not a dirty word
As a freelancer, you are allowed to say “no.” You are allowed to refuse jobs that you don’t want or like, for whatever reason.

I don’t work for companies who support practices I believe are harmful to justice, equality, and climate change. That is my choice. Other people don’t really care, as long as they’re paid fairly and on time. I do. My politics is not separate from my life or my work. Not at this stage of the game.

Do we have to take jobs we don’t like, just for the cash? Most of us have, at one time or another. Many of us may have to in the future, especially when the economy crashes again. But it doesn’t mean we have to stay forever. You survive. I keep digging until I find a client that doesn’t go against everything I value.

Coping with change
Change is often thrown at us when we least want to deal with it.

Coping mechanisms that I find useful (outside of sticking to my daily yoga/meditation practice no matter how crazy the day gets) include:

–when you start to feel the change, or see the red flags, pay attention. This goes back to listening. Trust your instincts, then find facts to back them up (or prove otherwise). Usually, however, your instincts are correct.

–keep your resume updated. Even when you’re comfortable. I keep a Master CV that has Everything I’ve Ever Done and is massive. From that, I pull to create relevant resumes for the LOIs.

–keep your clip files current. As soon as it’s published/produced, I add it to my clip file, as both a printable hard copy and a link. Links go away. Hard copies can be scanned or copied or used in a variety of ways.

–keep talking to people. Send out LOIs, even during big projects. Go to Chamber events and other networking sessions. Go to conferences. Talk to other professionals across disciplines on social media.

–keep learning. Take courses in skills and interests. Read about what’s changing in your field, and add to your skill set. I’m a big fan of Coursera, but there are plenty of other places, too.

–acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger, fear. You feel what you feel. It’s not about what other people decide is relevant or useful. Your emotions are valid. Face them, accept them, find ways to work with them, not ignore them. Repression will come back to bite you in the butt.

–embrace transience. Everything changes. Enjoy the perfect moments of happiness, and then make a commitment to enjoy the journey and build something better.

How do you prepare for and work with upcoming change?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tools and Resources

 

Last week’s post promised further discussion about the tools and resources you need to get the job done.

Tasks, Job Descriptions, Contracts
Far too many job listings should be flagged for false advertising. The listing that claims to want a “Marketing Coordinator” actually wants a receptionist who writes press releases in between phone calls (not happening). The “Social Media Manager” spends more time fixing computer problems than creating content for social media platforms. The “Marketing Director” doesn’t direct marketing at all, but is actually supposed to do the job of a sales assistant.

I currently live in a work-for-hire state. The first thing the employer states in the offer is that the job is “at will” and you can be fired without notice or reason (which also means you then have to fight to get paid, and, if you’ve worked on payroll rather than 1099, it’s a fight to get unemployment benefits if you were fired).

By law, it also means that the employee can leave “at will” at any time without notice. The employer, who just fired Betty last week in a fit of pique is now shocked, shocked I tell you, when Jane walks out at lunchtime in frustration, because now Jane’s doing her work and Betty’s work (which is nowhere near the tasks she was hired for), and the employer is delighted not to pay two employees, even though both jobs were part time and without benefits, sick days, or paid holidays.

It also makes it harder to give two weeks’ notice and have any transition/training time. The new position won’t hold it while you try not to screw over your previous employer and wrap everything up; the person you’re replacing is long gone and no one knows what that individual did or any of the passwords, or can even find the job description; and you don’t have a chance to train the person coming in to do your former job. And all the notes you so carefully left for that person have disappeared.

This means, even for freelance/remote work, most local clients don’t want to sign a contract. But the contract is vital in order to keep the job parameters clear.

Basically, if you’re coming in to write freelance marketing materials for a client, the contract will spell out that writing the materials in that specific contract are ALL you’re going to do, and that any work that is outside of what is listed in the contract must go under a separate contract for a separate price.

Resources
Around here, they fight remote work, too. Although they are often loathe to give you desk space, a decent chair, a drawer in a file cabinet, or anything else you might need.

About a year and a half ago, I went in to talk to one potential client who wouldn’t even consider having me work remotely, but my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums during the hours I came in to work there. Oh, and, by the way, although the job was for a marketing position, I’d also be doing some light bookkeeping, responsible for payroll, and answer the phone for two hours a day. And I should be comfortable with the men in the office making inappropriate comments, because, you know, that’s how men are. Oh, and the ad had the “wrong” financial information. It’s actually minimum wage, with no benefits.

Buh-bye.

Then there are the employers who tell you that you have to supply your own laptop (and what brand) and iPhone (and how much memory it has to have).

The response to that is “My kit fee for providing my own equipment is X dollars/week on top of the project fee.”

That always gets a shocked response, too.

No, sweetie, I am not carrying the cost of your electronics. You want me to use a particular piece of equipment? YOU supply it. Or you pay me a kit fee if I’m using my own. Not to mention the insurance I have to carry, in case anything happens to it while I’m using it for YOU.

Sales/Marketing/Promotion/Advertising
Far too many businesses lump them all together. Marketing and Sales often work closely together, but they are not the same thing and require different skills.

When I worked in wardrobe, on Broadway, our union contract specified what each element contains.

The biggest misinformation that’s taken hold over the last few years is that the Marketing Director performs the same tasks as a Sales Rep.

No.

As a member of the marketing team, my job is to engage and enchant the audience and expand the potential audience. I get them interested in the product or onto the site. It’s up to the Sales team to close the deal, provide necessary customer service, and get the money transferred.

Promotion uses elements from both sales and marketing teams, and often involves swag. A tangible object, usually with a logo and a website address, that a random person can have and hold, and think of the product/organization every time they see or use the object. Seeing it regularly, if and when it evokes a positive response, will result in another sale/another visit/further engagement. Sales and marketing often brainstorm the ideas and products, marketing finesses the content/logos/pithy quotes and gets them into production, and sales distributes them and follows up with potential clients.

Advertising is the visual and/or audio engagement where the company pays for placement, such as on a radio station, or web advertising, or newspaper advertising or program advertising. More and more often, it’s called “sponsorship” — but it’s still advertising. The sales and marketing team create a slick product that the company pays to place, in the hope that where it’s placed reaches the right audience that are then interested in the company’s product, which results in sales numbers that are higher than what was paid to create and place the ad.

Marketing and sales work often work together, but the actual tasks are different. It’s vital they work well together as a team, but it’s marketing’s job to create and engage, and sales’s job to close the deal. Marketing is more of an introvert’s task (because it’s about content creation and placement), where sales is more of an extrovert’s task.

The reason so many businesses are struggling, especially small businesses, is that they try to bunch it into a single position. The person they hire is generally better at one side of it or the other. A great marketing person is not necessarily a good sales person. Great content and a beautifully planned campaign need time and space — uninterrupted work time and QUIET. A great sales person may be able to laugh and joke and glad-hand, but not necessarily create the content or plan a fully-rounded, multi-platformed campaign.

That doesn’t mean the marketing person never goes out and represents the company — they often do. Many do it very, very well. But the delineations are important.

In the long run, it doesn’t save the company money to hire one person to do both not-so-well, rather than two people who are excellent at their separate pieces of the puzzle.

Same with the demand that the writer also be able to do the graphic design. Those are separate skills. Great writers paired with great graphic designers create great product.

I’ve worked with potential clients who decide I’m too expensive, and have their graphic designers write the content. Yeah, it looks great, but the content often makes no sense and is full of errors. Or the client demands that I do the design, but wants me responsible to also research permissions, pay permissions fees for visuals, use any Adobe or Dreamweaver skills — all at the quote I gave for content.

No.

These are distinct skills that deserve fair pay. If you’re offering yourself on a job site to do all of this for $20, you’re screwing yourself and all the rest of the freelancers out here working hard to retain respect and earn a living.

Time
One of the things most employers don’t understand is how much time it takes to create materials. UNINTERRPUTED TIME.

When a listing talks about a “busy environment” or “must have ability to juggle projects” or “multi-task” — it means they will dump anything they don’t feel like doing on you, and interrupt you every fifteen seconds, never allowing you to get anything done. And then wonder why the marketing materials aren’t done on time or have errors on the first few passes. The expectation is that if you need quiet time, you do it after hours. Without pay.

This, of course, could be avoided if they’d give you uninterrupted work time, or, better yet, if they respected their freelancers enough for remote work.

I am much more productive and efficient in my own space. It actually saves the business money when I work remotely. They get a higher quality of work with a shorter turnaround time.

Also, when they are sitting there staring at you while you work, they assume any time you are on social media, you are screwing around on company time.

No, honey, you hired me to handle your social media. That means, in addition to creating the content, I have to be on the various platforms both to post and to INTERACT. Just tossing content on a platform DOES NOTHING.

This requires time. Every day that is scheduled to work. Not just charging X dollars per tweet, but factoring in the time you need to respond, follow, interact, and grow the audience.

Ask Questions Before You Take the Job
Ask questions about all these elements in your early client meetings. Find a way to work that is productive for both of you and then PUT IT IN WRITING.

Liking the client doesn’t negate the need for a contract.

What are some of the frustrating demands you’ve encountered? How did you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: What Does Your Client Want?

 

This is the central question when you’re doing marketing writing or blogging or any type of work for your freelance clients.

In initial meetings, when you decided if you wanted to work together, you hopefully discussed goals and vision. Your contract should define the parameters. Now, you can get into specifics.

For a client, the next question I have is, “Who do you see as your target market?”

Because sometimes who we/they “see” as the target market isn’t necessarily the best/lucrative/realistic market. Sometimes there’s value in targeting them anyway and expanding the market. Sometimes the desired target is so far from the reality of what will appeal, that there has to be some discussion and consideration. Desiring to sell dog food to cat owners is not going to grow your business.

Stretching and expanding is great. Casting a wide net is great. But spending money in a completely wrong direction is not worth it.

Far too often, the answer is “everyone.”

Well, yes, we live in an information age. Hopefully, we can restore Net Neutrality, and get more information (and education) available to everyone.

But “everyone” is not the right target.

Who is the ideal audience?

Novelists, playwrights, diarists, bloggers, etc. often write for a specific “someone” as their “ideal” audience, even if they can’t actually give height, weight, eye color, hair color, name, etc.

When you create a marketing campaign, or are part of a team that executes one, you need to have that “ideal audience” defined.

If you work for an organization that puts on a variety of programs, the target for each may be a little difference. You want your regular attendees to feel welcomed and included, so that they look forward to returning, time and time again, and having a fresh, fun time each visit.

You also want to expand the audience — place the materials in spots so people who are interested in this type of information will come across it and get interested.

How do you do that?

Listen
We’re back to that whole listening thing we talked about last week. Listening to your client is the most important skill you have.

Listen not just to the words, but to the subtext. What’s not being said? Is there a contradiction? Why? What’s the meaning under the words? What does the body language indicate?

Ask Questions
Ask questions, get clarifications, go deeper.

Asking questions doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It means you’re interviewing the client and digging deeper for context and depth.

Match Message to Platform
I do not agree with the often-quoted marketing advice that the same information must be on every platform and it all has to match.

The tone and the message need to be consistent. But different platforms serve different types or portions of information better.

Facebook is different from Twitter is different from Instagram is different from Tumblr is different from Ello is different from Vero is different from Dots is different from MySpace and so on and so forth.

What is the strength of each platform? What is the weakness? Use each to its best, and slot in your information in a way that works best for the platform. Yes, if you have event information that needs to be disbursed across all platforms. But as someone who uses multiple platforms, when I see ONLY the same information on each one, I resent it. To me, it means there’s an information blanket being thrown over everything, and no individuality involved.

On a social media platform, if there’s no engagement, no response when I share or comment on something, I move on pretty darn fast.

Business has de-personalized so much, to the point of not signing legal documents, because it’s easier to hurt people when you stop thinking of them as “people.” Government is doing the same. It’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in, on multiple levels. De-humanizing and de-individualizing in order to make higher profit.

The way small and medium-sized businesses and organizations can compete is by re-personalizing.

When the client gets that, and is willing to pay for the time it takes to do that, the client will see an increase in profit. It grows more slowly, but it happens.

We’ll get more into de-personalizing and re-personalizing next week.

Other messages are better shared through blog posts or articles or advertorials or media kits or web content. Match your message — or the portion of your message — to the best platform.

Message Expansion Takes Time & Resources
You need the time to come up with the message and create the materials. That means uninterrupted work time, not answering the phone or sending out invoices or doing the ten other things too many small businesses try to foist on you when you sign on. (Make sure your contract defines your parameters).

You need the time to post things, or schedule things to post. I use Hootsuite when I want to schedule posts on multiple platforms, Twuffer to focus on Twitter. I like the way Twuffer pushes photos to Twitter.

Quick response time is key, especially on social media. You need engagement. It’s not about posting and expecting audience growth. You post, there’s a response, there’s engagement, it’s shared, there’s more engagement and so forth and so on.

This takes time. When you’re building a social media presence for a business, you’re not screwing around on social media. Don’t apologize or try to minimize the time or the level of engagement necessary to make it work. Don’t sell yourself short.

Be Prepared to Change Direction
Your client might decide that’s not really the message they want out there; or that it’s taking too long to pay off.

The latter is the hardest to work with. Because so much on social media is instant, clients often don’t understand that it takes months to engage and build an audience. Months of daily interaction. Try to set realistic goals for growth at the beginning. Included engagement goals. Not just getting more followers, but the amount of interactions/the quality of those interactions. Then try to exceed those goals wherever possible.

Keep Communitcating with Your Client
It’s not just about what’s working. It’s also about what’s not hitting the mark, and what might need tweaking.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen, listen, listen.

Communication and being sensitive to your client’s needs and desires is key to making it work in the materials and in the office.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Crafting Client Voice

“Voice” is a term that is used in writing to denote that special way an author puts together words in order to resonate with a reader.

Authorial voice is something some writers struggle to find and then hone for years. It is something that makes a reader recognize it’s you and not one of your ten thousand colleagues within the first paragraph.

However, when you stretch yourself to marketing writing for others, it’s not about YOUR voice. It’s about your client voice. That brings with it special challenges.

First, whose voice is the client voice? Is it the person who hired you? Or the person who owns the company? Or the person who runs the company? Or has this particular company created a character that’s the face of the company that needs a voice? Or is it a combination?

When you come in to work on marketing materials, one of the most important questions to ask early on is “Who is the voice of the company?” Not “what” but “who.”

Far too often, marketing materials miss because there is no cohesive voice. Even if it’s a collaborative or a co-operative, and different voices are featured, there needs to be a single, unified voice that represents the company.

Part of your job as a writer for that company is finding that voice and then developing it.

This is where my theatre training comes in. Because I know how to create characters, both on the page and with actors, I can work with the decision-makers in the company to create a voice and then use it consistently across the different types of channels — press releases, social media posts, websites, etc.

It can be a challenge when there are too many voices (often with egos attached), and you have to both combine them and distill them to create a distinctive voice. It can be a challenge when you’re working with a small business owner who is still trying to find the voice and wants their own personality to be the voice.

Handling their egos in this is a delicate matter. We all deserve basic human dignity and respect. But many people aren’t as interesting to a vast audience as they think they are. So they need help developing a business voice that is individually “them” but also better. It’s the Best Self, the most polished and professional and witty and funny and incisive self that also engages an expanding audience and interests that audience in whatever the business needs to promote/sell/serve to stay in business.

The first step in this is to genuinely LISTEN. Out of the first ten thousand words of what the client thinks they want, you might find 20 that are useful.

For me, it is use-LESS to have these conversations on the phone. In general, I find the phone a waste of time, money, and creative energy. I’ve never had a business phone conversation of more than 90 seconds that had value.

The conversations that develop voice need to happen in person or via video conferencing. The person’s tone, the facial expressions, the body language, the light in the eyes, the places they smile, what they find amusing — all of this is vital for the writer to craft the character and voice that will represent the brand. You enhance what works, you recede what doesn’t.

You create a character and a style that effectively communicates the message and expands the audience.

That has NOTHING to do with slathering photographs of the business owner and workers all over the place. In my opinion, selfies do more harm than good in business. It doesn’t “personalize” the business or product; it dilutes it.

Having a spokesperson is different — those photos are done in designated shoots with a specific purpose in mind. The spokesperson is chosen for the ability to promote a specific look and voice that the decision-makers believe best represents them.

If the business wants headshots of specific individuals or a page on the website of workers happily going about their day — great. But there’s a time and place for those types of photos, and it’s not a daily social media post.

The exception to that could be a service organization — but then you need to get signed releases from everyone you photograph. Someone coming into your space is not automatic permission to be photographed and shared publicly. People get to decide where and how their likenesses are used.

If you try to force them, you will lose them.

You want to capture the speaker’s natural rhythm and cadence; at the same time, you enhance it, strengthening sentence structure and word choice, cutting out the boring bits, the qualifiers, the passive. You do this while retaining the speaker’s cadence.

When I write a speech for someone else, when I do it well, the speaker sounds as though speaking off the cuff – even though we spent hours honing it and rehearsing it. Once we researched it.

Yes, as the writer, when I write something that will be spoken live and/or taped, I’m the one who rehearses the speaker. Part of that is my theatre training. Part of that is that I can rewrite and make necessary changes in the rehearsal process so that it sounds even better and more natural.

Because I LISTEN. I listen as the writer, but I also listen as the audience. I work on multiple levels simultaneously, because the material I create must work on the audience on multiple levels.

So talk, listen, create a voice, and work with those who are the face of the company (speaking engagements, chamber events, trade shows, etc.) so they speak in a similar cadence to the marketing materials. Yes, they are themselves. But when they represent their company, they have to align themselves with the company voice.

Even with a small company, it’s a lot of moving parts. It takes thought, planning, creativity. But most important, you need to listen. You need to understand subtext. You need to be able to shear away the words, gestures, and quirks that dilute the message and focus it in a way that’s easy to speak and easy to hear.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Handling Work While Sick

 

I decided to write about this topic on this particular week, because I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks, which has meant rearranging some of my workload. I talk about the guilt involved whenever I get sick on the January 21st Ink in My Coffee post, and how that doesn’t do anyone any good.

But here, today, I’m talking about steps to handle the workload during an illness. Please feel free to leave your suggestions and techniques in the comments.

Communicate
For me, that is the most important tool in handling work at any point. But, when I know I’m getting sick, or am sick, clear communication is the key. If I’m expected on site for something and I’m sick, I let them know as far ahead as possible to reschedule it, or change it to be remote work.

There are times when you get hit with something overnight and can’t let the client know until the last minute, but, for instance, if I have a bad cold with a hacking cough and can’t talk, I let them know that I’m not coming in to spread germs and cause tension in the workplace a day or so ahead.

I give myself a realistic time to get well and reschedule beyond that. Whatever can be done remotely before that time, I will do, but I try not to book remote work to do while I’m still sick. I won’t get better if I spend “sick time” sitting up at the computer frantically trying to get things done.

Build Breathing Room into the Original Schedule
Procrastination is something many writers contend with. For some writers, the tighter the deadline, the higher the adrenaline, and that’s how they prefer to work.

But if you get sick right before a deadline, it can come back and bite you in the butt.

I try to plan out my workload so that nothing is loaded too close to a deadline. There are plenty of times when I don’t send it until the deadline or a day or two before, but I often have it finished ahead of time, and do a final once-over before the send.

This way, I’m not scrambling right before a deadline. AND, if I get sick, it’s already ready to go when it needs to be out.

Building in breathing room. It always keeps the pressure off, and you’ll especially find it useful when you get sick.

Know When to Ask for Help
If you’re down for a long time, and you’re worried about losing the gig, talk to your client and ask if you can bring on someone else of your choosing to help with the project. Hopefully, we’ve built a network of fellow freelancers we trust. We can either work together, or hand off the project, depending on the needs of both client and writers.

Tell the Client About Scheduled Procedures
If you’ve got a surgery and recovery time scheduled during a project, be upfront about it. Let the client know how much you can realistically work ahead on the project — provided they deliver what they need to on their end on time. Let them know what you believe is a reasonable schedule to resume after your recovery time. If possible, build it into the contract.

If you have an accident or something unexpected that requires surgery/recovery time, etc., let the client know as soon as possible and work out a new schedule.

In some cases, you might lose a gig. But being upfront shows you have integrity. If you know you’re having surgery and need recovery time, but don’t mention it in early discussions, and then run into a problem during that time, you’re breaking the client’s trust.

I am not someone who believes it is easier to beg forgiveness after the fact than ask permission. If I find out someone didn’t ask permission/communicate when they knew something important ahead of time, I know that THEY knew I would refuse. It shows a lack of respect. I don’t forgive. I’m done.

Retain a Professional Look If You Skype
While you’re sick, you might be talked into participating in a virtual meeting on a project via Skype. While sitting there in your pajamas with your hair a mess and wadded up tissues next to your half-empty bowl of soup “proves” you’re too sick to come in, it’s not going to help with the meeting.

Remember you can say no to the meeting, that you’re not feeling up to it.

If you say you’ll do it, shower, brush your hair. Even if you wear more casual clothes than you would in person, make the effort to look professional.

Shower Anyway
Yeah, when we feel sick, the thought of taking a shower is often overwhelming. But I always make myself do it, adding eucalyptus and other scented tablets to the shower to feel better. It makes a huge difference to climb back into bed clean.

I also have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas” when I’m sick. Especially when I’m absolutely miserable, I haul myself into the shower and then put on clean “day pajamas.”

I am, however, someone who does not work in pajamas. Even when I work remotely, without Skype, working in pajamas does not work for me. I don’t dress up, but I do get dressed in what I call my “writing clothes” which are casual, but lets my subconscious know I’m ready to work.

Yes, there are writers who love working in their pajamas. Good for them. It doesn’t work for me. Pajamas tell my subconscious to go to sleep, not be creative.

If You Work, Be Quiet About It
You may feel well enough for an hour or two to do some work on something. Do it and save it and look at it again when you’re better. Don’t send it off to prove you’re really “not that sick” or that you’re staying on top of things. I make more mistakes when I’m not feeling well. That extra proofread when I’m healthier makes a big difference.

I find that I can often create when I’m lying in bed, half-dozing. I keep a pad of paper or notebook by the bed and take notes.

But I don’t do much with them until I’m coherent again.

Also, if you get into the habit of delivering work from your sickbed, it will become the expectation. Do everyone a favor and hold onto it.

Take the Time to Get Well
That’s one of the most important parts of it. If you push too hard too soon, you’ll get sick again and be out longer. If you can take time early in the cycle and get well, do so.

If you need to tell the client, “I’m sick, I’ll be out of touch for three days,” do it. Turn off your phone. Don’t return calls. Check your emails once a day if you feel you have to, but you don’t have to respond.

How many clients have you had where they drag their feet on what they’re set to deliver, but the minute you’re out of touch, they need an instant response? There’s very little that’s so important.

Remember the old adage “Your disorganization does not constitute my emergency.”

Hopefully, you’ve built some safety valves into your contract for the above.

But when you’re sick, take time. Sleep. Eat properly. Watch and read whatever you want. Rest. Get well.

Because once you’re well, you’ll be more productive, and that serves everyone better.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Personal Strategic Plan

Businesses have strategic plans, update, and implement them regularly. Perhaps you already have one for your freelance business (if you’re a small business owner reading this, rather than a writer, consider hiring a good writer who knows how to put one together to help you — it will be some of the best money you’ve spent, provided you actually follow through).

Perhaps you don’t yet have one. And, as a freelancer, we choose to live our lives differently than a business, with more freedom to use our lances where we choose. So it’s more personal than many corporate plans.

You need several elements to create your own plan:

Vision
Where do you want to be? When do you want to get there? For me, as an individual at this point in my life, ten years is too much. I look at five years, then three years, than a year (also, for me, considered New Year’s resolutions).

I’m not a big fan of “vision statements” because I think they often use market speak to cover the real destination/determination. But if you feel a vision statement is helpful for you, craft one. If you feel sharing it will garner the business that helps you reach your vision, then, absolutely, post it on your website.

Part of my “vision” when I work with clients is to communicate THEIR vision in an exciting and engaging way, and in their unique voice.

With my own work, my vision has to do with each project improving in both art and craft, over the previous ones.

Some people break down “vision statements” and “mission statements” into separate categories. I feel they should be integrated, especially for a personal plan.

Core Values
Whenever I see a company talk about “core values” I am suspicious. Do they walk their talk?

But for your own strategic plan, you have to decide what your core values are in relation to how you want to progress in your working life.

One of my values is that I now extend my practice of “conscientious consumerism” to when I hire on with clients. If I don’t trust their integrity and values, if I feel they are hypocritical, or if they are trying to profit off something I believe is harmful — we are not a good match.

We all have to make our own decisions, and draw our own boundaries.

SWOT Analysis
This means:
Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

I’m not a big fan of this element of a strategic plan, although it’s good to clinically look at your own strengths and weaknesses, and then decide how best to use both.

Opportunities? As freelancers, we daily create our own.

Threats? For freelancers, it’s usually the threat of our work and boundaries not respected.

Read a few corporate strategic plans and the SWOT will chill you. It explains a lot of why we are in the mess we’re in.

Long-Term Goals
This is important. As freelancers, we’re often trying to get through the day, the week, the month.

Look at the best of the freelance community, the ones who thrive — they’re looking ahead. They’re using each assignment as a building block to long-term goals, not as a stopgap.

Break yourself out of crisis mentality and look at what you want long term.

Again, most of us are freelancers because we want a better work/life/personal/creative balance. In our personal strategic plan, we need to work on goals for different areas of our lives.

As freelancers, we tend to want and need a more integrated life than a compartmentalized one.

Manageable Steps with Deadlines To Reach Them
It’s great to take time to come up with all these lists and plans, but if you don’t take action on them, it’s all useless.

Break down your goals and visions into manageable blocks, and give yourself a deadline for each one.

We’re freelancers; we’re used to deadlines.

Then take the actions necessary to see them through.

Timed Assessments
I like to check in with myself on my goals every month, and then do a big reassessment every year.

Daily To-Do lists make me feel confined and imprisoned; monthly ones give me the flexibility I need to get it all done without feeling overwhelmed. See what works for you. It’s okay to change.

Adjustments
As you assess, as you grow, you will see that you have to let go of some things in your plan you were sure about early in the process.

It’s okay. It’s not failure to realize that something no longer works in your evolution. It’s healthier to let it go than to stick to it just because you wrote it down.

Implementation
The most important thing, in any strategic plan, though is to take action and not expect it to happen without the work just because you wrote it down.

The elves aren’t going to show up and write your books and clean your house and send out your media kits and LOIs. You have to sit down and put in the work.

Start now.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Multi-Tiered Self-Marketing

I mentioned last week that I was working on both a marketing plan and a personal strategic plan, and that there would be places where they would intersect.

The personal strategic plan won’t be ready until sometime in February. But I’ve been working on the marketing plan, because that’s important to land the work.

My plan is multi-tiered. I work marketing myself as far as the books, plays, radio plays, etc. I work marketing myself when I pitch to publications or bloggers editors.

I also work marketing myself to potential clients, where I write up THEIR marketing plans. A future post will talk about some of those challenges, especially when it comes to small businesses.

Each of these tiers has a slightly different focus. A different slant.

I’m an advocate of media kits, especially for authors. You want top-tier coverage? Put together a good media kit and get it out there.

My own challenge with my main media kit is that I tried to put too much into it and it became unwieldy. So I’m streamlining it. That’s a conversation for another day.

First Question
For me, the absolute, most important question in any marketing plan is:

What do I want?

When it comes to the books, the answer is “book sales” or “coverage that will lead to book sales.”

When it comes to the plays or radio plays the answer is “a production contract.”

When it comes to publications/editors, the answer is “a well-paid assignment that will hopefully lead to more of the same.”

When it comes to potential clients, the answer is “a meeting to see if we are compatible.”

The latter answer is fairly new. The answer used to be “hired by the client.”

But what I want from a client relationship has changed, especially over the last year and change. It’s not just about getting hired, any hire; it’s about working with and for someone I can like and respect. Someone I believe has ethics and integrity on multiple levels.

You can talk all you want about how “being professional” means you can work with anyone. Great. Go ahead.

That is not my choice.

I want to work with clients who have both personal and professional integrity. Who are doing something about which they are passionate. I might not know much about it, or be passionate about it myself, but if they love it, I can use that passion and communicate it effectively, thereby growing their business.

But not if I think they don’t have personal and professional integrity. That is a personal choice. Separating last year from a client whose ethics I felt were shaky (although everything was technically legal) was the right move.

This shift changes the way I market myself to clients. It means I do more research earlier in the process about the client and the business, before I even send an LOI. Not just that they’re a company with some stability and not a fly-by-night, but more about how they do business, with whom they do business, how they interact in the community.

It also adds value to the initial meeting.

So, my first question in any marketing plan for myself is “What do I want?”

Which is different than when I meet with clients to work on THEIR marketing plans — again, a conversation for another day.

Different Strategies for Different Tiers
Since I do many different things, I work on a strategy for each type of work I do. My marketing plan for the books includes new releases, the back list, re-releases, how I work with the publisher, what portions of the marketing burden the publisher takes on, doing swag for promotional packages, adding in appearances, workshops, etc.

Budget factors hugely in this; 2018’s biggest obstacle was not having the marketing budget to do what I knew I needed and wanted for the books. I hope to make the necessary adjustments for 2019.

The marketing plan for the plays is about sitting down with the Theatre Guild’s list and seeing what play fits with which theatres in the US, and going through lists of international companies to see if any of them would be a good international fit (although, on the current political scene, it’s much harder to go international now, which is a blow to me, since my work does well overseas). The marketing for the radio plays is similar to that of theatre plays, although there are fewer venues.

With the plays and radio plays, it’s also seeing about who’s accepting pitches to commission new works and seeing if something I want to write fits. Commissioned work is important in this field.

This doesn’t need a lot of money; it’s more about well-written plays, outlines, samples, and previous credits. It is, however, about time and research.

Articles/publications marketing/pitching is constant, because editors move and publications start and cease. It’s about keeping up with the market, having an updated portfolio of samples (or, in my case, several), and sending out pitches every week. There’s also tracking the pitches, which is important for all of them.

Pitching to clients is about networking, watching businesses and listings, and seeing who needs what, and who might not know they need something, but I can suggest an approach that is useful.

It’s full of moving pieces, and, in my case, requires a large print calendar where I can see a month or more at a time.

Every electronic calendar I’ve ever used has failed me.

Constant Flow
The hardest habit to get into is constant marketing. When you have a lot of work, you want to focus on the work, not getting more work.

But this is exactly when you need to focus on getting more work, so you’re not scrambling with NO work when you’ve finished your current work.

The more you can have certain materials ready, the less time it will take to put together your pitches and get the out the door. I talk about this in detail in my workshop and Topic Workbook Setting Up Your Submission System.

Have these pieces ready:
Current resume (I have more than one, each with a focus)
Sample portfolios (online and as samples you can send. Again, I have several)
Updated clip files (online and hard copies)
Quick bio paragraph with credits (about 250 words)
Updated website

For fiction/plays/radio plays, as soon as I deem a piece ready to go out on submission, be it to agent or editor or producer, I prepare the following (each in a separate document):
Logline
One paragraph summary
Chapter outline (if applicable)
Synopsis (if applicable)
First 3 Chapters/50 pages/10 pages in .doc and .rtf
Radio plays in both BBC format and US format (I only do US Numbered format upon request)

Keep Logs
I have a Submission Log of the full pieces that go out, and a Pitch/Query log for pitches, queries, and partials.

I dropped the ball on my LOI log last year for business writing, which was a huge mistake. I will remedy that in 2019.

Logs help you track deadlines, payments, contract dates, and follow-up.

Regular Marketing
It’s not always possible to market every day, but set aside a few hours each week, and make sure you get out there.

Taking a few days to set an overall plan for the different facets you plan to explore will save you time in the long run.

The more you pitch, the more likely you are to land a good assignment, and the less likely you’ll have to scramble during fallow times.