An article on my Twitter timeline last week pressed some buttons. I didn’t even realize how deep it cut until I started my response. It made sense, after a few minutes, to shut the heck up, think about WHY it caused such a heated response on my part, and set out my argument.
It was an article on having various “calls to action” in newsletters, content, etc. “Calls to action” is another marketspeak term that’s getting overused and overdone, in my opinion, although it makes sense — you’re enlarging your audience and potential customer base and you want them to take the action of buying your product or service.
But one of the CTA points that worked my last nerve was “create a sense of scarcity and urgency.”
As a customer, when I am targeted that way, it angers me, and is more likely to turn me off the product and service than engage me. It makes me feel manipulated in a way I don’t like.
Because, quite frankly, my buying is not decided, for the most part, on missing a trend. If I feel a company is trying to manipulate me into buying something this second or missing it — I’d rather miss it.
Even the word “scarcity” has “scare” in it – a scare tactic. You try to intimidate me into parting with my hard-earned cash, and I’m going to push back.
Obviously, when a store is having a sale or an airline is having one of their special deals, scarcity and urgency are part of the deal. A store can’t have an endless sale, or it becomes the regular price. There has to be a start date and an end date. You don’t shop within that time frame, and you miss it. You wait too long, and they’ve sold through.
Another time that works is with one of my favorite shops, a soap maker who does small batch soaps using natural ingredients. When the batch is sold through, it’s done, and there’s no guarantee it will be made again. She’s up front about that, is good about posting when something is sold out, and that’s that. I don’t feel manipulated. If I miss it, for whatever reason — whether I didn’t see the email in time or forgot or can’t afford it this month — no problem. Her emphasis is on the new products and new batch, not into shaming her customers for missing something. The way she presents her materials — positive, engaging, inviting — means I am more likely to buy as soon as something new comes up, because she INVITES me instead of BERATING or trying to SCARE me.
Some of the struggling chain stores around here seem to think that they can recover by having constant sales in finite hours. You run in and buy something on your way somewhere else. They give you a slip stating you’ll get 20% off your next purchase, but only if you shop between 9-11 AM on Friday, or, even worse, only if you come back and shop again that very day.
No. Just no.
Where I live, people are either retired living on independent income, or struggling with three or four part-time jobs. Few people have the time or the inclination to build their day around a two-hour sale.
As one woman pointed out, “I’ll plan my life around Black Friday, but that’s only once a year.”
Another woman said, “It would cost me more to take off work to attend the sale than I’d save on the sale.”
A third person said, “Sales tactics like this are why I order online from Amazon.”
In other words, the stores are not listening to the people who live here and would shop here. The manipulative “scarcity and urgency” they’re promoting are actually driving customers away from them and to Amazon.
It also speaks to a deeper issue often called “prosperity consciousness” and “poverty consciousness.”
Scarcity is often manipulated in order for specific individuals to profit. If you’re always scrambling because you feel you don’t have “enough” — and many of us, living paycheck to paycheck are scrambling all the time just to pay our bills and survive — you wind up in a downward spiral of panic. You’re afraid the deal will never exist again, so you better buy it at this price at this moment or you’ll lose out forever. Sometimes, you’ll plunge yourself further into poverty in order to get this “deal.”
But do you really need it? What is the worst thing that will happen if you miss the sale and it’s not part of your life?
Part of a marketing campaign is to create the desire for whatever the company is selling. That’s part of the encouragement, of the manipulation — give me your money for this product or service, and your life will be better.
With the subtext being, if you don’t GIVE ME YOUR MONEY for this product or service, your life will be worse.
But is that true?
Or will it keep you in the cycle of poverty consciousness?
This article, by Dawn Demers, talks about developing prosperity consciousness, and how our words have meaning, and how we become what we think about. I don’t agree with everything in this article (“tithing” has a negative religious connotation for me), but I do agree that if we are going to live a healthier life, we have to deal with the fear of not having enough. When you’re working three jobs at minimum wage with no benefits, it’s a very real fear. So when companies try to prey on those fears in order to get you to spend your money ON THEM, you have to be careful.
People talk about living in “prosperity consciousness” or with a sense of abundance or a balanced life. Does missing this sale really mean you won’t achieve it? If you really mean to live your life with the belief that there is enough for all of us, we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to hoard, in fact, we can get rid of many of the things we’ve accumulated that we no longer need — do we need to add in this particular thing within these two hours? If you claim you want to live an abundant life, is your definition of “abundance” and “prosperity” the accumulation of items that OTHER PEOPLE judge you need, or things and experiences that actually make you happy? And why would you buy based on being provoked and manipulated by such negativity?
I bet you can count on your fingers the amount of things you bought on sale that actually improved your life beyond a few days.
Yes, they exist. They are different for everyone. But missing most sales isn’t going to damage your life in the long term. You might be disappointed for a few days. You might miss the adrenalin rush that those purchases give us. But it’s rare it will ruin your life.
Further, if you claim you want to live an ethical, balanced life based on prosperity consciousness rather than poverty consciousness, how can you, in all good conscience, create materials that promote “scarcity and urgency” and manipulate people to buy out of panic? Does the money offset any tears on your integrity? Or do you believe it’s not your problem or your business? You’re simply there to create effective materials. If the customer buys, you’ve succeeded.
Where is that line for you?
It’s something to think about and work on. It’s something each of us has to define for ourselves.
I am more and more aware of it as a consumer, and less and less likely to respond to such a “call for action.” My action, more and more often, is to turn away from the company.
As a writer, I am also aware of it. If I feel the materials I’m tasked to create are too predatory, I will fight to rework the materials and word them so they come from a more positive place that still engages and encourages the customer to purchase. And, there are times when I refuse the gig when the client wants predatory or panicky materials created to manipulate the customer with negativity and fear.
I have to define those lines constantly. It’s not easy. But, for me, it’s a necessity.
How do you set your lines? Do you have different boundaries in the work you do for others than the way you live your own life? How do you integrate the two?
At first glance, this seems like a strange post for Ink-Dipped Advice, especially since my Monday posts over on Ink in My Coffee during this cycle are about setting an intent for the week.
But in my writing and freelance business, intent, to me, matters.
What is my intent in my freelance business?
To earn a living is, of course, part of it. But how I earn it and working with which clients on which projects matters to me.
I like to work with clients who are passionate about what they do, and whose products and services make the world a more interesting, more compassionate, and better place.
My intent in working with those clients is to express their passion, joy, and unique product or service to an ever-increasing audience in a positive, engaging manner.
My skills as a storyteller and in theatre/film production translate to the “mission-specific entertainment” I talk about elsewhere on this site help me wrap the client message into an intriguing story with enchanting characters that gets the audience interested.
Because I believe social media is a conversation and not a bulletin board, when I create social media campaigns for clients and provide the response/follow-through, I build on the actual campaign posts with engagement and conversation. Interaction is, in my opinion, THE most important component of a successful social media campaign. If you’re not going to post engaging content and then actually ENGAGE, there’s no point in being on the platform.
So, my intent is getting to know the company, help create characters and stories that best communicate their message, and increase engagement. This can translate into sales/support/business growth.
Underneath this intent is my intent to earn a living from my skills. If you’re not going to pay me and value my work, I don’t work for you. I am not creating content for you without pay as part of the interview process. Read my portfolio. As for additional portfolio samples. Don’t ask me to write for you without pay. Because that indicates you don’t value what I do, or the skills I bring to the table.
My intent is to work only with companies who treat their people well, value skills, and compensate accordingly.
What is your intent?
I am a bibliophile. Some would say a bibliomaniac. I buy books. I read books. I keep books. I use books to build the forts I need to deal with the world.
As a writer and freelancer, I love to read how others build their business, hone their craft, grow their creativity. Below are some of my favorite books, ones I read and re-read, by title and author:
THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY by Scott Dawson. Scott hosts the Remote Chat on Wednesdays at 1 PM EST on Twitter. It’s a highlight of my week, and one of my favorite groups of people. Scott’s book is a great guide on how to build a successful work life with remote work, and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that employers throw in your path.
A BOOK OF ONE’S OWN: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. I re-read my 1986 paperback of this book so often that it’s falling apart. I love this book. It has musings on and excerpts from a wide range of diarists. I learn so much about seeing, feeling, and articulating each time I re-read it.
BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer By Jeff Vandermeer. This is helpful for delineating the public and private lives. I am an inherently private person, an introvert forced by the needs of business, into extrovertism far too often for my liking. This book has some good ideas on handling that frisson.
THE COMPANY OF WRITERS by Hilma Wolitzer. Another wonderful book on the writing process and navigating the times you want and need to emerge from solitude. I am a huge fan of Hilma’s novels and those by her daughter, Meg.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE by William Shakespeare. I learn more about art and craft and stagecraft and structure and style from Shakespeare than I do anywhere else. I read and re-read his work constantly.
THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp. Far too many books are about breaking blocks into finding one’s creativity. This book is for already creative people to take their creativity to the next level, in any discipline.
CUT TO THE CHASE: Writing Feature Films with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. From UCLA Extension Writers’ program. Excellent book on screenwriting art & business.
ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. The writing advice is great, and her blueberry coffee cake recipe is THE BEST.
THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Editor, agent, writer, Betsy Lerner talks about creating a writing career and how to work with editors and understand marketplace.
HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Still the best book I’ve ever read to teach effective proposal writing. I’ve used this for fiction, nonfiction, and adapted it for grants and multi-media or multi-discipline projects.
INSIDE THE ROOM: Writing Television with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. Another excellent UCLA extension book on art, craft, and business.
LIFE, PAINT AND PASSION by Michele Cassou and Stuart Cubley. Although the focus of the book is painting, I find that painting (or sewing or dancing or singing) frees up the writing. Switching disciplines helps fuel your primary discipline.
MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She has terrific ideas for maintaining your creative, often solitary work life, while still meeting the needs of the business side.
MY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler. The journal of a year-long sabbatical to write a novel.
THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron. I’ve found this small book the most useful of all her creativity and artistic coaching works.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite of her books, this mixes practicality with exercises to open creativity and work past stuck.
THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman. This book helped give me the courage to make the freelance leap. There are many things I do differently than Peter does, but his energy and enthusiasm inspired me. I re-read this book often to remind myself of the basics.
WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. I’d developed my Sensory Perceptions class before I read this book, and now it’s become part of the Recommended Reading list. The exercises focus on choosing the best words for descriptive writing.
WORD WORK: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. Again, a professional writer offers ideas on how to keep creativity flowing while dealing with necessary business aspects.
WRITE AWAY! by Elizabeth George. Although my process has evolved very differently than hers, I find re-reading this book helps me look at the way I write in a fresh way. It’s a great book when I feel tired and stale.
WRITER’S MARKET. This comes out every year. I prefer the print edition, although I double-check online to see if any information has changed. I like to sit and go through the entire large book with pen and paper, reading each entry and making notes on the markets I want to approach. Then, of course, I have to go and DO it.
Looking at the list, many of these are about art and craft more than business. Several of them deal with balancing the two. I have many more books on writing. In fact, I have an entire six foot bookcase in my office filled to bursting with them, and more packed in boxes downstairs. But these are the books I go back to re-read regularly.
In my opinion, you can’t maintain a solid career without the art and the craft. You can live on your marketing until they find out your lack of art and craft. But without it, you can’t sustain, even in this age of the “influencer” and marketspeak.
Art and craft matter. When you build a solid foundation and keep growing, you can add in the marketing skills and continue to learn the technology as it changes.
Many of these books remind you how to go back to the basics of art and craft, how to grow creatively. When you get tired and discouraged, these are great books to help you refill your creative well.
What are your favorite books for your business?
Depending where you live, January means winter. In a place with seasons, winter work is often different from summer work.
I live in an area that relies heavily — too heavily, in my opinion — on tourism. January, February, and part of March are the fallow seasons. The snowbirds fled to Florida. The seasonal businesses are closed.
Although this winter hasn’t yet been too bad, weather-wise (it’s been WEIRD weather-wise), there have been winters when the power’s been out quite a bit due to storms, we’ve been snowed in, and it’s been about keeping the fire in the fireplace going and staying warm. Of course, as I write this, several days before it’s scheduled to post, we’re in record high temperatures, the little bit of snow we had is gone, and my yard is Very Confused.
I don’t do well in hot and humid weather, so I love winter — as long as I can stay warm and cozy at home and not have to drive much in bad weather. It’s a great time to buckle down and work on the novels and the plays. It’s a great time to curl up with my books and research the novels and plays in my pipeline. I read contest entries and the books I’m hired to review. If the power is out, I can always take notes or write in longhand by candlelight (and yes, I do).
It’s a time to prep the quarterly postcards, sent to current and potential clients, following up after the holiday greetings. It’s a time to shift the focus to the type of project and client I feel will be the most fulfilling on both creative and financial levels.
It’s a time to clean up old files and set up new files. To decide what kind of skills I want to learn in the new year, where to find the teachers and make the time to fit them in, and how to add them to my information so clients know my skills and range keep expanding.
For print publications, it’s a time to look about eight months ahead to editorial calendars. What do editors want in August, September, October? Time to think about next autumn, polish those pitches, read the editorial calendars, and send them off.
It’s time to assess memberships in professional organizations. I have an assessment formula I use. I measure the financial obligations (dues, dinners, events, materials, conferences, etc.) versus financial gains (new clients, new contacts, new projects, how many books sold after an event, etc.) versus the emotional benefits (did I enjoy myself at events? Did I meet terrific people, even if they didn’t become clients? How often did I have to challenge racist or misogynist remarks?) versus time and energy needed for all of the above. If it’s expensive and doesn’t result in financial or emotional gain and is full of people making inappropriate remarks about others, I’m outta there. Done. It’s time that could be spent creating rather than having the life sucked out of me. That’s how I decide if I will renew membership. That’s how I decide if I will go to an organization’s open house as they try to expand their membership. Too many organizations around here expect one-way support.
It’s time to look at the markets I’ve for which I’ve always wanted to write, but thought were out of my league. There are magazines I thoroughly enjoy, and for whom I don’t want to write. I’d rather just enjoy them. There are other magazines where I’ve often thought, “I’d love to write for them.”
Now is the time to sit down and take a hard look at what I do. Do I write what they publish? If it’s out of my wheelhouse, is it a stretch in a direction I want to take? Do I have the skills to do what they need?
If the answer is yes, then I sit down and do it.
It’s time to catch up on trade news in the various industries with which I work (I often get behind during the holidays, I admit it). Are there new start-ups that are interesting? New trends? Is something I’ve been doing and touting for the last few months becoming a “trend” I can use in my pitches? Who has moved where? Who is new to a position?
Who has achieved something interesting and exciting in a field that interests me? I don’t have to have anything to pitch to them. I can just be happy for them, and send them a congratulatory note or email.
Who is feeling a bit down and could use a bit of encouragement? I know when I’ve gone through rough patches, sometimes an expected email or note has made a huge difference.
It’s time to look behind to see what’s achieved, what had to be let go, and look ahead to plan. Make the roadmap for the coming months. Know you may have to take a few unexpected exits along the way.
Commit to enjoying the process of the work, not just the results.
How does your work life change in winter?
I hope everyone had a lovely holiday break. I think it’s important to change one’s routine every few months, for a break, and a fresh perspective.
With the turn of the year and the turn of the decade, there’s an urge to start with a “clean slate.”
But what does that mean, exactly?
According to the site The Idiom, this particular saying came into the lexicon during the 19th century. Slates were used for writing (especially in schools). To start fresh, the slate could be wiped clean and something new written.
We have that opportunity every day (as Lori Widmer reminded us in this post), when we wake up, or at any point where we decide we need to change perspective and/or attitude. But there’s something about a fresh year and the collective energy of millions of people wanting to do better in the coming cycle all at the same time that is exciting. Riding the collective energy can help motivate the focus and energy needed to work toward new goals.
How will you start with a “clean slate” this year?
Will it include:
–A fresh approach to existing work
–Something personal that matters to you that affects your work life positively
–A physical activity that enhances your mental strength and focus
–Change of direction
–Change of perception
–Change of location
I plan to take elements of all of the items on the above list, mix and match them throughout the year, see how they work, and adjust as necessary.
What are your plans?
Happy New Year, and many blessings to you!
Whatever you’re celebrating today, I wish you joy!
This is my last post for the year with text and substance (the next two are all about holiday good wishes).
This is the time where we reflect, release what no longer works, start with fresh energy once the year (and, in this case, the decade) turns.
But what we need to remember is that we can make a fresh start anytime.
Whenever you feel stuck, or in a rut, or that you’re in a bad situation, take a breath. Start exploring options. Start taking action –whether it’s updating your resume, talking to people, researching opportunities, searching for new learning opportunities to set a foundation for a shift.
It’s not just at the turn of the year, or even the turn of the month, that you can start fresh.
Any day that you wake up, you can make positive changes to your life.
I wish you happy, peaceful holidays, and a joyous and prosperous New Year.
I’ll be back with something to say on January 8th!
Those of you who know me — or have read one or another of my blogs over the years — know that holiday cards are a Big Deal for me. I am a big believer in writing them; I love receiving them.
One of the joys of living on Cape Cod is that holiday cards are still a big deal here. The year we moved here, there was an article in one of the local papers how the Cape is one of the places where the most holiday cards are sent from in the country. It’s still an important tradition (although not as important now as it was when I moved here a decade ago).
There are plenty of people with whom the only contact I have is the annual holiday card. Some sniffy person on Twitter had contempt for this saying something along the lines of why would I want to talk to someone at the holidays I don’t talk to for the rest of the year? In toxic situations, of course that’s valid.
But I find that sitting down and writing those personal, once-a-year catch-ups give me a great sense of joy. I love to reconnect with those people.
The sadness comes when I double-check an address and come up with the obituary. The person died during the year, and nobody bothered to let me know. I’ve come across three of those so far, and I’m not finished writing cards yet.
I write cards to my clients — current, and for the past three years ones from the one-off jobs. After three years of no contact, I often move on, be it personal or professional.
But that’s all the card is — a card wishing the person/company well for the holiday season.
It is NOT a pitch for more work.
I was so excited the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The mail came, and it was obvious there was a holiday card in it. Our second holiday card! Our first comes around Halloween, from a friend in NYC who is always working a tough schedule over the holidays, so she sends out her cards at the end of October.
Well, it was a card. From a business that wrote a pitch about why we need to replace our windows, and the holiday season is the perfect time so to do. How he wanted to come by and give us a quote.
Not only was I disappointed, I was ANGRY.
Basically, this rep has stalked us for the last few years. First of all, we are the tenants here. The OWNER makes the decision on the windows. I said this repeatedly, when I also told this guy to LEAVE US ALONE. He shows up at the house, unannounced, and pounds on our door. More than once, it’s been at an inappropriate time and scared the bejesus out of us. On top of that, I have a sign on the door clearly stating “No Solicitation.” On TOP of that, I have complained to his company about his behavior. They assured me he wouldn’t come by again. But he does, and now he’s sending us a sales pitch wrapped in a holiday card telling us he’s coming by during the holidays?
He shows up, I call the cops.
This is NOT the way to use holiday cards to expand business.
Send the card as just a greeting.
What I do then, in January, with former clients, is send a postcard, asking if they need any help with their year’s marketing/content/writing/planning, and suggesting a consultation.
My name has just been in front of them with the holiday card — that asked nothing from them. Now it comes before them again, with a suggestion.
That’s the way I prefer to receive communications, and that’s what I’ve found to get positive results when I do it.
So have a good holiday. And, if you send cards or good wishes, please, please, let that be ALL it says!