Ink-Dipped Advice: Fake Pitches That Alienate

The new websites are working. So are the contact forms, which makes my life easier, although I’m still getting too much spam. I’m getting positive feedback and informational requests from possible clients.

I’m also getting lots of demands to host paid guest bloggers and for re-design.

That’s right, not a pitch or a request. Demands.

Not only do most of these idiots make it clear they can’t write a coherent sentence, they haven’t bothered to look at the site, comprehend the content, or craft a reasonable pitch.

What they guarantee is that I won’t have anything to do with them, and if anyone else asks me about them, I won’t have anything positive to say.

“what content to do you post and how much do you pay?” is not a pitch that gets you the work.

First of all, look at that sentence. All in lower case. No salutation. At the bottom, was the individual’s first name only, again in lower case letters, and no website. No credentials, no pitch.

If this person took a look at this particular website, he would see that Fearless Ink focuses on the business and marketing aspects of my writing. Reading the Welcome page and the Navigation Menu give an idea of what the site is about and what I do.

This blog, Ink-Dipped Advice, is clearly about how I approach business writing. There are no posted guidelines stating I am looking or accepting guest posts. If I want a guest, I’m going to go and invite one. There are no posted guidelines about payment.

At this point, this blog is not a paying market. I’m not trying to lure fellow writers to work without pay. I may do trade invites with fellow freelancers, provided we are all comfortable with the situation.

If this blog becomes a paying market, I will post guidelines and state payment. And any pitches that don’t meet said guidelines will not be accepted and paid.

That’s the way it works.

The above pitch isn’t a pitch — no research, no ideas, no background, nothing. Not someone I would invite to guest or with whom I would contract to guest.

The same individual sent the same one-line post on ALL the contact forms on ALL my sites. If you look around at the sites connected with the books I write, you know that those are sites about the books, not sites that support or invite guests. They are about MY WORK. That is their purpose and their focus — to give readers and potential readers of my books interesting content beyond and around the books themselves.

The sites also have a contact form for the press, which means if someone wants to do a story on something I write, that’s the address through which to funnel it. There’s nothing about hosting anyone.

I host fellow authors on A Biblio Paradise, but that is by invitation-only, and there is, specifically, no contact form on that blog.

No hook, no research, no understanding of what I do, no information. That equals no invitation.

It’s not even the virtual equivalent of a cold call, because professionals who cold call actually dig up information about the business before they call.

It’s insulting.

Other emails, which go directly into the Trash or Spam folders, are from people who call themselves “designers” or say they edit photos. They send short emails berating the look and content of my sites and DEMANDING that I hire them.

No specifics, mind you. Nothing about the specific site. Just a vague email full of insults and demands.

Do I believe my sites are perfect? Of course not. They are a work in progress, organisms that grow and change with my work.

But why would I pay someone who insults me?

Especially, again, when it’s obvious they haven’t done the least bit of research on what I do or what I need.

When you pitch to guest on a blog:

Read the blog. Or, if you’ve come across a website and you want to write content for them, read the site. What is the tone and the slant of the content? What are the topics? What’s the length of a post? How many links or other resources, on average, in a post?

Read the guidelines. Does the blog accept pitches for guest posts? What should the pitch include? What should the post include?

Follow the guidelines. Submission guidelines are there for a reason. They streamline the process. They are a good indicator if the person pitching/querying is a good fit. They are a good way to weed out the unprofessional, who tend to be the ones who think they’re too talented to bother with pesky guidelines. They’re not.

Craft a great pitch SPECIFIC to that market. Include a salutation, hook, one-paragraph ACTIVELY WORDED pitch. Add a few sentences with your credentials, and why you wanted to pitch to that particular site. Sign off with your name and your website.

Be positive and polite. Even if you believe you can write better than those currently writing for a site, don’t insult them. Pitch yourself as an addition to the team, not that you’re so great they should fire everyone they already have. You don’t yet know their story or their dynamics.

Proofread. When I worked for a publisher in NYC, part of my job was to screen unsolicited submissions, aka The Slush Pile. If I found something good, I wrote up a report and sent it up the editorial/acquisitions chain. However, in addition to content guidelines, the rule was that if there were more than THREE errors in the entire submission package (query letter, synopsis, sample chapters), it was rejected. That was especially true of the author obviously didn’t know the difference between a possessive, a plural, and a contraction. I still use those rules.

I know I’ve lost gigs because I sent off the pitch/query package too quickly and, only later when I filed or logged the submission, did I catch the errors. And the editors were right not to hire me. I did not demonstrate the proper care in my pitch.

Track your pitches and submissions. I have an entire Topic Workbook called Setting Up Your Submission System that tells you how. This is important. You need to know when and where you sent material.

Know when to follow-up, how to follow-up, and when to let go. Again, read the guidelines. They often give response time. Do not nag during that time. If you’re doing simultaneous submission and get a bite elsewhere, then, yes, definitely let the other markets know. But if the guidelines say four months, don’t start demanding a response in a week. In fact, because most sites are overworked and underpaid, I usually give an additional two to three weeks outside of the stated response time before follow up.

Be polite when you follow up. That should go without saying, but there you go.

Don’t argue if the answer is no. Arguing, threatening, insulting is only going to get you a reputation as unprofessional and not worth the work.

Precise, polite, professional. That’s how you craft a positive pitch and land the work. It TAKES work to LAND work.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Morning After Networking

There’s a lot of advice out there about “how” to network and how to present yourself, push yourself, etc., as you try to grow and build your business. Read everything, try new things, find out what works for you. It’s important to create your own style of business.

As creative people, we are harmed on multiple levels if we try to fit into other people’s boxes, even if those people dangle possible payment in front of us. We will do better for ourselves and our clients if we ARE ourselves from the first moment, instead of trying to be what they think they want. Often, they don’t really know what they want, they just want fast and cheap.

As you read the advice, role-play. How would you feel if someone approached you in that tone? Would you respond positively or slap them away? There are aggressive techniques out there, especially on line, that drive me away from businesses.

That includes an interview with a potential client that I cancelled a few months ago. It was for a company, it paid decently, it claimed to offer a variety of marketing tasks. The commute would have kind of sucked in some ways, but the money and the content sounded interesting enough for the interview. Until the perky little twenty-something sent me a document detailing how to dress and how to speak.

Excuse me? I am not in my twenties and just starting out. I am in my fifties with a long and varied career behind me, which includes working in wardrobe on Broadway. I know how to dress. I know how to behave in an interview. This document was demeaning to any potential employee, and showed that this was not a good match.

Next!

Networking can be done at almost any event, whether it’s a primarily social gathering, or a conference, or a chamber gathering. What I’ve found the most effective (since I am an introvert), is going there with the attitude of wanting to meet interesting people.

That’s my agenda for any event that includes strangers: I want to meet interesting people who do interesting things.

Since I am interested in almost everything, that leaves me with many possibilities.

Preparation
What type of event is it? Casual? Formal? Do you have any idea of the type of attendees? Corporate? In one particular arena? I’ve attended environmental conferences because I was interested in the slate of topics and met people who remained a part of my life, personally and professionally.

Is it an all-day event? A cocktail hour mixer? A more formal dinner? Do you know anyone else attending? Be careful not to just stick exclusively with one or two people, especially if you arrive together. Make sure you invite people to join your group, especially fellow introverts who have the “why did I ever sign up for this?” look.

If it’s a conference, I make sure I have a conference or pad of paper for notes. I take a lot of notes at these events, type them up, put them in a binder for reference. If it’s a more casual, social event, I have a reporter’s notebook and a handful of pens in my purse.

I wear comfortable shoes. They can still be gorgeous, but I make sure I can stand and walk in them for long periods of time. I’m always amazed at how much I stand at networking events, and I have paid the price by wearing the wrong shoes

Plenty of business cards. I’m big on exchanging business cards. I have different cards for different things I do. Believe it or not, the card I end up giving away most often is for the blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, which then leads people to the other things I do.

I sometimes carry a few of my brochures, or, if appropriate, a stack of postcards or bookmarks for my most recent release or my upcoming release (recent release gets more traction — people pick up the card and want it now). But I do not hand them out unless it comes out organically in conversation, or set them on tables without the host’s permission. I don’t like to feel cornered or pressured by other attendees, and I extend them the same courtesy.


At The Event

Smile and talk to people. Ask them about themselves, and what interests them. Most importantly, listen to the answers. Don’t just think about the next thing you want to say.

I land gigs because I’ve listened to something in conversation and either remembered it in follow-up or scribbled it down in my notebook in the ladies’ room to make sure I remembered it later. I do NOT take notes during the conversation; that makes it feel like an interview or an interrogation.

Include people in your group who look lost or confused. You won’t like all of them. You won’t like or get along with everyone you meet at an event. But start by inclusion, and make your decisions after the event.

The Morning After
That’s what this post is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

The day after a networking event or a conference, I go back through my notes and the business cards.

I send a written thank you note to the host of the event. If, for some reason, I don’t have a postal address, I send an email. But a handwritten thank you is better.

I send a quick email to everyone I met with whom I want to keep in touch. Most of them are just a “great to meet you, hope to talk to you again.” Where appropriate, if we talked about something specific, I might go more in-depth. If we talked about working together and I either asked for more information or promised to send some, I put in a reminder of it, and, again, where appropriate, I send additional materials. If it’s someone with whom I want to see again one-on-one, I suggest a date to get together. I do this the day after the event, if it’s on a week day, or on the next business day. I do not wait more than three business days to do this. Quick follow-up is vital.

I file the business cards. I note on the card where/when I met the person, and I file it in those clear plastic business-card pages from Staples. They’re three-hole punched, and I have a binder. If and when the connection becomes more permanent, I copy the information into my Rolodex. Yes, I use a Rolodex. Every single time I’ve counted on an electronic address book, it’s been corrupted.

I follow up on the follow-up, when appropriate. If I’ve sent requested information, I follow up about two weeks later, unless we discussed a longer lead time. If I come across something relevant to a discussion, I’ll shoot off an email to that person with the information. Sometimes, I send out quarterly reminder post-cards by mail about my services. I find that gets far more response than email blasts. I send a holiday greeting, at least that first year. Again, by mail, whenever possible. I get a far more positive response from mailed materials than from electronic, even though the bulk of my actual client work is done via email. The tangible connection tends to bring tangible results.

I am not a phone person. I loathe the telephone. I find most phone calls a waste of my time (it’s usually the other person liking the sound of his/her own voice, not sharing relevant information). I find it disruptive to my creative process, and a phone call will kill my productivity for the rest of the day. I charge for phone time in 15-minute increments like a lawyer, without exception. So I don’t do follow-up via phone. If someone says “I’ll call you,” or “call me,” my response is “email is always the best way to reach me.” I do not put my phone number on my business cards, and I have my phone set NOT to accept voicemail. That is unusual, that is somewhat controversial, but it works for me and I do it.

If the phone works for you and your contact, by all means, use it. I know I am an anomaly in my phone-loathing.

Now, over to you: what follow-up have you found most effective after a networking event? What’s your timeline to follow up?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Where’s The Work?

The short answer is, “Everywhere.”

People need words and those who craft them for almost every aspect of their lives: signs, instructions, web copy, press releases, menus, articles, advertorials, letters, the list goes on and on.

Take a day and write down every time you encounter something with words on it throughout your day. Note what it is and what kind of writing it is.

The work is everywhere.

Convincing the companies to hire you and pay you a fair rate is key.

Skills, Interests, Knowledge
First, be clear on your skills. What is it you want to do? Are you a journalist? A marketing writer? A Public relations person? An editor? A copy editor? A social media whiz? A mix?

What are your areas of specialized knowledge? Areas where you know enough so you can do some quick fact-checking, but you have reliable facts and sources at your fingertips?

What are you interested in?

I became a writer because I am interested in many things, I find the world a fascinating place. I also enjoy working with people who are passionate about what they do, and helping them engage and expand their audience.

If you want to specialize in one area, good for you. Make sure you’re passionate about it, knowledgeable about it, and keep expanding your knowledge. You want to bring your clients knowledge and resources beyond what they have. You are there to put them ahead of the pack, not run with it.

Boundaries
What are your boundaries? Plenty of people say their clients’ politics/beliefs/platform doesn’t matter and has nothing to do with the writing or the quality of the work. I don’t find it that black and white. I’ve worked for some people whose views on many things are vastly different than mine, and it wasn’t a problem. We agreed to disagree on certain things, and none of it was directly involved with the actual work. However, I don’t take on clients whose product/view/mission is something I believe causes harm to others. I don’t care how much they’re paying. I’m not there to change their views (or sabotage them) and I’m certainly not going to promote something I believe is harmful for money. That is my choice.

I’ve also taken on clients and then found, once I’m in deep working with them, things in their business or ethics that I find repulsive. I wind up the contract when possible and don’t work with them again.

Find your line. Know where it is. Know it may change over time. But be aware of it, and have a strong core.

Again, where’s the work?

I like to start local and spread. I used to live in New York. There’s a big client pool there, and plenty of businesses that understand the value of good writing. Some of them will still try not to pay for it, but the pool’s big enough so you can skip those jobs and move on.

I live in a different region right now that does not respect good writing or believe in paying for it. I have fewer local clients, and more long-distance ones.

Find companies whose work interests you
The most interesting, professional, satisfying, and best-paid jobs I’ve landed have come because I found a company whose work interested me, did my research, and put together a pitch to convince them their lives would be better, easier, more productive, and more lucrative once they hired me. I did NOT denigrate the materials that were out there. I told them why they interested me, and what positive things I could bring to the table.

I had to go out and find these companies. I did not find them on job boards or craigslist. I found them either during my research for one of the many projects (fiction or nonfiction) that I juggle, or during my active “hunting time” where I search for companies that do work which interests me, and then research them.

When I research companies, I start locally and then expand outwards. I look at Chamber listings. I research companies that provide services in fields that interest me. I keep on top of press releases sent out by members of the team already working for them. I’m not looking to oust someone from a job; I’m looking at supporting, honing, and expanding what they do.

When I pitch, I do a positive pitch, not a negative pitch. I point out what interests me about the company, what I think they do well, and why I think I’d be a good ADDITION TO THE TEAM. I do NOT tell them their content is bad, the site needs a new design, or demean their employees.

I get several emails a week from people demanding I hire them (they haven’t done their research) and that I should so do because they hate my website, my content, my work. Why would I hire someone who insults me?

I wouldn’t, nor would I expect a company to hire me if I insulted them.

Chamber of Commerce Networking
I’ve landed some gigs from local Chamber of Commerce networking. I’ve lived and worked all over the country, and most of the time, the fee for joining the Chamber is offset with the first job I land from one of their contacts. Chamber members support each other (that’s the point of being a member), and turn to each other first when they’re looking for something. Plus, Chamber members understand the value of words in their business.

I haven’t found that to be true where I live now, sadly. I’ve enjoyed my networking at local Chamber events, but the “we don’t pay for writing” attitude unfortunately extends to Chamber members as well. In fact, where I live right now, more and more companies put out ads calling for a “marketing associate” when what they want is a sales rep to work on commission-only. Those are two different positions, requiring different skills, and I don’t work on commission. I get paid for the work I DO, not on a whim that someone else may or may not pay somewhere down the line.

So I don’t work for them.

But Chambers often have open nights to expand membership. It’s worth it to check out yours, meet people (make sure you have plenty of business cards), and then, even more important, follow up a day or two after the event. We’ll talk more about successful networking in an upcoming post.

Twitter
Some of my highest-paid gigs have come from Twitter. Not because all I do is tweet demanding that someone hire me or buy my books. Yes, I do book promotions on Twitter, but that’s not al I do. I engage. I retweet, I reply, I have conversations, I support fellow artists.

Sometimes, I see a positing on Twitter for a gig that sounds interesting. I follow the link, do my research, and pitch. Most of the time, though, gigs I’ve landed from Twitter are from people who liked what I had to say on Twitter, followed my information back to my website, liked how I write, and want me to write for them.

Networking in Professional Associations/Association Job Boards
I belong to several professional associations. Some of them have job boards; some of them put out calls when they need writers. If something looks interesting, I do further research and make my decisions from there. Job boards on these sites tend to have payment and work standards, and don’t accept content mill-type ads.

Writers Market
I prefer the print edition. When the new one comes out, I sit down and read it, cover to cover, making notes on where to pitch. I research the markets that interest me online. If a market still looks good, I put together a pitch or a query (depending on what they want) and contact them. I log everything, so I can follow up or move on.

Media Bistro
They have jobs broken down by region, by type, or by part-time/full-time/freelance/remote. The jobs tend to pay market rates and be legitimate. They also offer classes and networking opportunities.

Companies that offer full-time positions with benefits
If you are looking for a full-time, steady marketing job with benefits in a company, then I would suggest going through the listings on places like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, GlassDoor. Be careful. On Indeed, especially, more and more content mill-type jobs are popping up. Do your research. Most of the jobs on these sites will require you to fill out an online application form and go through an HR department. The online applications are usually geared to more retail or desk drone jobs, not something for creative people. In my opinion, any job application that demands you re-type the job information already included in your resume isn’t worth your time.

Do your research on Salary.com and by talking to other professionals in your field. Don’t expect professionals to talk money on social media — that is a private discussion, unless it’s in a group or seminar about salaries. Many applications ask for the salary for which you’re looking. I hate that question. I prefer salary range questions. I do my research, both on what the range is for the job in my area, and what the range is that they’ve paid previous employees. Far too many companies cut loose good employees when they don’t want to pay them a fair rate, and start again at the bottom or the range or below it. Don’t fall for that.

Referrals
This is my favorite way to land work. I have a great experience with a client. The client recommends me to a colleague who needs a good writer. You build up to referrals by doing good work for legitimate companies at market rate. If you get a reputation as content mill level quality and price, that’s where you stay. Court the good jobs; do terrific work for them, and they will recommend you to others who appreciate your talent and pay fairly for them.

The work is everywhere. It TAKES work to LAND work. How you shape your approach and how you convince the company that YOU are the best person for the job, and have a say in how that job is shaped is what sets you apart and makes you worth hiring in the first place.

Ink-Dipped Advice: An Ad That Attracts

Last week, I talked about ads looking for writers that guarantee I won’t pitch. This week, I’ll talk about common-sense elements to include in your ad, especially if you’re a small business.

Your business. It amazes me how many ads don’t detail the focus of the business. A bit of background on where you were, where you are, where you want to go, helps. Just a sentence or two. I’m too old for that kind of mystery. I want to know what you do. “Fast -paced office” isn’t enough. I want to know if you’re a realtor, a construction business, a landscaper, a dentist — tell me what you do.

Job description. Detail the responsibilities and expectations. Think about what you want. Then do some research on job scopes to see what is realistic. If you want to hire a writer to create advertising, marketing, and promotional materials, you want to hire a writer, not someone who answers the phone and jots down a few things in between calls. If you want something with visuals, bring in a team of writer and graphic designer. Few graphic designers write well. While more and more writers are adding graphic and web skills, that design eye of a graphic artist will take the material to the next level. It may be that what you want and need requires more than one individual. Be clear about perks and benefits included. If none are, state that. You have to know what you want and need, and balance it with realistic skill expectations.

Hours expected per week and work location. Be specific on the hours or hour range you expect every week. Do you expect your writer to work in the office? If you do, make sure you have a place for them to work. Perched on a chair with a laptop across the knees in the garage is not an acceptable work space. Lighting is important. Make sure you have good light for the tasks required. (That doesn’t need to be in the ad, but it’s something to consider when setting up work space). What kind of breaks do you offer? How much time for a meal break? Is the meal break paid or unpaid? Check with your state’s Department of Labor to make sure you follow their guidelines. Is the job remote? Is the job onsite? Are you willing to do a mix of on site and remote? Are there hours outside of normal business hours, and, if so, what are they? What is your policy on holidays?

Your target market. Who is your market? Who is the market you want to reach? What kind of gap is there between them? You’ll expand on this discussion in the interview process.

Length of job. Are you looking for someone to join the staff, or contract for a particular project? Be clear. Don’t dangle “this could lead to more work.” Most skilled writers will roll their eyes and move on. Maybe-somedays don’t cut it. If you wind up being a good match on this project, then suggest working together in a longer-term capacity.

Pay. Is it fixed or is there a range? If you list “negotiable,” listing the range is even more important. If you do the latter, be willing to negotiate. That means, when the prospect comes back with a counteroffer, you give it serious thought and return with another offer. A real one, not re-iterating the original price. If you’re not willing to negotiate, state the rate. Don’t hope a candidate will offer you a lower one. Again, do your research. Look at the salary ranges for the position and don’t assume you can lowball and get quality. Salary.com is a great resource for individuals on both sides of the hiring table.

Contact Information. Email address or mailing address to which materials can be sent. Contact person. If you do not want phone calls, state it in the ad. Candidates who don’t respect your preferred contact method can be tossed.

The above information should be in clean, error-free copy with a tone that matches the tone of the work environment. Is the workplace Formal? Flexible? Don’t call it a “creative” environment when what you mean is “disorganized.” There’s a difference. Read the ad. Would you want to work for this particular business, in this particular environment, if it wasn’t yours? Let an interesting, vivacious ad reflect your business.

Material to Ask From Candidates:
Cover Letter. A cover letter should address the job, why the candidate is interested, relevant experience, and express some of the candidate’s personality. It should also demonstrate grammar, spelling, and writing skill, and be free of typos.

Resume. This gives you an idea of the person’s experience. If the experience is vastly different from the job, go back to the cover letter to see why the candidate wants a change, and see if the reason resonates. The out-of-the-box choice could be the right one. If the candidate doesn’t mention the disparity between resume and reason for pitching for this job, it’s a red flag for you.

Website link. Most professionals have their own website. Many have samples on the site or links to samples. Ask for the link and take a look around.

Samples from portfolio or clip file. Decide if you want links, attachments, and in the format you want them. Do you want .doc? .docx? PDF? Do not expect a candidate to write a sample specific to your company unless you pay for the test. You should be able to read one or two samples and get a sense of the candidate’s style, and see if that works with what you do.

Contact information. Most candidates will have it on their resumes and/or cover letter. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, let them know how you plan to contact them to set up an interview.

Where do you post?

Chamber of Commerce. Most chambers allow job postings. You’ll get to support other chamber members and, since it’s a community of businesses and those who want to work for them, a high quality of business-savvy responses.

Your Own Website. You’ll often get a high quality of candidate, because the candidates made the effort to find and research you. They can also look through your site, to see if it’s the right fit. Make sure you put the link to the job on social media.

Media Bistro. A good place to find professionals from all over the country. You’ll get great candidates. They will also expect solid rates well within the range for the position.

Hire Culture. If you’re in Massachusetts, or willing to work remotely with a MA-based writer, Hire Culture is a site that pairs arts-based professionals with business. Arts-related businesses and non-profits in particular can find solid candidates here.

Career Centers. In Massachusetts, the Department of Labor partners with “Career Centers.” Job candidates use these for unemployment filing, resume writing workshops, and career retraining. These sites offer job boards. It’s a good place to find both early-career and mature workers with experience who are looking for a new job because their position was eliminated, or because they want a career change. Check with your state’s Department of Labor for the equivalent.

Indeed and ZipRecruiter are popular, often used by larger companies. It’s a way to get the ad out to a large pool; but you’ll also receive a large pool of unqualified applicants.

What about Craigslist? Many small, local businesses post on Craigslist. It’s hit or miss. I glance through Craigslist here and there if I need a quick fill-in project. It’s rare the ads interest me or the pay meets my range. Every now and again, there’s something that makes me take a second look, but I don’t count on it. Small business owners I know who post on Craigslist complain to me about the low quality candidates who respond. I don’t recommend posting on Craigslist if you want a seasoned, professional writer. As an FYI, the above-mentioned Career Centers in my area warn job seekers they are not allowed to list Craigslist ads in their weekly job search logs that are submitted for unemployment benefits.

As a writer, I am far more likely to pitch to a business who provides the above and asks for the above. If I’m sent to a link that has a form to fill out, unless the job pays well above my normal rate, I usually don’t apply. You’re hiring a person, not an algorithm. Algorithms don’t find creative thinkers. They find people who’ve learned the game of filling in boxes the way the computer wants (which has little to do with the person’s actual skills, other than being able to outwit an algorithm), or whose lives fit into boxes. At a certain point, professional, creative people decide to ditch the boxes and those who use them, because they’ve earned their way beyond the forms. Most forms have little to do with the actual job. You get more from reading a well-written resume. I’d rather create my own pitch packages, relevant to an individual company. I also expect to be treated like an individual. Please don’t expect me to re-key my resume into your form, especially if I’ve attached said resume. That’s insulting.

Next week, I’ll focus more on writers, and where I’ve found the best (for me) jobs.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Find the Right Writer, Don’t Drive That Writer Away! (Part One)

 

While this post is aimed primarily at businesses who want to hire a writer, I’m sure many of my fellow writers will relate to the material.

Notice that I didn’t title this post “Finding the BEST Writer.” Because “best” has permutations.

A technically brilliant writer can be the less-than-best choice if said writer can’t empathize and then communicate a proprietor’s passion for his/her business, or if the writer doesn’t understand (or isn’t interested) in the business and how to communicate it to the audience. The technique might be there, but if the copy is bloodless, it won’t engage and enlarge the audience.

A passionate writer who is delighted by the business can be the less-than-best-choice if said writer doesn’t have the technical capacity and the craft to sculpt the words into creative, engaging copy.

The “best” writer for any particular project has craft skills, understanding of the business, understanding of the target audience, and knows how to merge those different facets into something unique and wonderful that enchants an audience.

How is this mysterious creature, as elusive as a Unicorn, discovered and enticed? Is there a business/writer matchmaking service?

There are plenty of services who will claim to do just that — weed out the chaff, find you the best writer wheat. Regard their claims with a grain of salt. Don’t just ask for a client list and read those clients” websites. Ask the service which materials their personnel created for those clients, confirm with the client, and ask for samples.

I’ve been on both sides of working with agencies. When I started in theatre, I worked for temp agencies all over the country in various administrative capacities, and I learned how to write copy for a variety of different fields. I’ve also signed with so-called “creative” agencies who claim to pair marketing/business writers with clients. Nine times out of ten, the agency paid no attention to my strengths, my knowledge base, my skills. I was sent to a client because there was an open slot, not because I was the best person on their roster for the slot. I work with words, not numbers. I am not a bookkeeper. I am a writer. When I worked in major cities, I was at least sent out for writing, editing, development, or administrative work. Outside of major cities — far too often, I was told I was being sent to an accounting department. When I reminded the hiring manager that’s not what I do, the answer was “Oh, I’m sure you’ll pick it up.” That is not fair to me or to the client. Match the person to the job.

On the other side of the equation, I’ve been hired by companies after they’ve wound up with a mess because an agency sent in someone who was unqualified for the job. A writer may have shown up, but it wasn’t the right writer for the job. Or the person sent wasn’t a writer, but an administrator or a file clerk or a receptionist or a bookkeeper. Don’t send a writer to do a bookkeeper’s job and don’t send a bookkeeper to a job for press releases and thank you letters written for donations. Pretty basic, but far too many agencies ignore this.

A staffing agency that sends in a writer to work with a company is different than hiring a marketing firm to handle your advertising, marketing, and promotional needs. Those firms usually have (or hire in on contract) a team for each part of the marketing operation. I’ll discuss marketing firms in a future post.

Granted, I am atypical of many marketing and business writers in that I translate audience engagement techniques I use in fiction and scriptwriting to communicate a business’s message and grow their audience. Even though I am a multi-genre, Renaissance writer instead of a niche writer, I’m still a writer. Words are my medium. My approach is not a standard, corporate box style. I approach each client as though they are exciting and fascinating, and I craft marketing campaigns unique to each of them. The plans may share elements, but content and approach is individual.

I read quite a few ads, to have an idea of what’s out there, although I don’t respond to that many any more (details on that in an upcoming post).

How To Turn Off Skilled, Qualified Candidates
What makes me skip over an ad? Besides content-mill scale of work and pay?

“Must be able to multi-task in a fast-paced environment. Job duties include answering the phone, scheduling clients, correspondence, filing, Quickbooks, Photoshop, updating website, blog, social media, Instagram, and writing press releases and marketing materials.”

Of course, the above job pays minimum wage with no benefits. So, I’m supposed to be a photography whiz, a tech whiz, a bookkeeper (see above), a file clerk, general admin, a receptionist, AND carry the marketing and social media load? For minimum wage?

Uh, no.

You want well-written material that actually grows your business? Your writer can’t be interrupted by phone calls every thirty seconds How many blog posts a week do you expect? Is your new hire researching and writing them, ghost-writing them, or fine-tuning ones written by others? Good writing needs uninterrupted work time. Also, you’re not going to get said well-written materials for minimum wage.

Next.

“Must be flexible, energetic, able to move between a variety of marketing tasks. Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite. Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public services.”

This job is a couple of bucks an hour above minimum wage, again, with no benefits. The “flexible” translates to “hours outside of normal business hours.” For someone at the beginning of the career, interested in the company, maybe.

“Moving between variety of tasks” — no problem. Can make things more interesting, although the subtext is that there’s grunt work involved. Hauling boxes, setting up chairs for events, etc.

“Must have iPhone and laptop with Adobe Creative Suite.” Deal breaker #1. An employer does not tell me what equipment I need to own in order to be considered for the job. If special equipment is required for the job, the employer provides it. Period. I am not going to be tied to a type of phone or pay the monthly Adobe fee for the employer. Especially when those items end up costing more than I’d earn.

“Oh, but everyone has an iPhone.”

No. Everyone does not have an iPhone. And a personal phone is different than a business phone.

“Maybe they pay the monthly Adobe fee and you just have to use it on your laptop. They’ll give you the log-in.”

Then state it in the ad.

The exception to the above is if there’s a payment that in theatre and film we used to call a “kit fee.” If we brought in our own kits, our own equipment, we were paid a daily rate on top of our regular pay. Somehow, I don’t think the above employer has ever heard of a kit fee or would pay it.

“Must have own reliable transportation, not reliant on public.” Deal breaker #2. First of all, the subtext is that I have to show up for work in a blizzard or a hurricane. Second, unless you provide me with a company car for “reliable transportation,” you don’t tell me how to get to work, or tell me I can’t use public transportation.

Next.

“Please write a sample piece of 800 words including these topics (lists topics) so we can make sure you understand our business.”

One of the oldest scams in the book, along with the three-card Monte. This is a way a “business” rakes in articles provided as “samples,” tells the candidates the business went in a different direction, and then has months’ worth of content without paying for it.

Next.

“Our client is looking for . . .”

Means there’s a middleman doing the screening and hiring. The client is overpaying, and I’ll be underpaid.

Next. Some writers are okay with this; I’d rather not.

“Fast-paced, flexible environment, dealing with a large variety of personalities.”

Translation: An office full of neurotic, nasty assholes.

Next.

“But if it’s the right writer, it wouldn’t matter anyway. The ‘right’ writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered.”

No. The desperate writer will forgive anything and accept what’s offered. The fresh, new writer trying to build a portfolio may put up with anything that’s offered for a short period of time. Sometimes, everyone will luck out and it’s the best fit. But the truly talented writers will stay away from the above.

So what should an ad include?

That’s our topic next Wednesday! Stay tuned.