Ink-Dipped Advice: Context and Boundaries

One of the things that has puzzled me over the last few months is that more and more LOIs, which go directly to the appropriate person at a company, are turned over to third party recruiters. Who then contact me and waste my time, trying to get me to do stuff that has nothing to do with my profession.

I am a WRITER.

Contacting me about jobs in accounting or sales or truck driving (yes, truck driving) is not appropriate.

Neither is acting like I am at your beck and call.

Neither is asking me about my current salary, which is none of your damn business. It’s also illegal in some states. The fact you’re CALLING from a state where it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean I have to answer the question. My answer is that my rate is X for Y work.

Salary and rate are different. If I committed to a single company, I have particular salary and benefit expectations. I’m happy to share those with you, even though I know there’s nothing like that on offer. If you did, you wouldn’t be contacting me with something vague that has nothing to do with writing. If I’ve sent an LOI as a freelancer, and you turn me over to a third party recruiter, these questions are ridiculous.

I don’t have my resume posted. I did that once, prompted by someone at the Career Center when my position was eliminated at the library. In four hours, I got three dozen inappropriate and sometimes threatening emails about things that had NOTHING to do with my profession (but some had plenty to do with the Oldest Profession).  I took my resume down and deleted my account. I don’t use LinkedIn (which I find useless and confining for what I do). 

I don’t know where some of these people got my information. I’ve asked, and some said, “Oh, you sent B at Company J a letter about what you do, and he passed it on and asked me to talk to you.” But the conversation has nothing to do with the letter — which was written after I researched the company, so it’s not like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall, people. I’ve done my homework.

If I’ve sent an LOI about copywriting needs, don’t have someone to contact me and ask if I’ll work a booth at a trade show for minimum wage. That’s not copywriting. Nor is minimum wage my rate.

I actually had a RECRUITER say to me, “Well, it’s not like writing is a REAL job.”

I ended the conversation right there.

On Monday night, my phone pinged, just before 8 PM. Right before end of day on the West Coast, so I figured it might be something someone wanted to get off the desk before walking out the door. It’s well after business hours for me here. It’s pretty clear from my LOIs and online information that I’m in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

I looked at the email. A recruiter, by the signature line. Not someone with whom I’ve interacted before. A single-line question, without context. A VAGUE question. No reference to what kind of position or company to which this question connects.

I glanced at it and put the phone aside. Something to deal with during my business day on Tuesday. I’d ask some questions and get context so I could give an appropriate answer.

Twenty-three minutes later, I got another email, calling me unprofessional for not answering the first email yet.

As tempting as it was, I did not respond with something snarky. OR with an apology (which, trust me, wasn’t going to happen).

Instead on Tuesday, I sent my response, not getting defensive or sarcastic (which meant I rewrote it a few times), asking for context: what company/position is this in regard to, where did they get my information, etc. I also added a line stating I was not available outside of regular business hours without prior arrangement, except in emergencies.

I got a response a few hours later, telling me I should be grateful I was even contacted, the company does not negotiate, and it is a privilege to work for them.

Negotiate what?

I still have no idea to which company they’re referring. So I sent a response, “Whatever this is in reference to, I’m not the right person for the assignment. Thank you for your interest.”

I got a return email berating me for my attitude and unprofessionalism.

I deleted it.

I still have no idea as to what the initial email referenced.

I doubt it’s the loss of my dream job.

But the entire exchange leaves me shaking my head.

Had the email arrived with context (company involved, a precise question instead of a vague one, why the recruiter contacted me, and how they found me), I could have answered promptly on Tuesday morning. Had there been a request to answer that night, I probably would have responded.

But the construction and the scolding? Huge red flag.

Obviously, they need a writer to craft correspondence.

I hope they find that which they seek.

I am not it.

That’s just fine with me.

What situations have you been in where you needed to ask for context and demand boundaries?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Trust Your Instincts

This will be a short post. Lots of things are up in the air right now, and we’ll see where we are when they settle.

As I’m having meetings and making new contacts, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. When a red flag comes up, or when my gut tells me something is not right, I’m listening more and more. It’s saving me a world of pain.

Yes, it means I’m not landing some assignments. Actually, it means I’ve pulled myself from consideration on a few projects, because I knew they would be a bad choice. The potential client and I were not the right fit. Moving forward ONLY because I want the paycheck, would have been the wrong choice in the long run.

Each situation was different; some of the red flags were similar, some not. But the gut feeling of “wrong” was there. I listened. As I’m making these choices, the good meetings are even more positive. I’m redefining what I want and need from a work situation. I’m refusing to settle.

Settling doesn’t do either me or the client any good. Both parties need to want the best from and for a project. When it feels wrong, walk away.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found lately is Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter. Use the resources on her site. Her commitment to dignity in the workplace and positive solutions are terrific.

On the flip side, I came across an article in a business magazine by a supposed HR expert. A reader had questions about red flags that came up in the interview experience. The HR “expert” ripped her a new one for unrealistic expectations. I found only one of the red flags in the interview process “unrealistic” (the interview didn’t start until 10 minutes later than scheduled, which sometimes happens). The rest of the flags were, to me, big reasons to worry.

The tone of the article was snarky in the wrong way, and deeply anti-worker, in my opinion. I’m not linking back to it because I didn’t keep track. But then I reminded myself it was written by an HR “expert” and appeared in a business publication. Of course it would be pro-management and anti-worker. The basic premise of the article was, “You should be grateful we deigned to give you an interview and take whatever’s offered, whether you like it or not.”

Yes, that’s the way too many businesses are run. When they whine about “not enough skilled workers” remember that if the people searching for those workers are going to treat them poorly and without dignity, the truly skilled will go elsewhere.

Trust your instincts. Learn the protocols of whatever business you want to work in. Make sure your instincts align with being treated with basic dignity and courtesy.

That will help you find the best fit possible.

Is this a pipe dream? What if you’re in desperate straits and have to take something, anything to keep a roof over your head? If that’s your current situation, and you have to take a subpar offer, do so. But don’t get stuck there. Keep searching. The minute you get something better, go. The days of 20 years with the same company and mutual loyalty are long gone. Too many companies believe that everyone is irrelevant and replaceable. While we are all replaceable, even though each individual brings something unique to the table, none of us are irrelevant.

Note: There have been some issues with the contact form on this site, with commenting, and adding the recaptcha in. The host and I are working on it. It’s frustrating, because they have me in an endless loop of repeating things that don’t work, but we’re working on it.

You can email me or connect on twitter @ink_fearless if you need to get in touch quickly while we fix things. I apologize for the inconvenience.

INK-DIPPED ADVICE: Chapter 5: Fred Attends The Chamber Breakfast

Fred Needs A Writer: Chapter 5. The Chamber Breakfast

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs.

Fred sees the email about the local chamber of commerce breakfast. He hasn’t gone to any events in over a year, although he keeps up his membership. To him Chamber of Commerce membership is a responsibility like voting and serving jury duty.

Kurt and Sandy are going, so at least he’ll know someone.

Fred is surprised by all the new faces, and people of all ages. Even at this hour of the morning, there are lively conversations and lots of laughter. The spread looks pretty good, too. It’s at a local restaurant. Fred’s known the owner, Bart, since they were in school since kindergarten together, and his wife Muriel since she married Bart.

Fred goes over to say hello. “This place looks great,” he says. “You painted? And is that a new logo?”

“We did.” Bart grins at him. “Same good, old-fashioned home cooking, but we freshened the look of the place.”

Fred thinks back to the past few weeks. “You know, I noticed you’re all over the papers. Margaret showed me the article. My daughter said you’re doing a lot on social media.”

“We hired it out,” says Bart. “I can barely Facebook with the grandkids. I don’t enjoy it, and don’t want to make the time.”

“Who’d you hire?” Fred asks. “I hired someone recently, but I think I made the wrong choice.”

“Some of your posts have been a little strange lately,” Bart agrees. “Muriel saw them. Said they don’t sound like you, and were confusing.”

“We were trying to be relevant,” says Fred.

“It seemed more like trying for irony, but came across as sarcasm,” says Bart. “Let me introduce you to the team I hired: Jenny Cotter and Gretchen Rojas. Jenny writes and handles all the posting. Gretchen does the graphics. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. They’re over there, talking to Jillian.”

“Jillian, of Jillian’s Treasures?” Fred asks. “That new store on Commercial Street?”

“Same Jillian. She’s new to town. Just opened at the start of the season.”

“I see her ads and her logo everywhere,” says Fred. “My wife and daughter kept seeing her name, and started shopping there. Now, they won’t stop.”

“Everyone’s heard of her thanks to Jenny and Gretchen. Come on and say hi.”

Bart introduces Fred to Jillian, Jenny, and Gretchen, who are having a lively conversation. Fred suddenly realizes this is the Jenny whose writing he liked so much, the one who wouldn’t do free samples.

“I wish I’d hired you,” he blurts out.

“You still can,” Jenny smiles at him. “Gretchen and I are a good team.”

They set an appointment to meet at Fred’s showroom.

Fred fills his plate at the buffet and joins Kurt and Sandy. “Don’t see why Bart’s wasting so much money on advertising when the food’s the same,” Kurt mutters.

“The food is good,” says Fred. “Now more people know about it, that’s all.”

“And the locals won’t be able to park and come in for a good meal,” Kurt frets. He changes the subject. “Does Margaret know you’re flirting with younger women?”

“I’m not flirting.” Fred turns red, because he was tempted to flirt. A little. “Jillian has a nice new store that Margaret and my daughter both like. I told her. Jenny and Gretchen do her marketing, and they’re doing Bart’s, too.”

“I don’t know where that Jillian woman gets off thinking she can come here and take over,” Sandy sniffs.

“She’s not your competition,” Fred points out.

“Of course she is,” says Sandy.

Fred has no idea what she means.

“All that over-priced eco-feminist stuff.” Kurt shakes his head. “Waste of money.

“Are you sure you mean eco-feminist?” Fred has no idea what Kurt means.

“Can’t say anything these days with all this political correctness,” Kurt moans. “You can’t mention color. You can’t mention sex. You can’t mention nationality. What can you talk about anymore?”

Fred thinks it has to do more with being a decent human being than politics, but changes the subject. “I made an appointment with Jenny and Gretchen.”

“Both of them?” Kurt snorts. “They’re taking you for a ride, buddy. You don’t need two more women working for you.”

“One writes, one does graphics.”

“Find someone who does both. You save half.”

“That didn’t work so well this time.”

Kurt shrugs. “Your money to waste.”

Fred starts to feel like he’s wasted a lot of time over the years with Kurt.

As they eat, the head of the chamber greets them, and then invites everyone to say a few words about themselves and their business. Fred enjoys listening to the people who run the businesses he uses, and he enjoys listening to the new people. He think Kurt sounds a bit bombastic, and Sandy a little desperate.

When it’s his turn, he feels shy. He tells an anecdote about his father’s time building the business and how his father always said, “You have to stand on something. It might as well be both sturdy and pretty.” It gets a decent laugh.

Jillian’s presentation is charming. Jenny and Gretchen do theirs together, and it’s funny and smart. Fred thinks it’s wonderful. Kurt looks annoyed, and Sandy bored.

He can’t even get near Jenny and Gretchen after the presentations, but waves in their direction as he leaves and looks forward to their meeting.

“Want to play a round this afternoon?” Kurt asks.

Fred shakes his head. “I’m on my way out to a house at the waterfront. They left the slider open on the deck in the storm last week and the floors buckled. I suspect the builder put in something cheap, so we’ll rip it all out and put in a good hard wood.”

Kurt is disappointed. Fred would rather talk flooring with a new client than listen to Kurt moan about the breakfast for 18 holes.

Besides, once he gets back from the client meeting, he’s going to fire Brianna.

Do you attend Chamber events? What is your experience? What advice do you have for Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer Chapter 2: Writing Samples

I apologize for skipping last week. We had tornadoes on the Cape. While I was not hit, there was a lot going on as far as power outages and damages and clean-up. I did not get this chapter finished and posted.

Our story so far:
Small business owner Fred wants to hire a part-time marketing person for his floor installation business. His buddy Kurt and Kurt’s wife Sandy hire part-time workers at minimum wage off Craigslist ads, and have them do other tasks in the office. Fred posts an ad and is surprised he receives answers from all over the country, that many of them are misspelled, and many of them don’t even send a resume.

Chapter 2: Fred Asks for Writing Samples

Fred and Margaret go through the responses. There are five people who sound promising: Jenny, Walter, Brianna, Cole, and Mallory. He likes the cover letters Jenny, Walter, and Brianna sent. They are friendly, and sound like they actually know what they are doing. Those three are also the only ones who included writing samples. Jenny and Walter sent links to online portfolios; Brianna sent links to some of her previous work.

Jenny’s focus is more on the words. She talks about “partnering with a graphic designer.” Fred wonders if she has that partner in the office, or if she expects him to provide the graphic designer.

“Just hire someone who does both,” said Kurt.

“Make sure they have Photoshop skills,” adds Sandy.

“Yeah, like you’re going to get a decent graphic designer who also writes for minimum wage,” his daughter snorts.

Walter seems to do both. Brianna seems to focus more on something called “gifs” that go on social media. He’s not sure what Cole and Mallory do.

He asks Cole and Mallory to send writing samples of their previous work. He can’t open the file Cole sent him (and he even asked for it to be sent as .doc). Mallory sends him something about a sale at a souvenir shop.

None of them have written anything about flooring. Well, maybe Cole did, but Fred can’t open the file, and he’s too embarrassed to tell Cole.

“Ask them to write something about your company,” said Kurt. “Ask them to look at your website and Facebook page, and write something as though they already worked for you. Then you can see whether or not they know how to write about flooring.”

Fred sends the email to all five of his prospects, asking them to look at the website and write an ad about an upcoming sale.

Walter sends him something that looks good, but there are typos in the words. “If he doesn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ I am not impressed,” says Margaret.

Brianna sends a gif. Fred guesses it’s supposed to be funny, but he doesn’t get the joke.

Cole sends him a file he can’t open. This time, Fred asks him to re-send it in a different format. It comes in the same format.

Mallory sends him a long piece of something about how wonderful bamboo floors are for the environment. It’s about four pages long, and Fred has no idea how he would use it.

Jenny sends him a quick email asking, “How much do you pay for project-specific samples?”

It had never occurred to Fred that he was supposed to pay for them. He asks Kurt, who says, “It’s part of the interview process. You don’t pay for it. THEY are supposed to impress YOU.”

Fred responds to Jenny that he considers the samples part of the interview process, and doesn’t pay for them.

“I have a policy not to provide project-specific samples without a fee,” Jenny responds. “You have the link to my online portfolio. You can see if my samples have the tone and the quality you need for your campaign.”

“But they’re not about flooring,” Fred responds. He doesn’t say that he tried to put the word “flooring” in various articles, and it didn’t quite work.

“If I can write about biofuels, wind turbines, alpaca farms, and new kitchen gadgets, I can write about flooring,” Jenny replies. “Too often, companies ask for free samples, tell all the writers they’re not hired, and then use the samples without paying for them and without permission. My rate for project-specific samples is lower than my regular rate, but I don’t do it for free. Thank you for your time, and I withdraw from consideration.”

“She’s an arrogant little bitch and full of herself, isn’t she?” Kurt says, when Fred tells him what happened. “You don’t need her attitude.”

“But she said people use the free samples without hiring or paying the writer,” said Fred.

“Of course we do,” snorted Kurt. “Cost of doing business.”

That bothers Fred. To Fred, it seems like stealing. Besides, he liked Jenny’s writing best.

“Interview them,” Margaret encourages. “See who you like best in person.”

How do you feel about unpaid writing samples? What’s your experience?

Next week: Fred interviews the candidates.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Sick Time

Yesterday, I came down with a nasty stomach bug, and was forced to spend the day either on the couch or in the bathroom.

It happens.

I’m on top of deadlines. There’s nothing that couldn’t wait at least another day.

The client for whom I’d have been onsite was fine about it. Just wished me a quick recovery and left me alone.

Several others, however, who wouldn’t even have had my attention that day had I been healthy came at me with, “Oh, I know you’re sick today, but can’t you just. . . .?”

No.

I am sick.

Not having a bit of an annoying cold or allergy that I can push through, but genuinely sick.

I am taking a sick day.

That means I am NOT WORKING.

Be being home sick doesn’t mean I suddenly have the time to move an on-track project higher up in the queue. It’s not an extra block of time to devote to a client who is already getting plenty of it.

When I was young and naive enough to feel guilty for being sick, sometimes I’d acquiesce. I can’t tell you how often the clients then balked at being charged for the time “because you were sick that day.” Uh, I hauled myself out of bed while sick to do the work you asked, and now you don’t want to pay me BECAUSE I went the extra mile when I was sick? Get a grip. You’re being charged.

I don’t do that anymore. I hold my boundaries and say, “I’ll do it as soon as I’m up to working again.”

Being home sick means I AM SICK. I am taking care of myself so that I can get healthy more quickly and be more productive on ALL my projects, and for all my clients.

It doesn’t mean sneaking in extra work — which wouldn’t be of any quality because I don’t feel coherent enough to be witty — for someone whose project isn’t due, and it completely on track.

It’s bad enough I lost an entire day of billable hours AND an entire day of work on my novels and plays.

I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t think.

How the hell could I get anything worthwhile done on YOUR project?

I’m sick. I’m not taking a day off for fun. I don’t do that. If I’m sick, I take a sick day. If I need a day off for something else, I take it off. I don’t pretend to be sick.

And if this was a day off for fun, I STILL wouldn’t be sneaking in your work. It would be a day OFF.

Sick days are sick days. They are called so because when we take a sick day we need them to get well. To think someone can “just do this little thing” (and it’s NEVER little) shows a blatant disrespect that sends up a red flag.

Whenever someone comes at me with the attitude that taking a sick day means I’m not really sick and I must just want a day off, it gives me information about that individual. Chances are that’s what they do — call in “sick” when they don’t feel like working, not because they’re really sick.

In other words, because they lie, they assume I’m lying.

I don’t lie about sick days.

But now I have two red flags about them. One is the lack of respect. The other is that chances are good they lie. It makes me proceed with much more caution.

How do you handle demands on you when you’re sick? How do you hold your boundaries?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Mutual Information Sessions, Not “Interview”

Back in the days when I was starting out in the working world, before I worked my way up in theatre to a level where I was paid a living wage so I didn’t have to work temp jobs around show schedules (and then later supplement my income at the rack track), I had a specific attitude toward interviews. I interview them as much as they interview me.

Not much has changed over the years.

What is my purpose, my end game, when I meet potential clients? Why am I pitching myself to them?

My purpose is to be paid a fair fee for using my creative skills to engage and enlarge their audience. The “fair fee” is comprised of my skill, the unusual training and experience I bring to the table, what the work is worth in the competitive marketplace, and how well it achieves my clients’ goals of expanding their business and brand recognition.

I pitch myself to particular clients because what they do interests me, and I believe I’d be a good addition to their team so that they can achieve their goals of business expansion and brand recognition.

Work styles and workplace culture are important to this. If I’m working on site, there are certain things I need: dedicated workspace, the equipment to do the work expected, and uninterrupted work time. I want the environment to be upbeat, friendly, and creative. Preferably with a lot of laughter.

If I’m working remotely, again, I don’t want to be interrupted every two seconds by phone calls or demands. Let me do my work. I’m far more productive and, in the long run, it costs the client less money.

I think I mentioned on this blog (or maybe it was on Ink in My Coffee), the interview I had with a local business a couple of years ago where none of the above was true. It was supposed to be a marketing/writing position. Only my “desk” would be a board set up across two oil drums and a stool. They’d “prefer” I brought in my own laptop, but that it be one that was “dedicated” to their business. (I’m supposed to purchase multiple lap tops for different clients? I think not). I would have to cover reception at least a couple of times a week during lunch. I also had to accept that there would be inappropriate remarks or physical contact because “that’s who these guys are.” For a rate that was less than half of my usual rate, part-time, no benefits or paid holidays or vacation or anything else.

Uh, no.

I thanked them for their time and left.

I spend more time in the early conversations asking about a typical day, the environment, etc. than I used to. I spend at least as much time on that as I do on the actual tasks.

I’m not twenty, on my first job. I know I’m up to the tasks, or I wouldn’t have pitched in the first place.

I also ask where they see the company in the next year, the next three years, the next five years. What are their goals? How do they see the company growing? Do they see a shift in focus? Where do they see themselves in the political, economic, and social contexts? What do they see as their place in the world?

These are not questions for anyone in the Human Resources Department. In the decades since I’ve started my professional working life, I have yet to get any accurate information on anything other than a pay stub from someone assigned to “human resources.” These are questions I ask to the people with whom I’d be directly working.

Very often, I build on my answers to their questions to ask my own questions. This means we cover a lot of ground that is often left in their last question, which is to ask if I have any questions. I usually have one or two, but often I can say, “We’ve covered them in our previous conversation.” That shows that yes, I HAD questions, but we’ve talked about them, and there’s no point in repeating ourselves.

After the interview process (because it’s usually more than one talk), I send handwritten thank you notes. I used to do it after each conversation, but that got too complicated, especially if multiple conversations are set up over a short period of time. The more companies expand globally, the more people in different regions are factored into the equation.

I take notes during the conversation, to make sure nothing is missed — or later changed. I’ve had that, too, especially in terms of money. “That’s not what we talked about.” Actually, yes, it is, and I have the notes to prove it. I date the notes. Sometimes I’ll type them up, but I always, ALWAYS keep handwritten notes during a conversation, dated and timed.

When the conversation leads into a quote or letter or agreement or contract as the next step, I type a letter/memo based on the notes and the conversation to make sure we all agree. So we are, literally, on the same page.

And then we build from there, with the actual work.

How do you handle initial meetings and/or interviews? What are some of your favorite questions to ask? What are questions you’re asked that make you roll your eyes?

Ink-Dipped Advise: Personal Strategic Plan – Use Opportunity to Offset Threat

 

This is a good week to go back to our personal strategic plan and talk about the “T” in “SWOT” which stands for “threats.”

One of the threats involved with being a freelancer is that often, we are part of the 78% of the population living paycheck to paycheck, without enough of a financial cushion for the unexpected. I’ve certainly been struggling with that the last few weeks, dealing with a major, unexpected car repair.

Something that brings down fair pay for all freelancers is content mill work, where the “writer” is expected to churn out dozens of articles per week for well under market rate. Most of us have hit points where every penny matters; but when we stay mired in the low-paying markets, we don’t just hurt ourselves; we hurt our colleagues.

We face daily threats from the outside world – those who don’t value our skills, our talents, try to control our bodies, deny us health care and housing and more.

It’s important to break down long-term and short-term threats in the same way you need to break down long-term and short-term opportunities. Which threat has to be dealt with immediately? Which threat has to be part of your own personal long game, which will need adjustment as you continue? You don’t ignore it; you’re aware of it in the background. You chip away at it. But it’s not necessarily your first priority.

Using opportunity to counteract threat is a strong choice.

Each job for which you pitch should have a place in the web of the career you’re building. Each job should have a definable goal, be it “this article is a little bit under the rate I want, but it’ll be a solid clip and it pays the light bill this month.” Then BUILD ON IT. Don’t stay in that market, because it’s easy and comfortable. Use the clip to climb to a higher-paying tier.

I participated in panel discussion last week about the submission process. One of the pushbacks from several audience members was that they “didn’t like” the business aspect of writing, and that they felt it got in the way of “art.”

You’re not the literary Lana Turner, and you’re not going to be discovered as the Next Big Novelist in the produce section of Stop N Shop. You need to get out there, make connections, make sure each publication is a building block to the next one, and that you’re expanding your reach. No one OWES you discovery. You have to make your work worth discovering, and then you have to make it discover-able.

You also have to pick and choose the venues and the opportunities that value your work. Which often includes fair pay.

Learn to say “no.” “Exposure” is the oldest trick in the book to let others profit from your work, while you get nothing.

Don’t let the biggest threat to your growth in art, craft, and career be yourself.

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: 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.