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.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Personal Strategic Plan

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

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

You need several elements to create your own plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWOT Analysis
This means:
Strengths
Weaknesses
Opportunities
Threats

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

Opportunities? As freelancers, we daily create our own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then take the actions necessary to see them through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start now.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Multi-Tiered Self-Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is not my choice.

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

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

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

It also adds value to the initial meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Hit the Ground Running

Are you the type who hits the ground running, or starts slow and then accelerates?

Both work, and it’s an individual choice.

I, however, prefer to hit the ground running. When I used to do National Novel Writing Month, I’d write ahead; at the top of the year, I try to get ahead. Because I know how things can change and upset all those apple carts we so neatly set up.

One of the things I do is work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the year. You’ll see some questions to muse over for the year here, although my answers are on the main page.

I’m also well aware that those answers can and will need to shift over the course of the year. They are a roadmap, not a prison.

It is the second of January, a Wednesday, and I will be working on site with one of my clients today.

On my own time, I will also be working on two things I believe are important for my own growth and success this year: my personal strategic plan, and my marketing plan. They will intersect at certain points. But they will also form another roadmap for what I want in my business-related work, and in getting the work I do for myself (rather than clients – the novels, stage plays, radio plays, etc.) out to a wider audience.

In 2018, I got overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead of focused targets, I splattered a bit too much, and wound up settling for work in the short term that was necessary, and not pushing through for better work in the long-term that would have fulfilled more than one aspect of what I’m working toward.

I’m adjusting that this year.

Now, some of the things I set up last year are paying off this year — one in spring, one in fall. So I wasn’t completely off-track. But I let too much go, because of a difficult, demanding situation that took far too much emotional energy as well as physical energy. I have to adjust that this year.

I’m not sending out pitches and LOIs this week — where the holiday falls, let people enjoy it and clear off their desks a bit. But I’m planning and writing pitches and working on campaigns that will launch next week. Campaigns that are aligned more to the long-term rather than the short term.

I will talk more about this in the weeks to come.