Ink-Dipped Advice: Holding To Your Own Standards

I admit it. I have some pretty high standards and expectations when it comes to dealing professionally with others.

They often fail to live up to it.

I’ve discovered, however, that it is important to me to live up to my own standards for myself, even when they don’t.

One of the things that I find most insulting about so many so-called “professionals” is the refusal to give a definitive answer. I don’t care if you’re an agent, a publication, or a business. When you’ve interacted with someone and decide not to hire them, TELL THEM.

Only answering if you want to do business with them is not, to me, acceptable. You don’t want to hire me? Fine. Your choice, and I respect it. But have the professional respect to TELL ME, not just never contact me again.

Sure, I get it when X amount of time has gone by.

But it’s rude, infuriating, and unprofessional.

However, it also proves to me that the business wasn’t worth my time for the interviews/meetings. I lose respect.

The next time you approach me? I set stronger parameters with specific deadlines for answers. And the price goes up. Or, I just say no.

Am I always perfect? Of course not. I lollygagged about writing notes after a recent series of meetings that dragged over six weeks. Had I lived up to my own standards, no matter what the result, I would have written notes after each set of meetings. But I felt jerked around, especially when, a few times, the day after the initial meeting, additional meetings were requested, I cleared the time , and then . ..crickets.

Kind of told me what I needed to know.

Should I have sucked it up and written a polite note, even though it would have been difficult on my part to say anything polite that was also true? Yes. Because I am disappointed in myself.

No matter what the other party does, I demand a particular standard of behavior for myself. Small gestures that follow protocols WITHOUT hypocrisy are important to things running smoothly. They also indicate a level of professionalism, in my opinion.

When people choose not to fulfill those protocols, it gives me important information.

I’m not talking about pointless hoop-jumping fake “tests” where I expect someone else to read my mind. I’m talking basic professional courtesy. “Please.” “Thank you.” “Thank you for your time.”

These matter.

When a company or business or individual ignores the small details, how can you be sure they’ll pay attention to the big ones?

Decide what your professional standards are. Live up to them, even if those around you don’t.

What refusals of basic professionalism and courtesy bother you? How do you deal with them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Short and Long Term Trade-Offs

Most of us are doing the best we can to stay on top of all the demands on us, especially the financial ones. The Narcissistic Sociopath’s determination to crash the economy and send us into recession while he grifts from taxpayers isn’t helping.

Too often in all of this, we are so focused on mere survival moment-to-moment, we forget to look at whether what we’re doing works in the bigger plan we need for our lives, both in our careers and elsewhere.

We have to ask ourselves, with each project:
–What are the trade-offs between creativity, money, purpose?
–Are those trade-offs worth it?

Sometimes they are. It might not be the most fascinating gig, but if it pays the bills and the people are pleasant, it can be worth it.

Eventually, though, it won’t be. Whether it’s a living situation, a work situation, or a creative situation, each of us has personal boundaries where the trade-offs stop making it worthwhile, and it starts to eat away at our well-being on multiple levels.

That’s when we need to stop and take a step back.

Time to ask:

WHY have we made these trade-offs?

WHEN did they stop working for us?

HOW can we adjust in the short-term in order to pave the way for the long term?

It’s going to be different in every situation. We need X amount of money in order to survive. But if, in order to earn our Survival Pay, we destroy our health and happiness, it’s time to take a look at other options.

I always try to overlap. I want to be able to transition from one situation to the other, have them overlap so that it’s less traumatic.

The reality of my life rarely works that way. I often have to make a complete break with one situation in order to make room for something better.

I hate it.

I like to put pieces in place and transition, not jump. But time and time again, I’m forced to take a leap. To gamble.

Sometimes it works, other times it does not.

I’m trying to change that pattern, trying to get it into something smoother and more positive. Can’t say it will work. But I’m trying to move pieces into place in a logical fashion.

I know the changes I want to make. I’m just not entirely sure how to make them happen. I’m also feeling pressure to make them happen within a specific time frame that has to do with contracts, and an eye to how the economy is getting ready to crash and send us into a recession. We don’t have leadership that can get us out of it this time, the way we did last time, and the regulations that helped steady us and get us back on track have been rolled back.

How do you make major career shifts? How much planning do you put into place before you make the change? How often have things gone to plan? How do you deal with it when it doesn’t?

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: Personal Strategic Plan – Goals

 

Last week, I noted that I’m not comfortable publicly stating my goals on this site, when it comes to the Personal Strategic Plan. We all have the choice how much to reveal and how much not to reveal. There are times where stating a goal or a dream or a resolution publicly makes you take firmer action and have accountability. There are also times when talking a goal too early dilutes it from becoming a reality.

I have a site where I keep monthly to do lists and work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the month and the year. Of course, it’s called “Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions” and can be found here. I work on a series of questions through autumn that help me define my GDRs for the coming year.

Then life comes and things change. We all have to decide where to be adaptable and flexible, where to let go of what no longer works, and where we’re just giving up.

For me, goals are things I can break down into actual steps. I can put a finite time limit on them. Dreams are more fluid. I often need more time and thought and resources before I can turn a dream into a goal. A resolution is where I work on something in myself that I want to improve.

In a strategic plan, the goals are closely tied to the vision/mission statement, and use the strengths and weaknesses. (We will talk about opportunities and threats in a future post — I’m rolling my eyes just thinking about it).

Goals have to do with knowledge of what you can and can’t control.

For example, a novelist can have the goal of writing and polishing the next novel, and getting it out on submission. Becoming a best-selling author within a year might be a dream, but until the book is written and out on submission, it’s not a goal. Once the book is in publication, there are plenty of parts of the “best-seller” mode that the author can’t control, but the author can take specific steps to turn it from a dream into a goal by a comprehensive marketing plan and hand-selling, one-on-one, to as many potential bookstores, conferences, readers, etc.

But without a manuscript on paper, “best-seller” is a dream, not a goal.

Even once the book is out there, there are plenty of factors that might make “best seller” impossible. You can then set goals for sales increases based on the physical work you are able to do in any given period, and your advertising budget. You might not meet them, but you’re closer to tangibles and actions.

Goals are about action. “I am here, I want to be THERE.”

A reasonable goal is “I will pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs this month.”

A more difficult goal is that you will SELL 4 articles and that all 10 LOIs will wind up in assignments, because there are too many factors outside of your control.

The more experience you have, the more research you do prior to the pitches and the LOIs, the more likely each one is to hit true and get you a paid assignment, but the goal is to do your homework and get good pitches out there.

A resolution would be to take any rejections, examine them, learn from them, and apply that knowledge moving forward so that you have a higher percentage of
acceptances.

By learning and applying new knowledge, you are more likely to have your pitches and LOIs result in paid assignments. You will see your percentage go up.

You may well hit the point where you pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs in a month and they all hit.

Then, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I want, or am I playing it safe?”

It may be time to adjust the goals.

Can you send out the 4 pitches and the 10 LOIs that hit, but also send out one or two more pitches and a couple of LOIs to places that are a stretch? More visible markets at higher pay? Maybe they won’t hit, but if they do, you’re moving up a tier.

You’re building on the achieved goals.

When you sit down to list goals, list plenty. Then break them down to see which are goals and which are dreams. Which dreams need work on resolutions, so that you can turn them into goals?

You’ll notice I’m avoiding a lot of market-speak in this piece. Mostly because those terms make me want to hurl. Certain terms get overused and are thrown around instead of action. Especially in meetings, where people try to impress executives with a lot of hot air.

I was on the board of a non-profit a few years ago. We worked on the organization’s strategic plan. I was the one in the room who kept saying, “What do you MEAN by those phrases? What are you going to DO to create these goals?”

Which, of course, was met with blank looks. Until someone took a breath and threw out another string of market-speak, to which I said, “How?”

Which was met with more blank looks.

The terminology does not replace the action.

Goal setting takes time. It requires thought. It requires self-evaluation and sometimes painful honesty.

But once you separate the goals from the dreams, and figure out how current goals support longer-term dreams, you can start breaking down the goal into steps you can actually take to see results, instead of getting overwhelmed by the whole project.

You will need to stop and re-assess along the way. You may need to change elements of the goal or the path to achieve it.

But without taking definitive action, it’s all talk. It’s a list of meaningless phrases that doesn’t get you anywhere.

How do you come up with your goals?

How do you break your goals down into steps?

How do you motivate yourself to TAKE that first step, and then the next?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Seize the Opportunity

I’m still working on the personal SWOT piece I promised you a few weeks ago. Because I have issues with how those are set up, I’m fighting/challenged to create something that works better.

In the meantime, I had a lovely, unexpected opportunity spring up.

In one of the busiest months I’ve had in the last few years.

However, it’s a GREAT opportunity. It came to me almost by accident, and I tossed my hat into the ring, because, why not?

I had a first conversation that went well, but I thought it could have gone better. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Then, I was offered further discussion. So I jumped at it.

There are no guarantees. It’s a risk. Especially when I’m under stresses and deadlines from other events this month.

However, if I don’t try, I definitely won’t succeed.

I’d give it a shot. If it doesn’t work — I will have gained a valuable experience.

If it works — yippee, and I’ll share details when I can.

But the important part is I didn’t make excuses or talk myself out of NOT trying, simply because it wasn’t already in the schedule.

I want this.

I will do what I can to make it work.

I will control what I can in the situation, affect what I can, and trust that if that is the right opportunity, because I put in the right effort, it will work out. If it’s not, it won’t.

But it won’t be for lack of trying.

There’s a saying for writers who constantly make excuses for not answering an opportunity: “Answer when the Muse knocks, because if you don’t, she’ll move on to the next creative door.”

I intend to open and invite the Muse in. Or maybe go out dancing with the Muse.

I’m going to enjoy the process, no matter what the result.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Vision

 

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

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

I’ve come up with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damned if I know.

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

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

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

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

Listen to the client.

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

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

Because it IS a partnership, when it works well.

I listened to them.

Even more importantly, I listened to my own instincts.

We parted on good terms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you prepare for and work with upcoming change?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tools and Resources

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buh-bye.

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

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

That always gets a shocked response, too.

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Crafting Client Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ink-Dipped Advice: Handling Work While Sick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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