Ink-Dipped Advice: An Ad That Attracts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you post?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh, no.

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

Next.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, but everyone has an iPhone.”

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

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

Then state it in the ad.

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

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

Next.

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

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

Next.

“Our client is looking for . . .”

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

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

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

Translation: An office full of neurotic, nasty assholes.

Next.

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

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

So what should an ad include?

That’s our topic next Wednesday! Stay tuned.

Hello and WTH?

Another Freelance Writing Blog? You’ve GOT to be Kidding Me!

Is there a need for yet another blog full of freelance writing advice? When there are blogs like Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page, Jenn Mattern’s Kiss My Biz, and Tara Lynne Groth’s Write Naked!, Angela Hoy’s Writers Weekly, Cathy Miller’s Simply Stated Business, Sharon Hurley Hall, and Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Writer? I could easily list another dozen terrific sites.

So, the short answer is “Hell, no!”

But I’m doing it anyway.

Hey, look, if you enjoy watching the way the creative sausages are made, hop on over to my five-days-a-week blog, Ink in My Coffee. You can follow my fiction, plays, radio work, screenplays, etc. from concept through publication or production. You can follow the way the writing affects my life, and the life affects my writing and how I try (and sometimes fail) to keep them in balance. You can follow the way I don’t believe any of us can be apolitical at this juncture in our history.

So what the heck is going on here?

Something a little different.

Ink-Dipped Advice is geared to both clients who want to hire a writer (even if the client decides not to hire me) and to writers who want to find clients, but don’t want to get trapped in many of the freelance prisons we build for ourselves.

Why am I doing this?

Because, as much as I adore the above-listed bloggers, respect what they’ve achieved, go to them for advice – I do things differently.

My background is not traditional business – I spent the bulk of my life in theatre. That has strengthened my marketing writing and opened out my abilities in a huge way. I have an international, ever-growing client base, and can and do a wide range writing on an even wider range of topics. Browse the rest of the website and you’ll see.

When you seek out writing advice, you will hear that you HAVE to have a niche. That you won’t earn any money, or worse, only have the option to be a content mill writer if you don’t niche.

For me, that is complete and utter B.S.

Hey, if there’s a single topic you love and want to focus on, if you WANT to niche – go for it. Write your passions. Your writing will be better for it, provided you put in the work to develop your craft.

But I am the Anti-Niche, or, as I prefer to call it a Renaissance Writer. And it works for me.

I became a writer because I find the world an interesting, fascinating place. I don’t want to lead a single life. I want to lead many lives. Writing allows me to follow anything that interests me, learn about it, become it, and earn my living at it.

Saying “no” to poorly paid work was a hard lesson, but the best lesson I’ve ever learned. Do I negotiate? To a point. But I go into my meetings knowing my negotiation range. If it’s below my rate, I don’t do it. The potential client goes on to find someone who will work for that rate, and I find a client who pays me my rate. We’re both happy. We both find the matches that work best for us.

I take on clients whose passions, work, interests, and missions intrigue and engage me. Then, I expand on their message, I help them refine it, expand it, and communicate it in a way that engages and enlarges their audience. Which allows them to make more money.

This isn’t THE WAY to do things. It’s ONE way. The way that works for me.

Here, I will share what I’ve tried, and how it’s worked, or not worked. I’m not telling tales out of school on my clients. A great deal of my work, especially the ghostwritten work, is confidential. I have no intention of breaking my word to my clients.

But it might be interesting, for individuals on both sides of the table, to see different ways of working. To see the creative process. Some clients don’t care about the writer’s creative process. Some writers don’t care what the clients are going through unless it affects their piece directly. But maybe if each side of the table understood the other a bit more closely, it would be easier to find the right match, and to work with good people whose process is very different.

Something just might work for you.

Or it might reinforce what doesn’t work for you, and remind you that you’re happier in the choices you’ve made.

But they’re YOUR choices, and that matters.

For the moment, Wednesday is my designated day for this blog. Join me on the adventure!