Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Artists Are Expected To Settle For Less — And Shouldn’t

As a published author, I’m getting a little tired of getting pitched to by marketing organizations that want me to hand over a bunch of moolah, but refuse to commit to results.

I understand the value of getting one’s name out in front of as many people as possible for name recognition and business growth. That’s part of how I earn my living.

I work with other businesses to communicate their message effectively and grow their business. They expect me to grow their name recognition. To get their name and their product in front of those who will actually open their wallets and buy it. They expect – and demand – that the work I do – the work for which they PAY me — results in more sales.

If it doesn’t, within a reasonable amount of time, that client will end our business relationship and hire someone else who gets him a better return.

Why are authors and other artists told they must expect any different?

Almost every author/artist promotional service has a disclaimer that they can’t guarantee sales. Why not? Other businesses expect a return on their investment. Why shouldn’t artists?

They should. We should. We need to stop settling for less.

When I hire someone else to promote my book, I expect it to result in sales. Otherwise, there is no point in hiring that firm. I can do it myself.

If it does NOT result in sales, then I’ve put my money in the wrong place, and it’s time to try something else.

The way any reputable business owner does.

Because, as an artist, I AM a small business.

We need to stop settling for a lower return than any other business because we’re artists. We need to stop ALLOWING others to treat us as second-class individuals. We need to start acting like smart business people, so that we will be treated as such.

Part of that is expecting a reasonable return on the investment.

So what is a reasonable return? At the very least, I want to make back what I spent on the promotion, plus 20%. Which is a low, but that’s my personal threshold for feeling like a campaign was worth the money spent. When it goes above that, I’m delighted.

Then I see how I can build on that for the next campaign.

Plenty of people will wail that one “can’t” expect a return on art/novels/etc. The demand I’m making here will anger a lot of marketing people.

Why can’t we expect a result for money spent? Movie studios do. Television content providers do. Fine artists do. Commercial theatre productions do or they have short runs. Traditional publishing houses do, too.

Because the artist is dropped from the contract if the artist’s work does not sell.

Now, more and more artists are forced to hire their own marketing for their work. If my publisher tells me I have to get X amount of sales or I won’t get future contracts, and I’m required to hire my own marketing firm, then, yes, I expect that firm to be savvy enough in the kind of marketing I need in order to deliver the results FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID. If my publisher paid them directly, or had an in-house marketing team do the work, the same expectations would hold. Lack of results means the business relationship ends.

So we need to stop thinking that we don’t “deserve” results simply because we are not a corporation. We are a small business, and we deserve the same results when we hire in a service as any other business does.

I’m done settling for less.

(Note: This has been a tough time, especially for progressive women. I joked on social media that this year’s Nano needs to have a “Women’s Rage” forum. Instead of that, I’m starting a private virtual group to develop creative work in multiple disciplines called Women Write Change. Stay tuned here, on Ink in My Coffee  and the main Devon Ellington site  for more information. It’ll take me a few days to set up, and then I’ll have an address where interested parties can request invitation).

Ink-Dipped Advice: Positive Networking Practices

 

It’s been a busy time for me lately, and in a good way. But I’ve had some positive results of the various networking I’ve done.

When I meet people at events and exchange cards, I try to send them a note or an email within a few days of the meeting, just to say I enjoyed meeting them and to continue whatever conversation we began at the event.

Most places I’ve lived and worked — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Edinburgh, Australia, Western Mass, Vermont, Washington DC, etc. — this is standard. You exchange cards, you exchange messages post-event and build from there, or have the initial post-event pleasant exchange and put the information aside in case it’s needed down the pike. And then use the information when and where appropriate.

Here, it’s quite different. Most of the time, I do the follow-up, and it’s crickets. If it’s a visiting artist/instructor/agent/editor from somewhere else, there’s response, but local? Rare.

If I mention, the next time we run into each other, “Hey, I sent an email after we met last time; did I get the address wrong? I want to make sure I have your correct contact information”  — the answer is usually, “Oh, I don’t have time to respond to emails” or “I didn’t answer, because I figured I’d run into you again.” In my book, those are not solid practices that grow one’s business.

I try to reconnect with those I’ve met about once a quarter. Just a quick “Hey, how are you, thinking of you, how’s it going?”  When I have an address, I often send a postcard rather than an email. Whereas email response to quarterly follow-up is about 3% locally and 15% beyond the bridge, response to postcards (by email, since I add my email address) is usually 25% or more.

I attended an event a few months ago, a lovely networking event, with about forty or fifty people. I exchanged twenty or so cards. Followed up within two business days (standard) with all twenty. Heard back from four (which, around here, is a huge response).  From those four, one was a person with skills that was useful to one of my clients, and I got them in touch and he was hired; the other opened the door to an arts group with whom I hadn’t had previous contact, and we’re talking. So that was pretty decent.

Wearing my playwright/novelist hat, I was a reader at the Provincetown Book Festival a few weeks ago (which was one of the best festivals I’ve attended in years). After the festival, I thanked the organizers and the sponsors (I’m still tracking down contact information for the fellow readers in my event, to say what a pleasure it was to read with them). I heard back almost immediately from festival personnel (not at all a surprise, since it was one of the best-run events I attended). 

I also heard back from several sponsors, absolutely thrilled that I contacted them and told them how wonderful the experience was.

One sponsor stated that they support so many local events and hardly ever hear back from anyone. So they were delighted that the event went well, and that I took the time to contact them. On my part, “taking the time” took probably less than five minutes.

And now that sponsor knows the event was money well spent.

I attended two events last week. Followed up on both. From the first, I heard back from two out of the two dozen or so people contacted. From the second, there were thirteen of us at the event. I followed up with all thirteen. I’ve heard back from and made plans with six of those thirteen so far, which is positive.

Will any of those above contacts end in cont-RACTs?

Who knows? But these are interesting people who love what they do. Interacting with them improves my quality of life, even if it doesn’t end in a contract. I hope they feel the same way. And even if they don’t hire me, there’s a good chance they’ll recommend me if they feel it’s the right match. As I will do, in the same situation.

What’s the moral of this little tale?

Follow up and follow through when you meet people. Don’t just collect cards and stick them in the drawer. Think beyond being hired on the spot. Think about getting to know some really interesting people who enrich your life.

Even if I don’t get hired by any of these people — there are some of them in fields relevant to upcoming books. You can be darned sure I’m going to consult them on their areas of expertise and thank them in the acknowledgements.

Connections are about people. As much of an introvert as I am, I find other people interesting. So I make myself get out of the house and interact, and I am almost always glad I do. Because their stories are interesting, and fuel my work.

Remember, as a writer: Nothing is EVER wasted.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Pieces of Teachers

“Everyone wants a piece of the teacher, but you don’t get that piece until years later.”

That quote is attributed to author Kate Green by Natalie Goldberg in her book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, which I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time.

That quote reverberates with me. I remember many teachers from my life. Far too often, I didn’t realize the gifts they gave me until years after.

My fifth grade teacher, who bought me a set of Rudyard Kipling at a yard sale because she knew I loved to read the classics; My sixth grade teacher, who let me read and write far off the reservation, and encouraged me to write stories during class time, even during lectures. Who taught me I could spit out a first draft any way I wanted, but then I had to shape it in order to present it to the world. My band teacher in high school, who knew I loved to write, and suggested I write articles about the high school band, orchestra, and chorus for the local newspapers (my first professional published byline).

In college, I was lucky to have a fantastic teacher who was also my advisor. At a competitive school like NYU Film School, that was vital. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years, and even got together with him when I visited NYC a few years back. I’ve also kept in touch with one of my screenwriting professors from NYU. The two of them helped me get back on track when I got unfocused, especially when I put other people’s work ahead of my own.

I think they were both surprised when I went into theatre instead of film as my career, but were interested in how I looped what I learned in their classes to the rest of my theatre and writing life.

When I teach, students come away with handouts and workbooks (I am the Queen of Handouts – the bins I haul into a conference workshop cause eyes to widen and backs to groan).

I’m a strict teacher and don’t put up with excuses or not writing. I make it clear that during the scope of the class, things are strict, and then, AFTER the class is over, they get to keep what works and toss the rest. I see many of my students toss quite a bit initially, and then slowly work their way back to what we did, in their own time.

Either way is great. You find your process by trying many different things, not staying in a rut, taking chances, and building your skills with every piece you write.

I am deeply grateful to my teachers. Even the ones I didn’t agree with gave me something important. And I’m still realizing the pieces, and will continue, my entire life, as long as I pay attention.

Who are your most memorable teachers? Is there anyone with whom you kept in touch?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Social Media Expansion

Social media is a great tool as long as you use it rather than it using you. But that’s a different conversation!

We’re so used to Facebook and Twitter that we forget there are other types of social media out there, and perhaps some of them might be a better platform for your work.

I have grown increasingly frustrated with Facebook lately. I don’t know which will happen first — that they decide I did something against their ever-changing policy, which is set up to hurt small businesses and individual authors in favor of mega corporations — or that I get so frustrated I delete my account and all my pages.

I spend too much time on Twitter, but I use Twitter for different things. Most of my political activism is via Twitter — when I’m not writing or in the offices working with my duly elected officials on many levels. Some of them appreciate it. Some of them are sick of me. Too bad for them.

But I also use Twitter to hang out and explore other interests and connect with people in arts of all disciplines, and all over the world. Many more conversations and inspirations begun on Twitter have translated well to actual life than on Facebook.

I’ve also landed some of my highest paid gigs on Twitter — and many of them have been BECAUSE I’m socially and politically active. So when someone tells you that standing up for what you believe in on Twitter will kill your chances for a job, tell them where to stuff it. If a job doesn’t want you  because you take your responsibilities as a citizen, as part of the social contract, seriously — it’s not a place you want to work.

In any case, I’ve been exploring other social media platforms, and I’m sharing what I’m learning. I use “learning” because it is and will be an on-going process.

In addition to my own social media needs, I often handle social media platforms for my freelance clients (I’m about to expand my social media package). I often try out the platform myself and then can recommend or not to a client.

This is by no means a complete list, and, as I explore new/other social media platforms, I will add them in future posts.

Linked In — I hate it. I’ve used it to track down a few people, but for my own use, it doesn’t work.

Alignable — I work on it for one of my freelance clients. I don’t think we utilize its full value. I like the idea of connecting with local businesses and recommending each other — I don’t know how effectively we’re putting it into practice. I do not have my own account on them yet, and may not.

Instagram — some of my more visually-based clients use it and like it. I don’t personally use it, because I don’t yet have a plan where it’s worth it for me. Also, it’s too tied in to Facebook for my taste. It’s only done via a phone app, and I resent being forced to interact that way, without the option for computer use.

Tumblr — I’m still getting the hang of it. I use it personally, and am starting to like it more. I use it for several clients. They feel they “should” be on it; none of them are in love with it.

Ello — I love it, for me personally. I love being around creatives who are working on their crafts. I don’t see it as a marketing platform; I see it more as we’re inspiring each other and learning from each other. It’s a relief after all the ad-centric stuff that’s going on.

Vero — I’ve had so much trouble with this platform, I’m ready to give up on it. I’d heard good things about it. But if I have trouble, my clients who are less tech-savvy than I am won’t be able to do it. I also resent I can only do it from my phone. I don’t want to live my whole life via apps. Their support people have been as nice as can be, but it’s going on a week and the problem isn’t solved yet. And the problem is basic sign-up.  Not impressed.

Triberr — just signed up. It looks interesting. I have discovered some blogs I like a lot that I might not have otherwise found. I hope I will be able to make actual connections, and it’s not just about clicking and moving a post on.

I’m about to experiment with Mix (which used to be StumbleUpon), About. me and Fuel My Blog. I had several questions for the last on that list, and have not yet heard back, so we’ll see.

As far as online portfolios, I like Contently, but that’s different than social media. I will probably do a separate post about that down the road.

I will report back when I have something worthwhile to say.

I hope you’re all taking the Labor Holiday — you’re earning it!

 

Ink-Dipped Advice: Don’t Settle! Multiple Skills Deserve Higher Pay

 

In local job listings, I’ve noticed an infuriating trend: ads for part-time jobs, without benefits, that expect the employee to be the receptionist, the bookkeeper, the marketing/communications director, and the general administrative assistant. They want computer skills, graphic design skills, web development skills, photography/social media skills, writing skills, customer service skills, and accounting/QuickBooks capacity. For minimum wage.

No.

I touched on this in an earlier post.

Value your skills. Research each of these skills. What is the range of pay in your area for this type of work?  Graphic design usually starts around $60/hour. Basic bookkeeping is anywhere from $35 and up. Web development/IT skills range anywhere from $85 to $150, marketing writing can be anywhere from $35 to over $100, photography is usually close to $100.

So when someone posts an ad asking for ALL those skills, figure out how much that person should offer. Figure out what to ask.

Some places post all of this in the ad with the lowest allowed hourly minimum wage.

Skip them, unless you’re in a position to need interim dollars to keep a roof over your head.

Some listings will have percentages of time they believe each task takes up: 20% bookkeeping, 40% receptionist, 30% marketing, etc.

First of all, make sure it adds up to 100, and not some higher number. Because if  it’s more than 100, they need more than a bookkeeper.

Second, figure out how much the job should actually pay for all those skills. In a 40 hour work week, how many hours does each percentage break down? How much should each of those skills be paid? That’s your baseline figure for the bottom of the rate.

If these percentages and the ad have been written by a so-called “HR” person in the company, it’s not going to be accurate. The person with whom you’re working most directly will have the real knowledge.

If the ad does not list how much a chunk each skill is projected to take (because it’s never going to be accurate. Human beings works at different rates; business ebbs and flows), ask. 

If the money doesn’t align with what you want and should be paid for the multitude of skills, move on.

But I’m a freelancer, you say. Why would I even read these ads?

First, because it’s always good to see what employers think they can get away with. There’s a hue and cry that there are so many jobs out there that “can’t” be filled. That’s simply not true. Employers don’t want to pay for the skills employees have honed over the years, and they don’t want to pay people to do what they’re good at. They’d rather pay poorly for people who can do one thing decently and six things poorly than hire more than one person to do what they do well. Or pay one multi-skilled person fairly and give benefits.

They claim they “can’t.” The reality is that they won’t. There’s a difference. If they broke the job down appropriately and paid fairly, the business would prosper. But they are stuck in poverty consciousness and that’s what they extend to their workers, and it spirals downwards. It infects a region like a monetary cancer.

Because businesses talk to each other, at networking events, at dinners, during golf games. If one guy gets away with paying crap for a job encompassing 16 different skills that are usually paid at market rate, all his friends will do the same. 

And the cancer spreads.

Second, as a freelancer, if you find the company interesting and exciting, it is sometimes worth it to approach them with a proposal to work as an independent contractor or consultant.  Point out how your skill will earn them money if they hire you in as a freelancer, rather than unrealistically bundling it into an general assistant job.

They’re not paying benefits anyway. It doesn’t hurt them.

Don’t work for minimum wage; charge your rate.  Hold your boundaries — you are not an employee. Maybe you’ll do some hours on site; maybe it’s remote. Spell it all out in your contract. You are paid for meetings. You know I believe on being paid for phone time. If they insist you are on site, travel time counts.

You have to be better at what you do than anyone they have on staff — but not only is it a better situation for both of you, but, by doing well, you are teaching the employers that freelancers with specific skills are worth the money.

Those of you who know me know that I don’t “niche.” I have areas of specialized knowledge, and I can learn about anything else that interest me quickly in order to write about it. But I consider myself a Renaissance Writer (not a Generalist). 

So why am I against listings for a variety of skills?

Because it’s about not paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It’s about getting as much as possible for crap wages.

Most jobs with such listings aren’t worth courting as an independent contractor or consultant. But, every once in awhile, some of them are. Once in awhile, you find a small business that is committed to walking a positive talk. That is a case where they might not be able to pay much; but they are willing to pay fairly. They will temper what they ask for to the bounds of the budget. They want to be treated fairly, so they treat others fairly.

These businesses usually grow. It’s exciting to be a part of that growth. Finding the one business that is worth working with counters the 250 crap ads you combed through, looking for that one.

Value your skills. Know your value. Study the market. Craft your pitch. Create partnerships and working relationships that work for everyone.