Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Disorganization Is Not My Emergency

 

The downside of the technological age is that people expect an instant response. One of my small business clients has this problem all the time. The staff is small and part-time. The office is closed on weekends. If someone places an order at 11 PM on Friday, it gets filled and shipped as soon as someone arrives on Monday. Yet, nine times out of ten, there are a dozen or more nasty messages on the answering machine and/or emails having a hissy fit because it hasn’t arrived by Monday. It’s very clear on the site that it is a small business and there is no 24-hour fulfillment staff. The shipping date ranges are also clear. The auto-acknowledge is also clear. But people throw tantrums anyway. Supposedly, they’re buying from my client because it’s unique, one-of-a-kind merchandise. But they act like spoiled toddlers.

I’m audience engagement, not customer service, so I don’t have to deal with them, thank goodness.

When I have a big event or plan to be out of the office for a day or more, I let clients know ahead of time. I often put up on “out-of-office” message on my email. I complete anything they need AHEAD of time, and remind them, when I send it, that I am not available on days X, Y, and Z. I will get back to them as soon as possible after Day Z.

It never fails that, any scheduled day out of the office or doing an event for another client, the clients WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MATERIALS AHEAD OF TIME start making demands on something they need RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Which, of course, they don’t. Because they received everything they needed ahead of time, and there is plenty of time in the schedule to take the next steps on time WHEN I AM DONE WITH MY DAYS AWAY.

This is when firm boundaries are vital.

If I’m only out a single day for an event, I simply wait until the following day, when I’d be officially back in the office to respond. If I’m out multiple days, I send a reminder that I told them I was not available during this time, they have the materials they needed AHEAD of time, and we will continue when I get back.

If there is a GENUINE emergency (which are few and far between), I respond as best I can.

Most of it is panic or a want to prove that I will drop everything to respond.

I don’t work that way.

In the situations where there is continued escalating demands for instant attention (especially without reason), I wait until I am back on the clock. I wind up the project, on time, and on schedule, as per our contract.

Then I don’t work with them again. If they want to set up another project and the panic demands have only happened once, I have a discussion about the panic demands and solutions so it doesn’t happen again. If it DOES happen again, I don’t take on any more projects with the client. I let them know our working styles aren’t compatible and wish them well.

One of the discussions we freelancers often have is how we set up the terms and schedules in the contract, we turn in our part of a project on time, but don’t get back what we need from the client on time, and then they expect us to scramble to make up the difference.

I handle this with clear communication, reminders, and reminders about the contract terms (because this issue is contained in the contract). If (and when) it continues, I start charging the additional fees as stipulated in the contract.

I am not staying up until 4 AM to meet a deadline when I’ve met all my fulfillment dates and the other party hasn’t. Not without additional money.

It’s vital that we make these terms clear and hold them. Far too many clients don’t think what we do is work already. If we continue to let them create unnecessary emergencies and we continue to clean up their messes without charging for it, and showing that there are consequences, then we encourage and enable their behavior.

Which makes it harder for everybody.

How do you deal with clients who fabricate emergencies and expect you to drop everything to tend to them?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Adversity

Those of you who have followed along on Ink in My Coffee and on social media know that last week, I was hit with a crisis. I had an unexpected major car repair, far more than I had put aside. Yes, I am one of the 78% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck who cannot afford an emergency.

I’d thought the month of May was the start of my road out of that, and that I might even have enough of a cushion to take a few much-needed days off, but then I was hit with the car repair.

The repair is being done in stages. Phase One, the most expensive one, was to get the car back on the road. I live in an area where public transportation is a joke, unless you’re going from Hyannis or Barnstable into Boston.

The hard part is, I had to ask for help to do it. That nearly killed me. Which is not logical, because I do my best to help anyone else who asks whenever I can. Yet not having enough of a cushion to fund this major, unexpected repair myself makes me feel like a failure.

But I asked for help. I received far more than I expected. I also sent out another spate of pitches, some at a much higher rate than I expected. I received payment for a big job just completed (which had been marked for other bills and a couple of days of rest for me, but oh well). I landed an assignment from a quick-pay publication, and have another spec assignment on a bigger-than-I-usually-work-for pub that would pay well (although a few months down the line). I sent some LOIs to companies I might not have initially approached, but circumstances made me do so now.

It’s more immediate pressure on me right now, but if I can keep myself mentally in the game, and not break down physically, I should be able to do it.

But it sharpens into focus some of the things I’ve been trying to change, and forces me to change them sooner rather than later.

This is a catalyst for change.

It will be good in the long run. If I can only survive in the short run.

How do you deal with unexpected adversity? What are your most helpful tools?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Opportunity

 

We’re still working on the personal strategic plan. This week, we discuss the category called “Opportunities.”

What does that mean in a strategic plan?

I define it as taking a closer look at where you (either an individual or a business) are not utilizing your strengths and recognizing the chance to grow.

Part of that is not approaching potential new customers with a negative.

The Positive Approach
Let’s say there’s a small business in your town. You’d like to work with them. You know you’d be a good hire. You could handle their marketing, social media, get them connected to other businesses and events in the community that will grow their profile and, by extension, their business.

You do your research. The social media profile has very few followers and they aren’t following a whole heck of a lot, either. There are some marketing posts, but no engagement. There are typos in their signage and on the website. The website is a static page on a free site that doesn’t draw in the viewer.

Lots to fix, right?

An opportunity, right?

But HOW do you approach them? By telling them what’s wrong with their site and their approach?

Not unless they ask you, in the interview, what you would do differently.

If you pitch them with what’s wrong with their site, they won’t bother to listen.

If you pitch them with how your skills will grow their audience, their engagement, and their business, there’s a better chance they’ll pay attention.

How to lose them: “I looked at your site. You have typos galore, it’s obvious you’re not paying for a web host, and your social media profile is practically non-existent. If you hire me, I’ll fix it.”

How to get them interested: “I was drawn to your site by your mission and your passion. It’s difficult to keep on top of all the communication and audience engagement needs when you’re so busy. If you’re ever interested in bringing in someone to ease that pressure, I’m interested. I have some ideas to engage and expand your audience. I’d love to meet with you and talk through ideas.” And then add in your particular skills that are appropriate.

See the difference?

Every interaction can be an opportunity, and it doesn’t need to be a hard sell in the moment. Meet people. Exchange cards. Follow up. If it’s not something that’s your area of interest or expertise, keep an eye open to see where you can recommend someone else. If you come across a helpful article or piece of information, send it on.

Instead of drive-by marketing, build relationships.

Stay in contact with people. That’s vital. I find reminder postcards more useful than emails, but not more than quarterly. I send out a batch of cards with a simple, “how are you? I was thinking of you. I thought I’d check in to see if you need anything.”

I’m big on holiday cards at the end of the year. It’s a way to let people know you’re thinking of them.

Expanding Your Repertoire
Is there something that interests you, but you haven’t worked much in that area?

Research companies/businesses that work in that area.

Frame your pitch so you convince them that the skills you have are what they need, and that you can learn the details of their particular business quickly.

My marketing and social media skills apply to a variety of fields. I’ve written for sports, individual artists and musicians, a marine life non-profit, museums, an independent clothing designer, an organic landscaper, a record producer, a chef, and much, much more.

I found things that interested me, and applied my skills.

As a bonus, I now understand more about how those businesses work. That’s useful in both business writing AND in my fiction and scripts. Because everything is material.

Best Advice
The biggest advice I have in the opportunity category is: Don’t wait for opportunity. Create opportunity.

How do you create opportunities?

Where would you like to expand?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time Myths

We’ve all done it. We’ve heard it.

“I don’t have t-i-i-i-me!”

I tell my writing students that there’s no such thing as “no time” to write. There’s writing. There’s not writing. Make your choice. Anyone who chooses writing is welcome in my class. Anyone who uses the No Time Whine needs to get the hell out.

There’s a big difference between not having time and mis-managing your time.

We all have 24 hours in our day. How we choose to use them defines us.

In this splintering economy, where the people who are supposed to represent us are, instead, trying to turn us into serfs in their feudal society, there are issues. Many of us have to work multiple jobs without benefits to keep a roof over our heads, and those of our families.

Yet we still write.

We’re tired. We get up earlier or stay up later. But we get it done. We prioritize the writing. We set boundaries and hold them. We refuse to be manipulated. Even more important, we take responsibility and refuse to use others as our excuse not to write.

Whenever I hear the “ha, ha, ha, my (wife/husband/spous/partner) won’t LET me . . .” my hackles rise. Are you or are you not an adult? Why does another person LET you do or not do something? Are you in an abusive situation? Do you need help getting out? If not, why are you turning over responsibility for your life and your decisions to someone else? Blaming them, in effect, for you not following your dreams?

I lose respect for those individuals.

Time management means being aware of time constraints and working within them.

For instance, I was on site with a client recently. Client asked, “How long are you here today?”

“Two more hours.”

“We need to do x, y, z today.”

“Okay, but I need to leave on time. I have other commitments.”

Ten minutes before my departure time, we hadn’t started. Something that would take us several hours. Now, in those two hours, I’d knocked out several small projects that I could have done my next time there. These were things that didn’t take much time, so I could wind them up whenever this other person needed my help. Which didn’t happen.

That is poor time management, on the part of the person who wanted my help.

Not my problem anymore.

I’ve had the same client state, five minutes before leaving time, or as I was gathering my stuff, that we had to do x, y, z “right now.” If it was something actually essential, and I wasn’t on my way to another client, I have stayed. But often, it’s not, so I say, “I’ll have to do that first thing next time I come in. I have to leave now.”

There’s an old saying, “Disorganization on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I find that very useful.

Yes, it means cutting other things out. Less television, less time spent on the phone, on the screen, on social media. Complete days where I disconnect. Saying “no” when people want me to put their agendas before my writing.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take time off or mess about to relieve stress and have fun. It means I make choices rather than letting time slip away. I limit procrastination. I manage deadlines, and I spread work out so I’m not frantic and exhausted at the end.

Although I’m always frantic and exhausted at the end of a book, even when I’ve managed my time well. It’s just part of the book process for me. Hopefully, it’s better for you.

Within the writing, I’m juggling multiple projects. Have to, or I couldn’t keep a roof over my head.

So how do I prioritize the projects I juggle?

With the fiction and plays, it’s about getting my first 1-2K done first thing in the morning on what I call my “Primary Project.” The rest of the day is spent moving between other projects, organized by deadline and money.

He who pays most with the tightest deadline gets first attention.

He who nags when I’m well within deadline gets bumped to the bottom of the list.

The stronger my boundaries, the better gigs I land, the better matches I have with new clients, the better my work, and the happier we all are.

Time can be bent and stretched. It can be expanded or contracted. But when it’s disrespected, it will work against you, not with you. Time can be your best friend or worst enemy.

You get to choose which. And face the consequences.