How I respond as a
consumer/recipient often informs how I advise clients in their marketing campaigns.
Of course, I do research and use data. But if I find something repugnant,
chances are a large portion of their audience will, too.
Email lists are a
wonderful marketing tool – when you treat the recipients with joy and respect.
But more and more email blasts do just the opposite.
Using the Same Subject
Line With Different Attributions – Every Day
This has been one of the fails
in a lot of the political fundraising emails in this cycle. Saying “I want to meet
you (name) and then pretending it’s come from a celebrity who is part of a
First of all, I worked with actors for decades. I’ve met and worked and enjoyed creating with many of them. The ones with whom I stayed in touch know how reach me legitimately. I don’t swoon for celebrity. Second, as someone who has written some of these fundraising emails, I know the celebrity didn’t write the email, so pretending to personalize it like that is simply insulting.
Third, and most
importantly of all – don’t send the same subject line and place different celebrity
names on it. Not only does it make you look like trash, it insults me and
suggests you think I’m such an idiot I won’t notice.
“I Don’t See Your Name
There’s a quick way to
make sure I delete the email without reading it and unsubscribe.
If you “don’t see my name”
for whatever it is (a retreat, a conference, a petition, whatever), it’s
because I CHOSE NOT to be a part of it.
Emailing me daily that you
“don’t see my name here” is nagging me. I have enough on my plate without being
Bullying tactics don’t
work on me. I deal with bullies in real life by pounding back at them. If I’ve joined
your email list and you try to bully me into doing something, I’m gone. You’ve
lost me from whatever product or cause – permanently.
It’s a pandemic, asshole.
We all have far too much to deal with every day just to survive.
Bullying tactics will do
the opposite of engaging me and making me spend money or do whatever it is you’re
trying to get me to do.
Emailing Too Often
Don’t email me every day,
unless it’s a daily news whatever and that’s what I asked to be on. If you
email me every day trying to sell me something, even if I’ve been a regular
customer, chances are good I will both unsubscribe from your list and stop
buying your product.
Product emails? No more
than once a week. I prefer once a month.
Information emails? Once a
week, unless there’s some daily blast I’ve requested for a weird reason. If you’re
sending me an information email, make sure it’s actual INFORMATION and not just
an advertorial. I write both; I know the difference.
Yeah, I’ve been to those
workshops and webinars, where they tell you that EVERYTHING needs to have a
Call To Action attached.
I prefer to be invited to
experience more. When it’s an invitation instead of a demand, I’ll pay for it.
When it’s just “buy, buy,
buy” it’s time for me to say “Bye bye.”
Email and online marketing
has become even more important during the pandemic. But the smell of
desperation is a way to turn away your audience instead of to grow them, and
treating them like their idiots is not the way to build customer loyalty or
Invite, engage, entice.
What email marketing
techniques are driving you nuts lately?
I realized that last week’s
post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving
away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my
I’ve re-shaped my career
often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs
and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses
out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always
Any job outside the arts
ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid
me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.
If the job got in the way
of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.
A PAID opportunity.
NOT an “exposure”
Remember, people die of
exposure. Insist on the cash.
I started in lighting, for
theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I
moved into stage management.
From stage management, I
moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep
writing – through all of this, I always wrote).
I stayed, happily, in
wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical
demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too
many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I
didn’t want to be one of them.
I moved away from New York
to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts
in name only. They love it when
prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second
homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage
to do what they do.
I took a job that I
thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a
boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something”
was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something”
wrong with them.
Still, when I was fired
from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve
only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to
break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds
are just scars.
I went back to a local
theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and
woefully underpaid, but still worth it.
Then, I worked to rebuild
what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and
marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different
fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to
communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.
All of this time, I was
still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching
publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing
radio plays, and so forth and so on.
I found some local
clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I
firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office. Many were one-and-done, some because that’s
all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite,
but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a
board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.
I spent more and more time
with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for
in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the
world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients
when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current
political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to
work with Americans right now. I worked
with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists.
Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more
I was actually willing to
set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up
by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11
at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere
from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.
On the bus, I could write
my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do
much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were
in Boston, not where I am.
I was at that turning point
earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for
at least the next year or two.
Then, the pandemic hit,
and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing
around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it
was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and
performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and
there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14
days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the
state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.
The positive part of the
pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good
portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working
remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.
Now that they’re forcing
us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work
well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so
to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely
full-time for years.
It means I can re-shape my
career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my
home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this
area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York
and San Francisco).
It also means I can live
anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I
When I worked on Broadway,
I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When
I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because
I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.
I’m also looking at
different types of work.
I’m not a graphic
designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic
designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy
title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more
jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.
I’ve managed plenty of
teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both
theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar
and other writers is cake.
But I don’t necessarily want
I want to write stuff.
Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.
I’m more cautious about working
for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term
temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you
pay for the skills you need.
Here? The constant dirge
is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”
Some positions that I
would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no
longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time.
That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means
companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago
are no longer on my list.
I grappled with this for a
few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was
Then, I realized most of
that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my
People grow and change,
and so do their careers.
It’s not a failure.
It’s a natural process.
Growing and changing is a
positive, not a negative.
It doesn’t mean you have
to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills
and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go
Yes, there’s an element of
privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have
NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason
we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.
But deciding to take one’s
career in a different direction is not a failure.
It means you are integrating
all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something
wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience.
It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.
It also means that when
you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which
is better for both you and your employer.
One would think/hope
companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone
who just shows up every day.
You look at your life and
decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how
and what and where we work factors in a great deal.
Maybe you can’t change
your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do
some research, and take small steps regularly.
Yes, I’m back. I’m still
working on the article about how companies are driving away skilled workers,
even as they scream they can’t find them. But I didn’t want to be off this blog
for too long, and there’s something else I’ve been grappling with and coming to
terms with over the past weeks that I decided to share.
I noticed, as I research
companies with whom I might like to work, that I’m drawn to different areas
that I was eight or nine months ago.
More and more often, the
title of the job turns me off. I don’t even need to read the description. Or, I
get about two paragraphs in and say, “Nope. This isn’t for me” then click away
and move on.
When a company genuinely
captures my attention, whatever positions they claim to look for, I dig into
the research, find the right person, and send an LOI, telling them why I think
I’d be a good choice for their company, either for a particular project, or in
In the past couple of
years, I’d moved away from that, but now I’m going back to it.
The layers between the
people one would actually work with have become more convoluted. Notice I say “work
with” and not “work for”. That is deliberate. I’m not at the start of my
career. I am interested in “working with” even when I technically have a boss.
The issue of layers is especially
deep when third party recruiters are involved, which is something I go into the
other article I’m working on for this space. I have to say, all of the third
party recruiters I’ve encountered in the past ten years have been a waste of
space, and have certainly wasted my time (and therefore, I’m sure, the company’s
time). As I track the listings for companies using third party recruiters for
the past year or so, I notice they fill a job, and then a few short months
later, they’re looking again to fill the same job. I suppose that keeps recruiters
in business, but it doesn’t do the client companies much good.
As I noted above, I’m
looking for something different now than I even was at the top of the pandemic.
I’m more focused, and less flexible. Part of this is due to a recalibration of
what I want and need out of my work; part of this is that I am not twenty
begging for my first job, but someone with decades of experience and skills. I
no longer have an interest in working FOR a company that does not value either
of those, by underpaying me or by trying to shove me into a position that’s more
about work no one else wants to do than about my skills.
The SEO keywords used in
the position descriptions are just as likely to turn me away from a company as
engage my interest.
(This article turns out to
be tied to the one I’m still working on, about companies driving away skilled
But even when the descriptions
are accurate and the company is interesting, there are roles in companies that
no longer interest me, even though they used to.
In the past, if I was
interested in a company, I was willing to take on tasks out of my wheelhouse in
order to expand my skills, or do something that’s uncomfortable if they agreed
it was temporary. Of course, it never is; once you take on more than your job,
it becomes your job. But if I overall liked and respected the company’s mission
and vision, especially if it was a nonprofit, I was more likely to accept a
broader range of tasks.
That is no longer true.
I know what I want my tasks
within a role to encompass. If the company is trying to cut corners by hiring
one person with strong skills in one area, but minimal skills along a wide
range of areas instead of multiple skilled individuals, that position – and that
company – is no longer a good fit. Because let’s face it, most companies WON’T
train, no matter what they promise. They expect you to figure it out on your
own without additional compensation. Usually on your own time.
At twenty-three, it was an
interesting challenge, especially if I thought I had a future with the company.
In theatre jobs, I was always willing to
take on more, because I knew the theatre was my career, and I would progress. I
did. I made it to Broadway.
In non-profit work, I
often took on extra tasks because everyone was working flat out more hours for
less pay. But after awhile, there’s burnout. Resentment builds, no matter how
committed one is to the mission, because that way of working is unsustainable.
Boundaries need to be set
going in, by both parties, held, and respected. Most managers will keep
assigning as many tasks as they can get away with, no matter what you agreed
upon when you started.
As a freelancer, it’s
often easier to hold and set boundaries. I have a contract that spells out boundaries,
payments, etc. When scope creep threatens, I can point to the contract and say,
“Sure, I’ll take that on; this is how much it’s going to cost.” I can also say,
“That’s not part of the agreement, no.”
But as I’ve been
researching a putting together LOIs and pitch letters to companies these last
months, I’ve noticed what keywords turn me off instantly, or, as I read a description,
I realize, “no, that’s not for me.”
At first, I was worried
that I narrowed my options. I could hear the toxic reprimands we’ve all had at
times: “You need to be a team player” or “Where’s your commitment to the company?”
or “You need to take this on right now to get us through this rough patch” or “How
can you succeed if you won’t do what’s needed?” or “Your job is to make me look
Notice all of these are
demands. None of them are questions to negotiate or navigate new needs as a company
grows and changes.
They’re about guilt and
manipulation rather than problem-solving, which is unsustainable.
I’ve since made peace with it. Trusting my gut
has always been the best choice. I’ve paid for it every time I let myself “logic”
a way out of what my gut told me.
As a professional, I’ve
grown in skills, knowledge, experience, over a wide range of topics. Some of
those skills I enjoy using; others were hard-won and are painful to implement.
Why would I make choices that increase my pain load instead of choices that
make it exciting to get up in the morning and get to work?
We all hit periods where we
have to take whatever’s offered in order to keep a roof over our heads and food
on the table. But we keep growing, searching, changing for what is better for
us and for our situations.
It is okay to discover
that what worked for you five years, ten years ago, or even ten weeks ago, no
longer does. That knowledge gives you a foundation to make new discoveries and
make decisions based on what makes your life better.
Liz Ryan, at the Human Workplace, emphasizes how we are the CEOs of our own companies. That’s so important to both remember and to implement. Right-to-work means companies have made the choice their workers aren’t worth loyalty. So workers need to make the choices that serve their lives best.
How have you found what
you want and need from your work evolving over the past months?
Freelancers talk a lot
about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters,
and they keep expanding.
One of the joyful parts of
creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing
a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid
for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable
musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and
sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.
To get there, you need the
project to grow and change.
But the “scope” and the
vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.
There – the contract. That’s
how you control scope creep.
I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”
Why aren’t companies being
upfront about what they want in the position?
The first is that the
person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which
The second is that the company
wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they
want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.
As a freelancer, you have
the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours
and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives
us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.
Your contract can protect
you from scope creep.
Your contract will grow
and change as your business does.
After your initial
conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and
think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for
“scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those
possibilities into the contract.
For example, I have a
clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the
scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.
When I receive the second
round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of
revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.
Often, far too often, I
get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”
No, it’s a revision.
Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions
of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.
Dates and Turnaround Times
I put in turnaround times
for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the
party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any
revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the
contract is vital:
–Deposit is due on X date
–When deposit clears, I
start the project
–I get my first portion
done on Y date
are back to me by Z date
–My next revision is due
on L date
–Response is due on M
–Final work is due on N
–Acceptance or additional
requests for changes is due on O date
–final payment is due on
–late payments are
changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of
Longer projects may have
payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t
arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.
“This is business, not
personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their
business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they
do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just
Works both ways.
Change of Direction
I also have a clause in my
contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our
initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a
clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new
agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.
Late Fees/Rush Fees
I have a clause for late
fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the
project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original
fee + 20% + the total of that.
Rush fees are for work
turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the
project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to
stay up extra hours and push through.
I do make an exception on
rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day
When the Client
Provides the Contract
In some cases, the client
provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first
contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I
provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to
negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request,
meet them halfway, or walk away.
A client who offers a
contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if
what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate
their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision
if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused
by the contract.
What About Job
As we’ve discussed over
the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can
be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure
that we help shape new work styles.
I’ve seen an array of
articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES
pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are
trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom
line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to
micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.
There’s plenty of work
that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless
interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am
far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted
time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my
There’s not a cubicle on
the planet that could provide conditions even close.
If you are looking for a job
as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades,
companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything
and employees have no say in it.
Remember: companies need
employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe
even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.
They push the “if you don’t
take this, we’ll hire someone else.”
Don’t be afraid of AI,
either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced
There are plenty of jobs
that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees
creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do
and create work that no robot could ever come up with.
With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.
Yes, you might have to
accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s
When I made the commitment
to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over
my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job
got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even
knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my
way up to a career on Broadway.
If I’d stayed in a
corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”
Instead, I DID.
So, when you are in
negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.
You can choose not to
answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview
process, you can ask for more definition.
The other thing you can do
is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.
There was an article on
line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting
hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have
to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.
What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.
And savvy freelancers work
on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old
time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about
how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.
If there’s room for scope
creep in the job description – negotiate it.
If the job description says
you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other
equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to
the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that
covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.
If the job description
demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly
ask what kind of car they provide.
Negotiations aren’t just
We will talk about that in
a future post.
How do you control scope
creep? What points do your contracts over?
As I’ve mentioned in
previous posts, because so many people are out of work and worried, the predators
are out: expecting unpaid labor/samples/”assessments” as part of the hiring
process, content mills re-branding themselves as “agencies” pretending to offer
good work opportunities when they’ll just grind you to a pulp and destroy talent;
writing jobs on “commission.”
But another disturbing
trend I see in a lot of listings is this:
There is no such thing as a “full-time freelance” job for a single company. If you’re working full-time for a single company, you are an employee for that company. Especially if they dictate the hours worked. Perhaps you choose to be an independent contractor on a 1099. But you SHOULD be on a W-2 at that point, and getting full benefits.
The only reason a company “offers”
a “full-time freelance” position is to get out of paying benefits, sick days,
holidays, etc. They are taking advantage of the non-employee to save money, yet
expect the same behavior and hours and deference they would from a salaried
There’s nothing wrong in
working for a single company. But if you’re going to be working employee hours,
you need to have benefits. Again, especially if they dictate which hours in the
day they expect you to be working and available.
Or, if, for some reason, it suits you to remain on 1099, make sure YOU set the rate and it is what it would be to be on staff with the cost of benefits plus 20%. If they’re not going to give you benefits, make sure they pay enough to cover putting aside benefits and a little extra. You can find out what employees make through sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com. Or come in as a consultant, which bills at a higher-than-staff-person rate.
A full-time FREELANCER is an individual who works a full week (be it 40 hours or whatever that individual chooses to make the amount of money necessary) for a variety of different companies. There may be some overlap, especially across time zones, to communicate during mutually-acceptable hours. But the full-time freelancer arranges the hours and schedules in a way that best serves both the work and the life.
A full-time Freelancer
chooses the clients with whom they do business, sets rates, works the hours
that are best suited to the individual task and the energy needs.
In the best situations,
the full-time Freelancer charges enough not to just cover rent, food,
utilities, health insurance, car, home office equipment and supplies, etc., but
also for retirement, vacation fund, and a little extra.
The full-time Freelancer
is constantly in marketing mode, sending out LOIs, broadening networks, and
keeping an eye out for new clients who might be a good fit – or recommending
fellow freelancers to jobs that might be a better fit. That time needs to be
built into the work week, without a loss of income.
Since most work in the US
is “at will” and can end at any time, both types of work run the risk of loss
of income at a moment’s notice. But the unsalaried freelancer working full-time
hours will have to scramble, while the full-time freelancer has other clients paying
in while replacing the recently lost client. Freelancing work tends to run on
short-term contracts, which gives at least a little stability, but those
contracts end, and not all are renewed. Other work can be one-off work, and the
full-time freelancer has to ride the feast-or-famine cycle.
Even if working for a
single company as a freelancer, that freelancer needs to always be aware of
what’s out there, and ready to leap to a better situation.
Working full-time for a
single company without benefits is good for the company, but rarely good for
the freelancer, unless the freelancer gets a high enough to cover independently
Working as a full-time
freelancer can be stressful – the constant client hunt – but it also gives more
variety, flexibility in case of management turnovers and sourings, and expansive
But if someone offers you
a “full-time freelance” position – look at the details very carefully.
Negotiate up to make sure you are getting as much as any staff member receiving
a salary and benefits, set your own hours, and are free to take on other work
as you wish.
Remember: every job offer
is the starting point of negotiations. If they offer you their endpoint, they
are not worth your time.
Far too many businesses
are trying to gain for themselves by making us feel terrible – all this “free
time” we have now, and all the things we “should” be doing because we can’t be
out and about the way we used to gambol.
They’re also counting on us
being so desperate to earn a living that we’ll take even less than we earned
before the pandemic. “You’ll get nothing and like it” is their refrain.
If the pandemic has taught
us anything, it’s how poorly most companies treated their employees in the first
Remember, without people
to actually do the work, the company cannot exist.
If they hire people that
do the work badly (which, if they don’t pay properly, that’s all they will get
in the long run), they will go under.
Instead of listening to
statistics by businesses for businesses, let’s look at personal realities, and
use those realities to reshape how we are going to navigate both our work world
and our social world.
Not everyone likes to work
remotely. Not every job CAN be done remotely.
As an introvert, I realized how often I was forced to behave like an extrovert in a typical work setting, and what a toll that took on my health and my productivity. It didn’t matter if I turned in three times the work ahead of schedule – if I wasn’t in the building so the managers could interrupt me, ruin my productivity, and repeatedly put me in situations that caused stress and discomfort, it wasn’t “real work” and I wasn’t being a “team player.”
During the pandemic, the
stress wasn’t from working remotely. It was that every foray off the property held
the literal prospect of death to me or someone in my family. And, as time went
on, it was the external pressures from those who wanted, again, to lower my
productivity and add discomfort to feel powerful and force me to be “part of
I am perfectly capable of being “part of the team” without setting foot in the office. There’s this thing called Zoom (which we’re all tired of at this point). There’s email. There are scheduled phone calls (I only do phone calls by appointment). As long as I collaborate and hit the deadlines with quality work, I shouldn’t have to be forced, repeatedly, into onsite situations that cause misery in order to make someone else feel powerful.
I realized how many unhealthy compromises I’d made since I moved here. Far more unhealthy compromises than I’d ever made in the decades I worked in theatre and film production.
In the weeks leading to
the Stay-at-Home, I was even talking with potential clients who insisted that I
work onsite – even though I knew it would make me miserable.
So the past few months
have made me redefine both what I want and what I need from work, and I
encourage you to do the same.
I went into the arts because of the passion I have for the work. I loved my time working backstage and on set. Now, I love my time writing. I don’t consider the fiction and plays the “real writing” and the marketing/business/consulting a “day job.”
As far as I’m concerned,
they are all of a piece.
Make a list of what you NEED from you work.
—Enough money so I’m not scrambling from payment to payment and don’t have to worry about basics like rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, emergency vet bills, etc. It also must be reliably paid, not put off with excuses. Pay me per our contract.
—A sense of purpose and passion from those with whom I work. This can be small business owners who love what they do; or larger companies with a bigger mission. But there needs to be more to it than bottom line profit.
—Alignment with my values. I am not going to work for people/organizations/businesses I believe cause harm/fuel hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. Even though those businesses usually pay more than those in alignment with my values as a person.
—Creativity. My job needs to let me use the creative part of my psyche, maybe in ways I didn’t expect to use it.
—Autonomy. Too often what is called “follow up” is actually “nagging.” If we’ve set a deadline, you will get what you need by that deadline. Suddenly asking for it a week early and bugging me about it doesn’t get it to you faster. If the deadline has changed for some reason, tell me it has changed and why it’s changed and we will deal with it. But don’t nag. Communicate clearly. And don’t micromanage every moment of my day.
—Humor. I love to laugh, and a sense of humor is important, especially on tight deadlines when there’s a lot at stake.
—Clear Communication. Don’t come at me with passive aggressive behavior. You want or need something? Be clear about it. Don’t lie to me, especially not by omission.
—Respect for my boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. I do not have to embellish. If an emergency comes up, I will take on additional work outside my regular scope or outside my regular workweek; but it needs to be requested with respect and not become expected. I have a life that is separate from my work and just as important.
—Room for growth. I want to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I don’t want to be pushed into additional tasks because the company is too cheap to hire enough qualified personnel. I want to grow within my own scope of duties. I want encouragement to share ideas and have opportunities.
—Fully Remote. At this point in the game, that is what I want in the foreseeable future. It was a “want” before; now it is a need.
If any of the above list is
missing, I am miserable, and know I need to change my work situation.
What do I WANT?
That’s a little different.
The wants are what make the job special and exciting.
—Paid holidays and vacations. Which means, when I’m working freelance, the money and the ability to book that time without pushback.
—Variety. I like to write across different topics and in different areas – blog posts or articles or social media posts or courses or press releases or strategic plans. Anything that is scripted, be it for a video, a speech, or radio/podcast, and I’m in heaven.
—Positive Colleagues. An overall positive work atmosphere, even if it’s via Zoom or email, matters. We all have tough days, or even tough stretches. But if one particular person is ALWAYS unhappy, it starts to create a ripple effect of stress.
—An environment where everyone is encouraged to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses, rather than being thrown into something that’s a weakness without support or training.
—Encouragement to connect beyond the work, and get to know my colleagues as human beings. What do we all like to do when we’re not working? What are our other passions and causes? How can we work together to build a better world?
—Recognize and value the work. Recognize and value the work of everyone in the organization. It’s not about a fancier title. It’s about daily treatment and being paid fairly.
—Encouragement for learning opportunities and creative opportunities, even if they don’t immediately benefit the client.
—No more “at will” work. Most of my clients and I are on specific contracts, which is great. I do have a couple of clients that have me on retainer, but it’s “at will” and I need to change those parameters.
I’m sure I could make a
more comprehensive list – and I’m working on it. But as I restructure my work
life during the ongoing pandemic and figure out how I want it to look post-pandemic,
these are all elements that matter to me.
As this list evolves, I
will take steps to bring anything out of alignment into alignment. Then, I will
grow, change, and respond to the world, and will adjust more. Which is a good
What are your needs in a
work situation? And wants?
There are too many
stresses in our daily lives right now: the fact that leaving the house can kill
us, bosses who don’t believe we are actually working unless they can stare at
us; job loss, which too often means the loss of health insurance, unemployment
benefits running out, a government who would rather see us die en masse for
their personal profit than give us tools to live with basic human dignity, and
We are exhausted.
And yet, this is the time,
as everything falls apart is when we have to carve out the time, in spite of
the stress, to reinvent and rebuild the society we want.
Part of that is to
Life in the Arts
I spent decades working
professionally in theatre, film, and television production. Yes, until I started working off Broadway full
time, and then on Broadway full time, I often took stopgap jobs in offices and
temp jobs along the way.
People who claim they want
a career in the arts but feel stuck in their day jobs constantly ask me how I
could earn enough to live on in the arts.
Because I was ruthless in
the knowledge and practice that any day job was just that – temporary. Its only
purpose was to make it possible for me to work in the arts. If and when it
interfered with a paying theatre job, it was the day job that was chucked. I
NEVER turned down a paid (emphasis on “paid”) job in the arts because it meant
quitting a day job.
Even knowing that theatre
and film jobs are temporary and transitory.
“But I have
responsibilities!” People whine.
You think I don’t? I have
been earning my way since I was a teenager. At a certain point, I became the
breadwinner and caretaker of other members of my family. Sometimes I have been
that for my family of choice as well. I have responsibilities.
But I was committed to my
career choice, and every work decision was made around building that career,
not conforming to other people’s definition of “real work.” Believe me, my
entire life, I’ve heard “when are you going to get a REAL job?” This is from
people who couldn’t last a single day if they had to work a full Broadway
production schedule or an 18-hour day on a film set.
I knew what I wanted from
my career, and I did it.
Too often, people claim
they want a career in the arts. But it’s easy to fall into a corporate job with
a regular salary. If you CHOOSE that route, it’s perfectly valid. But own the
choice. Don’t pretend the corporate job and your “responsibilities” prevent you
from doing the work you claim you want to do. The only thing standing in your
way is you.
The other important
element is to dump unsupportive partners. Because I am driven and organized,
too many men tried to get me to give up my dream and focus that energy and
drive on theirs. Not one of them were worth it, and getting every single one of
them out of my life was the right choice. I’ve had some great men in my life,
but I knew even the good ones couldn’t sustain the lifelong journey. The ones
who tried to sabotage me were kicked to the curb pretty damn fast.
If my career choice had
been in the stock market or in finance or medicine or law, no one would have
ever questioned the dedication or the long hours. But, because it’s in the
arts, everybody’s a critic.
I consider myself still
working in the arts, even with the business and marketing writing I do. I work
hard to balance the writing other people pay me to do with the novels, plays,
and radio plays I write.
That doesn’t mean I
consider business writing a “day job” and fiction/scripting my “real” writing. They
are both creative. I love working with businesses who are passionate about what
they do, and communicating that passion in a way that enchants, engages, and
expands their audience. It’s my real work as much as writing a novel or a play
is real work. It’s a facet of my career.
Since we’re still in the
middle of a worsening pandemic, thanks to the lack of leadership and inhumanity
at the Federal level, we don’t know the full extent of the aftershocks or how long
Artists are finding new
ways to create, engage, and entertain an audience. Production skills will also
evolve. The need for art is growing, not ceasing, and I believe that theatre,
film, music, dance, visual arts – all of these will grow and find new ways to
connect with audiences.
Businesses need good
writers more than ever. One of the analytics companies (I can’t find the link,
apologies) figures that businesses that didn’t communicate with their audience
during the pandemic lost up to 78% of that audience.
communicate poorly with their audiences are also taking a hit. Life is
different now. Tossing out over-used catchphrases that wore out their welcome
back in March, or pretending it’s all over and everything is back to the way it
was hurts your audience. I know, as a consumer, reading some of the ridiculous
marketing schemes cause me physical pain. I turn away.
I am not likely to turn
Businesses that allow
customers inside without a mask, or to slide the mask down once inside? I walk
out. I don’t spend money there. Nor will I come back once there’s a vaccine,
and we are safely able to resume a semblance of former activities.
They have lost my business
One of the significant truths
the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders revealed is that few office jobs need to
be done in corporate space.
The day is often
structured differently, especially if childcare and children’s online learning
are involved. But the work can be done remotely.
Those of us who’ve worked
remotely for a company and/or as freelancers already knew that. We’ve had to
fight to because corporations find it useful to promote the toxic myth that it’s
not “real work” unless it’s in THEIR space where they can monitor you.
It’s time not to return to
that model. Where constant interruptions, unnecessary meetings to give a
bombastic executive an audience, and a workday structured for least
productivity but maximum low morale are considered “normal.”
We were groomed – and I
use that triggering word deliberately – by corporations to believe that this
type of work day and work environment was the only “real work.”
We’ve learned differently.
Yes, certain jobs need to
be done on site. But plenty of office jobs can be done virtually. If some
workers prefer the community office environment, they should have that option,
once it’s safe. But for those who are more productive, as long as they hit
their deadlines and deliver, the option to work remotely should be permanent.
Tools for Positive
UBI. Universal Basic Income gives everyone a chance for basic human dignity. Especially during the pandemic, it allows people to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and, most importantly, to stay home. It allows them to put money back into the economy for all of the above, and maybe even support some small businesses and artisans. That slows the spread of the infection, gives the medical community time to come up with vaccines and treatments, and save lives. If people aren’t putting their lives at risk daily, forced to go back into unsafe environments, but are allowed dignity, many of them will be able to create, invent, and come up with ideas that will positively transform their lives and our world that we can’t even yet imagine.
Health insurance not
connected to jobs. Too many people
are forced to stay in negative work situations because they are afraid of
losing their health insurance. Then we hit a depression, like the one we’re in
now, and they lost the job and the health insurance anyway. This needs to stop.
Health insurance needs to be connected to the individual, and travel with the
person from job to job. Part of that restructuring includes changing insurance from
profit to non-profit companies, and removing stock options.
Benefits not tied to
the job. EVERY job, even part-time
and 1099 jobs, should have to toss a few dollars ON TOP OF (not deducted from)
every paycheck into a pot tied to the individual for unemployment, paid time
off, and retirement. IN ADDITION to money tossed into the insurance pot.
everywhere. Remote workers contribute
to their local economies. They buy food, pay taxes, hopefully shop locally when
they can, participate in their communities. It’s vital to keep people connected
with affordable technology in the most rural areas. And people need options. No
single corporation can be allowed to monopolize any utility.
The next generation
doesn’t owe it to us to suffer. I am
so sick and tired of hearing “well, I had to work hard, and no one wants to
work anymore.” People do want to work hard, but they also want to work
differently. We should be making it
better for the next generation, and then they make it better for the following
generation and so forth and so on. The
previous generation broke barriers. Instead of regressing (like we’ve done the
past years), it’s time for us to break barriers.
Fair pay for a day’s
work. And benefits. UBI doesn’t negate the need for fair pay. If
you aren’t willing to pay a living wage, and throw benefits into a pot for the
individual, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself. And let’s
stop this only paying a 35-hour week or a 37.5-hour week. Or working 8-5
instead of 9-5 if someone wants to eat. You want me to work for you all damn
day? You can damn well pay me for a LUNCH HOUR.
Affordable housing. What developers present as “affordable” housing isn’t.
The formula for affordable housing needs
to be 30% of a month of 40-hour weeks at the minimum wage for that state. THAT
is affordable. No one should have to work multiple jobs in order to pay rent,
and rent should not be 80% of a person’s income (which it too often is).
How Do We Get There?
Millions of us are out of
work right now, and worried. Perhaps even desperate. Corporations are counting
on that. They got millions of dollars in SBA loans, have bought back stocks,
paid bonuses to top execs, and laid off the people who do the actual work. Now,
they want to hire people back at lower rates without benefits because “the economy.”
If you have to take
anything that comes along, then do what you need to do.
But take Liz Ryan’s advice over on The Human Workplace, and always be looking for another job. Consider it a temp job. Keep looking, pitching, sending out resumes and LOIs, talking to people, expanding your network.
As soon as you get a
better opportunity, take it. Companies stopped being loyal to their employees
decades ago. They blame the employees, saying they jump to a different job
after two years and “don’t want to work.” Hmm, maybe if companies paid decent
wages, benefits, funded pension plans (which are EARNED benefits as much as
Social Security is an EARNED benefit)
and treated their employees with decency and dignity, their employees would
Don’t believe corporate
spin. Take what you need to survive. Jump when something better comes along.
Misplaced loyalty will destroy you every time.
Take Stock. Then Take
In and amongst the worry
(and we’re all worried, on so many fronts right now), take stock of the career
you’ve had and the career you want. Where are they aligned? Where are they
apart? Where are they in conflict?
Start taking small actions
every day to move towards the career you want. Fifteen minutes a day working
towards both the kind of work you want to do and the environment in which you
want to do it.
Work with your elected
officials on town, state, and Federal
levels. Let them know what you want out of your society. HELP them get there.
It’s not just about donating money. It’s about regular communication so they
can represent you, and it’s about ideas. Write proposals, with detailed action
That helps them, and hones
skills you can use in a variety of jobs.
Read bills coming up for a vote, and let your elected officials
know how you feel about them. They can’t represent you if you don’t
You can read Federal bills coming up for a vote here..
Your state and town will have
information on their websites. It doesn’t take that much time to keep up on these
bills, and it pays off in every aspect of your life, because it affects every
aspect of your life.
Vote. In EVERY election.
Say No. Speak up at work. Speak up in interviews. Companies
are counting on us to be terrified and desperate. If enough of us say no, they
have to change the way they treat workers, or go out of business. Find people
with similar work and life sensibilities, and become entrepreneurs. Terrifying,
right? But also fulfilling. You can do better work on your own and be a better
boss than those who mistreated you.
Yes, it’s terrifying and
overwhelming at times. Start slowly. Rest when you need to. But remember that
you owe your best energy and creativity to making YOUR life a work of art, not
creating something for others to profit from in perpetuity.
How are you reinventing
work from what you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I’m back after an absence.
I had the second surgery that was postponed due to COVID-19. Probably the best
part of it all was that I had to get a COVID test in order to be allowed into the
With so many millions of
people out of work, and more people forced back into work situations that could
kill them, because businesses are being reckless and expect their staff to die
for them – there are a lot of people looking for work right now.
Which means there are a
lot of predators out there, hoping to take advantage of desperate people.
I really wish that
businesses would cough up some cash and hire a professional writer to write the
ads they put out – even when the ad is for a professional writer. While some of
my colleagues see badly-written ads as examples of why the company should hire
them, I often see red flags.
Content Mills Are Still a Bad Choice
As I mentioned several
posts ago, content mills are back. They’ve rebranded themselves as “content
agencies” or “content producers.” They still overwork, underpay, and provide
lousy quality all the way around. Avoid them.
I attended an online writing
conference last week, and some of the “instructors” actually advised writers to
go ahead and work for content mills in the short term.
Try not to.
I won’t say “never”
because sometimes we all have to suck it up and accept a lousy gig at low pay
in order to make some immediate cash.
But if you do so, leave it off your resume, and get out as quickly as possible. If you get a decent clip out of it for your portfolio, great. But leave the mill off your resume. It lowers your rate and your credibility if it’s there. Definitely keep it off your LinkedIn profile.
One of the recent,
rebranded content mills waxes on how they’re so high-paying with 10-14 cents a
AARP magazine, which
accepts freelance pitches, pays $1/word. So does REAL SIMPLE.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY is
looking for an at-large writer at 50 cents a word, with 4-6 articles per month,
plus they pay for any tests they ask you to take. Which is what professionals do.
If you want breakdowns and comparisons of predatory jobs and legitimate, professionally-paid ones, Lori Widmer does a wonderful series called “This Job, Not That Job” on Words on the Page.
No Free Samples. No
It died down for a bit,
but now it’s back in full force. Companies who demand that you write content
for them for free as a “test.”
A good portion of these
companies take the content, don’t pay anyone, change the name of the company,
and then use the content for which they didn’t pay.
Don’t do it.
I now put it in my cover
letter that I will not provide project-specific samples without pay, and offer
them my rate. I also state that I will not take assessments or any other type
of test unless we set up a date and time, and that I am paid for that time.
I will not give up
billable hours to take an “assessment.”
Read my portfolio.
If you can’t tell whether
I’m a good fit from my portfolio samples, that’s about your lack of analytical
reading skill, not about my lack of writing skill.
You want me to do
something specific to your company because you “can’t tell” if I can write in
your tone? Fine. There’s a price for that.
If you don’t respect my rate, and if you don’t feel that my time is valuable before we even work together, you’ve let me know how little you think of your people.
We are not the right fit.
No Personality Tests.
More and more companies, both remote and onsite, are telling their recruiters to run candidates through DISC tests or Briggs Meyers personality tests.
I am a complex individual. I cannot — and WILL not — be distilled down and put into a box by type. Saying you need to test me like this to see if I can function as part of a team indicates your company attracts an unhealthy level of crazy. In order to function as a member of a team, I use my skills in collaboration, creativity, and professionalism. By setting people up as “dominant” or “influence” or “steadiness” or “conscientious” you’re stating that each member of the team can only embody one aspect. I embody all of them, and I bring forth what’s needed to best suit the situation.
That’s a huge red flag,
and indicates you should run like hell without looking back.
This is always toxic, but
especially so for writers. One of the many wonderful things about writers is
flexibility and versatility. Not only are we more than one thing, we can
communicate more than one thing, on multiple levels, in the same piece.
The last recruiter who
argued with me about it said, “All of us have to take this test. I took the
To which I replied, “I am
so sorry that you felt you had to accept such abuse.”
She was quite offended.
But I meant it.
She then hit me with, “Oh,
you’ll see, you’ll think about it overnight and agree.”
I told her that the very
fact the test was requested indicated it was no longer a company for whom I
wanted to work.
That was that. She got
back in touch a week later to see when I wanted to take it, now that I had time
to realize what an important part of the hiring process it was. I told her the
twelfth of never.
YOU are the full-time
freelancer, unless you choose to work for a single employer. If and when you
choose to work for a single employer, on a full time schedule, you are an
employee of the company.
means you are running your own business and working for multiple clients. If
you are working for a single company, you are their employee and should be
getting benefits. Anything less is a scam.
The same place that
demanded the personality test said they paid for a 35.5 hour week. HOWEVER,
because their team was scattered over the country, I needed to be “available”
to them from 9 AM to 9 PM. Plus a 2-1/2 hour commute in each direction – they didn’t
have their own office, but they had a desk in a co-working space, and I was
required to work there (although there was no reason it couldn’t be fully
remote). However, I was being paid the “fulltime” employee salary of 35.5 hours
and expected to give all that extra time (since it was a 60 hour workweek)
With distributed teams across time zones, there does need to be overlap. But meetings need to be negotiated to work for everyone, not all the off-hours put on a single individual. And all work time must be paid.
Also, when it states work
is “Monday through Friday” and “weekends”
but it’s only 20 hours a week – no.
If I’m a freelancer, I
choose which hours I work. We arrange for meetings at mutually convenient
times, but as long as I meet deadlines, I pick my hours.
Again, if the employer
chooses the hours, you are now an employee, not a freelancer, and should be
A List of Equipment You
If the listing contains
the equipment they want you to use, or the software, skip it.
If a company wants me to
use a specific laptop to them, a specific phone, or a specific type of software,
THEY must provide it. I am not running out and buying an extra MacBook Air for
Or, if I’m using my own equipment,
you pay me what we called in theatre and film production a “kit fee.”
Nor am I buying a new car
because of them. If I have to have “reliable” personal transportation because
they’re not near public transit or because they don’t feel it’s “reliable”
enough – then they can provide me with a company car.
I’ve noticed that the
employers who demand this don’t pay for mileage or gas or wear and tear on cars
or other equipment, although they expect their employees to bear the full cost.
What if You Want/Need
There’s nothing wrong with
asking for what you want. Be polite, be confidant, but don’t just take it.
Know what you’re willing
to negotiate back to, and, if they refuse (most recruiters will refuse, and
negotiation needs to be with the company itself, not the recruiter), know at
what point you will walk away.
Liz Ryan, of The Human Workplace, offers a plethora of negotiating tactics and suggestions. Familiarize yourself with them, and adjust them for your individual situation and comfort level.
Check out Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog. She has terrific resources for freelancers; many of them can be adapted if you decide to look for a more traditional employment situation.
Remember that any
recruiter or potential client is not doing you a favor by an interview or an initial
conversation. It is a mutually beneficial situation to find the right person
for the right slot, with both parties getting a positive result. If it’s
treated as anything less, that is a huge red flag that there are problems
within the work culture, and there’s a good chance you will be unhappy,
undervalued, and underpaid.
Move on to the next
company on your list.
What are some of the red
flags you’ve seen lately?