Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: Before the LOI

Recent conversations with fellow freelancers have included discussions on how to decide where to send one’s LOIs. Because I work in different arenas — the business equivalent of working across genre lines — I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

What Do I Want?

The flippant answer is, of course, the gig. But it’s more complicated than that.

It goes back to the work we did on our personal strategic plan. What do I want?

I want to tell stories that engage and enlarge audiences for business people and creatives who are passionate about their work. I want to help them spread the message.

That means I have to give a damn about what they do, and I have to trust their ethics. Plenty of writers don’t have to care, they sit down and write the gig. It’s about craft and communicating the client’s passion, and has little to do with their own. More power to them. My best work is when I also care about what I’m writing about — whether it’s forwarding a non-profit’s mission or extolling a client’s new product. I need to give a damn.

Ethics-wise, I have turned down high-paid gigs because I would be writing to promote something I believed was wrong. To accept the job, the money, and do the work, I would not be true to myself. Therefore, I am not the best person for the job, and refused the job.

If another writer chooses to write against what they believe in for the cash, that is their choice. I don’t live in their skins; they don’t live in mine. We have to make the decisions we need to make, for the various reasons we make them.

In addition, I want to be paid a fair price for the job. I want to be paid on time, as a professional in the field. This is my business, my livelihood, not my hobby. I have the right to enjoy my job. To say that people who love their jobs “don’t need” to be paid for them is ridiculous. So is saying writing isn’t a “real job.”

I want reasonable working hours and decent working conditions. I want to be treated with respect and dignity.

Who Needs My Skills & Do They Meet My Needs?

That’s where research comes in. I keep an eye out for companies and businesses that do interesting things. Sometimes it’s in the arts; sometimes it’s environmental/conservation/non-profit. Sometimes it’s a small business with a product or service. As I said, I do many different things. I’m interested in many different things.

Sometimes I meet someone at a networking event. Or I see a listing for a company and decide to do some research. If I like what I see, I write an LOI introducing myself, why I’m excited about the company, and where I think my skills might be a positive addition to their team.

I don’t bash what they’re doing or demean their current team. I’m there to help them, not get someone fired.

Research

I also dig a bit to find out what negative comments are made about the company, personnel, mission, or product. Then, I try to look at it in context. There are many reasons someone might have a bad experience. Is this something with evidence I can further research? Or a bad match and this is lashing out? It’s not always easy to find out; that’s where I trust my instincts.

I read a lot & try to keep up to date on who’s doing what where, who moves from position to position, how companies change their branding and business models. I also listen at networking events. Sometimes, a throwaway comment over a glass of wine and a crab puff can give you more information than a profile in a business mag.

Quite a bit of work goes into the LOI. It has to, or it’s not worth it for the recipient to respond. Well-researched, well-written introductions can set the stage for a positive partnership. Maybe it won’t be next week. Maybe it will be six months or a year down the line.

But long-term is as important as short-term. We could go into bad garden analogies here, but you get the idea.

How do you decide who to target? Or who not to target, when you create your LOIs?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Context and Boundaries

One of the things that has puzzled me over the last few months is that more and more LOIs, which go directly to the appropriate person at a company, are turned over to third party recruiters. Who then contact me and waste my time, trying to get me to do stuff that has nothing to do with my profession.

I am a WRITER.

Contacting me about jobs in accounting or sales or truck driving (yes, truck driving) is not appropriate.

Neither is acting like I am at your beck and call.

Neither is asking me about my current salary, which is none of your damn business. It’s also illegal in some states. The fact you’re CALLING from a state where it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean I have to answer the question. My answer is that my rate is X for Y work.

Salary and rate are different. If I committed to a single company, I have particular salary and benefit expectations. I’m happy to share those with you, even though I know there’s nothing like that on offer. If you did, you wouldn’t be contacting me with something vague that has nothing to do with writing. If I’ve sent an LOI as a freelancer, and you turn me over to a third party recruiter, these questions are ridiculous.

I don’t have my resume posted. I did that once, prompted by someone at the Career Center when my position was eliminated at the library. In four hours, I got three dozen inappropriate and sometimes threatening emails about things that had NOTHING to do with my profession (but some had plenty to do with the Oldest Profession).  I took my resume down and deleted my account. I don’t use LinkedIn (which I find useless and confining for what I do). 

I don’t know where some of these people got my information. I’ve asked, and some said, “Oh, you sent B at Company J a letter about what you do, and he passed it on and asked me to talk to you.” But the conversation has nothing to do with the letter — which was written after I researched the company, so it’s not like I’m just throwing spaghetti at the wall, people. I’ve done my homework.

If I’ve sent an LOI about copywriting needs, don’t have someone to contact me and ask if I’ll work a booth at a trade show for minimum wage. That’s not copywriting. Nor is minimum wage my rate.

I actually had a RECRUITER say to me, “Well, it’s not like writing is a REAL job.”

I ended the conversation right there.

On Monday night, my phone pinged, just before 8 PM. Right before end of day on the West Coast, so I figured it might be something someone wanted to get off the desk before walking out the door. It’s well after business hours for me here. It’s pretty clear from my LOIs and online information that I’m in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

I looked at the email. A recruiter, by the signature line. Not someone with whom I’ve interacted before. A single-line question, without context. A VAGUE question. No reference to what kind of position or company to which this question connects.

I glanced at it and put the phone aside. Something to deal with during my business day on Tuesday. I’d ask some questions and get context so I could give an appropriate answer.

Twenty-three minutes later, I got another email, calling me unprofessional for not answering the first email yet.

As tempting as it was, I did not respond with something snarky. OR with an apology (which, trust me, wasn’t going to happen).

Instead on Tuesday, I sent my response, not getting defensive or sarcastic (which meant I rewrote it a few times), asking for context: what company/position is this in regard to, where did they get my information, etc. I also added a line stating I was not available outside of regular business hours without prior arrangement, except in emergencies.

I got a response a few hours later, telling me I should be grateful I was even contacted, the company does not negotiate, and it is a privilege to work for them.

Negotiate what?

I still have no idea to which company they’re referring. So I sent a response, “Whatever this is in reference to, I’m not the right person for the assignment. Thank you for your interest.”

I got a return email berating me for my attitude and unprofessionalism.

I deleted it.

I still have no idea as to what the initial email referenced.

I doubt it’s the loss of my dream job.

But the entire exchange leaves me shaking my head.

Had the email arrived with context (company involved, a precise question instead of a vague one, why the recruiter contacted me, and how they found me), I could have answered promptly on Tuesday morning. Had there been a request to answer that night, I probably would have responded.

But the construction and the scolding? Huge red flag.

Obviously, they need a writer to craft correspondence.

I hope they find that which they seek.

I am not it.

That’s just fine with me.

What situations have you been in where you needed to ask for context and demand boundaries?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Trust Your Instincts

This will be a short post. Lots of things are up in the air right now, and we’ll see where we are when they settle.

As I’m having meetings and making new contacts, I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. When a red flag comes up, or when my gut tells me something is not right, I’m listening more and more. It’s saving me a world of pain.

Yes, it means I’m not landing some assignments. Actually, it means I’ve pulled myself from consideration on a few projects, because I knew they would be a bad choice. The potential client and I were not the right fit. Moving forward ONLY because I want the paycheck, would have been the wrong choice in the long run.

Each situation was different; some of the red flags were similar, some not. But the gut feeling of “wrong” was there. I listened. As I’m making these choices, the good meetings are even more positive. I’m redefining what I want and need from a work situation. I’m refusing to settle.

Settling doesn’t do either me or the client any good. Both parties need to want the best from and for a project. When it feels wrong, walk away.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve found lately is Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter. Use the resources on her site. Her commitment to dignity in the workplace and positive solutions are terrific.

On the flip side, I came across an article in a business magazine by a supposed HR expert. A reader had questions about red flags that came up in the interview experience. The HR “expert” ripped her a new one for unrealistic expectations. I found only one of the red flags in the interview process “unrealistic” (the interview didn’t start until 10 minutes later than scheduled, which sometimes happens). The rest of the flags were, to me, big reasons to worry.

The tone of the article was snarky in the wrong way, and deeply anti-worker, in my opinion. I’m not linking back to it because I didn’t keep track. But then I reminded myself it was written by an HR “expert” and appeared in a business publication. Of course it would be pro-management and anti-worker. The basic premise of the article was, “You should be grateful we deigned to give you an interview and take whatever’s offered, whether you like it or not.”

Yes, that’s the way too many businesses are run. When they whine about “not enough skilled workers” remember that if the people searching for those workers are going to treat them poorly and without dignity, the truly skilled will go elsewhere.

Trust your instincts. Learn the protocols of whatever business you want to work in. Make sure your instincts align with being treated with basic dignity and courtesy.

That will help you find the best fit possible.

Is this a pipe dream? What if you’re in desperate straits and have to take something, anything to keep a roof over your head? If that’s your current situation, and you have to take a subpar offer, do so. But don’t get stuck there. Keep searching. The minute you get something better, go. The days of 20 years with the same company and mutual loyalty are long gone. Too many companies believe that everyone is irrelevant and replaceable. While we are all replaceable, even though each individual brings something unique to the table, none of us are irrelevant.

Note: There have been some issues with the contact form on this site, with commenting, and adding the recaptcha in. The host and I are working on it. It’s frustrating, because they have me in an endless loop of repeating things that don’t work, but we’re working on it.

You can email me or connect on twitter @ink_fearless if you need to get in touch quickly while we fix things. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The New Face of An Old Problem

Content mills are back. They’ve never really left, but most freelancers who actually want to establish a real career in this professon turned their backs on these mills.

However, they’ve returned. Rebranded as agencies that provide content to help small companies grow.

Perhaps some of them actually do this. But the ones I’ve researched thus far (because it sounded like they were legitimately hiring freelance writers for a variety of interesting projects) have this in common:

They GROSSLY underpay writers.

One of them gave me a per-piece quote. The price seemed low unless it was a REALLY short piece. So I asked about word count. They wanted a word count that turned the per-word rate for the piece into .03/word.

No, thanks.

They also wanted a commitment of 5-6 articles per week, at 1.5-3K/article.

At a rate that works out to .03/word.

Oh, there’s more: they have to approve a certain number of sources per article. Which, to me, echoes a publication I quit when they told me I could only mention ad buyers in my articles.

That’s not how it works, people.

Article sources aren’t tied to the advertising budget of the publication. Sources are relevant to the veracity of the article.

Then there’s the agency supposedly “hiring” freelancers. Yet when they put out a call for an assignment, they will “submit” you (but only if you have project specific samples) and then you have to do the negotiation with the client. Why do I need someone to submit me if the rate we discussed and agreed upon for me to come and work under your company’s banner has nothing to do with any of the assignments?

“You have to work your way up to our agreed rates through a series of client-managed assignments.”

No, actually, I don’t.

I can pitch directly to clients with whom I think I’d be a good fit. Cut out the middle man. No worries about the agreed-upon rate being changed.

Many of these companies have slick websites that look and sound good until you break down the market-speak. One of these even made one of the local lists about being a one of the top local companies. Yet when you strip away Adobe Flash, it’s still a content mill.

Needless to say, run for the hills when they try to lure in the business by saying they provide content at low rates. Red flag. Right there.

Be careful. Beware. Trust your instincts. Go directly to the companies that need writers. Avoid “agencies” who want to pimp you out cheaply while they profit.

UPDATE: There’s a a problem with the reCaptcha — my host is working on it. In the meantime, freelancer Paula Hendrickson had this to add:

“I was talking about this exact thing this morning—how content mills that paid $5 per “article” seem to have been replaced by content agencies that might pay $50 per “article,” often for an undefined scope or length. They tout how much you can earn per month by writing 10 articles per week, while glossing over the fact that they’re probably keeping more than half what their clients are paying them while you’re working full time for less than minimum wage.  That doesn’t allow  you time to seek out better-paying clients on your own, which perpetuates the cycle.
They might call themselves “agencies” now. They may have realized that they can’t get decent copy at $5 a pop, and increased their rates from pathetically low to super low. But it’s still a mill system: pay providers the smallest amount of money possible, demand a high output of product, then sell their product for as much as you can milk out of it and keep the profits for yourself.”

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs a Writer: Chapter 6 — The Right Writer (and Graphic Designer) for the Job

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first, he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, he runs into his first choice, and decides to meet and see how they’d work together.

Our final chapter: Fred discovers he’s nervous before his meeting with Jenny and Gretchen. He decides to stop at the bakery to get coffee and treats.

The meeting itself surprises him. After a few minutes, he forgets it’s a meeting. Jenny and Gretchen ask him questions about his business, about how it started and was passed down in the family. He finds himself telling anecdotes he’d long forgotten, and making notes to dig in the old albums for photographs.

He likes the way Jenny says, “There are several ways we could approach this” and then talks about the different ways. He likes that there are genuine differences.

“I like what I do,” he says. “I like my customers. Maybe it’s old-fashioned to like one’s customers, but I don’t think they’re stupid. I try to give them a floor that will look good, wear well, and help them live a good life. It’s not the most important job in the world, but then, most people don’t spend as much time thinking about floors all day as I do.”

He’s shocked that the women find this delightful. He’s shy when he brings out the ideas and the budget he put together. “It’s not much of a budget,” he admits, “but I’m not sure what things cost.”

“The point is to get the best results where you put your money,” says Jenny. “We can track the data, and interpret it, and see if it gets the results you want. If and when it doesn’t, we change direction. The most important thing is to capture your voice, your personality, your passion for your work, and spread it to the widest audience.”

They chart out an initial, six-month campaign that mixes articles, blog posts, direct mail, email blasts, and social media. They add a series of discount codes for new customers who come to them through one of the channels, so they can see who comes through which channel. They will buy a couple of ads in local publications. Jenny encourages Fred to set up another library talk (which she will promote), about sustainable floor materials. She knows of a library hosting a series of sustainability talks, and she thinks his would fit in nicely.

They make some adjustments in the budget, but it’s workable for Fred. Jenny and Gretchen’s fees are higher than anyone else he interviewed, but he likes their talent and enthusiasm.

The next day, Jenny forwards over a contract. This time, Fred reads it with care. It is what they discussed, although overnight he re-considered one or two points. They discuss the points, agree on a compromise, and sign. Fred sends a deposit. Fred tells Brianna he’s “changing direction.” He never even gets a response. At Jenny’s suggestion, he changes all his passwords.

Most of the work is done remotely, although Jenny is around to talk to the staff, pick up photographs, and she and Gretchen oversee a photo shoot with a professional photographer. Everything arrives on time, and it’s even better than Fred hoped.

“You’re paying those girls too much,” snorts Kurt. “And for what?”

“They’re professional women and delivering good quality work,” says Fred. “They’re worth it.”

Kurt mutters a few things about feminism, and Fred doesn’t pay attention. Maybe he should challenge Kurt, but it’s not worth the energy.

Jenny warned him that direct mail usually gets about a 3% rate. He is happily surprised when his gets a 7% rate. The showroom is hopping, and he has plenty to keep his staff busy. His social media response rate is about 4%, still above the average.

“We’ll learn and tweak,” Jenny promises.

Fred does another interview, this time with a regional newspaper. That generates even more business. An online publication responds to one of Jenny’s press releases, and that piece gets him more visibility. He’s asked to speak at the Elks Club, and then to present at a home sustainability conference. He’s even a featured speaker for the Chamber one month. Kurt makes fun of him, but Fred doesn’t care. The library invites him back for a panel discussion with all the sustainability speakers.

“I’m not much of a speaker,” Fred worries.

“You understand your topic, and you’re a good guy,” says Jenny. “That translates.”

He hires her to help him craft a few things she calls “talking points” and he calls “cue cards” that help keep him on track for the speeches.

Reporters start contacting him to ask him for quotes about topics on floors and sustainability. Fred starts reading more, and spending more time studying RENEWABLE ENERGY magazine and on the website for the American Council on Renewable Energy. He also talks about projects that can use flooring that’s ripped out of a site and repurposed into other objects.

The website is freshened, there’s regular interaction on social media (Jenny sends him a weekly report, summarizing any conversations she thinks he should know about; she also immediately forwards any information if someone mentions interest in the product).

Jenny encourages his desire to send clients holiday cards by mail. She suggests he segment his list between clients and prospects, with a different card and message on each type.

Fred is surprised. Clients are pleased to hear from him. Some of the prospects ask if they can set up appointments after the holidays.

“There will be times when things level off,” said Jenny. “Then we’ll come up with something fresh, and we’ll make some more gains.”

“Kurt said we’re bound to fail because people don’t need new floors very often,” said Fred. “He thinks I should install floors that will need replacing after a few years. But I don’t want to install low quality floors.”

“Stick to the quality of your product,” Jenny advises. “You’re becoming an expert source. People trust you.”

That’s the part Fred likes. He gets to meet new and interesting people, who like hearing about floors. His website and mail pieces reflect things he cares about. He can keep his workers employed steadily and even give them a raise. He can talk to Jenny and Gretchen honestly. They don’t make him feel old or out-of-touch. They can take some of his stodgier ideas and put a retro flair spin on them. He enjoys learning new things, and enjoys communicating

Fred and his business are both thriving because his message is successfully communicated to the right audience by the right people.

It’s worth the price.

It took him awhile, but he made the right choice.

What are your best freelance experiences, as the client, or the freelancer? I’d love to hear about them here.

Ink-Dipped Advice: 18th Anniversary of 9/11


image courtesy of web-36reg via pixabay.com

I will never get over the events of 9/11. Forty-two people I knew died that day.  I learn to live with it.

I also schedule as little as possible that day out of respect.

For me, life “going on” doesn’t mean that I book appointments that day like any other day. I do what I need to do to show respect for the day and the dead.

Everyone has to deal with this day in a way that works for them. This is how it works for me.

I will be back with the next chapter of Fred Needs a Writer next Wednesday.

Peace, my friends. Let’s hope we can build a better world before it’s too late.

INK-DIPPED ADVICE: Chapter 5: Fred Attends The Chamber Breakfast

Fred Needs A Writer: Chapter 5. The Chamber Breakfast

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit. He hires Brianna. At first he’s happy, but lately, he feels like she’s not giving him the time and attention the job needs.

Fred sees the email about the local chamber of commerce breakfast. He hasn’t gone to any events in over a year, although he keeps up his membership. To him Chamber of Commerce membership is a responsibility like voting and serving jury duty.

Kurt and Sandy are going, so at least he’ll know someone.

Fred is surprised by all the new faces, and people of all ages. Even at this hour of the morning, there are lively conversations and lots of laughter. The spread looks pretty good, too. It’s at a local restaurant. Fred’s known the owner, Bart, since they were in school since kindergarten together, and his wife Muriel since she married Bart.

Fred goes over to say hello. “This place looks great,” he says. “You painted? And is that a new logo?”

“We did.” Bart grins at him. “Same good, old-fashioned home cooking, but we freshened the look of the place.”

Fred thinks back to the past few weeks. “You know, I noticed you’re all over the papers. Margaret showed me the article. My daughter said you’re doing a lot on social media.”

“We hired it out,” says Bart. “I can barely Facebook with the grandkids. I don’t enjoy it, and don’t want to make the time.”

“Who’d you hire?” Fred asks. “I hired someone recently, but I think I made the wrong choice.”

“Some of your posts have been a little strange lately,” Bart agrees. “Muriel saw them. Said they don’t sound like you, and were confusing.”

“We were trying to be relevant,” says Fred.

“It seemed more like trying for irony, but came across as sarcasm,” says Bart. “Let me introduce you to the team I hired: Jenny Cotter and Gretchen Rojas. Jenny writes and handles all the posting. Gretchen does the graphics. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every penny. They’re over there, talking to Jillian.”

“Jillian, of Jillian’s Treasures?” Fred asks. “That new store on Commercial Street?”

“Same Jillian. She’s new to town. Just opened at the start of the season.”

“I see her ads and her logo everywhere,” says Fred. “My wife and daughter kept seeing her name, and started shopping there. Now, they won’t stop.”

“Everyone’s heard of her thanks to Jenny and Gretchen. Come on and say hi.”

Bart introduces Fred to Jillian, Jenny, and Gretchen, who are having a lively conversation. Fred suddenly realizes this is the Jenny whose writing he liked so much, the one who wouldn’t do free samples.

“I wish I’d hired you,” he blurts out.

“You still can,” Jenny smiles at him. “Gretchen and I are a good team.”

They set an appointment to meet at Fred’s showroom.

Fred fills his plate at the buffet and joins Kurt and Sandy. “Don’t see why Bart’s wasting so much money on advertising when the food’s the same,” Kurt mutters.

“The food is good,” says Fred. “Now more people know about it, that’s all.”

“And the locals won’t be able to park and come in for a good meal,” Kurt frets. He changes the subject. “Does Margaret know you’re flirting with younger women?”

“I’m not flirting.” Fred turns red, because he was tempted to flirt. A little. “Jillian has a nice new store that Margaret and my daughter both like. I told her. Jenny and Gretchen do her marketing, and they’re doing Bart’s, too.”

“I don’t know where that Jillian woman gets off thinking she can come here and take over,” Sandy sniffs.

“She’s not your competition,” Fred points out.

“Of course she is,” says Sandy.

Fred has no idea what she means.

“All that over-priced eco-feminist stuff.” Kurt shakes his head. “Waste of money.

“Are you sure you mean eco-feminist?” Fred has no idea what Kurt means.

“Can’t say anything these days with all this political correctness,” Kurt moans. “You can’t mention color. You can’t mention sex. You can’t mention nationality. What can you talk about anymore?”

Fred thinks it has to do more with being a decent human being than politics, but changes the subject. “I made an appointment with Jenny and Gretchen.”

“Both of them?” Kurt snorts. “They’re taking you for a ride, buddy. You don’t need two more women working for you.”

“One writes, one does graphics.”

“Find someone who does both. You save half.”

“That didn’t work so well this time.”

Kurt shrugs. “Your money to waste.”

Fred starts to feel like he’s wasted a lot of time over the years with Kurt.

As they eat, the head of the chamber greets them, and then invites everyone to say a few words about themselves and their business. Fred enjoys listening to the people who run the businesses he uses, and he enjoys listening to the new people. He think Kurt sounds a bit bombastic, and Sandy a little desperate.

When it’s his turn, he feels shy. He tells an anecdote about his father’s time building the business and how his father always said, “You have to stand on something. It might as well be both sturdy and pretty.” It gets a decent laugh.

Jillian’s presentation is charming. Jenny and Gretchen do theirs together, and it’s funny and smart. Fred thinks it’s wonderful. Kurt looks annoyed, and Sandy bored.

He can’t even get near Jenny and Gretchen after the presentations, but waves in their direction as he leaves and looks forward to their meeting.

“Want to play a round this afternoon?” Kurt asks.

Fred shakes his head. “I’m on my way out to a house at the waterfront. They left the slider open on the deck in the storm last week and the floors buckled. I suspect the builder put in something cheap, so we’ll rip it all out and put in a good hard wood.”

Kurt is disappointed. Fred would rather talk flooring with a new client than listen to Kurt moan about the breakfast for 18 holes.

Besides, once he gets back from the client meeting, he’s going to fire Brianna.

Do you attend Chamber events? What is your experience? What advice do you have for Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 4: The Hire

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred needs a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free. He interviewed several candidates. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not sure which one will be the right fit.

Fred decides to offer Walter the job.

“I’m interested in the job,” says Walter. “But now let’s talk money.”

Fred is puzzled. “I stated in the interview that the job was 10-15 hours a week, at minimum wage.”

“Sure you did,” says Walter. “That’s the starting point for the negotiation.”

“Negotiation?”

“You can’t expect a marketing professional to work for minimum wage,” says Walter. “That’s for manual labor or fast food or an internship. Professionals get professional rates.”

Fred thinks about the people Kurt and Sandra hire. They’re young, starting out.

“Also,” says Walter, “rather than charge by the hour, I prefer to work per project. What kind of projects are we talking?”

“Whatever comes up,” says Fred. “It changes.”

“I’ll leave you a rate sheet and you can call me when you want to get started.” Walter pulls a piece of paper out of his briefcase, hands it to Fred, and gets up, holding out his hand. “I look forward to working with you.”

Fred is confused. This isn’t at all the way they discussed working in the interview.

“He’s not the right choice,” says Margaret.

Fred decides to offer Mallory the job. She will bring some much-needed quiet to the office.

“Oh,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you. You know how it is; you go on a dozen interviews and never hear from anyone again.”

Fred didn’t know how it was.

“Anyway,” says Mallory, “I’ve accepted another job. It’s full-time, with benefits, and room for growth.”

“Congratulations,” says Fred.

“Don’t hire Cole,” warns Margaret. “You can’t rely on him.”

Fred leaves Cole a message that he didn’t get the job. After all, it’s only fair, especially after what Mallory told him.

That leaves him with Brianna. He’s not sure she’s right for the job, but maybe her fresh ideas will work. It’s either that, or start looking for more candidates and holding more interviews. The thought of it exhausts Fred.

“You can always just use the samples they wrote for you,” says Kurt. “That will buy you some time.”

Fred thinks that’s wrong (thanks to Jenny’s education), and decides to offer the job to Brianna.

Brianna accepts the job, although she manages to negotiate up to $20/hour. “It’s still lower than my regular rate,” she says. “But I can live with that, for now. This is only part-time, and I’ll have to make it up on my other gigs.”

Penny only gets $15 an hour, even though she’s worked for Fred for several years. He feels like he can’t give Brianna $20/hour without giving Penny the same.

“Don’t be stupid,” says Kurt. “It’s not their business, what each other are paid. Don’t say anything.”

Fred doesn’t feel right about it. Penny is thrilled to get a $5/hour raise.

“You did the right thing,” says Margaret. “But let’s hope Brianna’s good enough to get us enough new business to cover the increased expense.”

Brianna gives him a contract. He glances at it, mostly to make sure the hours and the rate are correct, and signs it.

The first month goes well. Brianna shows up on time, has a positive attitude. She talks to everybody, shadows the other employees, takes lots of photos. She goes to several sites, gets the proper permissions from the homeowners, and takes and posts photos of the work on the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumbler. She freshens up some of the content on the website, and changes the wording so it’s more fun.

She designs a Facebook ad for a limited-time sale rate, and they do something called “boosting” it. It doesn’t cost very much, only about 100 dollars. According to the data Brianna shows him, it reached 3,197 people. They got 21 calls from it, and 7 walk-ins. It looks like a little more than half of them will actually become customers.

“You need to attend more chamber events and more business events,” she suggests. “Unless you want to pay me to attend.”

“You should do a podcast,” she suggests. “Or a blog.”

That sounds interesting to Fred, until she gives him the cost sheet. “You hired me for social media,” she says. “Look at the contract. Anything that’s not a social media post is an additional charge.”

That includes press releases, which worries Fred. He expected press releases included in the hourly rate. He’s annoyed that he didn’t read the contract more closely in the first place. When he re-reads it, he sees Brianna is correct. It’s all clearly spelled out. Very different terms than they discussed, but this is what he signed.

But Brianna knows a local reporter and convinces him to come and do a story for the paper. Brianna takes the pictures. It looks nice. Fred frames a copy and hangs it up in the store. Brianna buys several copies of the paper (on Fred’s dime). She scans one copy of the article, and makes physical photocopies. She puts them in something she calls a “clip file” and keeps one copy for her own portfolio.

They get more phone calls, and even more walk-ins, although fewer of these walk-ins seem like they’ll actually buy anything. The article just made them curious. But that’s okay. Maybe a year or so down the road, they’ll need a new floor, and they’ll call him.

But then, Brianna starts changing her hours. Fred never knows when she will come in. At first, she calls, and asks for more flexibility, due to her other jobs. But then, she stops calling, and comes in and out at random times, but just for an hour or two. Social media posts still go up regularly. Brianna still bills him for the same amount of hours, saying she’s working remotely.

Sometimes, she shows up when Penny is there. Since they are supposed to share a desk and computer, it means Brianna perches on a stool in the showroom, working from her iPad.

The number of new customers has fallen off. Fred wants to sit down with Brianna to plan out a long-term campaign. He’s proud of himself for even setting up a budget, albeit a small one.

But Brianna never seems to have the time.

When Fred tries to bring this up, Brianna says, “Look, you’re my lowest paying client. I can’t afford to work for you if I have to give you priority over my higher-paying clients.”

“All I’m asking for is the time for which you contracted.” He points to the contract.

“It says 10-15 hours,” Brianna replies. “It doesn’t say when they have to happen.”

Fred isn’t sure what to do. What advice would you give Fred?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fred Needs A Writer Chapter 3: Interviews

 

Our story so far: Small business owner Fred need a part-time marketing writer for his floor installation business. After advice from his friend, he put an ad on Craigslist and got a variety of responses. He asked for writing samples specific to his company; he received some, but his first choice of writer refused to do one for free.

Chapter 3: Interviewing Candidates

Fred sets up a series of interviews over several days, in his office. He wants to see the candidates in person, and he wants them to see the workspace, which contains flooring samples and a small warehouse.

Jenny withdrew from consideration when she found out that he didn’t pay for writing samples. Fred is disappointed, but he understands. If he paid her, he’d have to pay all of them, and that runs into more money than he wants to spend. Kurt tells him to just pay Jenny, if he likes her so much; the others will never know. But Fred doesn’t feel right about it and won’t do that.

Walter shows up with a portfolio that is partially in a file, and partially online. He’s a nice enough guy (although he was five minutes late for the interview). The graphics are good, but even Fred notices the mis-spellings and mis-use of words. When he points them out, Walter shrugs. “Nobody notices that,” he says.

Fred noticed. He wonders if that makes him “nobody.”

Walter walks around the showroom. He’s personable and starts chatting with the sales guy, and with the guys loading the truck for today’s jobs. He jokes with Margaret and with Penny. He’s a perfectly nice guy with a good eye for design. Who can’t spell.

They talk marketing budget, and Walter says he can work within the range Fred gives him.

Brianna shows up right on time and talks a lot, very fast. She talks about how she wants to see the showroom rearranged to get better pictures. All her work is online, and it’s mostly in the gif and jokey format. “It’s not like anyone is going to pay attention for more than fifteen seconds to a floor,” she says.

When it comes to budget, Brianna tells Fred he needs to triple it in order to have any hope of a return. She also urges him to stop all print marketing and only do digital. She suggests he hire someone to design an app.

Cole doesn’t show up.

Mallory is a nice young woman, a little shy, but it takes her a long time to get to the point of any sentence. She’s polite, but quiet with the other people in the office. Fred thinks it might be restful.

“How could she possible figure out how to create a three-word banner?” Margaret wonders. “She’s more of a novelist than someone who writes ad copy.”

Three days after the interview, a scruffy guy with a large portfolio shows up, just as Fred is locking up for the night. It’s Cole.

His artwork is good, but to Fred it looks like it should be a mural on the side of a building, or a painting in a gallery. There aren’t any words on his pieces.

“The graphics speak for themselves,” says Cole.

Fred isn’t sure how Cole can get the graphic to say, “Buy your new floor here and have me install it.”

But the images are striking.

Walter is the most easy-going and fits what Fred thinks of when he thinks, “marketing guy.” Brianna has good ideas about modern technology. Cole is unreliable but talented. Mallory is shy and pleasant, but not succinct.

He’s the most comfortable with Walter (his daughter says, “You’re such an old white man, Dad.”) He feels like he wants to give Cole or Mallory the chance, but he’s not sure either one can provide what he needs. Nor does he want to miss out on the way marketing evolves, and Brianna seems to have the best handle on that.

Which candidate would you choose? Why or why not? What advice would you give to Fred?