Ink-Dipped Advice

Ink-Dipped Advice: Opportunity

 

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

What does that mean in a strategic plan?

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

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

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

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

Lots to fix, right?

An opportunity, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the difference?

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

Instead of drive-by marketing, build relationships.

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

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

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

Research companies/businesses that work in that area.

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

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

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

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

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

How do you create opportunities?

Where would you like to expand?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan – Goals

 

Last week, I noted that I’m not comfortable publicly stating my goals on this site, when it comes to the Personal Strategic Plan. We all have the choice how much to reveal and how much not to reveal. There are times where stating a goal or a dream or a resolution publicly makes you take firmer action and have accountability. There are also times when talking a goal too early dilutes it from becoming a reality.

I have a site where I keep monthly to do lists and work on my Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions for the month and the year. Of course, it’s called “Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions” and can be found here. I work on a series of questions through autumn that help me define my GDRs for the coming year.

Then life comes and things change. We all have to decide where to be adaptable and flexible, where to let go of what no longer works, and where we’re just giving up.

For me, goals are things I can break down into actual steps. I can put a finite time limit on them. Dreams are more fluid. I often need more time and thought and resources before I can turn a dream into a goal. A resolution is where I work on something in myself that I want to improve.

In a strategic plan, the goals are closely tied to the vision/mission statement, and use the strengths and weaknesses. (We will talk about opportunities and threats in a future post — I’m rolling my eyes just thinking about it).

Goals have to do with knowledge of what you can and can’t control.

For example, a novelist can have the goal of writing and polishing the next novel, and getting it out on submission. Becoming a best-selling author within a year might be a dream, but until the book is written and out on submission, it’s not a goal. Once the book is in publication, there are plenty of parts of the “best-seller” mode that the author can’t control, but the author can take specific steps to turn it from a dream into a goal by a comprehensive marketing plan and hand-selling, one-on-one, to as many potential bookstores, conferences, readers, etc.

But without a manuscript on paper, “best-seller” is a dream, not a goal.

Even once the book is out there, there are plenty of factors that might make “best seller” impossible. You can then set goals for sales increases based on the physical work you are able to do in any given period, and your advertising budget. You might not meet them, but you’re closer to tangibles and actions.

Goals are about action. “I am here, I want to be THERE.”

A reasonable goal is “I will pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs this month.”

A more difficult goal is that you will SELL 4 articles and that all 10 LOIs will wind up in assignments, because there are too many factors outside of your control.

The more experience you have, the more research you do prior to the pitches and the LOIs, the more likely each one is to hit true and get you a paid assignment, but the goal is to do your homework and get good pitches out there.

A resolution would be to take any rejections, examine them, learn from them, and apply that knowledge moving forward so that you have a higher percentage of
acceptances.

By learning and applying new knowledge, you are more likely to have your pitches and LOIs result in paid assignments. You will see your percentage go up.

You may well hit the point where you pitch 4 articles and 10 LOIs in a month and they all hit.

Then, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I want, or am I playing it safe?”

It may be time to adjust the goals.

Can you send out the 4 pitches and the 10 LOIs that hit, but also send out one or two more pitches and a couple of LOIs to places that are a stretch? More visible markets at higher pay? Maybe they won’t hit, but if they do, you’re moving up a tier.

You’re building on the achieved goals.

When you sit down to list goals, list plenty. Then break them down to see which are goals and which are dreams. Which dreams need work on resolutions, so that you can turn them into goals?

You’ll notice I’m avoiding a lot of market-speak in this piece. Mostly because those terms make me want to hurl. Certain terms get overused and are thrown around instead of action. Especially in meetings, where people try to impress executives with a lot of hot air.

I was on the board of a non-profit a few years ago. We worked on the organization’s strategic plan. I was the one in the room who kept saying, “What do you MEAN by those phrases? What are you going to DO to create these goals?”

Which, of course, was met with blank looks. Until someone took a breath and threw out another string of market-speak, to which I said, “How?”

Which was met with more blank looks.

The terminology does not replace the action.

Goal setting takes time. It requires thought. It requires self-evaluation and sometimes painful honesty.

But once you separate the goals from the dreams, and figure out how current goals support longer-term dreams, you can start breaking down the goal into steps you can actually take to see results, instead of getting overwhelmed by the whole project.

You will need to stop and re-assess along the way. You may need to change elements of the goal or the path to achieve it.

But without taking definitive action, it’s all talk. It’s a list of meaningless phrases that doesn’t get you anywhere.

How do you come up with your goals?

How do you break your goals down into steps?

How do you motivate yourself to TAKE that first step, and then the next?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Strengths & Weaknesses

Today, we talk about SWOT, the part of the personal strategic plan — or any strategic plan — that makes me feel like I’m entering the land of the psychobabble. I’m using myself as an example, not because I think I’m so wonderful, but because I hope sharing portions of my own journey will help you find ways to look at your own possibilities.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The “threats” part of it make me wonder if someone arranged the letters so it would be close to SWAT. Unless I’m worried about corporate espionage, or unless I’m living in a dangerous neighborhood or factoring in climate change, “threats” are a misnomer. I think that’s a toxic element to add into an organization’s discussion of a way to move forward. Even if that organization is facing a rough stretch. When it’s part of a personal plan — I think it sets a tone of paranoia, instead of positive forward motion.

Most strategic plans create a scorecard for four topics within each of these four topics: financial, customer, internal, and learning/growth.

Finding, acknowledging, dealing with, and improving upon these facets is important, whether it’s a business, a non-profit, or your personal plan.

Rather than putting those four topics under the S, W, O, T headings, I would put them the other way around.

We will focus on Strengths & Weaknesses this week.

Question: What are the areas important and relevant to your life?

My list includes:
Creativity
Home/Family/Friends
Financial concerns
Health
Work
Long Term Goals

Under Creativity, I create the following list:
Strengths:
–Steady flow of ideas and inspiration from almost everything around me;
–Ability to integrate and absorb different ideas and techniques into a whole;
–High bullshit detector;
–Love of research and learning;
–Fast learning curve;
–Insatiable curiosity;
–Ability for intense, prolonged concentration;
–Willingness to try new things and expand skills.

Weaknesses:
–Can hyper-focus on a single task and demand total immersion;
–Impatience with self and others.
–Overwork and don’t realize it until it’s too late and I’m past the point of diminishing return;

Home/Family/Friends
Strengths:
–Loyalty;
–Compassion;
–Humor;
–Inclusion;
–Stubbornness/tenacity.

Weaknesses:
–Sometimes misplaced loyalty;
–Need for large amounts of solitude and silence;
–Impatience;
–Zero tolerance for stupidity and chosen ignorance;
–Introversion;
–Tenacity/tenacity.

Financial Concerns:
Strengths:
–Multi-skilled;
–Fast learning curve;
–Contract skills;
–Inventive frugality;

Weaknesses:
–Living in an area that does not respect my work/skills and doesn’t want to pay for them;
–Instability of freelancing;
–Not enough time spent marketing the fiction;
–Some impulse buying, especially when it comes to books;
–Not enough savings;
–Not enough of a financial cushion for meaningful vacation breaks or emergencies.

Health
Strengths:
–Daily yoga and meditation practices;
–Weight training;
–Healthy eating (most of the time)

Weaknesses:
–Poor health insurance options;
–Distrust of the medical profession and the insurance system;
–Not enough physical activity;
–Not enough breaks/vacation time.

Work:
Strengths:
–The entire list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Ability to adapt quickly and integrate new skills;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum;
–Can read a little bit in more than English;
–A refusal to work for those who I believe lack integrity.

Weaknesses:
–The list from the creativity section is relevant here;
–Willingness to do more than the minimum often ends up in my being expected to clean up for lazier or less-skilled co-workers without appreciation or remuneration.
–As I age, I no longer want to have to adapt constantly. I want to do the job I’m there to do, and that’s it;
–Am only fluent in English;
–Because I believe the work is not about me, but about the work, my contributions are sometimes minimized.

Long Term Goals
I am not comfortable sharing these publicly right now. It’s a case of talking before doing doesn’t help me manifest, but hurt me manifest.

But in the Long-Term Goals category, I find that it helps to define a SMALL set of goals (three to five, not fifteen to twenty), and then list how my strengths and weaknesses affect each goal.

This is different than the way most organizations talk about their long-term goals, but again, it’s different for an individual than for an organization. You use the techniques that have personal value in each type of situation.

Examining the strengths and the weaknesses, it helps to ask where one can build on the strengths. For me, some of my strengths are also weaknesses. Sometimes, it depends on context.

Once you figure out what strengths you can build on (and, in many cases, it’s almost all of them; we are rarely at the pinnacle of our capabilities), then it’s time to examine the weaknesses.

I ask myself:
–Where can I turn a perceived weakness into a strength?
–Where does a weakness indicate a type of job or situation I should avoid because it runs counter to my own core integrity?
–What are weaknesses that can be lessened if I change my perspective or put in time to learn more skills?
–Where do either my strengths or weaknesses become obstacles in my goals, and how can I change that?

There are dozens more questions you can ask on each of these topics, but the above questions are the ones I find most useful.

Also, more than one factor from more than one area often plays in to what we can change at this moment, and where we need to use patience and persistence to make small changes now that will add up to larger changes in the future.

How do you analyze your strengths and weaknesses?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Seize the Opportunity

I’m still working on the personal SWOT piece I promised you a few weeks ago. Because I have issues with how those are set up, I’m fighting/challenged to create something that works better.

In the meantime, I had a lovely, unexpected opportunity spring up.

In one of the busiest months I’ve had in the last few years.

However, it’s a GREAT opportunity. It came to me almost by accident, and I tossed my hat into the ring, because, why not?

I had a first conversation that went well, but I thought it could have gone better. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Then, I was offered further discussion. So I jumped at it.

There are no guarantees. It’s a risk. Especially when I’m under stresses and deadlines from other events this month.

However, if I don’t try, I definitely won’t succeed.

I’d give it a shot. If it doesn’t work — I will have gained a valuable experience.

If it works — yippee, and I’ll share details when I can.

But the important part is I didn’t make excuses or talk myself out of NOT trying, simply because it wasn’t already in the schedule.

I want this.

I will do what I can to make it work.

I will control what I can in the situation, affect what I can, and trust that if that is the right opportunity, because I put in the right effort, it will work out. If it’s not, it won’t.

But it won’t be for lack of trying.

There’s a saying for writers who constantly make excuses for not answering an opportunity: “Answer when the Muse knocks, because if you don’t, she’ll move on to the next creative door.”

I intend to open and invite the Muse in. Or maybe go out dancing with the Muse.

I’m going to enjoy the process, no matter what the result.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Spring Equinox & Balance

A Balance Break

Today is the Spring Equinox. That means that the daylight and the dark are in balance, and that, as of tomorrow, we continue to gain daylight and there’s more daylight than dark until the Summer Solstice in June.

Contrary to what “they” tell us, the Summer Solstice is NOT the start of summer. It’s Midsummer.

That’s a post for a different day.

The Equinox got me thinking about balance. At first, I was just going to toss up a post telling everyone to take a break.

But it’s more than about just a quick break. It’s about the daily shifts we have to do in order to balance our health, creativity, life, work, and financial needs.

Every day, we make dozens of adjustments from what we feel we’re obligated to do against what we want to do against what we thought we’d do against what we can actually get done.

Instead of fighting the adjustments, try to celebrate them whenever possible.

Be active, not reactive.

A rather overused phrase, but important. Let how you structure your day be a series of choices as much as you can, rather than a series of reactions.

Enjoy your Equinox.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Core Values

 

Back on January 16, I talked about a Personal Strategic Plan. Then, on February 27, I talked about putting together a personal vision or mission statement, and how the one I use for myself differs slightly from the one I implement for my clients.

Now, we’re on to the next step in the plan: Core Values.

What does that mean for a writer or freelancer or artist?

For me, it means defining the integrity behind the work. What is the core of personal integrity I use in my own work and toward my own work?

Part of it is how I explore characters, situations, and beliefs in my writing. I write to understand the world (or built/fictional worlds) better, even through characters with whom I don’t agree. Sometimes, I write to bear witness. Other times, I write to find a way to do better, as an individual and a society.

For clients, I shape their message to reach their best and widest audience.

However, if I don’t respect what they stand for, I can’t do that. I don’t work for people who want me to shape a message that I believe is harmful or contrary to who I am as a human being.

Which means I’ve turned down quite a few high-paid gigs. And I’m okay with that.

Other people make other decisions, and that’s up to them.

I practice conscientious consumerism. I don’t shop at places who treat their employees badly or who implement religious or racist or gender-intolerant policies. So what if they’re cheaper? I’d rather spend a little more to buy a little less at a place with ethics that align more closely to my own. I choose to put my money elsewhere. I work hard for my money (to paraphrase Donna Summers’s famous song), and I’m not turning it over to businesses I find loathsome. There are restaurants where I won’t eat and stores where I won’t shop. I politely decline invitations to them; I drive to other stores to get similar items. I don’t have to stand on a soapbox and denounce them or attack other people who spend money there; I make my own decisions and act on them.

Do I get it right every time? Of course not. But I make an effort, and if I find out something about a company that runs counter to my core values, it changes my shopping habits.

So what are my core values?

For my own work, it is to shape worlds through words that explore and expand understanding of different points of view, with an intent toward building a better understanding, and therefore, a better society for all.

By the way, I do not believe that runs counter to being able to entertain. So, for all those people huffing and puffing about how they write to “entertain” and stay away from current events or anything else that has meaning in our daily lives, I look at them and think, “cop out.” However, it’s their choice. I’m glad to know that’s their position. As a conscientious consumer, I then chose to put my money elsewhere; I also do not expect them to put their money into anything of mine. We are each acting on our core values. And can have long and happy lives far away from each other.

The most entertaining, deepest work deals with difficulties people face and how they triumph (or don’t). Humor, at its best, speaks to deeper issues in the vein of ha-ha-ow! when it hits properly.

Work that is “entertaining” is not necessarily “irrelevant” or “fluffy.” We all want entertainment we deem as “brain candy” sometimes. We need it. But the best of it works on multiple levels. Yes, it relieves stress and takes us out of ourselves and our daily problems. But when it endures, we can then do back and enjoy it again on a deeper level. That doesn’t disqualify its ability to please us and charm us and offer respite. True entertainment never condescends to its audience OR its own characters. It pleasures and uplifts all of them.

For my clients, my core values mean to work with people I respect; people who are passionate about what they do and want to share it with a larger audience. It is to work WITH them to create the most positive, engaging message to reach the widest possible audience.

Figuring this out took years. I had to figure out not only what I believed and where my boundaries are, but those beliefs and boundaries shifted as I learned and grew as a person. Eighteen-year-old me made different compromises than twenty-five year-old me than the much-older-me today. I learned, I grew, I tried different things, I made A LOT of mistakes, I learned or didn’t from them, I made more mistakes, I listened to other people and learned from them, and I grew. I improved as a human being, thank goodness. I hope I do that my entire life, even while I still make mistakes.

There were too many years when I tried to please people or make money by working for people whose behavior and values made me cringe because we’re constantly being told that type of behavior is “professional.” As recently as last year, I disengaged from a client because, although the client’s parameters were absolutely legal, I felt some of the ethics were questionable, especially in alignment with my values. I was uncomfortable being part of the organization. I felt I was hypocritical to my own integrity, and therefore I did not give the client the best of my work. Which was a negative for both of us. It made sense for us to part ways, and both go on to better for each of us.

Who I am as a person is not compartmentalized from who I am as a professional. Once I stopped buying into the myth that a professional can and will do anything for the cash without caring about ethics, and started doing work that I not only loved but believed in for people I respected, it all shifted. It’s often not easy. It takes more hustle, more energy, more disappointment, a bigger fight to get fair pay. But for me, it’s worth it.

What do you consider your core values, and how did you figure them out?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Beauty of Guidelines

 

Whether you’re pitching an article or submitting a novel query or pitching a script, the guidelines of any particular publisher are important.

Following them properly are vital to success at landing a contract.

I’ve taught entire workshops on interpreting guidelines and following them.

Having worked on both sides of the editorial table, I sympathize with both editors who are frustrated by writers who don’t follow guidelines, and writers who are frustrated by the guidelines.

It’s important to remember that the guidelines and how the writer follows them are the first test to see if the writer and the publisher are a good fit.

The editor wants to know:
–can the writer demonstrate basic reading comprehension and follow instructions;
–can the writer understand and fulfill the requirements of being part of this organization;
–can the writer demonstrate fluency in grammar, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, understand the purpose of a hook, and distill the necessary information into a single page;
–can the writer demonstrate an intelligence and a flexibility that proves the individual is easy to work with and doesn’t need constant babysitting.

Guidelines are not there to make the writer’s life miserable. They exist to streamline the process for the editor/publication and weed out those who are more trouble than they’re worth.

I took a wonderful workshop, way back in film school, about pitching screenplays. A good portion of it was about developing a logline. A logline is a single sentence (not complex, compound, or run-on) that encapsulates the screenplay while enchanting the listener.

The workshop leader, who worked in acquisitions and development for a major studio, stated that if the writer could not distill the screenplay down into that one simple logline, the writer didn’t know the piece well enough, it needed another draft, and was not ready to pitch.

I remember that every time I prepare a pitch or a query. There are times when I decide not to pitch or query something because I obviously need more time with it, and I can’t distill it down to the basics while making it enticing.

The elevator pitch is more like a paragraph, but the logline is a good test of whether or not something is ready to go out.

On the flip side of guidelines, when I see demanding guidelines that take me so far out of standard manuscript format that I should be on staff for the publication and paid to reformat, it gives me pause. There’s a reason standard manuscript format uses the word “standard.”

I draft in standard manuscript format because it is far easier to format OUT of it than into it, should that be necessary (to create one-paragraph summaries, excerpts for media kits and interviews, etc). And, people, the default in Word is NOT standard manuscript format. It will mess you up. Set the document to standard manuscript format when you start the first words of your manuscript, and it will serve you well.

If you don’t know what “standard manuscript format” is — LOOK IT UP. Don’t expect others to do your research for you. The information is out there. Put in some effort to learn your craft.

Back from that little tangent.

When guidelines are overly complicated, or when there’s an edge of nastiness to them, I step back. I do more research. It’s a hint that perhaps we are not a good fit.

When I see something in the guidelines that I disagree with, with which I’m not willing to suck it up and do it,  I take a deep breath and move on.

I don’t email them to ask for an exception or to argue with them. They have the right to set whatever guidelines that work for them.

I have the right not to submit.

That’s the beauty of the guidelines. They give BOTH sides of the equation necessary information.

As a writer, if the guidelines don’t work for you, DON’T SUBMIT. Keep doing your research, and find a publication/publisher that’s a better match.

Submitting anyway, because you think you’re such a brilliant writer that they’ll make an exception for you will only cause frustration for both of you. You’ll be upset because you’ll get a rejection. If you don’t follow guidelines, chances are it will be rejected unread. They will be frustrated because you wasted their time and proved you’re not a professional.

If you ARE that brilliant, a different publication, where you’re comfortable with and have followed the guidelines, will contract you. If you ARE that brilliant, word will get around, and publications will wind up coming to you.

When you’re simply Very Good, you work a little harder to find the right fit, and don’t bother with publications that are the wrong fit.

Which you can often tell from the guidelines.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Personal Strategic Plan — Vision

 

A few weeks ago, we talked about the vision statement for a personal strategic plan. I mentioned how I feel the vision statement and the mission statement should be integrated for a personal plan, and how I’m not a big fan of either. And how my vision for my own work is a little different from that of what I do with clients.

But I’ve been working on my personal vision/mission statement.

I’ve come up with this:

My work grows from project to project, in both art and craft. Each project builds on the previous project, grows, and deepens. The worlds expand, the characters deepen, the personal becomes universal, and the universal becomes personal. I hope my work expands and deepens others’ understanding of the world, as other artists have expanded and deepened mine.

For my clients, I expand and engage their audience with a message that reflects the heart, soul, and integrity of the client.

What is your vision and/or mission for your work?