Research Gets Harder

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Research Gets Harder

As we build our freelance careers, we and our clients find each other through a myriad of ways: referrals, seeing work and wanting to work with the creator, putting out an ad, LOIs (Letters of Introduction).

One of the most important (and time-consuming) portions of the finding-clients process is researching and vetting them. This is getting more and more difficult, because of all the disinformation out there. Is what you’re hearing/reading about a potential client true? How do you vet?

If it’s a referral, then the person making the referral matters. If I’m referred by someone with whom I’ve had a bad experience (such as late payment or change of direction without renegotiating a contract or multiple points of contact trying to be heard instead of the single point in the contract), then I do extra research.  Because if a problematic client refers me, the person to which I’m being referred may also be problematic.

Freelancers talking to each other is important, especially when there’s a sense of trust between them. If you talk to a fellow freelancer and trust them to tell you the truth of their experience, rather than worried they will try to sabotage you, everyone wins. If another freelancer, especially one I know well and respect, has a bad experience with a company, that’s a red flag on the company for me.

I keep a list of companies that have asked me for free labor as a part of the interview process. This includes any sort of “test” or expecting me to create something specific to their company, especially before any conversation has happened. “Oh, it’s just a headline” or “it’s just 300 words, it should take ten minutes” means they don’t understand what I do, and they don’t respect it.

Big Red Flag.

I have a specific contract for tests and samples. When the demand is made, I send the contract. Nine times out of ten, the company ghosts me. The tenth time, someone argues with me and says, “But I had to do it. It’s not a big deal.”

And my response is, “I’m sorry your self-esteem is so low. This company and I are not compatible.”

If someone asks me about a company and they’re on my list, I let them know the company expects free labor as part of the interview process, and the individual can decide from there.

I research the company online, see what kind of “giving to the community” they involve themselves in, check out Salary.com and Glassdoor’s reviews about companies, interview experiences, etc. Although, for the latter, if I don’t know the individual, I am less likely to take it at face value without digging deeper.

It gets even more complicated if you want to know the ethics and political positioning of the company. I don’t want to work for a company that funds politicians working to strip me of my rights and promoting authoritarianism. For me, there is no middle ground. Others will say, “Oh, politics doesn’t matter when you’re a professional. Just do the work.”

Fine for you. Not fine for me. Why would I give my time, energy, and creativity to a company actively working to cause harm? For a little cash? In the short run, it might help me as an individual. In the long run, it hurts the collective community.

Saying no up front is a better choice for me.

If I’m vetting a non-profit, I start here: Charity Navigator. Then, I take the information, and look for at least two independent, trustworthy confirmation sources (the way I did as a journalist).

When I want to know which candidates companies or executives donate to, I see if I can locate the politician’s public donor list. I check Followthemoney.org and Open Secrets. I use the FEC’s database of individual contributors. I also keep an eye on Marc Elias’s Democracy Docket, which fights to protect voting rights. With Citizens United, there’s plenty of dark money that’s harder to track, but these are places to start, and then, again, get independent, trustworthy confirmation sources.

Decisions are made from there.

This takes time.

But instead of saying “I don’t have time” I believe that choosing to place my time in this research serves my overall vision for my work and my career better.

How do you research companies in which you are interested?

It’s All Life

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I’ve talked, over multiple platforms, about how different freelance/writing factions are often dismissive and condescending toward each other.

Business writers treat fiction writers like it’s a cute lil hobby. Many businesspeople who never write a word swear they’d write a book “if they had time.” Nope. They wouldn’t. They’re not willing to do the work. They’d talk the book to someone they hope not to pay and claim they’d split the non-existent profits, but it’s not happening any time soon.

Fiction writers treat business writers as sellouts, because writers should “write for the love of it.” These are usually fiction writers who aren’t getting paid for their work. Those who are getting paid understand the business as well as the passion.

Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it.

Before you got “not all” on me, yeah, I know. I know plenty of writers who do both types of writing, or who do one and don’t try to demean the other. But too many believe what they do is “real” and anything else isn’t.

“Making a living writing” means you get paid for your words and keep a roof over your head, no matter what box those words fall into. And, for freelancers, that often means more than one box.

In my post a few weeks ago, I talked about the need to expand your definition of “freelance” since it goes far beyond doing content or tech work for a typical corporation. Artists and entertainers are freelancers. Basically, anyone who works in an at-will state is a freelancer, although you might have a W-2 now and some temporary benefits.

That’s the reality of the modern work.

We were also told, for years, to compartmentalize our work from our lives. “Close the door when you finish for the day.” Great. Boundaries are a necessity. Sometimes we need boundaries to protect us from ourselves.

But we’re also doing a disservice with “work-life balance” and compartmentalization. Work and life are both portions of life.

Work is PART of life. It’s often a big part, because it gives us the money to live the other parts. But it is a part of life, not separate from it. Because so many people hate their jobs, because hating one’s job is considered normal, we’re trained to separate work from life. It can be a protection mechanism. It can also be weaponized against us.

The pandemic taught us many things, things traditional working environments want us to forget. One is that they don’t give a damn about their workers, as long as they profit. Another is that many jobs don’t need to be done within the corporate space, but they insist on it to have more control, and to give cover to bad managers who should have been fired eons ago. Keeping one’s staff controlled, overworked, underpaid, scrambling to survive, and tying health care to the job, are all ways to keep employees under control.

They are ways to prevent employees from living an holistic life.

Imagine if we all loved our jobs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, since people are vastly different, with vastly different interests.

Imagine that, even if we didn’t “love” the job, we enjoyed the time spent at work. We found the work challenging in positive way; spent creative time with respectful colleagues who didn’t “yes” us or sabotage us, but worked with us; were surprised when the workday was over because the time flew, and we have the satisfaction of a job well done.

If we do work we love, we are better at it, happier in working with our colleagues, and happier in our lives at home.

Rather than subjugating employees, it would behoove corporations to enhance the lives of their employees, because then the employees would bring more creativity, energy, and talent back to work with them. Plenty of companies talk the talk. Few actually do it.

So we’re on our own to create a healthy work life for ourselves, which then creates a healthier overall life for us, our families, our friends, and, yes, our colleagues at work.

Where does your work fit into your life? How can you make it more holistic? How can your job positively feed the rest of your life in ways beyond money?

Is it about different tasks? Different colleagues? A more flexible schedule? Being able to decorate and personalize your space to make it a joyful and comfortable place to work? Genuine conversations with colleagues? The chance to learn new skills? More support during difficult stretches in your life? Stronger boundaries? (More money is a given).

If there isn’t a way to do that, how can you carve out the time and energy to find something that will?

The paths to this are different for each of us. There are times we have to make tradeoffs for the long and short term. But if we remember that work is part of life and not separate from it, we have a better shot at not only a balanced life, but an integrated, healthier one.

The Toxicity of “Team Player” Syndrome

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Have you ever noticed that if you stand up for yourself in a business situation, the person you confront accuses you of not being a “team player”?

How often, in job listings, is the phrase “must be a team player” used? Which is basically a red flag for “shut up, keep your head down, and don’t make waves, even if it’s a hostile or unethical situation.”

When someone in the business world says that to me, I have to laugh in their face. Because I know the subtext is to allow mistreatment or look the other way from unethical behavior.

I KNOW what being a genuine team player is, and it’s not just going along to get along.

How do I know this? Because I spent decades playing on the ultimate teams.

Not hockey. Although I learned a lot about what makes for solid teamwork when I spent eight months embedded with a minor league hockey team quite a few years ago.

Broadway.

Before Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway and regional theatre and community theatre and university theatre.

Theatre.

Film production (although there’s far more hierarchy in film production).

A Broadway show can take close to 100 people to keep it running on any given day. A film production uses far more. While there may be ego flares, unless one is actually willing to work as a team for the production to happen, it won’t.

That’s why the creative unions connected to theatre and film production are vital. Because corporate factions always try to use passion and love for the work as a way to demean, demoralize, underpay, and overwork everyone involved.

But in order for either a theatre or a film production to happen through to completion, there has to be genuine teamwork. Each individual on the production needs to be good at their tasks. They have to know when to tamp down personal ego in order to benefit the entire production, and to do it in a way that isn’t demeaning to themselves or anyone else. It’s not about self-sacrifice. It’s about keeping an eye on the goal – a completed production – and treating everyone else on the team with respect. It’s about knowing when to put aside personal dislikes to achieve something beyond what the individuals could achieve alone.

Genuine leaders (be they supervisors, managers, executives) know how to bring out the best in each individual, matching the right individual to the right task, and a way that makes them all shine.

One of my more toxic bosses once said to me, “Your job is to make me look good.”

To which I replied, “No. My job is to make the company look good, and when I do that, it reflects well on you.”

Strong, skilled leaders don’t need to give lectures about being a “team player” because they’ve put together teams that integrate well, support each other, and make each other better than they could be on their own. The leaders know when to step in to guide, nudge in a different direction, and, most important of all, they know when to step back and get out of the way.

Weak leaders, who are leaders in name only, have to talk about “team players” because they are unable to inspire, lead, guide, and lead by example. Their own insecurities, their knowledge that they don’t have enough skill, and their own egos get in the way.

Real teams don’t have to talk about how well they flow together, because they are busy DOING it.

Don’t settle for less.

Expand Your Definition of “Freelance”

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I am coming out of a period of frustration with writerly “factions” who put blinders on and can’t see beyond the scope of their own jobs. Even other freelancers.

There’s the copy/content writing freelancer faction that looks at what they do as the only “professional” writing, and work pretty much along corporate lines, although with a looser structure to suit their goals and lives. They don’t take fiction/scriptwriting seriously and don’t believe anyone THEY KNOW could possibly making a living at it; ergo , it’s a “hobby” or a “side hustle.”

There’s the contingent of fiction writers who look at copy/content/business writing as sell-out hack work (forgetting that those hacks who work for the publishers are a good part of the reason their books sell at all). They consider their own writing and that of writers on the same tier as they are as the only “real writing” and are condescending to other writers. Yet even those traditionally published writers on large contracts too often forget that they, too, are freelancers. Their publishers aren’t offering them health insurance and 401k benefits and vacation time, and their publishers can fire them by not contracting more books.

There are plenty of writers in each category who don’t do this, and aren’t condescending to anyone, realizing that we’re all doing the best we can, no one knows what the hell we’re doing, and we all make it up as we go along. We do the best we can to support each other on creative, emotional, and financial levels. We build genuine community.

But, sadly, those faction writers are often the ones we cross paths with, especially on social media. Some are loud and bullying; others are more quietly subversive, finding cracks in one’s exhaustion or esteem to then exploit to make the person they are “advising” feel even worse, and to make themselves more powerful.

As someone who moves between all kinds of writing, I have little patience with those who don’t take any portion of my work seriously. If I write words for anything and get paid for them, I am making my living writing. Writing IS my day job. Writing is my vocation as well as my passion. ALL kinds of writing, not just what some self-important faction deems as “real” writing.

Broaden out your perspective. Broadway? Television shows? Everyone working on them, except for the top executives, is basically a freelancer. Even though, while we work on a stage or film/tv production, we are on a W-2, and paying into health care, benefits, and the rest. Because a Broadway show can close at any time. A television show can get cancelled in the blink of an eye. The film production will finish, and then you’re out there looking for work. This is true for actors and production crew and designers and directors and writers and all the other positions involved in getting you entertainment.

Entertainment work is transient and short term. Okay, except for Mariska Hargitay and those working for 24 seasons on LAW & ORDER SVU. But even that show will someday end.  And she’ll be in a position to choose what she wants to do next. I mean, look, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is closing on Broadway after 34 years.

There’s no such thing as job security in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there’s no such thing as job security in ANY industry anymore. It’s been obvious for a good many years now, and the pandemic really brought that home when employers were happy to cut lose employees, only to try and hire them back later at lower wages. At first, it looked like it wasn’t working, so corporations, in spite of record profits, are now trying to manufacture a recession in order to force people back into substandard wages. Hopefully, enough people won’t give in.

Artists are freelancers. They are commissioned by project, or by gallery show. Adjunct professors are basically freelancers, having to worry if their academic institution will hire them back. Any state that allows “at will” employment means their employees have no security. It’s not about how well the employee does the job; it’s about corporate whims.

We all need periods of time when we sink into our work routines, know there’s X amount of money coming in, and have at least a few months where we’re not worried from paycheck to paycheck, and try to build some decent savings.

But don’t forget that even the most seemingly secure job can be transient. Companies are sold, change management, go under. An illness or other life change can affect your ability to do your job the way you did before, and the company may choose to cut you loose rather than to make accommodations.

If you’re in a job where you feel secure, bask in it, at least for a little while.

But keep your resume up to date, stay in touch with friends and colleagues from previous jobs, and keep expanding your network. Put what you can aside for the future (many can’t; with wages stagnant, many of us barely make expenses each month, no matter how many coffees we forgo – which is, by the way, a condescending and insulting metric). Be open to new opportunities. If you are happy where you are, you can always say no to switching jobs. But it’s also rewarding to be considered and invited into new opportunities.

This ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re too tired to make much effort. But putting aside an hour or two every month to connect or reconnect with people will enrich your life (because most people are interesting, if you just give them a chance), and position you for work opportunities.

At the end of the day, no matter how secure we think we are, we are really all freelancers. Especially in a society where a political faction is determined to destroy any safety nets.

Plan accordingly.

Lessons from the “Work Wins” Journal Experiment

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Lessons From the Work Wins Journal

At the beginning of September, one of my colleagues from the Freelance Chat, group, Matthew Denton of WinningSolo.com, presented us with a “Work Wins Journal Challenge” for September. He keeps a Work Wins Journal each day to track achievements, so the focus (as I understand it) is on what works and what is accomplished and what needs to be adjusted, rather than always worrying about what’s not getting done. He talks about it here.

Anything that involves a journal is like catnip for me, so of course I jumped in.

I kept the journal for work days, although I did list “accomplishments” if I got things done over the weekend.

Going back over his post, I had to laugh at myself. He talks about listing 3 things in ANY of his listed categories – meanwhile, I worked to make sure I had something in EVERY category EVERY day.

Oops.

Mercury Retrograde much?

But one of the things he talks about is how it helps spot patterns.

I had designated work days in the month. Labor Weekend fell in there, early one. And I had to take some additional days to recover from the COVID booster. So I lost a few days in there.

Looking back at the “Mindset” category, I’m dismayed by how often the entry was “burned out” or “exhausted.” Sometimes it would start optimistic, and fade as the day wore on. There were a few days marked “determined” or “tired but optimistic” and even fewer marked “optimistic.”

That means adjustments have to be made on the work front. I should be excited and feeling creative more days than not.

The Good Habits category held steady: early morning writing, yoga, meditation, work in various journals. I had wavered in my daily yoga/meditation practice in August, so it was good to get those back on track.

The Accomplishments tab was steady each day (and often on weekends, when I did additional or catch-up work. The “September Wrap Up” post over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site that went up this past Monday details those. So, in spite of feeling exhausted and burned out most of the time, I still got a lot done.

Client Feedback was trickier. Because so much of what I do is not in the traditional “client” mode, and, if anything, I’m moving further and further away from what many freelancers consider “client” relationships, that category is getting less and less relevant to my work. In the traditional client relationships, I got positive feedback per project, so it wasn’t at any set point. As far as script coverage, I received a steady stream of writer satisfaction bonuses and tips. On the writing front, the Topic Workbooks sold steadily, the serial is gaining traction (albeit slowly), the radio plays are well received. Editors and publishers and producers and  readers and creative collaborators aren’t clients, though. They are creative partners by my definition, even with financial exchange as part of the relationshp. I look at a client as someone for whom I do copy/content/business script writing. It’s very much a transaction of we contract, I create, you pay, we move on to other projects or other client partnerships. There’s definitely creativity involved on both sides, but it’s a different kind of creative partnership than with an editor or a producer or a publisher or a reader or someone with whom I’m creating an artform. Those creative partnerships also tend to talk longer to create, and therefore take longer to show financial gain.

Those partnerships are part of my work, and therefore my business – not a hobby, a side hustle, or something cute and unprofitable. But the relationship and definition are a little different. And becuase much of my work runs on royalties and residuals, that’s an entirely different payment system.

So, for what I do, “client feedback” is less relevant than simply “feedback.”

As far as supportive words from others, there was that, from trusted friends and colleagues. There, unfortunately, were also the usual condescending/patronizing/attempts to dimmish creative work as not “real” work in terms of business that irked me, but also showed me where I need to step back from certain engagements. I respect my work, and I expect others to respect it, too, even if they don’t understand it. If they try to diminish it, that gives me a lot of necessary information about the bigger picture.

The “things initiated” slot had quite a few listings, but most of those are long-term plans rather than immediate payouts. I admit, I was sadly behind on where I wanted/needed to be on LOIs. Part of that was frustration with attempts to design my autumn direct mail postcard, with my new Fearless Ink logo. Since my direct mail postcard campaign usually gets a 25% response rate and sets me up in those traditional client relationships well for the quarter, I need to get back on that.

I think, for coming months, I need to add a category after “things initiated” for “projects in progress” to track follow-through. Because, as stated above, much of what I do is long-term, and the path from “initiated” to “accomplished” has small victories along the way, and I want to acknowledge those.

On my GDR site, for the Monthly Wrap-Up, the categories I find useful are:

–Done

–In Process

–Moved/Dropped

–Unexpected Additions

–Disappointments

–Successes

That is more in alignment with my work, but only makes sense to list monthly, not daily (although I open the document at the beginning of the month and add things as they happen).

The “people helped” category was sometimes a challenge, and sometimes not. I don’t always know when I’ve helped someone, unless I see a request for information or answer a direct question/request. But there were a few people I know I helped over the month. Again, so much of what I do is solitary, I don’t know about the response/reaction/impact until months or years after completion.

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I participated. Now I can see what needs to be adjusted, and how to do it in a way that works for what I do and need.

How do you track what’s working in your work life?

Your Roadmap Plan

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Why do you do what you do?

That’s an important question. Whether it’s a job, a career, a passion, or a mix, you need to know why you do what you do.

Maybe it’s just for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Maybe you love your job (and it’s a surprise) and it’s turned into a career.

Good for you!

Too many people hate their jobs, and then try to punish those around them who love their jobs.

But take responsibility for the “why” of what you do. That gives you a great deal of freedom.

Now, then, what do you WANT to do?

Maybe you’re doing what you want, and that’s wonderful.

Maybe your current job is a steppingstone to what you want.

If they are different, don’t lose sight of what you want because you’re either too comfortable in what you’re doing, or too afraid of change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how much misplaced loyalty most workers gave their companies, who thought nothing of throwing them away at the first sign of trouble. Which is why workers went off and started doing their own thing instead of going back to being treated like crap for subpar wages.

If you are not doing what you want to be doing, try this:

Take a piece of paper. Landscape orientation works better than portrait orientation for this exercise, and I suggest doing it by hand, not on screen.

On the far left, write what you do.

On the far right, write what you want to do.

On the page, they are relatively far apart.

How far apart are they in reality?

In the middle, jot a bunch of steps to take you from one to the other. Don’t do them linearly. Just jot them all over the middle of the page, squiggly, sideways, upside down, whatever. Write them down as you think of them, in no particular order. Take your time.

Go back and take a look at what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be right away. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to put something aside for a bit, and then take another look.

Now number the steps, so there’s a sense of order (even though the steps are all over the page).

Take a different colored pen and draw a line from where you are to each step, in turn, to where you want to be. There will (and should) be criss-crossing lines, because creativity is not linear. The best journeys have tangents, while still driving to their destination.

How can you take that first step?

More importantly, WHEN will you take that first step?

Put the first step into your calendar.

Do it.

Look at the page and do one step at a time. Regularly reassess to see if your needs, interests, and goals have shifted. This is a roadmap, not a prison. You can take other exits as you wish.

But you need to start.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Content Calendar Tips

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Welcome back! I hope you had a lovely summer. Taking regular breaks from content creation (not just creating extra content ahead of time and scheduling to post) is something I find alleviates burnout.

I’ve created and uploaded content for client content calendars for all kinds of projects in my freelance career. But creating and doing them for my own projects this past summer was a revelation.

I had two large projects (each with multiple moving parts) that went live this summer, and I learned a lot about what I, as an individual artist who is also a small business, needs from a content calendar. I’m sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it will help you.

The two big projects I had were the re-released of updated editions of The Topic Workbooks and the launch of my mystery/fantasy/comedy serial LEGERDEMAIN. Both intersected at the end of July into August, and need steady promotion for as long as I can imagine.

The Topic Workbooks consist of seven workbooks, built around writing classes I’ve taught/continue to teach, both in person and online. Six of the workbooks were updated editions, integrating new technology, information, and changes in the industry.  Those were: THE SERIES BIBLE, SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, THE COMPLEX ANTAGONIST, ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE, and CREATIVE STIMULUS. The seventh workbook was for the class I taught at the beginning of August for the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, and that was DEVELOPING THE SERIES (for novels, not screen). The workbooks initially re-released over three weeks, and then the promotion continued.

The serial, LEGERDEMAIN, started on Kindle Vella as of July 28, with episodes dropping every Tuesday and Thursday for as long as it’s viable. The initial vision contains three large story arcs. The first story arc is uploaded and scheduled, and runs 41 episodes. The next two will run between 30-40 episodes each. I know it takes several months to gain traction on Vella, unless one comes in with an already huge audience, so those ads had to be geared toward both short and long-term visions. The first three episodes are (and remain) free. The other episodes are read via the purchase of tokens.

The Topic Workbooks are non-fiction, geared toward writers and artists. They’re geared toward writers, but artists in other disciplines have also found them useful. The serial is fiction, geared to a genre audience who loves serials (most important), mystery, fantasy, and likes some odd humor sprinkled in.

Both campaigns had to launch, and then run, simultaneously.

I spent some time in the summer, while off from writing this blog, playing with online scheduling tools. I mixed, matched, and did comparisons of several. None of them fulfilled my needs, integrated the way I need them to, or could handle the fact that, as a freelance juggling multiple projects, things change ALL THE TIME.

So I went back to trusty old paper.

Content Vision

The first thing I had to do was to have a vision for the way I wanted to promote each project. The Topic Workbooks are pretty straightforward. They are consistent. These editions are updated and published, with fresh covers. I keep them priced low, so that they’re budget-friendly, and they’ve always made up in volume what they lack in high prices for individual workbooks. Distinctive ads in a similar style with blurbs and buy links would do the trick. Consistent promotion, albeit changing up the type of promotion, makes the most sense. The Topic Workbooks have their own page on the flagship DevonEllingtonWork site, so links can take interested viewers back to that page on the site, and then the individual buy links for the buyer’s device is readily available, including library sites.

The serial is a little more complicated. Two episodes drop per week. That means each episode needs an individual ad that’s a hook for that specific episode. It also needs more general ads as a draw to the series in general. Also, the hooks can’t give too much away, or someone could just follow the episode ads and feel like they don’t need to read the series. While there’s mention of the serial on the main DevonEllingtonWork site, there’s enough material, and enough tertiary material to build its own subdomain site for Legerdemain. (Note: this site has some content up, but is still under construction at the time of this posting, and has not been widely promoted).

Because of Amazon’s strict rule that content can’t be anywhere other than on their site (and they won’t even let me link the website to the serial), I had to figure out a  workaround of additional fun content that didn’t break the Kindle Vella laws, gave readers who follow the serial some fun additional content, and gave potential readers a taste of tone to drive them to start reading.

The Topic Workbook content is fairly static, and will be changed as individual workbooks are updated every few years, and as new workbooks are added (because you didn’t think I was done, did you? I mean, this is me we’re talking about). There’s also a Media Kit in progress, which will go up on both the Workbook page, and in the site’s Media Room.

LEGERDEMAIN’s content will grow as long as the serial grows.

Someday, LEGERDEMAIN will stop being a serial, have to take a breath when it comes off Kindle Vella (I’m thinking at least 3-5 years down the road), and then become something else. The website will be able to support whatever it turns into. Again, that content is created with a vision toward both short and long term.

Frequency

How often to post?

At the launch of each Topic Workbook, I decided to do an intense 13-day campaign of one to two ads per day across social media. After the initial 13-days, I would run one ad per workbook per week. That took me through the end of September. Now that it is September, I am looking at the workbooks and deciding what the vision is for promotion October – December.

Series Bible Ad
Setting Up Your Submissions System Ad

With LEGERDEMAIN, each pair of episodes gets an intense campaign during their week, until the next week’s episodes drop. For August and September, I then run day-long weekend campaigns with all episodes to date. On top of that, I pop some general ads in there. Again, in October, I’m changing it up a little, for the overall series, while keeping the intense focus on the ads for episodes as they go live.

Example of an episode-specific ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Ecample of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN
Example of a general ad for LEGERDEMAIN

I vary the hours for both the workbooks and the serial ads, because I want to take a look at the metrics and then see what works well where.

When I created content for a clothing designer, I scheduled the daily content to post at noon each day, because people were looking at social media during their lunch hour or just before/after, and that got the highest response.

The Content Itself

I create batches of content. I created each workbook ad as soon as the workbook was ready to publish. As soon as the buy links went live, I added them to the ads and to the various websites on which they can be found.

Same with LEGERDEMAIN. I uploaded/scheduled the polished episodes in batches of 10 (although I had most of the first arc written and revised before I uploaded anything, in case I needed to plan something early on for the end). As soon as I uploaded the episode and noted the release date, I create the episode log lines, and then I can create the individual episode ads. Then, I go back through that batch of episodes to see what general ads I can create from the content about other businesses, themes, or jokes that are in those episodes, and where I can expand on information for the website that would drag down the pace and the narrative drive of the serial itself.

Uploading the Content

I block off several hours, and I upload and schedule at least a month of content, preferably two or three, in that time period. If you use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can schedule across multiple platforms (provided your subscription allows it). It’s worth it, because then you don’t have to think about it for two or three months.

For the Topic Workbooks, as soon as I got the buy link, I started uploading and scheduling the content I planned through the end of September. When I decide on October – December’s content and frequency, I will block off a few hours and upload/schedule all of that in one go, too.

Because I have the content ready to go (it’s created before I upload), the upload/scheduling time goes relatively quickly. It takes about 2 hours to upload 2-3 months’ worth of daily content.

I also use the weekly calendar sheets broken down into hours by General Blue and write in what ads run where. I can see how the content flows, and where I have room to plug in other projects (because releasing ads for different projects at the same time is often counterproductive). They can run close together, even just a few minutes apart, but not releasing at the same moment.

For the serial, as soon as the episodes are scheduled and I’ve created the episode loglines and episode-specific ads, I block off time and upload that next block of episodes. This is where having the hourly paper calendar comes in handy, because I can see what episodes have promotions scheduled when, and build on themes and images. When the general ads are created, I slot those in around the episode ads. Again, it usually takes a couple of hours to schedule a month or more of content. It’s worth it, because then I don’t have to think about it; I just have to look at metrics later on.

The social media promotions I do are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ello, Counter Social, and Tumblr. Then, there are other ads or direct mail pieces, depending on the project and budget. Don’t forget the budget! The content calendar integrates all of it.

Metrics

I look at the traffic that’s driven to the various sites by the ads, and then, of course, the sales that result. It’s harder to do with the serial, because Amazon holds their information close to the vest, and doesn’t allow links to individual episodes, or metrics on individual episodes, just to the general page. And I couldn’t build momentum ahead of the launch, because the page on the Vella site for the serial didn’t go live until the serial went live. On top of that, one cannot gift tokens or use Amazon gift cards for tokens for the serial, which affects things like promotional giveaways.

I expect it will be 4-6 months before I get a real sense of how the ads are doing in the bigger picture.

In the smaller picture, I see regular sales reports, and I can also see who and how often colleagues on social media are liking or boosting my work. That figures into my personal metrics. I boost the heck out of the work of friends and colleagues. If I don’t get that in return, or if I suspect they’ve muted the ads or the project, it’s not become a non-reciprocal relationship.

 Yes, I know, all that “you have the right to curate your timeline” and “you do you” and all the other palliatives. You DO have the right to curate your timeline for your own purposes and pleasures.

So do I.

Writing is my business, not my hobby. It is how I keep a roof over my head, and the bills paid. I mix and match a wide variety of writing in my profession. But it is my profession, and that means I have to promote my work.

That doesn’t mean I DM people asking them to buy. That’s tacky and unprofessional.  And someone who DMs me immediately after a mutual follow to sell me something, anything, is guaranteed to be blocked, and put on the list of “never buy anything from this person ever.”

If I’m promoting the heck of someone’s work and they never promote mine, then they’ve become a drain on my resources and my energy, and I want them off my timeline. I clear out my timeline once or twice a year. It gets out the deadweight, and then I can go back to having actual conversations and interactions. How someone supports or does not support my work affects the place they have (or don’t have) in my life. While I may mute some threads that get overly tangled, I tend not to mute people. I’m either in or out. Either I accept all of someone’s facets, or I’d rather steer clear. And if someone is “muting” me because I promote that which keeps a roof over my head or for any other reason, that means they aren’t accepting all of my different facets, and the further I get away right quick, the better for my life and work.

But hey, “you do you.”

Conclusion

Planning content ahead of time makes a huge difference. A content calendar helps you track what happens where, where there are holes you can turn into opportunities, where content gets crowded and needs a little breathing room.

By making the time to plot out your content, by making the time to create the content, and then batch uploading/scheduling, you take the immediate pressure off the day to day, and that allows you to create more (which you will then have to promote).

The content calendar supports both the plan and the execution. It will help you when you analyze your metrics, and find the best times/days to schedule your content. It will help you see where you need more, and where you can cut back.

It has also taught me how to adjust my rates, should I go back to offering this type of service for clients again in the future. As a solopreneur, I am the creator and the content manager. However, when I take on clients, I am the content WRITER, NOT the graphic designer OR the social media manager. Too often companies are hiring one person to do all three jobs when they are three separate jobs and require different skills, time frames, and headspaces. Not only that, most companies want to pay a single person to do three jobs only a portion of what one job is worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If you CHOOSE to accept a position where you are creating, doing graphics, and managing the content calendar/uploading/metrics, make sure you charge enough to encompass all three sets of skills.

But the calendar is THE tool that eases pressure AND promotes positive engagement, which is good all around! And batch creating and batch uploading/scheduling makes the next few months much calmer.

Values and Your Work

image courtesy of Darkmoon Art via pixabay.com

We often talk about the value of our work (as we should), and not to undervalue it. We should be paid fairly and appropriately for our work. We should be able to earn a living at it, and turn down work that doesn’t pay fairly for skills. But we also need to consider the values around our work, and those with whom we work.

There’s a lot of noise about politics invading business (when, in reality, it’s the other way around).

It’s always been important (even when not always possible) to understand where your values lie and what lines you will and won’t cross, in the name of “doing your job” or “keeping your job.” Many of us have had to take work, for a period of time, at companies whose values run counter to ours. With any luck (and a lot of work outside of work), it gives us temporary financial stability to find work better suited to us on all levels.

Freelancers have more choice. When we pitch to companies, it behooves us to research them in depth. That goes beyond reading over the website and the employee reviews on various sites (although it includes all of that). It means doing research on the leaders in the company, and seeing where the company places money in the name of “philanthropy.” If a company funds an ideal that causes harm to the environment, to people I care about, or to me, then it’s not a company with which I should work. Even when they pay well.

When I was starting out in the work world, I was told that “professionals” don’t care about the ideology of the company for whom they work. That it doesn’t matter. That, as a “professional” I should rise about ethics concerns and perform the work, or I wasn’t professional.

That, of course, is the crock of (deleted) fed to us to keep us docile, and allowing unethical organizations to profit from our skills. Too often, we have aided companies who actively work against our best interests.

We did what we thought was right at the time. Now that we know better, we can DO better.

Years ago, I was approached by a Major Company to help create a “lifestyle campaign” for their product. A product proven to cause harm. But I was supposed to create a campaign for it, encouraging people to do something that was likely to kill them. I was offered $250,000 for a six-month contract.

It was tempting. But I could not agree to it, because I knew I could not live with myself if I created something successful, that, ultimately, convinced people to make harmful choices.

Believe me, over the years, there were times when I was struggling when I wondered if I should have just sucked it up and signed on. But I’m glad I didn’t.

I recently read a book called VALUES FIRST: HOW KNOWING YOUR CORE BELIEFS CAN GET YOU THE LIFE AND CAREER YOU WANT by Laura Eigel. It’s geared to a much more corporate career ladder than I have any interest in climbing (especially at this stage in my life).  But there are a lot of useful tools in the book to help decide and discern what matters to you in your work life, and then steps to stay true to it.

There’s lots of noise about “cancel culture.” I grew up taught about “conscientious consumerism.” If and when I learn that a company has practices or donates money counter to my values, I stop doing business with them, whenever possible. There are certain businesses into which I don’t set foot, because I already know how despicable their values are, in comparison to mine. I have the right not to do business with them. I have the right to place my money elsewhere, with companies whose vision, missions, and values align better with mine.

As a freelancer, the companies with whom I choose to partner also need to meet those values.

Some of my colleagues shrug and say they look at it as a way of sticking it to these companies, that they are getting money away from the companies, when the companies would be horrified by what these individuals believe. On one level, I understand that. But my disagreement comes in that these colleagues are also making it possible, through their skills, for these companies to cause increased harm.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to accept work from someone actively doing harm? How did you reconcile with that? Have you ever turned down work because of a company’s values?

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Ideal Workday

image courtesy of 26797441 via pixabay.com

The Ideal Workday

Summer always encourages daydreams, so we are going to take some time to dream today.

(Okay, I daydream all year round; it’s an important part of my creative process. But for the purposes of this post, we are using the humid, warm summer days as a reason to slow down and dream).

Pretend that you have no commitments, and have a blank workday. It is a workday, not a day off. So dream in relation to the work you love to do.

With what kind of projects would you fill it?

Write a few pages on what your ideal workday would look like. Get as specific in the details, the projects, even the companies, as you wish. It can be in any format that suits you – journal entry, essay, paragraphs, lists, a calendar with hourly slots which you fill.

Add in the view from your ideal workspace, the local of the space, how you spend break time, lunch time, and whether or not there are any meetings or brainstorming sessions. Detail your ideal colleagues (be they actual colleagues, or the ones you wish you had). Add in sensory details.

Read it over. It should hold enough detail so that reading it feels like living it.

How much of this is a dream? How much overlaps with any of your life at this point? You might be pleased at the overlap; you might be dismayed at the lack of overlap. There’s no “wrong” response. There is simply your genuine response.

Put the piece of paper away, in a safe place. We will return to it in the autumn. But keep dreaming and planning and constructing your perfect workday. If you want to add notes to this document in the next few weeks, do so. But keep it safe.

More to come.