Ink-Dipped Advice: Grief to Art launched

Instead of the usual advice post, I want to share information about the new Grief to Art site.

One of the difficult aspects of the massive loss of life from the pandemic is that there is no site for collective mourning. I hope this will help start the healing process.

It is currently open to submissions of photos and short anecdotes of lost loved ones, from COVID-19 and beyond. You can find guidelines on the Submissions page of the site.

Please share the links and information to anyone you know who is grieving and might find this a step in the healing process.

Thank you.

Controlling Scope Creep

image courtesy of GLady via pixabay.com

Freelancers talk a lot about “scope creep.” That’s when a project starts with one set of parameters, and they keep expanding.

One of the joyful parts of creative collaboration is how a project grows and changes. When you’re writing a musical, it’s one thing – you have a development process, you’re being paid for the changes along the way, and your goal at the end is to have a viable musical where people walk out of the theatre humming the tunes, buy the CD, and sing it in the shower for the foreseeable future.

To get there, you need the project to grow and change.

But the “scope” and the vision are there from the beginning, and is covered by your contract.

There – the contract. That’s how you control scope creep.

I’m seeing more and more job descriptions stating “tasks will be added as needed” or “this description in no way encompasses all the tasks the job entails.”

Why not?

Why aren’t companies being upfront about what they want in the position?

Two answers:

The first is that the person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which is common.

The second is that the company wants the option of dumping whatever they want into the position whenever they want, without additional compensation. Which is not acceptable.

As a freelancer, you have the protection of your contract. Because, as freelancers, who set our own hours and meet deadlines, we work on contract (or letter of agreement), which gives us protections that a salaried employee often does not have.

Contract Provisions

Your contract can protect you from scope creep.

Your contract will grow and change as your business does.

After your initial conversation with a new client, when you are setting terms, take some time and think about the parameters of the project as discussed, potential direction for “scope creep” and how much each direction will cost. Then, put those possibilities into the contract.

For example, I have a clause in the contract that states I include two rounds of revisions in the scope of the project; additional revisions are at an hourly rate.

When I receive the second round of revisions, I send a reminder that this is the second round of revisions, and anything beyond that will be at the hourly fee.

Often, far too often, I get this response: “Oh, this isn’t really a ‘revision.’ It’s just a few tweaks.”

No, it’s a revision. Changes are revisions. I have had clients where I actually put the definitions of “revision” and “tweak” in the contract.

Dates and Turnaround Times

I put in turnaround times for revisions, too. If I hit my deadline to turn in material (and I do), the party on the other end needs to get back to me in X amount of time with any revisions. Projects can’t drag on interminably, so a series of dates within the contract is vital:

–Deposit is due on X date

–When deposit clears, I start the project

–I get my first portion done on Y date

–Notes/revision requests are back to me by Z date

–My next revision is due on L date

–Response is due on M date

–Final work is due on N date

–Acceptance or additional requests for changes is due on O date

–final payment is due on P date

–late payments are changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of original fee)

Longer projects may have payments broken up over three, four, or even five dates. If payment doesn’t arrive on the date, work stops on the project until payment arrives.

“This is business, not personal” works both ways. Far too many companies expect you to take their business personally as far as emotional investment at higher stakes than they do, but if they default on payment or otherwise treat you poorly, it’s “just business.”

Works both ways.

Change of Direction

I also have a clause in my contract about “change of direction.” If a project changes direction from our initial agreement (and the parameters are listed in the contract), I have a clause that lists the fee. Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a new agreement, if the change of direction is going to change turnaround dates and deadlines.

Late Fees/Rush Fees

I have a clause for late fees. Late fees (more than 30 days after original due date) are at 20% of the project fee, cumulative. Which means if it’s 60 days late, it’s the original fee + 20% + the total of that.

Rush fees are for work turned around in less than three business days start at $35, depending on the project’s complexity, and whether I can move other work around or just have to stay up extra hours and push through.

I do make an exception on rush fees for script coverage, because industry protocol is often one or two-day turnaround.

When the Client Provides the Contract

In some cases, the client provides the contract, read it over. Negotiate changes. Remember that the first contract either side offers is the start of the negotiation. So yes, when I provide a client, often I will hear back on points the client wants to negotiate. I can decide if I want to change the contract to meet their request, meet them halfway, or walk away.

A client who offers a contract needs to expect negotiation on changes. If they won’t budge, decide if what they demand is worth it to you or walk away. Many magazines won’t negotiate their contracts for freelance writers, so again, you have to make the decision if having the byline in that particular publication is worth any aggravation caused by the contract.

What About Job Descriptions?

As we’ve discussed over the past weeks and months, the pandemic is changing the way we work, which can be an improvement. We, as the people actually doing the work, have to make sure that we help shape new work styles.

I’ve seen an array of articles in publications such as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BLOOMBERG, and FORBES pushing the negative aspects of remote work. Remember, these businesses are trying to protect their standard way of working, and how they see their bottom line affected. Far too many companies have useless middle managers who try to micro-manage and terrorize their “teams”.

There’s plenty of work that does not need to be done in someone else’s office with the countless interruptions and managers “checking up” on you every five minutes. I know I am far more productive in my home office. I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to be my most creative. I have set up my office to support the peak of my creativity.

There’s not a cubicle on the planet that could provide conditions even close.

Negotiation

If you are looking for a job as a salaried employee, you still have the right to negotiate. For decades, companies have pushed the toxic narrative that they get to decide everything and employees have no say in it.

Remember: companies need employees to do the work. Otherwise, their useless middle managers, or maybe even some executives, would have to do the work their damn selves.

Oh, horrors.

They push the “if you don’t take this, we’ll hire someone else.”

Go ahead.

Don’t be afraid of AI, either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced by AI.

There are plenty of jobs that could and should be replaced by AI, especially repetitive ones. That frees creative human beings to learn new skills, to find their passions, and to do and create work that no robot could ever come up with.

With all the wonderful resources such as Coursera and FutureLearn and other online learning opportunities, people can try out different arenas and find their passions.

Yes, you might have to accept a drudge job in the interim to pay the rent and bills. But make sure it’s temporary.

When I made the commitment to a life in the theatre, I took temp office jobs as a way to keep a roof over my head between shows. But I stuck to my commitment that, if a corporate job got in the way of a paid theatre job, I ALWAYS quit the corporate job. Even knowing the theatre job was transient. That made it possible for me to work my way up to a career on Broadway.

If I’d stayed in a corporate job out of fear, I would have always been a “wanna be.”

Instead, I DID.

So, when you are in negotiations for a job, make a complete job description part of it.

You can choose not to answer ads that include language indicated scope creep. Or, early in the interview process, you can ask for more definition.

The other thing you can do is ask for a contract, rather than being an at-will employee.

There was an article on line (I’m not sure if it was BLOOMBERG, I think it was, or FORBES) touting hiring freelancers as the wave of the future, because then companies don’t have to pay for office space, health insurance, or benefits and can save money.

What they neglect to explore in the article is that savvy freelancers, with the level of skill many of these companies are looking for, will charge enough to cover those expenses.

And savvy freelancers work on contract, which means they’re not “at will” and can’t be just let go any old time the company feels like it. There’s usually a clause in the contract about how to end the work relationship if it doesn’t work out.

If there’s room for scope creep in the job description – negotiate it.

If the job description says you have to have certain computer hardware or software or phone or any other equipment – either the company pays for it/provides it and it is exclusive to the work you do for that company, or the company provides you a kit fee that covers the wear and tear on your own equipment.

If the job description demands that you have “reliable transportation” or a driver’s license – sweetly ask what kind of car they provide.

Negotiate.

Negotiations aren’t just about money.

We will talk about that in a future post.

How do you control scope creep? What points do your contracts over?

The Difference Between the Mythical “Full-time Freelance Job” and the Full-time Freelancer

image courtesy of GDJ via pixabay.com

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, because so many people are out of work and worried, the predators are out: expecting unpaid labor/samples/”assessments” as part of the hiring process, content mills re-branding themselves as “agencies” pretending to offer good work opportunities when they’ll just grind you to a pulp and destroy talent; writing jobs on “commission.”

But another disturbing trend I see in a lot of listings is this:

“Full-time Freelance”

There is no such thing as a “full-time freelance” job for a single company. If you’re working full-time for a single company, you are an employee for that company. Especially if they dictate the hours worked. Perhaps you choose to be an independent contractor on a 1099. But you SHOULD be on a W-2 at that point, and getting full benefits.

The only reason a company “offers” a “full-time freelance” position is to get out of paying benefits, sick days, holidays, etc. They are taking advantage of the non-employee to save money, yet expect the same behavior and hours and deference they would from a salaried employee.

There’s nothing wrong in working for a single company. But if you’re going to be working employee hours, you need to have benefits. Again, especially if they dictate which hours in the day they expect you to be working and available.

Or, if, for some reason, it suits you to remain on 1099, make sure YOU set the rate and it is what it would be to be on staff with the cost of benefits plus 20%. If they’re not going to give you benefits, make sure they pay enough to cover putting aside benefits and a little extra. You can find out what employees make through sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com. Or come in as a consultant, which bills at a higher-than-staff-person rate.

A full-time FREELANCER is an individual who works a full week (be it 40 hours or whatever that individual chooses to make the amount of money necessary) for a variety of different companies. There may be some overlap, especially across time zones, to communicate during mutually-acceptable hours. But the full-time freelancer arranges the hours and schedules in a way that best serves both the work and the life.

A full-time Freelancer chooses the clients with whom they do business, sets rates, works the hours that are best suited to the individual task and the energy needs.

In the best situations, the full-time Freelancer charges enough not to just cover rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, home office equipment and supplies, etc., but also for retirement, vacation fund, and a little extra.

The full-time Freelancer is constantly in marketing mode, sending out LOIs, broadening networks, and keeping an eye out for new clients who might be a good fit – or recommending fellow freelancers to jobs that might be a better fit. That time needs to be built into the work week, without a loss of income.

Since most work in the US is “at will” and can end at any time, both types of work run the risk of loss of income at a moment’s notice. But the unsalaried freelancer working full-time hours will have to scramble, while the full-time freelancer has other clients paying in while replacing the recently lost client. Freelancing work tends to run on short-term contracts, which gives at least a little stability, but those contracts end, and not all are renewed. Other work can be one-off work, and the full-time freelancer has to ride the feast-or-famine cycle.

Even if working for a single company as a freelancer, that freelancer needs to always be aware of what’s out there, and ready to leap to a better situation.

Working full-time for a single company without benefits is good for the company, but rarely good for the freelancer, unless the freelancer gets a high enough to cover independently funding benefits.

Working as a full-time freelancer can be stressful – the constant client hunt – but it also gives more variety, flexibility in case of management turnovers and sourings, and expansive opportunities.

But if someone offers you a “full-time freelance” position – look at the details very carefully. Negotiate up to make sure you are getting as much as any staff member receiving a salary and benefits, set your own hours, and are free to take on other work as you wish.

Remember: every job offer is the starting point of negotiations. If they offer you their endpoint, they are not worth your time.

Happy negotiations.

What Do You Want (and Need) From Work?

image courtesy of Pavlofox via pixabay.com

Last week, we talked here about the need to re-invent work. Then, over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site earlier this week, I talked about the need to re-establish one’s sense of self.

Far too many businesses are trying to gain for themselves by making us feel terrible – all this “free time” we have now, and all the things we “should” be doing because we can’t be out and about the way we used to gambol.

They’re also counting on us being so desperate to earn a living that we’ll take even less than we earned before the pandemic. “You’ll get nothing and like it” is their refrain.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how poorly most companies treated their employees in the first place.

Remember, without people to actually do the work, the company cannot exist.

If they hire people that do the work badly (which, if they don’t pay properly, that’s all they will get in the long run), they will go under.

Instead of listening to statistics by businesses for businesses, let’s look at personal realities, and use those realities to reshape how we are going to navigate both our work world and our social world.

Not everyone likes to work remotely. Not every job CAN be done remotely.

As an introvert, I realized how often I was forced to behave like an extrovert in a typical work setting, and what a toll that took on my health and my productivity. It didn’t matter if I turned in three times the work ahead of schedule – if I wasn’t in the building so the managers could interrupt me, ruin my productivity, and repeatedly put me in situations that caused stress and discomfort, it wasn’t “real work” and I wasn’t being a “team player.”

During the pandemic, the stress wasn’t from working remotely. It was that every foray off the property held the literal prospect of death to me or someone in my family. And, as time went on, it was the external pressures from those who wanted, again, to lower my productivity and add discomfort to feel powerful and force me to be “part of the team.”

I am perfectly capable of being “part of the team” without setting foot in the office. There’s this thing called Zoom (which we’re all tired of at this point). There’s email. There are scheduled phone calls (I only do phone calls by appointment). As long as I collaborate and hit the deadlines with quality work, I shouldn’t have to be forced, repeatedly, into onsite situations that cause misery in order to make someone else feel powerful.

I realized how many unhealthy compromises I’d made since I moved here. Far more unhealthy compromises than I’d ever made in the decades I worked in theatre and film production.

In the weeks leading to the Stay-at-Home, I was even talking with potential clients who insisted that I work onsite – even though I knew it would make me miserable.

So the past few months have made me redefine both what I want and what I need from work, and I encourage you to do the same.

I went into the arts because of the passion I have for the work. I loved my time working backstage and on set. Now, I love my time writing. I don’t consider the fiction and plays the “real writing” and the marketing/business/consulting a “day job.”

As far as I’m concerned, they are all of a piece.

Make a list of what you NEED from you work.

Mine includes:

Enough money so I’m not scrambling from payment to payment and don’t have to worry about basics like rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, emergency vet bills, etc. It also must be reliably paid, not put off with excuses. Pay me per our contract.

A sense of purpose and passion from those with whom I work. This can be small business owners who love what they do; or larger companies with a bigger mission. But there needs to be more to it than bottom line profit.

Alignment with my values. I am not going to work for people/organizations/businesses I believe cause harm/fuel hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. Even though those businesses usually pay more than those in alignment with my values as a person.

Creativity. My job needs to let me use the creative part of my psyche, maybe in ways I didn’t expect to use it.

Autonomy. Too often what is called “follow up” is actually “nagging.” If we’ve set a deadline, you will get what you need by that deadline. Suddenly asking for it a week early and bugging me about it doesn’t get it to you faster. If the deadline has changed for some reason, tell me it has changed and why it’s changed and we will deal with it. But don’t nag. Communicate clearly. And don’t micromanage every moment of my day.

Humor. I love to laugh, and a sense of humor is important, especially on tight deadlines when there’s a lot at stake.

Clear Communication. Don’t come at me with passive aggressive behavior. You want or need something? Be clear about it. Don’t lie to me, especially not by omission.

Respect for my boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. I do not have to embellish. If an emergency comes up, I will take on additional work outside my regular scope or outside my regular workweek; but it needs to be requested with respect and not become expected. I have a life that is separate from my work and just as important.

Room for growth. I want to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I don’t want to be pushed into additional tasks because the company is too cheap to hire enough qualified personnel. I want to grow within my own scope of duties. I want encouragement to share ideas and have opportunities.

Fully Remote. At this point in the game, that is what I want in the foreseeable future. It was a “want” before; now it is a need.

If any of the above list is missing, I am miserable, and know I need to change my work situation.

What do I WANT?

That’s a little different. The wants are what make the job special and exciting.

Paid holidays and vacations. Which means, when I’m working freelance, the money and the ability to book that time without pushback.

Variety. I like to write across different topics and in different areas – blog posts or articles or social media posts or courses or press releases or strategic plans. Anything that is scripted, be it for a video, a speech, or radio/podcast, and I’m in heaven.

Positive Colleagues. An overall positive work atmosphere, even if it’s via Zoom or email, matters. We all have tough days, or even tough stretches. But if one particular person is ALWAYS unhappy, it starts to create a ripple effect of stress.

An environment where everyone is encouraged to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses, rather than being thrown into something that’s a weakness without support or training.

Encouragement to connect beyond the work, and get to know my colleagues as human beings. What do we all like to do when we’re not working? What are our other passions and causes? How can we work together to build a better world?

Recognize and value the work. Recognize and value the work of everyone in the organization. It’s not about a fancier title. It’s about daily treatment and being paid fairly.

Encouragement for learning opportunities and creative opportunities, even if they don’t immediately benefit the client.

No more “at will” work. Most of my clients and I are on specific contracts, which is great. I do have a couple of clients that have me on retainer, but it’s “at will” and I need to change those parameters.

I’m sure I could make a more comprehensive list – and I’m working on it. But as I restructure my work life during the ongoing pandemic and figure out how I want it to look post-pandemic, these are all elements that matter to me.

As this list evolves, I will take steps to bring anything out of alignment into alignment. Then, I will grow, change, and respond to the world, and will adjust more. Which is a good thing.

What are your needs in a work situation? And wants?

How have they changed over the past few months?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Reinvent Work

Image courtesy of Free-Photos via pixabay.com

There are too many stresses in our daily lives right now: the fact that leaving the house can kill us, bosses who don’t believe we are actually working unless they can stare at us; job loss, which too often means the loss of health insurance, unemployment benefits running out, a government who would rather see us die en masse for their personal profit than give us tools to live with basic human dignity, and so forth.

We are exhausted.

And yet, this is the time, as everything falls apart is when we have to carve out the time, in spite of the stress, to reinvent and rebuild the society we want.

Part of that is to reinvent work.

Life in the Arts

I spent decades working professionally in theatre, film, and television production.  Yes, until I started working off Broadway full time, and then on Broadway full time, I often took stopgap jobs in offices and temp jobs along the way.

People who claim they want a career in the arts but feel stuck in their day jobs constantly ask me how I could earn enough to live on in the arts.

Because I was ruthless in the knowledge and practice that any day job was just that – temporary. Its only purpose was to make it possible for me to work in the arts. If and when it interfered with a paying theatre job, it was the day job that was chucked. I NEVER turned down a paid (emphasis on “paid”) job in the arts because it meant quitting a day job.

Even knowing that theatre and film jobs are temporary and transitory.

“But I have responsibilities!” People whine.

You think I don’t? I have been earning my way since I was a teenager. At a certain point, I became the breadwinner and caretaker of other members of my family. Sometimes I have been that for my family of choice as well. I have responsibilities.

But I was committed to my career choice, and every work decision was made around building that career, not conforming to other people’s definition of “real work.” Believe me, my entire life, I’ve heard “when are you going to get a REAL job?” This is from people who couldn’t last a single day if they had to work a full Broadway production schedule or an 18-hour day on a film set.

I knew what I wanted from my career, and I did it.

Too often, people claim they want a career in the arts. But it’s easy to fall into a corporate job with a regular salary. If you CHOOSE that route, it’s perfectly valid. But own the choice. Don’t pretend the corporate job and your “responsibilities” prevent you from doing the work you claim you want to do. The only thing standing in your way is you.

The other important element is to dump unsupportive partners. Because I am driven and organized, too many men tried to get me to give up my dream and focus that energy and drive on theirs. Not one of them were worth it, and getting every single one of them out of my life was the right choice. I’ve had some great men in my life, but I knew even the good ones couldn’t sustain the lifelong journey. The ones who tried to sabotage me were kicked to the curb pretty damn fast.

If my career choice had been in the stock market or in finance or medicine or law, no one would have ever questioned the dedication or the long hours. But, because it’s in the arts, everybody’s a critic.

I consider myself still working in the arts, even with the business and marketing writing I do. I work hard to balance the writing other people pay me to do with the novels, plays, and radio plays I write.

That doesn’t mean I consider business writing a “day job” and fiction/scripting my “real” writing. They are both creative. I love working with businesses who are passionate about what they do, and communicating that passion in a way that enchants, engages, and expands their audience. It’s my real work as much as writing a novel or a play is real work. It’s a facet of my career.

Pandemic Aftershocks

Since we’re still in the middle of a worsening pandemic, thanks to the lack of leadership and inhumanity at the Federal level, we don’t know the full extent of the aftershocks or how long they take.

Artists are finding new ways to create, engage, and entertain an audience. Production skills will also evolve. The need for art is growing, not ceasing, and I believe that theatre, film, music, dance, visual arts – all of these will grow and find new ways to connect with audiences.

Businesses need good writers more than ever. One of the analytics companies (I can’t find the link, apologies) figures that businesses that didn’t communicate with their audience during the pandemic lost up to 78% of that audience.

Businesses that communicate poorly with their audiences are also taking a hit. Life is different now. Tossing out over-used catchphrases that wore out their welcome back in March, or pretending it’s all over and everything is back to the way it was hurts your audience. I know, as a consumer, reading some of the ridiculous marketing schemes cause me physical pain. I turn away.

I am not likely to turn back.

Businesses that allow customers inside without a mask, or to slide the mask down once inside? I walk out. I don’t spend money there. Nor will I come back once there’s a vaccine, and we are safely able to resume a semblance of former activities.

They have lost my business permanently.

Rebuilding Work

One of the significant truths the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders revealed is that few office jobs need to be done in corporate space.

The day is often structured differently, especially if childcare and children’s online learning are involved. But the work can be done remotely.

Those of us who’ve worked remotely for a company and/or as freelancers already knew that. We’ve had to fight to because corporations find it useful to promote the toxic myth that it’s not “real work” unless it’s in THEIR space where they can monitor you.

They’re wrong.

It’s time not to return to that model. Where constant interruptions, unnecessary meetings to give a bombastic executive an audience, and a workday structured for least productivity but maximum low morale are considered “normal.”

We were groomed – and I use that triggering word deliberately – by corporations to believe that this type of work day and work environment was the only “real work.”

We’ve learned differently.

Yes, certain jobs need to be done on site. But plenty of office jobs can be done virtually. If some workers prefer the community office environment, they should have that option, once it’s safe. But for those who are more productive, as long as they hit their deadlines and deliver, the option to work remotely should be permanent.

Tools for Positive Change

UBI. Universal Basic Income gives everyone a chance for basic human dignity. Especially during the pandemic, it allows people to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and, most importantly, to stay home. It allows them to put money back into the economy for all of the above, and maybe even support some small businesses and artisans. That slows the spread of the infection, gives the medical community time to come up with vaccines and treatments, and save lives. If people aren’t putting their lives at risk daily, forced to go back into unsafe environments, but are allowed dignity, many of them will be able to create, invent, and come up with ideas that will positively transform their lives and our world that we can’t even yet imagine.

Health insurance not connected to jobs. Too many people are forced to stay in negative work situations because they are afraid of losing their health insurance. Then we hit a depression, like the one we’re in now, and they lost the job and the health insurance anyway. This needs to stop. Health insurance needs to be connected to the individual, and travel with the person from job to job. Part of that restructuring includes changing insurance from profit to non-profit companies, and removing stock options.

Benefits not tied to the job. EVERY job, even part-time and 1099 jobs, should have to toss a few dollars ON TOP OF (not deducted from) every paycheck into a pot tied to the individual for unemployment, paid time off, and retirement. IN ADDITION to money tossed into the insurance pot.

Affordable internet everywhere. Remote workers contribute to their local economies. They buy food, pay taxes, hopefully shop locally when they can, participate in their communities. It’s vital to keep people connected with affordable technology in the most rural areas. And people need options. No single corporation can be allowed to monopolize any utility.

The next generation doesn’t owe it to us to suffer. I am so sick and tired of hearing “well, I had to work hard, and no one wants to work anymore.” People do want to work hard, but they also want to work differently.  We should be making it better for the next generation, and then they make it better for the following generation and so forth and so on.  The previous generation broke barriers. Instead of regressing (like we’ve done the past years), it’s time for us to break barriers.

Fair pay for a day’s work. And benefits.  UBI doesn’t negate the need for fair pay. If you aren’t willing to pay a living wage, and throw benefits into a pot for the individual, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself. And let’s stop this only paying a 35-hour week or a 37.5-hour week. Or working 8-5 instead of 9-5 if someone wants to eat. You want me to work for you all damn day? You can damn well pay me for a LUNCH HOUR.

Affordable housing. What developers present as “affordable” housing isn’t.  The formula for affordable housing needs to be 30% of a month of 40-hour weeks at the minimum wage for that state. THAT is affordable. No one should have to work multiple jobs in order to pay rent, and rent should not be 80% of a person’s income (which it too often is).

How Do We Get There?

Millions of us are out of work right now, and worried. Perhaps even desperate. Corporations are counting on that. They got millions of dollars in SBA loans, have bought back stocks, paid bonuses to top execs, and laid off the people who do the actual work. Now, they want to hire people back at lower rates without benefits because “the economy.”

If you have to take anything that comes along, then do what you need to do.

But take Liz Ryan’s advice over on The Human Workplace, and always be looking for another job. Consider it a temp job. Keep looking, pitching, sending out resumes and LOIs, talking to people, expanding your network.

As soon as you get a better opportunity, take it. Companies stopped being loyal to their employees decades ago. They blame the employees, saying they jump to a different job after two years and “don’t want to work.” Hmm, maybe if companies paid decent wages, benefits, funded pension plans (which are EARNED benefits as much as Social Security is an  EARNED benefit) and treated their employees with decency and dignity, their employees would stay.

Don’t believe corporate spin. Take what you need to survive. Jump when something better comes along. Misplaced loyalty will destroy you every time.

Take Stock. Then Take Steps.

In and amongst the worry (and we’re all worried, on so many fronts right now), take stock of the career you’ve had and the career you want. Where are they aligned? Where are they apart? Where are they in conflict?

Start taking small actions every day to move towards the career you want. Fifteen minutes a day working towards both the kind of work you want to do and the environment in which you want to do it.

Then DO.

Work with your elected officials on town, state, and Federal levels. Let them know what you want out of your society. HELP them get there. It’s not just about donating money. It’s about regular communication so they can represent you, and it’s about ideas. Write proposals, with detailed action steps.

That helps them, and hones skills you can use in a variety of jobs.

Read bills coming up for a vote, and let your elected officials know how you feel about them. They can’t represent you if you don’t communicate.

You can read Federal bills coming up for a vote here..

Your state and town will have information on their websites. It doesn’t take that much time to keep up on these bills, and it pays off in every aspect of your life, because it affects every aspect of your life.

Vote. In EVERY election.

Say No. Speak up at work. Speak up in interviews. Companies are counting on us to be terrified and desperate. If enough of us say no, they have to change the way they treat workers, or go out of business. Find people with similar work and life sensibilities, and become entrepreneurs. Terrifying, right? But also fulfilling. You can do better work on your own and be a better boss than those who mistreated you.

Yes, it’s terrifying and overwhelming at times. Start slowly. Rest when you need to. But remember that you owe your best energy and creativity to making YOUR life a work of art, not creating something for others to profit from in perpetuity.

How are you reinventing work from what you’ve learned during the pandemic?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Red Flags While Prospecting

image courtesy of Alexey_Hulsov via pixabay.com

I’m back after an absence. I had the second surgery that was postponed due to COVID-19. Probably the best part of it all was that I had to get a COVID test in order to be allowed into the hospital.

With so many millions of people out of work, and more people forced back into work situations that could kill them, because businesses are being reckless and expect their staff to die for them – there are a lot of people looking for work right now.

Which means there are a lot of predators out there, hoping to take advantage of desperate people.

I really wish that businesses would cough up some cash and hire a professional writer to write the ads they put out – even when the ad is for a professional writer. While some of my colleagues see badly-written ads as examples of why the company should hire them, I often see red flags.

They’re Baa-aack! Content Mills Are Still a Bad Choice

As I mentioned several posts ago, content mills are back. They’ve rebranded themselves as “content agencies” or “content producers.” They still overwork, underpay, and provide lousy quality all the way around. Avoid them.

I attended an online writing conference last week, and some of the “instructors” actually advised writers to go ahead and work for content mills in the short term.

Try not to.

I won’t say “never” because sometimes we all have to suck it up and accept a lousy gig at low pay in order to make some immediate cash.

But if you do so, leave it off your resume, and get out as quickly as possible. If you get a decent clip out of it for your portfolio, great. But leave the mill off your resume. It lowers your rate and your credibility if it’s there. Definitely keep it off your LinkedIn profile.

One of the recent, rebranded content mills waxes on how they’re so high-paying with 10-14 cents a word.

AARP magazine, which accepts freelance pitches, pays $1/word. So does REAL SIMPLE.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY is looking for an at-large writer at 50 cents a word, with 4-6 articles per month, plus they pay for any tests they ask you to take.  Which is what professionals do.

If you want breakdowns and comparisons of predatory jobs and legitimate, professionally-paid ones, Lori Widmer does a wonderful series called “This Job, Not That Job” on Words on the Page.

No Free Samples. No Free Tests.

It died down for a bit, but now it’s back in full force. Companies who demand that you write content for them for free as a “test.”

A good portion of these companies take the content, don’t pay anyone, change the name of the company, and then use the content for which they didn’t pay.

Don’t do it.

I now put it in my cover letter that I will not provide project-specific samples without pay, and offer them my rate. I also state that I will not take assessments or any other type of test unless we set up a date and time, and that I am paid for that time.

I will not give up billable hours to take an “assessment.”

Read my portfolio.

If you can’t tell whether I’m a good fit from my portfolio samples, that’s about your lack of analytical reading skill, not about my lack of writing skill.

You want me to do something specific to your company because you “can’t tell” if I can write in your tone? Fine. There’s a price for that.

If you don’t respect my rate, and if you don’t feel that my time is valuable before we even work together, you’ve let me know how little you think of your people.

We are not the right fit.

No Personality Tests. Ever.

More and more companies, both remote and onsite, are telling their recruiters to run candidates through DISC tests or Briggs Meyers personality tests.

I am a complex individual. I cannot — and WILL not — be distilled down and put into a box by type. Saying you need to test me like this to see if I can function as part of a team indicates your company attracts an unhealthy level of crazy. In order to function as a member of a team, I use my skills in collaboration, creativity, and professionalism. By setting people up as “dominant” or “influence” or “steadiness” or “conscientious” you’re stating that each member of the team can only embody one aspect. I embody all of them, and I bring forth what’s needed to best suit the situation.

That’s a huge red flag, and indicates you should run like hell without looking back.

This is always toxic, but especially so for writers. One of the many wonderful things about writers is flexibility and versatility. Not only are we more than one thing, we can communicate more than one thing, on multiple levels, in the same piece.

The last recruiter who argued with me about it said, “All of us have to take this test. I took the test.”

To which I replied, “I am so sorry that you felt you had to accept such abuse.”

She was quite offended. But I meant it.

She then hit me with, “Oh, you’ll see, you’ll think about it overnight and agree.”

I told her that the very fact the test was requested indicated it was no longer a company for whom I wanted to work.

That was that. She got back in touch a week later to see when I wanted to take it, now that I had time to realize what an important part of the hiring process it was. I told her the twelfth of never.

Full-time Freelancer

YOU are the full-time freelancer, unless you choose to work for a single employer. If and when you choose to work for a single employer, on a full time schedule, you are an employee of the company.

“Full-time freelancer” means you are running your own business and working for multiple clients. If you are working for a single company, you are their employee and should be getting benefits. Anything less is a scam.

Ridiculous Hours

The same place that demanded the personality test said they paid for a 35.5 hour week. HOWEVER, because their team was scattered over the country, I needed to be “available” to them from 9 AM to 9 PM. Plus a 2-1/2 hour commute in each direction – they didn’t have their own office, but they had a desk in a co-working space, and I was required to work there (although there was no reason it couldn’t be fully remote). However, I was being paid the “fulltime” employee salary of 35.5 hours and expected to give all that extra time (since it was a 60 hour workweek) without pay.

No.

With distributed teams across time zones, there does need to be overlap. But meetings need to be negotiated to work for everyone, not all the off-hours put on a single individual. And all work time must be paid.

Also, when it states work is  “Monday through Friday” and “weekends” but it’s only 20 hours a week – no.

If I’m a freelancer, I choose which hours I work. We arrange for meetings at mutually convenient times, but as long as I meet deadlines, I pick my hours.

Again, if the employer chooses the hours, you are now an employee, not a freelancer, and should be getting benefits.

A List of Equipment You Must Provide

If the listing contains the equipment they want you to use, or the software, skip it.

If a company wants me to use a specific laptop to them, a specific phone, or a specific type of software, THEY must provide it. I am not running out and buying an extra MacBook Air for exclusive use.

Or, if I’m using my own equipment, you pay me what we called in theatre and film production a “kit fee.”

Nor am I buying a new car because of them. If I have to have “reliable” personal transportation because they’re not near public transit or because they don’t feel it’s “reliable” enough – then they can provide me with a company car.

I’ve noticed that the employers who demand this don’t pay for mileage or gas or wear and tear on cars or other equipment, although they expect their employees to bear the full cost.

No.

What if You Want/Need the Job?

Negotiate.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Be polite, be confidant, but don’t just take it.

Know what you’re willing to negotiate back to, and, if they refuse (most recruiters will refuse, and negotiation needs to be with the company itself, not the recruiter), know at what point you will walk away.

Liz Ryan, of The Human Workplace, offers a plethora of negotiating tactics and suggestions. Familiarize yourself with them, and adjust them for your individual situation and comfort level.

Check out Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog. She has terrific resources for freelancers; many of them can be adapted if you decide to look for a more traditional employment situation.

Remember that any recruiter or potential client is not doing you a favor by an interview or an initial conversation. It is a mutually beneficial situation to find the right person for the right slot, with both parties getting a positive result. If it’s treated as anything less, that is a huge red flag that there are problems within the work culture, and there’s a good chance you will be unhappy, undervalued, and underpaid.

Move on to the next company on your list.

What are some of the red flags you’ve seen lately?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Sometimes Local Is The Wrong Choice

image courtesy of eyeimage via pixabay.com

The title got your attention, and the topic may annoy people.

We’ve spent so much time talking about “shop local”  and “buy small.” There are even weekends dedicated to that – the Saturday after Black Friday, for instance.

In many cases, I’m all for it. I’d much rather spend my hard-earned dollars on a local artisan making a terrific product than at a big, anonymous box store.

However, there are also artisans and small businesses who create great products all over the country and all over the world. I like to support them by purchasing their products when I can. That does not negate the local businesses.  I can buy from both.

With the re-opening, sometimes shopping local is even less of a smart choice. While my state mandates that local businesses must require customers to wear a mask to enter, it’s rarely enforced. One of the local businesses I supported during stay-at-home is allowing people in without the required masks. They SAY they want customers masked; but when I was in there last week, customers walked in wearing the mask, then slid it down to their neck and got right up close and personal with employees and didn’t social distance.

I call them the Sliding Mask Skanks.

I’ve shopped a good deal at this business since I moved here ten years ago; won’t be going back any time soon, since I don’t feel they are protecting either their employees or their customers. I was uncomfortable, angry, and felt unsafe. I bought much less than I planned, because all I wanted to do was get away from the Sliding Mask Skanks before one of them contaminated me. I considered putting everything back and walking out without buying anything, but that would have put me at more risk that simply checking out with what I had.

Another local business, offering the same type of product “strongly encourages” masks, but does not require them. So I’m not shopping there.

Meanwhile, a local business in the same line of work about forty minutes away not only requires the mask, but takes the temperature of customers before allowing them in.

I’ll drive the forty minutes and shop there instead.

Too many businesses are not enforcing the mask rule, are not protecting either customers or employees, because they’d rather get a few bucks out of the Covidiots, especially if they’re tourists, then build a sustainable future in the community by refusing them entrance. Or making them leave when they take off the mask.

These businesses have not yet figured out that when everybody’s dead, there’s no one to buy their products.

They will.

I don’t intend to be one of the casualties.

There are other local businesses that are letting the guidelines slide, while claiming they are following them. Not shopping there.  I’ll hunt down individual artisans and order from them instead (and ask that they not ship via UPS, since UPS has now lost three packages in the past month. Again, not acceptable).

I’m keeping track of the businesses that aren’t protecting employees and customers. I will think long and hard when there is a vaccine and there is treatment and it’s “safe” to go out and about like we used to – do I really want to give my money to a place that didn’t look after their people, but were willing to put their lives at risk during the phased re-opening? Do companies that were willing to put lives at risk in such a reckless manner deserve my money?

If I have another option, I will use it.

Even if it’s not local.

As a writer and remote worker, I have clients spread out all over the country and the world. With remote teams stationed wherever they’re stationed, “local” has a more individual meaning.

I might be working for a company that has a distributed remote work force. However, the money I earn from that company benefits my local community when I go out and spend it.

Except for those companies who are not following guidelines and protocols. I’ll skip spending my money there and put it to companies who ARE looking after both employees and customers.

If there’s a product I want/need from a local business and they’re letting Covidiots in without masks, potentially infecting employees and customers, potentially creating a hotspot, I’m not shopping there. If I can get the same product, also from a small business, that’s in a different location, and they are shipping and following safety guidelines, that’s where I’ll put my money.

What if they’re not actually following them? What if they are doing what local businesses are doing here, which is posting that they are following guidelines, but not actually doing it? How can I possible know if I’m not right there?

Anything that enters the house goes through disinfectant protocols and is sanitized and/or quarantined. Whether it’s local or delivered. However, if it’s delivered, I have not been in contact range of the reckless Covidiots dancing around with unenforced protocols, and I have a much smaller chance of getting infected.

So I’ll order from a small business that’s somewhere else. And NOT spend my money locally, where I KNOW they are disregarding safety protocols. They haven’t earned the right to my money. I buy from a different locale.

“Local” has become more complex.

Remote workers are fantastic for their local economies. If I’m living where I want, happy where I am and working remotely, earning a fair living from that remote job (which I sure wouldn’t be earning in-person locally), and I spend that money on property, gas, food, and at local businesses who earn my trust – that serves the local economy.

But I am paying attention. I do not “owe” it to local businesses to spend my money there if they are not doing everything in their power to protect the health and safety of both their employees and their customers. But especially their employees, who have to deal with germy strangers coming in and out all day.

I “owe” the health and safety of my family and my community at large to spend my money in businesses that I believe operate with ethics and integrity. There are plenty of businesses owned by people whose values are far removed from mine. I do not “owe” it to them to spend my money there. They do not “owe” it to me to hire me to write for them (I’d refuse the gig anyway).

That is one of the marketing spins during this phased re-opening that hits me as a red flag – chambers of commerce and business associations telling the public they “owe”  their patronage to businesses in the area simply because they are in the area.

If the business earns my trust and treats employees and customers with integrity, I’m happy to spend money there (provided their product meets my needs). If they don’t earn my trust and don’t treat employees and customers with integrity, or stop doing so, I do not owe them anything.

This is something marketing people need to discuss with their clients as they plan and implement re-opening campaigns to engage and enlarge their audience/customer base. Customers don’t “owe” you their patronage. You have to earn it. You have to stand out and give customers reasons to want to engage with you, to want to spend their money on your product or service, rather than one someone else’s.

Health and safety concerns have added another layer to that equation. It’s not two-dimensional anymore, but multi-dimensional. It’s interesting, frustrating, and sometimes disappointing to see which businesses step up, and which ones fail.

How are businesses in your area handling things? Any surprises? Disappointments? How do you feel about the local marketing? How would you advise these companies differently?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Who Are You?

image courtesy of Drigo Diniz viz pexels.com

There’s a lot of discussion in person and online, as we try to navigate the often reckless re-opening plans around the country, how to restructure the marketing message to hold customers rather than drive them away by being tone deaf, and to engage new customers.

With the world literally burning down around us, the institutions/structures we either trusted or ignored exposed as toxic, flawed, and/or corrupt, and the fact that going to the grocery store could literally kill us, “messaging” isn’t enough.

Who are you, as a business?

Where do you fit into the structure of you local community, your region, your state, your country, the world? What does what you do, the way you do it, how you walk your talk, and how you communicate it, say about you?

More importantly, who are you as a person?

It’s often argued that one’s personal beliefs don’t matter within business context. A professional writer can write anything for any one in any tone. The fact that one can and does is proof of one’s professionalism.

I’ve often had a problem with that, and even more so now.

Which is your soul and which is your mask? What damage do you to do your soul (and the world) when all you offer is your mask, and the results of that mask cause harm?

We hear about the need for “authenticity” in connecting and engaging an audience. That term is yet another that has become over-used, meaningless market-speak. The minute someone starts talking about the “authentic self” the warning bells go off for “hypocrite.” Because those who actually ARE authentic don’t run around talking about it. They are BEING. They are DOING. Their actions provide the copy. The copy does’t cover or divert from the actions.

I don’t have all the answers, although I keep asking the questions. I don’t have the right to make decisions for anyone except myself. But I do have to face myself in the mirror every day. I have to ask, “Who are you?”

On the days when I can’t answer, or don’t like what I see, it is time for radical change.

So. . .who ARE you?

Ink-Dipped Advice: We’re All Muddling Along As Best We Can. So Don’t Nag

image courtesy of stockphotos via pixabay.com

Truly, most of us are doing our best to respect others (which means wearing a mask), be courteous, and give each other room for the emotional ups and downs through which we’re all going.

That needs to extend to the marketing. It’s surprising how many businesses are either ignoring that everything has changed, or are pounding potential customers.

As several doctors have pointed out, the only thing “re-opening” means is that there’s now room for you in the hospital.

Too many businesses and customers are pretending nothing ever happened. They speak guidelines, they might even post them. But they are not following them or enforcing them.

When I enter a store and customers are unmasked, in violation of state directives, I turn and walk out. I cross that business off my list until sometime in the future, when I feel safe going into a place unmasked. Like when I’m vaccinated.

The business might not exist by then.

That’s the risk we both take.

I live in a place that depends on tourists far too much. I’ve said, for years, this area has the resources to be fully self-sufficient, using tourism for additional prosperity, but lacks the will so to do.

It’s telling, right now, that most places around here would rather put people in danger to grab $200 bucks or so, and then have to shut down again when large numbers of people sicken and die again, possibly never to reopen, instead of being smart upfront.

Life has changed. It will continue to change, as treatments and vaccines are created, and as new illnesses and events brought on by climate change and other factors continue to be a threat.

Life has changed.

Permanently.

Marketing has to change with it. Not twenty steps behind, but ahead of the curve.

I talked about it last week: As a consumer, I like to see some gentle humor, kindness, and clear information.

There were two companies (not local) with whom I was interested in doing business over the past few weeks. Both turned me off, possibly permanently.

Both claim to champion independent artisans in their field. The businesses are not the artisans directly; they curate artisans and then sell to consumers.

One of them had an ad for a specific set of items at a specific price. I thought it would be a good way to try the company, to see if I liked the quality of the products, the way the company worked, and if I could afford to do business with them on a regular basis.

I clicked on the ad, credit card in hand, ready for my first experience with them.

Which was negative.

First, I was taken to their website, where I had to read a looooooooooong introduction, and then take a quiz.

Then, I was told I would receive a voucher to apply – I’m not sure to what. The formula was so complicated I couldn’t figure it out.

There was no place to order the item that had drawn me to the website in the first place.

To me, that’s bait and switch. No, thanks. Bye.

I got a series of emails from the company with apologies and additional voucher somethings – none of which made any sense. I couldn’t figure out how or where to enter the voucher so I could order what I was interested in receiving from the company. I could see ads for what I wanted – but nothing ever led me to buy the product as advertised that I wanted.

I finally wrote back and said I was confused, and why was it so complicated.

In return, I got a lengthy email saying this is the way they did business. It didn’t answer any of my questions or tell me how to use the voucher or get the product I actually wanted to order.

Not doing business with them.  I’m too tired, it’s too much math, and all I should have to do is click on the product in the ad and pay for it.

The quizzes, vouchers, and all the rest? That can come later.

To bait and switch, then overcommunicate in a sea of word salad that makes no sense and still doesn’t allow me to buy what attracted me to your site in the first place means I am not doing business with you.

I don’t trust you.

Second company: again, representing artisans. They had an offer of 50% off. I wanted to know what the entire price was, so I could figure out if the 50% off was something I wanted.

Only I couldn’t see any prices until I’d entered my email. Which annoyed me.

I entered my email, received a code, but when I saw the prices, I decided that it was out of my range for the moment. Plus, I had to commit to more than one purchase up front – 50% off the first purchase, two more purchases at full price.

My work could dry up at any moment. I’m not making that kind of commitment for non-essentials right now. I liked the product, and decided when I felt more financially secure in a few months, I’d like to try it. But right now, I couldn’t.

So I clicked off the site and that was that.

The barrage of emails began. Two within a few hours. “Where are you?” “Why haven’t you placed your order yet?” “You’ll miss out.”

No. I won’t miss out. I’ve decided not to buy the product.

Now that you’re nagging me, I’m knocking you off my list of companies with whom to do business in the future.

Both of these examples are marketing that failed me as a consumer. I am exhausted. I am working a lot of hours. Survival takes a lot of energy. There’s no such thing as running out to the store for something I forgot. Grocery shopping is a half day event, between standing in line, social distancing in the store, and disinfectant protocols when I come home. Things take longer, and they take more energy.

If you’re trying to convince me to part with dollars I’m already worried about, you need to make it easy. Keep the buying process as simple as possible. Let me buy what drew me to your site in the first place.

Don’t nag.

Because right now? As a consumer, I don’t have the time or patience to spend dollars on companies that harangue me.

As a marketing writer, I take what I feel as a consumer, what I hear on social media and in conversations with people, and I try to apply it.

How can I make the potential customer feel that this product is necessary? And that we value the time and money this customer put in researching and then buying the product?

With kindness, clear and simple communication, good products, and easy fulfilment.

Everyone is working as hard as they can, so the order might not go through in an instant, or arrive in two days. That’s fine. I don’t mind that.

But I mind twelve steps to get to a product instead of three, constant emails with a dissonant tone, and nagging.

What marketing techniques are turning you off right now? What’s working for you?