Ink-Dipped Advice: Sometimes Local Is The Wrong Choice

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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?

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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

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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?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Don’t Be That Marketing Asshat

One of the things I’ve noticed during the StayAtHome is how much predatory, desperate, and snake oil salesman marketing is going on.

Don’t be that Marketing Asshat.

I find the worst on the radio. The amount of snake oil salesmen selling things that are, at best ineffective and, at worst, could kill you, is ridiculous. The radio stations running these “ads” should have to vet them, not just accept them because they want marketing dollars. There’s one radio station in particular I only turn on for traffic and weather and won’t listen to anymore because their “reporting” is biased and they only run ads hawking absolutely ridiculous stuff.

The daily email blasts trying to get me to buy stuff also needs to stop. We are at a record unemployment rate. People don’t have money. What they have, they’re saving for rent and food and utilities. Trying to sell me something every single day isn’t keeping your name in front of me for the times I want or need to buy something. It’s annoying me, and I’m unsubscribing and/or blocking and putting you on the list of companies from whom I won’t buy in the future.

Once a week is plenty, although I’d prefer less. Twice a week is pushing it. More than that? Bye.

Sending me a frantic email with a limited time offer on something every day – especially if it’s the same item every day that you insist is only available on that day, and then it turns up the next day, or the day after in another frantic email – not working for me.

Sending progressively angry emails because I’m not buying your product is also not going to convince me to part with my cash. I get to decide what I buy. If something you offer does not fit my needs, I am not required to buy it. Yelling at me isn’t going to persuade me. It’s going to turn me away from your product and your company permanently.

Also, be careful of the overused phrases. “We’re in this together” is particularly grating, because we’re not. If we were in this together, we’d all be getting UBI and not have to decide if we’d rather starve to death because we forfeit unemployment refusing to go back into a dangerous work situation, or we’d rather get the virus while trying to keep a roof over our heads. “We’re all in this together” is a privileged statement by the moneyed few who find “the help” expendable. Unless you’re going to back it up with action instead of the current one-way usage, it’s an insult, not a rallying cry.

“Uncertain times” has gotten old. I had to use it a few times, too, and I got sick of it fast as a writer, so I can only imagine how sick recipients are of it. As a recipient, out of 87 recent email messages, 74 used “uncertain times.”

Overuse.

It worked for about three days in week one; let’s find better language.

Let’s not threaten, or rage, or, most importantly, condescend.

“Empathy” is getting overused, so let’s try to not just use the words “kindness” and “patience” but practice them. On and off the page.

I also don’t need 17 Zoom invites by the time I log on in the morning.

I’m an introvert. I’m grateful there’s Zoom and that so many organizations have found a way to keep in touch with clients, patrons, and audiences via Zoom. But I don’t need to Zoom with you every day, spending more hours with your organization per day than I would in a month or a quarter. There aren’t that many hours in a day.

Yes, if it’s a Zoom meeting, there’s a fee involved, the same as if I was in the office for a consultation. It’s my time, it’s my billable hours, and I’m still billing.

As any of us who actually DO work instead of create busywork know, work doesn’t actually happen in meetings or because of meetings. Work happens IN SPITE of meetings.

So cut back on the meetings, people. They are not helpful. Nor is it helpful to send more interruptions per workday via Slack or text than there would be in a regular office.

I have not changed my policy of phone calls only by appointment during this time. In fact, it’s been more important than ever. Especially for people in fields who don’t usually work remotely, and are sitting around calling people because they’re bored. Honey, I’m sorry you’re bored, I’m glad you’re safe, but I’M WORKING. I always was working during this time, I’m STILL WORKING.

Remote is what I do.

I’m not sitting around on anyone’s dime eating bonbons and watching Netflix. I’ve been working, flat out, REMOTELY, at least  40 hours a week since the StayAtHome went in place. For those who haven’t had to keep up the pace, or simply couldn’t, you’re surviving, you’re doing great, enjoy Netflix for both of us. However, I’ve been flat out, and I’m on the verge of burn out. Receiving daily emails about all these products, services, and opportunities I should take advantage of “now that I have so much time” is enraging.

If I’m flat out, I can only imagine what parents who are trying to keep their kids on an educational schedule while working remotely as many or more hours than usual are feeling. We need a collective vacation, soon, and StayAtHome most certainly was NOT that.

When the marketing materials I’m doing at home are generating your ONLY source of income during the pandemic, snide comments about me working remotely aren’t going to keep you a priority. They’re going to get you replaced by clients who value my skill, my time, my talent.

What this has proven, more than ever, is that what I do does not have to be done on someone else’s site.  It has changed how I approach clients in my LOIs, and where I’m willing to compromise. Not just until there’s a vaccine, but for my foreseeable future as I reshape my career, because I realized how many unhealthy compromises I made the past few years.

I know the type of marketing that appeals to me, especially in a time of chaos, fear, and frustration. It’s friendly, story-based marketing with kindness and humor, that includes me, that invites me, rather than attacks me.

I’m keeping a list of the companies who are mishandling their communications during this time. Several of them have heard from me, that their tone and their tactics are inappropriate, and I am no longer interested in being a customer. Others will simply not get my attention or my money in the future.

As a writer, I want to make sure that I offer a positive experience to a client’s audience. There can be enthusiasm without aggression. Invitation without coercion. Humor without condescension.

We’re supposed to come out of an event like this as a better, stronger, more compassionate society. The marketing should lead the actions, open the way for such actions.

Unfortunately, the bulk of what I see out there right now is just the opposite.

As a consumer, it offends me.

As a marketing writer, I damn well better learn from what’s not working, so that I can offer my clients what does work. A better, richer, kinder choice that will build lasting and positive relationships through the tumult and beyond into the rebuilding.

That’s my aim. I won’t hit it every time, but it’s how I’m shaping my journey.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Teaching Clients Tools

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I believe in teaching clients to be self-sufficient in certain areas.  I don’t believe that keeping clients dependent is good for business. I believe in working WITH clients, in making them feel more confident about how they present themselves and their business.  Sure, you can have long-term, ongoing relationships. 

But eventually, you outgrow each other, and that’s a good thing.

I often come into situations with clients where their previous marketing person/content writer has hoarded information and/or held it hostage. Often, this includes the social media accounts, apps, or networking tools.

I don’t believe that setting up social media accounts for my clients and running them for clients means I own those accounts. I don’t. They belong to the company. The content I create (once it’s paid for) belongs to the company — unless we have a special rights licensing in place. 

For instance, if I create fiction or radio for a client’s business (aka “Mission-Specific Entertainment”) it’s either a work for hire (in which case they pay me and keep all future rights) or I license them rights for certain usage and keep the copyright.

But refusing to share the log-in information for the client’s Instagram account with the actual client is, in my opinion, wrong.

I spend plenty of time setting up client accounts, and then figuring out how to schedule posts, cross post, etc. I am paid for that time. But I don’t own the accounts. The clients do.

If I pay for a scheduling platform, such as Buffer or Hootsuite or the like, and run everybody’s social media accounts off a platform for which I pay — yes, I’m paying for the platform, and a portion of that cost is factored into the social media package for which the client pays. But the client owns the actual social media account under their name. Should the client and I cease working together, I’d take them off the platform for which I pay, but they would still have their social media accounts.

If the responses have been directed back to me for response, when I leave a place, I make sure they have complete login, password, and the accounts are directed back to wherever they want/need it.

I don’t hold the accounts hostage.

What I prefer to do, even if I handle the regular posting, is to teach them how to post. I could get sick; I could leave. We could have a situation like we do now, where we have to work remotely and maybe not all their files are accessible to me, but are to other members of the company.

It’s good for them to know how to post on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and any other platform on which they choose to frequent. It’s good for them to know how to set up a video conference or log into Slack.

The best way I’ve found to teach, whether it’s social media or a program or an app includes: 

Set Up Time Together It needs to be uninterrupted, where you can work side-by-side on the device to post. Or work via videoconference, and send over a step-by-step cheat sheet ahead of time. I’m big on cheat sheets anyway. People forget, unless they make a habit of using the tool.

Keep it Simple. Show them each step in setting up a post, but let THEM do it. Physically. Not just watch you do it. You do one. Then talk them through one. Have them do each step. More than once, if necessary, until they’re comfortable.

Simple Cheat Sheet. Write up a simple sheet with each step done as clearly and succinctly as possible. Too much information gets discouraging and distracting.

Praise the Learning. Be happy they’ve learned a new skill.

Keep Updated Logins and Passwords. I add new ones to my Master List and make up new Key Sheets once or twice a year for those who should have access, especially if the passwords have changed. People tend to remember the first password, and changes are lost in the mist.

It’s unlikely they’ll fire you to take it on themselves, but it’s good to have more than one person know how to handle these accounts.

When and how do you teach your clients skills?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Inspiration For & From Your Clients

image courtesy of Jordan_Singh via Pixabay.com

We convince our clients to hire us because we bring a fresh, creative perspective to their message and their business. We’re excited about their product or service, and eager to get the message out. They’re excited by our excitement and (hopefully) by the results our messaging brings in, and up their game some more. It can be a lovely upward spiral.

How can clients inspire us?

What is it about their story, product, or service, that makes them unique?

One of my clients is a women’s clothing designer. Many of her designs are Asian-inspired styles and fun fabrics. But you know what one of the most exciting aspects of her designs are? Most of her pieces have pockets!

Pockets!!!!

I can’t tell you how often I’ve bought men’s jackets at thrift shops and worn them just so I have pockets. I get tired of feeling like a snail, carrying my house on my back, as most women I know do, especially women who commute.

I want pockets, damn it!

As a member of her target market, the pockets are one of the major selling features for me. I get excited about them, and use it as part of the marketing.

Marketing that includes mention of the pockets results in more sales than the materials which don’t.

I inspire that client because we share a love of cats and mysteries. We talk about both a lot. One of her styles is a Thumbprint shirt that’s great for mystery lovers, which grew out of our conversations, and she puts cats on lots of her pieces.

Thumbprint shirt

Conversations with a client who’s a bread maker spurs fun little flash fiction with unusual flavors and shapes of bread. Which comes first? The bread or the story? They play off each other (the site has not gone live yet). We get going with our brainstorming; she does recipe development and I do flash fiction and other content.

A former landscaping client became the focus for an article pitch to a national magazine. A theatre client liked my idea of using holiday cards as a way to stay in touch with former performers/presenters and current sponsors, especially when the emphasis was on not asking them for anything! (Yes, that breaks the “rule” many nonprofits tout about using EVERY opportunity to ask for a donation. That’s a rule with which I disagree, and backfires when used on me, so I’m sure it gets old for others). I’m using a theatre based on hers in one of my novels (although I’ve set it in a different state and changed a few things).

Everything can spark inspiration, if you let it.

The basis of that is conversation as real people, not just in terms of market-speak and analytics. Get to know each other. Have real conversations. 

That leads to real creativity.

Which translates into tangibles that benefit you both.

Adjusting To Remote Work

image courtesy of pixabay.com

I’m in between surgeries this week, so I thought I’d pop in and offer some tips on remote work, since it’s become a necessity to do as much of that as we can to keep us all safe.

As an introvert too often forced to behave like an extrovert, remote work is ideal for me. Plus, as a writer, there’s rarely reason I HAVE to be onsite (although far too many employers don’t believe you’re actually working unless they can stare at you, which, when you think about it, is a little stalky/creepy).

If you’re not used to working remotely, it can be a paradox of the freedom of your own schedule and the lack of structure. Personally, I’m far more productive remotely, which means better quality of work and better bang for the buck. But it’s not just doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Here are some suggestions:

Have a Designated Workspace. This is important. You may be working from home; you may move around where you work (especially on a laptop or mobile device), but have a designated space to set up and spread out your materials, so you don’t lose things or get disorganized. It also helps you get into the work headspace.

Set Boundaries With Others in the Home. If you and your partner or roommates are both working from home, talk about how you’ll use the space together. If your partner’s not used to you being around, again, set boundaries. If kids are at home, discuss it with them. Parents are under huge stress, juggling their kids’ online education and their own remote work, or child care if they’re not allowed to work from home and their kids are out of school. It’s huge. Not enough support has been built in for the parents with kids at home, especially single parents. Figuring out how to share electronic devices when necessary, manage time and needs is huge.

You are working; you can’t be interrupted for any little thing or “this’ll just take a minute.” Interact at designated break times. Define “emergency” so if one happens, that’s an interruption. Set the boundaries, then HOLD them. There’s a difference between having some flexibility in your work day and not getting any actual work done because you’re being interrupted every two minutes. You are WORKING. That needs to be respected. And you need to respect the boundaries of anyone else in the house. Talk about it beforehand, make an agreement. If you need to modify, do it after the designated workday, in preparation for the next one. If you’ve got kids home, set up their activities/schoolwork close enough for everyone to feel comfortable, but with enough space for focused work, and take more breaks to hang out with them, answer questions, etc.

Shower. You’ll feel better, if you start the day with your normal shower routine (or maybe you’re someone who does that at the end of the day — whatever works).

Get Dressed. Plenty of remote workers will disagree with me on this. Some of them have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas.” Glad it works for them. My remote work clothes are definitely more casual than for on-site (except for videoconferencing). But they’re clothes. I joke about having to put on “real people pants” if I have to actually leave the house, but the writing clothes I spend my day in are different from what I sleep in, and not pajamas. It indicates to me that I’m in professional work mode.

Keep Hours Close to Your Regular Workday. The lack of commute should help make getting ready for your workday easier.  Maybe you can linger over your first cup of coffee, enjoy your breakfast, take a walk (keeping a safe distance from others). But be at your desk the time you would normally be at the desk; walk away from your desk at the time you would normally leave. Especially the first few days of remote work, keeping a similar schedule will help you adjust.

However, if you have a more flexible remote work schedule and you find your best hours are different than a normal work day, go for it. Clear it with your boss first, so you’re not getting calls and texts in the middle of the day when you’re asleep, make sure people understand you’ll be responding to emails at different hours (and don’t expect an immediate answer if you send an email at 3 AM),  and make sure you hit all deadlines. But if your natural rhythm is to work at 3 AM and you can do it within the framework of your remote situation, do so.

Time Blocks. Instead of checking email whenever it pings; check it once every few hours. Bundle your phone calls together. Better yet, make phone appointments via email. I only do phone by appointment (and charge for it in 15-minute increments). It saves a world of time and a world of pain. Have blocks of uninterrupted time when you work on what you’d work on at your desk — be it a newsletter or a report or a proposal. Track how much time you spend on different things, and your productivity levels. See where you might need to adjust.

Take Breaks. If you were in the office, you’d get up to refill the coffee or ask a co-worker a question or use the restroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to do that when you’re in your home office. If your kids are home, take longer breaks in your work and their schooling to do something fun together, if at all possible.

Take Lunch.You might eat at your desk in the office, but take the break for lunch. It’ll give you energy for your afternoon. Maybe step outside for a few minutes (if you’ve got enough yard or a balcony).

Communicate With Bosses and Co-Workers. Maybe you’re texting and emailing. Maybe it’s Skype. Maybe it’s Zoom or Slack or Trello or KanTree. But stay in touch.  Let your co-workers know your progress on projects; ask about theirs. Check in to see how they’re doing.  Research some other remote tools and suggest them.

Don’t Blow Off Virtual Meetings. Pay attention. Take notes. Especially if you’re in a position where you often had onsite meetings, the virtual meetings might need a bit of adjustment. But if a time set for a meeting is way out of line, speak up. 

Set an End Time. Especially early in the process. Aim to end at the same time you normally end your work day. If, for some reason, you took a chunk out of the middle of the day to do something or take care of something, you might need to add in at the end, either now or after dinner. But set an end time and walk away. Don’t keep answering work-related emails or texts or calls around the clock. That way lies madness, unpaid time, and resentment. Working remotely does NOT mean you are on call and working 24/7.

Tidy up Your Workspace At the End of the Day. It’ll make it easier to come back the next morning.

Exercise! If you’ve been walking to and from mass transit, you need something to do.  Try yoga or meditation or home workouts. If there’s a place you can walk safely while not breaking quarantine, do so. If you’re got stairs in your house, use them more frequently. I have yoga, meditation cushions, weights, a jump rope, and an exercise bicycle in the house. It makes a huge difference, both physically and mentally. There are some terrific exercise apps.

Connect With Other Remote Workers. There’s a great community of remote workers, happy to share resources. Scott Dawson, the author of THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY, runs a weekly Twitter chat under the hash tag #remotechat. It’s on Wednesdays, at 1 PM EST. Michelle Garrett runs #freelancechat on Twitter on Thursdays at noon EST. There are dozens more. Participants are friendly and happy to share resources.

Set Up A Remote Hangout for Co-Workers. Whether it’s a free chat room on ProBoards or something on Zoom or Kantree, make sure you stay connected to your co-workers, especially if any of them are stressed and having a hard time.

Enjoy. Enjoy uninterrupted work time. Enjoy the lack of commute. Enjoy learning new tools and skills. Enjoy being around your family and pets more. Appreciate small moments you might miss in an ordinary day.

Adjust What Doesn’t Work. Some things will work; some will not. Adjust as you need to adjust. Keep lines of communication open. Don’t let worries fester. Try new tools and techniques. Let this be a type of professional development instead of a frightening inconvenience. Talk to those of us who love it –we’ll help all we can. See what tools and techniques you feel make your work and life better, and consider ways to integrate them into working onsite, when that’s ready to happen again.

Fellow remote workers, please feel free to jump in and leave any additional advice in the comments. New-to-remote workers, ask any questions, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

Stay healthy!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Do You Live & Work in Scarcity or Abundance?

An article on my Twitter timeline last week pressed some buttons. I didn’t even realize how deep it cut until I started my response. It made sense, after a few minutes, to shut the heck up, think about WHY it caused such a heated response on my part, and set out my argument.

It was an article on having various “calls to action” in newsletters, content, etc. “Calls to action” is another marketspeak term that’s getting overused and overdone, in my opinion, although it makes sense — you’re enlarging your audience and potential customer base and you want them to take the action of buying your product or service.

But one of the CTA points that worked my last nerve was “create a sense of scarcity and urgency.”

As a customer, when I am targeted that way, it angers me, and is more likely to turn me off the product and service than engage me. It makes me feel manipulated in a way I don’t like.

Because, quite frankly, my buying is not decided, for the most part, on missing a trend. If I feel a company is trying to manipulate me into buying something this second or missing it — I’d rather miss it.

Even the word “scarcity” has “scare” in it – a scare tactic. You try to intimidate me into parting with my hard-earned cash, and I’m going to push back.

Obviously, when a store is having a sale or an airline is having one of their special deals, scarcity and urgency are part of the deal. A store can’t have an endless sale, or it becomes the regular price. There has to be a start date and an end date. You don’t shop within that time frame, and you miss it. You wait too long, and they’ve sold through.

Another time that works is with one of my favorite shops, a soap maker who does small batch soaps using natural ingredients.  When the batch is sold through, it’s done, and there’s no guarantee it will be made again. She’s up front about that, is good about posting when something is sold out, and that’s that. I don’t feel manipulated. If I miss it, for whatever reason — whether I didn’t see the email in time or forgot or can’t afford it this month — no problem. Her emphasis is on the new products and new batch, not into shaming her customers for missing something. The way she presents her materials — positive, engaging, inviting — means I am more likely to buy as soon as something new comes up, because she INVITES me instead of BERATING or trying to SCARE me.

Some of the struggling chain stores around here seem to think that they can recover by having constant sales in finite hours.  You run in and buy something on your way somewhere else. They give you a slip stating you’ll get 20% off your next purchase, but only if you shop between 9-11 AM on Friday, or, even worse, only if you come back and shop again that very day.

No. Just no.

Where I live, people are either retired living on independent income, or struggling with three or four part-time jobs. Few people have the time or the inclination to build their day around a two-hour sale.

As one woman pointed out, “I’ll plan my life around Black Friday, but that’s only once a year.”

Another woman said, “It would cost me more to take off work to attend the sale than I’d save on the sale.”

A third person said, “Sales tactics like this are why I order online from Amazon.”

In other words, the stores are not listening to the people who live here and would shop here. The manipulative “scarcity and urgency” they’re promoting are actually driving customers away from them and to Amazon.

It also speaks to a deeper issue often called “prosperity consciousness” and “poverty consciousness.”

Scarcity is often manipulated in order for specific individuals to profit. If you’re always scrambling because you feel you don’t have “enough” — and many of us, living paycheck to paycheck are scrambling all the time just to pay our bills and survive — you wind up in a downward spiral of panic. You’re afraid the deal will never exist again, so you better buy it at this price at this moment or you’ll lose out forever. Sometimes, you’ll plunge yourself further into poverty in order to get this “deal.”

But do you really need it? What is the worst thing that will happen if you miss the sale and it’s not part of your life?

Part of a marketing campaign is to create the desire for whatever the company is selling. That’s part of the encouragement, of the manipulation  — give me your money for this product or service, and your life will be better.

With the subtext being, if you don’t GIVE ME YOUR MONEY for this product or service, your life will be worse.

But is that true?

Or will it keep you in the cycle of poverty consciousness?

This article, by Dawn Demers, talks about developing prosperity consciousness, and how our words have meaning, and how we become what we think about. I don’t agree with everything in this article (“tithing” has a negative religious connotation for me), but I do agree that if we are going to live a healthier life, we have to deal with the fear of not having enough. When you’re working three jobs at minimum wage with no benefits, it’s a very real fear. So when companies try to prey on those fears in order to get you to spend your money ON THEM, you have to be careful.

People talk about living in “prosperity consciousness” or with a sense of abundance or a balanced life. Does missing this sale really mean you won’t achieve it? If you really mean to live your life with the belief that there is enough for all of us, we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to hoard, in fact, we can get rid of many of the things we’ve accumulated that we no longer need — do we need to add in this particular thing within these two hours? If you claim you want to live an abundant life, is your definition of “abundance” and “prosperity” the accumulation of items that OTHER PEOPLE judge you need, or things and experiences that actually make you happy? And why would you buy based on being provoked and manipulated by such negativity?

I bet you can count on your fingers the amount of things you bought on sale that actually improved your life beyond a few days.

Yes, they exist. They are different for everyone. But missing most sales isn’t going to damage your life in the long term. You might be disappointed for a few days. You might miss the adrenalin rush that those purchases give us. But it’s rare it will ruin your life.

Further, if you claim you want to live an ethical, balanced life based on prosperity consciousness rather than poverty consciousness, how can you, in all good conscience, create materials that promote “scarcity and urgency” and manipulate people to buy out of panic? Does the money offset any tears on your integrity? Or do you believe it’s not your problem or your business? You’re simply there to create effective materials. If the customer buys, you’ve succeeded.

Where is that line for you?

It’s something to think about and work on. It’s something each of us has to define for ourselves.

I am more and more aware of it as a consumer, and less and less likely to respond to such a “call for action.” My action, more and more often, is to turn away from the company.

As a writer, I am also aware of it. If I feel the materials I’m tasked to create are too predatory, I will fight to rework the materials and word them so they come from a more positive place that still engages and encourages the customer to purchase. And, there are times when I refuse the gig when the client wants predatory or panicky materials created to manipulate the customer with negativity and fear.

I have to define those lines constantly. It’s not easy. But, for me, it’s a necessity.

How do you set your lines? Do you have different boundaries in the work you do for others than the way you live your own life? How do you integrate the two?