Among the many questions
that come with initial meetings/interviews for vetting new clients and projects,
I’ve recently added a few additional questions. The pandemic has sharpened my
focus on the kinds of companies with whom I want to or do not want to do
business, and these questions help me in the vetting process.
If the potential client
gets prickly or offended by any of them, it gives me information I need to make
Among the questions I’ve
–How did you support your
employees during the pandemic?
–How many employees did
you furlough or lay off?
–How many of them were
asked to return, and, if so, was it at least their previous rate? Are new
employees brought in at the same rate as those let go? Lower or higher?
–How much money did you
get in PPP loans? (I look up the answer to this on the SBA website, which
distributed those loans. It is public record, and it tells me a lot if the
company lowballs me, especially if they laid off employees during the pandemic).
–What did you learn that
you will use for the next pandemic? (Because there will be more pandemics, natural
Companies that simply cut
loose employees, collected PPP loans, and then tried to hire either former
employees or new ones at a lower rate are not companies with whom I want to do
Getting this information in
an early conversation helps me vet the potential client. If you’re on the job
hunt and having a more traditional type of interview, I suggest also asking
these questions. It will give you far more information about the vision and
ethics for the company than the interviewer’s rehearsed spiel.
What questions have you
added to your initial information sessions?
(Note: Apologies. This
should have posted already, and did not, due to technical glitches. The plan is
to post here every other Wednesday, rather than every Wednesday. This time it
was every other other Wednesday).
Yes, I’m back. The last
post on this site was in March, when I was just starting to get into the Move
From Hell. I thank you for your patience, and hope you will join me on this new
The Move From Hell is mostly
complete. I moved from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, to an environment that
values artists and actually believes in paying them. When asked what I do and I
answer, “Writer” the response isn’t, “No one does that. What’s your REAL job?”
with which I was constantly met on Cape. The response here is filled with
resources and events I might enjoy, and requests to take a socially distanced
walk around the lake or at the Spruces to talk about some aspect of writing. Or
art. Or theatre. It is a much healthier environment for me, on multiple levels.
Most people here are vaccinated.
Most indoor spaces require masking. Most people don’t fuss.
As I said, a much healthier
environment, all the way around.
I’ve gone fully remote,
instead of a mix of remote and on-site clients. It is unlikely I would go back
to onsite work, unless it was a part-time position with an arts organization.
But I doubt I would even do that until at least next summer.
Now, The Professional
I’m happy to say that The
Idea Fountain has come back on. During the actual move, when I was mired in
trying to find a place to live, then trying to find mover who would actually
show up and do the work, and getting some things into storage, etc., etc.,
during a pandemic, my creativity fled. I was able to do the minimum work
required to keep us afloat during the move, but I was not working, creatively,
at my best.
When I first moved here, I
was so exhausted, on every level, that I was lucky to make it through the day
for the first few weeks.
But lately, the Idea
Fountain has turned back on, and I’m actually happy and able to create again.
What is the Idea Fountain?
It’s useful for both
fiction and nonfiction work. My definition of the Idea Fountain is that
something you come across in the course of your day sparks a flow of ideas.
Those ideas often go on to have more ideas, and so forth and so on.
Sometimes, a call for submission
turns on the Idea Fountain. Often, in my work with businesses, it’s their
creative brief, or our consult conversation.
As I writer, I find
looking at paintings and sculpture restorative. When I am stuck in my words,
looking at art unsticks me. My uncle was a reasonably well-known artist in
Europe, working in stained glass, woodcuts, and casting large bronze figures. I
have several of his sketches that inspire me. Most of my art books are in
storage right now, but I’m across the street from a college library with a huge
art book section, and I can use my Community Card to check them out.
So, there’s usually a
stack of art books nearby.
This weekend, I spent time
sitting on my front porch, paging through a book about American ex-patriate
artists in Florence, during the Impressionist period. I got an idea for one of
next year’s plays for an organization for whom I regularly write in New York
(the other idea for them came from a line in a biography I read a few weeks ago
– when the Idea Fountain was a mere trickle). I also got an idea for what is
turning out to be a series, rooted in a group of painting students doing a
Grand Tour. While I was writing up those notes, so as not to lose the ideas, an
idea with which I’ve been playing for years, starting directly after WWII
started poking at me again, and I made notes on that, too. It started poking
its head up again because of a reference to generations of artists who were
also artists during world events (such as WWII). A throwaway line I read in a novel sparked an
idea for a short story.
All over the course of a
The Idea Fountain has
turned back on.
At the beginning of August, I’d resumed my regular first 1K/day of fiction very early in the morning, in longhand, which had gotten erratic during the move. I wrote on the front porch. It’s getting too cold and dark to do that, so I’m writing in the living room; eventually, I may start writing again at the rolltop desk. But that primed the pump to get the Idea Fountain flowing again.
How does that work in
On some projects, the writer is paired with a graphic designer (or brings one in), and the two feed off each other. I love discussing ideas with a graphic designer; they toss out image ideas, I toss out words, and we get there together. If I’m writing something without graphic needs, I dig into my knowledge of those for whom I’m writing (or I gain the knowledge). Is there an image within the company already that will spur the piece (for a marine life press release, it would be an endearing photo of a seal or sea turtle; for a holiday fundraiser, a photo of one of the decorated trees, etc.). Or I image characters and situations around which I can build a story for the organization (see my page on Mission-Specific Entertainment).
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: ideas are like cookies. They tend to come in batches. So prime your pump however works for you, turn on that Idea Fountain, and let it flow. Ooh, a fountain spewing cookies. I like that image. If you show up and do the work daily, on the schedule you set for the work, it gets easier and flows more smoothly. Show up consistently, even on the days that are difficult, and the flow resumes. Some days it might feel like a trickle, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get the flow steady again.
Take notes on ideas, even
if they seem like tangents. Perhaps they’re not right for this particular
project, but they will be right for a different one. Creative time is never a
waste, and not every result is immediately tangible.
The more joy you take in the process, the more the ideas will flow.
Amongst the many pandemic
lessons we’ve learned about work, many of us have learned what work resonates
more with us, or which doesn’t. At times, we haven’t had much choice – we have
to take what work we can land in order to keep a roof over our heads. That’s
often exhausting, and it leaves little time or energy for pursuing the work
that is fulfilling as well as keeping you alive in a monetary sense.
Being versatile is always
positive. In spite of all the screaming about the importance of “niche” – the wider
your range of skills and interests, the wider the range of potential jobs. You’ll
notice that several of the self-styled job-coaching and marketing gurus have stopped
screaming “niche” and talked about “side hustle.” They don’t admit they were
wrong, or that life changes, or that people NEED to change. They simply change
their tunes and collect the cash.
I find “side hustle” a
revolting and insulting term. The minute someone uses “side hustle,” I look at
them differently and with suspicion.
There are two reasons for
The first is that no one
should HAVE to work more than one job in order to survive. The reality is that most
of us do work multiple jobs. Let’s stop this toxic myth that the necessity for
a “side hustle” is a good thing. Pay people a living wage, and make sure there’s
enough housing and food for everyone. That is absolutely achievable in this country,
with ethical leadership. Encouraging “side hustle” encourages yet more
low-paying jobs without benefits.
If you can’t afford to pay
a living wage, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself.
The second reason I loathe
“side hustle” is that, to me, the “hustle” part of it doesn’t mean “extra work
and resourceful time management.” To me, the “hustle” means “fraud or swindle.”
So when someone talks about their “side hustle” I immediately associate it with
them feeling they must swindle because they aren’t being paid enough at their
Negative connotations all
around. People with different frames of reference will interpret the phrase
differently. But to me, it reads as “it’s okay for me to find a way to screw
you outside of my job to earn money, because my regular job doesn’t pay me
enough to survive.”
Work has to serve workers
better (and, by doing so, will serve both companies and society better).
But what if you are in a
job that IS paying you enough to survive, but you hate it? But you have a
passion for something else?
Then, absolutely, pursue
When I teach writing
workshops, and people ask me how they can “find” the time to write and become a
full-time writer, I tell them, “There will never BE time to write. You have to
MAKE time to write. If you want it badly enough, you find a way to do it. If
you want this to be your only job, you commit to it as though it is a second
job, until you’re in a position to make it your only job.”
It means you’ll be tired.
A lot. It means you’ll give up time on other things, and sometimes with other
people. It means you have to negotiate with those in your life, and decide how
important this second passion is in relation to those people. Some will compromise
with you and support you. Some will not, and then you have to decide whether or
not to keep them in your life.
It doesn’t have to be
writing – it can be any passion. How much do you love it? How much do you want
it to be your only job? Are you worried you will stop loving it if it becomes
your source of income?
Remember, though, that
loving your work does not mean you forfeit your right to get paid.
One of the most toxic
myths presented to and about creative people is that they “do it for love, not
money.” Those are not mutually exclusive, and it is a way for those who don’t
have the guts to follow their dreams to punish those who do.
Don’t buy into it.
The pandemic made us more
aware of our wants and needs. I hope, as we get vaccinated, and move into the
next phases of our lives (because it will not go back to the way it was), we
take some of those lessons and implement them, especially when it comes to
I already see companies
reverting back to toxic models, and, especially, recruiters doing so. It’s up
to the workers to refuse to be forced back into those negative patterns.
How do you move the
passionate work you do outside your normal job to become your only job?
Hard work, time, money,
Most of us, too many of
us, live paycheck to paycheck. So all those “experts” talking about “paying
yourself first” and “saving a year and a half’s worth of expenses” – they can
shove it right up the you-know-what because that is simply not a reality for
most of us.
You need to learn how to contain
and direct your energy. You still need to deliver high quality at the place
that pays you to survive, but you do not put all your energy there. You save energy
for your passion-work.
Biorhythms were a big deal back when I entered the work force. It’s considered a “pseudo-science” and therefore unreliable. But there are elements of that system that ring true. I am at my most creative early in the morning. That is when I do my first 1K of the day, when I write most of my fiction, or work on whatever project needs the most creative attention. Once that is done, I can then direct my energy to other projects, depending on contract deadlines and payment. But that early morning creative time is MINE, and I use it as I choose.
Other people work better late at night. Or in the afternoon. Play with it. Find your strongest time to do what you love, and then, slowly, steadily, rework your schedule so you can use that time. If you’re working 9-5, you may have to do your passion-work early in the morning or late at night, when it’s not your best time. You may have to work when you’re tired. Until you can convert your work schedule to fit your creative rhythms.
Don’t kill yourself with
it, but also, don’t give up. Do the work. Create a body of work. Increase your
And remember, that no one,
NO ONE will respect your work and your time unless YOU do, and unless you hold
Then, start exploring how
you can use that body of work and increased skill set to earn money. Build the
income from it.
If it’s in a field that has the possibilities of grants of other award funding – look into it, and apply for anything and everything for which you think are appropriate. Remember, no matter how many people apply for a grant, it’s always 50-50. Either you get it, or you don’t. Grants and other award funding can buy you time to focus on your passion-work. That time allows you to create more that then positions you better for your transition to doing it full-time. It is worth the time it takes to write the grants.
Once you’re earning steadily in this second, passion-work, enough to feel a little more secure, talk to your regular job about adjusted hours, reduced hours, remote work, or anything else that is appropriate, works for both of you, and lets you spend more time on this second work. If you’re in a benefitted job, negotiate to keep benefits.
As your passion-work becomes
more financially stable, you can cut back more on what was your “day job” until
you can leave. Or maybe you can work out an arrangement to do freelance work a
few times a month, so there’s still some money coming in, but now THAT is your
second job (and you don’t need to devote the time or energy to it that you
needed to give your passion-work in order to place that front and center).
Some of the work we must do
with this new administration is make sure that our health care is not tied to
our jobs. It keeps too many of us in toxic situations.
Again, in the faction of
those not wanting to pay a living wage, there are the shouts of “it’s all going
to be automated soon, you should be grateful” and “no one wants to do this work.”
So why aren’t the jobs “no one wants to do” the jobs being automated? They could be. A robot doesn’t care what the job is. The robot will do the job as programmed. So program them to “do the jobs no one wants” and keep people in the jobs that need to be human, and pay those humans a living wage.
There’s political work we need to do in order to break the toxic culture that too many grew up with couched as “solid work ethic” and there’s the work we need to do to move the work we love into the work that supports us on financial as well as emotional levels.
The great part of this is
that there are so many different passions and interests and skills that there
are plenty of passionate artists AND plenty of passionate accountants. We don’t
all love and want the same work, and that’s part of what makes it both possible
and positive to pursue the work we love.
What we have to change is the structure and strictures of work that only serve a small portion of those “in charge” – who are not the people doing the actual work. We do this on individual levels, by doing the actual work we love, and we do this at the ballot box. We do it by communicating with our elected officials.
It is the personification
of “Be the change you want in the world.”
How are you following your
passions? How do you plan to move them, so they support your life on both physical
and emotional levels?
It’s often the end of the
year that finds us tidying things up so that we are ready to start fresh. That
includes email boxes, files, websites, portfolios, and the like.
Keeping our professional files
up to date is a bit like housecleaning. It needs regular attention, the same
way we need to dust, vacuum, do dishes, handle the laundry, and clean the
Part of the professional
tidying-up is more than keeping track of what we’d done over the past few
months; it’s about deciding where we want to go.
Look at your portfolio samples. Do you need to swap out older pieces for newer ones? Or do you have pieces that are older, but are more in line with the type of work you’re currently pitching, and it makes sense to put them back in?
Look at your bio information, your “about” page, profiles on various websites and social media handles. Does anything need to be updated? Do your blog sites or websites need freshening up, with a new template or a redesign?
Do you choose to use
photos? If so, does it need an update?
I firmly believe that what
I look like has nothing to do with the quality of my work. My work is public,
my life is private. It’s not salacious or controversial, but it is MINE, and I
get to choose which aspects I share, how I share them, and with whom. Also, because
I publish under multiple names AND work as a ghostwriter, I use icons in place
of photographs. The whole “oh, but it makes it more PERSONAL, so I know who I’m
dealing with” is, in my mind, a crock. All you need to know is the quality of
the WORK. If we decide to interact on a personal level, that’s apart from the
Also, that reasoning is usually thrown around by people who’ve never had to deal with stalkers. Forcing someone to use a photo on a public site could be a death sentence. If a person chooses not to be a public figure, they have the right not to have their photos splashed all over unless they are actively trying to harm someone else.
As you do your tidying up,
–What kind of work do I
want to do in the coming months?
–What new skills do I
want to learn?
–Where can I stretch and
find new, interesting developments?
–How do I want to integrate
what I’ve learned in the past few months?
–What do I want to remove
from the roster, whether it’s temporary or permanent, to make room?
Remember that these
decisions can and will change as your career grows and changes. That’s
positive. Make the decision that serves you best for this next cycle, and then reassess,
and make new decisions for the one after that.
You’ll know when it’s time
Listen to your intuition.
Intuition, at its best, combines facts, potential, and the inner knowing of
what is best for you. It combines the integrated information between your head,
your heart, and your gut.
What kind of tidying up
are you doing in the next few weeks?
One-way interviews have become more common during the virtual interview process of pandemic. “Send us a three-minute introductory video.” My response to that is, “Are you high, sweetie?”
First of all, any
interview is a two-way street, or you are the WRONG place for me. I’m
interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing me.
A one-way interview is a
waste of the interviewee’s time.
I am not an actor. I do
not make audition tapes and perform for you.
I am a writer. I’ll write the scripts for the spokespeople in your video spots to rehearse and perform.
But I am not performing in
order to “earn” an actual conversation with someone in the company.
As someone who worked in
production, let me break down what it means, in terms of time, production,
labor, and cost to do a three-minute video:
—Script. You need to know what you’re saying, even for (especially for) an introductory video. When I started writing short corporate script videos, that paid per finished scripted minute, it was $85-110/hour. Now, it’s more likely to be $200-$300/hour. Right there, it’s a loss from $255-$600. Figure that includes 2 rounds of revisions, possibly more as you rehearse. How fast do you write? How many hours will it take you to come up with 3 minutes of material? If you’re used to corporate video shoots or short shoots, probably 3-4 hours. If not, it could take three or four times that.
—Location. Where will you shoot it? Inside? Outside? We’re in a pandemic, so your options are limited. Hopefully, you won’t have to pay a location fee (if you don’t use your own premises, but there’s still the time and decision involved). On the low side, it’s another $100 .
—Set. How will you decorate your surroundings? Even if the video is head-and-shoulders, what kind of chair will you sit in? How much does the camera take in? You’ll need to set decorate your workspace. Is part of the interview showing them your remote work set-up? On the low end, that’s $125/hour. Figure 2 hours to set up the space the way you want it. That’s $250.
–-Props. Again, even if you’re doing a head-and-shoulders at the desk, or standing, shooting on your phone, you may need props. A pen? A notebook? You want them to see your tech? Figure at least one hour at $100.
—Lighting. Good lighting is vital to a decent video. Figure $50/hour. Once you get the set, props, costume, make-up in place, you’ll need to light it, shoot tests, and relight. Remember that, unless you’re blocking out daylight, as the sun moves, it affects your video. Figure 4 hours or $200.
—Wardrobe. What will you wear on camera? You need something that doesn’t wash you out, isn’t too busy or distracting, and makes you both look and feel good. If it feels uncomfortable, your body will react, and the camera will read it. A wardrobe/stylist is about $120/hour. Figure 2 hours of deciding what to wear and how to accessorize, and at least an hour of prepping the clothes – steaming, ironing. Alterations are an additional time at an additional fee. Do you have to buy something for the video? That’s another cost. But it’s at least 3 hours at $120/hour or $360.
—Makeup/Hair. Again, you’ll need to play with it in the lighting, with the wardrobe and do tests.
Non-union can start as low
as $25/hour. A good one will cost you a good deal more than that. You’re
probably non-union. Figure an hour to play with makeup and hair to decide what
you want, and then an hour to actually do it. Again, you’ll need to shoot tests,
but we’ll get to that later. Figure $100.
—Sound. Does your recording device have decent sound? Is it tinny or does it sound like you? Do you have to unplug anything that runs in the background, shut doors, muffle anything? Chances are you can’t/won’t need to edit the sound or add Foley. Sound techs start around $20/hour and go up from there, depending on skill level and specialty. Give yourself an hour to play with your options. $20.
—Rehearsal. You’ll need time to rehearse, revise, memorize. Actor fees can start as low as $50/hour and sky’s the limit. Figure 4-6 hours rehearsal time, so $200-$300. You are your own actor/spokesperson for your brand.
—Test shoots. You’ll need to shoot test footage for the look, the sound, and shoot some of the rehearsals. If you really have your act together, two hours at $50/hour, for $100. That’s lowballing A LOT, because you’re putting together all the elements you worked on.
—The actual shoot. When I production managed film, we broke it down by 1/8 of a page for the schedule. For feature film production, one hoped to get through 2 pages per day. When I worked one-hour drama television production, it’s much faster. It’s broken down the same way, but you usually need to get through 7-10 pages per day. You’ll need multiple takes, and you’ll need to look at the takes and make adjustments for other takes. Give yourself 3 hours. Since you’re wearing all the hats, and you did all the prep, and should be in good shape, figure $250/hour for 3 hours, or $750. You think three hours sounds crazy for a three-minute video, but it’s less time than you’ll probably need. You’ll note I haven’t listed a director’s fee in this set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to act as your director, that’s another fee, but I’m assuming you’ll go director-less. Since this is more of an audition tape.
–-Editing. Are you going to edit the video? Do you have the editing software? Do you have editing skills/experience. Direct Images Interactive talks about how a 2-minute video takes about 34 editing hours, and can cost between $3400 and $4250. If you don’t have a bunch of cuts because the entire interview is done in single takes and you don’t edit sounds or effects, dubbing, or adding music, but just shaving a few seconds here and there or adding filtering, figure 10 hours or $1000.
In order to make your “quick,
3-minute intro” you’ve put in the equivalent of:
40 hours (a full work week)
$3435 – $3520 unpaid physical
We haven’t even gotten into the unpaid emotional labor involved.
All your work HAS value and needs to be valued. This attitude of “well, everyone has a YouTube Channel” and “everyone is slapping up videos” — no. Putting together a production is skilled work with many aspects, all of which have a price tag and deserve to be valued. In the age of COVID, there are many more one-person production teams. Again, ALL of the elements must be valued.
Even if the job pays
$60K/year, you’ve put in the equivalent of nearly 2 weeks’ worth of salary to
submit something that will never be reimbursed, and where you don’t get to have
a conversation/ask questions/get a sense if this is a place you want to be.
“Make an introductory video”
robs you of $3500 worth of billable hours with zero promise of return. For a
job that is unlikely to have any video production involved in it.
Because if it WAS a video
production job – they’d look at your reel, and not expect you to create
something “introductory” for them without pay.
Because professionals should not demand unpaid labor, especially not as part of the interview process.
Basically, you’re being asked to audition like an actor, but without the benefits an actor gets from making an audition tape. And yes, plenty of actors spend this much time, money, and effort on audition tapes. Which is a form of unpaid labor inherent in the acting profession, and can lead to a labor conversation on a different post.
Beverlyboy.com, which deals in professional video services, suggests figuring $1500 to $10,000 PER FINISHED MINUTE for a video. A three-minute video would cost $4500-$30,000. Yes, it’s for something polished with a professional crew. They have a great breakdown, and show some terrific examples of their work.
“But it’s not professional,
it’s just an introductory video.”
If it looks like crap, you won’t go any further in the process. Even if you’re doing it yourself, you’re wearing all the hats. Every job you undertake to put together the video needs to be costed out and deserves payment.
If you like the idea of an introductory interview/audition tape, now you know what you need to create one that’s unique to YOU, not a particular job. Put it on your website. You do it once, and then use the link to send potential clients/employers to it. But it is about YOU — not specific to any given company.
If you start your
relationship with a new-to-you company by doing this kind of work for free, it
does not bode well for your future relationship. You’ve already said you are
willing to be overworked and underpaid (not paid) for maybe-someday getting
rewarded. Which doesn’t happen.
Don’t do it. When you see the demand for a one-way video interview in the job description, click away. It’s not worth it. The real test they’re giving you is to see if you’re willing to let them take advantage of you.
We talked last year about
how every season, every month, every week, every day can be the chance to start
with a clean slate.
Traditionally, though, we tend to collectively do so at the beginning of the calendar year and the beginning of the school year. It gives a chance to ride that energy of possibility.
I’m in an online meditation group with Be Well Be Here on Thursday mornings, and one of the things she suggested on New Year’s Eve was, instead of getting bogged down in “resolutions” deciding to be “resolute.”
I like that.
So much happened last
year, both personally and on a larger scale. It helped clarify what I want and
need in my work and my career going forward, and I intend to implement those
shifts for the year.
I’m making a partial list
of that about which I will be resolute. So far it includes:
–Passion for my
profession does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it;
–“No” is a complete
sentence and does not require embellishment;
–Unpaid labor should not
EVER be part of an interview process – that includes “making a video” for a
one-way interview, pitching article or content ideas in interviews, writing unpaid
“test” pieces, and unpaid “assessments.” I’ll take your tests or write your samples
– at a designated time, and for a specific fee, with a contract in place for it
and a deposit up front, like I do for any freelance piece. Anything else
indicates a toxic work culture in which I have no interest in participating.
I’ve talked about all of
these in the past months, both on various blogs and in discussions. Now, they
are part of my contract with myself, since I believe in walking my talk.
This works in tandem with what I’m doing on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site, which is less about making a list of things to check off this year, and more about tools and techniques for a more holistic work life that is in tandem with personal core integrity.
Life as we knew it
pre-pandemic is gone. While there are things to miss, it also brought
realizations about what didn’t work, and those elements can be changed and
improved so that work environments are healthier on multiple levels. When the
quality of our working lives improves, the quality of the work we do improves.
For decades, we were told
to keep our heads down and just do whatever we were told, and if we were what
was perceived as “good” and “dedicated” and “loyal” we would be rewarded. We
learned through experience that this is not true.
I realized that last week’s
post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving
away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my
I’ve re-shaped my career
often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs
and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses
out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always
Any job outside the arts
ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid
me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.
If the job got in the way
of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.
A PAID opportunity.
NOT an “exposure”
Remember, people die of
exposure. Insist on the cash.
I started in lighting, for
theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I
moved into stage management.
From stage management, I
moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep
writing – through all of this, I always wrote).
I stayed, happily, in
wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical
demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too
many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I
didn’t want to be one of them.
I moved away from New York
to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts
in name only. They love it when
prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second
homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage
to do what they do.
I took a job that I
thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a
boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something”
was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something”
wrong with them.
Still, when I was fired
from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve
only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to
break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds
are just scars.
I went back to a local
theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and
woefully underpaid, but still worth it.
Then, I worked to rebuild
what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and
marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different
fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to
communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.
All of this time, I was
still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching
publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing
radio plays, and so forth and so on.
I found some local
clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I
firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office. Many were one-and-done, some because that’s
all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite,
but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a
board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.
I spent more and more time
with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for
in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the
world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients
when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current
political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to
work with Americans right now. I worked
with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists.
Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more
I was actually willing to
set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up
by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11
at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere
from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.
On the bus, I could write
my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do
much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were
in Boston, not where I am.
I was at that turning point
earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for
at least the next year or two.
Then, the pandemic hit,
and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing
around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it
was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and
performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and
there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14
days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the
state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.
The positive part of the
pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good
portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working
remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.
Now that they’re forcing
us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work
well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so
to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely
full-time for years.
It means I can re-shape my
career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my
home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this
area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York
and San Francisco).
It also means I can live
anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I
When I worked on Broadway,
I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When
I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because
I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.
I’m also looking at
different types of work.
I’m not a graphic
designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic
designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy
title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more
jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.
I’ve managed plenty of
teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both
theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar
and other writers is cake.
But I don’t necessarily want
I want to write stuff.
Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.
I’m more cautious about working
for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term
temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you
pay for the skills you need.
Here? The constant dirge
is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”
Some positions that I
would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no
longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time.
That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means
companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago
are no longer on my list.
I grappled with this for a
few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was
Then, I realized most of
that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my
People grow and change,
and so do their careers.
It’s not a failure.
It’s a natural process.
Growing and changing is a
positive, not a negative.
It doesn’t mean you have
to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills
and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go
Yes, there’s an element of
privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have
NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason
we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.
But deciding to take one’s
career in a different direction is not a failure.
It means you are integrating
all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something
wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience.
It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.
It also means that when
you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which
is better for both you and your employer.
One would think/hope
companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone
who just shows up every day.
You look at your life and
decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how
and what and where we work factors in a great deal.
Maybe you can’t change
your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do
some research, and take small steps regularly.
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 aren’t companies being
upfront about what they want in the position?
The first is that the
person who wrote the description has no idea what the job actually entails, which
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.
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
are back to me by Z date
–My next revision is due
on L date
–Response is due on M
–Final work is due on N
–Acceptance or additional
requests for changes is due on O date
–final payment is due on
–late payments are
changed with R fee, cumulative every 30 days (I start late payments at 20% of
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
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
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
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
There’s not a cubicle on
the planet that could provide conditions even close.
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.
They push the “if you don’t
take this, we’ll hire someone else.”
Don’t be afraid of AI,
either. That’s another narrative they push – that soon, jobs will be replaced
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
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.
Negotiations aren’t just
We will talk about that in
a future post.
How do you control scope
creep? What points do your contracts over?
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:
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Because right now? As a
consumer, I don’t have the time or patience to spend dollars on companies that
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
What marketing techniques
are turning you off right now? What’s working for you?